“Charlotte!? You’re okay!”
Brian was shocked to see Charlotte enter the store. He had been stocking a shelf near the entrance and almost knocked a box of cookies over.
“Hi, sir. I’m okay…” Charlotte was nervous, yet relieved to see that her old boss seemed to care about her well-being.
A boy who stood behind the counter chuckled. Charlotte recognized the messy blonde hair and cocky posture immediately.
“Hello, Roy. I see you haven’t been fired yet?”
“Hey, good lookin’. Nah, I’ve been busting my ass ever since you quit. Brian’s been thankful to have me.
“It actually is remarkable,” Brian commented. “He seemed to suddenly get a lot better at his job since you left. Although, flirting with the customers is still a thing. You’d already be fired if we weren’t so short-staffed. Remember that, Roy. Continue to do well and not be… yourself, and we can get past that.”
Charlotte frowned. “I’m so sorry… Even though I put in my two weeks… I just up and left like that. And… I heard about what happened yesterday. I should have been there—”
“Charlotte, it’s okay. You young people have a lot going on. It’s understandable. And…” Brian approached Charlotte, leaning up so he could whisper to her.
“I mean… You were here, weren’t you? You saved me last night, right?”
“Relax. Your secret’s safe with me. Those Unity guys already questioned the hell out of me and left anyway. Don’t worry about it.”
“Hey!” Roy shouted, slamming his hands on the counter. “You tell me not to flirt, and here you go leaning up close to women, freaking old man!”
“Oh, I was just uh… What is the term people use these days? Roasting you! Yeah, I was just roasting you so bad, I didn't want you to hear.”
“Huh? How the hell do you know what that means!?”
“Roy—” Charlotte interrupted. “Just get back to work. Don’t you have to save up for college next year?”
Roy sighed heavily. “Yeah, yeah.” He sat down in a nearby chair, pouting.
“Glad to see you got the whole ‘working’ thing down,” Charlotte said mockingly.
Brian coughed, to get her attention. “Do you need anything, Charlotte? If you just came here to apologize, you did not need to worry about that.”
“Actually… if it isn’t too much trouble, can you help me get some stuff?”
Brandon, Jerry, and Emma sat around Adam’s living room, each with a bowl of stew in hand. Emma especially seemed to be enjoying her meal.
“How did Sis just walk out when this was in here!? This is freaking delicious!”
“Her and Adam wanted to go for a walk to talk in privacy, I guess?” Brandon responded, slowing down on his food consumption. “Damn, Adam. Trying to gain the upper hand, huh?”
“What?” Jerry stared at Brandon with a confused expression.
“Don’t worry about it.” Brandon sighed. “Anyway, I’m full! Emma—wanna fight in, well… Phight?”
“Sure. I need a break after everything today.” Emma and Brandon stood up with their empty bowls and took them over to the sink. Jerry heard his phone buzz, which he instantly investigated.
“Oh, wow. She’s actually free?”
He stood up, dialing a number on his phone. “You guys enjoy that, I gotta talk to someone.”
“Oh? All right.” Brandon nodded, dashing over to the television in the living room. “Emma! Prepare to be defeated by my Gladiator skills!”
“I’ll be using the Dragon, so I doubt you can do much against that,” Emma stated mockingly, sitting next to him.
“Oh, come on! That’s the most broken character in the game!”
Jerry walked down the hallway as the phone rang on the other end. It was answered after three rings.
“Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. If it isn’t my archnemesis. Why do you call upon me—”
“Yeah hi, Laura.” Jerry groaned. “Listen, I need to ask you a few questions.”
“Oho? Ask away!”
Charlotte had left Ann’s with several bags in tow. Although they seemed heavy with a glance, she had no trouble carrying them.
“My body, as of right now… is totally fine. That power Adam gave to me… Just what was it? Where did he get it? It honestly feels… familiar…”
“Charlotte!” Winona ran up to her, with a cheerful demeanor.
“Winona… You’re okay?” Charlotte asked, concerned.
“Yep! All better! Just needed to rest up! Whatever that energy was… It was powerful. I’m glad I put enough energy into my defense, or else it would have blown all of us away.”
“That… That was…” Charlotte sat the bags down on the ground, almost ready to cry. “I’m certain… That was me, who did that. I’m so sorry… I didn’t know how my power would work when I got serious, and it slipped right through the guy I was fighting, and… and I’ve been lying to all of you… and I hurt you, and—”
Winona quickly embraced Charlotte, closing the distance between them.
“You’re… cold. Then, it’s true what Faith said, isn’t it? I’m not sure if she was supposed to tell me, but she did.”
“That’s okay… you should know.” Tears began to run down Charlotte’s face.
“Charlotte, you don’t have to worry. Obviously, you have quite the situation going on, and you tried to keep it from us so we wouldn’t get hurt, right?”
Charlotte did not say anything. She simply nodded confirmation into Winona’s shoulder.
“You can talk to me about it. About everything. If you want to, I would like to hear it. Is that okay?”
“Yeah… Yeah, it is.” Charlotte took a step away from Winona, yet still held onto her.
“You know, that’s the same kind of thing you said to me when we first met. Nobody talked to me when I first entered your school. You were the first one. You came up to me, introduced yourself, and said I could always talk to you about anything. That’s how we became friends.”
Winona smiled. “And it still stands. Come on, let’s go over there—” Winona pointed toward a bench off the side of the road. “Nobody should bother us over there.”
Charlotte agreed. Winona helped her carry the bags over to the bench. They sat down and started to talk.
Alexander stood in an office near the top of Soul Tower in Nexus City. This minimalist office was owned by Rizzo, who had it as a spare outside of the primary Unity building a few blocks away.
Rizzo sat at his desk, glaring at Alexander, who was a few feet away from him. Although Alexander could barely tell, as the lights in the office were out.
“Shit, man! Why are the damn lights off!?” Alexander stomped his foot, creating a glowing pink liquid that covered the entire floor within a second. “There! Now I can see your ugly-ass face.”
“Just make sure you dispose of that when we’re done here,” Rizzo demanded. “Anyway, yes. Adam Grayson. Does that name ring a bell?”
“Nah. Although, wasn’t there a Rebecca Grayson in Unity years ago that was some hot shit?”
“Correct. She would be the mother of this boy. He seemed to know you, from what I gathered today.” Rizzo stood up from his seat, stepping in the pink liquid below him without an issue.
“Just like yourself, Code 2819 came back negative for him. There was no phantonic value found whatsoever.”
“Huh?” Alexander was curious. “What a minute… Could this Adam kid possibly be the kid from last night!? Shit, I never caught his name!”
“So, as I did with you, I took precautions so that his power would not affect others in Unity. As of tomorrow, he is banned from his hometown of Prelude and must do whatever it is he wants to do on his own. Seemingly, taking me down is part of that agenda of his.”
Alexander smirked. “Well, add him to the list of people who wanna do that to ya!” His expression quickly changed to a serious one. “Also, what kind of bullshit are you spewing?”
“Hm? What’s that?”
“As you did with me? You never banished me from anywhere! I’m just not allowed in Unity cause ya don’t want me gathering people together to take ya down, seeing as though I know things! Me keeping that shit a secret and my duty with the Blue World is simply a deal so ya leave my sister alone. So his power would not affect others? That was never a reason!”
“If that’s what you want to believe, then believe it.” Rizzo turned to stare out the windows behind him. He gazed down at the evening blue of the city. “Also, would you happen to know what happened in the sky last night? It was clearly a distortion from the Blue World.”
Alexander shrugged. “Beats the shit outta me!”
Rizzo remained silent for a moment. “...Fine. Very well. That’s all for now. You may continue your work tomorrow. Soon, I’ll want you changing objectives. I’ll give you the details on that within the next few days.”
“All right, sure. Whatever.” Alexander started to walk toward the door as the liquid began to fade. “Looking forward to it, shitbag.”
As Alexander slammed the door behind him, the room was dark once more. Rizzo continued to stare out the window with a blank expression on his face.
“I was surprised today. That was the first time in ages you've altered what I said. I would have simply forced the boy to join Unity, as usual. But this… Just what’s so special about this boy, enuexse—”
As if his voice glitched like a computer error, Rizzo coughed up blood out of his mouth, splattering all over the window in front of him. He collapsed onto his knees, in agonizing pain.
“Yo-You made me… speak, like that—” Rizzo continued to cough violently as he attempted to calm himself down. After a minute, he was able to. He breathed calmly.
“...I guess things are finally starting to set in motion for you, aren’t they?”
Muraco hopped around the Requiem wilderness, underneath the clear night sky. He had his arms crossed, deep in thought.
“When that hole above Nexus opened up… I sensed all kinds of things. Things that concern me… However, I think that human survived whatever happened. The question is, where is he now? Is he still in there? Is he back in this world? I can’t tell from here.”
Muraco gazed upward, viewing the clouds as they passed over the moon and stars.
“If I find you again, human, what do I do? Shall I continue where I left off, or… Those words. Are those words you spoke genuine? If so, then maybe… Just, maybe…”
Adam followed Faith through the dark woods, heading northeast from his home. Both had remained silent for several minutes, only listening to each other’s footsteps.
“Hey, Faith?” Adam decided to speak first.
“Are you… mad at me?”
“Why would I be?”
“Cause of what I did today…”
“I’m not…” Faith stopped, hesitating for a moment. She then turned to him.
“I’m… thankful, to be honest. That you would go so far for us… Although I’m also scared. Scared for what will happen to you. This banishment from our town… It’s not normal. Just what is Rizzo planning?”
“I take it you know that I have an Ability now, right?”
Faith frowned, nodding at Adam’s question. “To be fair… I knew you’ve been hiding something for a while. But I trusted your judgment, and why you would keep it a secret from us. Seems there’s something serious involving Charlotte being a ghost and an Ouderkirk as well?”
“Yeah… My Ability is actually related to that. The night I awakened it… It was due to Charlotte. She’s lost her memories and has been trying to figure things out for a while now. Apparently, my Ability, called the World Mirror, is important.”
“The World Mirror…?”
Adam’s hand lit up in white light, as he raised it in front of him for Faith to view. “It’s some strange energy, that has a lot of mystery to it. Right now, I know that it can give me lots of strength and also heal any injuries I take.”
“It’s beautiful… like moonlight.” Faith stared in awe. “...Injuries? You’ve been injured?”
“I’ve… actually almost died a few times already.” Adam laughed awkwardly. “It’s certainly helped get out of some sticky situations… Although it’s the reason I got into them in the first place.”
“Adam… I really wish you told me. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand why you didn’t. You didn’t want my family, Winona, and others getting involved. But still… You know how much I despise Unity as well! I would have joined you, and we could have fought it toge—”
“Faith, it’s more complicated than that. We’re both weak right now. When it comes to our Abilities, we have much to learn. We can’t make a move yet, despite how much we want to.”
Faith looked down at her hand, forming a small flame. Adam noticed that she started to shake.
“Yeah… It’s still not perfect. I’m not completely over the fear yet—But I’m getting there. I’ve taken huge steps! If we’re to do something, we have to be strong enough.”
“Right.” Adam smiled. “Even Brandon realized that, with his Ability. He wants to join Unity just so he can get the best training he can, for when the time’s right. Rizzo’s aware of all of this though… I’m afraid of what will happen to you guys. He says your development is important, which is the main reason I’m being sent away, but still I—”
“Even though we need to get stronger, Adam, don’t worry. We still are strong. Don’t worry about us. You have… a lot you have to do. With whatever it is you’re going to do next. Charlotte’s going with you regardless of Rizzo’s rule, right?”
Adam nodded. “Yeah, I figured she’d be able to help me out, as well as easily hide with her powers if Rizzo decided to track me. I’m… expecting that to happen, honestly. Just… a lot of this doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re right—” Faith agreed. “But, what part are you referring to?”
“I’m not sure exactly. But, it just feels like there’s a lot more going on with Rizzo, and the entirety of Unity than we realize. Even deeper than the obvious as day corruption.”
“I'm sure there is. Which is why we have to be careful.” Faith lifted her flame that was still in her hand toward Adam’s, which was still shining brightly.
“You know… It’s like your Ability and my own… are the sun and moon.”
“Huh? I-I guess they kinda are?” Adam chuckled at Faith’s comparison.
They both lowered their hands as their Abilities faded away. Before Adam put his hand back down at his side, Faith grabbed it with her own.
“You know why we’re out here, right?”
Adam smirked. “Yeah. This path seems familiar.”
“Well then, let’s go!”
“Wrong.” Adam wagged his finger, confusing Faith. “It’s XYZ, remember?”
Faith burst into laughter. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you remember that!”
“Of course I do. We used to say it all the time before adventures. I’m not even sure where you came up with it.”
“Oh, you probably wouldn’t. I don’t think you ever watched that show.”
“It’s from a show!?”
“Yeah! Kitty Kid and Puppy Pal!”
Adam was bewildered. “It… was from that show!? That show was awful!”
“Hey! No, it was not! It was my favorite! Take that back, Adam Grayson!”
“No! It was horrible! The plot was too obvious!”
“It was a kid’s show, of course the plot wouldn’t be that great!”
“Then… Wait—What does XYZ even mean!?”
“I don’t remember, but they always said it when they went on an adventure, so I thought I would use it for us as well!”
“Well…” Adam paused for a moment. Suddenly he started to laugh cheerfully. “Ah, what the hell? It can be our thing, regardless if that show was good or not!”
Faith could not help but from smile ear to ear upon hearing Adam’s laughter. “Of course. It’s our thing. Anyway, come on! XYZ!”
She dragged Adam along through the woods, as he quickly matched her pace. A few moments later, they emerged from the trees. What met them was the side of a cliff that dipped off into a wide valley filled with nothing but grass. Miles away, on the other end, the blue light from Nexus City could easily be visible to them.
“Ah, dang it!” Faith pouted. “I was hoping we could see the aurora again… Too bad!”
“I knew that’s what you were after.” Adam chuckled, taking a step forward. He did not let go of Faith’s hand. “This is still great. The clouds are starting to go away, and you can see all of the stars. And that breeze… Can you feel it? And look at it blow the grass down there.”
Faith nodded, taking in the view as well. “It’s like a sea of green. And the light from the city adds to it. It’s… quite the feeling you get… looking at this place. Aurora or not.”
“Jerry told me about that. It’s different from the Northern Lights. Actually, it really only happens due to the phantonic technology used in the city. Once in a while, a bright blue aurora will form somewhere in the skies of Requiem, made out of pure phantonic energy.”
“Yeah, it’s got a more complicated name… But uh, it’s also called the Requiem Lights, right?”
“That’s what I call it. I wish I could see it again. That night with you was the only time so far.”
“That night… Yeah.” Faith turned toward Adam and looked directly into his eyes.
“Just like I dragged you here, back then… You were the one who dragged me. It was the first time in ages that I… I felt happy. After everything that happened with the fire… You saved me with your kindness and your cheerful self.”
Adam sighed. “I’m sorry I’m not all that cheerful anymore.”
“That’s okay! You can still show it sometimes! And… After everything recently, I truly believe that, despite all the changes that have happened, the heart of the boy who saved me is still there within you…”
“You think so? Maybe… I’m not so sure myself.”
“Adam.” Faith placed both of her hands on Adam’s shoulders, moving in closer. “I want you to know, that no matter what happens… Even if you don’t believe me or not… I want you to know…” Faith hesitated.
Then, she spoke.
“You are my hero.”
Adam’s eyes widened. The directness of what Faith had just said struck him. Within its simplicity, “You are my hero” held so much power. It was at the level that only an “I love you” could have possibly competed with.
He took note of that comparison, as merely thinking about it caused a sudden warmth in his chest.
“...And I’m going to also be your hero, Adam!” Faith declared. “Like when we were little, we’ll keep on exchanging roles! Sometimes you’ll be the hero, and I’ll be the princess. And then sometimes you’ll be the princess, and I’ll be the hero!”
“I-I guess that’s how it can work?” Adam sighed. “But, Faith. I trust you. Right now, I have to go down a certain path, and you have to go down another. Those paths will merge once again when the time is right.”
Faith removed her arms from Adam, nodding with a mighty grin. “Mhm! They will!”
Adam raised his fist, putting it in front of Faith, which confused her.
“Faith, I’ve known you longer than anyone. I’m pretty sure words between us aren’t needed when it comes down to it.”
“Heh… Yeah, I see what you’re saying. Although I do love talking to you.”
She had understood Adam’s gesture and raised her fist up as well. “Let’s show this world not to mess with us!”
“You know what to say, Faith. What have we been talking about this whole time?”
“Oh, right!” Faith giggled. Adam could not help but chuckle.
As their fists joined, they mutually shouted the simple phrase that always started their adventures.
From the shadows of the woods, two eyes gazed at the boy and girl, hidden behind a clock-shaped mask. A whisper of a young woman could be heard.
“Will I exist in this world? It’s all up to you two…”