Jenkins hated this shift.
It was the middle of the night and bitterly cold – not that you could tell since the base was still drenched in the Antarctic sun and it was always, always bitterly cold – but the graveyard shift meant he was alone with the research equipment and no-one but him could check the sensors if something went wrong with them. And, of course, because the universe hated him, something had gone wrong with the sensors.
He strapped on yet another coat over the two he already had on and opened the thick vault-like door of the research center. The Antarctic snows immediately blasted him in the face and Jenkins cursed aloud as the undeniable cold pierced through his clothing and covered his flesh with goosepimples.
In the distance, across the frozen sound, lay McMurdo Station. The army base had a small flurry of activity at the docks, but was mostly quiet – everyone was asleep. The research station was on the other side of the bay, however, so that the cargo ships would not disturb their work studying the sea level and, Jenkins thought, so that they could drive the researchers insane with loneliness.
He wandered down to the water’s edge and, with stiff fingers, began to tug on the rope that would bring the sensor to shore. It was a long, arduous process that made his shivering arms ache with cold, but as the device emerged from the depths. Jenkins gasped in the freezing air – the device was covered with octopi – dozens of them crawling all over the high-tech buoy. He bent down to examine in, when a voice from behind him made him nearly jump out of his skin.
“Huh, that’s weird, right, brah?”
Jenkins span around fast. Behind him was a massive and muscular Polynesian man, nearly a foot taller than him at the very least. Unbelievably, the man was wearing what appeared to be surfing shorts… and nothing else. The man had as much exposed skin than a bikini model at a photo shoot, and yet, despite the blistering cold, he showed no adverse reaction to the temperature. No gooseflesh, no shivering; just a genial smile on his handsome face.
“I’m Kai,” the man said in answer to Jenkins’ unspoken question.
“What are you…” began Jenkins, but Kai cut him off.
“Octopuses! Octopi!” he exclaimed excitedly. He squatted down next to the machine and reached out to touch the squirming sea creatures. “Only earthbound descendant of the Fey, did you know? Apparently, a fey thing raped a daughter of Susano’o way back in the day. Susano’o vaporized the fey, of course, but allowed the offspring to stay after his daughter begged him to let it live… At least, that’s what he told me very pointedly over dinner the other week.”
“Susan O? What? Who the hell are you? What the hell are you doing?” stuttered out Jenkins.
The man looked back in a simple, almost confused manner. “I told you. I’m Kai. Keep up, brah. And, as for what I’m doing, I was surfing and now I’m examining octopi. You see, they may only be distant ancestors, but they still share a connection. The behavior of these little guys lets me know what to expect from the big one who is fixing to pop out of the rift that’s forming a couple miles that a way.” He pointed out over the sound, towards where you could see South America on a clearer day. “These guys are searching out heat… So, fire fey. Probably. It’s not exact.”
“You’re insane,” Jenkins dismissed.
“Nah. You’re just educated,” Kai said, standing, still smiling. “Problem is you learnt the wrong thing and now that super smart brain of yours won’t let you believe anything but the lie.” He clapped Jenkins on the back – the older man nearly buckled under the weight of such a simple gesture. “I’ll catch you round, brah.” He wandered out towards the crest of the hill, grabbing a simple surfboard that he’d embedded in the snow.
Jenkins shook his head, in complete disbelief, but somehow his curiosity won out over the cold, and he followed the mysterious man through the falling snows. Luckily, despite his struggling eyes and the Antarctic winds, the man’s massive frame was not difficult to follow, though Kai moved considerably faster than Jenkins did and left only the shallowest of prints, even in the deepest powder. Eventually, Jenkins scaled the crest of the hill and saw the man enter an old hut a few dozen feet down from the top.
Outrage flew over Jenkins’ face and he stomped as fast as he could down into through the front door. “This is the hut of Robert Scott! This is a historical artifact! You can’t just barge in here and..!” Jenkins glanced around. Mixed in with the frozen possessions of the great explorer himself, from over a hundred years ago, were the scant possessions of a clearly modern man – two surfboards, a couple pairs of jeans, several empty bottles of protein shake, even a cellphone – though there was no sign of a charger. A box lay open in the corner filled with uneaten brownies, a magazine, and a small photograph rested on the top of it all. “No, no, please. Please don’t tell me you’re living here.”
Kai turned and smiled. He was strapping on what looked to be a full set of medieval plate mail made of black metal and stained with red. “It’s okay, brah. He don’t mind.”
“Just because he’s dead does not mean you can disrespect his property!”
“Nah, you’re not getting it. I asked a friend of mine to get a hold of him – that Scott explorer guy. He said it was cool that I crashed here.” Kai turned away and continued to don his armor.
“Insane… You’re insane…,” Jenkins muttered under his breath as he walked around the hut – he peered into the box into the corner. The magazine had a big picture of a long-haired man in gothic-looking clothing on the cover – the title read Divinity Weekly, while the main headline was ‘Hachiman: A one-on-one exclusive with the bane of the Theoi.’ On the top of it, along with some colorful socks was a picture of a stunningly beautiful, dark-haired woman in overalls, covered in what appeared to be thick black paint. Enchanted, Jenkins picked it up for a moment and stared.
With a final clunk of metal, Kai finished strapping on his armor. He turned back and smiled at his suddenly silent visitor. “Perfect, isn’t she?”
Jenkins stuttered before finally tearing his eyes away to look properly at Kai. “What’s with the paint?”
Kai laughed slightly. “No clue. You can’t say she’s not pulling it off though. You can stay in here; you should be safe. Though I warn you if any of my photos are missing, I will find you.” He flexed his neck and stepped back outside.
Jenkins shook his head to unfog his vision. “Wait, what do you mean safe? Safe from what?” He followed the man outside and was again quickly stunned into silence.
Across the icy water, the sky glowed purple and green – an aurora of dazzling light stained across the barely visible stars, but oozing out of it, like blood from a wound, was a creature – as large as a tennis court with at least three dozen octopi-like tentacles. Its skin was clammy and a fiery shade of red, and emanated so much heat that the air distorted and warped around it. Its head had no eyes, but rather was a writhing mass of spinning teeth and yet more suckered tentacles, all wrapped around a burning furnace at its creature’s center. From its great maw came a low hiss, followed by grunts, howls and sinister whistles.
“Not today, you’re not, brah,” said Kai as if answering the monster. Six tentacles lashed forward like whips as the creature emerged fully from the aurora. Jenkins screamed.
Kai was quick as lightning – he punched one, two, three tentacles out of the way with such force that the powder around the blows flew back from the impact. Another one of the monster’s appendages wrapped around his waist, but electricity leaped into it from nowhere and it twitched violently and recoiled. Kai grabbed two more tentacles, one with each hand, and span them around his forearms as ice crept from his fingers, up into the creature itself. Then, he flicked his wrists violently, and the tentacles shattered into crystalline dust.
“Get inside!” Kai screamed.
Jenkins bolted as quickly as he could, but the creature got one of its grotesque limbs around him. “Help me! Help me!” he cried out, and Kai was there, wrestling with the thing with an impossibly mighty grip. He wrenched it free, and then with his free hand, hit Jenkins in the chest with a bitterly cold open palm. There was no pain, but Jenkins felt himself thrown back and off the ground, flying through the air, before landing over a dozen feet away, deep into a nice, soft snowbank.
Jenkins needed a moment to recover from his fall. He struggled to the surface of the snow, his fear and adrenaline overpowering the cold and fatigue in his muscles. Kai was still fighting the thing – kicking at the tentacles that lashed towards him; sparks flew off his armor and steam poured off of him – the result of the extreme heat of the creature with the somehow cold skin of Jenkins’ protector meeting in mortal combat.
Kai was fast, impossibly fast, but the creature had dozens of tentacles. As Kai battled and wrestled with five or six of them, another slipped quietly along the ground, then shot out grabbed at Kai’s ankle.
“Watch out!” cried Jenkins, and Kai looked down, managed a curse, before the creature flung him hard and straight upwards, high into the endless sky, out of sight.
The gigantic maw of the creature let out several deep booms, like it was laughing deeply at having defeated its foe. It reared up. The teeth in its bulbous central head span and gnashed. Its tentacles reached out towards its surrounding: one big one wrapped around Scott’s hut; four reached towards the research institute ominously; more towards the mountain; some dipped into the sea, where octopi scurried up and onto it; a dozen more carried its vicious form towards McMurdo Station and its thousand plus occupants; and one small one plucked Jenkins from his safe little snowbank and dragged him into the air by the feet, upside down in front of the thing’s impossibly sharp teeth.
Then, from above, came a howl – not of fear or pain, but of sheer excitement. Jenkins squirmed to look. Far above him, a tiny figure, decked in black metal, was plummeting through the sky – his hands were outstretched in front of him and were spewing water at an outstanding rate. A long stream of water formed beneath him, spiraling downwards towards the creature. Kai flipped mid-air, letting his feet hit the stream, which instantly froze – then, it was simply surfing. Hundreds of feet up, skating precariously along a tiny stream of rapidly freezing water, which was somehow being supplied from his own hands, Kai’s squeal of delight echoed across the Antarctic horizon.
Jenkins’ eyes widened in amazement and shock. The thing that held him looked up ever so briefly, just in time to see Kai jump free of his skyward surf track with electricity sparking through his big black metal boots. He yelled as he plummeted boot-first, then like a bullet, he hit the thing in its mouth with tremendous force, passing straight through the gnashing teeth, through the bulbous head, and out the other side. He hit the ground, causing a small crater, sending cracks into the frozen earth. Above him, the fey howled in agony, then the flames in its mouth spread throughout its grotesque form and the whole thing turned into ash and black smoke that quickly dispersed into the bright night sky. The aurora faded with it… and Jenkins was suddenly released, fell to the ground and back into the same snowbank as before.
He scrambled to his feet. “Kai? Kai!” He rushed to where he had fallen.
The massive man was lying in the crater of his own making; the teeth of the thing had left long, thin scratches all the way down his armor and similar gashes into the exposed skin of his face. Jenkins knelt down next to him to check on him, but Kai coughed twice, then began to laugh loudly.
“Did you see that, brah?” he laughed. “That was awesome! Man, if only Cassie could have seen that! Or Asahi! Ha!” As he spoke, the snow around him, melted from the heat of the creature, snaked towards his face, seemingly crawled into the wounds and sealed them – Jenkins watched the man miraculously heal from truly serious gashes in the matter of seconds. “Oh, I just know Shicho’s gonna call naysayer on this one. There’s no chance you were recording that for your Instagram or anything was there?”
“Um… no, sorry,” Jenkins stammered.
“Ah, well. No worries.” Kai jumped to his feet, instantly looking completely perfect – no blood anywhere, the scratches on his armor gone, his skin perfect without a single blemish, bruise or scar. “Well, it’s been fun…”
“No, no, no! Explanation! I need an explanation!”
“Ah, come on, Jenkins…”
“I never told you my name!”
Kai sighed. “Sure, you did. The last three times we’ve done this.”
“Look, I told you. You’re smart, really smart… but your brain’s been programmed with the wrong version of reality, so every time you see something like this, you rationalize it away within a few hours. Well, that and the fey do something to mortal minds. You physically can’t remember the thing.”
“Go on, then. Prove me wrong, brah. What type was it? What element?”
“Element? That’s…” Jenkins’ eyes batted. It was an answer at the tip of the tongue, but he couldn’t grasp at the thought, like a leaf caught in the wind – clearly there, but almost impossible to catch. He desperately tried to save face. “It didn’t use a…”
“Yeah, it did. It was a fire fey. I told you that. See? You’re already forgetting.”
Kai smiled at Jenkins – a friendly, pitying smile. “It’s OK, man. You did good. I’ll make sure your sensor thing gets back where it’s supposed to and that you wake up nice and cozy in your own bed. Sorry in advance for the headache. Come see me, y’know, in the off chance you remember.”
Jenkins stuttered out some complaints, but Kai grabbed him by the neck and held him for a few seconds. Jenkins unwillingly surrendered to the black as the air from his lungs was squeezed out of him.
Kai picked up Jenkins, cradling him like a child, and sighed deeply into the wintry air. He smiled deeply to himself and set about cleaning up the mess from this latest invasion. He laid Jenkins in his bed and tucked him in; he swam to the bottom of the ocean and reset the sensor; he scared off the octopi on the sea bed; and he covered up the misplaced snow and ice by creating new water to freeze in its place.
An hour or so later, Kai removed his armor, settled into a hundred-year-old bed, and pulled the thin lacy blanket, made of woven snow – a gift from his mother – up around his chest. He reached over and picked up Cassie’s latest letter and he read it over one more time, drinking in her words, and picturing her flawless face and honeyed voice in his imagination. He smiled to himself. “Two weeks ‘til leave, Cass. I’ll be home soon.”
He laid down the letter, closed his eyes, and surrendered himself to sleep.