“How’s your eye doing now?” Winona asked Faith, handing her a bottle of water.
“It’s better now. I’m not sure how that happened. Did I get something in it?”
Emma walked over to Faith and looked into her eye. “Nah, it doesn’t look like there was anything in it. It’s not red, at least.”
“My head started to feel kinda fuzzy, but that’s gone now too. What even happened? It was strange…” Faith shrugged. “Well, I think I’m okay. So, onto the game!”
“If you’re sure you’re okay, then all right.” Winona turned toward the kitchen. “Charlotte, she’s okay. Ready to play?”
Charlotte stood in the entryway to the living room. She was looking down at the floor with her hand on her chin, deep in thought.
“Charlotte? Everything okay?”
“Huh?” Charlotte looked up and met Winona’s gaze. “Oh! Yeah, yeah… I was thinking, can I take a shower first?”
“Sure!” Faith answered her. “There are towels in the cupboard next to the toilet.”
Charlotte nodded in thanks and walked away toward the bathroom. She shut the door behind her and closed her eyes.
“I haven’t sensed anything strange per se, but I can’t shake this feeling that something is off. Come on, focus…” She held her head on each side, putting an extreme amount of focus on trying to sense things around Prelude.
“I don’t even know how I learned to sense things. Is it my blood? Or could it be the fact I’m a ghost? If I knew how it worked exactly, I could probably use it better.”
As she scanned the area, she started to feel an odd sensation throughout her body. Although Charlotte was naturally cold, she had begun to shiver.
“W-What is this?”
Her question was answered. A robust and sinister presence had suddenly appeared from the other side of the town; one that frightened Charlotte to her core.
Derek and Chris stood outside Mona’s watching a hooded figure in front of them. It was holding its hand outward, pointing at the ground.
Chris stepped closer. “Yo, Carl. How much longer?”
“Chris! Leave him be!” Derek put his hand on Chris’ shoulder to keep him close.
“Oh, it’s quite all right, Derek.” Carl cackled. “He’s eager to get things started. I am as well.”
Crimson energy formed in front of him, causing the lights in Mona’s to flicker.
“Should we be doing it this close? And what about the security cams?” Chris looked at the restaurant anxiously.
“No need to worry about that,” Carl assured him. “Cheap technology like that was easy to deal with.
Derek peered inside the building. “Is anyone even in there?”
Carl simply chuckled in response. The light started to form into a spherical shape.
“I know Derek got good grades in school, so I’ll ask Chris this question.” Carl looked back at Chris, barely visible due to his hood. “Do you know what the opposite of a phanton is?”
“Yeah, no shit. I’ve been paying attention ever since I joined this thing!” Chris responded agitated.
“Good good good.” Carl started to laugh hysterically. “Chaons! Let the world be filled with you! Destroy those that try to oppose your existence, like those bastards at Unity!”
Chris sighed, looking at Derek. “Hey, he knows that we’re just summoning this thing to find the distorted spot the seal’s at, right—”
“Let the entire world burn to nothing but ash!”
“Just let him be.” Derek shrugged. “He’s the one who does all the research on this stuff.”
The sphere erupted into a giant cloud of red smoke. Carl’s grin was enormous.
“Good good good, it worked!”
After a moment, an odd chirping sound could be heard from within the smoke. What emerged seemed humanoid, yet had the head of a bear. It was covered in black fur, slouching as it stood in place.
“What a beauty!” Carl was ecstatic at this point. “What should I call you, my child?”
“How about Smokey?” Chris snickered. “It came out of the smoke, and it looks like a bear, kinda.”
“Very well. Smokey!” Carl pointed at the rest of the town. “Please, begin your search!”
The creature slammed its head into the pavement, causing it to shatter. Remaining motionless for a moment, it began to move, sniffing the ground. The chirping coming from it now seemed much deeper in pitch.
“Well, that’s some freaky shit.” Chris nervously stepped back, behind Derek. “I’m just gonna stay far away from it.”
“All living beings created from chaons are unstable in nature. Yet, being born from my will, it knows its task!” Carl turned to his two accomplices “It shall sniff out a path, which should eventually lead us to the source of the seal.”
“What if it runs into someone?” Derek asked, stepping forward. “Well, I think I know the answer.”
“It won’t show any mercy,” Carl responded. “It’s all right though, its victims will become fuel for its power, so it won’t be a wasteful act.”
Derek could only clench his fist in frustration.
“Please, just get this over with… Please, don’t run into anyone.”
Brian Carpenter was closing up Ann’s for the night. He had already sent the young boy who was working for him home, so he was the one to finish things up. Brian was picking up a sign outside, which listed special sales that occurred during the daytime.
“Eh, decent sales for today.” Brian shrugged, scratching his white beard. “I should have kept Roy a few minutes longer, these signs they’re making these days are too heavy.”
As Brian was attempting to drag the sign inside the store, he felt as if someone was watching him. Turning to the left, he saw a figure limping toward him. It was too dark for him to make out any distinct features, yet Brian could tell something was off.
“Hey, are you doing okay?” Brian seemed concerned at the well-being of the person approaching him. As he walked over to get a closer look, he froze. Smokey had become visible.
“Wh-Wh-What the hell!?” Brian could not move a muscle, despite his extreme desire to run away. “What are you!?”
Smokey started to make an eerie creaking noise, which drowned out the chirping that was still going on. Out of nowhere, it sprinted right at Brian.
Brian did not have time to let out a scream. Smokey’s distorted face was right in front of his. Accepting his death, Brian watched as Smokey’s face started to move off to the left.
Charlotte had grabbed Smokey, and with her full power, she flew off into the woods north of the town, smashing Smokey into the ground. Brian stood there in complete awe.
“That… Was… That…?”
Charlotte glared at the hole she had just created, her white hair blown by the fierce wind that shot through the trees.
“Don’t mess with the manager.” She stated, forming a sword in her right hand, pointing it at Smokey, who had slowly started to stand up.
“What… even are you?” Charlotte cautiously stepped forward, her guard fully raised. Smokey looked at her curiously, tilting its head, now in complete silence.
The sound of a shrieking child suddenly emitted from Smokey, frightening Charlotte. As she prepared for the creature to charge, a sharp pain shot through her head.
“What’s… happening…” Charlotte tried to keep her focus in front of her as words began to echo inside her mind.
“No! No! I don’t want to! Stay away from me! Please! It hurts! It hurts!”
They were her words. It was her voice, Charlotte was sure of it. But, she had no clue when she spoke them.
She had no clue why they sounded so agonizing.
The next thing Charlotte knew, Smokey had smacked its arm across the side of her face, sending her into a nearby tree, completely shattering it.
Charlotte got back up in a swift manner. Whatever had just happened, she would not let it distract her. Smokey was already charging at her, its arm winding up for an attack. Charlotte raised her sword to block the strike, causing a ripple of energy to tear apart some of the ground beneath her.
Pushing her weight against the sword, Charlotte knocked Smokey away from her. Before it could launch another hit, Charlotte slashed at its chest, clearly making a direct hit.
Smokey stood, however. Charlotte was shocked at how the creature seemingly did not flinch from her attack. Yet, she continued her onslaught. Each and every cut from her blade was stronger and faster than the last. Smokey eventually started to stumble.
It raised its arm in one last attempt to strike Charlotte, yet she retaliated by slashing Smokey’s arm clean off. It yelled louder than ever as Charlotte pierced right through its body.
Smokey lit up in bright crimson light, as the force of Charlotte’s strike blew it away from her, destroying Smokey entirely. Charlotte listened, as Smokey’s shrieks could still be heard a few seconds after its body had disappeared.
“There… That’s taken care of.” Charlotte made the sword fade away as she leaned over to try to catch her breath.
“What was that thing? And what was it doing here? It tried to attack the manager… Why?” Charlotte held her head, which was still in pain.
“And… What about what that was? That voice in my head—”
Without warning, Charlotte felt a hand firmly grasp her by the throat and pick her up.
“You! You ruined it!” Carl had appeared out of nowhere, fuming with rage. He ran over to a tree and slammed Charlotte against it. She attempted to phase out of his hand, but for some reason, she could not.
Instead, she formed a new sword in her right hand, swinging it at Carl. He raised his left arm to shield himself from the slash, which worked, to Charlotte’s surprise. She managed to push him off of her and a few feet away.
“Wait wait wait…” Carl’s anger started to subside. “I had my theory after what Derek told me, but seeing you in person… Yes, there’s no denying it! All right! This works too!”
Carl started to pull a black object out of his sleeve, which seemed to be forming as he did so. What emerged was a long pole, which was pointed on both sides.
“Come on! Let’s go back to my lab, Miss Ouderkirk!”
“No. Instead, I’m going to, as the kids seem to say these days, ‘kick your ass.’”
Charlotte held her sword in both hands, as it began to change its shape. She raised it in front of her, showing off the newly formed greatsword.
Carl grinned. “All right! I can work off my anger as well this way!”
Faith was deep into the game that displayed on her television. As she attempted to clear each level, she swore in frustration, while Emma did the same due to her sister not listening to her advice.
Winona sat next to the two, giggling at their antics. She looked over in the direction of the bathroom, starting to grow concerned for Charlotte.
“I’m gonna go see if she’s all right.” Winona stood up from the couch and walked away, the sisters not even registering what she said.
She approached the bathroom door, noticing that the shower was not on. After a moment of hesitation, she decided to knock on the door.
“Charlotte? Is everything okay?”
Silence. Winona waited for a few seconds, yet the silence remained.
“Charlotte? Charlotte? Hey? I’m gonna come in, is that okay?”
Winona waited once again. Eventually, she turned the door handle, entering the room. Charlotte was nowhere to be found.
“What the? She… She walked in here. I know she did. I saw her. And there’s no other possible way to get out of here. There’s isn’t even a window!”
Winona ran back into the living room, about to tell Faith and Emma. Faith looked away from the game and at her, noticing that something seemed wrong. However, before Winona’s words could come out, large crashing noises had begun outside.
The three girls looked at each other, and with a mutual nod, jumped into action.