Derek shook his head, frustrated at the current situation. Adam stood before him, ready to face what was about to happen. There was nothing Derek could do—reasoning with the young man seemed out of the question.
“Maybe I can spook him…?” Derek looked on the ground and picked up a small pebble that was near his feet. “All right, then. Let’s see how you feel after you see this.”
Sky-blue energy formed around Derek’s hand. With a mere flick of his wrist, the stone was shot at remarkable speed, barely missing the top of Adam’s head as it struck the cave above where he had entered the room. An avalanche of stone formed a blockade—it was only then that Adam was able to react to what had happened.
“I barely put any effort into that. It’s all thanks to this very world we live in. ‘What do you mean by that?’ I’m glad you asked! Well, you see—”
“—Phantons…? Pure phantons…” With his eyes, Adam could see the particles appear, emerging from within Derek and concentrating around his hand. “How is that possible? Only Ouderkirks can use them in that manner…!”
“…If you’d let me finish, I’d be glad to tell you. And since that move didn’t seem to rattle you enough—”
With a swiftness that Adam could not follow, Derek appeared right in front of him. A single strike with his palm sent Adam flying toward the pile of rubble behind him. Upon impact, the stones dug into Adam’s back, causing massive damage—pain unimaginable to an average human.
“Oops. Your durability isn’t all that great—that power healing you made me forget that. Whatever, I guess that means I don’t have to worry about being a little nasty toward ya.”
Adam struggled to break free from the stones that had stuck into him. The World Mirror’s energy eventually caused them to crumble as he tumbled onto the ground in front of him in agony.
“…I call my Concept ‘Storage.’ All of the natural phantons that flow throughout the world gather toward me, and I ‘absorb’ them—in a way. Over time, it builds up, and I have enough power to be able to strengthen me. I merely ‘unlock’ the energy and send it to whatever body part I want to use it with—like my hands and feet, arms and legs—that sort of thing.”
Derek watched as Adam struggled to stand. He sighed, walking over toward the boy. “I tell you this, why? Not to gain your trust, really. I feel like I can’t do that in your current mental state. I simply—”
Gathering energy in his foot, Derek showed no hesitation as he stomped Adam’s head into the ground.
“—Want you to see how futile it is. I’m sorry. Based on your behavior, you seem incredibly ignorant toward the cruelty of this world. Yet…” Derek removed his foot and took a step back. “You desire to save someone—someone you don’t even know—no matter the cost. I respect that innocent determination. Once, I was like that. I met a wall, however, one that I could not get past no matter how much will I had.”
Adam was barely moving—his body merely twitched around as the aura around him had weakened tremendously.
“I’m not sure if you’re conscious right now—I don’t want to check. That face is probably torn apart. So—”
“I…” Adam began to squirm, attempting once again to get up on his feet.
“Oh, good. Please stay down, though. Right now, for the sake of my eyesight, more than anything. Anyway…” Derek stretched his body while glancing around. “What does one do when they can’t get past a wall? When they deplete every option that was in their arsenal? They should either give up—which is silly—or retreat and find other ways to go about it. This is what I found in my search.”
Derek motioned his arms around the mine. “I believe in the power that we can obtain. You see—what’s beyond that wall for me is something I’ll risk everything for! Sorry, but I just can’t see you having that kind of willpower originate from some stranger. Learn what reality is, suffer like hell, and grow from it. Find something logical you want to save or protect, and stop living in a fantasy, like some hero!”
“Hero… huh?” Adam chuckled. “Ah, okay. I get it. Thanks for the advice.”
Adam gained some footing and was now kneeling in front of Derek. Something peculiar began to occur as he struggled to stand. His aura was growing once more, although it was slowly turning red as opposed to white.
“Chaons…?” Derek took a step back. “No… it’s nothing like that. His blood. His freaking blood is mixing in with that stuff?”
Despite not being actually chaonic in nature, Derek could not help but feel an immense, dark pressure now radiating from Adam. His blood swirled around in the torrent of energy, becoming an incredibly vibrant crimson in color. Holding his face—covering what had yet to heal—Adam was now on his feet. His ghastly white eyes peered through the ominous aura, emitting a “force” that Derek could only describe as death itself.
“If I can’t be a hero, then I’ll just be a villain.”
Derek barely had any time to react as Adam lunged toward him, grabbing hold of his arm while dashing forward. He was along for the ride as the two soared out of the room, into a brand new section.
The cavern had opened up, becoming much more spacious as opposed to the narrow sections from before. Stalagmites shot up from the earth while stalactites descended from above.
Derek took notice of the former, swinging his body around and slamming Adam directly into one as they flew through the cave. Remarkably, he managed to land on his feet as he slid to a stop, thanks to the phantons flowing within his limbs.
“This part… Seems we’re no longer in the maze, are we? Which means we’re close to that, huh?” Derek brushed the dirt off of him and looked toward Adam, who was swinging his arms around savagely to free himself from the rubble. With the amount of energy he was producing, this was an easy task.
“I’ve got to stop him here. If he manages to reach that place, then everything we’ve worked for up until now will be in jeopardy.”
A thin outline of phantonic energy formed around Derek as he took a stance, ready to fight. Adam, who had lost all rationale at this point, sprinted forward with the fury of a wild beast.
Derek stepped to the side as Adam shot past him, colliding with another large stalagmite nearby.
“You know, I’m quite nimble in this state. Even if you have speed, simply jumping at me won’t mean much if I can get out of the way—”
Adam jumped out of the dust and dived toward Derek, who managed to evade the boy slamming into the ground. Immediately, the attack continued as the pursuit began.
Swing, swing, swing. Adam was not even attempting a legitimate punch at this point, he was merely flailing his arms around as he tried to strike Derek. The man read the erratic moves quite well, managing to move his body enough to dodge while conserving energy simultaneously. As this continued, he began to compare the attacks to an animal attempting to claw at him.
“He’s legitimately reverting back to primal-like behavior. His mind has given up, hasn’t it? Why did he allow himself to get to this state…?”
Derek maneuvered around a few boulders that were in the path of the battle to get Adam off of his tail. These were torn through quickly—the bloodied aura of the World Mirror reducing the stone to dust.
“How is his body still intact? With the amount of raw power he’s emitting, it would take an expert level of control to not have his own body vaporize. His clothes are even still on—thank god. But…”
Derek took a quick glance around while he moved. It was barely noticeable, but there were tiny veins of crimson within the ground and ceiling. He knew little details surrounding this mine, even unaware that their plan seemed to center around some little girl that the raging young man before him was aiming to save.
Despite talking big moments prior, Derek knew that there were faults in what he was fighting for. It was evident from the get-go, yet he had no choice but to help out with this project.
He noticed a tiny shadow form near his shoulder as Jason began to speak.
“This is getting out of hand, isn’t it?”
“You’re keeping an eye on everything going on, yeah?” Derek asked. “Which means, Carl’s there watching as well?”
“Yep, we’re both watching everything…” Jason gulped. “I better not tell him that Chris just got knocked out…”
“Carl, what the hell do you think is happening? How is he controlling this power?” Derek jumped back as Adam attempted to stomp him into the ground—his leg seemingly undamaged.
“Yes, yes, yes! Derek, you and I have similar thoughts!”
“We’re not similar.”
“Anyway—” Carl’s voice echoed from Jason’s shadow. Adam did not seem to react to the discussion whatsoever as he continued his assault. “Here’s an interesting question for you, Derek. Being one that studied archeology, you’re aware of how difficult it is to explore anything pertaining to the Ouderkirks?”
“Yeah, we rarely ever had any clearance to check those places. Why?”
“Although it is meant to keep things a secret, there actually is a bigger reason why people are not allowed near those locations.”
“Which is…?” Derek dodged a swipe from Adam and managed to land a punch on him. He was pushed back for only a moment, resuming his flurry of strikes.
“It’s something known as ‘Authority.’ You can think of it like how a Concept operates. One takes control of something—anything. Much like a Concept, yet different. Concepts naturally come from within one’s self, while an Authority is one’s self taking hold of something that exists in front of them.”
“All right, I’m following…” Derek said while leaping off of the nearby wall, evading a rocketing Adam.
“Usually, only one who has complete control over either phantons or chaons can create an Authority over something. In fact, our leader and Jason both share Authority over these mines. That’s how we control it.”
“Not right now, we don’t…” Jason interrupted in dismay.
“Right right right, I was getting to that point,” Carl responded to the disembodied voice. “You see, Derek, despite the Ouderkirks no longer existing—for the most part—Authority over where they ruled remains. Mainly where their power was at display the most, like their forts off to the east. Someone entering that does not belong means terrible danger, such as the very terrain sucking out your life force—fun stuff like that!”
“Hmm… So why is Jason saying we no longer have control here?”
“I don’t know how it happened…” Carl paused. “But the mine has fallen under that boy’s control. He mysteriously placed Authority here, ripping it from us. It has to relate to that unknown power, cause that’s something that can’t just happen normally. Hey, kid! You listening!?”
Adam was, in fact, not listening—whatsoever. His body was simply going berserk. Derek was not sure that he was even conscious at this point.
“It would be good to ask him some things…” Carl sighed. “I wonder, could it be due to his blood? I’m talking genetically. That could easily make sense, but we have to wait for an answer to that.”
Derek had begun intercepting blows directly. He had become accustomed to the amount of force that Adam was creating and managed to respond with an equal amount of energy radiating out of him.
“…No,” Jason spoke up. “It doesn’t have to do with that. Trust me, this place was built to keep everyone out.”
“If Jason says so, then…” Carl pondered. “It… It’s astounding. I have a theory…! Oh! A crazy, crazy, crazy theory! It does have to do with his blood—his literal blood that’s spewing from him!”
“What do you mean?” Derek asked as he was struck with the back of Adam’s hand. This did little to Derek, who held his ground.
“Concepts. Authority. These things encompass everything that exists. Everything, including actual concepts—things that aren’t tangible, such as names. Everyone knows that the name ‘Adam’ belonged to the ‘first man’ that existed, yes? There are other meanings behind it. Meanings that pertain to the earth… the red earth.”
“Y-Yeah…? That means something?”
“Look around—a place within the earth fueled with crimson! As his blood seeps into the stone, his power acts as a medium for these concepts to intertwine, acting as a way for his being to ‘merge’ with the area. The red earth fuses with the red earth! Thus, Authority is conceived. How it overrides our Authority, however, is alarming…”
“…That’s a stretch, don’t you think?” Derek found an opening, smashing his fist into Adam’s gut, sending him into the wall.
“When one is in an area with their Authority active, the terrain does aid them. Despite chaons being a different type of power, energy is energy—Concepts, in general, do not care. You’ve seen my research, you know what I’ve always wanted to present to those bastard scientists…”
“Concepts can be born from chaons, not just phantons. Yeah, I know. I’ve seen enough to believe that. The absurdity of those people… I guess our hatred for them helps you and I get along, at least. Crazy-ass scientist.”
“Heh… For now, I’m classifying Adam’s strange power in the same class as phantons and chaons. Even if he has neither, can he actually use Concepts? Intriguing… Intriguing, intriguing, intriguing!”
“He might as well. Clearly, he uses a power that a normal human does not possess. So, why not?”
Adam limped forward from his spot in the wall. Throughout the fight and discussion, it seemed as though Derek’s effort to stop him had been working. His aura weakening, blood dripped from his face—remarkably healed up at this point.
“Authority, huh…?” Adam mumbled. It was loud enough for Derek to hear, who was in shock.
“How… did he hear all of that!?”
“It’s not too surprising,” Carl responded. “The Authority he has is allowing him to pick up all kinds of stimuli—all throughout the mine, I’m guessing. But… no. No, no, no! Even so, in his current state, how could he process anything—freaking how is this kid still standing!? I don’t even think my body could withstand what he’s dealt with!”
Derek looked at Adam’s eyes. The malice they had unleashed started to dim, yet something was still off.
It was not fear that Derek felt at that point. Instead, curiosity flowed through him, much like his phantons had been doing. He recalled the first thing that came from his own mouth upon entering the mine.
“Déjà vu… I feel it quite often. Carl, you said it’s from the residual information that phantons have as they enter me?”
“Hm? Yes, that’s correct. All kinds of information, regardless of its size, flows into you daily as you store it away. It would make sense that you tend to ‘recall’ events that did not actually happen to you personally.”
“Adam Grayson,” Derek stepped forward—Adam barely able to react. “This is going to sound strange, but your gaze gives off an absurdly strong sense of déjà vu—it surpasses any side effect of my own Concept.”
“You hitting on me…? In some weird-ass way?” Adam wobbled around, struggling to stay steady.
“Sorry, I’m already married…” Derek glanced down at his finger. “My ring was destroyed, unfortunately. But that’s all a story for another day…” He glanced around for a moment, proceeding to chuckle. “What the hell…? Is this some effect from your Authority? Does it make me feel like I’ve been here before, talking to you with similar circumstances?”
With these questions, Adam’s sanity slowly returned to him as he pondered them.
“…I have to complete this task, however. You need to leave this place. Jason told you not to dig into this. It’s beyond a miracle that things have happened in the manner that they have—you’re still alive.”
With his Authority, Adam glanced off to the right. He managed to sense a location toward the end of the mine, unable to process what was in there.
“He knows the location, Derek!” Jason’s shadow flew around Derek’s head like an irritating insect.
“…It’s pretty straightforward at this point, I’m sure anyone could find it—Authority or not.”
“S-Still! You’ve gotta stop him!”
“I know that…” Derek swatted Jason away, returning his attention to Adam. “I’ll give you one last chance. Will you leave?”
Adam, remarkably, managed to give a genuine smile as he responded.
“I can’t do that.”
Derek smirked. Jason floated back a bit—he and Carl taking note of the sudden shift in the behavior of the two young men.
With a flex of Derek’s arm, phantonic energy surged from it—pure power ready to make the final strike. “I knew you would say that.”
Adam copied Derek’s action perfectly—the World Mirror summoning an equal amount of power in his own arm. While the aura was still crimson from his blood, the vibe coming from him was much more calmer.
A mere moment passed, and the two jumped forward—red and blue, clashing upon impact as the sound of colliding energy echoed throughout the mine. The men known as Adam Grayson and Derek Sommers had one similar thought toward the final push:
Why was there such familiarity in the actions they took?
Next: Chapter 20
Previous: Chapter 18
SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON: