Adam collapsed to his knees, shaking and breathing violently.
“Adam, what’s wrong—” Pam attempted to ask. Carl interrupted her with another wave of black petals. She responded just in time—slashing them apart with a flurry of sword slices.
“Good—you didn’t drop your guard. I would have been upset if I was able to take you down that easily.” Carl chuckled, creating more petals surrounding him.
“I don’t have time to check on him… I need to finish this quickly! Hang on, Adam…” Pam leaped forward, striking at the barrage of attacks Carl unleashed. As she dealt with the tiny waves, Carl created a gigantic one, ready to crash down on her like a black tsunami.
“Hey, Pam! Can your sword slice through all of this!?” Carl beckoned her to attack the structure about to crash down upon her.
“I won’t use my sword for this…” Pam sheathed her blade, placing her hands in front of herself. Steam began to form rapidly around her body, forming itself into multiple spheres of steam.
“Roswell Repeating Sphere—go!”
Pam let loose, sending the spheres directly into the enormous wave. At first, they seemed to be easily lost in the darkness. From the inside, they ruptured, tearing the black petals to pieces—the massive amounts of steam filling the area, mixing with the fog.
Adam attempted to look up at the action unfolding. He could not, as his vision has become distorted. Similar to a glitch in a video game, the area surrounding him was incredibly pixelated. The lack of white he observed in the pixels made him question exactly what he was looking at.
It took him a moment, but Adam soon discovered that this scene was in fact Prelude, minus the fog. He compared it to a map with layers—this glitched layer being the standard layer, while the foggy layer was removed entirely.
“What’s… happening here…?”
His voice once again spoke inside of him.
“Dread is fast approaching… Through your keen eyes, you can see how the very concept of despair warps the world around you.”
“The bonds you’ve forged… They’re about to be affected drastically. Being linked to yourself—the one with the World Mirror—things… will start to not make sense.”
“Heh… start to not make sense…?” Adam chuckled. “Nothing‘s made sense for a while now. Even if things weren’t thrown completely out of whack… I still can’t seem to get a grasp on it all.”
His inner voice laughed. “Can anyone really get a grasp on life in general? Maybe. I don’t think it matters. Whatever’s happening—”
“You use my voice… Yet, you’re not me. Just what are you…?”
“...You’ll come to learn that time is a complicated thing, Adam. I’m not sure what else I can say without disrupting things right now, but…”
The pixels lit up in bright white light, blinding Adam. As he held his hands in front of him, another hand reached out for him, lightly grabbing his wrist.
“It’s been hard… hasn’t it? What you did to yourself, for example…”
Adam looked up, unable to make out the tall silhouette towering over him.
“Whatever pain comes your way… Whatever obstacles throw you off the main track… Please, keep running forward. It’s the only way you’ll make it to the end. The true, happy end…”
Adam felt something wet land on his face.
"Please... There can't be another bad ending. Please..."
Wiping the tears off of him, the white surroundings shifted back to the foggy setting. Adam slowly stood, focusing his attention on Pam and Carl, who were exchanging blows using their sword and spear.
“Keep running forward, huh…?” Adam stabilized his Outline while forming Overlay over his arms and legs. “That sounds like winging it to me… Like running through traffic, hoping you don’t get hit. Oh well…” He arched his back, bending his knees.
“This body can handle it. I’m the one with the World Mirror, after all.”
He took a giant leap toward the action, shattering the ground below. Pam had just been knocked back as he flew at them.
Carl grinned, turning his attention to the boy soaring in his direction. “You’re back in the fight, huh!? Let’s do this!” He jabbed directly at Adam with a mighty thrust of his spear.
Adam blocked the blow with his left hand.
“What…?” Carl was shocked. “I… put all of my strength into that…”
Adam crushed the tip of the spear—whacking the remainder off to the side with the back of his hand. This caused Carl, who still held the weapon, to lose his balance.
In the next moment, Adam’s right fist smashed into Carl’s head, slamming the man into the ground with enough force to cause a fierce gale to erupt into the sky as the earth below tore apart.
Winona and Miles had a staredown—trying their hardest to muster up the energy for another round of attacks. Miles has the entire fog to back him up, while Winona was on her own defending the others, as Cody could not do what she could.
I need to strike fast and hard. His body’s got to be wearing down, even if he’s using all of those phantons to support it...”
Cody stared down at the rifle in his hands. His hands were still trembling while contemplating what was going on within his body.
“This... isn't natural exhaustion. Is my age finally getting to me...? Winona's right, something feels off... Incredibly off."
Cody was so lost in his own thoughts, that he did not even notice the man silently approaching from behind. He finally turned around upon hearing Derek grab Lucy.
“Hey! Let go of me!” Lucy shrieked. “I swear, I’ll beat you up—”
Derek did not hesitate to place a device that resembled a black suction cup on the back of her neck, causing her to immediately pass out.
“I’m sorry about this…” Derek sighed. He turned his attention to the man in front of him who had his weapon aimed in his direction.
“Let go of her!” Cody demanded. Winona turned her head toward the commotion while trying to keep her focus on Miles.
“This device Carl created suppresses phantonic activity. It’s the perfect way to knock a ghost out since our signal seems to not work on them alongside us Ability-wielders…” Derek clenched his fist. “Hopefully she won’t have to suffer now…”
“You sound like you don’t want to capture her…?” Cody asked him. “I sense hesitation in not only your words—but your body.”
Derek shook his head. “I’ve never wanted to do any of this. However, I have to—it’s that simple.”
Miles began to jump around. “Oh—Derek! Get that girl and move! I wanna kill these guys!”
“You probably should back off, Miles,” Derek suggested. “Your body’s taken enough damage as is. I should have moved in sooner. I apologize…”
“Nah, it’s okay!” Miles affirmed. “I’m having loads of fun fighting! I just gotta change the nature of the phantons inside of me to heal, and I’m good!”
“It’s not that simple…” Derek sighed. “Well, all right. I’m not one to give you orders. Do what you want.”
Cody inched closer. “You gonna let Lucy go?”
“You probably think I’m at a disadvantage with you having a ranged weapon?” Derek questioned. “Cody Collins, you should know based on your experience…”
Derek flung himself at Cody with no hesitation, striking the rifle—shattering it in a single blow.
“Range doesn’t matter if you’re fast enough.”
Cody attempted to retaliate with a punch. Due to his back, he had trouble twisting around to the proper position in time. Derek quickly whacked Cody in the head with the side of his hand, sending him rocketing into the damaged walls, causing them to finally collapse.
“Dad!” Winona turned around, ready to strike Derek with a stone she formed in her hand. Instead—following her instincts—she spun around, chucking it at a small blast of phantonic energy that Miles had shot at her.
“Don’t think you can ignore me!” Miles began focusing more energy around his body. “Derek, I’m gonna destroy everything. Take the girl and leave!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Derek sighed. “That’s what I’m here for.”
“Nobody’s going anywhere.” Winona declared. Slamming her foot into the floor, a giant dome formed above Derek, encapsulating him within. Turning her attention to Miles for the brief moment now available, she created a drill-like structure from the ground, sending the spiraling mass at the boy. Even with the built-up phantons protecting him, the strike sent him flying out into the fog.
Derek proceeded to smash out of the stone that had trapped him with a single punch. Winona adjusted her focus back to him—the strain beginning to build up within her body.
“I won’t let you take Lucy!” Winona manifested more sand, surrounding herself in it—ready for Derek’s attack.
Derek prepared to face Winona using the only hand available to him—the other currently holding Lucy.
It was at this point where the sky above them—now clearly visible from inside the building due to it’s ruined state—lit up in a fierce blue aura. Winona gazed up at the phenomenon, seeming to know the origin.
Derek was also glaring at the light above. “It’s that Ouderkirk girl, isn’t it? This isn’t Miles, that’s for sure…”
At the energy faded, there was silence. Winona and Derek awkwardly turned back toward each other, ready to resume their fight. Noticing the fog starting to fade, Derek began to grow anxious.
“Dammit… Haley was taken out already…!? Without the fog, the signal—”
Winona shot a burst of sand at Derek, who managed to whack it away rather easily, despite his current emotional state.
“I don’t know what you guys thought you could get away with, but we have power on our side! You shouldn’t mess with Prelude!”
Derek shook his head. “If the fog’s gone, then that also means any protection has been lifted. Is Unity waiting outside, ready to make their move…?”
“You shouldn’t worry about Unity right now,” Winona commented. “You should worry about me!” A smile slowly formed on her face. “Not only me—but…”
Without warning, Thomas had stood up. As Derek became aware of his presence, the scientist jabbed at him with a blue rapier. Thomas had attacked at the perfect angle for Derek to take his grip off of Lucy. Winona noticed this and used her sand to catch the unconscious girl before Derek could grab her once more.
“I got her!” Winona brought her sand back to herself, placing Lucy in her arms. “Thomas, are you guys all right!?”
“I’m disappointed in myself, to be honest.” Thomas sighed.
“Huh? What for? You just helped me save Lucy!”
“Nah, not that. See—” He pointed at the side of his head. “Knowing of Oberon, I took precautions just in case I had to deal with it directly someday. Whatever signal these guys were just using, it was similar, but not exactly like Oberon. There’s a chip inside of my head that can process this kind of data. It wasn’t quick enough for me to wake up, though…”
Jerry opened his eyes, trying his best to stand. “That’s Dad for ya—always doing weird stuff…”
“Jerry, are you okay?” Winona asked him.
“Yep. That was a nice nap…” Jerry looked over, shaking Travis who still seemed to be out of it. “This guy’s still sleeping soundly, despite the situation we’re in…” He looked around his surroundings. “This is…!”
“Give her to me!” Derek roared, smashing his foot into the ground. “She’s already dead—why do you care so much!? Let her be of use to people who are still living! We can still save… her…” He looked at the ground—his fists trembling.
“Save who?” Thomas asked, pointing his rapier at Derek.
“My wife… Please…” Derek glared at Thomas with tears almost forming in his eyes. “I just want her to be okay…”
“Still…” Winona spoke. “Lucy’s important to us. We want to know her origins, and we…” She paused. “Do we… want her to be able to rest in peace…?”
“I think that’s what a ghost should be able to do—rest,” Jerry commented.
“Does that mean, Charlotte…?” Winona fell silent.
“Let’s not worry about that right now,” Thomas insisted. “Anyway—listen, pal. I know exactly what it’s like to lose a wife. If there’s a chance that she can still be saved from whatever’s going on with her, then… that’s great. I would have loved to save my wife from her disease…”
“If you understand, then let me have the girl! Hurry!” Derek begged.
“I can’t allow you to go through with it in this way, however,” Thomas stated. “With the damage your group has caused, we have no choice but to stop you.” Thomas jabbed his rapier into the ground. “See this? It’s the custom weapon that my little brother got from Unity. It’s now mine, while he uses a basic weapon with his Ability. It’s illegal as hell for me to own this, but—”
“Why are you rambling at a time like this!?” Derek asked, furiously.
“...I named this weapon Phoebe. After my wife. Also apparently after some Titan from Greek Mythology—where most weapons’ names originate. But, that’s beside the point. I know Phoebe wouldn’t be happy with me going through some dastardly means to save her. Let me ask you—would your wife be happy with what you’re doing?”
Derek started to chuckle, shaking his head violently.
“She’s the dastardly one, for what she tried to do… I know she’s paying the price for committing such a grave sin. But as the man who loves her more than anything in this universe, I still want to save her!”
“I see…” Thomas sighed. “And how would taking Lucy save her, exactly?”
“That’s enough.” Derek declared. “I’ll be taking her now. I’m out of time, you see.”
“Is that so…?” Thomas raised his weapon. “You know, I don’t just have this for the hell of it. I taught myself how to fight. Ability or not, I’ll stop you.” He turned toward Winona. “Keep her safe, all right? Same with your dad.”
“Right…” Winona looked back anxiously, expecting to see Miles pop up once again. After not seeing him, she slowly inched her way toward her father, who was still recovering from his recent hit.
“Give her to me—” As Derek reached out to snag Lucy from Winona’s arms, Thomas once again jabbed at him. With this thrust, Phoebe lit up in a blue aura, increasing the potency of the attack.
Derek blocked the blow by whacking it away from him. “You can charge your own phantons through that, huh? Your phantons aren’t awakened—how long do you expect to last?”
Thomas glared at Derek—his irises flaring up in a light blue while his pupils adjusted exactly like a camera lens.
“What did this man do to his body…?” Derek dashed at Thomas, sending a flurry of punches toward him. Thomas used the side of his rapier to parry and evade each strike—keeping a keen focus on every single move.
“Take him down, Dad…” Jerry said, pulling at Travis’ hair still attempting to wake him.
Miles stood up after the attack Winona used on him. He started to giggle—almost uncontrollably.
“All right! I’m really gonna kill her now!” Miles declared, beginning to focus on creating another attack.
He quickly realized that the fog that was supplying him with energy had now vanished.
“Huh…? What…?” Miles surveyed his surroundings like a lost puppy. “Haley… W-What happened? Where are you...?!?”
He found the answer to his question—lying motionless on the ground a small distance away.
As Charlotte stood next to Haley’s body, she sensed an ominous force blitz toward her, ready to tear the Ouderkirk apart.