The dark alleyways of Nexus City were like no other. Clean—not a speck of any sort of filth that would indicate a lack of care. However, it was not the city that kept things orderly.
None dared to venture into the territory he wandered.
It was a mysterious structure of pulsating power formed from nowhere as if it was a portal to another world. Soaring out of it was a glowing spector—a man coated in blue and partially transparent. He collapsed onto the alley’s ground trying desperately to regain his footing and dash away.
A lavender-colored burst of energy shot from the portal, striking the man without hesitation. Now unable to escape, he began to weep.
“Please… Please…! Don’t do this!”
“Hah?” A young man with a rather skinny physique emerged, scratching his moppy, dirty-blond hair in confusion. “Ya know you’re dead, right? Ya have no reason to beg for mercy. Just stop wandering and accept your fate, dumbass.”
“B-But…!” The spirit attempted to stand once more. However, the vulgar man snapped his fingers, causing the remnants of his energy that had struck his target to shift in shape. They quickly became light-purple chains that bound the ghost, somehow connecting to the surrounding walls.
“Ya don’t get it, do ya?” The young man leaned down, grabbing the spirit by their head. “You’re not supposed to exist. Some shit happened, causing freaks like you to wander around that place. Sometimes, ya guys get the bright idea of entering our layer and into the city. That fucks with the network. I get paid to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“You… monster…!” The ghost continued to struggle to no avail.
“Look who’s talking.” The young man snickered. “Tell ya what. If ya can remember your name, then I’ll consider letting ya go.”
“My name…?” The spirit fell silent.
“Exactly. Your memories are completely shot, right? They rotted away since you're all fucked up, and your phantons keep trying to make ya an intelligent occurrence. If I leave ya running around shitting your pants, you’ll just become a mindless rat shitting everywhere.”
The strange lavender substance formed on the man’s back as he stood back up, transforming into two razor-sharp wings with a myriad of feathers. He grinned sadistically while staring down at the terrified soul.
“Here, I can be like an angel for ya! Heaven, hell, the goddamn void—I don’t care where! Ya just have to disappear!”
Before the ghost could scream in horror, the wings descended, smashing the spiritual body on the alley’s pavement as easily as swatting a fly.
Despite the amount of force put into the strike, the man took care in not damaging anything else. Raising the wings, phantonic energy “soaked” the feathers as opposed to blood. The azure swiftly faded into the air, while the lavender immediately followed.
“Shit… Boring as usual.” He took out a piece of hard candy from his pocket, quickly unwrapping it and tossing it into his mouth. Beginning to walk, he threw the wrapper behind him which ignited in a bright violet flame, burning away in an instant.
“I need something more interesting to rip apart… I won’t get stronger at this rate.”
Before taking another step, he paused before placing his foot on the ground.
“...Hey. I thought I told ya Clover Cucks not to pop up outta nowhere?”
Several men had surrounded him, each wearing dark-green suits. Over their eyes were silver steampunk-like goggles with a cerulean lens. One man off to the right pulled out an envelope, holding it in his left hand.
“Alexander Strauss. Sir Rizzo has requested your assistance in a new assignment.”
A violet-colored gust of wind grabbed the article from the man’s hand, carrying it over to Alexander’s. He formed a flame and burned the envelope while perfectly preserving the parchment within. Taking a glance at what was written, he smirked and moved his finger along the lower section of the paper. As if he had written it with a pen, his signature formed.
“Got it. Now get out of here.”
The same man grabbed the paper and nodded. The agents pulled out what appeared to be guns with hooks attached to the end. They were—quite literally—grappling hooks which they used to latch onto the top of the buildings surrounding them. In a swift fashion, Clover had left just as quickly as they had appeared.
“Weird shits…” Alexander sighed as he began to walk toward the light, scratching the side of his head.
“There were more of them than usual… Are they planning to start some shit?”
Adam felt the comfort of his mattress below him as he slowly regained consciousness. While his eyes gazed at the familiar ceiling, sharp pain radiated throughout his body.
“Gah… Shit. It hurts everywhere…” He sat up slowly—his mind feeling empty. “I’m alive, huh…? What happened?”
Remaining in place for a moment, the memories began to flood back into him. “The… mine. Right… Wait, what happened to everyone!?”
Despite the ache, Adam leaped up from his bed and rushed to his bedroom door. Swinging it open, he quickly realized something was horribly off.
The door had led directly into the mine. Specifically, it had led into the main room where he had begun his fight with Derek. He recognized the shape of the area—potentially a side effect from having Authority over the place—yet it appeared much differently than before. Underneath a giant chandelier radiating a calming blue light, the minecarts had vanished, and it appeared much more orderly than before.
Before he continued to survey the changes, a familiar face stood up from the massive table place in the center of the room, rushing over to him.
“Adam! You’re finally up!” Charlotte grabbed onto his shoulders and looked directly into his eyes. “Are you feeling okay? I wasn’t sure how long you would be out of it.”
“I… uh…” Adam seemed in a daze—not fully awake—but was still quite confused over what had just happened. He turned around and glanced at his bedroom door, which had now vanished. “W-What the fuck? No, really. What the fuck?”
“Ah, that? I had connected the gateway to your bedroom with the Azurasphere. The mine’s original properties allowed for access from a certain distance to other locations. It happened to reach your room, so we let you rest up there. We could reach you instantly if there was a problem, and you would wander in here when you woke up so we could talk to you.”
“...I have several questions.” Adam signed. “Like, the ‘Azurasphere?’ What is that? Don’t answer that right now, by the way. There’s another important matter we must attend to.”
“What is it?” Charlotte asked curiously.
“...Bring me back to my house,” Adam demanded. “I have to pee.”
Several minutes later, Adam was sitting at the table across from Charlotte. As he took a sip from his glass of apple juice, he nodded in response to the thing his ghostly ally had relayed to him.
“Okay. Quick review—” Adam placed the drink down on the table. “It’s been about a week since everything happened. I’ve been unconscious the entire time while I recovered. The World Mirror definitely saved my stupid ass from certain death.” He glanced at papers that were scattered all across the table, then took a quick look around the room, noting a few smaller tables with various devices on them, and even more notes.
“We’ve been trying to get things done while you’ve been resting,” Charlotte continued. “As you can see, Jerry has used this room to do a lot of research.”
Adam tapped on the table. “These are made of stone, aren’t they? Winona made them? They’re pretty nice. She could make a living making and selling furniture.”
Charlotte giggled. “I’ve learned from her that she wants to become an architect. She’s been using this place over the last week, designing all sorts of new rooms. It’s been fun, experimenting with different things.”
“I’ll have to look at this place in its entirety…” Adam sighed. “So, you now have 100% Authority over this place, which makes sense. I recall handing you all of it at the last moment there. We’ve completely taken it over from the enemy, and you’ve named it the ‘Azurasphere.’ The color is ‘azure,’ and ‘Azura’ is a name, although I suppose ‘Azurasphere’ sounds cooler than ‘Azuresphere.’ Rolls off the tongue a bit better, I suppose?”
“It just seemed… right to me, for some reason.” Charlotte laughed awkwardly. “Well, that’s the gist of it…” She paused. “Gist…? Anyway—you woke up at a time where everyone else is away doing things. Brandon and Jerry had to go to the school—Brandon for practice and Jerry to do some work. Winona is helping her father out with a few things. Overall, things are looking fine at the moment.”
“The key part of that is ‘at the moment.’ Obviously, we have a ton we should be concerned about.” Adam sat back in his stone chair which was, surprisingly, quite comfortable. “Win’s Concept is weird… How is this thing not hurting my ass right now? Speaking of, Unity hasn’t found anything out yet?”
Charlotte shrugged. “Not that I’m aware of. She’s reported that everything seems normal. Our activity in the mine wasn’t noticed, so we’ve been able to get away with recuperating. That strange group hasn’t even attempted a counterattack either.”
“So…” Adam paused. “Whatever was in here is gone now…?”
“Yeah…” Charlotte nodded. “I felt it vanish once things started to settle down. I’m not sure how, exactly. Although Authority couldn’t reach into that section anyway, as you could tell.”
“...Dammit,” Adam slammed his fist on the table. “What was the point—”
“I’m going to stop you right there,” Charlotte leaned across the table and poked his forehead. “Don’t beat yourself up with what happened. Everyone’s okay, and we received some good from the situation. This base…” She glanced around the room. “With its power, I can fight much more efficiently.”
“Wouldn’t you have to remain in here, or something?” Adam asked while gently moving Charlotte’s icy finger away from him. “I’m not sure how Authority works, considering it doesn’t seem to be a term used in regular ol’ Phantonics.”
“Jerry was able to discuss that with me!” Charlotte cleared her throat. “It’s true that I would have to either be in an area under my Authority or have it really close to me to receive any sort of power boost. We’ve been testing out theories that could help me fight long distances away, such as creating a ‘warp point’ of sorts with your bedroom door.”
“I knew the mine had passages that shifted around. It can even connect to things outside of it, huh?” Adam scratched his chin. “How did you guys figure out it can do that—”
“Because it was able to connect to your basement.”
Adam turned upon hearing Jerry’s voice, who seemed to exit the wall—a light-blue mist fading away from where he had appeared. He chuckled, tapping the stone behind him. “I just used that entry point, in fact.”
“H-How? Wha—” Adam turned back to Charlotte.
“Your basement was actually a small distance from where it could physically enter the barrier. There was an effect occurring that caused it to merge with the mine once you entered.”
“As for what I just did,” Jerry placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Charlotte can recognize my phantonic signature, despite me not having awakened phantons. I placed my hand on your basement wall—activating the effect—and I walked right on in here! Aren’t the Ouderkirks freaking cool!?”
Adam looked back at his friend, noting something that caused him to ignore what was just explained to him.
“Hey, why do you look so exhausted?”
“Huh? Oh…” Jerry chuckled while scratching his head awkwardly, picking up a paper that was near him on the table. “I’ve been extremely busy trying to work on everything. I’m prioritizing things I need to do for school so I can get all of that out of the way. As for the mess you see in front of you…”
“He’s been helping out Brandon understand how to work his Concept,” Charlotte answered while staring at a notebook off to the side. “I’m not sure what kind of witchcraft you plan on performing with this…”
“Those are simple equations,” Jerry explained. “I’m formulating a strategy based on how his Concept reacts to certain stimuli. I…” He sighed, placing the paper back on the table after a glance. “I’m going to corner my father into telling me everything he knows. It has to be in a safe environment where I’m certain we’re not being spied on. With the electrical properties of his Concept, I’m aiming to reduce the problem of technological surveillance.”
“That… is an option?” Adam nodded, taking a peek at the notes Jerry just held. “...Oh, I see letters. Not going to even try to understand what specific shit you’re calculating when there are letters involved.”
“I can explain it for you!?” Jerry perked up—his sudden excitement proceeding to dwindle upon witnessing Adam’s cold glare. “Ah, I guess there’s not much time to do that right now.”
“Charlotte,” Adam glances over to her. “Didn’t you say you possessed people to get info out of them or something? Why not save Jerry the trouble and try it?”
“I couldn’t obtain specific info that I wanted when I tried that…” Charlotte explained. “It took me several attempts with different individuals to get what I needed. It took time since the technique is incredibly taxing on my energy reserves. I would need to lure them inside here so I have an unlimited supply of power to survey all the things in their head.”
“It’s not a good idea, regardless,” Jerry tapped on the table. “I don’t want Charlotte near any Unity tech. It can probably pick up on her quite easily. And my dad’s always surrounded by that stuff. Therein lies the problem.”
“Even before all of this began with you guys, I was aware that Unity had the means to track me. I didn’t know too many details, so I just avoided it all entirely.”
“Hmm…” Adam was deep in thought. “Jerry, are you still trying to hack Requiem’s servers? That’s what you were originally doing to get info, yeah?”
“I’ve been keeping up with it, except…” Jerry disappointingly shook his head. “I… can’t seem to get it. However! If I stay up tonight, there is something I’d like to try—”
“Forget it. Scrap the idea for now. You need sleep,” Adam pointed at him. “I don’t want you ruining your health over this.”
“I-I suppose you’re right about that—”
“I’m always right when it comes to sleep,” Adam stated firmly.
“Yes, yes,” Jerry shook his head, sighing with a light smile. “You seem to be in high spirits, at least. How’s your body feeling?”
“It still aches,” Adam motioned his arm around. “It doesn’t seem like the World Mirror has completely fixed it yet,”
“I see. That’s what I expected…” Jerry noted, walking over to one of the side tables to pick up a yellow notebook.
“Oh, a yellow one? Don’t you use those for important stuff?” Adam asked.
“Understanding this ‘World Mirror’ is extremely important!” Jerry flipped through a few pages. Taking out a pen from his pocket, he began writing frantically.
“W-Well, if you’re still not feeling 100%,” Charlotte leaned forward, poking Adam to get his attention. “Why don’t you take a bath in the hot springs?”
“...The what now?”
“That would help—indeed!” Jerry rushed over and threw the notebook onto the table next to Adam. “It’s a perfect opportunity! I can see how the water can affect someone who doesn’t have phantons!”
Adam stared at his friend for a moment, before exhaling loudly.
“Just show me.”
Steam blanketed the water-filled room. The underground hot spring wasn’t too enormous—only a couple of meters in size. Blue particles of light floated around the space, granting as much vision as possible in the mist.
Adam and Jerry were soaking in the water, leaning up against a tall stone structure that almost reached the ceiling, which seemed to cut the room in two.
“So, what are your thoughts?” Jerry asked with a satisfied grin on his face. “The phantons are capable of enhancing the properties of the water, making it better than any other hot spring. It’s ideal for someone with phantons since it can rejuvenate their bodies and help with fatigue. Most importantly, however, it can help speed up recovery from injuries.”
“How the f—” Adam shook his head, choosing to disregard the process’s technicalities for the moment. “Anyway, this kind of heat is… comforting,” He nodded, cupping his hands to fill them, proceeding to wash his face. His eyes began to glow as he peeked through his fingers. “These phantons floating around are naked to the human eye? There’s even more when I see with my power.” He glanced down into the water. “...Ah, yeah. I see tons of ‘em in there.”
“Charlotte told me she was going to use the phantons in the mine to help Brandon heal his leg. It wouldn’t have helped right away, but I believe that if we used these springs that Winona found alongside that, it could have certainly sped up the process.”
“His leg…” Adam lowered his arms back into the water. “That… person with the mask healed it for him? And, they’re the one that fixed up my basement?”
“That’s right,” Jerry answered. “Whoever Charlotte saw that night, they seemed to help us out. I wouldn’t have a clue as to their identity. The Concept that they’re using, however…”
“Fixing Brandon’s leg, fixing my basement…” Adam paused. “...They could be the one who restored the forest to its original state after Charlotte and I fought. And…” His eyes slowly widened. “T-That Concept could explain how Faye and Emma’s house—”
“I thought of that too!” Jerry almost stood up in excitement, stopping before he unveiled too much. “I-I figured that it could be the same person. As to why they’re doing these things, as to why they seem to be helping us…”
“Hmm…” Adam’s eyes widened. “I have been out of it for a week. I didn’t check my phone. Did Faye and the others try to get a hold of me at all? Shit, I should probably—”
Jerry laughed deviously. “I thought about that. No need to worry, I made sure to take measures so that they wouldn’t catch on to anything!”
“...What did you do?” Adam asked with a glare, expecting a ridiculous response.
“You know how you have an identical phone to Brandon’s now? While I was doing some testing with his Concept, I came up with something. By matching up similar technology using his electricity, we could have messages you receive go to Brandon’s phone as opposed to your own. We then send a response, having it appear like it was from your device. Therefore, we could keep tabs on people looking for you so they wouldn’t grow suspicious!”
Adam was ominously silent. Jerry began to grow nervous at the lack of a response.
“...You know,” Adam finally spoke. “Aside from the obvious legal issues with doing that kind of thing, I think that’s an invasion of my privacy.”
“N-No worries!” Jerry assured with a shaky voice. “We didn’t look into any of your personal data! Just responded to people to throw them off your tail!”
Adam shook his head. “Anyway, looping back to the topic a moment ago… What do you think about ‘Time’ as a Concept? Could that be something this person can use?”
“I considered that possibility. However...” Jerry shrugged. “That would be quite the Concept for someone to obtain. You could do so much more with that power, so why would you resort to using it on merely fixing things up after they’re damaged?”
“That’s what we’ve noticed they’ve done so far,” Adam wagged his finger. “They could already be traveling back and forth through time to change… things…” For a reason unknown to him, the topic of one time-traveling made him feel uneasy.
“Hmm…” Jerry began to brainstorm. “Hmm… Hmmmmmm… Hmmmmmmmmm…”
“Meditating, are we?” Adam snickered at his friend’s demeanor, trying to suppress the strange emotion welling up inside of him. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you so focused.”
Jerry began to swim off to the side where there was a tiny section of land with towels for the two. He got out, wrapping himself up, and ran up to the wall. “I need to look into something!”
“Huh? What about figuring out how my body reacts to this water, or whatever you wanted to do?”
“Eh, I’ll deal with that later! It was more of a ‘for the hell of it’ thing. Gotta prioritize the important areas of interest right now!” Jerry placed his hand on the wall—a shining blue light appearing which he entered, disappearing from the room.
Adam sighed, leaning back against the wall.
“You’ve been quiet this whole time, Charlotte.”
On the opposite side, Charlotte too was bathing. She was staring at her reflection in the water with a solemn expression.
“Well, I’ve been letting you two talk...” Charlotte responded. “Hey, you want to know something?”
“I’d love to know things. Especially things that would help us deal with all of this much easier.”
Charlotte sighed. “This water… I think it has to do with the phantons I connected with it using my Authority, but I can feel the heat coursing through my body.”
“You can’t feel temperature normally, right?” Adam asked. “Must be quite the weird experience.”
“I wouldn’t call it ‘weird,’” Charlotte laughed lightly while placing her hand on her chest. “It does feel… nice. To feel warmth. It might be even more refreshing to me, considering I’m naturally cold.”
“Hmm…” Adam sank lower into the water. “What do you think about the whole ‘Time’ thing? Could that be the person’s Concept? You’re the one who saw them. Everyone else was frozen in place while you two chatted, right? It’s gotta be something like that.”
“Their presence… upset me,” Charlotte admitted. “I’m not sure why I felt such dread upon seeing them. They had a strange power that completely canceled out my own. Could it be someone from my past?”
“My guess is…” Adam paused. “If they had the means to negate your almighty phanton-controlling abilities, it would have to be someone in your family, yeah?”
“There aren’t supposed to be any left, I thought?” Charlotte inquired. “Well, there’s also a possibility that they could have similar circumstances happening to them. To… answer the ‘time’ thing. Well…”
“Hmm?” Adam put his ear up against the stone wall waiting for the delayed response.
“T-They literally told me ‘time is a tricky thing’ when I questioned them. That’s the reason they couldn’t tell me anything.”
“...I get it,” Adam began to swim over to the patch of land off to the side. “Can’t mess up the timeline, right?” He chuckled, hiding the fact that he suddenly felt sick.
“Adam?” Charlotte could sense his strange behavior.
“I-I think the steam’s getting to me. Gotta get out.”
Before he could exit the bath, Charlotte had grabbed ahold of his shoulder, phasing right through the stone divider. The usual icy cold hand was, to his surprise, warm. The touch felt like it originated from a genuine human as opposed to a ghost.
“Where are you going?” She held her other arm across her chest upon realizing the action she had taken while undressed, yet remained behind him.
“I-I…” Adam was shaking—evidently noted by Charlotte. “I’m sorry…”
“What are you sorry for?”
“I…” Adam began to shake his head rapidly, holding it as if he was in pure agony. “I don’t know! I’m… I-It’s just too much to deal with! I can’t even handle an average life without trying to off myself! How in the goddamn hell did I get caught up in all of this supernatural bullshit!? I—”
Charlotte had spun Adam around, having him face her. She held his face so that he would focus on her own.
“Remember what I told you in the forest that night? I’ll be by your side. Through all of this. No matter how harsh things get, I’ll make sure things end up okay in the end.”
“...Nobody is forcing you to,” Adam shook his head. “Even if I have this World Mirror thing, don’t think that just because you’re—”
“I’m doing this cause I’m your friend!” Charlotte assured him. “Forget about my royal ties and all of that other stuff. Even if… it seemed like it was due to that, at first. It’s not…”
It suddenly dawned on Adam the situation he was currently in, physically.
“...Friends get this close to each other while naked?” He asked awkwardly.
“I-I…” Charlotte grew flustered, yet kept her hands on Adam’s face to prevent him from looking down.
“I’m not looking, don’t worry.” Adam sighed, turning back around. “In any case… thanks. I… do need to remember that I’m not alone in this nonsense.”
“That’s right…” Charlotte took a deep breath to calm herself down. “Now then. Since I’m able to stay awake now thanks to the energy from the Azurasphere, I think it’s about time…”
“Time for?” Adam asked, glancing back at her out of habit.
“We’re going to learn how to use that World Mirror of yours, of course!” Charlotte declared with excitement. At this moment, Adam realized that the steam was not enough to completely restrict his vision. He looked away upon this revelation before Charlotte noticed—surprisingly, she did not.
“Ah, I see.” was Adam’s blunt response to her answer.