Tick… tock… tick… tock…
Adam’s eyes were shut in his attempt to fall asleep. The hotel’s bed was not soft enough for his tastes, along with the fact that the clock on the wall next to him was far too obnoxious.
Tick… tock… tick... tock…
Another issue was the multiple blankets he had covering him. As it was the summertime, one would usually not have this many.
Yet, it was required, as the girl who lied next to him could not help but radiate bitter cold from her body.
Tick… tock… tick… tock…
Adam had enough. He rolled over, poking Charlotte profusely.
“I can’t do this.”
“Can’t do what?” Charlotte rolled over and stared right into Adam’s eyes. It was as if she was not asleep, to begin with. “You being forced to leave Prelude? I know it’s difficult… but it’s too late now. Don’t worry though, I’m here—”
“No no no, not that. This sleeping situation. There are a lot of factors that are messing with me right now, but I’m curious as to why you, a walking air conditioner, decided to park it right next to me?”
“Oh, that?” Charlotte sat up. She wore a simple black t-shirt and black shorts, which matched what Adam currently had on. Although it was simple attire, Adam could not help but imagine how Brandon would react to the current situation.
“Yeah, that. And I mean… I’m not sure how common it is for people who are just friends to sleep this close together.”
“I see your point.” Charlotte agreed. “Although, this room ended up only having one bed. And with what we’ve been attempting to do the last few days, we both need our rest. So I figured we could share the comfort of this bed together.”
“Right, but still…” Adam sighed. “I’m fine with it, aside from the cold issue. But are you? You didn’t seem to hesitate.”
“Yeah, it’s fine. Plus, I figured we could save some cash by simple having me in the bed, instead of having to lower the thermostat. You did complain about the heat.”
“True, true…” Adam finally sat up as well.
“Adam… listen.” Charlotte seemed hesitant to talk, which Adam took note of.
“What’s up? Are you not feeling good? I know you’ve been going at it trying to figure out how to get into the place. Phasing through things too often probably sucks, right—”
“No, it’s not that. Ever since that strange energy entered me, I’ve been able to handle my power quite well in this form.”
“Well, that’s good. It bothers me though… you tried to enter underneath the library, only to have something force you out of there. I’m honestly curious as to what’s truly down there, aside from a source of information.”
Charlotte sighed, but couldn’t help but smile. “Your mind really likes to analyze everything when you’re trying to sleep, huh?”
“Yeah, it sucks. I usually just want to pass right out, but I’m so focused on thinking about stuff. In this case, though, I think it’s a tad understandable.” Adam sighed. “Anyway, I’m sorry. What did you want to say?”
Charlotte remained silent. Adam could tell that it was taking a lot of energy for her to form the words. Eventually, she began.
“...that night, when I was fighting that man… some memories returned to me.”
“Huh?” Adam was surprised. “Are you serious!? That’s good news—”
Reading Charlotte’s face, Adam quickly retracted that statement.
“It… it is good when it reveals that I can remember things… but—no. The memories I recovered were not good ones, at all. They… my family… I…”
“Charlotte, it’s okay if it’s hard to talk about. You don’t have to force yourself. You can tell me whenever you’re ready. Or, you don’t have to tell me at all, if that’s how you feel.”
“But-But I want you to trust me! I don’t want to hide anything for you!”
“Don’t worry about that. I do trust you. And remember, even if it turns out you’ve done some bad stuff in the past, I’ll fight for the Charlotte here and now. I’ll keep saying that—if you need me to.”
“Right...” Charlotte’s gaze looked off to the headboard of the bed, then back to Adam. “You should know that I trust you as well.”
Adam grinned, happy to hear Charlotte’s words. He let out a loud yawn, rolling over to face the wall. “I’m gonna try to get some sleep again. We’ll review some stuff before you go investigating the library tomorrow.
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll try not to freeze you to death.” Charlotte giggled, lying back down herself. Their brief conversation had encouraged the two for their future endeavors.
They both needed all the encouragement that they could get.
Alexander was wandering the Blue World, wielding a flame made up of Psycho Matter in his hand. The pink glow lit up his vision, as the usual dark blue sky had turned entirely black, making it difficult to see.
“It’s been doing this shit for days now. Is it cause of my fight with that Adam guy? I’ve never seen this before…”
Small footsteps caught Alexander’s attention. He turned around swiftly, raising his flame toward the source. An old woman approached him, having evident difficulty in walking. Yet, she walked, seemingly not aware that Alexander stood in her path.
“Another one? How many of these dead bastards have there been today? Freaking breaking records here!” Alexander laughed loudly.
“Quit wandering this place and go away! To heaven or hell, I could give two shits!” With a wave of his hand, Psycho Matter had engulfed the lady in an instant. The raging energy tore apart her body, causing her to crumble away into dust.
“There, ya old shit. Better than mindlessly wandering this place. I much prefer that being the reason I do this…” Swatting at the Psycho Matter before him, Alexander caused it to fade as quickly as it had formed. “Although, ghosts wandering the streets of Nexus probably wouldn’t be too lovely. Guess the bastard Rizzo’s got a point with that…”
He groaned. “There have been so many portals opening up lately. The issues with the Nexus Network are gonna become official soon, and it’ll blow up in that bastard’s face. Wonder how he’ll respond? Gotta prepare for the worst—when that happens.”
“Thank… you… young... man…”
“Huh?” Alexander held his head, analyzing how he had just heard that voice inside if it. “Damn… why is this a thing now? I’ve never heard their voices… up until recently.”
“...just what makes you think you can take that away from me…”
“That freaking Adam kid… I learned nothing about his Ability, yet for whatever weird-ass reason when I tried to probe info out of him during that depressive episode… I heard his thoughts. The hell? Why would I suddenly develop that skill out of nowhere? Ya made me hear some awkward shit, damn Psycho Matter!”
Alexander held his hand up. A few seconds later, his Psycho Matter had ripped open a portal that had been attempting to form in front of him.
“Although this could be a breakthrough. If I can figure out how to utilize this… then things can start to change.”
Alexander dashed through the portal, ending up in an alleyway within Nexus City. He blocked his eyes as the morning sunlight nearly blinded him.
“One day, I’m gonna encase you in Psycho Matter and freeze the whole goddamn world while doing so, ya bastard.”
“Threatening stars now, are we? Getting pretty confident in your Ability, huh?”
Alexander turned toward the voice. A young man the same age as he stood there, which he recognized immediately.
“White-haired bastard! Lovely to see ya on this fine morning!”
“Trevor Benjamin. I’ll keep reminding you of my name until you actually call me that one day. Things like ‘white-haired bastard’ or ‘green-eyed shithead’ tend to get old.”
“Nah, I like to think they’re still pretty good!” Alexander chuckled. “Anyway, what do ya want? You’re here, so you obviously got my scheduled path for today.”
“Yeah—” Trevor nodded. “Rizzo’s calling upon you. He wants you to be present during the orientation for new Unity members this year.”
Alexander burst out in laughter. “What kind of bullshit!? So much for that ‘keeping me away so I don’t interfere with their development’ crap! Is the man starting to become senile!?”
“I believe there’s a good reason that he came up with that—”
“And there ya go, sucking up to him. Ya know, you’re around my level in strength, white-haired bastard. Ya don’t have to deal with his shit as often as ya do.”
Trevor sighed. “There. Bringing up the original reason as to why he doesn’t like having you around. You honestly think you’re gonna get me to help you team up against him?”
“It’s a good idea, ya know!” Alexander smirked. “I just hope ya come to your damn senses one of these days. He might have saved ya and raised ya up to where ya are today—but don’t be blind to his bullshit. Everyone else isn’t!”
Trevor did not respond. He simply turned away from Alexander and began to walk off.
“Just be sure to get to Unity at a reasonable time today, Alexander.”
A gust of wind formed underneath Trevor’s feet, and in a blink of an eye, he leaped up into the sky, quickly fading out of sight.
Alexander cracked his knuckles in frustration. “Damn. This is why I usually work alone. Too many emotional dickheads.” He leaned up against the nearby wall, taking a butterscotch candy out of his pocket.
“If Rizzo is smart, however… there’s something off. He would never want me at something like this. What’s he planning?”
Unwrapping the candy, he tossed it into his mouth.
“I’ve got a bad feeling. I should act on it.”
Brandon shoved his duffle bag into the back of the silver van that sat outside of the police station. He struggled, as there was a considerable lack of space, especially with Faith and Winona’s bags already inside. Eventually, he was successful and slammed the door shut.
“Geez! How much stuff did you two put in your bags!?” Brandon asked panting. “We’re only staying there a few nights!”
“Are you sure you’re up for this, Brandon?” Winona expressed her concern. “If forcing a bag inside a van tires you out, I’m not sure if Unity work is up your alley…”
“You know I have lots of stamina! It’s just… I couldn’t sleep too well last night.”
Faith stepped toward Brandon, causing him to jump a little in surprise. “You’re nervous, aren’t you?”
“W-Well, yeah. There’s that. But also, my dad stayed up with me for a while. We talked a lot. More than we ever had before, actually.”
“Hopefully it was about good things?” Faith asked.
“I guess so. He hasn’t really grilled me about not going for soccer. He thinks this is a good profession to go into, aside from… you know. The bad stuff. He’s concerned about that.”
“Well, that sounds about right.” Winona chimed in. “It’s a great honor to become a part of Unity. However, with all of the corruption stories that have been going around in recent years…”
“Right, right. Well—” Brandon stretched his arms. “Time to kick this corruption on its ass, from the inside out!”
Brandon felt a hand on his shoulder, which almost made his soul leave his body. He turned around just in time to see Pam, as he was prepared to use his Ability to defend himself.
“You should probably keep that kind of thing on the down-low, Bran—”
“Geez, don’t give me a heart attack! I thought it was a Brown Suit!”
“Oh, sorry!” Pam giggled. “But, still. Please keep quiet when it comes to that.” She turned to look at her daughter. “I know, however, that you guys have the potential to change things.”
Faith walked up and embraced her mother. “We can do this, mom!”
“You don’t have to hug me that tightly.” Pam laughed, holding Faith. “I have to go with you guys anyway. For… some reason?”
The group looked over toward the front doors of the police station, where Brown Suits stood once again.
“Rizzo said he would place Brown Suits in charge while I was gone. I agree that we need to keep our guard raised ever since that incident the other day… but…”
“It doesn’t seem right,” Winona commented. “I just feel it in the air…”
“That cause you’ve got dirt flying all around you?” Brandon asked half-joking.
“No, no—” Winona giggled. “I can’t do anything like that with my Ability.”
“I’ve been wondering, do you have that going on like… all the time? Even when you’re sleeping?” Brandon seemed rather curious.
“I actually turn it off when I’m sleeping. I let the earth I collect disperse outside my house, then recollect it when I wake up. My phantons usually stay connected with it for quite a while.”
“That’s… strange. Abilities are so weird!” Brandon scratched his head. “I guess it’s cool you can have it at the ready any time though!”
“It does come in handy…” Winona sighed, recalling what her sister recently said to her.
“What… are you… doing!?”
“Introducing you to the world you’re about to step in. Winona, take all those emotions you placed in this garden and use them to power yourself. Fight through all the bullshit we have to deal with as people with Abilities!”
“I’m gonna have to be ready at any time, aren’t I? Cynthia… I’ll be by your side soon. You won’t have to deal with this alone!”
One of the Brown Suits approached Pam, saluting her. “Ma’am, we’re ready to depart whenever you are.”
Pam nodded. “Right, thank you.” She looked a three that surrounded her. “Are you guys ready?”
They were. Even so, the anxiety of the situation could not leave the back of their minds.
The Brown Suit got in the driver’s seat, while Pam sat in the passenger’s. From left to right, Winona, Faith, and Brandon took residence in the back seat. It was a tight fit, which caused Brandon to become flustered due to how close Faith was.
“She so close… is that apple scented shampoo she’s using—Brandon, stop! That’s creepy! Don’t smell her!” He focused his attention out the window, as the van took off.
After a few minutes, they had already made it through to the other side of Prelude, driving by Mona’s, the last checkpoint, and had left the town behind them. Nexus City had already come into view. Even during the day, one could still see the blue of the Nexus Network, almost as if it was reflecting the sky itself.
The anxiety of the situation was now all they could think about.
Adam and Charlotte sat at a tiny table inside the hotel’s cafeteria. They had access to an all-you-can-eat breakfast and were fueling up for their endeavors for the day.
“Adam, you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full.”
“S-so-sorry!” Adam washed down the apple he was currently devouring with a warm cup of coffee. He put the apple’s core in a small pile that he had been making, before reaching for another one. Charlotte grabbed his hand.
“You can eat more than just apples, you know?”
“I cannot do that,” Adam responded bluntly. “My initial apple intake wasn’t enough. The World Mirror’s over-usage made me sick. An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Clearly not. I’m going to have to try many apples a day.”
“I’m pretty sure over-using the World Mirror would mess anyone up, regardless if they’re healthy or not.” Charlotte let out a huge sigh. “Anyway. Let’s review what we’ve done in the last few days. Think it’s been about a week since we left Prelude?”
“It’s been a long week.” Adam took a sip of his coffee, savoring all the taste he could, despite how mediocre it was to him. “I’ve been sleeping horribly. I like to get ten hours in at least each night, but lately, that’s just been impossible to—”
“Although sleep is important for us right now-” Charlotte interrupted. “There are more important things to be concerned over. Such as… you know, your own safety?”
“Eh, if Rizzo wants to try something, then we’ll fight. Until then, we shouldn’t worry.”
“I…” Charlotte was baffled. “I think we should be worrying. We have to keep our guard up. You’re certainly strange when it comes to protecting yourself. You seem to care at times, but other times, you don’t… at all.”
“Yeah, I get like that.” Adam shrugged. “But I do think we’ve gotta keep our mind clear and not worry to the point that we think a Brown Suit is around every corner.”
“That’s true—anyway, you really like to get off topic. Let’s review.”
Adam took a bite of a new apple with a blank expression on his face. “Well, we started off by heading to Minuet. We found this cheap hotel, where you rented a room in your name. I mean, it’s under ‘Charlotte Smith’ obviously, so it’s not your actual name, but I digress.”
“Yes, yes.” Charlotte nodded. “I considered it to be a wise idea to use that money you withdrew from the bank, as using physical cash would make it a lot more difficult to track you.”
“Yes, yes. I’ve remained in the hotel room most of the time, as you’ve been using your spooky spooky powers to scout out the area around the library.”
“Yes, yes. Nothing inside the library itself seemed out of the ordinary. Of course, that’s not where we’re looking.”
“Yes, yes. The information Jerry gave us seems to have validity. Our old high school connects to the library through an underground tunnel, but original construction blueprints reveal that there’s more down there.”
“Yes, yes. I phased right through the ground, coming across something instantly. There seems to be some kind of sealed off room to the north of the tunnel. Not only is it sealed up with concrete, but… it’s like some sort of barrier has been placed all around it. I can’t phase inside from any direction.”
“Yes, yes—all right enough of the yes, yes. But… it’s strange. If it’s a room that neither ghosts nor humans can get into… is it a legit place to store information?”
“They could have stored documents or something of that nature inside after the incident with the Fisher Family, and then proceeded to seal it off? There is something of interest in there, for sure. They wouldn’t take the time to place a barrier there if there wasn’t.”
Adam pondered what they could do. “I mean… Jerry wasn’t able to come up with anything, so this is our only lead at the moment. There has to be information stored about the Ouderkirk’s somewhere, there’s no way they just erased the long history of the royal family.”
“Censorship by the destruction of evidence is a possibility,” Charlotte commented. “Therefore, if we’re heading toward where the information could or could not be, I think we’ll run into the corruption Unity has caused.”
“Well, that’s another thing I want to tackle as well, so—” Adam took another bite of his apple, swallowing it in seconds. “I guess it’ll work itself out?”
“You seem to like to wing things, don’t you?” Charlotte sighed, taking a sip of her own coffee, which had become cold. Although this did not bother her.
“Always have. If you don’t know the answers to something you have to do, it’s basically the only option.” Adam finished off the apple, placing it in his pile. “But anyway, here’s an idea. Do you think, instead of sneaking in, we could just power through the barrier to get in there?”
“That may be our only option, although it leaves the obvious risk of getting caught. We’re not sure what kind of security there is along with the barrier.”
“At least you cannot be detected by cameras.”
“Yeah, I’m glad Jerry reviewed that with me before we left. Normally, I do end up being detectable, although, with a slight shift to how I organize my phantonic patterns, I simply vanish from their view.”
“Probably how ghosts captured on tape appear and disappear,” Adam noted. “You know, the tapes that are actually genuine, if you can find any of those these days.”
Something dawned on Adam. It was something that was easily overshadowed by his encounter with Charlotte that occurred immediately after.
“Charlotte, can you sense the presence of other ghosts? I know you can detect things such as Abilities if they’re a short distance away.”
“Huh? I’m not sure how my sensory capabilities work exactly, but I can usually only track spikes in phantonic activity, like what happens when an Ability is used. I assume if the ghost is at the average level of a normal person when they spawn, I won't notice them.”
“That night, when you came up to me in the aisle… I saw what I thought was a ghost. Some little girl… I could see right through her. It may be why my World Mirror reacted and why you noticed my eyes?”
“A ghost in Ann’s? I’ve never felt anything off in that place… strange.” Charlotte raised her finger. “Oh, and concerning me being able to sense people based on Abilities, I think I should let you know something.”
“What would that be?”
“Even if they confirmed that there’s no phantonic activity relating to your Ability… well, it’s weird. I can still sense when you use it.”
“I mean, I would assume you could, considering it’s apparently a power your family created in the first place. Maybe it’s something only you can detect?”
“I wonder what the difference is between me being able to detect normal Abilities compared to the World Mirror? If I can learn how they differ, perhaps it can be of some use to us?”
Adam shrugged. “Who knows? It could be worth looking into. But anyway—” Adam gulped down the rest of his coffee. “Do you think that ghost I saw had any significance?”
Charlotte stood up from the table, stretching her body. “Beats me. We could always look into it if you feel like it is. Although going back to Prelude at the moment would be difficult.” She picked up her empty plate and mug, along with any other scraps she had left.
“You gonna go scout around the barrier again?”
“Yeah, I think I should at least one more time before deciding on your ‘powering through’ idea.” Charlotte headed over to the side of the room, where there was a large metal gate on the wall, which was opened. She sat her dirty dishes on the counter that was inside and turned back toward Adam.
“Well—” She glanced around the room several times. “We’re definitely the only ones here right now. So I’m just gonna head over there now. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Adam waved to her as she jumped at the wall, phasing herself right through it. It was an impressive leap, one that made Adam wonder how she would fare in the Olympics—if she ever entered.
“Now, guess I’ll clean up as well, and head back to—”
Adam froze. His hand had reached for the pile of leftover apple scraps, only to come in contact with something else entirely.
He had almost touched a pile of human hearts.
“Huh!?” Adam jumped out of his chair, causing it to crash onto the floor, loud enough for anyone to hear. The hearts began to ooze out blood, which creates a pool covering the table. He noticed that they seemed to somehow still be beating, despite being no longer attached to their owners.
“What the hell—what the shit—what the fuck!?”
He quickly became aware of how loud his reaction was. It would surely alert someone, which would cause a whole other issue. A scene like this would not be easily explained, and would most likely get law enforcement involved.
That was the last thing Adam needed right now.
He looked toward the gate where dirty dishes were placed. “I could use the World Mirror to jump into there, getting me away from this. But the people working in the kitchen—that would obviously cause even more of a stir. What do I do!?”
“Although—I haven’t seen or heard anyone in there in a while…”
He dashed over to the counter, which had the door toward the main lobby off to its right, wide open. Taking a quick peek around the left side, he looked to see if anyone was coming from that direction. Not a soul was in sight.
Next, Adam looked over the counter, moving Charlotte’s dishes out of the way. Peering into the kitchen, he did not see anyone inside there either.
“I know this is a cheap hotel and everything, but… nobody at all? That’s strange… well, what do I do now?” He rustled his hair in frustration. “Dammit! If I run away from this, someone will still find this mess. They can always use the cameras out in the lobby to see who had been in here… what do I do—”
Adam turned back toward the table. The bloody mess that had appeared there moments before had vanished.
He slowly approached the table, completely bewildered. Everything was back to normal, including the pile of apple scraps. Adam picked up the last fresh apple that he had, analyzing it along with the table’s surface.
“No… blood? This apple’s not covered either. It’s the same wonderful red it usually is—”
Adam was interrupted by a tremendous crashing noise behind him. Quickly turning around, he noticed the dishes Charlotte had put there a minute prior had shattered onto the floor. Looking up at the counter, the source was immediately identified.
“Human! I’ve found you again!”
“Oh?” Adam smirked at the sight of the strange white rabbit. He cracked his fingers, ready for whatever the blue-scarfed creature had in store.
“I’ve been wondering when you’d show up again, Muraco.”