Faith and Winona were on the field on the opposite side of the forest, with Liz standing before them. The ground was slightly lower than the area around it, indicating that the floor in the training room was not lowered.
“Faith, don’t you wonder what kind of technology they use to work this thing!?” Winona asked her.
“I do… Um… Before that though, can I ask you something, Win?”
“What is it?”
Liz crossed her arms, seemingly pouting. “I wanted to get started right away, but I guess I can let you two work out a quick strategy.”
“Thanks—” Faith turned back to Winona. “We… already have one. But that’s not what I want to talk to you about.”
“I was about to say. So, what’s up?”
“...I’ll be blunt. Why are you being so positive right now?”
Winona was silent for a moment, before letting out a heavy sigh. “Yeah. I figured you’d see through that.”
“You like to fight—I know that. But, considering everything right now… and especially what you told me happened last night.”
“You’re right. It doesn’t make sense. I kind of wanted to be positive for… Brandon’s sake, I guess?”
“That’s a good excuse.” Faith said without hesitation. “You’re usually quite cheerful, but when something bothers you, it’s easily noticeable.”
“I guess… for my own sake? Or… Cynthia’s…?”
“The previous evening, Winona was walking back from the restroom, heading to the room Faith and herself were staying in. On the way, she saw quite the familiar face.
“Cynthia! Hi! I thought you were out on a mission?”
“Hey, Sis… It’s orientation time, isn’t it? How are you holding up?”
“It’s fine so far. Brandon… got sort of messed up though. He’ll be all right, thankfully.”
“I see… It figures something would happen right off the bat.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s Unity, Win. Of course something would happen. Sounds a lot tamer than what happened during my orientation…”
“What happened…? You never told me.”
Cynthia snuggled up in her coat, which was clearly still too heavy to wear in the summertime. “Don’t worry about it. Just focus on what you have to do. And… try not to get hurt.”
“Cynthia… is everything okay? You’re still wearing that coat, as well…”
“I told you, I use it for training. I make wind flow down my legs, venting out all the heat—”
“No, that’s silly. I can tell you’re lying about that. What is it really for?”
“Winona… you shouldn’t be so blunt.” Cynthia sighed. “I just…”
“Just what?” Winona’s stance was firm—she was going to get to the bottom of her sister’s behavior.
“It’s just… I… I can't…”
“Huh? You can't what? What do you—”
“I’ll talk to you about it when you become a legitimate Unity member.”
And with that, Cynthia walked right by her sister. Any sort of power Winona temporarily held on her was shattered—unable to figure out what to say.
Despite this, she quickly came up with the words she wanted to use.
“I love you, Cynthia…”
Cynthia stopped in her tracks. There was no movement, no sound. Just silence. The two sisters stood in the empty hallway back-to-back. After what seemed like an eternity, Winona could have sworn she heard a sniffle.
“I love you too, Winona…”
As Winona turned toward her sister, Cynthia used her Ability to accelerate her body, moving out of sight in the blink of an eye.
“Liz—” Winona stepped forward. “I’m not going to hold back.”
“Oh?” Liz beamed. “That’s what I like to hear!”
“Let’s do this, Faith.”
Faith walked up to her side, cracking her knuckles.
Before they began, the group heard a giant crash from behind them. Faith and Winona turned around, while Liz began to giggle.
“They already got started, it seems. Let’s not waste any more time!”
As Liz took the first step, Winona glanced back at her—sensing her movement. With a swift motion of her foot, the ground in front of Winona tore apart—rocks flying toward Liz.
Within a mere second, it seemed as though Winona had already landed the first blow with her Stone Rose Ability at its maximum power. Faith stared at her friend in utter amazement.
“That was fast, but—”
Liz had appeared behind Winona out of nowhere. Before either Faith or Winona could react, Liz grabbed ahold of Winona’s arm.
“You’ll have to be faster to beat my Teleleap!”
Jumping upward, Liz seemed to teleport herself and Winona multiple times, making progress toward the ceiling each time. She smashed her opponent into it with tremendous force—Faith not believing the amount of strength Liz had to pull off such a strike.
The dust settled, showing that Winona had taken the attack quite well. Liz jumped back, slowly descending back toward the ground.
“Oh? You’re lucky that ceiling’s made of stone. You were able to change its properties at the last second.”
Winona stuck to the ceiling, now turned into a sandy surface. She had used it to cushion her from the blow while also keeping herself attached. Using her Ability, Winona formed four spears of stone on the side of her. She launched them with great speed at Liz, who seemed to use her own Ability to teleport out of the way. The spears struck each other, failing to make a blow.
Liz appeared back on the ground, brushing off the sand from her clothes. “Gotta be careful—don’t want you to manipulate the stuff that gets on my clothes—”
Feeling a sudden warmth, Liz turned toward Faith. Without hesitation, Faith had formed a mighty flame, which was heading directly for her. Once again, Teleleap was too quick, and managed to get Liz out of the way.
“I’m so proud of you, Faith! You’ve finally got those flames down!”
“Heh—thanks. It’s not as easy as it looks, though—”
Faith motioned her hands, like she was grabbing directly onto the flame. She whipped it at Liz, who evaded the move just as easily as before. Continuing to move the flame around, Faith attempted to strike Liz, yet was unable to, as she approached the girl cautiously with her Teleleap.
“Dammit! This flame is—”
“You’re putting too much effort into using your Ability, Faith.”
Liz had finally appeared behind Faith, holding onto her shoulder. Faith’s flame slowly diminished, while her fear took over.
“You’ve put so much focus into learning how to control your Ability, you’ve forgotten all that training you’ve done over the years. You know how to fight. An Ability shouldn’t slow you down.
Clenching her fist, flames erupted from Faith. Liz managed to teleport away from her just before she was caught.
“I know I’m focusing too much on my Ability.” Faith stated, as the flames surrounding her faded away. “That’s what I need to do right now. I’ll make sure I’ve got this Ability on a leash once I’m done with it!”
“You can form the flames around your body, huh?” Liz commented. “I’m gonna have to be careful making physical contact with—”
Liz teleported out of the way just in time, as a giant rock nearly missed crushing her.
“Winona’s back up to bat, huh?” Liz looked up toward the ceiling, expecting to see Winona sending a rainfall of stones down on her. Yet, she was not there. A second rock flew toward her—evading the technique for a second time helped Liz figured out Winona’s location.
Winona stood in the window of one of the tall buildings. Using the stone from the structure, she shot toward Liz and Faith’s location. Multiple rocks were now heading directly at Liz.
“Damn, how’s her aim so good!?” Liz dodged the incoming stones, dancing around the field with her Teleleap. Thanks to her teammate's accuracy, Faith took this time to move back while Liz remained preoccupied.
“I’m gonna have to leap over there to stop this. To think, she has this much strength with her Ability already!? It’s fine—I can use these rocks as stepping-stones, so the trip shouldn’t be too straining—”
A rock that had just missed Liz exploded, revealing Winona hidden inside.
“How did you…!?”
“I'm being reckless—that's how.”
Winona formed her hand into a fist. With that simple movement, all of the stone that she had scattered about gathered with lightning speed, striking Liz. The impact shook the entire room, knocking Winona and Faith off their feet.
“What… was that…?” Brandon stood up, having been knocked into the front of the mountain area. “Was I… Did I lose consciousness from that?” He looked at the trees in front of him, having been torn to shreds.
“I.. must have. It was only for a few moments I think, but… Dammit! I can’t keep getting tossed around like this!”
Paul suddenly appeared, flying directly toward him. Before they collided, Paul managed to do a flip in the air, barely missing his teammate. He even landed on his feet, with his eyes focused forward.
“Oh, good. You’re okay.” Paul sighed, both in relief and exhaustion. “Charlie’s giving me quite a lot of trouble.”
Before Brandon could ask how, Charlie emerged from the forest. He had wrapped the metal from his sword around his body, forming what appeared to be spider-like legs, which he was currently using to move around.
“Why the hell did you make your sword turn into that!?”
“Why not? It helps me traverse through the trees easier. You should also be creative whenever you can—I believe.”
Charlie moved his hand, causing the legs to rise from the ground, proceeding to jab at Brandon and Paul. The two managed to avoid Charlie’s strikes—Brandon with his Shepherd Surge’s influence on his reaction time and Paul with his Sensory Switch.
As Charlie formed more legs, it was clear to them that they were becoming cornered quickly. The metal struck the ground multiple times, attempting to land a blow on them as they continued to evade. They moved into the mountainous terrain, using the stone surrounding them as cover.
Yet, Charlie easily slashed their defense apart, forcing them to continue to move. Brandon picked up a rock from the debris, and chucked it with great force. His aim was fantastic, flying directly at Charlie despite the commotion he was causing. It didn’t do much, as Charlie formed a slab of metal in front of himself with little effort.
“Brandon, I’m impressed, honestly. You have lots of strong points, yet you lack key fundamentals for surviving a fight!”
Charlie stabbed at the ground, focusing several legs on a single point. The impact was right in front of where Brandon was standing—the force sending him flying into a rock wall nearby.
Paul retaliated by jumping toward Charlie. As a leg aimed at him, Paul maneuvered in the air, landing on it. He slid on the leg, getting closer to Charlie himself. With simple manipulation, Charlie caused the leg to crumble apart, leaving Paul wide open.
With another leg heading right at him, Paul used his blade to smack the side of the appendage, moving him out of the way. Landing on the ground, he noticed Brandon moving out of the corner of his eye.
“There you go. You got back up already.”
As lightning shot of his body, Brandon dashed forward, flying by Paul and heading toward Charlie. Charlie sent more legs raining down on the boy, yet Brandon was capable of barely avoiding each and every one of them.
“Even if I’m in a place I know nothing about… I chose to be here. I have to keep moving forward!”
With a burst of powerful electricity, Brandon soared—kicking through several of Charlie’s metal legs with his power.
“I-I did it…! I did the thing again—” Brandon fell onto the ground, rolling multiple times due to losing his focus.
Despite losing several legs, Charlie restored them quickly, preventing him from falling over.
“I see… So that’s what you're capable of.” Charlie smiled. “You’ve surpassed my expectations, honestly. Not bad, kid.” He raised all the metal around him, with the exception of two legs to keep his balance.
“I’ll be nice and let you turn in early, Brandon. As a veteran of the battlefield, I would feel bad for a newbie to deal with so much in one fight. I’ll be sure to keep testing Paul once you’re knocked out, though.”
Descending from above, Charlie aimed multiple legs directly at Brandon. Preparing to dodge, he quickly understood the gravity of the situation.
“They’re too fast… I can’t—”
By instinct, Brandon raised his hands in front of himself to guard against the attack. A surge of electricity erupted from them, blocking Charlie’s metal from coming into contact with him.
Paul cheered. “Nice, Brandon! See that, Charlie? Brandon’s not out of—”
Looking at his senior’s expression, Paul grew incredibly concerned.
“Charlie… Why does he look absolutely petrified?”
Charlie gulped—his eyes wide with fear.
“This entire time… I’ve taken into account his electricity. I changed the properties of the metal, to make sure it wouldn’t be magnetic. Yet… Brandon… How are you defying that…? How are you magnetizing my metal…!?”