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Mutants Have Layers

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“Once upon a time, there was a lovely princess. She was beautiful beyond compare, but she had an enchantment upon her of a fearful sort which could only be broken by true love's kiss. She was locked away in a castle guarded by a terrible demon sent straight from hell. Many brave knights had attempted to free her from this dreadful prison, but none prevailed. She waited in the demon's keep in the highest room of the tallest tower for her true love’s kiss...”

Erik rolls his eyes, closing the children’s book he had found discarded in the woods. “Like that's ever gonna happen. What a load of shit.” He walks back to his house from the woods where he had been chopping down a dead tree earlier.

“Hey, I heard that creepy old sorcerer lives around here.” a voice drifts through the trees, catching the attention of the lumberjack. He follows it to find three men, seemingly on their way to confront him and probably try to kill him.

“Yeah, that’s right. He’s been on the rampage for too long. Let’s get him!” the one with dark hair says, raising the pitchfork in his hand.

“Whoa, hold on. Don’t you remember from the rumors? He can do some pretty terrifying stuff, apparently.” the man with fiery red hair cautions, holding out a hand to stop the dark-haired member of the group.

“Oh you’re right! He’ll suck the life force out of you. That’s how he’s lived so long and still looks younger than his actual age: 300.” the third man, a fair-haired fellow, adds.

“You forgot to mention that I cut off all your fingers and toes to use as birthday candles. I need all I can get since I’m that old, you know,” Erik says, stepping out from his tree cover. The three men shriek and huddle together in a tight group. “And, don’t forget, I take metal fillings for my personal collection.”

“You won’t lay a hand on my body while I’m still alive, you creepy old sorcerer!” the dark-haired man exclaims, lowering his pitchfork to aim it at Erik’s chest. He guesses the man means to stab it through his heart, but the way his hands are shaking tells him that the pitchfork wouldn’t be much of a problem even without his ability. Erik stares at the weapon and waves his hand, and the pitchfork flings itself across the path to stick into a tree. The men flinch and take a step away from him

“This is the part where you all run away screaming like little children,” Erik supplies, making shooing motions with his hands. The three men scramble over each other before deciding on a way to run. As they go, the blond man drops a piece of paper. He doesn’t look back for it, so the lumberjack reaches down to pick it up and read it. “Wanted: sorcerers, witches, and any kinds of magic users.”

He sighs and crumples the paper in a fist. Mutants often had to hide their abilities from the public to avoid discrimination. Since Erik was born with an internal manifestation, he never had to physically hide, but he knew of others who had blue skin or fur that were forced out of their homes and villages due to the fear and cowardice of non-mutants. He’s always been distrustful towards homo sapiens, but they hadn’t driven him out of a home. Living out in the woods alone and away from them was Erik’s idea, just so he could get some peace and quiet. He hadn’t thought that people would start rumors about him being a sorcerer, though, even if he secretly thought it was kind of a cool nickname.

 

Erik likes living alone -- he's not ashamed. Solitude is preferable to the superficial courting of his peers. He’s able to spend his time much more wisely. Because he doesn’t have a loving husband or wife (he wouldn’t really be opposed to either, if he was looking for a companion, but he most definitely isn’t), Erik doesn’t waste time cooking dinner, drawing up bubble baths, lighting candles for late-night reading, or trimming his growing collection of randomly-placed topiaries for anyone except himself. (Bubble baths are for everyone!)

He has a perfect house, a perfect view, and a perfect life.

Well, okay, except maybe, maybe, if he cares to think about it, Erik gets lonely sometimes. He’d never admit it though, and whenever the thought of finding a companion, platonic or romantic, dares cross his mind, he quickly distracts himself with a new project. Though he refuses to admit it, he needs human contact outside the occasional acknowledging of the mailman bringing spam mail and furniture catalogues, even though Erik never gave anyone his address (Did he even have one?).

Despite this, when he finally does get company one morning, Erik is less than pleased. He’s on his way to find another dead tree to chop down when a silver-haired kid running incredibly fast slams into the lumberjack, causing him to drop his trusty axe. He’s about to verbally attack him when he spots a group of kingdom guards running after him. The kid immediately scrambles up off the ground to hide behind Erik.

“You there!” the head guard shouts, pointing at Erik. “Sorcerer!”

The lumberjack raises an eyebrow but says nothing, showing no sign of acknowledging the nickname. When the guards are closer, they stop about ten feet in front of Erik.

“By the order of Lord Trask, I am authorized to place you both under arrest and transport you to a designated resettlement facility in the kingdom. Do not resist, or my men and I will use force!”

The head guard forces eye contact with Erik, and he can see that the man had probably heard the rumors about him from how hard he was trying not to flee the scene.

“Okay, you and what men?” Erik replies, putting one hand on his hip and reaching the other out over the axe. It vibrates, sending out an eerie humming noise before flying into his outstretched palm.

He raises the tool and leans it against his shoulder before glaring at the rest of the men in the guard. Most of them take a few slow steps back before running off completely. Two of the more loyal of the guard stay behind their captain, but one lets out a whimper. Erik smirks.

“F-fine,” the head guard gulps. “But we’ll be back, y’hear?” he promises, and Erik rolls his eyes. He watches the men back away and as they turn to go, and he hears whispers of freak and monster passed around before they disappear from sight.

“Wow, that was super cool, dude! Really, listen, man, that was incredible!” the silver-haired boy says, weaving around Erik as he turns to go home.

“Are you talking to me?” he asks, looking to his right where the boy had just been. Instead, he finds empty space on the dirt path. Shrugging, he turns back to face front and finds the boy right in front of him. “Wh―”

“Yeah, man, who else would I be talking to? Myself?” the boy pauses, considering the fact that he probably had done that before. “Anyway, I just wanted to say, what you did back there was pretty damn cool. You and that axe, like, those guards never even stood a chance! How’d you do that? Are you really a sorcerer? Anyway, it was nice to see those dumbasses run off like that. Made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.”

“That’s wonderful, really. You’re a mutant, correct?” Erik asks.

“Uh, yeah. I guess.”

“Okay, then, if you have an ability like the super speed I just saw you use, then why the hell do you think I’d be using magic?” the lumberjack asks in a monotone voice. The boy thinks for a moment.

“That’s fair. Anyway, it’s good to be free.” he says, stretching his arms upwards.

“Why don’t you go celebrate with your own weirdo friends?” Erik suggests, resisting the urge to fling the younger man into the woods and run from him. He realizes that running from a super speed-equipped mutant would be futile, but anything would be better than having to deal with him the whole way home.

“I, uh, well, I don’t really have any,” the kid says, looking down. “And also, I’m not going back out there by myself. I somehow got caught last time, but it’s better sticking with you. You’re the big bad sorcerer! No one crosses you and comes back alive! Or, at least no one comes back with their metal fillings intact.” Erik clenches his teeth and glares at him. He wonders if threatening him would be a crime, but then he realizes he doesn’t care. Lifting the axe quickly, he brings it down to hover about a foot over the kid’s head. It’s vibrating again, but this time it;s at a higher frequency, so the noise is louder. The silver-haired boy barely even blinks.

“Dude, not gonna lie, if I knew you weren’t really gonna kill me, I’d probably running out of these woods, screaming, and pissing my pants. Ten out of ten on your threatening pose. Wanna see mine?” he crouches to pick up a stick before hunching over, scrunching up his face, and baring his teeth while pretending to shank Erik with the makeshift weapon.

“Okay, why are you following me? Did someone send you?” Erik asks, sighing. He resumes his walk back to the house.

“Nope! I’m a free bird! Well, then I got caught, but I’m free again! I’m just fulfilling that elvish custom, you know? If you free an elf, they have to serve you or whatever.”

“So you have to do whatever I say?”

“Yep!” the kid chirps.

“Okay, then, leave me alone.” the older man replies. The younger deflates a little.

“Hm, okay, let me revise the statement. I’ll do whatever you say within reason. And since I’m not leaving you to be alone in these scary woods, that is not within reason.

“You know, I’m starting to see why a little shit like you doesn’t have any friends.” Erik sighs. He figures he’s probably sighed about ten times since this kid bumped into him.

“Wow. Only a true friend would be that cruelly honest.” the kid responds, nodding.

“Kid! Look at me! What do you think I am?” Erik asks, exasperated. The silver-haired boy looks him up and down before answering.

“Uh… badass and kinda tall?”

“No! I’m a creepy old sorcerer who lives in the woods alone! Aren’t you scared I’m going to use your fingers and toes as candles for my birthday cake or rip out your metal fillings?” the lumberjack runs a hand through his hair shaking the axe a little in his hand.

“Well, no. First of all, I don’t even have metal fillings. Secondly, nobody would ever use fingers and toes as candles. That’s gross, man. So, no, you being creepy and old doesn’t really bother me all that much.” the kid says with a shrug.

“Really?” Erik sighs again.

“Really really!” the kid exclaims, giving the older man a double thumbs up, and Erik rolls his eyes. “Dude, you’re one cool bean. The way you seem to not care about what anyone says is pretty damn chill. I like you. I’m Peter, by the way. What’s your name? Don’t even think about giving me a fake one unless you want me to call you ‘creepy old sorcerer’.”

“My name’s Erik.” Erik says.

“Erik? With a ‘c’ or a ‘k’?” Peter asks.

“K.” the man says, glancing at Peter and wondering why it matters. “How old are you, by the way. Twelve?” Peter lets out an offended huff.

“Erik! I’m, like, eighteen, or something! But I’m mentally eight, so I’m not actually that offended.” he replies. Erik doesn’t respond as he climbs up the small hill before his house. As the wooden walls of his home come into view, Peter gasps.

“Holy shit, is that a life-size Lincoln Log house? Not as cool as a life-size Lego house would be, but still!”

“No, that’s my house, and I’d appreciate it if you could leave me to do my own things now.” the lumberjack corrects him and moves to open the door.

“Okay, so I’ve got this idea, and I personally think it’s pretty rad, but I’d like for you to give me your input.” the teen asks, drawing out the words slowly. “I could stay here with you and keep you company!”

“That’s a solid no. Go back to wherever the hell you came from, kid.”

“No, please don’t make me go back! You don’t know what it’s like to be singled out and called a freak!” Peter pauses, blinks, and realizes that Erik knows very well, if not more than himself what it feels like. “Okay, so maybe you do. But that’s why I have to stay here with you! Mutants have to stick together. Please!”

“Okay, fine! You can stay here for one night. Just one, and then you leave, is that clear?” Erik relents, and suddenly he regrets his decision. Peter whizzes past him into the house and makes himself comfy on Erik’s favorite recliner.

“Oh, thanks, man! This is gonna be great! I love team bonding. We can talk about all the times I’ve evaded the cops, and you can talk about all the times you’ve scared the shit outta normies, and in the morning, I’m gonna try to make pancakes!” the teen exclaims, rubbing his hands together in excitement.

“No, no. That’s my chair.” the lumberjack says, waving Peter away. The younger man stands and moves to the side.

“That’s chill. Where do I sleep, by the way?” he asks, eyes flicking around the room for potential spots.

“Outside.” Erik says, and he turns to check the room for firewood. When he sees that he’s running low, he moves to the door and opens it.

“Wait, what? But there are bugs out there and everything! You really want me to sleep out there?” Peter looks disappointed, but he slowly trudges out the door.

“Actually, I considered that, but no. I just don’t want you in my house while I’m getting more firewood. You can sleep wherever as long as you don’t bother me or make a mess.” Erik says, and he walks off to split one of the logs by the side of the house. Peter nods and looks around for something to keep him busy. He settles for sitting in front of the door and throwing pebbles at small weeds. When Erik finishes chopping enough wood to last the night, he brings it back to the door. “Kid, can you open this for me?” He waits for a moment, and upon receiving no reply, he flicks a finger and the metal latch opens to let the door swing open. After setting the wood down in the holder, he looks around to find his wrapped food and papers on the usually neat table a mess. “Peter! I thought I told you to stay outside!” he called. A flash of silver appeared by the window.

“What? I did! Can I come in now?” he asked, making a weird puppy-eyed face.

“No, wait a sec,” Erik says slowly, eyeing the mess again. He knows someone has been here, but he hadn’t sensed anyone approaching. He quietly moves around his house, checking in each room for any surprise visitors. When he finds no one, the lumberjack returns to the kitchen and peers out the window at Peter, who has resumed his pebble-throwing game. He’s about to tell him to come in when he hears a sharp “crack” behind him. Whirling around, Erik finds a man who’s got red skin head to toe (well, as far as Erik can tell). He’s also pretty sure he can see a tail swishing around behind him.

“Good bread,” the man says in a thick accent, sliding his hand into the open bread bag on the table and taking a slice.

“What the hell are you doing in my house?” Erik asks slowly, reaching out with his power to feel for any metal on the man’s clothes. He senses that the buttons are made of steel, which means that in a pinch he can use them to pin the man down.

“Oh, you know.” the man shrugs, and he gives Erik a sly grin before disappearing in a cloud of red and black mist. He looks around to see where the man has gone, but as he turns, Erik bumps into someone else.

“Whoops, sorry,” a feminine voice says, and the lumberjack finds a young woman lodged between him and the wall. He takes a few steps back and away from her.

“How the hell did you get there?” he asks, more confused than after seeing the red man disappear.

“I walk through walls and stuff,” she says like it’s no big deal. Erik wonders why she bumped into him, then, if she could walk through ‘stuff’, but he doesn’t ask. He begins to tell her to leave his house when he hears an explosion from the bathroom. When he rushes in to see the problem, Erik finds a young man with styled brown hair and red-lensed sunglasses. The glasses have one long lens the whole length across, so he supposes it would be... a sunglass. The ceiling behind and above the young man smokes, and it’s partially gone.

“Sorry, I was fixing my hair and my glasses slipped.” he apologizes, giving the lumberjack a quick grin. Erik groans, grabs the back of the young man’s jacket, and drags him to the door. Without a word, he opens the door to let him out, but the sight that greets Erik makes him step out before his uninvited guest. Swarms of people move across his front lawn, all talking or arguing loudly. He looks around in dismay, shaking his head.

“Whoa, who said you all could be here?” the lumberjack bellows, but his voice fails to conquer the noise being made by his uninvited guests. He wanders out a bit to take in the full extent of the crowd before turning back to his house. He pushes a few men and women aside to get back to the door, from which he spots his pantry being raided and even a few daring teenagers putting their feet up on the table. One seems to be chilling a glass of who knows what with his bare hands, and another lights the fire without a striking a match. “Get the hell out of my house!” he tries again, but he only gets a few annoyed looks from the people closest to him. As he muscles his way over to his bedroom door and opens it, Erik spots the person he thought would be responsible for the unexpected house party.

“Whoa, hey Erik! I saw people coming in and I thought I could catch some shut-eye before I have to sleep on the cold, hard ground.” Peter says, curled up in the corner of the bed. He’s the only person in the room, which was almost a nice gesture if it had been to keep people out of his sleeping area instead of the teen keeping it for himself.

“Peter! I knew you would be the one behind all this! Get all of your goddamn friends out of my house!” he speaks loudly over the surrounding noise. Peter laughs uncomfortably before putting on a more serious face.

“Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have come inside the house, even though other people were doing it, but I don’t know them. Well, I’ve seen a couple here and there, but they’re not my friends. I already told you that I… didn’t have any,” the teen trails off at the end.

“I don’t give a damn,” Erik begins, but Peter holds up a hand. The look in his eyes makes the lumberjack pause to let him speak.

“Okay, I’m sorry that this all happened today, but I think they’re here for a reason. Why don’t you go ask them?” the silver-haired boy suggests, and for once Erik reluctantly agrees with him. He leaves his room with Peter following behind and exits his house to stand in front of the crowd.

“Hey!” Erik shouts, and a few people turn to look at him. He glances at the axe he places near the door and remembers the humming noise. Peter follows his gaze and zips the tool over to him, which begins to vibrate and hum as soon as it leaves the teen’s hands. Erik works the metal until it’s unbearably loud and hot to the touch. When he stops, his entire yard is quiet enough to address. “What are you doing in my forest?”

A woman with deep blue skin and piercing yellow eyes steps forward.

“There’s a new sentence in the kingdom of Mutatia by Lord Trask. He wants us put in ‘resettlement’ facilities in the kingdom.” she says.

“Is there a problem with that?” Erik replies, and the woman rolls her eyes.

“Yes, obviously, or we wouldn’t be here crashing your house party. Trask doesn’t want us in the kingdom for no reason. He wants to study our physiology and abilities. I think he is building a weapon to even playing field between us and the humans in preparation for some kind of battle.”

“What do you mean ‘abilities’?” Erik asks cautiously.

“We’re the same as you. Wizards, superhumans, sorcerers, mutants: whatever the term, Trask fears for the day when we’ll rise up and take control of the throne, so he’s getting rid of the people he thinks will stand up to him. Trask is merciless. I have seen what he has done in pursuit of knowledge, and it is not kind.”

This comment makes Erik furrow his brows. He almost asks how the kingdom’s affairs have anything to do with him before he remembers the men who had trespassed on his land earlier.

“Okay, but why do you have to be here, on my property and in my house?” he asks, crossing his arms over his chest. A young woman with fiery red hair steps forward.

“Erik, am I right?” she asks, and the lumberjack finds himself nodding before he can even wonder how she could possibly have known his name. “I’m Jean. Do you think we came here, to this isolated spot in the woods, for no reason? We knew you’d be here, and we’ve all heard the rumors. You’re a mutant with a powerful gift, and you can use it to stop Trask, or at least force him to listen to what you have to say. Once you do so, we can all go back to the kingdom and we won’t bother you anymore.” The lumberjack considers the offer before nodding slowly.

“Alright, I’ll do it, but only to get you all out of my forest.” he agrees. “Does anyone know where this Trask is?”

People glance at each other, and a couple even try to throw each other under the bus by pointing at different people. A girl in a bright yellow jacket begins to raise her hand excitedly, but the boy next to her with curly blonde hair pushes it down. Peter appears suddenly with a rush of wind and jumps up and down.

“Oh, I know!” he exclaims.

“Does anyone else know?” Erik tries again. He really doesn’t want to be stuck with the hyperactive speedster again, but it looks like no one else will volunteer.

“I got you, man! I know the way!” Peter gives Erik finger guns, and he sighs.

“Fine. Listen up, everyone! Your welcome is officially worn out. I’m going to go see Trask and get him to change his mind and law and get you all off my land. Do not get comfortable here, because you’ll all be leaving to go back to wherever you came from soon!” Erik announces. The crowd remains silent for a moment after he finishes talking. Then, after the girl wearing the yellow jacket begins to clap, the movement catches like fire and suddenly the whole front yard ripples with applause. Erik raises an internal eyebrow, somewhat surprised that his improvised threat-speech actually worked, but pleased nonetheless. Soon he’d be on his way to get rid of these annoying people forever. “Peter, you better not be a little shit during this trip.”

“You can’t just ask me to change my entire personality, man. Suck it up. Just accept the fact that you’re not getting rid of me just yet.” the teen grins, crossing his arms to imitate Erik, who considers the statement for a moment before slowly nodding.

“Just try not to talk too much, then. We should head out now.” the lumberjack says, pushing past the crowd and turning to the path out of the woods. Peter pokes him.

“Actually, it’s this way.”