“So that’s how it’s going to be…?”
The leader of the group stood up from his chair, beginning to walk toward a room off to the side.
“W-What now?” Chris asked while looking frantically at the other members.
“Well…” Jason sighed. “I’ve officially lost any way of spying on the place. They’ve legitimately taken over all the Authority we had. With the Ouderkirk girl beginning to change the bull’s body into fuel for her power, it’s safe to assume we won’t have any way to get back in.”
“The girl…” Derek hesitated. “The one who’s supposedly kept down there. What will become of her?”
“He already took care of that,” Jason assured. “She’s ‘safe’ for the time being.”
“Hehehe…” Carl let out a creepy giggle. “That was rather bold of you to bust open the coffin at the last moment. Are you sure it’ll stay in place until we can retrieve it?”
The leader stopped, not turning back to look them in the eye. “Yes. What’s left of that thing is merely a shell. It won’t shift onto our layer until we provoke it. We’ll need a few weeks to prepare. Carl—I leave you to get things situated.”
“Right right right…” Carl grinned, glancing at the monitor next to him. “I sure wish we could have retrieved the Blood Bull to confirm your theory. If what you say is true, then I have an idea. If we can summon one of them into the world, then our power will surely…”
“Unity…” The man clenched his fist. “It shouldn’t have fallen into his hands. If she had the opportunity to lead it, this country—this world would be in much better shape. If she…”
“Get ahold of yourself,” Jason suggested, floating over next to him. “It’s been a while since you even mentioned her. Is what happened tonight the reason? Are you sure she would have agreed to the actions that were taken? I assume she wouldn’t be.”
“Of course not,” The leader shook his head. “The heroes were able to win this time without losing anything precious. It’s possible for that to happen. However, when faced with something that they cannot overcome—”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it, I get it. You want this to be a lesson for him? Is killing him a form of teaching?” Jason questioned in irritation.
“Man, glad Jason doesn’t have a body. I’m sure he would be dead talking like that to him…” Chris commented anxiously.
“No, Jason’s right,” The man responded, startling Chris. “In any case… once Carl gets everything ready, we’ll retrieve the remnants. If we encounter the Ouderkirk, we’ll still attempt to capture her—”
“Actually,” Carl chuckled while rubbing his hands together. “I have an idea for that as well. One where we wouldn’t be placed in danger. If you allow me to handle that matter personally, then we’ll succeed.”
“Oh? Very well,” The leader nodded. “I’ll leave you to that. Also, when it comes to Adam Grayson’s peculiar power… there is one thing that comes to mind. Especially if he’s happened to side with an Ouderkirk. It was mentioned by Winifred once before. It sounded as though it was nothing more than a myth, however. I’ll keep it in the back of my head. For now, let’s try to not kill anyone if we can help it.”
“Pretty sure they’re more than capable of killing us, ya know?” Chris flinched as pain surged through his body.
“Oh, yes. Good work, you two,” The man finally turned toward them. “Jason was able to relay what he witnessed to me. My suggestions… Derek—refine how your Full Abstraction works. You have a lot of potential there, especially if you can successfully replicate the rings’ true power. Chris—finish developing your Full Abstraction. From what I’ve seen, it could help tremendously with faster foes that like to move around.”
“Woah, you can actually be a leader…” Chris was astonished. Derek lightly smacked him on the side of the head while approaching the man.
“This girl… is she who I think she is?”
“Yeah…” The leader answered. “I said when I recruited you that I knew what you had been dealing with. I went through the same thing, after all.”
“Even down to the same relation to a Chaonic Entity, huh?” Derek sighed. “Man, what the hell…?”
“The Chaonic Entity in your case is an issue that we surely need to deal with. However, with mine…”
“It’s much bigger,” Jason continued. “It took the sacrifices of the world’s strongest Conceptor and the last full-blooded Ouderkirk to contain—”
“Are we sure we should be messing with shit like that!?” Chris asked abruptly.
“…Our group is called Fangless,” The leader began explaining. “We’re weak. However, we strive to obtain strength that can protect all of the weak. My power happens to be a good match with what we’re aiming for, so it’s worth the risk if we can take everything that we’ve lost back while aiming for that goal.”
“Pretty sure you’re not getting what you’ve lost back, especially at this rate…” Jason commented.
“…At least they still have a shot.” The man said before opening the door he was in front of, closing it behind him.
Derek glanced down at his finger where his wedding ring was once worn.
“If it’s all for your sake, then…”
Inside the dimly lit room, the man walked up to an old rusty refrigerator taking out a few ice cubes from the freezer at the bottom. He threw them into a whiskey glass that sat on a counter next to the fridge, proceeding to pour the drink from its bottle.
“This is something you don’t do at home, huh?” Jason’s shadow asked as it formed next to the man.
“I made a promise to never do this in front of anyone,” He sat down in a creaky red recliner while taking a sip. “Not that it does anything for me anymore…”
“…Is this the right thing to do?” Jason questioned. “Ever since I appeared that day and you named me, I’ve just been following whatever you decide. I scout all over the place and see all sorts of things, and I’m just wondering… Have you seen enough of the world to know if your world-changing view is right?”
“If I’m reaching for a reality in where they could have genuinely smiled, then—”
“You’re rejecting the reality that’s here now. There are pieces left over that I’m sure you’d love to see prosper as well?”
“It’s easier for them if I cut those connections.” The man rattled the glass around in his hand.
“…Well, aside from handling Unity, there’s the matter of that other guy. How do you propose we deal with him?”
“If I’m still around by that point, then I’m sure I’ll know the answer…”
Jason sighed. “There’s a sliver of hope that’s appeared today. You should consider that a part of your answer. Due to the results of this incident, one of your goals has already failed, so you might as well—”
With a tap of his finger on the recliner’s arm, a faint red wave of energy shot out. This seemingly caused a reaction of sorts, as a crimson portal formed next to Jason. It began to suck him in like a whirlpool.
“Ah—okay, okay! I’ll leave you aloooooo—”
His voice faded while the portal vanished. The man rubbed his head in frustration while taking another sip of whiskey.
“Aside from your voice, you really are just like him when it comes to being annoying as hell…”
“All right. Adam’s resting now.” Jerry walked into the living room where Winona sat in the chair while Brandon was propped on the couch—taking care to not cause further harm to his leg.
“Is he gonna be good?” He asked in concern.
“It’s remarkable how his body heals…” Jerry noted. “I got all the blood off of him and it’s like he… never even fought to begin with.”
“I sure can use that power right now…” Brandon groaned. “What are we gonna do about my leg, man?”
“From what my dad’s told me, they scan your phantonic activity either by taking your temperature, obtaining a blood sample—that sort of thing. Unity legitimately paid hundreds of thousands—most likely in the millions—to distribute phantonic technology disguised as mere medical equipment. He even uses that stuff. It would be near impossible to avoid some way of them finding out.”
“Well, there is another option…” Winona spoke up. “If you join Unity, you won’t have to worry about getting in trouble. They pay for everything medically-related, so that would—”
“Ain’t they making doctor and hospital stuff cheaper anyway? They’re finally trying to do that, yeah? I’m sure I wouldn’t have to pay too much…?”
“The laws haven’t gone through for that yet,” Jerry commented, shaking his head. “I’m sure it won’t for quite a while. Anyway, moving away from politics… that would be the safest option, at the current moment. I’m confident in saying that Winona would agree on you not joining, however.”
“…How they’ve made my dad continue to work even after his injury, and everything that’s happened to my sister… no. Do not, Brandon. It’s unforgiving. If our bodies didn’t obtain large amounts of durability from our awakened phantons, we wouldn’t last. We’d literally be worked to death.”
“…I made my decision,” Brandon sat up. “We’re gonna go kick Unity’s ass! Between me now having this power, Charlotte being a super OP-magic-ghost-person, and Adam’s OP-magic-god-energy, we can fight back!”
“You’re gonna kick it with your broken leg?” Jerry snickered. “Let’s focus on one problem at a time, preferably the immediate ones right in front of us.”
“I mean…” Brandon began to ponder Jerry’s question. “…So, if I balance on my non-broken leg I could electrify the broken one and like… whip it around or something—”
“Another issue is your soccer practice, Brandon,” Jerry interrupted while taking a seat at the end of the sofa. “A broken leg means that’s a no-go. Which begins a domino effect… You wouldn’t be able to join the college’s team if you don’t complete the practice and you’d lose your scholarship money, which means no school for you.”
“Fine by me!” Brandon cheered. “I finally have something I want to genuinely put my heart into! Being a badass and saving the world…!”
“Although with a different type of energy, you’re just like Adam…” Jerry sighed, proceeding to let out a tiny chuckle. “Listen, Brandon. I assume you can connect the rest of the dots in your head. Basically, you’re in deep trouble. I suggest we find some way of healing your leg fast if you want to successfully take on any of your options.”
“Do you think Adam can learn how to control that power of his and have it heal me too? That could work perfectly, and—”
“We can’t count on Adam right now,” Jerry stated. “Besides, we’re not sure if that would even be possible for him to accomplish.”
“Unity has a way to heal up pretty fast…” Winona suggested. “A Concept that can heal all sorts of injuries a person can sustain. The catch is that it only works with the person’s own phantons, and they pretty much need to be awakened for the process to be effective. Also, if that person’s low on energy reserves or they wait too long, it won’t work. We would probably have to get Brandon to him tonight if we want to do that.”
Jerry nodded. “But obviously—”
“Yeah, I know. We’d basically be handing Brandon to Unity with that method.” Winona sighed, holding her head in frustration. “Man, I’m exhausted…”
“Are you okay, Winona?” Brandon asked. “You fought like hell as well!”
“Tired… but I didn’t take too many injuries, so my body should be okay. Awakened phantons do actually help accelerate our individual recovery, although it still takes time.”
“Let’s say, for example, your leg would heal in eight weeks—normally,” Jerry explained. “You might be able to get it working again in like… two weeks, maybe? That’s still too much time. We need an option on par with Unity’s Healing Concept—”
Charlotte suddenly sprang up from the floor, causing the three to almost jump out of their seats.
“Guys! Something’s happened!”
In the basement, the group was baffled at the sight before them.
The basement had returned to its original state, everything neat and orderly once more. Everything that was broken, such as the washer and dryer, had seemingly fixed themselves.
“What…? How?” Brandon asked while leaning on Jerry’s shoulder for support as his friend held onto him.
“The forest Adam and I fought in had the same thing happen—it was like our confrontation never occurred. I let it be since we had no way of investigating properly with my power messed up.” Charlotte shifted back to her black-haired form while standing next to Winona.
“Some kind of Concept, obviously. But…” Jerry pondered. “W-Wait a second… Charlotte. Can I ask you something?”
“Yeah. I hope you ask me a lot of things,” Charlotte said. “Now that I can stay awake—hopefully—we can discuss what we know.”
“Right, yeah. Not right now. There’s an important detail that somehow just crossed my mind.”
“What is it?”
“How the—recently named—Azurasphere works. Even if it was a perfect sphere situated underneath Prelude, the size of the town… Adam’s right near the northeastern edge of the place. If this basement leads inside the barrier, going horizontally, it would take quite a few steps to reach the top of the thing. We’re nowhere deep enough as to where we could instantly be in there once we go through that wall.”
Charlotte rushed over to the cabinet without responding. Tossing aside the structure like it was weightless, even in her normal state, she placed her hand firmly on the wall. Winona was seemingly quite impressed with the feat while Brandon and Jerry were borderline terrified.
“…I see now! I… I think. It must be working kind of like the maze was. Once you pass this threshold, you’re automatically shifted to a section that’s within the barrier. The tunnel that we could see when there was a hole here, however…”
Winona placed her palm on a portion next to where Charlotte was touching. “…I get it. It’s meant to fake you out. It goes far enough to where you can’t see the end with the naked eye, but it’s there. Why is that even necessary? I don’t get it…?”
“You guys don’t see the problem here?” Jerry asked them. The girls looked back in curiosity while Brandon seemed completely oblivious.
“W-What’s the problem? This place fixing itself up?”
“No, not that. Although that’s a huge concern, too…” Jerry took a deep breath. “Guys, why is this entrance even here inside Adam’s basement?”
As Jerry posed the question, the four did not notice that there was now a fifth person that had joined them.
Next: Chapter 28
Previous: Chapter 26
SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON: