Brandon was flung from the shadows onto the dirty basement floor. Jerry, who had been attempting to stand up, almost fell back over upon hearing his friend yelp in pain.
“Brandon…!?” He looked over at the black mass hovering above the front of the barrier. “What is that!?”
“Oh, good. Spiky red-hair guy—” Jason’s voice cracked. “Excuse me. I’m getting a little exhausted from warping all over the place. Keep this guy from barging back in here. It’s dangerous. Okay? Okay.”
Before Jerry could respond, Jason’s shadow had vanished. However, his voice did echo out one last comment.
“How in the hell is this thing still visible? What caused that to happen? Oh well. We’ll fix it…”
Jerry forced himself on to his feet, limping over to Brandon, who had begun to move. “Hey, are you okay? What happened?”
“Jerry…” Brandon looked up at him. “Adam’s still in there. He’s probably going to start fighting some guy. He’s already injured and is probably going above and beyond what he can do alone…”
“Why?” Jerry asked. “What for? Tell me whatever you know!”
Brandon held his head while nodding to his friend. As he told Jerry what had unfolded inside the mine, sheer pain continued to surge throughout his body. By the end of the quick catch up, Jerry noticed this.
“If what you’re saying is true, then your body was affected pretty badly by those chaons. You’re probably poisoned. We’ll have to fix you up before it’s too late.”
“...Is it possible to get possessed by some demon or something?” Brandon asked. He stood up, feeling incredibly dizzy.
“Careful—” Jerry held onto him to prevent him from falling back down. “And, yeah, absolutely. That’s how they do it. Your body becomes riddled with chaons, giving them a ‘home’ that they can safely nest in. If one becomes poisoned, your system will naturally cleanse the chaons, eventually. In the meantime, your body’s not only taking damage, but it’s also at risk of possession.”
“Do you think I was possessed…?” Brandon questioned. Jerry pondered the possibility based on what he had been told.
“It’s possible… it would explain a hole in your memory. When you ran into that barrier… the chaons that would have gotten into you shouldn’t have been in you for too long, but…”
Jerry took out his phone and opened the app that he used before. He motioned it around Brandon as it picked up signs of chaonic influence. “Okay… you’re definitely poisoned. Not too bad, actually. You’re certainly not possessed, though.”
“Why does it feel like my head’s splitting open…?” Brandon questioned, holding his hands around his temples. “Like… my head is an egg, and something’s trying to break out, but it lacks the strength to.”
“That’s… quite the comparison.” Jerry was utterly perplexed at Brandon’s condition.
Jerry’s brain went into overdrive. He had to brainstorm all the possible moves that could be made in the current situation so that everyone could get out of it safely.
Miraculously, Jerry Peck happened to be one to work extraordinarily well under pressure.
Fighting through the pain—which was slowly subsiding—Jerry began to walk Brandon toward the stairs.
“W-Where are we going…?” Brandon began to squirm like a pet trying to break free and run off. “We’ve gotta help Adam…! Jerry! We’ve gotta—”
“We’ll save him, relax!” Jerry yelled. “Listen—whatever you’re going through right now… whatever Adam is going through, I swear… I’ll figure out a solution to everything!”
The confidence that radiated from Jerry seemed to affect Brandon, as he had finally calmed down. Despite his desire to rush back in and help Adam, he repressed it and placed his trust in the best place possible.
As Jason opened up a portal inside the mine, a young man dived out of it. Only a few meters from the ground, he managed to somehow slow down and calmly land on his feet. Adjusting the goggles he was wearing, which were a part of what looked to be an old pilot hat, he took a glance around.
“Hey, uh, Jason?” He looked up at the shadow, which seemed to be groaning in annoyance. “Where exactly did you put me?”
“These guys keep messing with the mine…!” Jason cursed. “I can’t even place you in the right place! Well, whatever. The girl should still be in the same section, just a little bit ahead. I’ll leave it to you, Chris.”
“Yeah, yeah...” Chris waved as Jason faded away. He looked around—a shiver going up his spine upon taking in the surroundings.
“These are the mines, huh? Creepy. Creepy creepy. Ah—shit! I’m starting to repeat words just like Carl! No, don’t do that.” He took a deep breath. “Father. Sister. Keep me safe. Not only from whatever’s in here but from that guy back at the base…”
Chris began to walk at a brisk pace. He wanted to get out of the dark caves as quickly as possible, aware that he had to accomplish his mission to do so.
It was then that Christopher Serpenti had realized something. Never in his nineteen years on this planet did he once encounter a ghost. There were many other horrifying things he had met, but not a mere spirit. He had no idea how to proceed with his task.
“Do I… talk to her first? Carl said she should be easy enough to fight against, but how do you fight against something already dead? Does that make any sense!? Demon… Chaonic Entities—to be more precise. I’ve dealt with those, but… they’re technically living.”
As Chris spoke to himself, he was unaware that the torches he passed had begun to be blue in color as opposed to the usual red.
“I’m thinking that talking to her—asking if she’ll just come with us—is the better option. I’m not sure how to fight against a ghost. If you can fight them just like a normal human, then what’s honestly the difference? They might as well be alive at that point…”
He stopped. What Chris encountered was something that shook him to his very core.
Tiny azure flames danced around Charlotte, who was sitting right in the middle of the cave floor. She was humming—her way of focusing her energy into moving the sprite-like specters of energy as if they were dancing.
Although disturbing, it had no malicious intent, as Chris assumed it did. Charlotte initially did not notice him as she was deep in thought regarding her power.
“I can make phantonic energy from chaons…? How does it work? Well, it’s now in a form I can use, so maybe I can —”
She glanced up to see the man standing before her. There was no greeting—no acknowledgment, aside from the two staring at each other in silence. Chris, eventually, broke the silence with the snap of his finger.
“...I won’t let you get away with your cursed rituals, demon!”
A spark flew from his fingertips, growing in size and flying at Charlotte, exploding upon contact. Chris leaped backward, gaining height as he made contact with the ceiling. Mysteriously, he held onto the rocky surface as if there was a place to grip onto.
A blue wave of energy ripped through the smoke, revealing a completely unharmed Charlotte. The flames that were around her had reformed, enveloping her in a ghastly aura.
“That was extremely rude of you,” Charlotte said with a serious expression. “Do you just attack women willy-nilly like a savage!? Wait—willy-nilly… what does that mean…?”
“I’ll attack anyone if they’re in the middle of a cave performing dark arts like you are!” Chris yelled, flicking his finger repeatedly. A spark formed each time as Charlotte was bombarded by multiple attacks. She created a large circular shield, which blocked the explosions from making contact with her.
“Is that your Concept?” Charlotte asked, moving the shield to her side as it floated in mid-air. She quickly formed a javelin in her right hand and, with remarkable speed, chucked it toward Chris. He evaded it by releasing his hold on the ceiling, jumping onto the wall as the javelin smashed his previous location into pieces.
“See if you can figure it out! It tends to stump people, but it’s quite simple!” Chris sent more sparks at Charlotte, who once again blocked all of them. He continued to shoot at her as he landed back onto the ground and sprinted right toward her swiftly.
“What is he—” Charlotte used her power to force the floating shield forward, bashing right into Chris. She figured he would be rather easy to send hurdling, considering his slender physique. However, he did not budge, and the shield met with fierce resistance.
“Well, you’re a ghost, after all. And with that attire, I’m guessing you’re quite old. Not sure how much science you would actually know!”
With the initial force of Charlotte’s attack diminished, Chris adjusted his footing and leaped back, managing to gain significant distance from the shield. He rubbed his forearms, which had made contact with the phantasmal object.
“Yeesh, thought I was gonna lose there for a sec. Definitely had to get away before you tried something fishy. What is your Concept? Or—er—wait. Ouderkirk… Ah, yeah! You can control phantons, can’t you? Is that how you're making those weapons?”
“I believe so,” Charlotte moved her hand, causing the shield to return to her side. “I don’t have to think too hard about it. I call it ‘Royal Armory’ because the weapons seem to already be made, ready to go. Summoning them and using them is what drains me.”
“Ah. See, maybe I misjudged you. You seem to talk normally. This is what I wanted to begin with—talking is much easier. Although, it seems as though fighting you isn’t as difficult as I initially thought.”
“Are you the one who owns this mine?” Charlotte asked as the shield faded away. In its place, a longsword formed, which she grabbed without hesitation. “Tell me exactly what’s going on here.”
“Uh, no, I don’t own it. I work for the guys who own it, I guess? Listen, I was just told to capture you. I didn’t really want to actually fight, but I’m not sure you’re gonna listen at this point. I did start it, after all…”
“Capture me…?” Charlotte raised her sword. “You’re right. I won’t listen to someone who wants to do that—why the hell would I?” She dashed forward and, in a split second, began slashing at Chris. He managed to evade the attacks—his body meeting no resistance to the air around him.
“I get it, I get it! The guys I work for aren’t all that bad, actually! I’m sure talking things out with them will work out! I’ve just gotta bring you to them!” Chris sent several sparks at Charlotte, who whacked them away with her blade. “Ah, geez. This is on me. I had to freak out and begin fighting—you do realize it looked incredibly creepy, though!? What were you even doing down here? What are you doing down here, overall?”
“My friend ended up in here somehow, and I’m here to get him out… that’s all.” Charlotte lunged at Chris, taking a mighty swing that shattered the ground beneath them. He dodged, grabbing onto the ceiling once more.
“Right, right… My friend Derek should be working on that part right now. So, you don’t have to worry about that.”
Charlotte brushed dust off the illuminated blade, chuckling softly. “And why do you think I should trust your word? If I just surrender now and go with you to have this hypothetical discussion with the people you work for so that everything can end ‘peacefully’… how will I know my friend is safe? How will I know that I’ll be safe?”
“...Yeah, I messed this one up. Dammit. Oh well… I guess I’ll just have to do this the hard way.” Chris jumped a few yards back, readying his fingers. “I know it won’t do much at this point to gain your trust, but my Concept is ‘Friction.’ I can move around quickly with no resistance, or I can gain lots of resistance like I did against your shield. I can hold onto walls and ceilings easily, as well.”
“Well, that is good to know…” Charlotte resumed a battle stance while the inside of her processed this new information. “...Friction… friction. I swear I’ve picked up that term before, but what is it!? I think I can figure it out, based on what he’s said… Freaking memories. No—this is this era’s fault! Science has gone too far!”
“And with these sparks that I’ve been making... I make enough friction with my fingers to create it, but it continues from there. The spark moves like a bullet—all the resistance it meets building up heat, forming a tiny explosion upon contact.”
Charlotte was perplexed at Chris’ explanation. “...Okay. I think even if I did understand modern science, I wouldn’t understand how something like that works…”
“From what I’ve been told, Concepts don’t have to fully make sense!” Chris explained. “They bring a factor that exists in this universe under your control, so through one’s influence, things can get a little tricky!”
“I see… In that case—” Charlotte swapped her longsword for another javelin. “I’ll end this before things get too tricky!”
She chucked the weapon with remarkable force, rocketing toward Chris. At the last moment, he moved his body slightly to the left, just enough to dodge the incoming strike.
“I practice subtle movement all the time! And with how much resistance I can make if I let an attack hit me, you’ll have to do better than that!”
“I’ll need both stealth and strength to take you down, huh?” Charlotte noted as Chris flicked his fingers once more. This time, several sparks erupted from him—a volley of flaming projectiles flying toward the ghost girl.
Charlotte took a deep breath. The azure torches surrounding them began to dim as she phased through the ground beneath her as if she dropped into a body of water. The sparks soared passed when she was a moment prior, and the remaining light on the walls faded, leaving the surrounding area in darkness.
“What!? Damn!” Chris looked around in a panic. “The torches… were red up to this point,” He glanced back where he could see a tiny crimson light in the distance. “Right… They’re supposed to be that color. The ones around here were tampered with by her…!”
“—And I’m not restricted by the space inside of these caverns...” Charlotte’s voice echoed all around Chris, who was trying his hardest to guess her location.
She shot out of the wall off to the side—the raging azure from her weapon garnering Chris’ attention. A giant war hammer had formed, ready to strike.
“I’m a ghost, after all!”
The head smashed into Chris’s side—an impact was made that tore the stone around them. He had enough time to activate his Concept, creating enough resistance for his body to stay in place.
However, there was astounding power behind Charlotte’s swing as phantonic energy was exploding out of her weapon. Even if he could put up a fight, the struggle was futile. His body would break before the attack ended.
Chris was slammed into the wall of the mine—the shockwaves ripping everything in the area to pieces. As his consciousness faded, regret took hold of his remaining thoughts.
“I’m… not gonna die, am I…? Did I… lose everything, again…?”