The hovering stones shot toward Charlotte’s best form with incredible speed—each one making contact in less than a second. Unfortunately, the blue gel-like substance surrounding her buffeted the blows, causing the attack to do nothing.
“Shock absorption, huh?” Winona gritted her teeth. “I can feel vibrations through any earth I take control of, even things that become projectiles. That substance has to be absorbing all the impact…”
“T-That wasn’t your Full Abstraction, was it?” Adam asked. “You gave it a name… We’re in trouble if she just shrugged that off.”
“Huh...?” Winona was rather confused. “...O-Oh! Nah, I name a bunch of my attacks. A Full Abstraction would be a sort of super move or technique—you put your heart and soul into it. I have created one, recently, but—”
The weapons stuck within the ground burst out—now entirely visible while ascending into the air. Winona had sensed their initial movement and prepared to counter.
Adam, as well, realized what was about to happen as the sharp weapons pointed toward them. “These things pack a punch…! You’d better—”
“No problem!” Winona waved her arm, giving a signal to the rocks under her control.
As the weapons descended toward them, the stones flew around in multiple directions. The myriad paths they took ended up successfully colliding with the azure projectiles, knocking them off their intended path. Many of them shattered upon impact, some broke as they whacked against the ground, and a few managed to remain in one piece.
These weapons shifted their trajectory, and from new angles, they attempted to strike once more.
Winona’s arms motioned around her—it almost looked as though she was hugging herself. Rocks from all around once again flew, colliding with the projectiles and stopping them. One blade, however, managed to bypass the stones and aimed right at her.
With a stone of his own in his hand, Adam whacked the blade just in time, throwing it off its course—shattering as it bounced off the ground.
“Woah…! Nice one, Adam!”
“It’s not all that impressive,” Adam admitted. “I just happened to gain Authority in this place, somehow. I can sense all kinds of shit that’s going on…” He winced, trying his best to stay on his feet. Miraculously, his control has even kept his eyes from showing signs of the World Mirror.
Whatever kind of “control” Adam had would soon be lost, however. It was inevitable, at this point, that Winona will learn of his power.
Especially considering that they both could be flattened by Charlotte’s next attack, as her gigantic claw descended toward them.
A massive heap of sand swept the two up from the side, carrying them out of harm’s way as the impact shattered the earth where they were a moment prior. The dust kicked up, enveloping the entire area.
Winona took advantage of this. While they were blanketed, she used her Concept on the dirt surrounding them. The sand that had been used for her Terra Surf came to a halt, while her power was channeled elsewhere.
With visibility returning to the area, there was no time to spare—the sharp needle-shaped rocks were ready to launch.
The stones shot forward, penetrating the blue gel seemingly with ease as the tips managed to dig partially into the creature’s actual body.
“Terra, terra, terra… Anyway,” Adam smirked. “You got through that layer! Piercing, as opposed to blunt force, seemed to be the trick.”
“But it didn’t even flinch…” Winona raised her hand in front of herself. “So, we’ll do this…!” Sand began to float around the two—Adam curious as to what she could potentially do next.
“Go get ‘em, sand!”
All of the dirt flung toward the needles—collecting at the tips that barely stook out of the gel. Charlotte seemed to be rather lackadaisical with her current body’s movement, so this task was much more straightforward than it could have been.
“Are you making those things longer, so they can dig deeper…?” Adam asked. He began to show concern, knowing who the creature really was.
“I’m…” Winona had trouble breathing for a moment. “I’m sending the sand directly into its body…! I’m not sure how we can return this person to normal, but…”
“You’re gonna try to weigh it down?” Adam seemed to understand Winona’s plan. “Sending dirt into a human’s body would obviously be pretty damn bad for that person. With the way things are right now, though…”
Charlotte began to whimper—her bestial tone sending a chill down Adam and Winona’s spines.
“...Who is this, Adam?” Winona questioned bluntly. “It is someone… I know?”
Adam chose to remain silent.
“...That blood on you… and your clothes are torn up like they are… What has been happening down here?”
Adam slowly exhaled. Winona glanced back at him—flabbergasted to see the white aura begin to emit from his body. His eyes, as well, had lit up once more.
“Well, shit. I guess I have to explain…”
Chris pouted as he sat on the floor of the hideout—Jason’s shadows around his body fading away. “I can’t believe you guys almost forgot me!”
“Sorry,” Derek sighed. “We had to rush out of there. Good thing I remembered.”
“And we got nothing out of it!?” Chris questioned while groaning, lying down on his back.
“I guess it’s my bad!” Carl cackled. “I had no idea the Ouderkirk girl would actually be a threat! I just assumed—”
“You shouldn’t assume shit!” Chris shot back up into the position he was just in. “You’re a scientist! You’re supposed to do research and logically approach things—ow, ow, ow!” His body suddenly twitched from the pain.
“Careful. She did knock you out pretty hard…” Jason stated.
“It was a hypothesis!” Carl responded to Chris’ rant. “You guys went in and did the test to see if my hypothesis was correct! It… wasn’t.” He shrugged. “That’s science for ya.”
“Derek, hold him down. I’m gonna flick a spark into his face.” Chris prepared to snap his fingers. In response, Derek simply shook his head.
“That won’t do much to him. He’d probably like it.”
“Yeah…!” Chris agreed. “I could see that as a fetish for you, Carl.”
“Heh… hahahaha!” Carl began to laugh loudly. “With this body, I can’t do anything even remotely sexual, so things such as fetishes are something I’d rather not bother with.”
“I feel like we could get deep into this topic, so I’d rather we not,” Derek suggested.
“Plus, we got a kid here,” Chris pointed toward Jason’s shadow. “We can’t talk about this—”
“I only have the voice of a kid!” Jason yelled abruptly. “I’m an adult, just like you bastards!”
“Are you…?” Chris asked. “You don’t even have a body. How do you know?”
“I feel like we could get deep into this topic, so I’d rather we not,” Derek repeated his previous line.
“Anyway. Jason,” Carl turned toward the hovering shadow. “What’s the current situation there?”
“Well…” Jason was silent while analyzing the other side. “Okay… so. We’ve got someone else in the mine now. She’s got a Concept…! Oh! That girl who can manipulate the earth!”
“Oh?” Carl chuckled. “Yes, that makes sense. If the barrier’s beginning to fade away, then she certainly could get in there, now could she?”
“Yeah… Seems like she’s helping the kid out against… whatever the hell the Ouderkirk girl turned into! Carl, look at this shit!”
A shadow formed around Carl’s left eye, seemingly granting him vision of the activity in the mine. “Oh… oh! Oh, oh, oh! What is that magnificent specimen!? It’s most definitely something that a Chaonic Entity could become, yet it’s phantonic in nature! Amazing! Amazing, amazing, amazing! This is the power of the royal family!? Astonishing—”
“Okay, stop.” Derek sighed. “You sure you can’t do anything sexual? You’re for sure getting off on this crap.”
“Forgive me…” Carl continued to giggle.
“You know…” Jason paused. “When is his session going to be over with? It’s been a while, and we could really use—”
Suddenly, a large crimson portal appeared next to the group—its mere presence causing the room to shake.
“Well, speak of the devil…” Jason chuckled. “Hey, took you long enough.”
The outline of a figure could be seen exiting the crimson mass. It stopped as it seemingly brushed something off of its shoulder.
“I took my time with this one. Pretty sure I’ve created a new kind of ability, actually. It could help us—” The calm, stoic voice paused as the man glanced around at the people in front of him, still not entirely visible.
“Has something happened…?”
Jason floated in front of him, laughing awkwardly. “You’re gonna want to sit down for all of this, my friend.”
“Stay here, Brandon.” Jerry requested, heading for the door while Brandon remained on the couch. “I’m gonna go get some stuff from my house. Don’t try going down there again while I’m gone. Wait for me. Or, wait for Charlotte to return.”
“I’m… having trouble seeing right now, anyway.” Brandon said. “It won’t be easy for me to. I’d trip and fall down those stairs, probably.”
“Try to relax if you can. You have that carton of apple juice—keep drinking that. It’ll help flush out your system.”
Brandon took a tiny sip as his hands were shaking. “Adam’s gonna kill me for having this without his permission…”
“You know he actually wouldn’t care, right?” Jerry paused, waiting for Brandon to respond. “...Right?”
“...That was hours ago…” Brandon said to himself nervously, lying motionless on the couch. “Wait… no. It’s only been a few minutes, I think…? I don’t know.”
He held his head—still very much in pain.
“What is time, anyway? What is… space? What is... wrong with me!? I’m acting all… loopy.”
“It’s pretty much how you act normally, anyway.”
Brandon leaped up at the sound of his own voice. “Wha…!? What the!?”
“Oh… you’re reacting to me. This is a first. It’s like we’re actually separated.”
“Are you a demon!? Did you possess me, after all!? Get out of my head!” Brandon began running around Adam’s living room, nearly tumbling over the furniture.
Seemingly like magic, Brandon was flung back onto the couch, where he sat—just as the voice had ordered.
“What in the…!?”
“It can work on us, huh…? Cool, I suppose.”
“Wha… What did you do?” Brandon questioned, frightened to move.
“Nevermind that. Anyway, to answer your questions from before… no. I am not a demon. You and I are the same person. A certain event occurred where everything would have changed for you. Your mind would have been messed up beyond belief. Yet, you were split off for the sake of living a normal life.”
“What…? What event?”
“I can’t tell you that. You see, the moment you realize the truth, we will once again merge. Keep being the same old dumbass, in the meantime…”
Brandon had no idea what to say. There were way too many questions—ones that he assumed the voice inside his head was aware of.
“Well… we have an issue with you doing that, however,” The voice continued. “Adam’s still down there… You got teleported away before you could be sure he was safe. I desire to take over once more, but…”
“So you’re the reason I went in there? Yeah, I want to save Adam, but Jerry—”
“You can rely on Jerry like you always have. He helped you get through school, didn’t he? You couldn’t even comprehend your classes, which is why I have doubts about your understanding of what you’re getting into. But… I want to rely on you in the same manner.”
“What do you mean…?”
“If I continue to take over, I risk us blending into one. I learned that down in that mine. If Adam didn’t show up…” His inner voice sighed. “You have the power to fight on your own, you know? Just telling you about it is risky enough.”
“I do…?” Brandon shook his head. “Wait a minute. You're the reason why I’ve had all those issues over the years? I tend to blackout for a moment or forget things. Is that—”
“Yeah,” The voice responded. “My—Our emotions tend to get the best of us. If something bothers you, it bothers me. It’s another way we could merge. So… I tend to wipe your memory. I’m going to do so with portions of this conversation, by the way, but it’s pretty… therapeutic to talk about this stuff, even to myself.”
“What the hell…?” Brandon felt like he was about to cry over the sheer stress of the situation.
“If I am to rely on you… I need to take a risk. For you to unlock the power that you have access to. So… allow me to show you something. A memory—rather recent—that should help you out.”
Before Brandon could say anything, his consciousness faded.
The memory seemed hazy, yet Brandon picked up on his location quickly.
The heat paired up with a long day of practice was something he could never forget. He was leaning on the fence of the tennis court, which was the closest to their school. His red soccer uniform was drenched in sweat, so he figured he was trying to cool off.
Although he knew there were several other athletic fields off to the left, he could not view them. Looking toward the right, he could not even see the school. Light seemed to only focus on the area where he was currently standing.
What little control Brandon had on his body had left him—the memory now ready to play out.
He turned to the familiar voice. Emma walked up to him, wearing her white volleyball uniform. “You look miserable.”
“I have to do all kinds of practice before college. They want me to make sure I’m in tip-top shape so that they can feel comfortable giving me all the scholarship money.” He chuckled, wiping his brow. “Sorry if I’m a mess.”
“...That’s not what I meant.”
“Nevermind,” Emma sighed, standing up against the fence next to him. “Anyway. Do you have anything to say to me…?”
“Anything to say…?” Brandon was utterly puzzled.
“...I see. I guess it is true, huh?” Emma looked down.
“Wha…? What’s wrong!?”
“Well, since you won’t remember, it won’t hurt telling you how I feel, for once.”
“How you… f-feel…!?” Brandon was taken aback by those words.
“Settle down,” Emma groaned. “Sheesh… at least you seem to be able to act like this, despite…”
Emma took a deep breath. “...I don’t know why it happens, but whenever you and I are by ourselves… you forget everything. It doesn’t happen when we’re with others, but… if we have a quick chat about a game, or whatever, you never remember. At first, I figured you were just messing with me.”
“I would mess with you much differently than that,” Brandon smirked. It faded as he noticed how pained Emma’s expression seemed.
“With all of the connections I have, I could get you to see someone about it. You never know, it could be something Phantonics could solve. But I don’t want that. I would never lead you into anything that dangerous…”
“Ever since Adam… you know, he’s been tested several times. I have to thank Jerry’s dad for making sure he’s okay. The same for me. If it wasn’t for him volunteering to do my checkups, I’d be…”
“It’s a scary world, isn’t it…?” Brandon shrugged. “Well… why don’t we just hang out with others from now on, if you’re so worried I’d forget something? If what you say is true, then I’m going to forget this whole convo too, yeah? If you’re gonna tell me important shit, then wouldn’t it be—”
“The fact you forget is the reason why I’m confident in telling you this stuff right now…” Emma began tapping her foot on the ground. “And…”
Brandon waited nervously for her to continue.
“...I don’t want that.”
“Huh? Don’t want what?” Brandon asked innocently.
“Why can’t we hang out… just the two of us? Why can’t it be like when we were younger…?”
“I… u-uh…” Brandon was growing flustered at how open Emma was being.
“We’ve known each other since we were kids. We grew up together… Ever since Adam introduced you to me. And… you spent time with me. I was in that hospital, all alone. Mom was busy with work and stressed about Dad dying. Faith was dealing with a lot of it too, and she shut herself out from everyone. You, however, took the time to visit me…”
“...I annoyed my dad to the point where he would drive me there almost every day. Yeah, of course… I remember that.”
“Then why don’t you remember anything after that? What… happened?” Emma’s voice sounded pained—Brandon took notice of this.
“I know! I can get Jerry’s dad to—”
“No…” Emma shook her head. “Unity takes tabs on every patient he has. They’d know. If something really off was discovered, they’d find out. It’s frustrating… how goddamn stupid it all is!”
Brandon instinctively placed his hand on Emma’s shoulder. He grit his teeth in anticipation of her swatting it off. To his surprise, she did not.
“Look… Emma. Let’s talk about this when someone else is around. Maybe we can figure something out! And I’d be able to—”
“Listen…” She glanced up at Brandon—the smile on her face was agonizing to him. “All I want… is for you to live a normal life. Not get caught up in the bizarre world that I live in. Make it big with soccer—or whatever—and retire early. Settle down somewhere far away from here with some girl—hopefully, you’ll be smart enough to find someone halfway decent. And… just live in peace.”
Brandon had no time to even consider a response, as Emma began to walk off—his hand finally falling off of her shoulder. Attempting to reach her, no words could come out. She vanished as the memory faded to white.