Charlotte’s blades crumbled away as her grip on them was lost. She could not tell what side hurt the most—both the entry and exit wounds were in astronomical pain. Her breathing picked up—hyperventilating while her body attempted to process what just occurred.
Derek did not expect the assist from Carl and Jason. However, it saved him from defeat. In Charlotte’s current state, she could easily be captured, and their goals would grow close to fruition.
The three had no idea what they had just caused.
No one—Charlotte included—would understand precisely how the events unfolded for quite some time. The technicalities did not matter, as the following was simply the release of raw, powerful emotions.
If the bullet had aimed for any other section of Charlotte’s body—one that did not involve the specific organs that it had pierced through, her reaction would have been different.
While she felt agony inside of her that began to pick at familiar memories from long ago, Jason’s shadow appeared around the injured girl.
“Well, let’s get back to the base. You’ll be fine—you’re already dead, after all… Huh?”
The swirling black vortex of Jason’s struggled to form around Charlotte. If he could not submerge her entirely in the darkness, she would be unable to teleport.
“Jason!” Carl yelled! “Come on! I know you feel exhaustion, but the reality is that you don’t have a freaking body to strain! Fight through it! Grab her before she heals!”
“T-That’s not it…” Jason moved the shadows away from her, appearing next to Jason. “She’s…!”
Even Derek felt the sudden surge of energy around the Ouderkirk. They all noticed the tiny veins of crimson that were in the ground had started to shift to the phantonic azure.
“Is she turning the chaons into phantons, like she’s been doing?” Derek asked, stepping back as the air itself began to vibrate.
“…I believe this is a side effect,” Carl responded seriously. “That wouldn’t stop Jason from grabbing her—his shadows can tear right through energy if he so desired.”
“Then… what’s going on?” Derek almost toppled over as Charlotte’s power expanded. She had remained silent—eyes toward the ground the entire time. He still saw her shaking and felt as though he could literally feel the emotion radiating from the ghost girl.
“It’s Authority…” Carl sighed. “It seems like she’s now taking it from the other guy. Unlike how he took it from us, she’s doing so with sheer force. He can’t really do anything about it in his state.”
“So under her Authority, Jason can’t use his shadow?”
Before Carl answered, they were shocked as blades suddenly shot up from the earth—Derek jumping away quick enough to avoid being skewered.
“This is too dangerous…!” Carl cursed at himself. “Screw it! Jason—grab Derek while you still can! Derek, you stay out of her Authority’s expanding range while he does so!”
Derek did so as blades continued to rise from the ground. Jason’s shadow followed as it covered the man, preparing his escape.
Charlotte finally glanced up. Although she was not looking at anything in particular. Derek looked into her teary eyes and realized something immediately.
The despair she displayed was something he had seen before. There was no mistake—he knew exactly what that look indicated. However, he could not deduce how she felt that way. It did not make sense to him.
While the shadow consumed Derek, warping him to safety, he recalled the obvious. Charlotte was a ghost. One that had issues regarding her past memories. It’s entirely possible that, upon becoming injured, those memories had shot to the surface.
While Derek’s hypothesis—one he did not share with the others—was mostly accurate, it was merely the emotions of Charlotte’s past that had awakened. With no actual memories of any event, she was a mere pawn to her past sorrow.
Holding the lower section of her abdomen, Charlotte released an agonizing scream—one that would be torturous for any sane person to hear.
Adam was still unconscious. However, that did not stop his body from resonating with the anguish his friend was in.
He began to speak in his mind, in a dream-like state. His voice echoed throughout the inner void—the words muttered were ones he did not control.
“…We’ll get through this…”
“…We have to keep on fighting…”
“…Thank you for helping me take care of…”
“…We’ve both lost so much…”
“…But knowing you’re there for us…”
“…Like we are for you…”
“…Don’t suffer alone…”
“…We can do this, Char…”
Adam awoke several minutes later.
Teardrops had fallen from his glowing eyes, partially cleaning his bloody face.
He used his right arm to brush away the tears, which had managed to grow back. His body was in immense pain, however, and he could barely move.
“What… happened here?”
Adam looked around the area he was in. It took him a moment to recall that he was in the mine, especially considering how different it looked. Blades, spears, arrowheads. These, along with many other forms of weaponry, sprung from the ground all around him. Fortunately, they did not seem to reach his location.
“These are… Charlotte’s, yeah?” Adam struggled to stand. Leaning back against the wall, he used the stone surface to wiggle his way onto his feet. “The entire cave is… brighter. All of her weapons are lighting up the place.”
Attempting to step forward, Adam tripped almost immediately, using his hand to stop himself from planting his face directly into the stone ground.
“Dizzy… so dizzy…” He looked at his bloody body and realized the issue. “Right… that takes longer to regenerate. Even back then, when the cut healed quickly, I still suffered from blood loss.”
Adam continued to stare at the red he was soaked in. “The sight of it doesn’t… seem to bother me? Do I still… not care?”
He grew silent.
“…Do I still want to die?”
A loud crash in front of him snapped Adam out of his stupor. He glanced up to see several shattered blades fly his way—one slashing at the side of his face before crashing into the wall behind him.
What Adam saw a few meters ahead both baffled and frightened him. A giant blue fetus—the basic description of the creature. The main body was glowing while a cerulean slime coated its outsides. Upon closer inspection, Adam noticed that the beast had qualities of a lizard as opposed to a human.
“What the… what the hell!?”
The creature bellowed, unleashing a devastating sound that—quite literally—made Adam’s eardrums burst.
The World Mirror took no time in beginning its healing process—just finishing the restoration of the cut on Adam’s face. As the ghastly aura leaked from his ears, the boy would not be able to hear for now. He felt the surge of energy that was erupting from the beast—not only physically, but on another scale as well.
“Authority… was it? I somehow picked up on what they were saying when I was going crazy. Probably from the World Mirror’s bullshittery—anyway. I took this ‘Authority’ over the mine from those guys. I can tell… right now, this thing’s the one trying to take over. We’re about fifty-fifty right now. Me and…”
Adam stood, struggling against the force radiating from the beast.
“Charlotte… is that you? Wait—hang on, don’t answer yet.” He rubbed the inside of his ears, collecting blood and flicking it onto the ground—the silvery-white energy fading. “O-Okay… I think I can hear now. Charlotte! Is that you!? Please don’t scream again!”
The creature Adam deduced to be Charlotte was motionless—not counting the slime churning around its body. As sound was returning to him, he could hear a low weeping noise coming from her.
“…What happened? How did you end up in that state? You’re suffering… aren’t you?” He slowly shook his head. “Geez… I’m pretty sure I figured out where the other ghost girl is being held, yet here you are… making me help you too.”
Adam limped forward—his entire body shouting at him to stop and rest.
“I’m really gonna die at this rate…! So, before I go, let me at least…” His eyes widened. “Let me at least save you… then save her… then save everyone else. Is that what I want…? It’s a never-ending chain, isn’t it?”
As Adam looked to the ground, giant arms grew from Charlotte—their claws cutting into the earth as she began its crawl toward him.
She did not reach him. From the ceiling above, an avalanche of stone descended. It was so swift that the sound of rock shattering was not heard until it collided with Charlotte’s body—the massive force knocking Adam into the wall his back was becoming accustomed to.
A figure emerged from the ceiling, landing on top of the massive pile of rubble. Adam attempted to make out who had appeared while waiting for the dust to settle.
He recognized the voice immediately. Winona jumped out of the sandy mess and onto the ground in front of him. “What…? What!? What are you doing down here!? What happened to you!? Are you okay!?”
“How did you…?” Adam laughed lightly. “Right. Your Concept is Earth. I guess you would be able to figure out something was going on down here. Can’t you feel vibrations, and whatnot?”
“Y-Yeah!” Winona took a quick glance around. “The mine down here… I could always feel some sort of activity down here. Today, there was too much happening, so I figured I’d dig down. It was like… a sphere, of sorts, was emitting the vibrations. I could never tell—no—I never bothered to tell, until today. It was some kind of chaonic barrier, wasn’t it? Took me a bit of effort to bust through.”
“A sphere…?” Adam nodded. “Yeah… you’re right. It seems to be weakening a lot right now, probably since we’ve taken the Authority from those guys.”
“…Authority!? Wait, wait, wait!” Winona shook her hands violently. “You still haven’t answered why you’re down here! And now you’re saying something about Authority!? If you’re legit talking about the Phantonic terminology, then… how? That’s classified stuff that Unity keeps from everyone else!”
“Unity… that’s right.” Adam sighed. “You’re going into Unity soon, aren’t you? You’ve already learned things that are ‘classified,’ huh?”
Winona understood the tone that Adam was talking in. It happened to be one that she had used before. “…I know it’s probably hard to do so, but… I want you to trust me. You can tell me what’s happening. Clearly, you’re hurt, and I won’t let that slide!”
Adam knew this, of course. He knew that Winona, the Roswells, and Thomas would all prioritize his safety over anything to do with Unity.
There lies the problem. Disregarding his own well-being, they would all be putting themselves at risk. Winona merely showing up is already a huge issue. If Unity caught wind of what was occurring here, they would seek out answers. And they could track her down as a suspect—they had the means to deduce that sort of thing. Even if she kept this a secret, there were ways to get her to speak.
That was the kind of power the organization known as “Unity” held.
As the stones began to move behind them—garnering Winona’s swift attention—Adam realized that he had to worry about all of that later.
“…I mentioned ‘we’ took Authority from the people who had control over this place. The ‘person’ you just crushed with all of that rubble is the other one who currently has Authority here…”
“B-But…” Winona took a step back. “I figured it was some massive Chaonic Entity, which is why I opened up the ceiling on top of it. It’s a… person?”
Charlotte smashed through the stone—her bestial form shaking off the rocks as if it were nothing. Winona was utterly horrified at what she saw.
“What… What the…!?”
Adam stood up and limped over next to Winona. “Somehow, they turned into that. We’ve got to help them. Any… ideas?”
Using her power, Winona manipulated the stones flying around the area, forming a circular band in the air above her. “I-I’m not sure… We have to fight—that much is certain. Or it’ll kill us…” She looked back at Adam, smiling despite the situation. “Helping someone, huh? That sounds just like you…”
Winona took a deep breath, readying herself for battle.
“All right! Leave it to me!”