Several minutes earlier, with the fog still plaguing the town, Miles crept close to the front door of Ann’s. He began to giggle to himself.
“They went in here, huh? After all that trouble I went through to create that bomb. Oh well…” He opened his hands, forming multiple miniature spheres of phantonic energy in each palm. “It doesn’t matter where you are. I’ll kill you all.”
Before he could shatter the glass doors in front of him, a giant wave of sand came crashing down upon him. Winona had arrived just in time. She glared at the pile of dirt she had created.
“I won’t let you kill anyone, even if you are some kid!”
The sandy tomb suddenly turned blue, erupting into a plume of phantonic energy. Quickly fading away, Miles stepped out, completely unharmed.
“You’re one of the Ability-users, huh? It’s too bad—nothing like that will work on me!”
Winona quickly summoned dirt around her, preparing her defense. “What the…? What kind of Ability does he have!?”
Miles’ fingers began to twitch. The fog seemed to slowly gather, morphing into more phantonic energy. “Thank you, Haley!” He cheered, whipping his hands at Winona, sending sharp waves of blue toward her.
Winona instinctively blocked with her sand. She retaliated by sending a similar form of attack at Miles, only hers was composed of dirt. He quickly moved his hands, coming into contact with each individual attack. This action once again turned Winona’s power into pure phantonic energy, gathering into Miles’ hands in the form of two spiraling spheres.
“You’re just feeding me, you know!” Miles mocked. “You can’t do anything against me!”
“Is that so?” Winona started to chuckle.
“Huh? What’s so funny!?” Miles asked, flinging the spheres at Winona, who whacked them away with a knife made of stone she forged in her hand.
“Between the fog and my Ability, it’s obvious what you’re doing. You’re returning structures composed of phantons back into their original form, which you manipulate. Odd, as I mix actual earth into my Stone Rose, yet you still completely change it… That’s quite the Ability you have.”
“You’re good!” Miles grinned rather sadistically. “I’m actually sort of interested in you now! What are you going to do? Huh? Huh!? I wanna see!”
Winona gathered sand around her arm. “It’s quite simple, actually.” With a flick of her wrist, she sent a small burst of the earth at Miles. He moved his hand in the attack’s path, ready to counter with his Ability.
With a motion barely noticeable, Winona changed the trajectory of her sand, causing it to go around Miles. She snapped her fingers, reforming the sand into a sharp stone spike.
This new object buried itself in Miles’ temple, faster than he could react to.
Blood spewed out of his head, as he collapsed to Winona’s one simple move.
“You don’t have much battle experience, do you? Maneuvering my sand in multiple different directions is something I’ve grown good at. So, of course, I can move around your slow, flailing arms. Sorry—I couldn’t hold back…”
Winona seemed upset at what she had just done. However, she didn’t hesitate. Ignoring Miles, she quickly ran through the front doors of Ann’s.
Muraco dashed around the foggy forest, blocking multiple gunshots using his scarf. Ivan pursued closely, now shooting from barrels formed on both of his arms. The man seemed perfectly capable of maneuvering through the treetops with keen precision, not missing a single step while continuing the fight.
Brandon stood off in the distance, observing the two—Shepherd Surge at the ready. He was impressed that Muraco could keep deflecting the bullets raining down upon him.
“Muraco’s… good at this. What kinda experience does he have…?”
“Dammit…” Muraco cursed. “I have to try something else. I can’t get an opportunity to whack him with my scarf with all the shit he’s firing!”
Muraco retracted the scarf’s extensions. Ivan took this opportunity to attempt a fatal strike on the rabbit. However, he failed to make any mark. Muraco suddenly sank into the shadows, entirely out of sight.
“Where did you go?” Ivan asked himself nonchalantly. He landed on the ground, swiftly shifting his eyes around the woods.
“He really can use more than one Ability…” Brandon noted.
Fabric shot out from the base of a nearby tree, barely missing Ivan as he casually moved to the side. It latched itself onto a tree nearby as another scarf formed from the shadows. This process continued—long scarves manifesting in an attempt to capture Ivan, yet were unable to do so.
Eventually, Muraco ceased his attack—the woods now covered in a blanket of blue. Ivan stood in the center, completely unfazed. He adjusted the barrels on his arms.
“It does not matter if you created more shadows with these. Wherever you pop out, I’ll fire at you.”
With the combination of fog and fabric, Brandon could no longer see the enemy.
“Muraco… Whatever you’re planning, I hope it works. Cause I won't be much use right here—”
With a powerful flash, the scarves exploded. Tiny blue threads scattered throughout the area surrounding Ivan, slashing at his body like an infinite number of blades. Within the shadows, Muraco’s voice roared.
“Finishing Move—Thread Shredder!”
The attack tore through Ivan’s phantonite body like it was paper. Brandon stood back in awe and horror while being glad that Muraco could control the threads to only strike inward. He would be a goner if they ended up scattering everywhere.
As the activity ceased, Ivan collapsed—with a small portion of his lower head left along with his torso.
Brandon ran over to him while Muraco hopped out of the shadows. The two stood over their fallen enemy.
“Did… Did you kill him…?” Brandon anxiously asked.
“I would say yes, except… no. He’s still alive, somehow.” Muraco leaned over in caution. “I can feel his energy… It’s still inside.”
Brandon stared in terror as blood seeped from the wound on Ivan’s head. “How…?”
“How is he alive? Beats me. He’s a tough cookie. That’s fine—he won’t be doing much anymore—”
“No.” Brandon shook his head. “How… can you gather up the courage to kill someone…?”
Muraco was silent at first. Eventually, he responded. “It’s not like we can talk these guys out of it. Their minds were set the moment they began all of this. We can’t afford to let them… live.” He sighed. “Man, I don’t sound like much of a hero, do I?”
“I… get the ‘why’ part of it. I think. But… I asked, ‘how’ you can gather that courage?”
“I’m not sure I would call it ‘courage,’ Brandon. I don’t know what I’d call it, but we, as humans, need a firm resolve to—”
“Muraco… What… do you mean by that?”
“Freaking—I don’t know how to explain this process to you, but—”
“No… not that.” Brandon placed his hand on Muraco’s head. “You said ‘we, as humans’... Are you considering yourself a human...?”
“Huh? I-I mean, I might as well be human! I…” Muraco lowered his head. “I’m not too sure about my origins. I’m aware that I was tortured by the Ouderkirks, but how I gained this form… What I was before… I don’t know.”
“Well, let’s not worry about that! Right now, we gotta get back to the others!” Brandon shouted. “Come on!”
“Wait a minute, Brandon,” Muraco stopped Brandon by grabbing him with his scarf. “This guy right here… I told you he’s still alive.”
“Yeah? I doubt he’s going to do much in that state, dude.”
Muraco shook his head. “No… Something doesn’t feel right.”
“Hmm…” Brandon scratched his head, staring down at Ivan. “I’m not sure—”
In the next moment, the boy and the rabbit were engulfed in a sudden fiery explosion of blue, expelling from Ivan.
“Dad!” Winona ran up and embraced her father, who almost fell over from the impact.
“Woah, take it easy, Winona! It’s okay. We’re okay…”
Winona let go of Cody, looking down at the three who had fallen unconscious. “So, it happened here as well…”
“Winona, is everyone okay over there!?” Lucy asked, rushing up to her and grabbing her leg.
“People without Abilities passed out as well… But, they’ll be all right. Pam, Faith, and Adam are there, after all.” She gave a comforting smile to the girl.
“What are we gonna do with all of these sleepyheads?” Lucy questioned the father and daughter, pulling at Jerry’s hair, making it even more spiky than usual.
“If we can carefully move them back toward the station, we can rejoin the others,” Cody answered, scratching his chin. “Now that the base is demolished… we might as well.”
“I can use my sand to transport these guys. It shouldn’t be too difficult.” Winona stated, beginning to form her sand around them.
“Do you hear that…?” Cody asked, pointing toward the ceiling. “Sounds like there’s quite a fight going on above us… It must be Charlotte dealing with the enemy.”
“I just fought someone as well. Managed to take them out quite easily.” Winona glanced up. “I hope Charlotte can handle whoever she’s fighting…”
“Let’s hope that’s the only other enemy nearby. We can make a break toward the station. Er… Winona?” Cody began to chuckle. “Can you… use your sand on me as well? You know I can move around that well.”
Winona sighed with a smile on her face. “Yeah, yeah. Of course, I can. Make sure you keep an eye out for any enemies. I-I mean, as much as you can in the fog… I can handle people who move on the ground thanks to my Ability, but flying enemies… I don’t think so.”
“This is gonna be difficult, and extremely risky…” Cody said, adjusting his grip on his rifle. “But, it’s even riskier just staying here. We need to all group up, I think…”
“It’s been quite a while since I’ve had to come up with these kinds of decisions on the battlefield. I fear your old man’s brain is starting to wear…”
“Oh, come on. You’re not that old, Dad.” Winona giggled.
“So I am old, is what you’re saying?”
Lucy lowered her head. “I wonder how old I am… I’m seven—I know my age when I was alive. How long has it been since…?”
Cody, without thinking, answered.
“Well, you’re in your mid-twenties, of course—” He hushed himself immediately.
“Dad…” Winona’s eyes widened. “How… do you know that?”
“My brain… really is starting to wear…” He let out a long sigh. “I’ve been able to keep it a secret for this long since you don’t seem to recognize me, Lucy. And I figured Pam should be the one to let you guys know. But… I should say it, shouldn’t I…?”
“Do you know who I am!?” Lucy’s eyes lit up. “Tell me, tell me!”
“Yeah… Tell us, Dad.” Winona requested, holding back her anger.
“Right…” Cody carefully leaned down on his knee, grabbing Lucy’s shoulders.”
“Listen, Lucy. You’re actually—”
The reveal was interrupted by the front door of the store shattering apart. Winona and Cody quickly turned toward the action, ready to fight whatever was about to enter.
Winona was petrified at the sight of Miles stumbling inside. A tiny amount of blue oozed from the wound on his head, while his left hand seemed to be quivering.
“Ah… You left before we could finish our fight…” Miles started to giggle with his head facing the floor.
“Dammit! He survived that!?” Winona motioned the sand around the others in front of herself.
“Round 2…” Miles waved his right hand forward. From the outside fog, a giant sphere of blue shot into the store, tearing through every obstacle in front of it to reach Winona.
Aisles were toppled over as the attack exploded, ripping apart the very foundation of Ann’s. Winona struggled but was able to successfully keep her sand sturdy enough to prevent the attack from connecting with her and the others.
The dust settled, and Miles’ laughter grew even louder upon seeing Winona standing. “Yes! Yes! That’s it! Let’s have some fun and tear everything apart—”
He was interrupted by Cody, who had shot at him. The projectile entered his right shoulder, almost knocking him off his feet. Yet, he remained standing and did not find the bullet to be much of an issue.
“You’ll have to shoot to kill, you know!” Miles snickered as blue ooze slowly crept from his fresh wound.
“I refuse to kill a child,” Cody stated. “However…”
The debris around the store began to move. As if it was being pulled by a magnet, it flew—striking Miles in a fierce barrage.
“I have nothing against punishing one.”
Miles was knocked out of the store, back into the fog. Cody walked up and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Are you able to keep going? He’ll probably retaliate pretty quickly.”
“Yeah... Wait, Dad?”
“What is it, Winona?” Cody asked his daughter.
"You're shaking... Is this too much for your body?"
“Huh…?” Cody looked down at himself. “I-I should be fine! I still do things for Unity, and that stuff is a lot more strenuous on me. ”
The area outside of the shop lit up. The two returned their attention to the battle as Miles began to shift the fog into phantonic energy.
“Winona! This is gonna be a big one!” Cody yelled.
“I-I know! I got it! Don’t worry!” Winona slammed her hands onto the ruined floor. A wall of blue paved its way inside—Winona counterattacking by creating dozens of large spikes from the earth, aiming and striking away at the sizeable phantonic structure.
In the clash, Winona could not ease her mind. Not from the enemy that she was currently facing, but from her father next to her.
“Is he okay...? No, am I okay? What is this awful feeling welling up inside of me...?”
With a fist of white energy and a fist of steam, Adam and Pam struck at the wall of black petals before them. The force tore through the obstacle, having enough strength to spare—pushing Carl several feet away.
“Nice… nice nice!” Carl caught his breath. “You two are nearly impossible to overcome working together!”
“Adam… are you doing okay?” Pam asked the boy next to her.
“I’m fine. Using Overlay for my punches works much better than how I was going about it before. It’s not perfect, but I’ve still got my hand in one piece, for now.”
“Good to hear. Let’s finish this guy off before he tries anything fishy! Be careful that other Jason guy doesn’t interrupt either.”
“I’ve been keeping an eye on him…” Adam glared at the mask floating off to the side. “He’s been keeping his distance. I’d say he’s definitely drained at the moment.”
“Well, even better. Come on, Adam! Follow my lead!”
“Will do—” Adam froze.
“Adam…?” Pam turned back to him before she charged ahead.
“No…” Adam shook his head in dismay. “What is this…?”
He felt a chill run through his body as if it was piercing him from multiple directions. Before he had time to process it, Adam heard his own voice echo in his head.
He, however, was not the one that used his voice.