Brandon Shepherd stopped upon hearing a voice call out to him. It was one only he could listen to—one that did not originate from the mine. He shook his head frantically as if he wanted to shake the voice out of him.
“Shut up… I’m out right now. The curse is probably the reason why—where am I? Don’t worry about it—I’ll sleep soon—I have to rescue Adam—he’s important… Yes, I used it—how do you think I’m in such a place? I’ll use it again, too—it’s all troublesome—I’m so unlucky… cause of you… Remember that, as I’m used up in your abysmally pathetic game…”
He began to sniff the air—a sinister grin forming on the face of one that should not be fueled by malice whatsoever. “Smell that? Misfortune. That’s gotta be him—I’m gonna bring him here—I’ll use it.”
Pausing for a moment, his mouth resumed moving. Not a single sound could escape, however. The crimson energy of the mine had gathered, forming a demonic hand around his throat. Several others immediately proceeded, grappling onto his limbs. They squeezed as if they wanted to crush Brandon like a can.
“…! D-Dammit…!” His voice could barely come out. It broke through, however, and Brandon Shepherd screamed louder than he ever did before. The bloody roar was accompanied by a fierce glare of dark amber irises, directed toward the world.
Brandon stood in pitch blackness. He could not even see his hands.
“Is that… me? What am I shouting for? Oh… wait. This seems… familiar.”
He let out an agitated sigh that echoed in the void.
“It’s been a while since this happened. I get like this sometimes whenever I get really anxious. Think the last time was a few years ago in high school? During practice… I’m surprised it didn’t happen recently. Or… did it? I almost had a heart attack when I first heard Adam tried to… Oh… wait. Oh! Adam!”
Brandon looked around, yet his vision remained the same regardless of what direction he turned toward.
“Adam got sucked into some cave… and I tried to run in there to help him. Right, I guess that’s a good reason to freak out? What is… going on, exactly? It feels… different this time. Hmm…”
He began to ponder, tapping his foot on the “ground.”
“Hmmmmmmmmmmmm… Yeah, this shit is weird. That’s about all I can come up with.”
Upon hearing his disembodied screams once more, he jumped in shock.
“…Well, I’m smarter than I look—I… I hope. I can come up with something. I think… I should probably wake up first. How to do that…?”
Adam’s vision returned to him. The first thing he noticed was the gigantic white aura that had formed around him. His body ached immensely, yet the World Mirror had saved him from burning away.
“It… can help me regenerate lost limbs, I know that. But I figured something that constantly ate away at me would be a bit too much…”
Looking ahead, Adam was still in the mine, right where he had collapsed. Blood was all around him, and it covered his body from head to toe. He noticed something odd occurring.
“I can see clearly, even though you’d think this energy around me would blur my vision. Hell, my eyes lighting up should blind me, but they don’t…? How the hell does that work?”
Phantonics, as a whole, tended to contradict many other fields of science. It seemed that his unknown power of the World Mirror did this as well. To what degree, Adam was unsure.
The aura guarded him—chaons seemed to be lighting up as they made contact with his power. They could not get in, at least for the time being.
“It activates whenever I’m injured. More healing equals more energy coming out. Right—okay. That sucks. I should really figure out an alternate way to unleash it. Cause, clearly, this power is hella strong. It… can make a difference. I know it can.”
Adam began to walk, noticing immediately that, along with the intense pain, he was quite dizzy.
“I lost quite a lot of blood, didn’t I? In fact, when I originally tried to… you know, they noted that I had lost a ton of it. Hmm… I think I can regenerate blood, as well, but it’s a much slower process compared to everything else. Damn, okay. Gotta watch out for that, I suppose?”
His arms twitched as he raised them in front of himself. “How to control this power…? What have I been doing thus far when I can ‘control’ it?”
In the fight with Charlotte and during his attempt to break the barrier, the World Mirror did work in the way he had intended it to. Energy had gathered around the limbs he wanted to use, mainly due to his injuries, yet the explosion of power was something to take notice of.
“What did I do in those moments? How did it feel when I swung my fists…? It’s way too soon for me to be entering combat with this thing, but…” Adam’s eyes gazed into the darkness ahead. “I might have to if I proceed with this weak-ass rescue attempt.”
He shook his head. “That girl was a ghost anyway, Adam. She’s dead. What’s there to save…? No, that’s contradictory. You’re helping Charlotte, who’s also a ghost. Who can… basically be considered alive, with how she acts. Gah…”
Scratching his hair fiercely in his frustration, blood gushed out of it.
“Guh…! What the fu…!”
With the World Mirror’s power active, he was much stronger right now. Adam did not take into account a simple action, such as scratching the top of his head.
“P-Pretty sure I almost dug into my brain… Damn this…”
Adam stumbled forward. What happened next was an incredibly lucky circumstance that fate decided to give him. He would not know the details for quite some time, but by stepping on a certain spot of the cave with the World Mirror active, something occurred.
He had stepped on a border—a spot where two sections of the cave that were constantly swapping had met. All of the sections frequently shifted to keep a person lost in the crimson maze, yet one could easily set foot on this spot at the right time.
Nothing would happen—or even be noticed—if it was anyone else. Adam was the one capable of making the change. By stepping on this border, the entire framework of the mine was rewritten. Adam’s desire to rescue the little girl resonated with the World Mirror, and with its power, the cave was now—unbeknownst to him—under his control.
Nothing could be kept from him now. Adam continued to stumble on the rocky path, trying his best to keep his composure. Blood dripped from his head while the scratches slowly healed. The aura surrounding him was like a white flame casually passing between the tinier crimson ones located off to the side.
He heard groaning—seemingly out of nowhere. Walking a few meters ahead, Adam quickly located the source of the sound. A sizeable crimson cloud was directly in front of him—ghastly red hands occasionally popping in and out of the mass.
“What the hell is this thing…?”
The groaning turned into the sound of someone crying—a young man that sounded familiar to Adam.
The voice began to speak. Adam recognized it—his eyes widening not only from the realization but from the words that exited the mist.
“Brandon…?” The World Mirror’s aura was like a storm—the power unleashed instantly caused the stone walls of the cave to crack. The regular red fog that was around him was blown away, yet the mass that had trapped his friend remained.
“Kill me… Kill me… Kill me, kill me, kill me, KILL ME, KILL ME!!”
With each repetition of those words, the crimson hands unleashed as a countermeasure to Adam’s power. They grabbed onto him, despite beginning to break apart against the pressure of the World Mirror.
He waved his own hands around in retaliation, whacking the appendages off easily. The white energy had no choice but to bend to his will—Adam’s desire to save his friend, as well as the confusion toward why Brandon would say those words. Out of everyone he knew, Brandon Shepherd was the least likely to spew such nonsense.
Or—was he? This brief hesitation led Adam to get punched a few times by the hands, sending him several feet backward. He realized that it was no time to consider something like that. The time was after—after Brandon was safe.
Remaining on his feet, Adam blitzed the crimson energy—the hands unable to affect him whatsoever as he charged through. Coming into contact with the cloud, the struggle began. Despite being a gaseous phenomenon, it was rather difficult for him to break through.
Still, Adam pressed forward, attempting to tear it apart.
Inside the pitch-black world, Brandon had given up. His screams from the outside had ruined him, as he sat in the fetal position with his ears covered.
“W-What the hell…? I can’t do anything to get out of here, can I? What the hell, what the hell, what the hell…?”
The Brandon that was on the outside and the Brandon on the inside were now synced together. Both of them, in their own respective darkness, were unsure of what to do aside from giving up.
Tiny cracks of light appeared before him. Brandon slowly glanced up at the phenomenon—pieces of darkness falling around him like they were shards of glass.
The blackness shattered. The white entered the realm, enveloping him. Brandon was astonished to see Adam appear from the light, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt.
“I don’t know how you got in here… but whatever. What’s important right now…” Adam looked as though he was about to cry out of sheer rage. Brandon’s eyes, flickering between yellow and blue, were focused on his friend.
“I’m not going to let anyone go through anything remotely close to what I did! Especially my best friend! Don’t ever say such shit like that when your life’s so important, you goddamn moron!”
The crimson cloud faded as Brandon stared at Adam in awe. He felt as though he could cry, but this feeling was suppressed by a surge of emotions—ones that left him more confused than anything.
“I-I appreciate that, dude. But… W-What’s happening here…? Where am I? What’s going on!?” Brandon shot up onto his feet, glancing around the area. Despite being captured by the strange mass, he seemed fine physically—the mysterious “alter ego” that had formed out of nowhere had rested knowing Adam was safe.
“You… what? You don’t know—oh, okay. I think I might get it…?” Adam crossed his arms. “Were you possessed by something? All of these chaons in here could have caused something… That being said, how did you get in?”
“I… I don’t remember! What’s been going on!? You said that stuff to me, but I don’t know the context!”
“D-Did it legit leave your memory? What the…?” Adam pondered what could have possibly happened. “Whatever! As long as you know that I meant that stuff I said, then fine! Let’s just forget about it.”
“I… I know you mean it. We don’t have to get into all that sensitive stuff right now, at least, for my sake. If you ever need to talk about it, though…” Brandon was clearly embarrassed by the topic. He threw any nonsensical pride off to the side, however. “I’m here. I’ll always be here… I-I should have made it clear that I was always there for you, to begin with!”
Adam was astonished to hear those words come out of Brandon’s mouth. He’s heard him say similar things before, but it felt different this time. Adam understood why, as he noticed his friend begin to tear up.
“I don’t want you to die… dude, don’t die. Please… no matter what the cause is, you can’t. We have to see things through to the end!”
Adam looked toward the ground below. He noticed that blood had been dripping from his body, and tiny puddles began to form around him. The World Mirror was healing him, yes, but the strain on his body was starting to show.
The sight made Adam begin to shake in a panic. However, the scene also helped Adam recall words he had heard before—similar to Brandon’s.
“You can’t die…! Adam, please! Stay with me! You… have to stay… with me, don’t you remember…!? We have to live, so we can…”
Through the sheer force of his will, Adam calmed himself. He glanced up at Brandon, who could notice the fire that had formed in his eyes.
“Do you know how I feel, Brandon?”
“About what, exactly…?”
“I hate suffering. Whether it be myself or seeing someone else go through it. I tried killing myself cause I hated suffering in loneliness that much. If I had to choose between my suffering or someone else’s, however… I’d take on all of the burden. I think that’s part of the reason I got to that point. It’s not going to change, though. I’m stronger now. I’m someone who conquered death itself, after all. I’ll keep going. It’s like you said, we have to see things through to the end!”
Brandon did not know how to respond. He felt incredibly proud that his friend had found this inner strength to press forward. However, he was incredibly concerned with how far Adam would go.
“There’s something in here that needs help. It’s simple, really. I’m going to go rescue her. It’s dangerous as hell, and I’m not sure how well you can manage with these chaons, but…” Adam held out his fist.
“After what you’ve said, how can I turn you away? Do you want to stay? In that case, will you help me?”
Brandon hesitated for a moment before a cocky grin formed on his face. He bumped his own fist against Adam’s.
“Why not? Let’s show this person just how far these two idiots can go for them!”