Meanwhile, Brandon and Paul entered the training room, ready for the challenge that awaited them. Faith and Winona were the only other ones in there, sitting on the floor discussing something. At the sight of the two coming in, Faith sprang up.
“Brandon! How are you doing!?”
“Much better!” Brandon grinned, giving Faith a thumbs up. “I’m ready for today!”
“That’s not what you just said to me.” Paul snickered. “Didn’t you say you were scared to death about this test—”
“Hush, you!” Brandon pressed his hand against Paul’s face, silencing him. Paul smacked Brandon’s hand away.
“That’s the second time you’ve done that today. Do you like touching mouths or something?”
“Only if it’s using my lips! Uh—a-and if it’s a girl’s of course. Uh…” Brandon groaned. “Dammit!”
“Glad to see you two are getting along.” Faith smiled, shaking her head in disbelief at the same time.
Winona stood, jumping up and down. “Are you guys excited!? This is going to be fun!”
“Fun!? No! Paul just said I’m scared to death!” Brandon whined.
“Interesting. Didn’t take you too long to give up on trying to hide it.” Paul noted.
The door off to the side swung open, with two people walking out into the room. The woman to the left almost had to duck down to avoid hitting her head, covered by long curly blonde hair. Her light blue eyes glanced toward the four as she gave them a grin. The man on the right gave off an opposite aura—his lazy hazel eyes were a part of his gloomy expression. He scratched his short unkempt red hair—which gave Brandon a sense of familiarity.
“Hey, kid—” The man pointed at him. “You’re Jerry’s friend, right?”
“Y-Yeah? How do you know Jerry?”
“He’s my nephew. The name’s Charlie Peck, and I’m gonna be the guy in charge of you and Paul from this point forward.” Charlie adjusted his Unity pin on his coat, which was sloppily put on.
“I-I didn’t know Jerry had family in Unity!?”
“Oh, yeah? Jerry never mentioned it to you?” Faith asked him.
“No, he didn’t. Odd, I figured that would be something that would surely come up in conversation.” Brandon pouted, clearly upset at the information his friend withheld from him.
“Eh, don’t sweat it. You should know that kid’s busy like his dumbass father.” Charlie chuckled. The tall woman next to him suddenly jolted her arm upward with great enthusiasm.
“Are we ready!? Young Faith Roswell! Young Winona Collins! Today’s the day!”
“I knew you’d be with us, Liz!” Faith cheered, as the girls ran up to her and gave her a hug.
“They know her?” Brandon asked Paul, who shrugged at his question.
Faith turned back to the two curious boys. “This is Elizabeth Rhodes. She’s worked with my mom quite a bit, and we’ve had training with her already. She’s great!”
“Aww, Faith—you sweetheart. Brandon, is it? I heard my husband took care of you yesterday?”
Brandon was silent, with a horrified look on his face.
“...T-Trevor’s not your husband, is he…?”
Liz burst out into laughter, almost falling onto the floor. “No! Jordan! My husband! He’s the doctor here! He healed you—that’s what I meant by ‘take care of’”
“Oh… That guy. Yeah, I think I was unconscious when he fixed me up. I never saw him.”
“That’s him for ya.” Liz sighed. “He’s a shy one, that guy.”
“So completely opposite of you, it seems…” Brandon murmured to himself.
“Anyway—” Liz pointed up toward the room above. “It’s time, everyone!”
Rizzo stood in the window, with Pam standing next to him. She gave an awkward wave down to them, as Rizzo prepared to speak.
“As Unity members with Abilities, you’ve been granted quite the honor to lead this organization into any obstacle we must overcome. That’s right—for events that call for it, you will be the first on the front lines. Unity mustn’t hold back against hostility of any kind. No hesitation to go all out—that’s one of Unity’s strongest points. Therefore—” Rizzo raised his hand, facing it downward toward the group below.
“You must learn how to fight to the fullest extent your Abilities will allow you to. Everyone—prepare to descend.”
“Huh? Descend!? Like, go down!? Get our asses kicked!? Wha—”
“Brandon, relax.” Faith put her hand on his shoulder to calm him down. She pointed at the floor below, which began to shake. After a moment, it began to descend.
“The floor acts as a sort of elevator,” Charlie answered. “Don’t know why they couldn’t just build a normal elevator, but this will go down right into—”
The walls surrounding them vanished, as they lowered into an even larger room, lit up like it was outside. Brandon was in awe at the sight he was witnessing—terrain of all varieties filling up his view. He couldn’t get a good enough look as the “elevator” came to a stop, merging with the floor below.
“Welcome to Unity’s true training grounds!” Liz blurted out.
“W-What…?” Brandon was clearly terrified at the sudden change of scenery. Luckily, Faith was there to calm him down.
“We landed in a forest section—as you can see.” Charlie waved his hand around, showing the group a wide variety of trees surrounding them, some even tropical.
“It’s more like a jungle…” Winona commented. “I can’t believe how natural it feels…”
“You’ve never been down here?” Brandon asked her.
“Nope. Only official Unity members are allowed to enter here.” Winona grinned. “So—you know what that means?”
“That’s right—” Rizzo's voice echoed from a speaker from somewhere in the large room. “You can now consider yourself legitimate Unity members. Congratulations.”
“W-Where is he!?” Brandon looked around in a panic.
“We have monitors up here that allow us to view what transpires down there. Not to worry, Mr. Shepherd. I’ll keep my eye on you.”
“That’s… creepy.” Brandon laughed nervously.
“Let me give you kids a rundown of what’s going on here—” Charlie began to pace around them. “This room is divided into several different sectors. We have the forest—or jungle—sector that cuts right through the middle of the room horizontally. The floor in the other room can also descend down here, as you’ll probably be able to tell.”
“...Who designed this place!?” Brandon sighed. “It’s freaking weird…”
“The northwest sector is mountains, northeast is a city—with some basic buildings, southeast is an ocean with various islands, and the southwest is a desert.”
“How!?” Brandon shouted. “Just how do you design it like this!?”
“Don’t underestimate the capabilities of Unity, Mr. Shepherd,” Rizzo responded to him ominously through the speaker.
“Anyway, your objective is quite simple.” Charlie stretched his arms. “Brandon and Paul are against me, while Faith and Winona are against Liz. We fight.”
“...Until we die, or something!? You gotta be more specific than that!”
“You’re quite the character, Brandon.” Charlie groaned. “No—not until you die. We’ll stop as soon as Liz and I are satisfied with the fight. We’re getting a gauge on your Abilities, teamwork capabilities—that sort of stuff.”
“Oh, all right…” Brandon forced a smile onto his face. “Well—I’m still nervous when it comes to all of this, but I have to give this a shot, isn’t that right?”
“Don’t worry—I’ll try not to damage you as much as Trevor.” Charlie snickered, pulling out a Core from his pocket.
“W-Wait, isn’t that—”
“Faith, Winona.” Liz beckoned the two of them. “We’re gonna start in the other area. Gotta give each team their proper space.”
“Gotcha.” Faith nodded in agreement. Winona was the first one to move—following Liz toward the trees. She turned and waved back.
“Good luck, Brandon! Don’t stress over this too much!”
Before she took off, Faith placed her hands on his shoulders, looking him directly in the eye.
“Brandon. We’re doing this for Adam, remember? Not just him… For everyone. And… ourselves. We have to become strong, right?”
“Y-Yeah…” Brandon was now distracted—not from Faith’s words—but from how close she currently was from his face. Although getting past that, her words did finally sink in. “Let’s do this thing…!”
Faith grinned, nodding her head. “Yeah!”
She let go of Brandon, dashing off behind Winona and Liz toward their battleground.
With Faith’s departure, Brandon’s sense of comfort also left. For the first time since arriving at Unity, he felt truly alone.
He glanced at Paul, who gave him a smile.
“You ready, Brandon?”
A flash of blue interrupted him. The two turned toward Charlie, who had formed a silver-colored rapier from the Core.
“Don’t worry, you guys. I’ll make it dull so it won’t pierce through you.”
“Make it dull…? It looks pretty freaking sharp to me.” Brandon noticed.
I said—don’t worry, Brandon. I can see you’re going to be quite a handful…”
Brandon took another look at Paul. Although he was there on his side, the loneliness couldn’t be shaken off.
“I… Paul… He’s still new to me. This… I don’t know. It would be less scary if I had someone with me that I knew. Faith and Winona left though… It’s just me, right now. Until I get familiar with these two, it’s just me.” A thought crosses Brandon’s mind, which made him feel even more uneasy.
“Adam… Is this how you felt? When none of us could be with you… Honestly, I’ve never felt like this. Even when I was playing soccer, or another sport… I never had this sense of emptiness. What is…”
“Brandon, you ready!?” Paul shouted, which snapped Brandon back to reality. Paul reached into his pocket and pulled out a Core of his own.
“Just do whatever feels right! I’ll take charge! Don’t sweat it!” Paul activated his Core, which transformed into a silver scimitar. “Here we go, Charlie. A generic Core Weapon—my go-to. Strange… shouldn’t you have a custom one made?”
“I should—you’re right,” Charlie smirked, waving his blade around. “Although, it’s not really necessary for me. After all… this can form into whatever I want!”
Charlie pointed the rapier at Paul. It expanded—shooting directly toward him. Paul swiftly blocked the jab with his weapon, although it pushed him back a few feet.
Brandon was in awe. “W-What the hell just happened!? Does he have some sort of superweapon!?”
“No—no need for that sort of thing.” Charlie retracted his weapon, pointing it at the ground. “My Ability is ‘Metal Manipulation’. It gets the point across, doesn’t it? Along with that—phantonite already reacts to phantons as is. Along with my Ability, I can make it quite versatile.”
“Really, dude?” Brandon shook his head. “You could call it anything, yet you choose something boring like that?” He stood his ground—forming electricity around his body. “Say hello to Shepherd Surge. Once I figure out this Unity crap, it’s over for all of you!”
“What? Is your goal to fight everyone in Unity or something?” Charlie asked.
“Nah, just Rizzo—hi Rizzo!” Brandon waved up at the ceiling, assuming Rizzo was still listening in on them. “But if anyone wants to get in my way, I’ll fight them too!”
“I get it…” Charlie sighed. “You’re one of those people. Someone who wants to reform Unity. I think that’s what you’re getting at? If that’s what you’re thinking…” He raised his sword, now pointing it toward Brandon.
“Just give up.”
The blade once again extended, now aiming at Brandon. With his quick reflexes granted to him by his Ability, Brandon managed to maneuver his head out of the way just in time. Yet, the attack wasn’t over. The rapier’s shape changed—curling around Brandon’s body like it was a metal whip.
“See ya, kid.”
Charlie whipped the blade to the left, releasing Brandon and sending him rocketing into the forest toward the mountain area. Branches and bark from the trees scattered about, almost pelting Paul with a hail of wood. He seemed to have no trouble evading all the debris, however.
“Now that the new kid’s out of the way for the time being—” Charlie started walking toward Paul, his blade slithering around like a snake. “Let’s test how you are, by yourself.”
Paul grinned, closing his eyes and pointing his own weapon at Charlie.
“You think I’m going to let what you just did to my teammate slide?”