Alexander could not process what had just occurred. He stood up after crashing onto a concrete floor—his wings luckily protecting him from taking too much damage.
Whatever had just struck him sent him tumbling into an abandoned warehouse that had a high metal ceiling with rusty rafters. The only things noteworthy on the floor were several wooden pallets in multiple stacks around the room.
The being now descended slowly through the hole above—dust and light calmly surrounding it. Alexander immediately retaliated, extending his wings to stab through the enemy.
His wings stopped before they could reach it. The one known as “The Nexus” chuckled at Alexander’s attempt.
“Oh—I guess that makes sense. I attack you out of nowhere, so you attack me back. I just wanted you to stop, however. I do not want to fight—I would like to speak with you, Alexander Strauss.”
“The shit are ya supposed to be!?” Alexander started to grow uneasy. “Not only did my wings randomly stop working, they can’t even read whatever the hell’s doing it in the first place…!”
“Oh—I’m not anything that special. Just a being wanting to figure out its origins.” The Nexus raised its hand, forming a large azure spear with a cylinder-shaped hilt that it gripped tightly. “You don’t have to say a word—I know how you act. You’re going to desire a fight. I suppose I could talk to you while you attempt it?”
Alexander chuckled. Several wings shot out of his back, creating intense pressure around him.
“Shit just keeps on piling up, doesn’t it!? Fine, I’ll just do what I always do! You’re goddamn right I want to fight! Bring it on, you freaky fuck!”
“Sent us inside the gas station, huh?” Chris groaned, standing up after being slammed into a stand full of potato chips. He leaned on the front counter—glaring at Faith who stood on the other side of the tiny store.
“I’m glad I aimed well enough…” Faith sighed. “If I actually hit the gas pumps, that could have been really bad…”
“How the hell did you not burn me!? You were on freaking fire!” Chris shouted at her.
“I have to put most of my energy into moving around… I can’t gather up enough heat to actually burn you with that technique. Anyway, not that I got you out of the way, it’s time to start talking!”
“Talking…?” Chris chuckled. “Talk about what? You’re the good guy—I’m the bad guy.”
“Why though? What are you even doing all of this for…?”
“Huh? We desire power. That’s all—”
“Why do you desire power?” Faith’s face was stern.
“For the love of—” Chris sighed. “Listen. My sister kinda put herself in a really bad situation. If we gain the power within the seal, Carl can learn much more about the world. With that knowledge, he can free her. My buddy, Derek—actually my brother-in-law… he’s her husband. We’re both working toward this.”
“Do you have to go about it in this way…?” Faith asked with a solemn look.
“Well—Unity won’t do shit! They already have her for breaking the damn law! She’s quarantined in a hospital… with guards all around her. She’s trapped in that… gross shit… and used as a test subject. They won’t help her. She’s a huge source of info for those bastards…!”
“So you turned to this path…” Faith sighed. “I’m sorry…”
“Huh...? The hell... are you sorry for!?” Chris flicked his fingers in a sudden rage. Faith moved her head as the spark flew past her, shattering the glass of a vending machine behind her—seared bottles of soda sent flying across the store.
“Unity’s corrupted… I know. That’s one of the reasons why I willingly joined. I want to make it a better place—to have it truly live up to its name. Unity should be a place where we can all come together, not a place that causes fear and suffering.”
Chris shook his head. “That’s all fine and dandy. But we don’t have time for you to overthrow the damned thing! My sister’s dying to that chaonic shit around her! We’re making our move—today!”
“I understand… wanting to save your sister…” Faith sighed. “But I can’t allow you to do it like this! You’re no better than Unity right now! People are suffering because of this attack!”
“You aligned yourself with them…” Chris muttered. “No matter your reasoning, you have no say in whether what we’re doing is right or not…” With a snap of his fingers, a spark began to form. This time, it expanded—forming into a yellow whip-like structure.
“What is that…?” Faith asked, forming flames around her arms for defense.
“My Spark Blast Ability… This can be considered an extension of it—quite literally. Take a look!” Chris swung the whip around, almost like a lasso. He then flicked it toward Faith—the tip barely missing her as it caused a powerful explosion upon impact with the already trashed vending machine. The force managed to knock her down on the hard store floor.
“It’s… stronger than before…” Faith leaned up, wiping away the blood from her now bleeding nose.
“What are ya doing just laying there!?” Chris laughed maniacally, sending the whip at Faith for a second time. She managed to roll out of the way just in time, using her flame to push herself even further to successfully escape the impact of the blast.
As she stood up, Chris continued to whip his weapon around. Faith had to continuously dodge, using the shelves in the few aisles around her as shields. He was swift—quickly reducing the obstacles in front of him to dust with each explosion.
Chris roared with laughter, feeling the thrill of the battle welling up inside of him.
“Chris… It’s okay. You don’t have to cry anymore…”
Sam sat on the front steps to their house, holding the young Chris’ shoulder in comfort.
“Why… did dad have to die…? Seriously—everyone else flies planes without an issue!” Chris gasped for air as tears continued to flow.
“It can happen…” Sam sighed. “Technical difficulties can always happen… It’s okay, though. He died doing what he loved best.”
Chris rubbed his eyes, pulling an old pilot hat out from behind him. “This was grandpa’s…? Dad gave it to me recently…”
“Mhmm! Grandpa wanted that to be passed on. I’m… kind of afraid of heights, so flying was never really an option for me. But you always loved it! That’s why you have it! Is… it something you want to do?”
“Why would I do something that killed dad!?” Chris shouted. “I’m not an idiot like him!”
“Chris… He wasn’t an idiot. He knew what he was doing. Like I said, it was technical difficulties.” Sam shook her head, standing up. She reached out her hand to her little brother, beckoning him. “Come on, follow me.”
“Huh? Where are we going, Sam…?” Chris asked, grabbing his sister’s hand.
“You seriously don’t know! I’ve been talking about it all week!”
“You have…?” Chris was stumped.
“Oh, geez! Let’s go! You’ll see when we get there! It’s getting late—we’ll miss it!”
Chris said nothing more. He followed his sister in silence as she led him down the streets of Nexus City. As the sun set, the blue of the buildings began to grow in brightness—the two different hues clashing with each other.
“The beach…?” Chris finally spoke up, seeing multiple people standing on the sandy shores.
“Yeah! It’s getting dark—it should be starting in a minute here!”
“Wait…” Chris paused. “You don’t mean…?”
As the sun fell below the horizon, the sky once again lit up. Chris jumped at the loud noise echoing above him. Looking up, he watched as the fireworks began.
“Dad was going to take us to see these… I still wanted to take you.” Sam stated, holding Chris’ hand tightly.
Chris stared in absolute awe at the sight forming above him. Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, violet. So many colors danced around the sky, he couldn’t help his face light up in excitement.
“I’ve never seen fireworks before… They’re so cool!”
“They are… aren’t they?” Sam giggled, holding Chris closer.
“I… want to be up there. The sky’s so open, ain’t it…!?”
“Do you see why dad and grandpa loved flying? Despite the risks, they still did it. They wanted to explore that vast, endless sky. A place where beauty is free to expand to its heart’s content, like right now.”
“They’re a little loud… I can barely hear ya, Sam,” Chris chuckled. “But I… I know. Dad would want me to go up there, wouldn’t he…?”
Sam turned to him, placing her hands on his shoulders—giving her brother a gentle smile. “He would want you to do what makes you happy. If you do want to fly, then for sure!”
“I’ve got a few years before I can start to learn…” Chris scratched his hair. “I’m not even a teenager yet.”
“You’ll get there! Don’t rush your high school years—trust me. It may seem hellish, but life after it is kinda…” Sam trailed up, laughing awkwardly.
There was silence between them as the fireworks continued to explode, increasing in intensity. Chris eventually spoke, still audible to Sam.
“Do… Do you think dad’s up there right now…?”
“Do you think he is?”
“Well… wherever he is, I hope he’s enjoying these fireworks, just like we are…”
Sam nodded, embracing her brother. The big finale started while Chris’ memory grew fuzzy.
After over a dozen strikes, Chris had transformed the store into a blazing inferno. He held his head in frustration, panting heavily.
“Why… the hell did I think about that now…? Sam…”
Chris stared into the flames before him. “I’m… sorry. I have to do this… I need my sister to smile once again…”
He stepped back in shock upon seeing Faith casually walking out of the fire.
“What…? None of that shit hit you!?”
Faith started giggling to herself. Despite flames covering her body, she did not react in fear. Instead, she embraced herself, seemingly basking in the warmth around her.
“What in the…? Are you freaking Satan or something!?” Chris swung his whip once more. As it descended upon Faith, she casually avoided the blow by stepping to the right. Before it even made contact with the floor, she grabbed a hold of the weapon with her fiery palm, avoiding the tip.
In a calm, eerie voice, Faith answered Chris’ question.
“I’m just having fun.”
She dashed toward him, sliding her hand along the whip as she moved, making Chris unable to maneuver it.
“Damn it…!” Chris canceled out the whip, positioning himself so he could fire back. He shot multiple sparks—all aiming directly at Faith.
Keeping her right fist ignited, she blasted a mighty flare from her left hand, engulfing Chris’ attacks. They exploded—the recoil pushing back toward Chris himself.
“Dammit, dammit, dammit!” He held his arms in front of his face, instinctively shielding himself from the oncoming force. The fact that he had just guarded himself actually caused him to drop his guard entirely.
Chris could not react quick enough as Faith smashed her flaming fist into his gut—the intense power sending him rocketing through the front counter, shattering it to pieces, while money from the cash register shot out and littered the flame-infested building.
As Chris lost consciousness, Faith collapsed to her knees. She trembled immensely.
“T-There… Take a nap and think about what you’ve done…” She began to laugh. “Have I… been this strong this entire time…?” Glancing at her hand, the flames continued to dance around her—being no issue whatsoever for the one who, months prior, would have been in extreme distress at this scene.
“Am I strong enough… to make things right in this world…?”
Faith then heard a large crashing noise come from above. As she looked up, the ceiling broke apart violently, descending upon her.
Charlotte glanced down, looking at the collapsing building below. She had just deflected a strike from Haley’s blade—the force being redirected toward the gas station.
“Dammit… There was a fight occurring in there! I couldn’t tell who it was, thanks to this fog, but… Please, if someone was on my side… Let them be okay!”
She had no time to think—Haley’s sword aiming at her as it had been. Charlotte blocked the strike, sending the energy from the impact off to the side.
“You shouldn’t worry about others, Ouderkirk girl. In this fog, I’m too powerful to ignore.” Multiple shards of ice formed around Haley, firing at Charlotte. With her sword, she swung rapidly and repeatedly—quickly reducing the projectiles to nothing but cold dust.
“You can even see, can’t you?” Charlotte jabbed at Haley, who guarded successfully.
“Yes. In this fog, I don’t need my vision. I can see everything that’s happening. A lot is going on… Some of your friends are in danger, even. You probably don’t want to waste time here. Unfortunately, I’m not giving you the option to leave.”
Charlotte took a deep breath. “I’ve been honing my senses during this fight. It’s not perfect yet, but I can tell… that Miles kid headed to Ann’s. Can Cody defend the others…? No—wait. Someone else is there… This energy… Is it who I think it is?”
Haley slashed, Charlotte slashed back in retaliation.
“Even still… she’s right. I can’t afford to waste any time. But…” Charlotte transformed her long sword into a great sword, the following slash strong enough to knock Haley back a significant distance. “Hey—why can I feel my energy coming from you…?”
“Oh? You finally noticed?” Haley giggled. “My hair didn’t give it away? Yes—that is your family’s power you feel. Somewhat, I should say. We were injected with some of your deceased family’s DNA. Unity worked out the kinks, and was able to produce a small amount of your power within us.”
“Unity…? What the hell? Why would they do that?” Charlotte asked, keeping her defense raised.
“Aside from the obvious desires that Unity seeks… Well, we were the perfect test subjects. Abilities forced upon us, causing us to lose something… I lost my sight. Miles lost his sanity… the poor boy. By using us as test subjects, they could see how the Ouderkirks’ power could aid us. It certainly gave us tremendous energy, thankfully. Along with what we individually lost, we lack the physical strength to do daily activities, for the most part.”
“It… actually doesn’t sound too bad. I’d love it if my family’s power could actually help someone. But…” Charlotte tightened the grip on her sword. “What led you to this point!? Why are you doing something like this!?”
“The experiments would eventually lead to our deaths. Fangless, the group that rescued us, knew that. We were saved, and along with the potential to still fix ourselves, we’re working alongside them.” Haley’s voice began to shake.
“What is it…?” Charlotte asked her.
“I… want to see the world once more. There’s this beautiful field, you see. Whether it’s filled with flowers—vibrant in color, or blanketed in ice-cold snow… It’s the perfect place. I played there when I was little… I just to see that place again, if anything!”
“Are you serious…?” Charlotte shook her head. “I get wanting your sight back. It seems it was wrongfully taken from you, after all. But… a freaking field is your goal? I’m sorry, but trying to kill innocent people… There’s nothing that can make that justifiable, especially that bullshit!”
“Shut up!” A violent gale filled the fog. As in came into contact with Charlotte, frost began to form around her body. “You have no idea what I’ve been through!”
“After what you’ve done, trying to kill my friends…” Charlotte held her sword high in the air. “I don’t give a damn what you’ve been through!”
“Is that so!?” Haley roared, forming several gigantic shards of ice around herself. She launched them toward Charlotte at remarkable speeds. This did not matter, as Charlotte easily slashed through each of them. Holding the great sword to her side, she soared at Haley.
Although Haley did move her sword in time to defend, Charlotte shattered the icy blade with a single, mighty strike. As Haley watched the fragments fly around her, she finally understood.
She was no match for Charlotte.
She was no match for a true Ouderkirk.
With Charlotte preparing a second slash, Haley flew backward, creating multiple chunks of ice to defend herself.
The chase began. Charlotte sliced through the frozen masses before her, following Haley as she manipulated the fog to maneuver herself around the area.
“G-Get back… Get back!” Tiny blizzards started to form, blinding Charlotte’s vision—slowing down her movement. This was only temporary. Charlotte pushed through, keeping her pursuit going in spite of all that was thrown at her.
“Why won’t you stop!? Just freeze already!”
“The cold doesn’t bother me,” Charlotte stated calmly. “Temperature itself doesn’t bother me. You’re not stopping me with something like that!”
“Dammit…” Haley ascended high above Charlotte, almost reaching the top of the barrier of fog. “Just give up! Let me have your power!”
A fierce blue aura manifested around Charlotte’s blade, melting away the ice that had covered it. “You want my power, huh? I’ll give it to you, then!”
Haley gathered the fog above herself, creating a gargantuan glacier-like structure. “Try and stop this!”
“Is she crazy!? She’ll destroy the entire town with that! Does she not care about her allies!?” Charlotte tightened her grip on her sword.
“Time to go all-out.”
With all her might, Charlotte slammed her giant blade into the heap of ice. The energy discharged from the strike, yet remained somewhat calm as it wrapped itself around the lower half of the glacier. Now that her phantons were in place, it was time for Charlotte to finish the fight in one simple move.
With another tremendous slash, all of the energy she gathered erupted, vaporizing all the ice above her with little effort. With such almighty power, mere ice could not slow it down.
Haley was petrified. She did not move, yet her blindfold had loosened from her continuous bout with Charlotte. It slowly fell from her face, revealing terrified blue eyes that matched the color of the attack about to strike her.
Although her Ability allowed vision in the fog, it was merely a black and white image that Haley viewed. At the very last moment, she could have sworn her sight had been filled with raging azure.
Engulfed in the Royal Ascent, she smiled softly, partially glad she somehow saw color once again.
Charlotte stared above in astonishment while the phantons faded. She had no idea she could harness and unleash so much raw power.
“Royal Ascent… It’s stronger than Royal Descent, simply due to the fact I don’t have to hold back from damaging the ground.” Charlotte looked at her sword, fading away. “Those moves… Who taught them to me?”
Her thoughts were interrupted upon seeing a tiny heap fall toward her. She moved to the right, as Haley’s remains plummeted to the streets below.
Charlotte descended, noticing the fog around her beginning to diminish. Touching the ground, light had begun to return to Prelude.
The battle against Fangless was far from over, however. As Charlotte felt Haley’s life fade away, she surveyed the destruction surrounding her. She could hear fighting nearby and was prepared to fly over to assist.
A quick look at Haley’s body stopped her dead in her tracks.
“What… is that…!?”
An eerie substance—void of color—floated a few feet above Haley. It was a bizarre shape—one that Charlotte couldn’t quite comprehend. It slowly crept toward her, as she did not resist it merging with her body.
Words then echoed in her mind.
“Ouderkirks are masters of the soul, Charlotte. We have the great honor to dictate what happens to one upon leaving the body. Why? Are we considered gods? Not quite. We were granted this power to seek out a certain kind of soul if it were to appear…”
“Who’s… voice is this…?”
A calm, gentle voice of a young woman continued to speak inside her mind.
“...there are indeed special souls out there that could use our guidance. Yet, the most important soul… The one true soul that us Ouderkirks wait for… I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what that is. Our salvation…”
“The one with the World Mirror, right…?” Charlotte muttered to herself. She did not realize that she had begun to cry.
“That… That voice… Mom… It’s you, isn’t it? I found it—T-The World Mirror… What am I supposed to do now...!?” She glanced at her hand, feeling the presence of another now within her. She yearned for it to be her mother, yet knew it was not.
“And… What’s the deal with your soul, Haley…?”