Jerry awoke, still slumped over the stairs. His body ached from where he had leaned on each step—the sharpest pain near the back of his neck. Immediately, his mind kicked into gear.
“What happened…!? Okay—need to think, need to think…” He stepped onto the cellar floor and looked around the left corner. “The barrier’s still there…? What happened to Brandon? Something knocked me out—did it get him as well? Did it take him? Why just him? Why—”
He paused, taking a deep breath as he tried to focus. “Calm down. Think rationally. Nobody seems to be down here…?” Surveying the damaged basement, Jerry began to formulate a few ideas while taking his phone out of his pocket.
“Okay… I was out of it for twenty minutes. Charlotte hasn’t returned, so something must be going on inside that cave to delay her for so long. Brandon’s missing—he wouldn’t just leave me lying on the stairs like that if I passed out. Why would he be kidnapped, while I’m just knocked out? I would conclude that another party is involved, to some degree. Many, many questions. I could ponder for hours… but I’ve got to act before it’s too late.”
Jerry turned and began to dash up the stairs. That was what he attempted to do, although he immediately ran into a problem. He collapsed onto his knees, leaning on the bottom step. The pain in his neck had spread to the rest of his body, preventing him from moving any further.
“…I was able to move fine for a moment, but now… Gah—what happened to me!?”
Brandon ran behind Adam as he took note of the energy—now calmer than before—surrounding his friend.
“Hey. Uh… are you okay? That power… it heals you—if I remember correctly?”
“Yeah,” Adam held out his arm. “I’ll be fine, for now. We need to wrap this up quickly. Charlotte’s in here, you said? Where’s Jerry?”
“I’m not sure… after Charlotte came in, my memory’s kinda fuzzy. I hope whatever possessed me didn’t hurt him.”
“Let’s hope not. If Charlotte’s in here, we need to group up. With her, I’m sure we can get this done fast enough.”
“Speaking of fast… you’re running quicker than me. That’s a first.” Brandon noted.
“I told you this power also gives me a boost in my physical capabilities. That includes something like this…” Adam glanced down at his legs. “I don’t know how to use it, but since it’s active as it heals me up, I guess that works.”
“Wait… it doesn’t look like you need healing. You’ve got blood all over you, but your wounds should be—”
“The World Mirror’s aura…” Adam hesitated. “It’s given me protection from the chaons, in the manner that phantons protect everyone else. It’ll only stay active as long as it heals, though. So when it diminishes enough… the chaons start eating away at me again. It’s a cycle. You probably can’t notice it, but I can feel it, believe me…”
“…S-Should we do this?” Brandon asked nervously. “I don’t like the idea of you constantly getting messed up like that, man. “Maybe we should go back and think this through.”
“…Let’s find Charlotte,” Adam suggested. “She’ll probably have the best idea on what to do. I’d rather find her anyway before we think about leaving.”
The setting that had repeated for quite some time had finally changed. Adam and Brandon entered a more substantial area—a circular room with boulders, mine carts, and metal track scattered about as if they were randomly chucked in there. The familiar torches were still lined up on the wall surrounding the place.
“This is… new.” Brandon stopped to glance around as Adam took an extra few steps before slowing down.
“Yeah…” Adam’s eyes surveyed the new location noticing the chaons did not seem to act differently.
That is until he glanced upward.
At the center of the stone ceiling, a black swirling mass appeared. The chaons swarmed around it, seeing to dissipate upon contact. Jason began to speak.
“How did you two join up…? That’s not supposed to happen! And how did you get here!? This is supposed to be one of the safe rooms kept out of the cycle!”
“Adam… it’s talking. What is that—why is it talking!?”
“Just stay behind me, Brandon,” Adam raised his guard.
“Oh, boy…” Jason let out a sigh. “Well, let’s get this over with, quickly.”
A figure emerged from the darkness, descending down toward the two boys. Adam backed up, pushing Brandon as he did. Derek landed effortlessly, staring at the two with a blank expression.
“Hmm…” Derek glanced around the room for a moment before returning his focus to them. “Oh. Oh, yeah. I’m getting that feeling. Jason, that déjà vu feeling is at an all-time high right now.” He pinched the area between his eyes. “I don’t like it. Carl said it’s a side effect from how my Concept works, but I don’t really trust his judgment. He started scratching the inside of his ear wildly while explaining the current situation. For what reason?”
“That’s why you wanted to warp so quickly? I get it,” Jason chuckled from the abyss. “Should I send Chris too? He’s ready to dive on in, as well. Carl’s dancing around him… H-He’s just dancing.”
“Let Chris take a shot at the other ‘point of interest’ that’s in here. I’ll back him up once I’m done.” Derek shrugged as his attention returned to the boys in front of him. “Oh, hi, yeah—I’m Derek. I’m here to escort you out of here.”
“…Who are you? Where did you come from?” Adam asked—his body twitching from the pain he was in.
“I’m Derek, are your ears okay? Are you okay? Why are you covered in blood? Is that your blood? What the—what the hell? And that energy…”
“I think it heals him, Derek,” Jason responded from above. “It looked like his arms were growing back when I tried to warp him earlier. That energy—I think—is the reason why I couldn’t get it to work.”
“I know the gist of it,” Derek rubbed the side of his head. “He doesn’t have phantons. That caused the chaons in here to hurt him. This power of his healed him, luckily, but he’s still in danger. Well, Jason, just shift the sections accordingly, open up the barrier, and I’ll walk them right out before they get hurt any further.”
“…I’m not leaving,” Adam stepped forward. “I’m not leaving until I save that little girl! Where is she!? What the hell even is this place!?”
“Woah. Yelling. Stop that.” Derek said. “What girl? Jason?” He looked up. “Got any idea who this ‘little girl’ is that he’s talking about?”
“I don’t know how, but it seems he knows of it…” Jason replied. “Listen, kid. The mine was set up this way to protect that girl. So, don’t worry about it. Trust me when I say this: Don’t get involved. At all. It’s for your own good.”
Adam went silent. Derek looked at him and shrugged.
“Well, our shadowy boy said so. I’m… kinda concerned as to how a little girl is involved, especially considering…” Rage temporarily filled Derek’s voice before he stopped speaking.
“Adam, what should we do…?” Brandon patted his friend on the shoulder—the World Mirror’s energy not resisting this action. “I don’t know how to approach this…”
“I don’t really understand how this other guy got in—I didn’t pay attention, unfortunately—but he seems to not have awakened phantons. So…” Jason’s shadow quickly flew downward, coving up Brandon before either of them could react.
“Let me warp you out, at least.”
Adam reached out his hand, but it was too late. The shadows vanished, and Brandon was nowhere to be seen.
“Hey. It’s okay. We just got him out of here before the chaons started eating away at him. Look—I know how frustrating it is to want to save someone, and you can’t… trust me. But she’s safe. I know these ominous-looking caves don’t help reassure that. But I trust the people I’m working with. Expect Carl. He’s a creep.”
Adam’s arms drooped down—the aura around him starting to surge, which caused a chill to run right through Derek.
“She appeared in front of me… first time in Ann’s—nothing to note of her expression then. But then, in my basement… she was crying. She asked for my help before she faded away. There is some girl in here? She asked me for help…”
Derek did not say anything in response, as the feeling Adam radiated resonated with him. He knew what situation was about to unfold. In many ways, it would be one of the most challenging tasks he’d dealt with up to that point.
Jason was preoccupied elsewhere, yet had a tiny sliver of his shadow remain. He could hear the words that were exchanged.
“She manifested in front of this kid…? How in the world is that possible…? I gotta go get him. I know he’s busy, but this is a horrible predicament we’re getting into!”
“Look, Adam. That’s your name, yeah?” Derek stepped forward. “Let’s relax. Not only is this situation stressful, just look at yourself. Your body has gone through a lot. Even if it can heal, you still feel the pain. Great pain, I’m assuming? Do you know what that can do to your head? Please, let’s end this before it begins…” He pleaded while reaching out his arm.
“I don’t want to get violent.”
Adam knew Derek was absolutely correct. In most cases, Adam tried to look at things rationally. Several times, that act had failed. Ever since the girl first appeared to him in his basement, he had been relying strictly on his emotions. Despite trying to keep a cool head, the strain his body had taken was far beyond what an average person could handle.
It was only half a year prior that a mere slice to the wrist was too much for him.
Now, in the span of a few days, he had shattered bones, had his body burn apart, and had limbs vaporized by his own uncontrollable power. Not to mention, the process of regeneration was almost just as painful as receiving the injuries.
It was all too much for Adam Grayson’s combat-rookie mind to handle.
He gave up all rationale. Saving the little girl from her pain, whether she was dead or alive, was his top priority. Even if it meant fighting the man in front of him, who only wanted to help, then so be it.
Taking a quick glance at his hand, Adam raised his fist in front of him. Derek was met with the World Mirror’s icy glare.
“Get violent, then.”