Chapter 27

“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

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 26

That night… was cold.

There was some light snowfall, but nothing too serious.

I had just gotten home after the walk I took after school.

Of course, nobody was there.

I went to lie down on my bed, checking my phone in the process.

Nothing, just like usual.

For about an hour or so, I stared at the ceiling.

That was all.

Eventually, I had enough.

I admitted to myself that the loneliness was too much.

Picking up my phone, I decided to text Faith.

It was just a simple hello, checking on how she was.

She had been busy practicing for the school musical that was in a few months.

It turned out that she got one of the main roles.

To be honest, it didn’t surprise me.

She was so charismatic, cheerful, and had a wonderful singing voice.

I was so happy she had risen so far above that scared little girl who sat alone on the swing set many years prior.

I was also envious.

There was no point in hiding it.

I felt as though I had nothing.

A few minutes passed, and she texted me back.

She seemed ecstatic to hear from me, giving me all kinds of details about how things were going.

The message ended with her asking how I had been.

That hit me.

It was the first time in a while that someone had asked me that.

I began to tear up, to be honest.

While that happened, another feeling welled up inside of me.

I felt like I was bothering her.

On one side, I was genuinely curious as to how she was.

But on the other… I really wanted someone to help me.

And I felt as though it would be a bother to her.

Yet, I pressed the keys on my screen, opening up to her.

The words that were formed were ones I would only let Faith read.

However, I regretted them as soon as I hit send, fearing what she would say in response.

It didn’t take too long for her to message me.

She showed great concern, as I expected her too.

Faith was too kind, after all.

It turned out she was already done with practice for the evening, and wanted to see me.

I figured she was tired, so I declined.

At that moment, something happened in my head.

To this day, I can’t quite figure out what exactly triggered it.

I simply wanted to die.

Before she could reply, I sent one last text.

I told her I was going to disappear.

So I did.

Throwing my phone in the trash, I walked out of my house.

Entering the woods, I began to pick up speed.

By the time I was enveloped in the shadows, I was sprinting.

It was time to get away from there.

To get away from life.

The snow had picked up at that point, making it harder to run as the ground was blanketed rather quickly.

I ended up tripping and falling.

It was cold, especially since I didn’t bother to put on a coat, or anything like that.

Yet, it felt nice.

It was here that I decided I would meet my fate.

I would let the bitter cold take me.

For some reason, however, I was in a rush.

Moving my arm, I noticed there was a thin sheet of ice beneath the snow.

Due to my fall, some of it had cracked apart.

A rather… sharp piece had caught my eye…

I felt it—there was no doubt about that.

But I didn’t care at that point.

I lay there as the blood rushed out of me, making the white snow underneath me turn red.

It was warm.

It felt nice.

Then, it started to get cold again.

I could feel it this time.

I could feel that the cold was going to get me.

It was so… calming…

Just a beautiful sleep in a beautiful void. That’s all I wanted.

And I was going to get it.

Somehow, someway, she found me.

Through the void, I could hear her voice screaming out to me.

It was… agonizing, to hear her sound like that.

I decided to curse whatever god led her to me. Cause she did not deserve to see this.

My hope was for the snow to cover me up.

That didn’t happen in time.

I had gained the energy to see her.

The tears falling from her face was a hell I never wanted to see.

Yet, I looked into her eyes.

I did not listen to whatever she was saying—I simply focused on her eyes.

They do say that the eyes are the gateway to the soul, or some crap like that, right?

Well, that may be correct.

I felt her entire being cast into me.

It revived the memories I had forgotten.

We had always been so close to each other, Faith and I.

Our adventures as kids were incredibly fun, despite how nonsensical they were.

Many times, we searched these very trees to find treasure.

What treasure? Beats me.

Yet, we searched for hours, knowing in our hearts that it was here.

Many of these quests Faith had apparently “learned” from fairies—that was the story we were following.

She was a big fan of fairies and believed that they existed to give us joy and wonder.

Joy and wonder…

What happened to those?

If fairies do exist, and for that purpose, why was it that they were no longer around?

I wasn’t mad about it—in fact, I was more curious.

Curiosity…

Yeah, I was curious.

That’s why I went on those adventures when I was young.

I was curious as to what would happen.

The joy and wonder part ended up being the adventure itself, and despite never finding anything too exciting, those times were so precious to me.

Yeah. Now, when I look back at that moment in the forest, things make sense.

For example, Faith had successfully gotten me out of there and gotten me help.

When I reached the hospital, my cut was long gone.

Not even a scar remained.

Everyone was baffled, as signs did indicate I suffered from major blood loss.

Along with the fact that I was soaked with my own blood.

I had recently figured it out.

Charlotte did not help me awaken the World Mirror.

It had already awakened inside of me.

Although incredibly subtle, it responded to my curiosity that had come back to life at that moment.

It did more than that, however.

Faith’s desire for me to survive…

The World Mirror reflected that as well.

I myself… also reflected it.

I did want to survive.

I desired to go on adventures again.

Everything… is just beginning.

I can’t let my body give up now…!

How… How do I get out of this?

I’m falling…?

Wait. I’m slowing down…?

Something… something’s touching my back.

Who is it…? I can’t turn around.

Everything’s pitch black anyway—I doubt I could see who it is.

Gentle hands… yet they fill me up with anxiety.

Does that make any sense…? No. Regardless of who or what it was, they’re pushing me—I’m now ascending.

As I soar further away from whatever had helped me, I swear I can hear a voice.

“Re… fuse…”

Refuse? Refuse what?

Whatever. At this point, nothing made sense. It’s like I just talked about with Charlotte. If things didn’t make sense… it didn’t matter.

We would get through it anyway.

…That’s right. I told Charlotte to trust me. And… I promised Brandon I wouldn’t die. 

So, as I fly closer toward the surface of whatever this “place” is, I prepare a question for myself.

With light entering my vision, I ask it.

“Body—physically, mentally, and emotionally… can you keep up with me?”

Adam’s unconscious body lit up in a white light—the World Mirror’s second wind kicking in at last. This startled Brandon, who was close to using his brand new Concept as a means to shock life back into his friend. With the ghostly aura came a deep breath as life slowly returned. 

“T-Thank god…” Brandon took a deep breath himself. “Is… Is he going to be okay now…!? Is everything good? He’s still out cold…”

Charlotte walked over and placed her hand over Adam’s forehead. “Hmm… I see.” She nodded. “Yeah, he should be out of danger. The World Mirror is prioritizing his life force as opposed to his body. As long as that remains, it can take its time restoring him physically.”

“How can you tell…?” Brandon asked anxiously. “D-Did the mirror talk to you or something?”

“No,” Charlotte chuckled. “It’s not like that. Instead, it… well, it can’t be put into words. That’s why…”

As they spoke, Jerry had finally caught up to the action—the mine now allowing a straightforward path. Feeling like his lungs were close to collapsing, he removed his goggles as Type:Roswell floating next to him tumbled onto the ground.

“W-What… in the… g-goddamn… h—” He could not help but cough violently. “Br-Brandon…! Concept…!? How!? Adam… I-Is he…?”

“H-He’s fine!” Brandon exhaled in relief. “It’s all fine now…”

Charlotte returned her gaze toward Adam while Winona walked up to Jerry to make sure he was okay. As her hair returned to back and her clothes reverted to normal attire, she was incredibly puzzled.

“Phantonics… As a science, I don’t think it’s possible to define the things that are happening. It shouldn’t center around the phanton—there’s a much broader scope that we need to look at.”

“Jerry,” Charlotte followed Winona’s footsteps over to the sweaty, exhausted young man. “I need you to work with me from now on. There are things we need to work toward. My ancient knowledge and your modern knowledge need to merge as one.”

“Huh…?” Jerry attempted to stand up straight. “I-I couldn’t agree more. But are you sure? Right now, I mean… aren’t you gonna pass out again. From the looks of this place… you had quite the battle, yeah?”

“That won’t be a problem,” Charlotte assured him. “This mine is now—”

She froze. Turning her head toward the end of the cavern, she could sense movement. By the time she registered the action, it was too late.

There was no immediate danger to the group. Instead, she felt a “snap” occur, followed by a surge of energy rush outside of the barrier. Charlotte understood that whatever was kept securely inside the mine had escaped. 

“…I’ll be right back!” 

Changing back into her spirit form, Charlotte soared through the stone ceiling, phasing through and reaching the surface within a second.

For the next hour, she would scout the entire area around Prelude—energy she took from the mine, allowing her to expand her search range around Nexus City. As the night took over Requiem, the ghost continued to survey any possible route the energy took, attempting to find any trace toward its new location.

Eventually, Charlotte accepted the fact that the strange power had vanished. However, this had a silver lining—she could be sure that her friends and the surrounding community would be safe for the time being. 

Returning to the mine, she recalled the peculiar shadow that had been with the enemy during their battle. Being able to sense the entirety of the spherical “barrier” that remained, Charlotte would be able to know if it was observing them—preventing it from obtaining any sort of information. 

“Damn, you were gone for a while!” Brandon yelled, attempting to stand—failing as his leg would not allow him to. He sat on the ground with Jerry by his side and Adam in front of them, seemingly sleeping peacefully. Energy continued to emit from his body, now with a more calming aura. 

“…It’s gone,” Charlotte said bluntly. “Whatever it is that Adam wished to rescue… it’s gone. I can’t even trace where it went. How did it—”

“That’s fine,” Jerry interrupted. “We can deal with that at another time. For now, the chaos that happened today has concluded. I heard everything from Brandon and Winona’s point of view. Let’s chill here while you tell me yours. It’s safe in here now, isn’t it?”

“It is, and I’ll make sure it stays that way!” Charlotte returned, once again, to her casual form. Sitting down, she took a quick glance around. “Where is Winona, actually?”

“Digging around the cave with her Concept,” Jerry shrugged. “She says there’s a method to her madness. I’m not gonna argue, especially with someone who still has that much energy after a huge fight.”

“She’s not inside of the mine right now… Oh—there she is. Nearby.” Charlotte sensed her friend’s location while her eyes were shut. “Okay… anyway. Let’s talk. While I was searching for that thing, I was brainstorming a bunch of stuff…” She paused. “Brainstorming…? Didn’t think I’d pick up a word like that.”

“Can you guys figure out what to do with my leg…?” Brandon hesitantly asked. “I-I need my leg to work so I can, you know… walk. That would be cool—walking.”

“I have a solution for that!” Charlotte’s eyes lit up. “I think it’ll work! You won’t have to go to one of those hospitals either!”

“T-That’s good,” Jerry nodded. “Normally, we’d get him to one. If they figure out what he’s been involved with, however…”

“Can’t we just lie?” Brandon questioned. “I could say a bear attacked me or… something?”

“You have an awakened Concept now, Brandon,” Jerry explained. “As long as you’re in Requiem, any hospital has the means to detect that.”

Charlotte nodded. “I figured. Well, want to hear my idea? Not just for Brandon’s leg—we’re gonna branch far past that!”

“Oh?” Jerry was growing curious. 

Raising her arms, Charlotte smirked. “I’m taking the spherical shape these guys had for their barrier and recreating it from scratch with my own Authority. We’ll develop our own base of operations and begin our pursuit of the truth! I…” She paused. “I don’t know whether I was a good person or a bad person… Right now, that doesn’t matter. I want to take back Requiem and make it a better place. We’ll start right here…!”

She pictured the structure of the area in her head as it lit up in a vibrant blue. Phantonic energy began to scatter and dance around the cavern walls—each particle seemingly having a life of its own. This calmed the young men who watched the phenomenon while simultaneously taken aback by the magic-like event unfolding.

“The crimson mine is no more…” Charlotte declared—a name forming in her mind. Although a peculiar one, the requian royal found it oddly fitting.

“Welcome to the Azurasphere!”


Next: Chapter 27

Previous: Chapter 25

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 25

At the end of the mine lay a tiny room—light seemingly unable to enter. Within these shadows, a coffin was placed in the center. If one could view it, they would see that it was made of some sort of metal that had begun to rust. From the cracks that could be seen along its design, chaonic energy started to leak out.

“…What are you doing?” Jason asked, staring at the group’s leader, who had taken a seat in a chair next to Carl’s. “You’re using power directly from that?

“If Authority is lost over the mine, then this is the only way we can do so,” The man explained. 

Jason’s shadow let out a sigh. “What exactly do you plan on doing with said energy?”

“…Oh!” Carl’s face lit up as he peered through the mine with another shadow—they could only watch over what was currently happening. “You’re… gonna make one!? Yeah? Yeah? Yeah!?”

“That’s right,” The man leaned back in his chair, holding his head to concentrate. “This should be a good test.”

Inside the cavern, the energy formed into a giant red mass as it exited the room and into the wide-open area. Black hooves dug into the ground as four muscular and hairy legs emerged—the transformation beginning.

“…Does everyone here know the tale of the Blood Bull?” The man asked.

“Huh? Blood Bull?” Chris was confused at the name.

“I do,” Derek responded. “Wait… that’s what you’re trying to make?”

“Not ‘trying.’ I’m going to make it.” The man stated firmly as he sat up—eyes closed. “The Blood Bull… After witnessing its mate killed by humans, it lost its sanity. It, in turn, began to kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. That’s all the beast’s existence centered around. The tale goes that its own horns developed a dark, sinister power as they absorbed all of its victims’ blood. You could not escape it—the curse drew in people despite their fear. You could not fight it—the thing seemed immortal. It only died from its own exhaustion, so they say.”

“Why…!?” Jason questioned. “Just why are you going to throw that thing at them!?”

“Cause the good guy always wins.” The man responded. “Well, they always have the capability to as long as they are willing to make sacrifices to do so. That is the test I’m giving. Let’s see what they come up with.”

The Blood Bull walked at a brisk pace while it’s upper body continued to manifest. Sharp, crimson fur covered its enormous frame while its head began to emerge. The bull’s horns formed, completely drenched in a substance identical to blood. 

Just when the process seemed to be complete, something occurred, much like a glitch in a video game, the Blood Bull’s body to shift and distort in a red pixelated fashion.

“Interference…?” The man shook his head—the strain increasing in intensity.

“It’s because of their Authority, isn’t it?” Jason asked. “Even if you still have control over the coffin’s power, that cave is now—”

“No…” The man’s crimson eyes opened. “This is something else. Carl—” He glanced over to the man in the chair next to him. “Bring up the data in File IV for me, would you?”

“…Wait, wait, wait!” Carl shot up from his seat—a mixture of excitement and concern controlling his body. “If you’re asking about that file, then do you mean…!?”

“Yes, I do. Get to it.”

“Right, right… right.” Carl sat back down, typing furiously on the keyboard. 

Derek stared at the two men anxiously. “File IV…? What could that be?”

Despite the error, the Blood Bull—for the most part—had indeed appeared. Regardless of it being a creature of myth or reality, it was a fact that the man—the apparent “leader” of the group—had created a living, breathing monster.

Composed of chaons, it was naturally known as a “Chaonic Entity.”

And it had one goal: Kill.

Beginning to charge ahead, the Blood Bull was rather swift even with its massive size. The entire cave shook as its hooves continuously made contact with the ground. 

It was at this point where Charlotte, Winona, and Brandon could see the beast approaching them.

“W-W-What is that thing!?” Brandon asked in an immense panic.

“It came from the end of the mine… A place our Authority couldn’t seem to touch.” Charlotte explained, changing the sword in her hand into a bow. Creating an arrow, she quickly fired at the monster—the projectile making contact in less than a second. This did nothing, however.

“Winona! Move those two to safety!” Charlotte ordered, creating more arrows and firing them with more power. Just like the first one, these too proved ineffective. 

The Blood Bull prepared to charge at Charlotte while Winona used her sand to move Adam and Brandon away from the battle zone.

“Charlotte…!”

Charlotte intercepted the strike by changing to a gigantic axe—a crimson horn clashing against the sharp and bulky weapon. The force caused the earth surrounding her to shatter to pieces.

“This thing… What the hell is it?”

Charlotte noticed a peculiar sensation as she stared at the bull’s horns. It was a malice of some kind, one that neither human nor beast could generate normally. While she struggled, the ghost girl realized another oddity.

“It’s chaonic… but my power isn’t purifying it?”

Her axe began to crack as the Blood Bull swung its head toward the side, obliterating the weapon—the energy behind the impact launching Charlotte toward a large stalagmite.

Instead of phasing through, she maneuvered around the obstacle, regaining control over the direction she flew in. A moment later, the monster smashed through the stone, continuing its pursuit of her.

“It’s focused on me. Good! As long as I can keep it away from them!”

A ball and chain appeared in Charlotte’s hand. She swung the rattling weapon around a few times, building up momentum. Despite how heavy the object was, she still managed to fly with ease, evading the Blood Bull’s rampage.

While the already torn up cavern was ravaged, a storm of stone scattered around the area. A good distance away, Winona used her Concept to prevent the wild projectiles from causing further harm to the boys behind her. 

Brandon was speechless at the sight. Even if his leg happened to recover through some miracle, he lacked any sort of courage to face a demon of that caliber. 

From the dust, Charlotte launched the ball at the beast. The contact made with its left horn created a gale which blew the stone and sand around them away instantly. Even though she swung with all of her might, her weapon could not dent the creature.

With a roar, the Blood Bull whacked the ball off to the side, prepared to continue its rampage. As it did this, Charlotte motioned the chain in her hand upward.

“How about this!?”

The action caused the ball to swing around the creature as the chain wrapped around its neck in an attempt to strangle it.

At least, that’s what it seemed like Charlotte was plotting. As an Ouderkirk, she could take this “ordinary” ball and chain and cause much more damage. When the weapon had fully constricted the beast—the sphere resting on its horn—she clenched her fist.

The ball became a bomb—phantonic energy stored within was unleashed, producing a devastating blast, point-blank on the Blood Bull’s head.

“Wow…” Winona watched in wonderment at the power Charlotte held. 

“Holy shit…” Brandon said, completely astonished. “Did… that do it?”

A burst of crimson energy answered that question for him. The Blood Bull’s horns radiated magnificent power, which knocked the sky-blue explosion away. 

“What the—” Charlotte could feel the intensity of the beast’s power as it surged through her and the entire mine. She was certain now that this demon had the capability to take back the Authority that the enemy had lost. She could not allow that—the Authority had helped her keep her body stabilized without having to worry about absorbing phantons in the surrounding area, focusing all of them toward the battle. Without it, the fight would be nearly impossible for her to win.

Along with that, she was well aware of the Authority keeping Adam alive.

“I can’t let it fall back into their hands… If that happens, Adam will—”

“Charlotte.”

“Huh? Adam?”

She glanced in the direction the group had moved. Adam was quite the distance away, yet was somehow speaking to her. Even stranger, he was entirely unconscious at this point, with the World Mirror struggling to heal him in time.

“I guess Authority lets me speak to you like this,” Adam’s voice noted. “We both share it here, after all.”

“W-What’s up? I’m kind of busy here—” Charlotte—terrified—evaded the Blood Bull just in time, as it had crazily decided to leap up into the air and smash its head into the ceiling above in an attempt to strike her. The resulting avalanche of stone was nothing to the beast, shaking it off as it came back down. 

“I can still tell what’s going on… Damn, this stuff is freaky. I can’t even explain how this is happening, but it just is.”

“Heh…” Charlotte created several javelins, launching them one-by-one at the Blood Bull from varying directions to see if she could find a weak point. “These powers sure are strange, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. And I don’t think you can defeat that thing with your current strength,” Adam stated. “That thing’s a Chaonic Entity, I’m guessing. It looks like the Blood Bull from the requian myth titled—naturally—The Blood Bull.”

“Is it something similar to how that man was using his powers, based around stories of Requiem? I assume—Authority and all—you saw what happened there?”

“Sort of. Although… it’s sort of hazy since I was unconscious. I’m guessing?”

“You’re guessing a lot, aren’t you?” Charlotte couldn’t help but smirk in response.

“Yeah, remember my whole heroic speech a few minutes ago? With not knowing anything—anyway, back on topic. The Blood Bull is resilient, desiring to kill anything in its way to avenge its mate’s death. I figure that fact is transforming into power for this thing. In which case, you need to unleash everything on it if we have any hope of winning.”

“That… seems like a really nonsensical strategy,” Charlotte admitted. “Besides, my power right now… I’m not sure what the limit is.”

“…I think I have an idea. You’ll probably hate this one even more, but…”

Charlotte managed to catch her breath while the dust gave her temporary cover from the Blood Bull’s constant attacks. “What is it…?”

“You take all of the Authority—one hundred percent of it. The mine will be all yours. Use the power it has and destroy the hell out of this thing.”

“You’re right… That plan is horrible.” Charlotte shook her head. “You need Authority right now! If you lose it, then you’ll—”

“I’m gonna be honest with you…” Adam interrupted. Charlotte flew around close enough to where she could see the three clearly. He had regained consciousness—Brandon and Winona were unaware of this—and looked at her with only his right eye open. “Right now, even after everything that I said… I still feel like I wouldn’t mind dying. Especially if it was to make sure you guys were safe… I-It sucks—feeling this way… However, knowing how much everyone would suffer if I were gone… I-I won’t. I can’t… put them through that experience again…”

It seemed as though Adam was about to cry. As she noticed this, Charlotte began soaring around in random directions while the beast continued its desire to kill, smashing multiple projectiles that she threw at it.  

“Adam…”

“So, I have to ask… Do you trust me?”

“Huh? Trust?”

“Yeah. Do you trust that I’ll survive, even without Authority?”

“I-I mean… the World Mirror is restoring your body as we speak. But I’m not sure if the speed of the process is—”

The Blood Bull managed to close the distance between itself and Charlotte. As it prepared to smash its head into her, multiple stone spikes ascended from the ground below, piercing the beast multiple times.

“This is…!?” Charlotte looked over—Winona with her hand planted firmly on the ground.

“I… I said I’d be back up, remember…?” 

Even though Winona had managed to break through the demon’s fur, the Blood Bull thrashed around, breaking free with ease. The small wounds received lit up with chaonic energy as they closed swiftly. 

“Heh… I prepared them to be wicked sharp, but I also took into account the vibrations it caused while stomping around. I got a basic timing down on how it moves its legs, and at what point the belly is most exposed.” Winona’s body began to shake. “I-Is this my limit…?”

“…You’ll just have to trust me,” Adam said. “We can’t let anything happen to them, yeah?”

“I…” Charlotte hesitated in her response. At this moment, the Blood Bull changed targets, now aiming for Winona and—in turn—Adam and Brandon.

Whether she used a projectile or simply blitzed the beast with her speed, Charlotte knew she was not fast enough. Her mind, thankfully, was now quick to make a decision. 

“I trust you!”

The Authority was transferred to her without delay—Adam had no clue how he did it, yet it happened. As pain overtook him, the last thing that reflected in his eye was nothing but a vibrant azure.

Charlotte had created chains—not from her person but directly from the cavern’s floor and walls. They quickly grabbed onto the Blood Bull, stopping its mighty charge a few feet from Winona. 

The demon roared in frustration as the chains were firmly constricting its movement. Winona felt like she was about to pass out—however, she managed to avoid collapsing.

Charlotte landed in front of her, becoming a wall that divided Winona and the Blood Bull. With a tiny motion of her finger, Charlotte caused the chains to pull the demon upward toward the stone ceiling.

“The stomach, huh?” Forming a bow and a single arrow, Charlotte aimed upward as massive amounts of energy concentrated around the tip. She looked back toward Winona and gave a warm smile. “Giving me advice just like then, I see.”

Charlotte groaned as she stared at the assignment on the desk in front of her. It was a large study hall where kids were either working on homework, reading, or even talking amongst themselves—the teacher appointed to watch over the room did not seem to care what they did. 

“I don’t get this geometry stuff… Why did I bother going undercover here, again…?” She mumbled softly to herself. 

Although sitting a distance away from other students, one girl decided to walk up toward her, sitting in the seat in front of her. 

“Shapes can be complicated, can’t they?”

“Huh?” Charlotte glanced up at her. “Y-Yeah, I guess they can be…”

“I hope I’m not bothering you… I saw you struggling and thought you could use some help?”

“I… suppose. It’s not that big of a deal, though.”

“Well, I’m pretty good at geometry—had to study up on it quite a bit for my own… stuff, so…”

“…Do you know which side of this thing I’m supposed to measure first? And what is the point in doing these ‘proof’ things to begin with?”

“Ah, yeah. Those are silly. But I can help you—wait. I know you just moved here, but we only have a few months left before the end of the year. You don’t know about proofs yet!? Ya didn’t learn them at your old place!?”

“Eh… n-no, not really,” Charlotte chuckled. “I guess my old school wasn’t caught up with the times, or something?” 

“Well, that’s fine,” Winona assured. “You’re Charlotte, right?”

“Yeah…” Charlotte nodded. “You’re… Winona, if I remember correctly?”

“Mhmm!” Winona replied cheerfully. “Now, let’s take on these shapes, shall we?”

“You were one of the first people to speak to me on their own volition…” Charlotte noted. “Wish I could have told you all that geometry help was pointless, but—”

“It wasn’t pointless!” Winona interrupted. “I had fun teaching you! I-I…” She took a deep breath to calm herself. “…Now that I know the truth, y-you’re not going to leave us, are you…?”

With a smirk, Charlotte casually released the arrow from her grasp as it ascended directly into the Blood Bull’s gut. An explosive force began tearing through the creature—the entry point the epicenter of the energy. With the help of the chains, the beast was being ripped apart, piece by piece. 

“There. It seems like I can purify it now. Had to peel the fella’ open to get to all of the good stuff.” Charlotte paused, shaking her head. “That was a weird way of speaking… Anyway, I’ll absorb it into the mine so I can use it as a power source—should help us quite a bit. And as for your question…” She walked over and leaned in front of Winona.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Winona could not help but stare into Charlotte’s eyes—their usual nonchalant energy was masked by a more firm and powerful glimmer. Although the young ghost woman was willing to return the gaze, another matter at hand interrupted the moment.

“Adam! Hey, Adam! Charlotte did it! We… did…” Brandon’s cheer faded quickly upon realizing the current situation. 

Adam was no longer breathing.


Next: Chapter 26

Previous: Chapter 24

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 24

“So that’s what’s going on…” Winona stared at the blue beast in front of her, which had remained stationary for a few minutes as Adam had explained the situation to her. “W-What should we do…? We’ve gotta change Charlotte back!”

“I’d love to,” Adam sighed as his body continued in its attempt to heal. “But I can’t snap my fingers and make things like that happen. At least, I don’t… think so? Charlotte—return to normal!” 

His fingers would not allow this simple action. The flick Adam wanted to do failed as blood spewed from the contact point, flying all over the place. 

“Gah! Wh-What the—”

Blood also began to gush out of his mouth as he started to shake, collapsing onto the ground in a violent convulsion filled with a mix of heavy coughing and agonizing screams. 

“A-Adam…?” Winona was panicking at this point. She tried to reach down toward him but could not, as Charlotte had started to thrash around once more. Her focus had to remain on the sand within the bestial body if she hoped to keep her friend in place. This caused Winona to remain practically frozen in place except for her hands, struggling to maintain the situation.

“What am I going to do…? I’m going to lose both Adam and Charlotte if I don’t think of something! I’m… I’m at my limit right now. I…”

To Winona’s complete dismay, Charlotte began preparing a new method of attack. The slime that had surrounded her ascended, detaching itself from her body. It began to light up as it shifted from the gelatinous substance to pure phantonic energy. A humongous sphere had taken shape, and it was obvious what was going to happen next.

“If she launches that thing at us… we’re done for!” Winona motioned her left arm to the best of her ability, causing tiny amounts of sand to rise toward the sphere. “Even if I release the sand weighing her down, it won’t be enough…!”

Winona also had to consider the possibility of Charlotte retaliating the moment focus was taken off of her body. In her current state, it seemed like there were no options left for her.

“I’ve got to get Adam out of the way, at least!” She waved her arm, directing the sand in a new direction back down toward the bloody young man. “Can I get him out of the way fast enough…?”

Brandon, clad in fierce electricity, dashed through the cavern at remarkable speed. Although the mine was no longer swapping sections around, he would be quick enough to avoid getting caught in an endless loop.

“This is… a Concept, yeah!? This feeling is… freaking awesome!”

Brandon was going so fast, in fact, that he was soon to reach a wall where the path takes a sharp turn to the left. Normally, one would not encounter a turn in these caverns. However, he would—the obstacle being his first challenge as a Conceptor.

Brandon could see the stone coming toward him fast with the light from his electricity and the torches. What would occur next would all happen within a single moment. 

“Crap, crap, crap!”

Brandon could feel the surge of electricity running through his entire body. This included his brain and nerves, as they began responding even before he was fully aware of what he was about to run into. His feet planted into the ground as lightning tore through the hard stone—Brandon shifting his body toward the left in an attempt to turn in time.

He slowed down, but could not stop in time. His body slammed against the wall, smashing it to pieces. 

However, Brandon barely felt anything.

“What the…?” 

Adjusting his footing, Brandon took off once more, quickly regaining his speed as he continued to dash forward.

“If I remember correctly, awakened phantons help keep your body more durable, or something. Man, this shit’s cool!”

Shaking his head, Brandon returned his concentration to the matter at hand— lightning scattering and dancing throughout the cave with each step he took. 

“I’ve gotta save him…! For sure, this time!”

The mine began to open up around him as Brandon entered a new section away from the torch-filled passage. Far off in the distance, he noticed a bright light that seemed to be growing in intensity. 

“That’s…!” 

Gritting his teeth, Brandon picked up the pace as electricity crackled around him. He soared through the rocky terrain like an actual lightning bolt, aiming directly where Adam and the others were located. 

The massive azure sphere was in plain view now as it began to descend toward Winona and his blood-soaked friend. In a split second, he understood what he had to do.

“I’m not letting that thing go off!”

Leaping into the air, he instinctively wound his leg around his body. Like kicking a soccer ball, he struck the side of the sphere in an instant—a frenzy of blue scattering at the source of impact.

“Wha—” By the time Winona reacted, the force of the collision knocked her off her feet, quickly spinning her body around to land back on them safely. “What is—”

She could not see what was interrupting Charlotte’s attack—the scene was far too bright. Adam, who had managed to calm himself down, glanced upward as his right eye viewed the phenomenon. Through his silvery-white eyes, he managed to make out a person’s silhouette, whom he recognized easily.

“B-Brandon…?”

“Get this shit…” Brandon buckled his knees, building up enough force to knock the sphere off of its projected path and toward the right of its targets. “OUTTA HERE…!

The attack collided with the ground and began to skid through the cave, shredding the solid stone to pieces as its energy dispersed—an explosion releasing its remaining power hundreds of meters away from them. In the same moment, Brandon landed much like a superhero would—something he managed to calculate doing.

“Heh…” Knowing what he had just accomplished, Brandon stood up with an incredibly conceited expression on his face. “It’s gonna be okay. Cause the Shepherd has arri—”

He collapsed onto the ground, unaware that he had broken his leg upon kicking the sphere away. “Guh!” 

“Brandon…!? What are you doing here—are you okay!?” Winona rushed to his side, seemingly unaffected by the small amounts of electricity emitting from him.

“Gah… N-No, I’m not okay! M-My leg…!”

“You managed to knock Charlotte’s attack away… But going up against pure phantons like that was stupid! You’re lucky you hit it from the side, or else that wouldn’t have worked!”

“B-But I did knock it out of the way… Ain’t that impressive? Please…?” It looked as though Brandon was about to cry. “Please, don’t tell me I broke my leg for noth—” His eyes slowly widened. “Wait… did you say ‘Charlotte’!?”

He glanced to his right, quickly analyzing the now idle creature.

“…W-What the fuck is that—that’s not Charlotte!?” Brandon began crawling frantically away from the beast as he slipped on Adam’s blood, almost causing him to land on top of his friend. “…Huh…? Adam…?”

“I guess I have to be the one to thank you…” Adam chuckled, painfully shuffling his body so he could talk to Brandon directly. “For once, you were pretty cool… even if you did bust a leg to accomplish it…”

“D-Dude…” Brandon shook his head, violently. “Forget my leg! What happened!? You kept pushing yourself, didn’t you!?”

“I sure did—” Adam coughed—it took him a second to resume speaking. “We’re… both not cool, to be honest. So, we have to make sacrifices to pull off shit like this.” 

“…That p-power’s gonna heal you, yeah…?” Brandon questioned, terrified of the state Adam was in. 

“I’m not sure at this point…” The bloody young man started to sit up.

“Hey! You can’t move in your condition!” Brandon attempted to keep Adam in place. Winona, glancing back at Charlotte, leaned down next to the two.

“Adam, there’s nothing you can do right now. While she’s not moving, I need to get you two out of here! I…” She took another look at the beast, now beginning to whimper. “I can’t save all of us…”

“That’s okay, Win…” Adam patted her on the back as he sprung to his feet. “You did plenty. Let me finish this…”

“H-How…” Brandon was in disbelief at what he was witnessing. “How are you able to move, dude!?”

Adam, stop! You—” Winona attempted to grab Adam’s arm, only for her grip to slip off due to the blood that coated him. 

“My World Mirror can’t do much right now… The Authority I somehow have over this place is the only thing helping me move…” Adam began to explain. “She shares the same Authority with me. I’m the only one who can reach her.”

“Does…” Brandon slammed his hands on the ground in frustration. “Does that even make sense!? Winona, does that make any sense!?”

“I’ll leave Charlotte to you…” Winona said—the words leaving her mouth against her will. 

These words cause both herself and Adam to flinch upon hearing them.

“W-What…?” Winona’s body began to shake. “I… I didn’t…”

“No need to worry, Win. I’ve got this.” Adam began to step forward. Brandon attempted to stop him but could not, as he was incredibly confused.

“…What just happened? That wasn’t a natural exchange. At all.”

“W-What do you mean?” Winona asked him.

“You went from a hundred to zero! Ya can’t be all ‘No, don’t, stay!’ to ‘Alright, go.’ just like that! Freaking ‘Oh, I’m the only one who can reach her, let me handle this.’ isn’t a good response to have your whole attitude take a one-eighty—you’re too smart for that shit!”

 “I-I…”

Before Winona could respond, a burst of blue energy erupted in front of them—the force knocking them onto their backs. Mysteriously, Adam—who was closer to the event—remained in place.

Winona swiftly regained her composure while Brandon began to whine in response to everything occurring. 

“My sand…!?”

The earth that Winona had manipulated and transferred directly inside Charlotte’s body had been torn apart—a sandstorm now engulfing their vision. Adam, using his eyes, managed to keep his sight, not even flinching. 

He could see Charlotte’s body begin to transform, decreasing in size. It was evident that she was returning to her normal, human-shaped self. However, with the dust beginning to clear, Adam could see what her new form looked like.

Although she was a white-haired human once more—rather, a ghost—Charlotte was now clad in several dark-blue scales that formed randomly on her skin. They covered her enough that she would not be nude, something Adam was thankful for, as he could not be sure how Brandon would respond to seeing his first naked woman in this situation.

Charlotte was leaning down, growling like a wild animal. Her teeth appeared razor-sharp like one would have, as well. Adam shook his head at the sight before him.

“Even without the Authority, it’s pretty damn easy to tell now…” He let out a small sigh. “You’re afraid, aren’t you?”

She had her attention entirely on Adam now, remaining in place as she hissed at him. 

“This appearance…” Adam shook his head. “Charlotte. Are you able to talk in that state? If you can, then I want you to tell me how you’re feeling…”

Charlotte responded with a sudden, sharp, and agonizing shriek—one that shook the very souls of Adam, Brandon, and Winona. Thankfully, in this form, eardrums remained intact. Even if Adam could regenerate them, his friends behind him would not be as lucky.

“Gah…!” Winona held her head, trying to shake away the pain surging through her body. “C-Charlotte…!?”

“This…” Brandon was unsure of how to process how he felt as he heard Charlotte’s screams. “I…” He backed up, still crawling around on the ground.

Adam came to the realization. Whatever Charlotte was experiencing was something they currently could not deal with. They had no answers to what was causing her such grief. He knew that it was even worse, as she did not know why she experienced such anguish herself.

“Well, if that’s the case, then…”

He leaned down so he could be at eye-level with her as he began to speak.

“You listening to me? I’m not one to walk on eggshells—not anymore. If I think something or feel a certain way, I speak up. If… If everyone was honest with each other—didn’t hesitate or hold back on how they’re feeling, I feel like the world would be a much better place. Granted, it’s tough. Overcoming that barrier… Especially when you know you’re gonna have to deal with shit once you open your mouth. But… it’ll be done and over with. By not getting it out of the way—letting it muster up inside you… it just ruins you. I never said anything, and I just kept my opinion to myself as I watched everything crumble around me. That’s how I got to that point… Anyway. I would tell you to vent all of your frustrations right here and now, but there are two problems with that. One: You don’t even know what the problem is, yeah? That hole in your memory is gonna be a hassle to deal with… Two: There… are things that are really, really difficult to open up about. With how you’re reacting to pure emotions of whatever it is… I can tell. If you do figure it out, it’ll be hard to talk about…”

Charlotte had been staring at Adam in silence as he spoke. Her eyes slowly had vitality return to them, and she began to look more aware of what was happening. The scales were starting to crumble away, causing Adam to motion back at Winona.

“H-Hey! Help me out here!”

“…O-Oh! Okay!” Winona noticed the panic in Adam’s voice as she stood up, rushing over to him. “What… do you ne—”

“Cover her. With something.” Adam was incredibly blunt in his request.

Winona immediately motioned sand around her, forming a cloak-like object. Adam grabbed onto it—noting that it actually seemed quite soft—and wrapped it around Charlotte’s body.   

Brandon attempted to chuckle lightheartedly. “S-Such a gentleman…” He said in a sarcastic tone. 

“You’re lucky I know how you operate, or I’d slug you for that remark.” Adam sighed while keeping his focus on the girl in front of him.

“Charlotte… are you okay?” Winona asked, now sitting next to her.

The ghost girl had grabbed firmly onto the cloak—the comfort helping her regain composure. “Y-Yeah… I… I’m so—”

“Don’t apologize for something that’s not your fault.” Adam glanced downward. “It’s my bad… I rushed in here in the first place, and look at what happened.” He glanced at Winona. “Sorry. Looks like I needed your help, after all. I can’t create stuff out of nowhere—at least I think I can’t. And I wanted to make sure that Charlotte…”

“I don’t even know why I let you go like that…” Winona remarked. “It’s not like me to let something like that happen. You’re injured, and I let you walk right up to her while she was like that…”

“W-Why did I lash out…?” Charlotte began to raise her voice. Although not in tears, she sounded quite pained toward the circumstances. “I-I don’t even know—”

“Man!” Brandon was on his foot now as he skipped over toward the others. “Confusing stuff keeps on adding up, doesn’t it! I had a lot go down before I came in here and saved the day, and now—” He tripped—his face planting right into the stone ground. “GHH…!”

“I think he was trying to add himself into the convo so he could help us help you out…?” Adam shrugged. “And then he fell—good thing you have a Concept now, or else that could have really messed up your face…” He pulled on Brandon’s head, raising it to confirm its condition. “Yeah, it’s fine. As fine as you can be, at least.”

“Y-You guys are all over the place, aren’t you…?” Charlotte questioned, beginning to calm down. 

“We sure are—that actually helps lead to the conclusion of what I wanted to say. Ahem…” Adam cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. Opening them a moment later, a gentle smile formed on his face.

“The world is confusing. It can be so goddamn random at times, and usually not for the best. So, you’re lucky you associated with me—with us. We can handle that kind of thing. Even if it seems like we can’t… we’ll flip everything upside down until we’re able to. Whatever happens in the future, we’ll be there to solve it together.”

Charlotte was taken aback by Adam’s words. While investigating him and learning about his circumstance before confronting him, she certainly never expected such an attitude to be a part of who he was.

“Mhmm, mhmm!” Winona nodded her head, grinning from ear to ear.

“So freaking cheesy…” Brandon snickered. “But… good. You finally understand, don’t ya? We’ve gotta stick together—that’s the most important part. When dealing with anything.”

Charlotte giggled. “Well, you guys are the ones who live in this era. If that’s how we do things nowadays, then I’ll just have to trust you.”

Winona’s smile quickly faded. “Right… what Adam talked about. Not only is she an Ouderkirk, she’s…”

“…W-Wait a minute!” Charlotte sprang up, taking care of keeping herself covered. “Winona!? H-How are—how did you…!?”

“You’re just now reacting to her…?” Adam shook his head. “Well, you’re going through a lot, so I guess it’s natural.”

Winona placed her hands on Charlotte’s shoulders. “It’s okay. Adam told me. I-If there’s anything I can do to help out… then I will!”

“I don’t want you getting in danger, though!” Charlotte exclaimed. “I’m aware of how Unity operates, and—”

“Don’t worry,” Winona’s face was stern. “I won’t let anything happen to me. Or you. I swear…!”

“W-Well… all right.” Charlotte was hesitant in agreeing, yet managed to do so.

“I didn’t know they knew each other…?” Brandon bumped Adam with his elbow. “How long has that been a th—”

“GAH!” An astronomical amount of pain suddenly tore through Adam’s body, knocking him over onto his side. 

“A-Adam!?” Brandon crawled over and grabbed onto his friend. “That pain’s catching up to you, isn’t it!?”

“No…” Charlotte shook her head, walking past Winona and glaring down toward the end of the mine. “It’s a reaction from our Authority being meddled with! Something’s coming… from that area…!?”

“I’m… gonna assume that the reaction hurts like hell for him cause his body’s all messed up? Wait, what’s this ‘Authority’ thing you mentioned?” Brandon looked nervously up at the two women.

“I’ll tell you later, Brandon,” Winona tapped her foot on the ground. “I can feel it too… What is that…?”

Charlotte grabbed hold of her cloak. “Winona, thank you for making this for me. I’m okay now, so if you don’t mind, I’m gonna use the phantons you put into this thing…!”

“Huh? H-How?” Winona turned to see the sand cloak light up, transforming swiftly into her blue armor. 

“Well, like that. Cool…! I can change the structure of something phantonic, even if you used actual earth to create it?”

“I-I don’t know if that’s what just happened…?” Winona grew flustered. “I-I’m not sure if Ouderkirks are capable of something of that nature, although I can’t be sure—and not to undermine you, o-of course!”

“Winona…” Charlotte glanced at her. “Are you able to fight in your condition? Adam can’t, and Brandon’s leg—along with his inexperience with his Concept—make it difficult for him to help.”

“You know I have a Concept now!? How the hell do you know—did you see me pull off that cool move!?”

“This Authority…” Charlotte looked down at Adam. “It’s… interesting, to say the least. I want to learn more about it. But, for now…!” She returned focus to Winona, waiting for an answer.

“I’ll… I’ll still fight!” Winona assured her, swinging her arms around excitedly. “Even if it’s support, I’ll help you out!”

“Good…” Charlotte breathed in slowly, exhaling as she formed a blade in her hand. “Cause after everything that’s happened down here, I have no clue what’s going to happen next!”


Next: Chapter 25

Previous: Chapter 23

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 22

“Terra… Bombardment!”

The hovering stones shot toward Charlotte’s best form with incredible speed—each one making contact in less than a second. Unfortunately, the blue gel-like substance surrounding her buffeted the blows, causing the attack to do nothing.

“Shock absorption, huh?” Winona gritted her teeth. “I can feel vibrations through any earth I take control of, even things that become projectiles. That substance has to be absorbing all the impact…”

“T-That wasn’t your Full Abstraction, was it?” Adam asked. “You gave it a name… We’re in trouble if she just shrugged that off.”

“Huh…?” Winona was rather confused. “…O-Oh! Nah, I name a bunch of my attacks. A Full Abstraction would be a sort of super move or technique—you put your heart and soul into it. I have created one, recently, but—”

The weapons stuck within the ground burst out—now entirely visible while ascending into the air. Winona had sensed their initial movement and prepared to counter.

Adam, as well, realized what was about to happen as the sharp weapons pointed toward them. “These things pack a punch…! You’d better—”

“No problem!” Winona waved her arm, giving a signal to the rocks under her control.

“Terra Scattering!”

As the weapons descended toward them, the stones flew around in multiple directions. The myriad paths they took ended up successfully colliding with the azure projectiles, knocking them off their intended path. Many of them shattered upon impact, some broke as they whacked against the ground, and a few managed to remain in one piece.

These weapons shifted their trajectory, and from new angles, they attempted to strike once more.

“Again…!”

Winona’s arms motioned around her—it almost looked as though she was hugging herself. Rocks from all around once again flew, colliding with the projectiles and stopping them. One blade, however, managed to bypass the stones and aimed right at her.

“Gotta move…!”

With a stone of his own in his hand, Adam whacked the blade just in time, throwing it off its course—shattering as it bounced off the ground.

“Woah…! Nice one, Adam!”

“It’s not all that impressive,” Adam admitted. “I just happened to gain Authority in this place, somehow. I can sense all kinds of shit that’s going on…” He winced, trying his best to stay on his feet. Miraculously, his control has even kept his eyes from showing signs of the World Mirror.

Whatever kind of “control” Adam had would soon be lost, however. It was inevitable, at this point, that Winona will learn of his power. 

Especially considering that they both could be flattened by Charlotte’s next attack, as her gigantic claw descended toward them. 

“Terra… Surf!”

A massive heap of sand swept the two up from the side, carrying them out of harm’s way as the impact shattered the earth where they were a moment prior. The dust kicked up, enveloping the entire area.

Winona took advantage of this. While they were blanketed, she used her Concept on the dirt surrounding them. The sand that had been used for her Terra Surf came to a halt, while her power was channeled elsewhere. 

With visibility returning to the area, there was no time to spare—the sharp needle-shaped rocks were ready to launch.

“Terra… Thorn!” 

The stones shot forward, penetrating the blue gel seemingly with ease as the tips managed to dig partially into the creature’s actual body.  

“Terra, terra, terra… Anyway,” Adam smirked. “You got through that layer! Piercing, as opposed to blunt force, seemed to be the trick.”

“But it didn’t even flinch…” Winona raised her hand in front of herself. “So, we’ll do this…!” Sand began to float around the two—Adam curious as to what she could potentially do next. 

“Terra…?”

“Go get ‘em, sand!”

“No terra…”

All of the dirt flung toward the needles—collecting at the tips that barely stook out of the gel. Charlotte seemed to be rather lackadaisical with her current body’s movement, so this task was much more straightforward than it could have been. 

“Are you making those things longer, so they can dig deeper…?” Adam asked. He began to show concern, knowing who the creature really was.

“I’m…” Winona had trouble breathing for a moment. “I’m sending the sand directly into its body…! I’m not sure how we can return this person to normal, but…”

“You’re gonna try to weigh it down?” Adam seemed to understand Winona’s plan. “Sending dirt into a human’s body would obviously be pretty damn bad for that person. With the way things are right now, though…”

Charlotte began to whimper—her bestial tone sending a chill down Adam and Winona’s spines. 

“…Who is this, Adam?” Winona questioned bluntly. “It is someone… I know?”

Adam chose to remain silent.

“…That blood on you… and your clothes are torn up like they are… What has been happening down here?”

Adam slowly exhaled. Winona glanced back at him—flabbergasted to see the white aura begin to emit from his body. His eyes, as well, had lit up once more.

“Well, shit. I guess I have to explain…”

 

Chris pouted as he sat on the floor of the hideout—Jason’s shadows around his body fading away. “I can’t believe you guys almost forgot me!”

“Sorry,” Derek sighed. “We had to rush out of there. Good thing I remembered.”

“And we got nothing out of it!?” Chris questioned while groaning, lying down on his back. 

“I guess it’s my bad!” Carl cackled. “I had no idea the Ouderkirk girl would actually be a threat! I just assumed—”

“You shouldn’t assume shit!” Chris shot back up into the position he was just in. “You’re a scientist! You’re supposed to do research and logically approach things—ow, ow, ow!” His body suddenly twitched from the pain.

“Careful. She did knock you out pretty hard…” Jason stated.

“It was a hypothesis!” Carl responded to Chris’ rant. “You guys went in and did the test to see if my hypothesis was correct! It… wasn’t.” He shrugged. “That’s science for ya.”

“Derek, hold him down. I’m gonna flick a spark into his face.” Chris prepared to snap his fingers. In response, Derek simply shook his head.

“That won’t do much to him. He’d probably like it.”

“Yeah…!” Chris agreed. “I could see that as a fetish for you, Carl.”

“Heh… hahahaha!” Carl began to laugh loudly. “With this body, I can’t do anything even remotely sexual, so things such as fetishes are something I’d rather not bother with.”

“I feel like we could get deep into this topic, so I’d rather we not,” Derek suggested.

“Plus, we got a kid here,” Chris pointed toward Jason’s shadow. “We can’t talk about this—”

“I only have the voice of a kid!” Jason yelled abruptly. “I’m an adult, just like you bastards!”

“Are you…?” Chris asked. “You don’t even have a body. How do you know?”

“I feel like we could get deep into this topic, so I’d rather we not,” Derek repeated his previous line.

“Anyway. Jason,” Carl turned toward the hovering shadow. “What’s the current situation there?”

“Well…” Jason was silent while analyzing the other side. “Okay… so. We’ve got someone else in the mine now. She’s got a Concept…! Oh! That girl who can manipulate the earth!”

“Oh?” Carl chuckled. “Yes, that makes sense. If the barrier’s beginning to fade away, then she certainly could get in there, now could she?” 

“Yeah… Seems like she’s helping the kid out against… whatever the hell the Ouderkirk girl turned into! Carl, look at this shit!” 

A shadow formed around Carl’s left eye, seemingly granting him vision of the activity in the mine. “Oh… oh! Oh, oh, oh! What is that magnificent specimen!? It’s most definitely something that a Chaonic Entity could become, yet it’s phantonic in nature! Amazing! Amazing, amazing, amazing! This is the power of the royal family!? Astonishing—”

“Okay, stop.” Derek sighed. “You sure you can’t do anything sexual? You’re for sure getting off on this crap.”

“Forgive me…” Carl continued to giggle.

“You know…” Jason paused. “When is his session going to be over with? It’s been a while, and we could really use—”

Suddenly, a large crimson portal appeared next to the group—its mere presence causing the room to shake. 

“Well, speak of the devil…” Jason chuckled. “Hey, took you long enough.”

The outline of a figure could be seen exiting the crimson mass. It stopped as it seemingly brushed something off of its shoulder.

“I took my time with this one. Pretty sure I’ve created a new kind of ability, actually. It could help us—” The calm, stoic voice paused as the man glanced around at the people in front of him, still not entirely visible. 

“Has something happened…?”

Jason floated in front of him, laughing awkwardly. “You’re gonna want to sit down for all of this, my friend.”

 

“Stay here, Brandon.” Jerry requested, heading for the door while Brandon remained on the couch. “I’m gonna go get some stuff from my house. Don’t try going down there again while I’m gone. Wait for me. Or, wait for Charlotte to return.”

“I’m… having trouble seeing right now, anyway.” Brandon said. “It won’t be easy for me to. I’d trip and fall down those stairs, probably.”

“Try to relax if you can. You have that carton of apple juice—keep drinking that. It’ll help flush out your system.”

Brandon took a tiny sip as his hands were shaking. “Adam’s gonna kill me for having this without his permission…”

“You know he actually wouldn’t care, right?” Jerry paused, waiting for Brandon to respond. “…Right?”

“…That was hours ago…” Brandon said to himself nervously, lying motionless on the couch. “Wait… no. It’s only been a few minutes, I think…? I don’t know.”

He held his head—still very much in pain.

“What is time, anyway? What is… space? What is… wrong with me!? I’m acting all… loopy.”

“It’s pretty much how you act normally, anyway.”

Brandon leaped up at the sound of his own voice. “Wha…!? What the!?”

“Oh… you’re reacting to me. This is a first. It’s like we’re actually separated.”

“Are you a demon!? Did you possess me, after all!? Get out of my head!” Brandon began running around Adam’s living room, nearly tumbling over the furniture. 

“Sit down.”

Seemingly like magic, Brandon was flung back onto the couch, where he sat—just as the voice had ordered.

“What in the…!?”

“It can work on us, huh…? Cool, I suppose.”

“Wha… What did you do?” Brandon questioned, frightened to move. 

“Nevermind that. Anyway, to answer your questions from before… no. I am not a demon. You and I are the same person. A certain event occurred where everything would have changed for you. Your mind would have been messed up beyond belief. Yet, you were split off for the sake of living a normal life.”

“What…? What event?”

“I can’t tell you that. You see, the moment you realize the truth, we will once again merge. Keep being the same old dumbass, in the meantime…”

Brandon had no idea what to say. There were way too many questions—ones that he assumed the voice inside his head was aware of. 

“Well… we have an issue with you doing that, however,” The voice continued. “Adam’s still down there… You got teleported away before you could be sure he was safe. I desire to take over once more, but…”

“So you’re the reason I went in there? Yeah, I want to save Adam, but Jerry—”

“You can rely on Jerry like you always have. He helped you get through school, didn’t he? You couldn’t even comprehend your classes, which is why I have doubts about your understanding of what you’re getting into. But… I want to rely on you in the same manner.”

“What do you mean…?”

“If I continue to take over, I risk us blending into one. I learned that down in that mine. If Adam didn’t show up…” His inner voice sighed. “You have the power to fight on your own, you know? Just telling you about it is risky enough.”

“I do…?” Brandon shook his head. “Wait a minute. You’re the reason why I’ve had all those issues over the years? I tend to blackout for a moment or forget things. Is that—”

“Yeah,” The voice responded. “My—Our emotions tend to get the best of us. If something bothers you, it bothers me. It’s another way we could merge. So… I tend to wipe your memory. I’m going to do so with portions of this conversation, by the way, but it’s pretty… therapeutic to talk about this stuff, even to myself.”

“What the hell…?” Brandon felt like he was about to cry over the sheer stress of the situation.

“If I am to rely on you… I need to take a risk. For you to unlock the power that you have access to. So… allow me to show you something. A memory—rather recent—that should help you out.”

“Wait—”

Before Brandon could say anything, his consciousness faded.

The memory seemed hazy, yet Brandon picked up on his location quickly.

The heat paired up with a long day of practice was something he could never forget. He was leaning on the fence of the tennis court, which was the closest to their school. His red soccer uniform was drenched in sweat, so he figured he was trying to cool off.

Although he knew there were several other athletic fields off to the left, he could not view them. Looking toward the right, he could not even see the school. Light seemed to only focus on the area where he was currently standing.

What little control Brandon had on his body had left him—the memory now ready to play out.

“…Hey, idiot.”

He turned to the familiar voice. Emma walked up to him, wearing her white volleyball uniform. “You look miserable.”

“I have to do all kinds of practice before college. They want me to make sure I’m in tip-top shape so that they can feel comfortable giving me all the scholarship money.” He chuckled, wiping his brow. “Sorry if I’m a mess.”

“…That’s not what I meant.”

“Huh?”

“Nevermind,” Emma sighed, standing up against the fence next to him. “Anyway. Do you have anything to say to me…?”

“Anything to say…?” Brandon was utterly puzzled.

“…I see. I guess it is true, huh?” Emma looked down.

“Wha…? What’s wrong!?”

“Well, since you won’t remember, it won’t hurt telling you how I feel, for once.”

“How you… f-feel…!?” Brandon was taken aback by those words.

“Settle down,” Emma groaned. “Sheesh… at least you seem to be able to act like this, despite…”

“Despite…?”

Emma took a deep breath. “…I don’t know why it happens, but whenever you and I are by ourselves… you forget everything. It doesn’t happen when we’re with others, but… if we have a quick chat about a game, or whatever, you never remember. At first, I figured you were just messing with me.”

“I would mess with you much differently than that,” Brandon smirked. It faded as he noticed how pained Emma’s expression seemed.

“With all of the connections I have, I could get you to see someone about it. You never know, it could be something Phantonics could solve. But I don’t want that. I would never lead you into anything that dangerous…”

“Dangerous?”

“Ever since Adam… you know, he’s been tested several times. I have to thank Jerry’s dad for making sure he’s okay. The same for me. If it wasn’t for him volunteering to do my checkups, I’d be…”

“It’s a scary world, isn’t it…?” Brandon shrugged. “Well… why don’t we just hang out with others from now on, if you’re so worried I’d forget something? If what you say is true, then I’m going to forget this whole convo too, yeah? If you’re gonna tell me important shit, then wouldn’t it be—”

“The fact you forget is the reason why I’m confident in telling you this stuff right now…” Emma began tapping her foot on the ground. “And…”

Brandon waited nervously for her to continue.

“…I don’t want that.”

“Huh? Don’t want what?” Brandon asked innocently. 

“Why can’t we hang out… just the two of us? Why can’t it be like when we were younger…?”

“I… u-uh…” Brandon was growing flustered at how open Emma was being.

“We’ve known each other since we were kids. We grew up together… Ever since Adam introduced you to me. And… you spent time with me. I was in that hospital, all alone. Mom was busy with work and stressed about Dad dying. Faith was dealing with a lot of it too, and she shut herself out from everyone. You, however, took the time to visit me…”

“…I annoyed my dad to the point where he would drive me there almost every day. Yeah, of course… I remember that.” 

“Then why don’t you remember anything after that? What… happened?” Emma’s voice sounded pained—Brandon took notice of this.

“I know! I can get Jerry’s dad to—”

“No…” Emma shook her head. “Unity takes tabs on every patient he has. They’d know. If something really off was discovered, they’d find out. It’s frustrating… how goddamn stupid it all is!” 

Brandon instinctively placed his hand on Emma’s shoulder. He grit his teeth in anticipation of her swatting it off. To his surprise, she did not.

“Look… Emma. Let’s talk about this when someone else is around. Maybe we can figure something out! And I’d be able to—”

“Listen…” She glanced up at Brandon—the smile on her face was agonizing to him. “All I want… is for you to live a normal life. Not get caught up in the bizarre world that I live in. Make it big with soccer—or whatever—and retire early. Settle down somewhere far away from here with some girl—hopefully, you’ll be smart enough to find someone halfway decent. And… just live in peace.”

Brandon had no time to even consider a response, as Emma began to walk off—his hand finally falling off of her shoulder. Attempting to reach her, no words could come out. She vanished as the memory faded to white. 


Next: Chapter 23

Previous: Chapter 21

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 21

Charlotte’s blades crumbled away as her grip on them was lost. She could not tell what side hurt the most—both the entry and exit wounds were in astronomical pain. Her breathing picked up—hyperventilating while her body attempted to process what just occurred.

Derek did not expect the assist from Carl and Jason. However, it saved him from defeat. In Charlotte’s current state, she could easily be captured, and their goals would grow close to fruition.

The three had no idea what they had just caused.

No one—Charlotte included—would understand precisely how the events unfolded for quite some time. The technicalities did not matter, as the following was simply the release of raw, powerful emotions. 

If the bullet had aimed for any other section of Charlotte’s body—one that did not involve the specific organs that it had pierced through, her reaction would have been different.

While she felt agony inside of her that began to pick at familiar memories from long ago, Jason’s shadow appeared around the injured girl.

“Well, let’s get back to the base. You’ll be fine—you’re already dead, after all… Huh?”

The swirling black vortex of Jason’s struggled to form around Charlotte. If he could not submerge her entirely in the darkness, she would be unable to teleport. 

“Jason!” Carl yelled! “Come on! I know you feel exhaustion, but the reality is that you don’t have a freaking body to strain! Fight through it! Grab her before she heals!”

“T-That’s not it…” Jason moved the shadows away from her, appearing next to Jason. “She’s…!”

Even Derek felt the sudden surge of energy around the Ouderkirk. They all noticed the tiny veins of crimson that were in the ground had started to shift to the phantonic azure. 

“Is she turning the chaons into phantons, like she’s been doing?” Derek asked, stepping back as the air itself began to vibrate.

“…I believe this is a side effect,” Carl responded seriously. “That wouldn’t stop Jason from grabbing her—his shadows can tear right through energy if he so desired.”

“Then… what’s going on?” Derek almost toppled over as Charlotte’s power expanded. She had remained silent—eyes toward the ground the entire time. He still saw her shaking and felt as though he could literally feel the emotion radiating from the ghost girl.

“It’s Authority…” Carl sighed. “It seems like she’s now taking it from the other guy. Unlike how he took it from us, she’s doing so with sheer force. He can’t really do anything about it in his state.”

“So under her Authority, Jason can’t use his shadow?”

Before Carl answered, they were shocked as blades suddenly shot up from the earth—Derek jumping away quick enough to avoid being skewered.

“This is too dangerous…!” Carl cursed at himself. “Screw it! Jason—grab Derek while you still can! Derek, you stay out of her Authority’s expanding range while he does so!”

Derek did so as blades continued to rise from the ground. Jason’s shadow followed as it covered the man, preparing his escape.

Charlotte finally glanced up. Although she was not looking at anything in particular. Derek looked into her teary eyes and realized something immediately.

The despair she displayed was something he had seen before. There was no mistake—he knew exactly what that look indicated. However, he could not deduce how she felt that way. It did not make sense to him.

While the shadow consumed Derek, warping him to safety, he recalled the obvious. Charlotte was a ghost. One that had issues regarding her past memories. It’s entirely possible that, upon becoming injured, those memories had shot to the surface.

While Derek’s hypothesis—one he did not share with the others—was mostly accurate, it was merely the emotions of Charlotte’s past that had awakened. With no actual memories of any event, she was a mere pawn to her past sorrow.

Holding the lower section of her abdomen, Charlotte released an agonizing scream—one that would be torturous for any sane person to hear. 

Adam was still unconscious. However, that did not stop his body from resonating with the anguish his friend was in.

He began to speak in his mind, in a dream-like state. His voice echoed throughout the inner void—the words muttered were ones he did not control.

“…We’ll get through this…”

“…We have to keep on fighting…”

“…Thank you for helping me take care of…”

“…We’ve both lost so much…”

“…But knowing you’re there for us…”

“…Like we are for you…”

“…Don’t suffer alone…”

“…We can do this, Char…”

Adam awoke several minutes later.

Teardrops had fallen from his glowing eyes, partially cleaning his bloody face. 

“Huh…?” 

He used his right arm to brush away the tears, which had managed to grow back. His body was in immense pain, however, and he could barely move. 

“What… happened here?”

Adam looked around the area he was in. It took him a moment to recall that he was in the mine, especially considering how different it looked. Blades, spears, arrowheads. These, along with many other forms of weaponry, sprung from the ground all around him. Fortunately, they did not seem to reach his location.

“These are… Charlotte’s, yeah?” Adam struggled to stand. Leaning back against the wall, he used the stone surface to wiggle his way onto his feet. “The entire cave is… brighter. All of her weapons are lighting up the place.”

Attempting to step forward, Adam tripped almost immediately, using his hand to stop himself from planting his face directly into the stone ground. 

“Dizzy… so dizzy…” He looked at his bloody body and realized the issue. “Right… that takes longer to regenerate. Even back then, when the cut healed quickly, I still suffered from blood loss.”

Adam continued to stare at the red he was soaked in. “The sight of it doesn’t… seem to bother me? Do I still… not care?”

He grew silent.

“…Do I still want to die?”

A loud crash in front of him snapped Adam out of his stupor. He glanced up to see several shattered blades fly his way—one slashing at the side of his face before crashing into the wall behind him. 

“What…?”

What Adam saw a few meters ahead both baffled and frightened him. A giant blue fetus—the basic description of the creature. The main body was glowing while a cerulean slime coated its outsides. Upon closer inspection, Adam noticed that the beast had qualities of a lizard as opposed to a human.

“What the… what the hell!?

The creature bellowed, unleashing a devastating sound that—quite literally—made Adam’s eardrums burst. 

“Gah…!”

The World Mirror took no time in beginning its healing process—just finishing the restoration of the cut on Adam’s face. As the ghastly aura leaked from his ears, the boy would not be able to hear for now. He felt the surge of energy that was erupting from the beast—not only physically, but on another scale as well.

“Authority… was it? I somehow picked up on what they were saying when I was going crazy. Probably from the World Mirror’s bullshittery—anyway. I took this ‘Authority’ over the mine from those guys. I can tell… right now, this thing’s the one trying to take over. We’re about fifty-fifty right now. Me and…”

Adam stood, struggling against the force radiating from the beast.

“Charlotte… is that you? Wait—hang on, don’t answer yet.” He rubbed the inside of his ears, collecting blood and flicking it onto the ground—the silvery-white energy fading. “O-Okay… I think I can hear now. Charlotte! Is that you!? Please don’t scream again!”

The creature Adam deduced to be Charlotte was motionless—not counting the slime churning around its body. As sound was returning to him, he could hear a low weeping noise coming from her.

“…What happened? How did you end up in that state? You’re suffering… aren’t you?” He slowly shook his head. “Geez… I’m pretty sure I figured out where the other ghost girl is being held, yet here you are… making me help you too.”

Adam limped forward—his entire body shouting at him to stop and rest.

“I’m really gonna die at this rate…! So, before I go, let me at least…” His eyes widened. “Let me at least save you… then save her… then save everyone else. Is that what I want…? It’s a never-ending chain, isn’t it?”

As Adam looked to the ground, giant arms grew from Charlotte—their claws cutting into the earth as she began its crawl toward him.

She did not reach him. From the ceiling above, an avalanche of stone descended. It was so swift that the sound of rock shattering was not heard until it collided with Charlotte’s body—the massive force knocking Adam into the wall his back was becoming accustomed to. 

“Wha—”

A figure emerged from the ceiling, landing on top of the massive pile of rubble. Adam attempted to make out who had appeared while waiting for the dust to settle.

“Adam…!?”

He recognized the voice immediately. Winona jumped out of the sandy mess and onto the ground in front of him. “What…? What!? What are you doing down here!? What happened to you!? Are you okay!?”

“How did you…?” Adam laughed lightly. “Right. Your Concept is Earth. I guess you would be able to figure out something was going on down here. Can’t you feel vibrations, and whatnot?”

“Y-Yeah!” Winona took a quick glance around. “The mine down here… I could always feel some sort of activity down here. Today, there was too much happening, so I figured I’d dig down. It was like… a sphere, of sorts, was emitting the vibrations. I could never tell—no—I never bothered to tell, until today. It was some kind of chaonic barrier, wasn’t it? Took me a bit of effort to bust through.”

“A sphere…?” Adam nodded. “Yeah… you’re right. It seems to be weakening a lot right now, probably since we’ve taken the Authority from those guys.”

“…Authority!? Wait, wait, wait!” Winona shook her hands violently. “You still haven’t answered why you’re down here! And now you’re saying something about Authority!? If you’re legit talking about the Phantonic terminology, then… how? That’s classified stuff that Unity keeps from everyone else!”

“Unity… that’s right.” Adam sighed. “You’re going into Unity soon, aren’t you? You’ve already learned things that are ‘classified,’ huh?”

Winona understood the tone that Adam was talking in. It happened to be one that she had used before. “…I know it’s probably hard to do so, but… I want you to trust me. You can tell me what’s happening. Clearly, you’re hurt, and I won’t let that slide!”

Adam knew this, of course. He knew that Winona, the Roswells, and Thomas would all prioritize his safety over anything to do with Unity.

There lies the problem. Disregarding his own well-being, they would all be putting themselves at risk. Winona merely showing up is already a huge issue. If Unity caught wind of what was occurring here, they would seek out answers. And they could track her down as a suspect—they had the means to deduce that sort of thing. Even if she kept this a secret, there were ways to get her to speak.

That was the kind of power the organization known as “Unity” held.

As the stones began to move behind them—garnering Winona’s swift attention—Adam realized that he had to worry about all of that later.

“…I mentioned ‘we’ took Authority from the people who had control over this place. The ‘person’ you just crushed with all of that rubble is the other one who currently has Authority here…”

“B-But…” Winona took a step back. “I figured it was some massive Chaonic Entity, which is why I opened up the ceiling on top of it. It’s a… person?”

Charlotte smashed through the stone—her bestial form shaking off the rocks as if it were nothing. Winona was utterly horrified at what she saw.

“What… What the…!?” 

Adam stood up and limped over next to Winona. “Somehow, they turned into that. We’ve got to help them. Any… ideas?”

Using her power, Winona manipulated the stones flying around the area, forming a circular band in the air above her. “I-I’m not sure… We have to fight—that much is certain. Or it’ll kill us…” She looked back at Adam, smiling despite the situation. “Helping someone, huh? That sounds just like you…”

Winona took a deep breath, readying herself for battle.

“All right! Leave it to me!”  


Next: Chapter 22

Previous: Chapter 20

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 20

Derek—his right arm seared.

Adam—his right arm vaporized.

Through the power struggle, Derek had managed to hold his own against the might of Adam’s World Mirror. It did not take long for the arcane energy to lose control, destroying his limb. 

Adam had been slammed into the wall once more, this time finally losing consciousness entirely. Derek stood motionless, making sure that the boy would not awaken once more. The white aura diminished, only focusing on his injuries—his arm especially.

“Well, looks like he finally calmed down…” Derek glanced down at his burnt hand. “This whole incident… Something feels off about it.”

“You can worry about it later,” Jason suggested. “Right now, we need to get the guy out of here. Carry him toward the exit. His friends seem to have gone upstairs for the time being. Not sure if we can peacefully sneak past them or not.”

“The plan is to walk right out the front door!?” Derek asked astonished. “Walking out in public with this blood-soaked dude probably won’t look that good!”

Carl chimed in. “At this point, I do think we have to take the boy in. We couldn’t scare him off—clearly. If we put him in his bed and leave, he’d wake up and break in again—potentially prepared the second time around, coordinating an effort with the Ouderkirk girl.”

“…Isn’t Chris handling that right now? Aren’t we capturing her?”

“Err…” Jason hesitated. “You see… Chris lost. Badly. He’s unconscious right now, but he’s safe. She left him alone, thankfully.”

“…I could have sworn she was in a state where capturing her would be easy. What the hell happened!?”

“It’s fascinating!” Carl screamed suddenly, startling Jason as the shadow shook around. “Remember how I said ‘energy is energy’ when it comes to these things? The girl is purifying the chaons in here, transforming them into chaons, which she can feed off of. Chris didn’t stand a chance—she seems to be quite skilled in combat. And… Well, tell him the bad news, Jason.”

“There’s more bad news…?” Derek sighed.  

“Yeah. She’s almost here. You’ll have to fight her. Good news, however! You don’t have to hold back this time!”

“I have to get serious…?” Derek questioned. “I’m exhausted as hell right now. How do you expect me to battle someone like her—”

“What’s going on here…?”

A chill ran down Derek’s spine as he heard the girl’s voice. He turned toward the right—the direction of the previous room—witnessing an array of azure flames floating around the white-haired, blue-armored young woman.

“She’s… not only an Ouderkirk, but a ghost, huh? First time I’ve met either.”

“Carl…” Jason groaned. “I think we should just warp Derek out of here and call it for right now. We’re putting him in danger, and at least she’ll get Adam to safety.”

“They know his name…?” Charlotte formed a sword and pointed it in Derek’s direction. “Who are you? That shadow… it spoke when that other guy showed up, as well. What’s going on?”

“It seems you let Chris live…” Derek shrugged. “I’d be dead meat if anything happened to him. So, first of all, thanks for that.”

“I don’t kill without a just cause,” Charlotte stated. “Well, at least right now. Who knows how I was like before…”

“Hmm?” Carl’s interest was piqued at Charlotte’s words. “Memory loss? Ah, yes. That would make sense… yes, yes, yes!”

“Another voice…?” Charlotte took a step back. “What is that thing?”

“The first voice was a disembodied one—don’t worry about those details, it’s complicated. And the second one was some creep—feel free to worry about him all you’d like.” Derek rubbed his injured arm. “Anyway, I think Jason’s right. Let’s at least wait until—”

“Derek…” Carl chuckled. “That girl in front of you is key to having our plans succeed—astronomically faster than if we didn’t seize her. We don’t have much time left, you know?” His tone immediately shifted. 

“Don’t you want to save your dear sweet Samantha…?”

Derek gritted his teeth—his muscles tensing upon hearing those words. “Why… the hell would you play that card right now?”

“Motivation, obviously!” Carl cackled loudly. “Now, weaken her! We don’t want an Ouderkirk retaliating too much upon returning to our base—it would probably get destroyed.”

“Y-Yeah…” Jason’s tiny shadow moved close to Derek’s ear and began to whisper. “I’ll grab her once you make an opening.”

“Fine,” Derek stepped forward. “But Ouderkirks have control over pure phantons, don’t they? Isn’t my Concept a bad match up?”

“Although you’re using pure phantons that you’ve gathered,” Carl began to explain. “It still falls under your Concept—it’s unique to you alone. Ouderkirks can’t alter things to that degree. At least, it’s never been mentioned in any records I’ve come across. If you’re worried, and you value safety, finish this quickly.”

“…I’m learning some new things just by listening to them.” Charlotte thought. “That guy seems to be their source of knowledge. I wonder how much he knows…?” Her hands tightened around the hilt of her blade as she glanced at Adam. 

“Not that I’d ever willingly seek this person out…! If you want a fight, you’ll get one. Just know, I won’t hold back! For the moment, my stamina is no issue. I’m not even sure how powerful I am right now.”

Derek was silent for a moment. He took a deep breath, preparing himself.

“Sam… I keep adding things to the list. The list of things I’ll apologize for once this is all over.” He shook his head, focusing entirely on Charlotte, who was ready to face him. 

Derek took another, sharper breath, and began to speak.

“My body—a locked chest. My soul—the precious treasure within…”

“Huh…?” Charlotte noticed a sudden swell in Derek’s power.

“Ooh!” Carl seemed ecstatic. “You’re getting that serious, huh!? Nice, nice, nice! I love seeing this!”

“Share the wealth with the virtuous…

Rob from the sinful…”

On Derek’s forehead, a glowing azure mark in the shape of a keyhole appeared. Immediately, a mighty burst of phantonic energy was unleashed that swirled around his body. Just as swiftly, the power calmed. Charlotte noticed he now wore four ring-like objects—two around his wrists and two around his upper arms, near his shoulders. 

“Armaments of the Summer Storm!”

“…Of the what now?” Charlotte’s questioning had to be put on hold, as Derek’s power had now skyrocketed. She was prepared, however. 

Multiple arrows had manifested from a few flames surrounding her—the fire proceeding to concentrate around the head of each projectile. As if she had shot each one individually with a bow, they flew toward Derek, connecting in an instant. Upon contact, a mighty explosion was unleashed that had nearly engulfed Adam as well.

As the dust cleared, Derek was unharmed. In front of him, an azure glass-like barrier had formed in the same circular shape as his rings. The structure shrunk down—hollowing out and returning to his right wrist. Although the object had remained on him the entire time, this band of energy fit into what appeared to be an opening around the ring, laying back in place like a puzzle. 

“That fast…? I didn’t even notice!” Charlotte leaped back—the remaining flames following her. She breathed in as they merged with her body. Her aura increased in size while she stood her ground, waiting for the next move.

“I’m not sure if it was after your time or not,” Derek began to explain. “But this power is based around ‘The Wrath of the Summer Storm.’ A rather famous myth of Requiem. Four rings of remarkable power based around the four seasons were forged by a goddess that loved to enter the human world and explore. A wicked witch confronted the goddess and managed to steal one of the rings—the Ring of Summer—unleashing a cataclysmic storm that leveled the world. That’s… basically how it goes, summarized.”

“How… do you have that kind of power?” Charlotte asked, somewhat intrigued despite the situation.

“I don’t. It’s how Concepts can work. Your soul adjusts to a certain ‘thing’ that exists—physically or conceptually—but you can bend the rules a bit if you put in the effort.”

“That’s kind of what that Chris guy mentioned before…” Charlotte recalled. “With how things can get ‘tricky’ with Concepts.”

“My Concept—Storage—gathers phantons throughout Requiem. You can say I could also gather the history of it—rather, the myths and stories that have been passed down for ages. I take one of my favorites, one that’s quite famous, and use that.” Derek aimed his hands at Charlotte—tiny individual openings forming around the two rings on his wrists.

“This is a Full Abstraction that I’ve created.”

“Full… Abstraction?”

Derek fired multiple scale-like projectiles from the rings as they scattered around the area, slashing the air while they darted around in a myriad of directions. Charlotte whacked away a few that flew her way, realizing that she had to move before they overwhelmed her.

Jumping up, she began to fly around the area, evading the scales to the best of her ability. Striking each scale to deflect them grew tedious—individually, they all had remarkable force behind them. 

Charlotte attempted to phase through one of the scales only to find out that they damage her anyway. Luckily, it was a simple graze on her left cheek and nothing too serious. 

“Damn…” The blood spewed from the wound as she held it.

“She can bleed…?” Derek asked himself in confusion. Carl decided to answer him.

“Yes, it seems that way! However, it’s not really anything for her to worry about.”

Much like the World Mirror heals injuries Adam obtains, Charlotte’s own phantonic energy covered the wound. It regenerated quickly, even causing the blood to disappear.

“So this is what it’s like, huh…?” Charlotte looked at her hand, realizing that the red that covered it had also vanished. She turned her attention back to the scales, which seemed to be slowing down in their pursuit.

“Hmm? What’s happening?” Derek waved his hands to aid in maneuvering the projectiles toward Charlotte. “Usually, whenever I release them, they keep going for the target. Why—oh…” He began to chuckle.

“Oh! Do you know, Derek? I figured it out as well! Based on what you’ve told me, at least. Am I right?” Carl questioned with a giddy tone.

“The scales seek out life in order to cause death. It lasted for a few because of her energy, but the Concept caught on. She’s dead, so why should they seek something already dead?”

Charlotte watched as the scales returned to Derek’s rings, entering the openings as they closed once more. “Scales… seeking out death…? Wait a minute, I—”

“The rings in the myth aren’t technically sources of power, themselves. Rather, they act as a sort of ‘portal’ to summon special items that the goddess collected on her journey. Items that gained power by matching up with the conceptualized seasons.” Derek explained.

Charlotte calmly landed in front of Derek, looking as though—ironic as the saying is—had seen a ghost.

“…The Scales of Autumn. The goddess took them from a dying dragon, obtaining the concept of ‘dying’ within the concept of the season ‘autumn.’ Life withering away—not quite dead.” 

Derek’s eyes widened upon the explanation. “Y-Yeah, that’s exactly it. You know this myth…? It’s old, so maybe—”

“The Shield of Winter—that thing you protected yourself with—holds the actual concept of ‘death’ within the concept of ‘winter.’ Anything with the force of life cannot break through that shield.”

“…The goddess took the shield off of a dead soldier, found frozen in a blizzard.” Derek added. “Damn… You probably know about the other two, don’t ya?”

Charlotte snickered. “Yeah, that’s right!”

In her head, she panicked. “I… don’t recall those! I still can’t recall the overall plot of the myth, but I remembered those two! Why… is that? Is it cause I saw them physically?” 

“The spring one would be perfect for my condition at the moment,” Derek sighed. “But unfortunately, I don’t have it quite down just yet. And the summer one… Well, that would be silly to use here—”

Charlotte swiftly formed a spear in her left hand, thrusting it forward. Derek reacted just in time, blocking it with the ring on his right wrist. Due to the injuries on that arm, this caused tremendous pain. 

“I know we’re both having fun talking about this stuff, but we’re still fighting. Did you forget?” She transformed the sword in her right hand into a second spear, jabbing at Derek with that weapon as well. He blocked with his other ring—the force this time pushing him back. 

“Sorry, I’m a bit tired from dealing with that guy up against the wall,” Derek snickered, motioning his arms as the rings opened once more. “Let’s end this!”

Scales were unleashed for the second time. From her experience before, Charlotte knew that the first few seconds mattered the most when dealing with them. Once they consider her dead, their force and accuracy diminish greatly. 

The spears she held would not do the trick. Instead, she changed their shape, creating two boomerang-like weapons in their place. 

“Let’s try… this!

Charlotte threw the boomerangs. As if they were magically targeting each individual projectile, her weapons spun around the area and struck the Scales of Autumn out of the air, shattering as they hit the ground.

Her counterattack did not end there. Charlotte’s boomerangs continued, aiming at Derek’s sides. He blocked both with his rings—the force pressuring him from the left and right kept him in place temporarily. 

Charlotte took this opportunity to strike. She created a rapier in her hand and dashed forward with remarkable speed. 

“There…!”

Although Derek seemed as though he was wide open, he was not. Charlotte seemed to forget the two other rings that were placed on his upper arms. The one on the left opened, and energy was unleashed. By the time Charlotte noticed, she was already connecting with the summoned Shield of Winter.

“It doesn’t matter what ring it is, they’re all connected to one another! Isn’t that right!?” Charlotte asked while struggling against the shield. 

“Right,” Derek answered while knocking the boomerangs away. “I doubt that’s how they actually worked in the myth, but for me, it doesn’t matter too much.”

Charlotte continued to pressure the shield. Derek was baffled that she would continue her attempt to shatter a shield that no life could break.

He realized that he genuinely was exhausted, as his mind caught on too soon.

It took a small amount of time, but the scales eventually considered Charlotte “dead,” so they lost their energy attacking her. 

The same could be said for the shield. It eventually realized that the phantonic energy Charlotte was releasing did not originate from a source of life, rather, one that was deceased. Phantons were particles of life—that was an established fact. Ghosts were, scientifically, remnants of life. However, everyone could classify them as one who has passed. Derek’s Shield of Winter took priority over the first fact before settling on the second.

As Charlotte shattered the shield, along with her weapon, she contemplated for a moment on how odd it all seemed. Could the actual science known as “Phantonics” actually define everything surrounding the phanton? It certainly tried to, but will it ever actually be achieved?

With a new sword already formed in her hand, Charlotte swung at Derek, who evaded the slash. She noticed the surge of energy now coming from him.

“Well, aside from using these items, I guess I’m much more powerful in this state. So, why not try fighting you like I normally do?” 

Derek swung at Charlotte, who blocked with her blade. Being knocked back, she realized how much strength the man was generating. As her weapon crumbled, she formed another—a second one accompanying it in her opposite hand. 

Reinforcing her blades with the extra energy she had gathered in the mine, Charlotte attacked. Derek used his rings as a means to defend while finding an opening, striking at any he saw. The ghost girl was not easy to hit, and he realized this rather quickly.

He leaped back, beginning to maneuver around the stalagmites in a manner he did in his fight with Adam. Unlike his previous opponent, who tore the stone structures apart, Charlotte simply phased right through them. She had a complete focus on where Derek was, even if he was out of eyesight.

“Damn, if this keeps up…” Derek was entirely on the defense. Despite his increase in power, the sheer skill Charlotte was displaying was something he currently could not surpass. 

“Heh…” Charlotte smirked. “This feels… good. Where did I learn to fight like this? Even with my memories gone, this is all… natural to me.” 

Jason was watching the fight nervously. He knew that Derek would not last much longer.

“Hey… Carl. This looks bad. I can’t even find an opportunity to—”

“Don’t worry, my friend,” Carl began giggling. “Leave this to me…”

In his hand, Carl held a plain-looking silver pistol. Although the bullets he was loading looked silver as well, Jason knew they were made of phantonite.

“Is that…?”

“Yes, yes, yes!” Carl was now laughing maniacally. “An ordinary gun! Just kidding, it only looks that way. With the tech built into this thing, and with the use of phantonite for the shells…”

“…You’ll tear right through anything made of phantons.” Jason stated. “Even a ghost.”

“As soon as I saw her bleed… I knew. Her body replicates ‘getting injured’ in that manner, before healing itself. Why? That seems like a waste of phantons. Regardless, she reacted to it—she felt the pain, even if only temporary. One could say… you can truly ‘hurt’ her with opposing phantons, or even phantonic technology…

Jason did not say anything. He opened up the portal wide enough for the bullet to pass through, and he would be the one to aim. Carl simply had to pull the trigger. 

Charlotte continued to gain the upper hand against Derek. At this point, his rings had begun to crumble, and the mark on his forehead started to close. With his energy fading, Charlotte knew it was the time to strike. 

Her blades turned dull so that she would not cause any severe harm to the man. Derek, at that point, accepted his loss. His body simply could not keep up with an Ouderkirk.

Charlotte lunged forward, beginning her final attack. 

It never connected. Upon the sound of a gunshot echoing through the cavern, the bullet tore through the right of Charlotte’s armor—near her waist—piercing her and exiting out the other side.


Next: Chapter 21

Previous: Chapter 19

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 19

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.

“Wha…?”

“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

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 18

Brandon was flung from the shadows onto the dirty basement floor. Jerry, who had been attempting to stand up, almost fell back over upon hearing his friend yelp in pain.

“Brandon…!?” He looked over at the black mass hovering above the front of the barrier. “What is that!?”

“Oh, good. Spiky red-hair guy—” Jason’s voice cracked. “Excuse me. I’m getting a little exhausted from warping all over the place. Keep this guy from barging back in here. It’s dangerous. Okay? Okay.”

Before Jerry could respond, Jason’s shadow had vanished. However, his voice did echo out one last comment.

“How in the hell is this thing still visible? What caused that to happen? Oh well. We’ll fix it…”

Jerry forced himself on to his feet, limping over to Brandon, who had begun to move. “Hey, are you okay? What happened?”

“Jerry…” Brandon looked up at him. “Adam’s still in there. He’s probably going to start fighting some guy. He’s already injured and is probably going above and beyond what he can do alone…”

“Why?” Jerry asked. “What for? Tell me whatever you know!”

Brandon held his head while nodding to his friend. As he told Jerry what had unfolded inside the mine, sheer pain continued to surge throughout his body. By the end of the quick catch up, Jerry noticed this.

“If what you’re saying is true, then your body was affected pretty badly by those chaons. You’re probably poisoned. We’ll have to fix you up before it’s too late.”

“…Is it possible to get possessed by some demon or something?” Brandon asked. He stood up, feeling incredibly dizzy.

“Careful—” Jerry held onto him to prevent him from falling back down. “And, yeah, absolutely. That’s how they do it. Your body becomes riddled with chaons, giving them a ‘home’ that they can safely nest in. If one becomes poisoned, your system will naturally cleanse the chaons, eventually. In the meantime, your body’s not only taking damage, but it’s also at risk of possession.”

“Do you think I was possessed…?” Brandon questioned. Jerry pondered the possibility based on what he had been told.

“It’s possible… it would explain a hole in your memory. When you ran into that barrier… the chaons that would have gotten into you shouldn’t have been in you for too long, but…”

Jerry took out his phone and opened the app that he used before. He motioned it around Brandon as it picked up signs of chaonic influence. “Okay… you’re definitely poisoned. Not too bad, actually. You’re certainly not possessed, though.”

“Why does it feel like my head’s splitting open…?” Brandon questioned, holding his hands around his temples. “Like… my head is an egg, and something’s trying to break out, but it lacks the strength to.”

“That’s… quite the comparison.” Jerry was utterly perplexed at Brandon’s condition. 

Jerry’s brain went into overdrive. He had to brainstorm all the possible moves that could be made in the current situation so that everyone could get out of it safely. 

Miraculously, Jerry Peck happened to be one to work extraordinarily well under pressure.

Fighting through the pain—which was slowly subsiding—Jerry began to walk Brandon toward the stairs.

“W-Where are we going…?” Brandon began to squirm like a pet trying to break free and run off. “We’ve gotta help Adam…! Jerry! We’ve gotta—”

“We’ll save him, relax!” Jerry yelled. “Listen—whatever you’re going through right now… whatever Adam is going through, I swear… I’ll figure out a solution to everything!

The confidence that radiated from Jerry seemed to affect Brandon, as he had finally calmed down. Despite his desire to rush back in and help Adam, he repressed it and placed his trust in the best place possible.

 

As Jason opened up a portal inside the mine, a young man dived out of it. Only a few meters from the ground, he managed to somehow slow down and calmly land on his feet. Adjusting the goggles he was wearing, which were a part of what looked to be an old pilot hat, he took a glance around.

“Hey, uh, Jason?” He looked up at the shadow, which seemed to be groaning in annoyance. “Where exactly did you put me?”

“These guys keep messing with the mine…!” Jason cursed. “I can’t even place you in the right place! Well, whatever. The girl should still be in the same section, just a little bit ahead. I’ll leave it to you, Chris.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Chris waved as Jason faded away. He looked around—a shiver going up his spine upon taking in the surroundings. 

“These are the mines, huh? Creepy. Creepy creepy. Ah—shit! I’m starting to repeat words just like Carl! No, don’t do that.” He took a deep breath. “Father. Sister. Keep me safe. Not only from whatever’s in here but from that guy back at the base…”

Chris began to walk at a brisk pace. He wanted to get out of the dark caves as quickly as possible, aware that he had to accomplish his mission to do so.

It was then that Christopher Serpenti had realized something. Never in his nineteen years on this planet did he once encounter a ghost. There were many other horrifying things he had met, but not a mere spirit. He had no idea how to proceed with his task.

“Do I… talk to her first? Carl said she should be easy enough to fight against, but how do you fight against something already dead? Does that make any sense!? Demon… Chaonic Entities—to be more precise. I’ve dealt with those, but… they’re technically living.”

As Chris spoke to himself, he was unaware that the torches he passed had begun to be blue in color as opposed to the usual red. 

“I’m thinking that talking to her—asking if she’ll just come with us—is the better option. I’m not sure how to fight against a ghost. If you can fight them just like a normal human, then what’s honestly the difference? They might as well be alive at that point…”

He stopped. What Chris encountered was something that shook him to his very core. 

Tiny azure flames danced around Charlotte, who was sitting right in the middle of the cave floor. She was humming—her way of focusing her energy into moving the sprite-like specters of energy as if they were dancing. 

Although disturbing, it had no malicious intent, as Chris assumed it did. Charlotte initially did not notice him as she was deep in thought regarding her power.

“I can make phantonic energy from chaons…?  How does it work? Well, it’s now in a form I can use, so maybe I can —”

She glanced up to see the man standing before her. There was no greeting—no acknowledgment, aside from the two staring at each other in silence. Chris, eventually, broke the silence with the snap of his finger.

“…I won’t let you get away with your cursed rituals, demon!”

A spark flew from his fingertips, growing in size and flying at Charlotte, exploding upon contact. Chris leaped backward, gaining height as he made contact with the ceiling. Mysteriously, he held onto the rocky surface as if there was a place to grip onto.

A blue wave of energy ripped through the smoke, revealing a completely unharmed Charlotte. The flames that were around her had reformed, enveloping her in a ghastly aura. 

“That was extremely rude of you,” Charlotte said with a serious expression. “Do you just attack women willy-nilly like a savage!? Wait—willy-nilly… what does that mean…?”

“I’ll attack anyone if they’re in the middle of a cave performing dark arts like you are!” Chris yelled, flicking his finger repeatedly. A spark formed each time as Charlotte was bombarded by multiple attacks. She created a large circular shield, which blocked the explosions from making contact with her. 

“Is that your Concept?” Charlotte asked, moving the shield to her side as it floated in mid-air. She quickly formed a javelin in her right hand and, with remarkable speed, chucked it toward Chris. He evaded it by releasing his hold on the ceiling, jumping onto the wall as the javelin smashed his previous location into pieces. 

“See if you can figure it out! It tends to stump people, but it’s quite simple!” Chris sent more sparks at Charlotte, who once again blocked all of them. He continued to shoot at her as he landed back onto the ground and sprinted right toward her swiftly. 

“What is he—” Charlotte used her power to force the floating shield forward, bashing right into Chris. She figured he would be rather easy to send hurdling, considering his slender physique. However, he did not budge, and the shield met with fierce resistance.

“Well, you’re a ghost, after all. And with that attire, I’m guessing you’re quite old. Not sure how much science you would actually know!”

With the initial force of Charlotte’s attack diminished, Chris adjusted his footing and leaped back, managing to gain significant distance from the shield. He rubbed his forearms, which had made contact with the phantasmal object. 

“Yeesh, thought I was gonna lose there for a sec. Definitely had to get away before you tried something fishy. What is your Concept? Or—er—wait. Ouderkirk… Ah, yeah! You can control phantons, can’t you? Is that how you’re making those weapons?”

“I believe so,” Charlotte moved her hand, causing the shield to return to her side. “I don’t have to think too hard about it. I call it ‘Royal Armory’ because the weapons seem to already be made, ready to go. Summoning them and using them is what drains me.”

“Ah. See, maybe I misjudged you. You seem to talk normally. This is what I wanted to begin with—talking is much easier. Although, it seems as though fighting you isn’t as difficult as I initially thought.”

“Are you the one who owns this mine?” Charlotte asked as the shield faded away. In its place, a longsword formed, which she grabbed without hesitation. “Tell me exactly what’s going on here.”

“Uh, no, I don’t own it. I work for the guys who own it, I guess? Listen, I was just told to capture you. I didn’t really want to actually fight, but I’m not sure you’re gonna listen at this point. I did start it, after all…”

“Capture me…?” Charlotte raised her sword. “You’re right. I won’t listen to someone who wants to do that—why the hell would I?” She dashed forward and, in a split second, began slashing at Chris. He managed to evade the attacks—his body meeting no resistance to the air around him. 

“I get it, I get it! The guys I work for aren’t all that bad, actually! I’m sure talking things out with them will work out! I’ve just gotta bring you to them!” Chris sent several sparks at Charlotte, who whacked them away with her blade. “Ah, geez. This is on me. I had to freak out and begin fighting—you do realize it looked incredibly creepy, though!? What were you even doing down here? What are you doing down here, overall?”

“My friend ended up in here somehow, and I’m here to get him out… that’s all.” Charlotte lunged at Chris, taking a mighty swing that shattered the ground beneath them. He dodged, grabbing onto the ceiling once more.

“Right, right… My friend Derek should be working on that part right now. So, you don’t have to worry about that.”

Charlotte brushed dust off the illuminated blade, chuckling softly. “And why do you think I should trust your word? If I just surrender now and go with you to have this hypothetical discussion with the people you work for so that everything can end ‘peacefully’… how will I know my friend is safe? How will I know that I’ll be safe?”

“…Yeah, I messed this one up. Dammit. Oh well… I guess I’ll just have to do this the hard way.” Chris jumped a few yards back, readying his fingers. “I know it won’t do much at this point to gain your trust, but my Concept is ‘Friction.’ I can move around quickly with no resistance, or I can gain lots of resistance like I did against your shield. I can hold onto walls and ceilings easily, as well.”

“Well, that is good to know…” Charlotte resumed a battle stance while the inside of her processed this new information. “…Friction… friction. I swear I’ve picked up that term before, but what is it!? I think I can figure it out, based on what he’s said… Freaking memories. No—this is this era’s fault! Science has gone too far!”

“And with these sparks that I’ve been making… I make enough friction with my fingers to create it, but it continues from there. The spark moves like a bullet—all the resistance it meets building up heat, forming a tiny explosion upon contact.”

Charlotte was perplexed at Chris’ explanation. “…Okay. I think even if I did understand modern science, I wouldn’t understand how something like that works…”

“From what I’ve been told, Concepts don’t have to fully make sense!” Chris explained. “They bring a factor that exists in this universe under your control, so through one’s influence, things can get a little tricky!”

“I see… In that case—” Charlotte swapped her longsword for another javelin. “I’ll end this before things get too tricky!” 

She chucked the weapon with remarkable force, rocketing toward Chris. At the last moment, he moved his body slightly to the left, just enough to dodge the incoming strike.

“I practice subtle movement all the time! And with how much resistance I can make if I let an attack hit me, you’ll have to do better than that!” 

“I’ll need both stealth and strength to take you down, huh?” Charlotte noted as Chris flicked his fingers once more. This time, several sparks erupted from him—a volley of flaming projectiles flying toward the ghost girl.

Charlotte took a deep breath. The azure torches surrounding them began to dim as she phased through the ground beneath her as if she dropped into a body of water. The sparks soared passed when she was a moment prior, and the remaining light on the walls faded, leaving the surrounding area in darkness. 

“What!? Damn!” Chris looked around in a panic. “The torches… were red up to this point,” He glanced back where he could see a tiny crimson light in the distance. “Right… They’re supposed to be that color. The ones around here were tampered with by her…!”

“—And I’m not restricted by the space inside of these caverns…” Charlotte’s voice echoed all around Chris, who was trying his hardest to guess her location. 

She shot out of the wall off to the side—the raging azure from her weapon garnering Chris’ attention. A giant war hammer had formed, ready to strike.

“I’m a ghost, after all!”

The head smashed into Chris’s side—an impact was made that tore the stone around them. He had enough time to activate his Concept, creating enough resistance for his body to stay in place.

However, there was astounding power behind Charlotte’s swing as phantonic energy was exploding out of her weapon. Even if he could put up a fight, the struggle was futile. His body would break before the attack ended.

“Well, shit—”

Chris was slammed into the wall of the mine—the shockwaves ripping everything in the area to pieces. As his consciousness faded, regret took hold of his remaining thoughts.

“I’m… not gonna die, am I…? Did I… lose everything, again…?” 


Next: Chapter 19

Previous: Chapter 17

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93

Chapter 17

Jerry awoke, still slumped over the stairs. His body ached from where he had leaned on each step—the sharpest pain near the back of his neck. Immediately, his mind kicked into gear. 

“What happened…!? Okay—need to think, need to think…” He stepped onto the cellar floor and looked around the left corner. “The barrier’s still there…? What happened to Brandon? Something knocked me out—did it get him as well? Did it take him? Why just him? Why—”

He paused, taking a deep breath as he tried to focus. “Calm down. Think rationally. Nobody seems to be down here…?” Surveying the damaged basement, Jerry began to formulate a few ideas while taking his phone out of his pocket. 

“Okay… I was out of it for twenty minutes. Charlotte hasn’t returned, so something must be going on inside that cave to delay her for so long. Brandon’s missing—he wouldn’t just leave me lying on the stairs like that if I passed out. Why would he be kidnapped, while I’m just knocked out? I would conclude that another party is involved, to some degree. Many, many questions. I could ponder for hours… but I’ve got to act before it’s too late.”

Jerry turned and began to dash up the stairs. That was what he attempted to do, although he immediately ran into a problem. He collapsed onto his knees, leaning on the bottom step. The pain in his neck had spread to the rest of his body, preventing him from moving any further.

“…I was able to move fine for a moment, but now… Gah—what happened to me!?”

Brandon ran behind Adam as he took note of the energy—now calmer than before—surrounding his friend. 

“Hey. Uh… are you okay? That power… it heals you—if I remember correctly?”

“Yeah,” Adam held out his arm. “I’ll be fine, for now. We need to wrap this up quickly. Charlotte’s in here, you said? Where’s Jerry?”

“I’m not sure… after Charlotte came in, my memory’s kinda fuzzy. I hope whatever possessed me didn’t hurt him.”

“Let’s hope not. If Charlotte’s in here, we need to group up. With her, I’m sure we can get this done fast enough.”

“Speaking of fast… you’re running quicker than me. That’s a first.” Brandon noted.

“I told you this power also gives me a boost in my physical capabilities. That includes something like this…” Adam glanced down at his legs. “I don’t know how to use it, but since it’s active as it heals me up, I guess that works.”

“Wait… it doesn’t look like you need healing. You’ve got blood all over you, but your wounds should be—”

“The World Mirror’s aura…” Adam hesitated. “It’s given me protection from the chaons, in the manner that phantons protect everyone else. It’ll only stay active as long as it heals, though. So when it diminishes enough… the chaons start eating away at me again. It’s a cycle. You probably can’t notice it, but I can feel it, believe me…”

“…S-Should we do this?” Brandon asked nervously. “I don’t like the idea of you constantly getting messed up like that, man. “Maybe we should go back and think this through.”

“…Let’s find Charlotte,” Adam suggested. “She’ll probably have the best idea on what to do. I’d rather find her anyway before we think about leaving.”

The setting that had repeated for quite some time had finally changed. Adam and Brandon entered a more substantial area—a circular room with boulders, mine carts, and metal track scattered about as if they were randomly chucked in there. The familiar torches were still lined up on the wall surrounding the place.

“This is… new.” Brandon stopped to glance around as Adam took an extra few steps before slowing down.

“Yeah…” Adam’s eyes surveyed the new location noticing the chaons did not seem to act differently.  

That is until he glanced upward.

At the center of the stone ceiling, a black swirling mass appeared. The chaons swarmed around it, seeing to dissipate upon contact. Jason began to speak.

“How did you two join up…? That’s not supposed to happen! And how did you get here!? This is supposed to be one of the safe rooms kept out of the cycle!”

“Adam… it’s talking. What is that—why is it talking!?”

“Just stay behind me, Brandon,” Adam raised his guard. 

“Oh, boy…” Jason let out a sigh. “Well, let’s get this over with, quickly.”

A figure emerged from the darkness, descending down toward the two boys. Adam backed up, pushing Brandon as he did. Derek landed effortlessly, staring at the two with a blank expression. 

“Hmm…” Derek glanced around the room for a moment before returning his focus to them. “Oh. Oh, yeah. I’m getting that feeling. Jason, that déjà vu feeling is at an all-time high right now.” He pinched the area between his eyes. “I don’t like it. Carl said it’s a side effect from how my Concept works, but I don’t really trust his judgment. He started scratching the inside of his ear wildly while explaining the current situation. For what reason?

“That’s why you wanted to warp so quickly? I get it,” Jason chuckled from the abyss. “Should I send Chris too? He’s ready to dive on in, as well. Carl’s dancing around him… H-He’s just dancing.”

“Let Chris take a shot at the other ‘point of interest’ that’s in here. I’ll back him up once I’m done.” Derek shrugged as his attention returned to the boys in front of him. “Oh, hi, yeah—I’m Derek. I’m here to escort you out of here.”

“…Who are you? Where did you come from?” Adam asked—his body twitching from the pain he was in.

“I’m Derek, are your ears okay? Are you okay? Why are you covered in blood? Is that your blood? What the—what the hell? And that energy…”  

“I think it heals him, Derek,” Jason responded from above. “It looked like his arms were growing back when I tried to warp him earlier. That energy—I think—is the reason why I couldn’t get it to work.”

“I know the gist of it,” Derek rubbed the side of his head. “He doesn’t have phantons. That caused the chaons in here to hurt him. This power of his healed him, luckily, but he’s still in danger. Well, Jason, just shift the sections accordingly, open up the barrier, and I’ll walk them right out before they get hurt any further.”

“…I’m not leaving,” Adam stepped forward. “I’m not leaving until I save that little girl! Where is she!? What the hell even is this place!?”

“Woah. Yelling. Stop that.” Derek said. “What girl? Jason?” He looked up. “Got any idea who this ‘little girl’ is that he’s talking about?”

“I don’t know how, but it seems he knows of it…” Jason replied. “Listen, kid. The mine was set up this way to protect that girl. So, don’t worry about it. Trust me when I say this: Don’t get involved. At all. It’s for your own good.”

Adam went silent. Derek looked at him and shrugged. 

“Well, our shadowy boy said so. I’m… kinda concerned as to how a little girl is involved, especially considering…” Rage temporarily filled Derek’s voice before he stopped speaking.

“Adam, what should we do…?” Brandon patted his friend on the shoulder—the World Mirror’s energy not resisting this action. “I don’t know how to approach this…” 

“I don’t really understand how this other guy got in—I didn’t pay attention, unfortunately—but he seems to not have awakened phantons. So…” Jason’s shadow quickly flew downward, coving up Brandon before either of them could react.

“Let me warp you out, at least.” 

Adam reached out his hand, but it was too late. The shadows vanished, and Brandon was nowhere to be seen.

“B-Brandon…!?”

“Hey. It’s okay. We just got him out of here before the chaons started eating away at him. Look—I know how frustrating it is to want to save someone, and you can’t… trust me. But, she’s safe. I know these ominous-looking caves don’t help reassure that. But I trust the people I’m working with. Expect Carl. He’s a creep.”

Adam’s arms drooped down—the aura around him starting to surge, which caused a chill to run right through Derek.

“She appeared in front of me… first time in Ann’s—nothing to note of her expression then. But then, in my basement… she was crying. She asked for my help before she faded away. There is some girl in here? She asked me for help…

Derek did not say anything in response, as the feeling Adam radiated resonated with him. He knew what situation was about to unfold. In many ways, it would be one of the most challenging tasks he’d dealt with up to that point. 

Jason was preoccupied elsewhere, yet had a tiny sliver of his shadow remain. He could hear the words that were exchanged.

“She manifested in front of this kid…? How in the world is that possible…? I gotta go get him. I know he’s busy, but this is a horrible predicament we’re getting into!”

“Look, Adam. That’s your name, yeah?” Derek stepped forward. “Let’s relax. Not only is this situation stressful, just look at yourself. Your body has gone through a lot. Even if it can heal, you still feel the pain. Great pain, I’m assuming? Do you know what that can do to your head? Please, let’s end this before it begins…” He pleaded while reaching out his arm.

“I don’t want to get violent.”

Adam knew Derek was absolutely correct. In most cases, Adam tried to look at things rationally. Several times, that act had failed. Ever since the girl first appeared to him in his basement, he had been relying strictly on his emotions. Despite trying to keep a cool head, the strain his body had taken was far beyond what an average person could handle. 

It was only half a year prior that a mere slice to the wrist was too much for him.

Now, in the span of a few days, he had shattered bones, had his body burn apart, and had limbs vaporized by his own uncontrollable power. Not to mention, the process of regeneration was almost just as painful as receiving the injuries.

It was all too much for Adam Grayson’s combat-rookie mind to handle.

He gave up all rationale. Saving the little girl from her pain, whether she was dead or alive, was his top priority. Even if it meant fighting the man in front of him, who only wanted to help, then so be it.

Taking a quick glance at his hand, Adam raised his fist in front of him. Derek was met with the World Mirror’s icy glare.

“Get violent, then.”


Next: Chapter 18

Previous: Chapter 16

Table of Contents

SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE HEROES OF REQUIEM ON PATREON:

Novagirl93