If there’s a freak storm bearing down on your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Theron and Waōthosige know how to deal with all sorts of storms, but this is one they weren’t expecting.
News networks latched onto the story like leeches on an unprepared bushwalker, warnings flashing in lurid hues across the screen. Phrases like ‘once in a lifetime’ or ‘largest in a century’ were bandied around, as though the newsreaders were discussing an upcoming sports tournament. Gleeful for the furore and the boost to their ratings.
Theron flicked off the app, images of the country splashed with broad strokes of yellow, orange and crimson swallowed by inky blackness as he stretched languidly. Dangling one foot over the chair’s armrest, after a momentary contemplation he flicked the phone back on and dialled a familiar number.
Barely halfway through the first ring the call connected in a crackle of static and rustling fabric.
“Wah?” Waōthsige muttered into the phone, voice blurred with sleep or, more likely, excessive consumption of alcohol the night before. Theron glanced at the clock; 11:09AM, still deep in hangover territory.
“Up you get, Waō. We’ve got a live one.”
“Can it wait twelve hours? I think a deeval’s nested in my sinuses.” Theron smirked as he tapped his fingernails on the top of the coffee table before sighing and pushing himself to his feet. Bare sole sticking slightly to the linoleum, he padded towards his bedroom.
“Considering this beauty wasn’t even a blip on a meteorological chart five hours ago, I’m going to go out on a limb and say ‘no’.” A duffel bag rattled as he hauled it out from under the bed and, after a quick glance to check its contents, Theron zipped it up and prodded it contemplatively with his toe. It clanked.
“See you soon.”
“Yeah, yeah. See you.”
Wind lashed the torrential rain across the tarmac, driving it so hard Theron suspected he should be able to hear the lamentation of the precipitation’s womenfolk. As it was, he could barely hear the sound of Waōthsige grumbling soddenly next to him as they sloshed towards the faint red glow of (hopefully) the plane’s port navigation light. Through the weather haze, it looked like a baleful eye glaring at him.
Next to him, Waōthsige was rubbing the bridge of his nose, which was bright red from the cold and resembled an aesthetically designed waterfall more than a nasal protuberance, Waōthsige’s hat having been an early casualty when they’d waded to the car. Theron would have offered his own, but figured it wouldn’t do any good. He already felt soaked to the bone, waterlogged and heavy, his supposedly ‘waterproof’ clothes clinging to his skin with cold, clammy fingers. It was possible he’d never get dry again.
As the plane resolved through the pounding rain, Theron squinted. There was a dark blob underneath one wing. Probably a wet, dark blob. The rain was coming in sheets that changed orientation with no apparent regard for gravity and little concern for even wind direction - Theron spat out a sudden mouthful of water as the blob moved.
“Oi, you maniacs! Over here!” The rush of water muddled the words as their pilot, one Alya Göker waved them over to her craft. “Get on board before we all get washed away! My plane gets drowned, you’re paying for it.”
Shaking his head like a dog, Theron stepped hurriedly inside, followed closely by Waōthsige and a distressingly cheerful Alya. The sudden warmth hit him like he’d walked into a pane of glass. Despite the welcome dryness, however, there was no escaping the fact of the howling storm outside - the din of the rain hammering into the fuselage was deafening, and he had to shout to be heard.
“Don’t worry, Waōthsige’ll pick up the bill.”
“Oh no I won’t. You ordered, you pay damages. Only fair.”
The sound of the engine starting was drowned out by the rain, and the first indication the pair had that they were moving was when the inertia charms on their boots flared to life, anchoring them to the floor. Through the windows, they couldn’t make out any sign of movement, just a featureless grey expanse.
The light of the charms revealed a stripped down interior, just bare metal walls and straps for securing cargo or, Theron supposed, passengers.
“Are we in a cargo plane?” Waōthsige asked, poking his head into the cockpit. Alya reached back without taking her eyes from the controls and pushed his face back out with one hand.
“Yes. Stay out of the cockpit; cargo doesn’t talk.”
“I think I’m insulted,” Theron wedged himself next to Waōthsige, obediently keeping his head and other extremities on his side of the cockpit door. “Never been cargo before.”
“As fun as these jaunts are, I’m not flying my good plane into the middle of a storm cell again, which is where I assume you’re going. Am I wrong?”
“Then sit down, shut up and let me fly.”
The plane rocked and shuddered, the rumble of the engine underfoot taking on a threatening, unsteady cadence. Alya’s knuckles were white around the controls, her jaw so tight tendons were popping in her neck, and flashes of lightening made her eyes glitter with frightening focus.
Theron and Waōthsige retreated back to the hold, each choosing some webbing to augment their boots’ grip on the plane. Charms and cantrips were all well and good, but they had limits, which their still-dripping clothes could attest to.
Firmly anchored, Theron turned to Waōthsige and raised an eyebrow. His partner looked worse for wear, even considering the plane’s occasional lurching. “Did you manage to kill your ‘deeval’?”
He saw more than heard Waōthsige’s amused snort, his nostrils flaring and his lips curving upwards beneath amused green eyes. “No. But don’t worry; I think it drowned on the way over.
Theron’s response seemed thunderous in the sudden silence, until actual thunder ripped through the air, eager to reclaim its superiority. The plane levelled out, the engines suddenly the loudest thing in the bay, and Theron and Waōthsige exchanged glances.
“Our final stop today, the eye of the bleeding storm!” Alya’s voice, heavy with sarcasm and the hard edge of stress, echoed from the front. “I see an enormous bird - what you gonna do about it?”
The rain had slackened to what would be considered a mere drizzle compared to the previous onslaught, but it still left the sky dark and hazy. Theron and Waōthsige pressed their faces to the windows, glass cold on their cheeks and their breath misting against the panes. A large shadow moved in the clouds. It left a wake.
Thunder cracked and roared, rattling teeth and rivets alike, and with it a blinding flash of lightning seared through the sky. Theron was still blinking away spots when Waōthsige started swearing.
“What? Did you see what it is? Waō!”
“Impundulu,” Waōthsige replied, nose smushed flat against the window as he tried to track its flight.
“What? It’s too big, surely?”
“Too far from its range; it’s probably losing coherence. Storm’d be an attempt to reinforce its power, stabilise itself, get some familiarity.”
The plane jolted sideways then dropped, leaving Theron’s heart lodged somewhere between his eyes. Something rattled and scraped overhead.
“Hurry up, you two! We’ve not got all day. As much as I like a challenge, giant monochrome birds are not my ideal scenario.”
Thunder slammed into them, its attendant lightning casting grisly, sharp shadows across their faces.
“Plans?” Waōthsige asked, glancing at his kit bag. Metal glinted back at him. He’d do the last resort, as always, if Theron failed. They just needed to work out a plan, and Theron preferred to air his ideas first. Waōthsige considered this fair, since Theron had to enact them.
“Just two. I’ll need back-up if the first one goes south.” Boots shining with a faint golden aura, Theron rummaged through his bag, searching for... his fingers closed on charmed paper and he pulled it free. Shoving it into an outer pocket, he buckled on his usual assortment of weaponry, hoping he wouldn’t need to use it. He hated dealing with the displaced ones, and not just because their powers went berserk the further they got from their ranges.
“If this doesn’t work, you’re in charge of dredging up my corpse. I don’t like fish.” With a grin and a jaunty wave, Theron hauled the door open, muscles straining visibly along his arms. Cold air and water smacked into Waōthsige’s face as Theron stepped out into the dim sky, his half cloak billowing outwards to form the shape of wings that were briefly outlined against a flash of lightning and then gone, taking Theron with them.
Waōthsige pulled the door shut, fingers slipping on the slick metal as he tried to work the latches and levers. “Can you see them?”
“I’m lucky to be able to see my own navigation lights in this mess,” came Alya’s reply, distorted and clipped by the metal interior and worry. “Is he out there now?”
“Yeah.” Pressing his face back against a window, Waōthsige scanned the gloomy clouds for any sign of his partner or the impundulu.
His heart was beating in time to the rapid patter of rain overhead as he ran through his plan of attack if Theron’s plan, as the other man had so casually put it, ‘went south’. Hangover completely forgotten, Waōthsige considered the best way to divert the impundulu or disable it. Too slow or too close to shore and it’d cause massive damage. It’d have been easier if it hadn’t been able to set up a storm, shore up its power, but he’d need to deal with that, too - bleed off the energy, try to channel it somewhere safe—
A crash as something smashed into the side of the plane near him sent Waōthsige leaping backwards, raw magical energy crackling in his palms as his adrenaline addled brain tried to channel it into a spell. Something thudded rapidly and repeatedly on the outside, and then a sudden shaft of sunlight illuminated Theron’s face peeking in the window. His words were occluded by the glass, but Waōthsige saw his lips shape the word ‘open’ followed by what he assumed were a number of choice swear words.
By the time Waōthsige had managed to navigate the door release, Theron’s tirade of curses appeared to have been having some effect - patches of blue sky were peeking through grey clouds which were turning from ‘impenetrable wall’ to ‘tatty wisps’ - and the impundulu was nowhere to be seen.
Theron spilled through the door, more water than man if the puddle growing beneath him was any indication, and he coughed a spray of water before answering Waōthsige’s question.
“Course it worked,” he spluttered, laying on his back and waving one arm at the rapidly clearing sky. “My plan was perfect.”
“Hey, it worked! What did you do?” Alya’s voice echoed through the small space, as if making up for the absence of the storm with its volume.
“Why do you sound so surprised?! Rude!”
Waōthsige rolled his eyes and offered Theron a hand up. Already he could feel warmth stealing back into Theron’s fingers as he hauled the other man to his feet, and wondered if he’d packed any towels.
“We’re not surprised... Well, I’m not. But what did you do? I didn’t hear a fight or anything.”
Theron grinned smugly. “It’s headed home. I gave it a map.”