Charlotte was the first to notice—she was the only one to notice the presence of an additional person. Brandon, Jerry, and Winona seemingly froze in place, unable to react whatsoever.
The hooded figure, cloaked in black, stood off to the side. Charlotte could feel its intense gaze peer through the strange clock-like mask worn over its face. The “clock” did not tell a particular time—there were no hands or numbers to speak of, merely the marks representing each minute and hour of the day.
“You…” Charlotte began to charge up power to enter her true form. “Who are you—”
With a snap of the figure’s fingers, Charlotte’s transformation was canceled—the raging phantonic energy fading away as she lost control.
“I see…” The figure began to speak in an echoey tone. Charlotte was unable to determine whether the distorted voice was masculine or feminine. “You really don’t have your proper strength. You’re… a spirit after all.”
The masked being raised their hand, facing their palm in Charlotte’s direction. A sudden sharp pain formed in Charlotte’s right eye as she grasped onto it frantically.
“Gah! W-What is this…!? Who are you!?”
“...We’re still connected, however. Even in these conditions, huh?” The figure placed their own hand over their mask where their own right eye would be located underneath. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry…?” Charlotte felt the pain subside while an eerie calm replaced it, spreading throughout her body. “I… Who…?”
“Well, that’s good news. It allows me to play a bit longer if I have some stable pillar in this world. Once I figure out how to get the other source fixed up, I should be able to fully intervene. Finally…”
“What are you saying?” Charlotte asked, glancing around at her friends who still did not move a muscle. “And what did you do to them!?”
“...I heard that it was tough on you, but to think that you’ve forgotten something as simple as this…” The figure shook its head. “I won’t be able to interfere much longer. This world is damaged—far too fragile to use these powers recklessly. I’ll have to leave for a while. But, at least I confirmed something crucial, at last…”
“...Do you know who I am? Do you know about my past…!? Whoever you are, if you know, then tell me!” Charlotte demanded desperately.
“I guess I can see that you’ve always been difficult…” The figure sighed. “I know more than your past, Charlotte. And trust me, I’d love to tell you, but…”
The mysterious person showed Charlotte the back of their right hand, which had a strange azure mark shaped like an arrowhead—the mere presence of its glow radiated a pressure that Charlotte could not describe.
“Time is a tricky thing.”
With their left hand, the figure once again snapped their fingers, this time in Brandon’s direction. Phantonic energy formed, swirling around his broken leg.
“Hey!” Charlotte stepped forward, still unable to muster up any sort of power. “What are you doing!?”
“It’s my gift to you guys—an apology for causing your eye to hurt. You dealt with it well, though. It can really be agonizing if the connection wants to be a jackass about it.”
“Who…” Charlotte fell silent, unable to comprehend the situation.
The figure pointed directly at her. “Take care of…” It paused. “...Adam. You’re good at that kind of thing. I’ll do my part whenever I can. I…”
Their body began to fade as a sky-blue light emitted from their body. They leaned over, clenching their fists as if they were upset.
And they were. At the last moment, the figure spoke in a pained tone.
“...I don’t want any of you to die…”
With the unknown entity gone, the three who were unable to move were now able to. Jerry was still looking at his friends waiting for suggestions to his question while Brandon and Winona pondered the options. Before the red-haired boy turned his gaze toward Charlotte, he almost fell over from a sudden outburst from the friend in his arms.
“N-No way…! What the hell!?”
“Brandon—shit! What’s your problem all of a sudden—”
“My leg…! Dude, my leg!”
“Okay, fish from that one show, what about your leg?” Jerry asked. He gasped as he saw Brandon stomp his “broken” foot onto the floor. “What are you doing!?”
“It’s fine now!” He began jumping around. “I-It suddenly felt better, and I was able to move it. Yeah—it’s good! How!? But, yay!”
“W-What…?” Jerry was flabbergasted. “How… indeed?”
“That’s… amazing,” Winona stared blankly at the young man now skipping around the basement. “But… yes. How?”
The three turned their attention to Charlotte, who suddenly fell to her knees.
“Charlotte…?” Winona was the first to react, sliding on her own knee to get next to her quickly. “What’s the matter!?”
She was horrified to see her friend’s eyes water as tears began to fall. Charlotte had started to cry—rather—she started to bawl almost uncontrollably. Almost instinctively, she leaned onto Winona, who grabbed a hold of her gently.
“Hey! Hey! It’s okay! It’s okay…!” Winona assured her, trying her best to comfort the distraught spirit while patting her head.
“T-That person…!” Charlotte attempted to catch her breath. “Who was… W-Why am I feeling this way after seeing them…?”
Brandon had no clue how to react while Jerry let out a long sigh.
“...Tell us what happened when you’re ready, Charlotte.” The young man had notable frustration in his voice—not toward his upset phantasmal friend but the overall irrational situation that had been occurring that evening. Words that his father once spoke began to echo in his head.
“No matter how wise you think you are, never be afraid to ask questions. If you want to be a true genius, things such as pride are a hindrance. I assume you understand that, Jerry?”
He gritted his teeth as he headed toward the stairs. “Is it safe enough to ask him…? Can I find a proper situation where there’s little to no risk?”
Faith exited the bathroom into the dark hallway, holding onto her left eye.
“What… was that? It started hurting like hell out of nowhere. Seems to be okay, though…?”
Faith gazed ahead toward the dim light of her room, the only thing she could see in the pitch blackness. For a reason unknown to her, she began to recall the events of the fire that tore their home apart several years prior.
What stood out from everything else was a mere image of flames with a single silhouette standing unfazed in the center. The only thing Faith could make out was the peculiar clock-like mask the figure wore.
That person, whoever they were, was the reason Faith and Emma survived that night.
“They’re… the reason the house returned to normal, isn’t it?”
Faith heard the sound of a door opening and closing—the front door to the house. Although feeling uneasy as what occurred with her eye, she had no issue walking toward the entryway of her home, greeting her mother who had finally returned.
“Faith? You’re still awake?” Pam took off her shoes, yawning with clear exhaustion in her voice.
“Yeah… Had an issue I had to take care of.”
“Oh… Wait, I bought more of those, right? We’re still stocked up?”
“Huh?” Faith quickly figured out what her mother was referring to. “N-No, not that! Anyway, are you feeling alright?”
“Heh. Just a little tired.” Pam admitted. “Nothing too out of the ordinary.”
“You know, it feels strange to have you talking to me like that. Merely asking me how I am. You never really used to do that.”
“It’s nothing bad,” Pam chuckled. “It’s nice… You’re finally an adult—you’re ‘equal’ to me now. Not that I ever held myself on a pedestal in front of you girls. At least I hope I didn’t…”
“No, you did nothing like that…” Faith shook her head.
A silence filled the house. After a moment, Pam walked over and placed her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “What’s on your mind, honey?”
“...You’re aware of my goals once I join Unity, right?” Faith asked in a dreary tone.
Pam smirked. “I have a pretty good idea. And you have no idea how excited I am.”
“W-Wha…?” Faith was completely puzzled at her mother’s statement.
“Elliot Rizzo—Unity’s Third Executive, who’s had everything under his control for almost twenty years now. If any of us are to finally make things better, we’ll have to kick his ass and become the Fourth Executive.”
“R-Right…!?” Faith’s shock was immeasurable.
“Rebecca Grayson—Adam’s mother, and my best friend… She should have been the legitimate Third Executive. That didn’t happen. However…” Pam pointed at Faith. “Your Concept is Fire… that’s no coincidence. Her Concept was as well! That means, you’re going to take control from him, right? You’ll become the Executive that she couldn’t be!”
“...I’d love to. But…” Faith glanced at her hands. “I… I can’t—”
Pam grabbed onto her daughter’s fingers, intertwining them with her own. “We’ll overcome this situation where you fear using them! I know you have it in you. You’ve overcome a lot, already...”
Faith did not know what to say as she looked off to the side.
“I hope I’m not pressuring you with saying that… I apologize if I am. Making pressure is kind of my thing, with my steam and everything.”
Faith let out a tiny giggle. “Well… wait,” Her eyes widened. “There’s an idea… Hey, do you think I could create pressure with my flames?”
“Huh?” Pam pondered the question. “I… guess? You can do all sorts of things with a Concept. What do you have in mind, though?”
“If I can concentrate my fire into a controllable form, then that could help lessen my fear of using it!”
“That… makes sense?” Pam scratched her chin. “Still, releasing your flames is the priority right now. You have to do that before you attempt to manipulate its shape.”
“Right, right!” Faith nodded. “But—ah, Mom! Can’t you figure out what I’m trying to say?”
Pam simply looked at Faith questionably, waiting for the answer.
She grinned. “It’s the move you created! I want you to teach it to me!”
“O-Oh…!” Pam let out a laugh—quickly covering her mouth realizing the time of night, not wanting to wake Emma. “That… could work! If we want to get to that point. However…” She sighed. “Faith. Want me to get in contact with her? If it’s for your training, I’m sure we can set something up.”
“...Can I trust her? With how her Concept works—”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Pam reassured her. “I’ve watched her development over the years. She’s not someone who would cause harm. Well… meaningly.”
“Uh…” Faith shook her head furiously while slapping her face. “I need to take the risk! I’ll do it!”
“All right,” Pam nodded. “It would be a safer route. I was considering calling upon another person that could help, but he would be quite a handful. Clover can’t even keep him under control…”
“...You were gonna get him!? He’d kill me!”
“W-Well, not intentionally…” Pam laughed awkwardly. “Although he’s not one to hold back, and is quite crazy…”
Before the two could continue the conversation, the youngest daughter entered their vision. Emma seemed almost like a demon creeping from the shadows as she glared their way.
“Hey. If you two are gonna keep me up, I’m not doing any damn chores tomorrow.”