Derek—his right arm seared.
Adam—his right arm vaporized.
Through the power struggle, Derek had managed to hold his own against the might of Adam’s World Mirror. It did not take long for the arcane energy to lose control, destroying his limb.
Adam had been slammed into the wall once more, this time finally losing consciousness entirely. Derek stood motionless, making sure that the boy would not awaken once more. The white aura diminished, only focusing on his injuries—his arm especially.
“Well, looks like he finally calmed down…” Derek glanced down at his burnt hand. “This whole incident… Something feels off about it.”
“You can worry about it later,” Jason suggested. “Right now, we need to get the guy out of here. Carry him toward the exit. His friends seem to have gone upstairs for the time being. Not sure if we can peacefully sneak past them or not.”
“The plan is to walk right out the front door!?” Derek asked astonished. “Walking out in public with this blood-soaked dude probably won’t look that good!”
Carl chimed in. “At this point, I do think we have to take the boy in. We couldn’t scare him off—clearly. If we put him in his bed and leave, he’d wake up and break in again—potentially prepared the second time around, coordinating an effort with the Ouderkirk girl.”
“…Isn’t Chris handling that right now? Aren’t we capturing her?”
“Err…” Jason hesitated. “You see… Chris lost. Badly. He’s unconscious right now, but he’s safe. She left him alone, thankfully.”
“…I could have sworn she was in a state where capturing her would be easy. What the hell happened!?”
“It’s fascinating!” Carl screamed suddenly, startling Jason as the shadow shook around. “Remember how I said ‘energy is energy’ when it comes to these things? The girl is purifying the chaons in here, transforming them into chaons, which she can feed off of. Chris didn’t stand a chance—she seems to be quite skilled in combat. And… Well, tell him the bad news, Jason.”
“There’s more bad news…?” Derek sighed.
“Yeah. She’s almost here. You’ll have to fight her. Good news, however! You don’t have to hold back this time!”
“I have to get serious…?” Derek questioned. “I’m exhausted as hell right now. How do you expect me to battle someone like her—”
“What’s going on here…?”
A chill ran down Derek’s spine as he heard the girl’s voice. He turned toward the right—the direction of the previous room—witnessing an array of azure flames floating around the white-haired, blue-armored young woman.
“She’s… not only an Ouderkirk, but a ghost, huh? First time I’ve met either.”
“Carl…” Jason groaned. “I think we should just warp Derek out of here and call it for right now. We’re putting him in danger, and at least she’ll get Adam to safety.”
“They know his name…?” Charlotte formed a sword and pointed it in Derek’s direction. “Who are you? That shadow… it spoke? What’s going on?”
“It seems you let Chris live…” Derek shrugged. “I’d be dead meat if anything happened to him. So, first of all, thanks for that.”
“I don’t kill without a just cause,” Charlotte stated. “Well, at least right now. Who knows how I was like before…”
“Hmm?” Carl’s interest was piqued at Charlotte’s words. “Memory loss? Ah, yes. That would make sense… yes, yes, yes!”
“Another voice…?” Charlotte took a step back. “What is that thing?”
“The first voice was a disembodied one—don’t worry about those details, it’s complicated. And the second one was some creep—feel free to worry about him all you’d like.” Derek rubbed his injured arm. “Anyway, I think Jason’s right. Let’s at least wait until—”
“Derek…” Carl chuckled. “That girl in front of you is key to having our plans succeed—astronomically faster than if we didn’t seize her. We don’t have much time left, you know?” His tone immediately shifted.
“Don’t you want to save your dear sweet Samantha…?”
Derek gritted his teeth—his muscles tensing upon hearing those words. “Why… the hell would you play that card right now?”
“Motivation, obviously!” Carl cackled loudly. “Now, weaken her! We don’t want an Ouderkirk retaliating too much upon returning to our base—it would probably get destroyed.”
“Y-Yeah…” Jason’s tiny shadow moved close to Derek’s ear and began to whisper. “I’ll grab her once you make an opening.”
“Fine,” Derek stepped forward. “But Ouderkirks have control over pure phantons, don’t they? Isn’t my Concept a bad match up?”
“Although you’re using pure phantons that you’ve gathered,” Carl began to explain. “It still falls under your Concept—it’s unique to you alone. Ouderkirks can’t alter things to that degree. At least, it’s never been mentioned in any records I’ve come across. If you’re worried, and you value safety, finish this quickly.”
“…I’m learning some new things just by listening to them.” Charlotte thought. “That guy seems to be their source of knowledge. I wonder how much he knows…?” Her hands tightened around the hilt of her blade as she glanced at Adam.
“Not that I’d ever willingly seek this person out…! If you want a fight, you’ll get one. Just know, I won’t hold back! For the moment, my stamina is no issue. I’m not even sure how powerful I am right now.”
Derek was silent for a moment. He took a deep breath, preparing himself.
“Sam… I keep adding things to the list. The list of things I’ll apologize for once this is all over.” He shook his head, focusing entirely on Charlotte, who was ready to face him.
Derek took another, sharper breath, and spoke a single word.
“Huh…?” Charlotte noticed a sudden swell in Derek’s power.
“Ooh!” Carl seemed ecstatic. “You’re getting that serious, huh!? Nice, nice, nice! I love seeing this!”
On Derek’s forehead, a glowing azure mark in the shape of a keyhole appeared. Immediately, a mighty burst of phantonic energy was unleashed that swirled around his body. Just as swiftly, the power calmed. Charlotte noticed he now wore four ring-like objects—two around his wrists and two around his upper arms, near his shoulders.
“Armaments of the Four Seasons!”
“…Of the what now?” Charlotte’s questioning had to be put on hold, as Derek’s power had now skyrocketed. She was prepared, however.
Multiple arrows had manifested from a few flames surrounding her—the fire proceeding to concentrate around the head of each projectile. As if she had shot each one individually with a bow, they flew toward Derek, connecting in an instant. Upon contact, a mighty explosion was unleashed that had nearly engulfed Adam as well.
As the dust cleared, Derek was unharmed. In front of him, an azure glass-like barrier had formed in the same circular shape as his rings. The structure shrunk down—hollowing out and returning to his right wrist. Although the object had remained on him the entire time, this band of energy fit into what appeared to be an opening around the ring, laying back in place like a puzzle.
“That fast…? I didn’t even notice!” Charlotte leaped back—the remaining flames following her. She breathed in as they merged with her body. Her aura increased in size while she stood her ground, waiting for the next move.
“I’m not sure if it was after your time or not,” Derek began to explain. “But this power is based around ‘Journey of the Four Seasons.’ A rather famous myth of Requiem. Four rings of remarkable power based around the four seasons were forged by a goddess that loved to enter the human world and explore.”
“The seasons? How… do you have that kind of power?” Charlotte asked, somewhat intrigued despite the situation.
“I don’t. It’s how Concepts can work. Your soul adjusts to a certain ‘thing’ that exists—physically or conceptually—but you can bend the rules a bit if you put in the effort.”
“That’s kind of what that Chris guy mentioned before…” Charlotte recalled. “With how things can get ‘tricky’ with Concepts.”
“My Concept—Storage—gathers phantons throughout Requiem. You can say I could also gather the history of it—rather, the myths and stories that have been passed down for ages. I take one of my favorites, one that’s quite famous, and use that.” Derek aimed his hands at Charlotte—tiny individual openings forming around the two rings on his wrists.
“This is a Full Abstraction that I’ve created.”
Derek fired multiple scale-like projectiles from the rings as they scattered around the area, slashing the air while they darted around in a myriad of directions. Charlotte whacked away a few that flew her way, realizing that she had to move before they overwhelmed her.
Jumping up, she began to fly around the area, evading the scales to the best of her ability. Striking each scale to deflect them grew tedious—individually, they all had remarkable force behind them.
Charlotte attempted to phase through one of the scales only to find out that they damage her anyway. Luckily, it was a simple graze on her left cheek and nothing too serious.
“Damn…” The blood spewed from the wound as she held it.
“She can bleed…?” Derek asked himself in confusion. Carl decided to answer him.
“Yes, it seems that way! However, it’s not really anything for her to worry about.”
Much like the World Mirror heals injuries Adam obtains, Charlotte’s own phantonic energy covered the wound. It regenerated quickly, even causing the blood to disappear.
“So this is what it’s like, huh…?” Charlotte looked at her hand, realizing that the red that covered it had also vanished. She turned her attention back to the scales, which seemed to be slowing down in their pursuit.
“Hmm? What’s happening?” Derek waved his hands to aid in maneuvering the projectiles toward Charlotte. “Usually, whenever I release them, they keep going for the target. Why—oh…” He began to chuckle.
“Oh! Do you know, Derek? I figured it out as well! Based on what you’ve told me, at least. Am I right?” Carl questioned with a giddy tone.
“The scales seek out life in order to cause death. It lasted for a few because of her energy, but the Concept caught on. She’s dead, so why should they seek something already dead?”
Charlotte watched as the scales returned to Derek’s rings, entering the openings as they closed once more. “Scales… seeking out death…? Wait a minute, I—”
“The rings in the myth aren’t technically sources of power, themselves. Rather, they act as a sort of catalyst to summon special items that the goddess collected on her journey. Items that gained power by matching up with the conceptualized seasons.” Derek explained.
Charlotte calmly landed in front of Derek, looking as though—ironic as the saying is—had seen a ghost.
“…The Scales of Autumn. The goddess took them from a dying dragon, obtaining the concept of ‘dying’ within the concept of the season ‘autumn.’ Life withering away—not quite dead.”
Derek’s eyes widened upon the explanation. “Y-Yeah, that’s exactly it. You know this myth…? It’s old, so maybe—”
“The Shield of Winter—that thing you protected yourself with—holds the actual concept of ‘death’ within the concept of ‘winter.’ Anything with the force of life cannot break through that shield.”
“…The goddess took the shield off of a dead soldier, found frozen in a blizzard.” Derek added. “Damn… You probably know about the other two, don’t ya?”
Charlotte snickered. “Yeah, that’s right!”
In her head, she panicked. “I… don’t recall those! I still can’t recall the overall plot of the myth, but I remembered those two! Why… is that? Is it cause I saw them physically?”
“The spring one would be perfect for my condition at the moment,” Derek sighed. “But unfortunately, I don’t have it quite down just yet. And the summer one… Well, that would be silly to use here—”
Charlotte swiftly formed a spear in her left hand, thrusting it forward. Derek reacted just in time, blocking it with the ring on his right wrist. Due to the injuries on that arm, this caused tremendous pain.
“I know we’re both having fun talking about this stuff, but we’re still fighting. Did you forget?” She transformed the sword in her right hand into a second spear, jabbing at Derek with that weapon as well. He blocked with his other ring—the force this time pushing him back.
“Sorry, I’m a bit tired from dealing with that guy up against the wall,” Derek snickered, motioning his arms as the rings opened once more. “Let’s end this!”
Scales were unleashed for the second time. From her experience before, Charlotte knew that the first few seconds mattered the most when dealing with them. Once they consider her dead, their force and accuracy diminish greatly.
The spears she held would not do the trick. Instead, she changed their shape, creating two boomerang-like weapons in their place.
“Let’s try… this!”
Charlotte threw the boomerangs. As if they were magically targeting each individual projectile, her weapons spun around the area and struck the Scales of Autumn out of the air, shattering as they hit the ground.
Her counterattack did not end there. Charlotte’s boomerangs continued, aiming at Derek’s sides. He blocked both with his rings—the force pressuring him from the left and right kept him in place temporarily.
Charlotte took this opportunity to strike. She created a rapier in her hand and dashed forward with remarkable speed.
Although Derek seemed as though he was wide open, he was not. Charlotte seemed to forget the two other rings that were placed on his upper arms. The one on the left opened, and energy was unleashed. By the time Charlotte noticed, she was already connecting with the summoned Shield of Winter.
“It doesn’t matter what ring it is, they’re all connected to one another! Isn’t that right!?” Charlotte asked while struggling against the shield.
“Right,” Derek answered while knocking the boomerangs away. “I doubt that’s how they actually worked in the myth, but for me, it doesn’t matter too much.”
Charlotte continued to pressure the shield. Derek was baffled that she would continue her attempt to shatter a shield that no life could break.
He realized that he genuinely was exhausted, as his mind caught on too soon.
It took a small amount of time, but the scales eventually considered Charlotte “dead,” so they lost their energy attacking her.
The same could be said for the shield. It eventually realized that the phantonic energy Charlotte was releasing did not originate from a source of life, rather, one that was deceased. Phantons were particles of life—that was an established fact. Ghosts were, scientifically, remnants of life. However, everyone could classify them as one who has passed. Derek’s Shield of Winter took priority over the first fact before settling on the second.
As Charlotte shattered the shield, along with her weapon, she contemplated for a moment on how odd it all seemed. Could the actual science known as “Phantonics” actually define everything surrounding the phanton? It certainly tried to, but will it ever actually be achieved?
With a new sword already formed in her hand, Charlotte swung at Derek, who evaded the slash. She noticed the surge of energy now coming from him.
“Well, aside from using these items, I guess I’m much more powerful in this state. So, why not try fighting you like I normally do?”
Derek swung at Charlotte, who blocked with her blade. Being knocked back, she realized how much strength the man was generating. As her weapon crumbled, she formed another—a second one accompanying it in her opposite hand.
Reinforcing her blades with the extra energy she had gathered in the mine, Charlotte attacked. Derek used his rings as a means to defend while finding an opening, striking at any he saw. The ghost girl was not easy to hit, and he realized this rather quickly.
He leaped back, beginning to maneuver around the stalagmites in a manner he did in his fight with Adam. Unlike his previous opponent, who tore the stone structures apart, Charlotte simply phased right through them. She had a complete focus on where Derek was, even if he was out of eyesight.
“Damn, if this keeps up…” Derek was entirely on the defense. Despite his increase in power, the sheer skill Charlotte was displaying was something he currently could not surpass.
“Heh…” Charlotte smirked. “This feels… good. Where did I learn to fight like this? Even with my memories gone, this is all… natural to me.”
Jason was watching the fight nervously. He knew that Derek would not last much longer.
“Hey… Carl. This looks bad. I can’t even find an opportunity to—”
“Don’t worry, my friend,” Carl began giggling. “Leave this to me…”
In his hand, Carl held a plain-looking silver pistol. Although the bullets he was loading looked silver as well, Jason knew they were made of phantonite.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Carl was now laughing maniacally. “An ordinary gun! Just kidding, it only looks that way. With the tech built into this thing, and with the use of phantonite for the shells…”
“…You’ll tear right through anything made of phantons.” Jason stated. “Even a ghost.”
“As soon as I saw her bleed… I knew. Her body replicates ‘getting injured’ in that manner, before healing itself. Why? That seems like a waste of phantons. Regardless, she reacted to it—she felt the pain, even if only temporary. One could say… you can truly ‘hurt’ her with opposing phantons, or even phantonic technology…”
Jason did not say anything. He opened up the portal wide enough for the bullet to pass through, and he would be the one to aim. Carl simply had to pull the trigger.
Charlotte continued to gain the upper hand against Derek. At this point, his rings had begun to crumble, and the mark on his forehead started to close. With his energy fading, Charlotte knew it was the time to strike.
Her blades turned dull so that she would not cause any severe harm to the man. Derek, at that point, accepted his loss. His body simply could not keep up with an Ouderkirk.
Charlotte lunged forward, beginning her final attack.
It never connected. Upon the sound of a gunshot echoing through the cavern, the bullet tore through the right of Charlotte’s armor—near her waist—piercing her and exiting out the other side.