Brandon stumbled as he walked through the shadows—the torches near him dim. His usual blue-eyed gaze—fixated on the ground—was unseen to the world.
“My head has never been so clear… My heart has never been in such turmoil—I’ve got to find Adam and end this quickly—I can’t be here—I have to hide again—I’m just a tool—so unlucky—so unlucky...”
The incoherent mumbling continued. Having mysteriously passed the barrier, Brandon continued through the cave. He had no way of knowing that sections of the cavern were continually swapping places with one another—the mine was deliberately keeping him separated from any other forms of life.
Charlotte had noticed this. While analyzing her aura and how it redacted to this unique environment, she felt the presence of two others lost in the caves.
“One is Adam… I can feel the World Mirror’s energy rather easily now ever since it surfaced the other night. What’s this other one, though…? It gives off phantonic energy in the manner that a human does, but… what is this dark pressure I’m feeling from it? That’s not normal.”
She shook her head as she began to walk. “Regardless, no matter how often these sections switch places, they’re keeping us all apart. If I detect Adam in a nearby area, I can’t get there in time. The shift occurs too quickly. I can fly fast—if I do say so myself—but it’s not enough. I risk losing this form if I put too much power into flight.”
Glancing from left to right, Charlotte focused on the crimson torches on the wall. “It doesn’t make sense for them to be lit if nobody’s normally down here. I wonder…” Raising her hand, tiny specs of phantonic energy ascended. She notices how they seemed to strengthen—growing in size. This was not her doing.
“Let me see if I can try something. Hang in there, Adam…”
The shadow that had tried to grab Adam was no longer in the mine. In an entirely separate location, many miles from Prelude, there was a remote white brick building deep within a lush green forest—blanketed with vines as nature tried to claim it. Inside, there was nothing but a single sizeable empty room—literally no item in sight.
Underneath the floorboards was where everything was. The center room was an eerie laboratory with little light. Large test tubes gave off a cerulean glow while several monitors lit up the silhouette of a figure covered in a black cloak. The shadow was floating near this person as it had just relayed information to them.
“I see, I see, I see…” The man in a shaky voice leaned on the desk in front of him. “That’s no good. Our leader is preoccupied with another important task right now. We can’t interrupt him, even for something like this.”
“I know,” The shadow responded, annoyed. “That’s why I warped to you, Carl. I assume you can help me come up with something. I’m not sure what will happen if the kid somehow finds the main room, but I’m pretty sure he’ll die before that happens.”
“This strange energy coming from him intrigues me…” Carl commented as he began to chuckle. “What an interesting power, to be able to resist your shadows. This family is just full of surprises!”
“His mother, Rebecca Grayson…” The shadow seemed to ponder. “From what I know, she was strong, but not that kind of strong. A power like this kid’s shouldn’t exist… unless of course, there’s an influence because of—”
“We should cut the chit chat,” Carl interrupted. “If you can’t warp him out of there, then we’ll have to send someone in personally. You can control how the sections change, yes? Just open up the barrier from the inside so that someone can walk them out. We’ll have to figure out a good spot to do so…”
“There’s a hole in the basement of his house, but the kid had friends over. Walking into one of them would be troublesome…”
“Warp them out of the way? Let your power drain their phantonic energy just enough so they lose consciousness. No struggle involved.”
“Jason, what is it?” Carl sat up and hovered over the shadow. “You in there, you disembodied freak?”
“I-I just went and checked again…” Jason paused. “Somehow, one of his other friends got inside. And… another person, too.”
“Well, that’s not good… Not good, not good, not good.” Carl began pacing around the room. “Who’s this other person? Just warp the two of them out—we’ve gotta focus on getting that kid out of there—”
“I’m not sure how it’s possible, Carl. But the other person… is an Ouderkirk.”
Carl went silent. He slowly lowered his hood, revealing an extremely pale man with unkempt black hair. His eyes, crimson in color, glared at the shadow.
“Are you serious?”
“I’ve never met one of them before myself, but it completely matches. White hair, blue eyes, phantonic energy that’s off the charts… but, there’s something peculiar about how she moves.”
“What does that mean?”
“A pure-blooded Ouderkirk shouldn’t exist anymore. How this girl seems to control her power… She’s careful with it. I think—”
“A ghost…?” Carl began tapping his finger on his arm. “Why, yes! Yes, yes, yes! That would make sense! Incredible! She sounds like a great specimen!”
“You looked fearful a moment ago…” Jason noted. “What’s with that change?”
“She must be much weaker as a ghost! Keeping a spiritual form stable, especially in the environment the mine has, is tremendous work! If we can capture her, you do realize how quickly we can set our plan in motion!?”
“That’s right…!” Jason shouted cheerfully as his shadow began to dance around. “We need an Ouderkirk’s power! Yes! Let me see if I can—wait, the kid!”
“Right! The kid, the kid, the kid!” Carl ran around in circles, furiously scratching the hair on his head. “We can’t let him die… I think?” He stopped abruptly. “We may or may not be in deep shit if that were to happen!”
A metal door off to the side suddenly swung open as a muscular man with short black hair entered the room. His brown eyes glared at them, clearly irritated.
“What on earth is all this noise about? I know you like to shout at random times of the night, but Jason, too?”
“Ah, Derek! Perfect timing!” Carl ran up to the man, shaking his hand repeatedly. We need your assistance with something! Actually, is Chris busy? We might want him to tag along. This could get a little nasty…”
“He isn’t…?” Derek tilted his head in confusion. “I want to say no, but I feel like that’s not going to be much of an option. Just what are you getting us into this time, you crazy scientist?”
Adam’s eyes had finally begun to open—their ghostly gaze looking toward the crimson light on the walls. He could barely move at first but slowly sat up.
They had mostly healed at this point—a tiny white aura indicating that the World Mirror was doing the finishing touches, which Adam could not make out on the surface. He moved his fingers around without issue and clenched his fist as he hit the ground, using it to prop himself onto his feet.
“This is what was beyond that barrier, huh? What’s with these…?” Adam analyzed the torches. With the World Mirror active, Adam’s vision picked up what appeared to be a faint red smoke from the flames, which was not visible to the naked eye.
“Well, I’m in here. I went through the trouble of busting in when I could have easily approached it much differently. Why did I feel like, at that moment, I had to get in here? Who is that girl…? Why did her voice…” Adam shook his head. “Whatever. I’m clearly in a ‘do now, think later’ mindset—for whatever reason—so, let’s just go find her.”
He began to run, still feeling pain from being sucked into the mine. “It was pitch-black behind me… Did I seriously get pulled in that far? Even though I don’t want them here, I’m surprised the others didn’t show up. Something’s weird about all of this. No, shit, Adam. But…”
Adam slowed down, almost tripping before coming to a complete stop.
“I let something within me—some feeling I didn’t know existed—pull me into this. Is it…?”
“The hero. You’ve always been like one…”
Faith’s words echoed in Adam’s mind as he shook his head.
“It’s not something that cliche, is it? I heard a little girl cry for help, so I rushed in to save her? I mean… t-that sounds like something any person with a heart would do! I…”
There was a reason Adam was hung up on this. He could tell the moment he started running through the cave. Adam wanted to come up with an admirable excuse for his actions—one that would outweigh the complete loss of a logical approach. This “excuse” was legitimately what he felt in his heart, so things would have worked out in the end. As long as Adam survived and saved the unknown girl, it would be a happy ending.
The moment Adam realized what was happening to his body, everything was ruined. He paid attention in school—enough to know what chaons were—enough to know of their crimson and scarlet auras.
Adam knew the role phantons had in counteracting chaons. Awakened phantons were utterly immune to their potent toxicity, while normal phantons could at least hold up a good enough resistance for some time.
Adam Grayson was the boy who mysteriously lacked phantons. Sure—the World Mirror was powerful and gave Adam quite a boost in capabilities. But he was still new to everything. He did not know how to properly use it.
There was nothing to protect him from the crimson mist surrounding him—visible with the World Mirror’s eyes. His skin began to burn as it lit up in a blood-red blaze.
His breath, something that Brandon had seemed to suggest was special in some way, did nothing in this situation. He had already breathed in the strange substance. Blood burst from Adam’s mouth as he coughed violently—gasping for air that could no longer enter him.
Adam Grayson’s naive actions won heavily against his feeble attempt at being a “courageous hero.” He fell to his knees as death was once again beckoned by the appearance of his blood.