“What did you do!? What did you do!?” Miles roared, swinging his fist at Charlotte. Despite her successful block using her arm, phantonic energy burst out of her, quickly absorbed by the boy.
“Dammit…” Charlotte jumped away, almost tripping on her own feet. From that one punch, she began to feel woozy.
“You’re just a mass on energy! I’ll use my hands to rip you to pieces! Damn ghost—how could you do this to her!?”
Miles swung violently, attempting to grab hold of Charlotte at any opportunity he could get. She could not build up the strength to fly away in time, causing her to become locked into a close-quarters evasion game.
“Listen… This is war. This is what happens we two sides go at each other with the intent to kill. To no one’s surprise, people die!” Charlotte shouted right into Miles’ face. “Your friend intended to…” She paused. “Kill… me?”
“You’re already dead! You don’t have the right to mess with the living! I’ll make it so you no longer exist!”
Despite his pure rage, Miles’ statement was still accurate. In Charlotte’s eyes, at least.
Her guard fell. Miles took this opportunity to grab Charlotte by the throat using both of his hands. She immediately felt the phantonic energy discharge out of her—Miles squeezing it out.
“What am I even doing? What am I fighting for…? This feeling… I can’t breathe. I’ve… I’ve felt this pain before…” Charlotte gazed into Miles’ eyes.
“It certainly wasn’t him… That glare, however. I’ve seen it. Fury. Fury, for no particular reason, taken out on me… There is a reason this time, though. I took a life. When I’m no longer among the living. Even if you’re alive, taking a life is… wrong. It’s wrong. So… What grounds do I even have to do it…?”
Charlotte did not even make an attempt to struggle her way out. If she had the strength to do so, she still would not bother.
“Yeah… It figures. I never mustered up the energy—that I certainly had—to get those fiends off of me. If I’m going to disappear, this is certainly the way to go. Not fighting—even if I could. Besides, if these memories are the only thing I can remember… Please, just end it. Let me be at peace…”
Charlotte’s vision was blurred. The little that remained visible to her suddenly lit up in vibrant orange light. A few moments passed before Miles slowly released his grasp on her. The next thing Charlotte saw was the boy collapsed onto the ground—his back badly burned.
She fell to her knees, reverting to her black-haired form. Charlotte did not bother catching her breath—not needing to breathe—yet held her throat from the agony she had just received. Looking up, she saw Faith rush toward her.
“Charlotte, are you okay!?” She leaned down, grabbing Charlotte’s shoulders.
“Faith… I… I’m okay…” Charlotte replied—her voice hoarse.
“Thank goodness… Man, I’m exhausted!” Faith slowly rested her head on Charlotte. “Using my flames like this… I wasn’t ready!”
“Were you the one fighting in the gas station…? I deflected an attack toward there on accident… How foolish of me…”
“So that’s how that happened!” Faith laughed rather boisterously. “I thought I kept the structure of the building in check during the fight. I see… Yeah, I had to use my flames to guard myself. After that, I had to put out the fire before it spread to the pumps. That obviously wouldn’t be good if they went up in flames.” She folded her arms, nodding to herself. “Yep, yep. I’m really getting this Ability down, aren’t I?”
Charlotte started to giggle—wrapping her arm around Faith. “What am I honestly doing…? I can’t let you guys face all of this alone, now can I?”
“Hm?” Faith looked at her curiously.
“I need to stabilize my body—you need to take a breather. Let’s do that. But…” Charlotte glared over toward Ann’s. “We need to get over there as soon as possible.”
“Right…” Faith agreed. “If Win’s in there, I know things will be all right. But… like you said, I can’t let any of you face this alone.”
“That’s right… I’m not alone in any of this.” Charlotte glanced up at the cloudy sky, which revealed a small speck of blue.
“I may not be alive… I do, however, exist. And it’s worth ‘living’ this existence, isn’t it?”
“Muraco!” Brandon attempted to rescue the rabbit lying motionless on the forest floor. A sizeable metallic beast stood in his way—glaring at the boy with literally empty eyes—the eyeballs missing from their dark sockets. The mouth, now filled with razor-sharp fangs, emitted an eerie screeching noise.
“This is… that Ivan guy…? This dude grew twice his size. He’s a huge hunk of demonic phantonite now! He’s pure silver and terror!”
“Brandon…” Muraco slowly raised his head. “Stop analyzing his appearance… You need to get out of here…!”
“I’m sorry—I pay attention to the finer details when I’m in a panic!” Brandon shouted. “And… hell no! I’m not leaving you here!”
“It caught me off guard… It’s too tough for you to deal with! Get out of here, moron!”
Ivan took a swing at Brandon, who rolled out of the way, preventing his body from being sliced apart by the beast’s sharp claws.
“Being entirely made of metal now, I can sense his movements pretty easily with my Ability. Still—that doesn’t compensate for the hella power gap I now have with this dude… thing… Okay—just what is he!?”
Ivan roared, continuing to strike at Brandon—hitting the ground each time as the boy continuously jumped to evade the attacks. The air crackled with electricity while Brandon maneuvered around the trees at a swift pace.
He knew he was only delaying the inevitable.
“What do I do…? What do I do…!?” His breathing began to pick up—now composed of shorter, quicker breaths. “If I don’t do something… I’m gonna die. There’s no help—I’m seriously gonna die…!”
Brandon started to feel odd. He felt an overwhelming amount of calmness consume his body. Yet, he could also feel an inner rage swell up within him. It did not make sense to him—it was such a mysterious feeling that it distracted him from the horror currently attacking him.
He did not need to worry, as his body began to move for him. Brandon launched backward off the ground using his leg, moving a significant distance away from Ivan. His Shepherd Surge had faded away at this point—no longer active.
Muraco struggled to stand. “He’s out of energy…? Dammit! Gotta move!”
Brandon looked at the ground, unable to move his own head up to face the beast that had started to charge after him. Like a puppet, Brandon moved his legs, casually walking forward. Electricity slowly surrounded his body once more.
The blue had now become pitch-black.
Brandon casually waved his hand, touching Ivan’s side. The contact caused an explosion of black lightning, ripping his metal body to shreds—bits and pieces scattering about on the forest floor.
“Guh…!” Ivan coughed up blood as he collapsed. In a panic, he tried to stand back up immediately, struggling as over half of his body was now destroyed. The phantonite attempted to reform his lost limbs, but could not. Overwhelming exhaustion struck Ivan, rendering anything he tried useless.
As the strange black electricity vanished as quickly as it had arrived, Brandon and Muraco’s enemy had been defeated.
“That… electricity…” Muraco stared at the motionless Brandon. “It felt similar to that energy that warped us here…” The rabbit carefully hopped over to the boy, taking precaution near Ivan’s now unconscious body. “Hey… Brandon. What the hell was that?”
“I… need to save her… That’s my role…” Brandon mumbled.
“Huh? Save who? Brandon?” Muraco waved his arms in an attempt to get the boy’s attention.
Brandon finally gazed up, looking at Muraco. For a moment, Muraco swore he saw Brandon’s eyes glow. “Muraco…? What-What happened?”
“You… defeated this guy? Look—” Muraco pointed at Ivan, who was no longer moving. “I don’t feel like he’s gonna try to get up again after that attack.”
“What attack?” Brandon asked—his enthusiastic personality beginning to return. “W-What!? What did I do!?”
“Good grief…” Muraco sighed. “Is this what I get for getting involved with you guys? I have to deal with all of this weird shit?”
“W-What weird shit!? What happened!? For real! I’m freaking out, man!” Brandon began scratching his hair in a frenzied panic.
“Well, you’ve still got energy, surprisingly.” Muraco shrugged his shoulders, turning toward Ivan. “And, well… This guy—” He proceeded to stomp on Ivan’s head with his right foot. “You tried, didn’t you? You almost got me, but in the end, you were, in fact, a boring villain. Get comfy—this is where you’ll rust away.”
“Muraco, geez. That’s not how a hero should act!” Brandon yelled, baffled at the rabbit’s behavior.
“That again…” Muraco shook his head. “Well, are you good enough to head back? I’ve been hearing all kinds of noises coming from town. We should hurry!”
“Yeah, let’s—” Brandon attempted to move, falling flat on his face instead.
“…You don’t have as much energy as I thought.” Muraco sighed. “Need a few minutes?”
“Ys plse…” Brandon spoke—his words muffled in the dirt.
Adam shook his hand, which was in tremendous pain after striking Carl. He glanced behind him, viewing the damage he had caused. The entire upper half of Carl’s head had been smashed to pieces—black blood oozing from it.
“He’s not dead…” Adam groaned. “Chaonic energy is still dancing around like crazy inside of him.”
“Adam…” Pam slowly approached him. “Seriously… How are you this strong?”
“I… don’t think it’s just me right now…” Adam shook his head. “I know you probably don’t understand what I mean—at all—but I don’t have time to explain. I’ve gotta go stop something from happening.”
“Stop what from happening?” Pam asked.
“Stay here and finish this guy off. He’s a problem, after all.”
“And you’re giving me orders!? Adam, just what are you—”
“You need to trust me right now,” Adam stated firmly. “Besides…” He sighed. “Even if I explain, none of it will make sense.”
“How can you be sure about—”
Before Pam could finish speaking, Adam dashed off toward the center of town.
“…I can understand more than you think…” Pam sadly murmured to herself. “I wish you guys would trust me…” She snickered. “What I’m hiding from you, though… Yeah—you’re probably right in not wanting to trust me.”
Pam raised her guard at a sudden chuckle. Looking down, she was stunned to see it originating from Carl’s body.
“There’s no shame in keeping secrets, you know.” He sat up—the black blood bubbling from where Adam had crushed him. His mouth spoke regardless. “Sometimes, there are things people don’t have the right to know.”
“They have the right to know this secret…” Pam gathered steam around her blade. “You can still talk like that!?”
“Yeah, I can. Man—that kid can heal a hell of a blow. His power intrigues me… Could it possibly be the push I’ve been looking for…?”
“What are you saying!? Don’t even think about messing with Adam!” Pam slashed down at Carl, only to be intercepted by Jason’s phantom energy, suddenly appearing out of nowhere.
“Thanks, Jason! You recover some of your strength?” Carl asked as the portion of his head that he lost started growing back, surrounded by blood-like crimson energy.
“I think I’m good enough for a tactical retreat. You need a break after regenerating something like your head, correct?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Carl smirked—his newly formed eyes glaring at Pam. “I guess that’s it for round two. I’ll see you again, Pamela!”
“Wait—” Pam jabbed the ground with her blade, cracking the earth below her with a wave of steam in an attempt to stop Carl. This ended in vain as Jason successfully warped the man away—the shadows fading away.
“Dammit…!” Pam threw her sword in frustration—the steel striking the rocky terrain, causing a loud metallic bang. “Come on, Pam! You need to step up your game!”
She sighed while reaching down for her weapon. As she grabbed it, Pam turned around at the sound of a massive crash.
A dark green mass of energy rocketed out of the front doors, tearing the front of the building to shreds.
Jerry had joined Winona and her father, who was still attempting to recover from the strike Derek dealt on him. Travis had finally awoken, yet was unable to fully register the situation around him.
“T-This is what happens when you don’t sleep, kids…” Travis murmured, almost passing back out on the spot. Jerry was able to keep him standing, although almost fell himself keeping the man propped up.
“Anyway, you got Lucy, Win? Let’s take her and your dad and get out of here while my dad’s fighting!” Jerry declared.
“Y-You’re leaving him to fight that guy by himself!?” Winona asked with hesitation in her voice. “But he isn’t—”
Jerry pointed at the fight. Thomas had been tactfully evading all of the blows Derek had attempted on him. The majority of the jabs Thomas countered with also missed their mark, yet a select few were able to create minor scratches.
“My dad messed with his own eyes. There’s technology in them that allows him to track phantonic activity. However this guy plans on using his Ability, he’ll be able to react in time.”
“A-Amazing…” Winona was stunned. She took a look at Lucy, who was still being held by her. “Jerry, what is this thing on her neck? It caused her to pass out once he placed it on her. Something about suppressing phantonic activity…”
“Huh? Let me see—” Jerry analyzed the strange black device. “I… Uh… Don’t know! Suppressing phantonic activity… Yeah, that makes sense. This might be difficult to remove—we don’t want to hurt her in the process.”
Cody slowly stood, gaining the attention of the others.
“Hey, Dad!? Are you okay? You shouldn’t push yourself too hard! Thomas has this!”
“Heh…” Cody chuckled, staring at the floor. “That guy’s always full of surprises…” He shook his head. “You all need to get out of here, though…”
“There’s no way I’m letting you continue to fight!” Winona yelled, getting up in her father’s face. “What will Mom say if you come home all messed up!?”
“Mom… Claire, heh…” Cody laughed. “I’ll miss her… I’ll miss you and Cynthia, so much…”
“Huh…? Dad…? W-What are you talking about…?”
Tears rolled down Cody’s face—a bittersweet smile forming.
“I’m going to die, Winona.”
Next: Chapter 2.33
Previous: Chapter 2.31
SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON: