The Legend of Samuel Mason
Premature, the quelling shall place,
The final battle, of the mortal race.
Subjects of Quinta, one will unite,
Hands of purity, stained with night.
Fall of the gods, the rise of man,
Child of War's final stand.
- Rolah's prophecy on Blackflame's fate
"The Legend of Samuel Mason" serves as a direct sequel to The Chronicles of Croft and focuses on humanity's final stand against The Aspects, who have decided to reign judgement in full force following the defeat of Mogul, the Aspect of Sin.
The series centres on the perspective of Samuel "The Blackflame" Mason, as he fights alongside his friends and family against an impossible genocidal threat known as The Cleansing that sent the future of Junon's son into apocalypse.
After fully regaining the memories of his past life as Decen, the Paladin of War, Sam discovers that the actions of Adam Gareth has caused the invasion to happen prematurely. This also implies that Adam's actions have caused a ripple effect, which may lead to a possibly different future. However, despite the shred of hope, Sam is haunted by the chilling prophecy that was given to him by Rolah, The Paladin of Hope, that foresees his inevitable demise in the final battle.
Follow Sam's adventures with Darkstar, the Inquisition, and humanity's defenders, as Sam's quest takes him full circle. To face his inner demons from his past as Paladin Decen, to his present as Darkstar's Blackflame. His quest will be his last, but his name will be forever, as the legend for generations to tell. The Legend of Samuel Mason. Champion of Darkstar and Acadia.
"Sam! Sam Sam Sam Sam Sam!" Bridget grabbed my sleeve as we walked down the District. Bridget wanted me to buy her a new bear, ever since the last one went up in flames (long story). "I want that one!"
We went up to a counter, with Bridget holding my hand. It felt pretty awkward, but definitely not as awkward from when I still looked like my old self, my caucasian self before I merged with Decen. At least now it didn't look like she was my little sister/daughter anymore.
You guys probably have a lot of questions, like who the hell is this guy? Who's Decen? Why do you have a little 8 year old girl clinging onto you getting you to buy her stuffed animals?
My name is Samuel Mason, and I am a reincarnation of a powerful warrior race known as the Paladins. Who I was in the past was a Paladin named Decen, who represented War. As a reincarnation I possess all of my old powers, super strength, regeneration, the works. I'm also capable of something called a soul link (which I got from absorbing a mage as Decen, not too proud of that btw), which links my soul with other beings, allowing me to draw their power. I'm currently soul linked with Bridget, who is a ghost (I'm not kidding), and Connor Shel, who served Decen as his "Sentry". I use Sentry's powers in the form of "Darkfire", which are the flames of the underworld. Ooooh! Scary huh? It's okay, I'm a really friendly person once you get to know me.
We continued walking, as Bridget dissipated into my consciousness along with Sentry. Sentry's voice boomed in the corner of my mind.
"We need to find intel on the Subjects of Quinta."
I knew that. It was part of the prophecy, the one that I still hadn't told anyone yet. What was I even supposed to say to them? That I was going to die? I couldn't burden them with that knowledge. Everybody was training so hard to prepare for the Aspects. Calliope made a really inspiring speech to everybody, but even she knew our chances were grim as it was.
Telling them I would never make it would squish whatever hopes they had left.
I looked up at the night sky, which was decorated with the lights of a newly restored District. Calliope had really outdone herself, giving the slums a complete makeover. Ever since she was free from the Corruption, she had decided to use whatever political power she had left to restore Croft and return to the Age of Light. While many people understood what she had gone through, there were still a lot of people who couldn't forgive her for what she had done, even if the person who was acting in her place was Mogul all along.
I sighed. "I got no clue where they are, Connor. Even Merrow doesn't know. And Decen doesn't have a recollection of these guys either."
Sentry grunted. "Perhaps Amana Cross may have an idea. She may not know where they are, but she might be able to come up with a plan."
He was right. Amana was the smartest person I knew. With Jason and Amana by my side, we would be able to find these Subjects in no time. But if they were really subjects of Quinta... they would have to be even stronger than the conduits who used her realms. I fought Aaron, and he pretty much gave me a run for my money as Form 4. If these guys were even stronger than Aaron...
"I'm hungry..." Bridget groaned.
"You just ate!"
"Saaaaaam can we go home?"
I guess we were heading back to Corinth. Even though it was Bridget's idea of coming here in the first place. Sentry manifested himself from my consciousness, in all his samurai badassery.
"I still haven't really figured it out completely... but Lady Rivenlight has given me a few pointers."
Sentry slashed in the air with one of his katanas, creating a portal. I didn't like our chances of survival, but it was okay. If I got severed in two, I could just regenerate. Hopefully...
I was just about to step into the portal when suddenly, something caught me in the corner of my eye. I turned around. I was just about to make the appearance of a young man, probably 18 years of age, who had slipped back into the shadows. But he was watching me. I didn't know who he was, but I felt uncomfortable. Everything in my body told me to pursue him, and that he was dangerous.
Sentry probably read my mind. "Pursuing him is unwise. We should return to Corinth."
I shook my head. "No, this guy is bad news. I don't like it. What if he harms the people here? I have to give the chase man."
"I don't recommend it, but as you wish."
The portal closed, as Sentry returned to my consciousness. I put on Wheeler's goggles, and activated Hunter's Eye. Everything around me became darker but sharper, like the contrast setting on a display being dialed to max. I could make the outline of the man as he zipped around the buildings with incredible agility. He was definitely not a human or a mage.
I ran into the alley and gave chase.
The kid was incredibly agile. He bounded building after building with flawless dexterity, each foot planted strategically so as to allow leverage to the next foothold. I was not going to be able to keep up using Sentry's or my Paladin agility.
I concentrated, Darkfire surging through my body as I assumed Form 1. Black and blue flaming jets erupted from the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet as I blasted forward.
The kid bounded through building after building on the rooftops while I soared above. Despite having the aerial advantage, the kid was outpacing me. I concentrated more of my flame for propulsion.
Something about this guy made me uncomfortable. But I had to find out why he was spying on me. Maybe he was working for some kind of hidden organization? Maybe he just had a weird fetish for me? Regardless, I had to pursue this guy before he got away.
Suddenly, the guy disappeared into an abandoned building. It looked like some kind of abandoned shop. I shot into the building and landed. Hunter's eye couldn't make out the silhouette anymore, meaning he must have found a way to mask his presence from even Sentry's sight. This was... not possible.
"Sentry, you seeing this? He disappeared."
"Tread carefully, Mason. The fact that he has escaped my eye means he might have other tricks up his sleeve."
Right on queue, a knife appeared from the shadows. I dodged, spinning the blade along the palm of my hand and redirecting it back to the attacker. Doma Martial Arts boys. The art of elegance, efficiency, and deadliness.
If the place was abandoned, it meant I was free to use my powers a bit more liberally. I opened my hand, and blasted a wide burst of flame at the source of the knife throw. The darkness lit up with blue as I saw the brief outline of the kid as he slipped past the blast, throwing more knives at my direction.
I raised my arm, which manifested Sentry's samurai armour, blocking the knives. Now was my chance. I leapt forward, grabbing the kid by the collar and slamming him to the ground. But the kid suddenly dissipated into smoke. The smoke circled me as it continued to fire blades in my direction. So this guy wasn't throwing knives at me. It was... part of him? Gross...
I knelt down, and spun in a circle, firing flames from my palms to create a wide mini-tornado of Darkfire. The heat of the flame damaged the smoke cloud, and the kid re materialized, hitting the ground.
I had to keep him from going up in smoke again.
"Sentry, keep him from smoking up!"
Suddenly, Sentry materialized, slamming the kid into the ground once more, his katanas to his throat. A bit too much, but okay.
"Try to dissipate. The next time you materialize, you won't have your head." Sentry hissed from behind his mask.
I knelt down in front of the kid. He looked young, with blonde curly hair, but his face... it was covered in scars. It was kind of nerve wrecking.
"Who are you? Why are you spying on me?"
The kid looked at me with a crazed smile.
"Blackflame, the child of war. You strive to become great, like your past self, but you will never become strong enough. Your kind shall perish, and soon, our true lords shall regain their rightful place in the cosmos."
I felt uneasy. "You didn't answer my question, pal. Who the hell are you?"
Sentry tightened the blades around his neck, but instead of being scared, the kid's crazy smile only intensified.
The next thing that kid said. It chilled me straight to the bone.
"I am Nezar, Disciple of Deimos.
"The Prime Aspect of Fate."
The Cleansing was starting early.
"So the date of the Cleansing has been pushed earlier." Lazarus muttered. All of us were grouped together in the planning room. Darkstar and Kyrael alongside her advisors.
Kyrael crossed her arms. "This doesn't look too good. We need to figure out how to get the Warpgate finished soon. I thought the Cleansing wouldn't happen until years later?"
Adam clenched his fists and struck the table. "Damn it! I must have interfered with the timeline too much. I ended up causing the Cleansing to happen earlier. I came back to prevent it! How could I let this happen!"
Junon put her arm around his shoulders. None of us said anything. The kid had it real rough. Never knew his mom, abused by his dad, lost his uncle and his sister, to go out of his way to travel back in time just to make it worse.
But at the same time, I knew exactly why it had changed. I looked at Amana, who gave me a look of caution. She knew too.
Adam went back in time and introduced himself to his mom and dad and all of us. He ended up skewing the timeline by interfering with the past. But at the same time, why wouldn't he? He had the chance of a lifetime that not many people had. He got to meet his parents, after years of living in torment. What kind of child would turn that down?
Junon looked her future kid in the eye. "Adam, nothing is set in stone. It just means we have to work that much harder. The chances of us surviving are only zero if we give up. I'm not going to leave you alone again, I promise."
Adam's panicked expression softened, but he still didn't look too convinced.
Junon turned to Lazarus. "We got you your item for the Warpgate, what else do you need?" Lazarus began to list off a bunch of things that he needed. Needless to say, they were all magical items that were heavily guarded, or from some kind of magical place. The Warpgate idea essentially planned to use some crazy spatial and reality magic to trap the Aspects into their own dimension. It was a far stretch, but since Lazarus, Paladin Hark, and Trill were working on it together, I had total faith in them.
Kyrael nodded. "Good, so Squad Junon, you know what you're expected to work on then?" Junon and Adam nodded. I was happy for her, honestly. She had her own squad and family to take care of. Back when she was in Darkstar (well she technically still is), she always struggled with trying to fit in with the rest of us, since she was unpowered. Even after receiving the Achilles Boost, she still felt more comfortable with Maven and the others. They really grew on her.
Kyrael then turned to Jason and Amana. "I take it training for you two have yielded results?" Jason grunted. "We went to the Underworld, and have managed to grow stronger, but I doubt it's enough. I'm planning on seeking council with the inhabitants there, hopefully we can add to our numbers."
Amana turned to me. "Speaking of results, I'm guessing Sam's got the most out of his little adventure."
Everybody turned to me. It felt pretty uncomfortable, but I could see why they would think that. I was literally a different person. Merged with Decen, my powers were increased drastically.
"Yeah. I'm planning on searching for a few people to aid in our cause, but I'll need help."
I explained my situation with locating the Subjects of Quinta, and what Rolah had told me. If we could unite the power of each Subject of Quinta, their power, combined with Darkstar, the Inquisition, Street Angels, and the Conduits of Quinta would be enough to pose a threat. The Subjects of Quinta themselves were powerful enough to surpass Quinta herself, so if we added them along with our ranks...
The meeting concluded as we left the planning room. I had told Amana I wanted to talk to her to discuss my plan to locate these Subjects. Well really, I just wanted to ask her to come up with one for me. I honestly had no idea where to start.
"Hey, you wanted to see me?" Amana was waiting in one of the castle conference rooms in the library. She sat down across from me. I couldn't help stare at her forearm, which was still deformed from taking the force of Corrupted Calliope's strike head on ages ago.
She caught me staring and I quickly looked away. Amana laughed. "You don't have to pretend you're not looking at my arm, Sam. I know it looks pretty gross but whatever. Serves me right for thinking I could take a hit like that head on."
I cleared my throat. "Yeah, well um. I wanted to see you because I was thinking you could help me come up with a place to start looking for these Subjects of Quinta."
Amana raised an eyebrow. "You mean you don't even know where to start?" My face turned bright red. "Hey! Look the idea is great, I just don't know how to set it to motion. Once I get the start it will be so much easier."
Amana chuckled. "I'm messing with you Sam. I can definitely help you out. Jason's been pretty preoccupied with training in the Underworld. I never found myself being too productive down there anyway. If you want, I can come with you on your journey."
I stared at her. "Wait for real? You're going to come along? That's awesome!"
Amana picked up a book and began studying the cover. "Well, you were never trusted to go alone in a mission anyway. Merrow's busy training in the Formation isn't she?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
Amana and I left the castle and walked across the Fortress, watching as everybody went about their tasks and training. I watched as Junon tried to show her boyfriend how to aim his repulser properly.
"Not too far out! The recoil will bust up your shoulder."
"Baby I know how to fire a repulser, I built this thing remember?"
"Ow! Son of a-"
Amana smirked. "Those two are perfect for each other." I chuckled. "Yeah, well, Mavus is one of a kind for sure." We kept walking. Amana put her hand around her deformed forearm, massaging it.
"So... I was thinking."
She looked hesitant for some reason. "Since Jason is your remnant, he must have a similar personality to you right?" I thought about it. What was Jason like? If I was to describe him in a sentence, I would probably say he was a lot like a burnt marshmallow. Hard on the outside, but soft and gooey on the inside. Me on the other hand, I was like a burnt marshmallow with the burnt part cut off. Soft on the outside, soft on the inside. I was a complete beta.
"I wouldn't go that far... Jason and I are pretty different."
Amana continued massaging her arm. "But theoretically, if you're Decen's reincarnate, and Jason is Decen's remnant, you both came from the same place right?"
"Then you two might think the same way about... about..."
I raised my eyebrow. "About what?"
Amana looked at me with her orange eyes. "Well, I was just thinking. With Junon being a mother at her age. I'm 27, and so is Jason. I was-"
My eyes went wide. "Whoa hold up. I'm not the man for the job Amana. I don't know jack shit about kids."
Amana rolled her eyes. "That's not what I meant. I'm saying that I'm not ready for one. It just feels too sudden. With Jason... I don't know how he feels. Since you and him are connected, I was just wondering if you've ever considered it. Maybe that would mean he has considered it too..."
I was at a loss of words. "The fu- no! Of course not! Can you imagine me with a kid? I can barely put up with Bridget, having a kid will actually break me."
"Hey!" Bridget's voice squeaked in my mind.
Amana looked relieved. "Thank god. It's just weird talking to him about it. I don't know. I just feel more comfortable having these conversations with you."
"Great." I grumbled.
We continued walking. Amana saw me sneak a peek at her forearm again. Shoot me. I couldn't help it. It looked so freaking out of place with the rest of her appearance! She was like a 9 walking around with some bent up forearm. You can't blame me for staring at it.
"I really ought to fix the sleeves to this thing." Amana played with the loose strands from the jacket that had left her forearm exposed. She never wore anything other than that jacket by the way. It was a gift to her from Jason. Real sweet. Whenever she wasn't wearing it, it was because she had it cleaned and hung to dry. It was either being worn or being cleaned. Never put away.
"Yeah well, I guess I can kind of relate. I got my arm ripped off remember? Even when I regenerated it, it hasn't been the same."
Amana smirked. "Well, at least it doesn't look deformed."
I chuckled. "But it definitely doesn't give any good memorie-"
Suddenly I collapsed. The image of Calliope torturing me. I looked down and saw my tortured body in the Capita. My arm missing, my body horrendously scarred. The clock that I stared at for a year straight.
"Sam! What's wrong?" Amana cried. She ran up to me and grabbed my shoulders as I slipped into a panic attack. My memory from my year of imprisonment replaying on loop in my mind. I screamed in fear as a huge green light from Maven's Planet Buster Beam ripped me apart.
I regained my composure as the visions faded. Just a bout of PTSD. I've been having them once in a while ever since the Corruption left my body.
"I'm fine... just had a little episode is all." I got to my feet.
"Sam I don't think this is fine. You went through a lot. I wish there was something I could do for you."
"You don't have to do that for me, Amana. Really. I think it's just something I have to learn to move on from."
Amana's concerned expression made me feel bad. I was definitely not fine. That year of imprisonment was the worst year of my life and broke me internally. The images of the Capita was horrifying, and seeing my body like that. I never felt so scared in my life.
I closed my eyes and sensed Sentry was holding Bridget, keeping her from seeing my episode.
"So what's the plan?"
Amana and I sat down on one of the benches. "The Subjects of Quinta, you've said that you don't know how to locate them, but you know about them as Decen. You mind giving me a refresher? Who is Quinta? Who are these Subjects? How are they different from normal Conduits like you and Aaron?"
I took a deep breath. I may have merged with Decen, regaining my old memories, but for some reason, I still didn't see myself as that Paladin. I still felt like me. There were occasions where I would accept the fact that he and I were one and the same, but at the end of the day, if someone were to ask me to introduce myself, "Decen" would not be the first answer I would turn to.
I told Amana all about Quinta from what I remembered. From when we were taught the Paladin Code. My time as The Paladin of War. Quinta was the Prime Aspect of Ascension, one of the most powerful Aspects in existence due to her inherent ability to ascend and evolve. To control her power, she created five realms, each realm representing a certain portion of her power, her strengths, qualities. Each realm essentially served as a source for her power. Those who could tap into the realms were known as the Conduits of Quinta. Initially, there were five conduits, who were later named the Subjects of Quinta. Each subject was a master of each realm. Over time, those who Quinta deemed worthy were given the privilege to wield the power from the realms.
At some point, the other Aspects saw Quinta's subjects as a threat. Because together, when banded as one force, the subjects surpassed even their queen. The Aspects staged a coup to take down Quinta and trap each subject into their respective realms.
What happened afterward was that Quinta was slain by Mogul, who assumed the place of Prime Aspect. Each subject segregated themselves, going into self isolation from grief over the death of their Queen. To this day, no one knows where they are, but some have speculated they had remained in their realms. Never to be seen again.
By the time I finished my story, the sky was already turning dark. Amana's orange eyes looked like they were glowing.
"These Subjects... they're like the rulers of the realms. While conduits are those who serve it basically."
I nodded. "We need to find these Subjects and convince them to help."
Amana looked troubled. "I don't think it will be that easy. For one thing, we'll need to find a way into the realms. I know it's easy for you to enter the Restoration Force. But the other realms? I know Aaron can go into the Power Force. But that's just two of the five. Aaron doesn't seem like the convincing type either."
"So basically we need to find a way to enter these realms ourselves."
We sat in silence, watching as several hunting parties returned from their journey. Amana looked at me and studied my face.
"Um... yeah I know. That's kind of how it works."
"That's not what I meant."
I stared at her. "What do you mean?"
She looked away. "You've accepted your past as Decen, merged with him. Even your appearance is no longer the same, and sometimes the way you talk, it's almost like you're a completely different person.
"I know it sounds wrong, but. Whenever it happens, it makes me think that the Samuel Mason I knew, Darkstar's Samuel Mason is gone."
I stared at my regenerated hand. The birthmark that I had on my hand was now gone, replaced by a new body. Even though I still had all my memories, it felt like I would never return to who I was. She had a point. Everything was so different now. Before I knew about my origins, I always saw Jason as my mentor. He was the big brother everybody needed, and he was my hero. Yeah it sounds lame, but he was just so badass. I remembered when I used to get frustrated because I couldn't do anything. Before the Darkfire, when I would be expected to "hold off the little guys" while Tob and Jason did everything.
Now whenever I think of Jason, I see him as a remnant. My remnant. I don't know what to think of him anymore. I still respect him for everything. But he was me. A portion of me. How could things ever go back to the way they were before?
I looked at Amana. She hadn't changed one bit. Her long flowing hair, streaked silver at the ends. Her warm and approachable personality. She was like the big sister I never had, and come to think of it, she was to Samuel Mason, as Merrow was to Decen.
Amana's radiating orange eyes filled me with a sense of warmth. "I'm sorry, it was wrong of me to say these things."
"It's cool. You're right, I'm no longer the same guy you knew."
"And that's okay."
I stared at her. "What?"
"I'm saying it's okay. You may look different, and your memories may have returned. But I will always remember you as Samuel Mason. Our Blackflame. But the choice is yours, I don't mind if you want to live your life as Decen, or Samuel, or anybody. I'll respect your decision and walk by your side."
I smiled. "I've spent a good deal of my new life as Blackflame. Then I'll call myself Blackflame. My past life as Decen is just what it is. The past. Who I am now, is Samuel Mason. Let's keep it that way."
Amana wrapped me in a hug. I'd never really been in many hugs before, so being in one never felt too great. But when it came to Amana, it felt natural.
Child of War's final stand. The prophecy rang in my head. Amana had lost me once to the Corruption. How could I tell her I wasn't going to make it out of this final war alive? How could I do something so cruel?
"Celestia" I said.
Amana looked at me at the breakfast table alongside Dennis and Tob. We were the only ones here today because everybody else was off training or questing.
"Who is she? Was she a friend of yours?" Amana asked.
I shook my head. "Not exactly, but she was one of my friend's guardians. She was Jonna's Guardian after she was slain. Celestia was one of a kind in that she was able to transport beings to different places, even dimensions. If we get her help, we might be able to go to the other energy realms. And even if we can't she might have some knowledge as to where we can find someone who knows more about Quinta."
Amana pursed her lips. "Do you know where she is?"
"That's the problem." Tob replied. He stuffed the entire breakfast sandwich into his mouth, then gulped it down. "Celestia isn't in this universe. Lazarus and I checked."
Amana's eyes narrowed. "Which universe is she in exactly?"
Tob and I exchanged looks. "Ours."
The next day, Amana and I packed our bags and were ready to head out to the dimensional gate that Lazarus and Calliope made together. Lazarus gave me a nod while Amana called Jason.
"Hey John, I'm going to be heading to another universe with Sam, be safe for me, okay?"
Jason smiled. "Ditto. Keep Sam from doing stupid stuff. I won't be around to pull him out of danger, I trust you'll be able to handle him."
Amana laughed. "I love you."
"Love you too. Talk soon."
Calliope gave me a nod of encouragement. "Good luck. Let us know when you can return, and we will warp you back. Be careful!"
Amana and I walked through the portal, and everything became warped as we were sent hurtling to our own dimension. The dimension where it all started, where Darkstar was first created. Samuel's home. My home.
"Wow..." Amana muttered.
Wow was right. The place had changed so much. Civilization partly rebuilt, but almost like a ghost town. The "sky beasts", really the infernals and soul beasts that had invaded our home did a real number on humanity. It was like a massive portion of our people were wiped out, and only a few were left to rebuild. Despite this, they had done their best to return to normal.
We continued walking, and Amana stifled a sob.
I looked at where Amana had stopped, it was a charred corpse. We were outside of her home. Benedict Cross. Amana's father who had turned into an infernal and tried to kill her. When she had been cornered, Amana was unable to put him out of his misery. She had to live with the guilt that her father had to live the rest of his life as a monster trying to kill his own daughter.
It wasn't until Jason had slain him did he finally become free. Amana had finally become free.
We knelt down to the corpse, which was essentially just a burnt skeleton at this point. Amana stared at her late father, tears streaming down her face.
"Dad, I'm here. I'm back... If you can hear me, wherever you are. I want to let you know I'm okay. I'm... I'm doing good. I miss you so much." She began to cry as I put my arm around her. This was beyond heavy. That aviator jacket that Amana always wore, it belonged to Benedict. It reminded her not just of her boyfriend, but also her father.
Amana sniffled. "Yes?"
"Let's bury him. We should honour him."
She wiped her eyes and nodded. I lifted the corpse as the two of us went up to a hill. The hill had a lot of meaning to her. We reached the spot and Amana manifested her flaming red fox tail, which slammed into the ground, creating a grave.
I gently laid the body into the grave as Amana buried her father.
"When I was little, Dad used to take me up here to read books..." Amana muttered.
"He and Mom were both doctors, but despite that, I didn't want to be one. I loved plants and botany. My mom didn't like that I was pursuing a career that had so little job outlook, but my Dad supported me.
"Every week he would take me up to this hill and read to me, telling me I was free to choose whatever path I want. My family ties were not shackles.
"Family isn't to hold you back, it's to support you."
The sky became dark, and it began to rain. I looked at Amana, who was standing and staring at her father's grave, her long black and silver hair plastered all over her face. Amana's aviator jacket was shiny from the rain, and her red tail lit up the scene with a warm glow, illuminating the gravestone of Benedict Cross.
I said nothing. There was nothing to be said. I had experienced so much loss as Decen, that I knew what it was like. She didn't need someone to say "I'm so sorry" or "You have my condolences". She just needed someone to be there for her. To show her that she wasn't alone. I stood with Amana as the rain continued.
We stayed in Amana's ruined house, which was still ravaged from when her father had transformed. I slept on the floor, using my nano weave jacket as a pillow. The jacket had really been busted up, but was since fully restored by Aaron's girlfriend.
I closed my eyes and began to dream.
"So Decen, you got a girlfriend?"
"That's funny, but I don't remember asking you for love advice," I replied.
I was sitting on the dock, lying on a beach chair. I looked at my arms, which were twigs. Yup, I was looking at my old memories as Decen. I remembered this scene all too well.
Merrow crossed her arms, propping them up on the side of the dock in her mermaid form. Her green hair was frizzy. She was definitely younger, probably in her early twenties. As for me, I would guess I was around 19.
"Why not?" She asked.
I cracked my knuckles. "Waste of time. Couldn't care less. Having a girlfriend is weakness."
Merrow chuckled. "That's something a guy who has never kissed a girl would say."
"What's your point, fish girl?"
Merrow leaned forward, splashing the water with her tail. "I think if you met a girl you liked, you'll understand the importance of emotional strength."
I laughed. "Haha, yeah right. The power of love triumphs all. That's straight bullshit you hear from those high school movies. This is real life. All that matters is strength. Everything else is extra."
"Do you really think that?" Merrow regarded me with those green eyes.
Even now, I thought about what Merrow had asked me so long ago. The importance of emotional strength. Truth be told, I never ever had a girlfriend. I never told Merrow as Decen, and I never told her now, as Samuel Mason. All those times ago, it wasn't because I found it a weakness. That wasn't it. I just couldn't see the appeal I had to other girls, because all I was back then was a self-centred kid who's only goal was to become the best. At whatever the cost.
I knew that I was toxic and that I was never a good person. But instead of working to improve myself, I accepted it. I put on a facade that I didn't need anyone, but in reality, I did. I needed someone so bad, but I was in denial for so long, that it slowly became engraved in my personality.
Strength above everything else. That was the code I lived by for so long.
There were more important things at stake than my life. Maybe if I got out of this alive, maybe if the prophecy had a loophole... maybe.
Amana drove me to the university where I had attended. The university had enough lab technology for her to utilize the located gem that Lazarus and Mavus made for us in locating Celestia. The car looked pretty scuffed, but at least it still worked.
"This place... it's hardly recognizable." Amana muttered.
I looked outside the window. Buildings in ruins, houses in shambles. Shops closed and windows were smashed in. It was hard to believe anyone had survived this. We hadn't seen a single person during the ride so far.
"Let's just hope this journey is worth it."
Amana continued driving. "Do you know this Deimos person? You mentioned he was a Prime Aspect too. How many Prime Aspects are there?"
I played with the sleeves of my jacket. "There's two Prime Aspects. I don't know who this Deimos guy is, but he's apparently The Prime Aspect of Fate according to his disciple."
We made a left turn, and continued driving down a highway, flanked by ruined forestry. Amana didn't look too thrilled seeing all the plants around her in cinders. Her knuckles were white on the steering wheel.
"My lab is probably destroyed." Amana took a deep breath. "So, Sam, did you make any friends in college?"
"Not really. But there was this one girl-"
"Oh?" Amana smirked. Great. Here comes the humiliation.
"It's not like that. We were just classmates. She was nice to me though, and offered to help me out in schoolwork."
"Suuuuure" Amana joked. "Just a friend. The occasional study session at her house?"
I scrunched my nose. "I don't have friends, aside from Tob in college. Whenever I made friends, we would never talk again after the term ended. No one seemed to like making long lasting relationships with me."
We made another turn. "It's okay, Sam. Everybody takes it one step at a time. No need to rush things. When I was your age, I didn't have many friends either. It was only once I started working with my colleagues in my research group did we become closer. Even so, it was hard pressed to say we would make long lasting relationships."
I could make out the faint outline of the buildings. They were all horrendously demolished. I could only hope the lab equipment there would be enough to power the device. I did find it strange. I mean, even if humanity was torn down, there were still survivors. If even after so long they had not rebuilt... did that mean the soul beasts were still around?
Amana must had been thinking the same thing. "It is kind of strange, that we haven't rebuilt yet. We may have sealed the tears, but that didn't mean the soul beasts had just disappeared. We should have stayed behind."
"Nothing we can do now. We had a mission to save Croft. If we defeated Ariandal, the infernals would leave, remember?"
"I know, but still. You can see why I would think that. Maybe the infernals are still-"
Before she could finish her sentence, a huge shadow zoomed onto the roof of the car with a massive THUD.
"What the hell?" Amana exclaimed.
I looked from the mirror and found the outline of a bat-like creature, with green flames and claws. An infernal. God, dammit.
"A freaking infernal. Keep driving, I'll pull it off."
I opened the door and activated my Darkfire, flying to the roof, meeting the infernal head on. It had been almost forever since I fought one of these things. I remembered holding off the little guys while I watched Jason and Tob handling these monsters. From its eyes, I saw the reflection of a man. It looked like Jason, the back of the jacket brandishing in the wind, the close cropped hair. Sentry's samurai plating cladding the left arm, shrouded in black flames.
I blinked again, and saw my own reflection. My close cropped hair and Wheeler's goggles covering my eyes. The sleeves of my nano weave jacket concealed into a sleeveless mode due to the hot weather. From the reflection, I looked just like Jason, with the addition of the goggles.
The monster hissed at me and swiped, but I dodged, slipping my elbow under the claw and punching the monster square in the face. The infernal stumbled backwards. It felt nostalgic, but at the same time, different.
Facing this monster again after so long, I was reminded of how much I had grown. I was no longer that kid with a curse. That guy who watched as his teammates did everything. I had grown strong enough to not just fend for myself, but also fight for others. To have others depend on me and having the confidence to say that
Everything is going to be okay.
The monster swiped again, but I caught the strike with Sentry's plating. The Infernal opened its horrendous mouth, screaming and snarling at me in all its disgusting glory. It was trying to scare me.
"Hey Sentry, lend me some of your badassery."
"It shall be done."
My flames became stronger, blue highlights arcing from my body as I revealed the full power of Form 1. The presence of Sentry in all his horrific badass glory, towering over the monster. Two white pupils emerging from the torrent of black flames just like how Jason had terrified his enemies. But this also had a hint of me in it too.
I smiled, and an eerie mouth with spiked teeth glowed alongside the white pupils.
The infernal stopped hissing at me, and backed off in terror.
I shot in with immense speed and opened the palm of my hand. The infernal disappeared in a massive black explosion.
I returned to my seat. Amana gave me an eye roll. "You done showing off?"
I chuckled. "Come on, it's been ages since I fought those guys. Gimme a break!"
Amana laughed. The first laugh I had heard since burying Benedict. Seeing her return to her usual self made me happy.
We reached the building, well, whatever was left of it. As it looked, it was a bit hard pressed to call it a building anymore. It was 45 percent rubble at this point.
"This place, the chances for any equipment to still be functional is going to be grim." Amana picked up a piece of rubble.
I activated Hunter's Eye, and my vision went dark, illuminating several soul beasts lurking within the ruins.
"Yeah, couple of soul beasts in the building. Should we eliminate them first?"
Amana shook her head. "No, we'll risk damaging any equipment that's still operational. I'll go inside to check, maybe you can draw them out? Make a big commotion."
"Be careful." Amana gave me a thumbs up as I stepped back. I clutched my wrist and prepared a flame. I aimed upwards and fired a huge black and blue burst of Darkfire, illuminating the surroundings with an ethereal blue.
The roars of the soul beasts broke the silence, and Hunter's Eye picked up the monsters emerging from the rubble, their eyes locked onto my position. I leapt backwards as I faced the horde. Amana slipped past them and went inside.
The soul beasts glared at me hungrily, their primal eyes eyeing me like their next snack. Oh man, the nostalgia. I had to savour this.
"Who's first? Just be warned, this snack has a real kick to it."
The first soul beast bounded at me, but I kicked it with immense force. The monster hit the pavement and went limp, disintegrating into dust. The other beasts didn't see that as a warning, and suddenly, they all charged.
I utilized Doma Martial arts to smack the living crap out of all the monsters. Not a single burst of Darkfire emerged as I fought them with my bare hands, just like the good old days. Within the span of forty seconds, I was surrounded by a bunch of soul beast dust.
"Okay, Amana! They're dead! How are you doing with the equipment?"
"I'm still looking, give me a few minutes!" Amana shouted back.
I sat on the hood of our car when suddenly, an object was thrown at me. I caught it instinctively, inspecting it. What the hell is this thing? I looked closer, and noticed the engravings. A smoke grenade.
The projectile exploded, obstructing my vision. I activated Hunter's Eye and made out several people who emerged from several ruins. They all had a bunch of guns and knives, aimed at me. The person who threw the object shouted at me.
"Hands in the air! Who are you? Why are you here?" She shouted.
I was only able to make out her outline, but judging from the way she threw that ball... she knew how to pitch.
"We're here to borrow some equipment, we mean no harm." I shouted back.
Before I could do anything, one of the guys fired a dart. I instinctively dodged, and suddenly everybody began shooting at me. I summoned Sentry's armour and shielded the bullets, then shot into the air, sending my attackers back from the Darkfire shockwave. I landed at the top of a building and made out the people.
Ten in total, all armed with guns and knives. The girl who had thrown that smoke bomb... no way.
"Amber?" I muttered.
Amber gave me a confused look. "How do you know who I am?"
Suddenly, some guy stood in front of her. "Get back, babe. This guy is dangerous. He's definitely not human, probably another sky beast. Scum like them coming up with new surprises every day."
Babe? I looked at the dude and he had his fade combed to the side. He looked like one of this damn nice guys who somehow manages to get a date. He was bulky, maybe around the same mass as me. Annoying face. Annoying personality. Annoying hair. And jacked.
Kenneth Lee. This dude was the biggest nice guy in my year. I didn't know if I should have been enraged or confused as to how he ended up with some like Amber.
Asian White Knight stepped forward and aimed his gun at me. "You're clearly not human. Why don't you go back to wherever the hell you came from and leave us alone?"
My blood boiled. This guy... he was trying to threaten me to impress Amber. I leapt from the building onto the ground. The other guys aimed their guns at me, including Amber.
"Mason, engaging these humans should not be our priority. We only need to locate Celestia." Sentry's voice boomed in my head.
"I know. But I need to keep these guys occupied. Amana is still busy with the equipment."
Kenneth aimed the barrel at my head. "What'll it be, Chronicles of Riddick? Going silent mode on me now?"
I shot forward and grabbed the barrel to his gun, crushing it in my grip and ripping it out of his hands.
"Ken!" Amber shouted. The other guys began firing at me as I took the hits head on. They hurt like hell, but I had felt pain before. I continued standing as the party unloaded everything at me until they ran out of bullets.
I regenerated, not just my body, but my clothes, my body pulsating with red energy from the Restoration Force.
"Oh shit..." One of the guys whispered, his eyes wide.
I turned around to check on Amana with Hunter's Eye. Amana had reached the operations room, and was trying to get the equipment to work. She probably heard the commotion and decided it was best to lay low.
I looked back at the group, and one of them threw a flash bang at my face. My eyes were blinded as I grunted and stumbled back. A couple of other guys closed in and began slashing at me with their knives. I tanked all the hits until my vision returned, and jolted a wave of restrained Darkfire at them, sending them back.
The only two standing were Amber and Kenneth. Kenneth putting distance between us.
"It's okay babe. I'll protect you. This guy will have to get through me fir-"
I shut him up by closing in instantly, kneeing him in the gut. Captain White Knight hit the ground, groaning in pain.
Amber tried to run to him, but I shot her a glare through Wheeler's goggles. The only thing Ken got right was my appearance. I did kind of look like Riddick, heh.
Amber drew her knife and a grenade. "What do you want?"
What do you want. I remembered those words before. When I honestly thought that I had a chance with her, I wanted to ask her out what seemed like ages ago, but she was already taken. Her boyfriend went up to me and pushed me to the ground. What do you want, he said. I was scrawny, and weak. I couldn't do jack shit to that guy.
I was about to say something when suddenly, Amana appeared out of nowhere.
"Stop! We come in peace, well mostly."
Amber stared at Amana, her grenade hand shaking. "Don't make me use this... I'll... I'll blow everybody up!"
Amana suddenly manifested her red fox tail, swiping both the knife and the grenade from her hand. "If we came to harm you guys, we would have killed you all by now. You just witnessed him defeat a bunch of soul beasts didn't you?"
"Babe... are you... alright..." Kenneth groaned from the ground. Amber slowly calmed down. "What do you two want."
Amana looked at her. "We're here to borrow some equipment. We're from somewhere else, looking for someone named Celestia. We just came to borrow some equipment, that's all. I'm really sorry for the damage we did to your guys. My name is Amana Cross."
Amber shook her hand hesitantly. "I'm Amber Johnson. Kenneth and I are part of what's left of the people here. Look, we need to go, I'll take you two to the hideout before more sky beasts come. The sound of that fight with... sorry who are you?"
I looked at Amana, who tilted her head. I turned back to Amber.
Amber extended her hand, but I didn't take it. I hesitated. It felt too weird seeing Amber again. I didn't feel like shaking her hand after all the emotional damage she did to me when I was still in her classes.
Amber awkwardly retracted her hand. "Well, regardless, Amana and Blackflame, let's get going. The fight definitely alerted a bunch of sky beasts. We need to get everybody back to safety. Can you guys stand?"
The others managed to regain their composure, looking at me like I was the most frightening thing ever. Amana and I followed Amber and the survivors back to their hideout.
I didn't want to take off Wheeler's Goggles. Amana probably read my body language, because she didn't mention my name at all while we were being introduced to the hideout.
"This is where you two are going to stay," Amber pointed at a room. It looked so scuffed that the floor seemed more appealing than the mattresses.
"Is this a prison cell?" I asked. One of the guys snickered.
Amber turned to me. "For the time being, we still don't know if you guys are on our side or not."
Amana went inside while the others continued eyeing me with their assault rifles.
"Leave us." Amber told the squad. The other guys left, leaving Amber and I alone.
"You're not human are you." Amber asked. Her hand was itching to her gun, but she probably knew it wasn't going to do much against me.
"I'm a warrior from another place. I'm just here to search for somebody, and I'll be out of your hair. Don't worry about it, we won't do any harm to what you guys have here."
Amber eyed me with those critical eyes she always had. "Your voice."
I raised my eyebrow. "I'm sorry?"
Amber cleared her throat. "My bad, that was rude. It's just you sound a lot like someone I used to know."
"I'll bet." I grumbled.
Amber turned to the hideout. It looked like one of those refugee camps you would see in those apocalyptic movies. I guess it kind of made sense. These soul beasts could not be killed with normal military warfare. The only options we had was to run or die.
"This place, it's all we got left for the survivors of the University. Here, we are safe from the sky beasts, or so we thought. At this point, we're slowly dying out. Their numbers aren't as bad as when they first arrived, it looks like their numbers have plateaued. But the occasional sky beast has gotten through our defences before. It took us forever to drive it out."
I didn't say anything. These guys had it rough too. Imagine being on the run for this long, just to watch your friends and family die one by one. I can see why everybody here hardened up.
Amber turned to me. "You're the first person I've ever seen to have successfully killed a sky beast. Much less with your bare hands. I was just wondering if you had any plans to stay to help us clear them out."
I cracked my knuckles. I've started developing the habit of cracking my knuckles ever since merging with Decen. He always liked to do that. Edgy, I know.
"I wish I could stay, but I got my own battle to fight at home. I'm sorry. I can try to help you guys out for a little longer, but I can't stay."
Amber looked disappointed. But she noticed me looking and quickly put on her brave face again. "It's fine. But the least you can do is to accompany us on another hunt. We're low on supplies, and you injured our men."
I spent the night in the prison cell. Amana was fast asleep on the ground. I made a cushion with my jacket and put my head in my hands. Why was I being so distant to Amber? Why couldn't I just tell her who I was? The past was the past, wasn't it? Was I just deluding myself? Here I was preaching that I needed to move on to Amana, and I couldn't even look my crush in the eye. I was a hypocrite.
Bridget manifested and sat on the ground, criss crossed.
"I'm hungry." She pouted.
"Not now." I grumbled.
"Oh my god! Fine!"
I dug out the last of my rations and gave it to her. Bridget giggled and took the bread. "Thanks!"
"Ugh. Don't eat too fast or you'll choke!"
"Okaaaaaay..." Bridget proceeded to eat the whole ration in one gulp.
Sentry also manifested himself, which was a surprise. He rarely did that.
"Self loathing will not aid you in your path to development, young master."
I looked at the towering samurai. "Thanks man. Definitely needed that."
Sentry kneeled on the ground, samurai style. He put his hands on his knees and looked at me through his mask, which reminded me of Jason.
"You love this girl. I can sense your emotions."
"Dude... did the Doma not teach you boundaries?"
"You are my master, Mason. It is my duty to watch over you. Your feelings hinder your technique and your health."
I leaned back, staring at the wall. There was graffiti all over it.
HARRY AND MELISSA, XOXO 2015
RESPOND TO THIS TO INSTANTLY DIE!!!! XDXDXD
Underneath the writing, was another note.
WTF IT DIDN'T WORK
"She's with Kenneth. There's not much I can do."
"So you wish to keep your identity a secret?"
I thought about it. Then it hit me. This same exact scenario happened to Jason too. We kept his identity as the real John Crypt a secret to Junon, and what happened? She nearly got herself killed from Plyth because she was overwhelmed.
"No... but I need to find a right time to tell her."
Sentry inspected his blade. "I have served you when you were Decen, and even back then, you had a hard time expressing your feelings."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh god, don't bring that up. I was such an edge lord back then."
Sentry began to wipe the blade with his cloth. "And why do you think that is the case? My mother taught me that the secret to becoming one with the Doma way was to not cast aside your feelings, but to embrace them. Only then will you achieve true peace."
I watched as Bridget took a sudden interest in drawing on the walls. She found a piece of rock and began drawing on the wall, scraping it and filing it with a bunch of doodles.
"I don't know. Look, does it really matter? I'm gonna die anyway."
Sentry was silent for a few seconds. "You should enjoy the last moments of your life because it will be your greatest, young master. You don't have much to lose, so why not just tell her?"
I realized my hands were shaking.
"I can't!" I whispered fiercely. Everything was coming out, even things I never knew I felt.
"I'm messed up, Connor. Look at me. After everything I have done to change my life, I'm back here again. I'm back to where it started, I'm an outcast, and now I'm going to die knowing I don't have anyone!"
Sentry leaned forward. "You are not alone, young mast-"
"Stop calling me that! I don't want to be your master! I never wanted this. I don't want to look after Bridget, or die some stupid ass noble death! I just wanted to be a great hero, who could save people and have a wild goofy grin on my face. I just wanted to have some worth while also living my life with no regrets. Samuel Mason, Darkstar's Blackflame. The one man army everybody looked up to, to kick the bad guy's ass as I would sign autographs and have some self worth. That was what I wanted!"
I felt tears stream down my face. So that was it. I wasn't the hero everybody thought I was. Not that noble, dependable guy with a pure heart. I have no idea why Rolah would think I was. Because I wasn't.
"You're upset that Amber loves another. To cope with it, you buried the feelings deep inside and took on another persona. One that only cared about being a hero, who's self worth was dictated by his aspiring fans." Sentry replied.
I wiped my eyes. "Yeah. Not much a pure paladin I am, right?"
Sentry put his hand on my shoulder.
"No Paladin is pure. In fact, no hero is pure. My time in Millennium City, I have not once met a pure hero. Each person has a flaw. You have a flaw, I have a flaw. Jason and Amana both have flaws. What matters is what you do with it. Will you let it consume you? Or will you accept it and learn to become a better person knowing you aren't perfect?"
Bridget ran up to me.
"Sam! Look! A moose!"
I looked at the drawing of a grotesque animal with devil horns sticking out of the side. I couldn't help but laugh.
"Don't laugh!" Bridget frowned. "I'm kind of sleepy."
Sentry watched as I picked up Bridget and stroked her hair. She fell asleep instantly in my arms. "You may not be pure, but you have become better. The Decen I knew would never be good with children."
I smirked. "Never said I was."
Sentry responded. "And here you are, looking after an orphaned child, who was abandoned by everyone. You have what Decen never had in the past.
"Compassion. One of the core components of a hero."
Amana obliterated an entire pack of soul beasts in one swipe of her tail. Within seconds, the monsters were reduced to dust.
"That's... amazing." Amber muttered. A bunch of guys in her squad were dumbfounded.
We were on a hunt to clear out the soul beasts in the University. I fired a huge flare that would attract the monsters within the vicinity while Amana handled the asskicking. So far, over 80% of the monsters were slain.
Before we could celebrate, a roar erupted from the other side of the campus. A huge bounding gigantic infernal stormed the pathways, wielding broken pieces of a nearby library as a club. The monster roared at us and began bounding to our direction, green flames emitting from its beard and chest hairs.
"What the hell?! Did anybody get grenades?" One of our guys yelped.
"Grenades won't do shit on that guy! Run!"
Amber stopped the party dead in their tracks. "Cool it. Let them handle it."
Amana stepped forward and swiped at the air, deflecting all the rocks that came our way, blasting them into rubble from a wave of red flames. She bounded forward, facing the monster head on.
"Yo Riddick, you ain't gonna help her? I thought you were a man." Ken elbowed me.
"There's no need, this monster is child's play for Amana." I replied.
The monster roared at Amana, and tried to swing the building at her, but Amana severed the club in two. She launched herself forward, grabbing the monster by the neck with her tail, and slammed it into the ground, creating a massive shockwave.
Everybody was in awe, including Amber. "She's... so strong. It's not natural."
I continued watching silently as Amana launched into the air, powering up her fox tail, the hard light construct growing in size. She slammed the monster straight into the face with a powerful downward swipe. The infernal dissipated into green flames.
Amana's tail dissipated as she approached us. "Anyone hurt?"
Kenneth suddenly became really friendly, approaching her. "Damn! You're one hell of a warrior. Having you on our team is going to turn the tide for sure. You're probably the strongest person on this planet! No one's got shit on you!"
Amana laughed. "I appreciate the compliments, but I'm not that strong. If I was, our place wouldn't be in danger."
Ken patted her back, which made my blood boil. "Don't say that! You're amazing. If I wasn't with Amber, I would definitely have gone for you."
I clenched my fist. He was lucky I hadn't taken off Wheeler's Goggles, otherwise my expression would definitely have scared everybody off. "Steady yourself, Mason." Sentry's voice boomed in my head. I took a few breaths and calmed myself down.
Amana walked to my side and smirked. "Well, actually, Blackflame here is even stronger than me. Maybe you should shoot your shot with him?"
Ken went silent.
We arrived back to the hideout, where Amber's squad branched off. Amana was by my side the entire time. Amber looked at us. "So you two are definitely not from this world. If you two were, this whole sky beast thing would have been over."
Amana nodded. "We're from another world. Where we are from, there's a bunch of really bad people who are even stronger than the both of us threatening to destroy us all. We've been preparing and searching for help. The being we're looking for, Celestia, is apparently in this dimension."
Amber sighed. "Well, things have already gotten crazy, so I guess I probably might as well believe that too. You got her location?"
I cracked my fingers. "Nope. The device didn't reveal anything. It's bust. We'll have to search for Celestia a different way."
Amber shook her head. "That's too bad. Thank you both, for helping us with the hunt today. Thanks to you two, we're making strides to restore our community."
"Don't mention it" Amana smiled.
I continued playing with my fingers. I felt nervous.
"Is something wrong, Blackflame?" Amber asked.
"Do you have a minute?" I asked her. I needed to tell her. If I kept it a secret any longer, the more damage it will do.
Amana picked it up fast, as usual. "I'll be in the quarters. I'll catch up to you later, Blackflame." She waved us goodbye.
Amber sensed the seriousness in my tone. "Yeah. Come with me, we can talk in private."
"What's up?" Amber sat on a bench in a room that was secluded from everybody else. I guess this was her room.
I looked at the pictures she had hanging on the wall, avoiding the ones that had Ken on them. She still had pictures of our class, the friend circle she was always with. Something caught my eye. One picture in the wall. She was with two people. One was our old group member, and the other one... long brown hair, depressed forced smile. Samuel Mason.
She saw me staring at the picture and took it. "Yeah, this is an old photo of a few friends of mine. They're..." Her voice broke. I looked down. This was probably hard for her to talk about.
"What happened to them?" I asked.
Amber put the picture back. "The guy on the left, his name was Hussain. He was killed by a sky beast. Taken away. I watched him as he was grabbed and thrown into the air." Her hands began shaking. She continued.
"I have no idea what happened to the other one. He wasn't present the day we were to show up to receive our project award. No one knows what happened to him."
I knew. I didn't show up because it was that day when I realized she was dating. Stupid old me, getting mad over something like that. I stayed at home along with my buddy Tob, who also skipped because he overslept. Instead of going to that ceremony, I went to the gym. That was when I met Jason falling from the sky.
I asked cautiously. "What was he to you?"
Amber looked up. "Sam was... misunderstood. He was going through stuff that I just didn't know what to say or do to make him feel better. I was honestly too scared that whatever I did would make him angry. He scared me in the sense that he was just so unstable, but his heart was good. I knew that. But... it's like... it's like..."
"He was trying to pretend to be okay, when he wasn't. The effort ended up cracking him."
Amber looked up. "You're really perceptive. How did you-"
I took off Wheeler's Goggles and looked her in the eye. She wasn't able to make out my appearance at first, since my facial structure had changed from merging with Decen, but I was still very much Samuel Mason in many regards.
Amber's face went from surprise, to curiosity, to horror, to shock. "You're... you're..." Amber whispered.
I managed a smile. "It's been a while, Amber."
"What happened to you?" Amber had her hands over her mouth. "You're... like a different person."
"It's a long story" I knelt down in front of her. Wheeler's goggles felt cold against my neck, and I realized that I was sweaty from nervousness.
Amber was still in shock, her eyes welling up in tears.
"I need to find Celestia and save my friends. Our future is at stake from the Aspects. This is my life now." I looked at the photos lining her wall. There was no reason to be here, other than to provide her closure on what had happened to me all this time. The more I looked at the photos, the more I was reminded that Amber already had a life now. She had a boyfriend, who, despite being annoying, loved her. Friends and family here who depended on her.
Amber took the picture of us and held it in her hand, then looked at me like she was comparing the differences.
"Yeah, it's from the soul link."
I held out my hand, and a burst of Darkfire flame manifested. The room was lit up blue as the flame arced across my arm, manifesting Sentry's samurai armouring.
"It's used by mages to call the power from other beings."
Amber looked pretty lost. I didn't blame her. She leaned forward, looking at the flame. Her face lit up blue in the dark room.
"So pretty." She murmured.
"Haha, yeah. I guess it kind of is."
We made eye contact for a bit too long. Amber looked away.
"Well, now that you're alive, and we're here, you thinking about visiting once in a while once your quest is over?"
I looked down, extinguishing the flame, Sentry's armouring dissipating in a flurry of blue sparks and black fire.
"I'm not coming back, Amber."
She looked like she got stabbed in the back. I felt bad.
"I... I understand. But, the people here could use a protector. There's not a lot of people I know left, I just kind of thought maybe you had time-"
"I'm not coming back."
Amber looked devastated. "At least consider?"
She took my arm. Her touch felt like a jolt of power, almost like whenever I powered up to Form 5.
"The people here are really friendly, we could make it work somehow. I know they'll respect you once you save them a bit. Please."
I felt like tearing up. When I first heard of the prophecy, I didn't really feel anything. I died, so what. At least I saved everybody. But now that I was reminded of it again, after being face to face with my dark demons.
It hit different.
"I got a prophecy, about the war with the Aspects. It's been correct so far."
"Yeah." I replied.
Amber looked at me with the same concerning eyes whenever I flipped out in school. I suddenly noticed the parallel with Jason's past with Junon. I guess giving girls a hard time was a Decen thing.
"This prophecy, does it say you win the war?"
"Then... then that's great! You can still come by and visit, maybe we can go on hunts, maybe we could-"
"I don't make it."
Amber's smile melted. "What... what do you mean?"
I couldn't look her in the eyes. "I don't survive this war, Amber. There's no future for me here. I'm sorry."
Amber's hand slid off of my arm as she stared at me, devastated.
I saw my reflection in Amber's mirror. In the barely lit room, I was shrouded in shadows. It made what I had just said sound much worse than it was.
Before Amber could say anything, the place shook from a massive explosion and tons of people screaming.
One of the guys entered her room. "Amber! Our guys are going crazy! They're shooting up everything, I don't know what's gotten into them."
We rushed out, Amber grabbing her handgun. A couple of guys were going absolutely insane, firing their assault rifles at random people. Men, women, children. Whoever they saw they shot. Amber aimed and started firing back.
"Stop! What are you doing!" Amber shouted.
"It's no use! They're under some kind of hypnosis. They just went crazy out of the blue!" Some guy was firing from behind a crate, but suddenly, a grenade slipped underneath him. His eyes went wide as the grenade exploded.
Amber and I hid behind some cover as the explosion was mixed with the man's scream.
More guys came in from the other side, their guns aimed at us. Amber screamed and began shooting at them frantically, emptying her clip. The attackers began shouting incomprehensible gibberish as they began returning fire. I quickly grabbed Amber into my embrace, absorbing all the gunfire with my back, shielding her.
I grunted as I was peppered by the bullets. It felt like my back was being injected with venom as the attackers continued shooting and screaming nonsense. Amber was quivering and sobbing as I gritted my teeth, taking the pain.
The attackers ran out of bullets and began to reload, but I opened the palm of my hand, blasting them with a wave of Darkfire, sending them back unconscious.
Amber stared at me, her face turning red. I hoped she wasn't getting a fever in the middle of this.
"We need to get out of here." I told her.
"No! The families! We need to stop them!"
We ran across the entire hideout, blasting and shooting the attackers that were harming the enemies, but for some reason, they were much stronger than normal human beings. As if... the hypnosis was giving them a boost in power.
One stray bullet zoomed at my face, but I caught it, blasting the shooter, sending him back.
Amber stared at the bodies of the deceased, piling up as the shooters continued their relentless assault. Suddenly, a huge red explosion appeared from the corner. Amana emerged, with her fox tail deflecting bullets.
"What happened?!" She shouted at me.
"No idea! They just went berserk for some reason!"
Amber and I grouped with Amana. "We need to save these people. We have to stop the attackers!"
Amana scanned the environment. "They went berserk out of the blue. Who knows how many more will become infected? We need to go. We'll clear out as many attackers as we can and evacuate whoever we run into until we figure out what we're dealing with. For now, we need to escape."
We continued running to the exit, with Amber guiding the way, we began accumulating more and more escapees when suddenly we were intercepted by a woman.
The lady grinned at us with a sadistic smile. Her hair was white as snow, stained with blood and stood on end. She kind of looked like a mad scientist. She wore a black trench coat, and wielded two large meat cleavers. For some reason, looking at her made me want to transform into Form 5 and rampage all over the place. I wanted to destroy everything in sight, everyone in sight.
"Who are you? What do you want?" Amana shouted at the woman.
The lady tilted her head. "Amana Serah Cross. Leader of Darkstar. You were in the war."
Amana raised an eyebrow. "You know who I am?"
The woman grinned, exposing her bent and spiky teeth. "Yes... you were part of the war that ended Lord Mogul, my father."
My heart dropped. "Your... father?"
The woman laughed, and cackled. "Yes... my brethren are most displeased, to know the Prime had failed us. Being slain by that terrible terrible Paladin reincarnation..."
Her eyes suddenly went wide. "YOU!"
She shot forward, and I caught her punch. The shockwave sent everybody back. The force of her punch was crazy, and I felt the bones in my forearm crack. I growled in pain, as I used her momentum to try to trip her, but the woman was way more agile than I thought, evading my attacks and kicking me in the chest.
I flew across the room, and crashed into a stone wall, which reduced into bricks and rubble. I emerged from the mess, coughing and stumbling to my feet. It felt like my chest was hit by a battering ram. Any more hits from her and I was done for like this.
"Run! Take Amber and the others and leave! I'll hold her off." I shouted at Amana. She quickly nodded and took the others outside. Amber began protesting, but Amana wasn't hearing it. This lady was dangerous.
"Who are you?" I muttered, my vision getting dizzy.
The woman walked forward, grabbing me by the collar with one arm, and hurled me to the other side of the room.
"You know who I am, Decen of Acadia. I am the daughter of Mogul. I am wrath. I am the rage that is hidden in the purest of saints. I am bloodlust, the thirst for violence."
"I am Lapheth. The Aspect of Fury."
I activated Hunter's Eye, slipping on my goggles. Scanning around my surroundings, I made out Amana and the survivors making out of the hideout, but they were still too close. I couldn't activate Form 4 without incinerating them.
I got to my feet. Lapheth cackled, scraping her meat cleaver along the side of the wall, producing sparks. There was no way I could fight her like this. From the force of her punch, I knew she was only using a fraction of her power, but even then. Fighting her as Form 4 I was still at a disadvantage.
I readied myself, assuming the Doma stance. There was no way I could beat her in combat, my only hope was to keep evading until everybody got away so I could use my higher forms.
"Your power is excruciatingly weak, Decen. How sad. To believe my father was slain by the likes of you-"
Lapheth shot forward, slicing down. But I managed to slip the strike, attempting to strike the blade out of her hand, but Lapheth was too fast. She ducked and slashed at my side, which exploded in pain.
I tried spinning around, redirecting her slashes, but Lapheth seemed to know exactly what I was doing, and twisted my forearm, breaking it. I roared in agony as I fell to my knees, clutching my broken arm.
"Is most disappointing." Lapheth continued. She picked me up by the collar and threw me out of the building with great force. I crashed through several walls and smashed into the ground outside with a huge BOOM.
I started to regenerate. At this point, the only reason I was still alive was because of my regeneration. But at this rate, the amount of damage Lapheth was inflicting on me was slowly outpacing my healing rate.
"Sam!" Amber shouted. Amana looked confused.
I got to my feet and shot forward, but Lapheth also charged, the two of us converging, but Lapheth was still far stronger. I attempted to slip past the charge and slingshot her out of the area, but she instantly grabbed my neck, thrusting me back the opposite direction as the two of us crashed into a another building. The building collapsed as the entire place filled with rubble.
Lapheth smashed my head into the ground, causing the building to rumble.
"I am the Aspect of Fury. I command and crave combat, the blood of a sword, the rush of tearing down an enemy's army."
Lapheth continued smashing my head against the rock. Everything became blurry, as Lapheth continued gloating.
"Tell me, little Paladin Reincarnate. Why were you deemed a Paladin, a champion of Acadia? What do you stand for?"
My eyes went wide. Flashes of Decen's past appearing in my vision. Jonna's corpse. Merrow's smile. Mogul strangling me and twisting my neck while Merrow watched helplessly.
"War. It's only when a soldier is cornered in the battlefield do their true colours show. War is what separates the men from the cowards." Icarus had once told me, the day we chose our paths to walk, the day we were to become Paladins.
I looked at my side, Amana's group had left far enough for me to unleash more power. I stared back at Lapheth, who continued to mock me.
"You are nothing to me. In the face of fury, man shall become consumed. Don't you agree?"
I began shaking with rage as my body began powering up. My eyes glowing bright through Wheeler's goggles as I began to transform. I opened my mouth and unleashed a jarring roar. The entire building and area became flooded with white and black flames as I pushed everything back, including Lapheth. I emerged from the rubble, my hair standing on end, white as snow. White and black flames shrouded my body, complete with Sentry's armouring as I faced the Aspect as Form 2.
Lapheth stepped forward, but I was already there. I reeled back and unloaded a massive punch that caught her in the jaw. Lapheth was sent flying into several buildings from the force of the punch as I pursued her, a white and black comet closing in fast.
The smoke cleared, and Lapheth was standing dead centre, the maniacal smile gone, her face expressionless as she glared at me with murderous intent. I yelled, spinning and unleashing an axe kick that caught her square in the head. Lapheth crashed downwards, levelling the building. I opened my hands and launched myself downwards in a spiralling torrent., grabbing Lapheth's face and smashing it into the ground. A huge white and black inferno spiralled like a flaming tornado, levelling the entire block.
Lapheth continued glaring at me, then grabbed my wrist. I superheated my hand and launched her in the air, flying up to meet her and preparing a massive ball of black fire. I unleashed it at her, which caused a massive white and black explosion, sending the Aspect into dozens of buildings, creating a huge valley of destruction.
This was it. I needed to end this while I still had the advantage. I would have preferred using Form 4, but the destruction from Form 2 had already done enough damage. Form 4 would have obliterated the place for sure.
I reeled back, and shot forward, powering up, my flames becoming much more jagged and aggressive. I yelled, unleashing a massive Iai chop right at the side of Lapheth's head. The force of the chop levelled more buildings as the fiery inferno charred the entire area into cinders and white embers.
"Good..." Lapheth slowly let out a gruelling cackle. My eyes went wide. Lapheth reeled her head back. The chop did nothing to her. In fact, the last few strikes I did had no effect. She was merely taking the damage.
"Yes... the rage of Blackflame. The one Pure Paladin, hands stained with bloodlust. It is foretold, the numerous lives you will claim. It is written, the fall of humanity's champion, to succumb to the slaughter of thousands."
She took my hand and crushed it. I yelled in pain. Lapheth suddenly stomped on the ground, and my chest became wet. I looked down and realized that within the span of the stomp, she had slashed me a total of forty times. Her cleavers were stained with blood. My blood. I didn't have time to even register it. I stumbled back, my chest burning from the pain.
My blood pooled on the ground as I fell to one knee.
"You must not die. Not before you witness the destruction of humanity. In all realms!"
Lapheth kicked me in the face as I slammed into a building. My vision became hazy and I realized she kicked me right out of Form 2. My white flames dissipating and my hair reverting back to its original length.
Lapheth approached me when suddenly, she was impaled by four huge armoured tails. I looked up and saw a figure glowing red. Elegant arcane lines lining her arms and legs. Amana powered up her celestial form, as she grabbed Lapheth and threw her through several buildings.
Lapheth slashed the air, destroying all the debris. She and Amana clashed, but Amana managed to hold her own, slamming the ground repeatedly with her massive tails as Lapheth zipped around the battlefield, attempting to evade them. Amana managed to land a hit on Lapheth, but just like the fight I had with her, Lapheth took no damage. That was her mistake. Lapheth grabbed the tail and yanked Amana from the air. Lapheth grabbed her by the neck and shot to the sky, the two spiralling into the air.
The two continued to clash, but Amana was slowly beginning to lose the struggle. Lapheth unleashing more power and managing to land a strike with her cleaver right through the armour of her tail and her breastplate. Amana yelled in pain as Lapheth slammed her hundreds of feet into the ground.
I got to my feet. Amber ran up to me. "Sam, we need to get out of here. We can't beat this... this thing. Let's get Amana and go. We'll smokescreen her."
Amber was interrupted from a rumbling coming out of the side of a building. The walls exploded as Amana was sent flying through, smashing the side of a pillar like a rag doll.
Before Lapheth could close in, I jumped in between, grabbing her wrist and her neck. I powered up to Form 1, and shot into the air, as high as I could go. Lapheth began slashing at me, cutting into me. I refused to let go. The two of us soared higher and higher, Amber's shouts at my name becoming more and more drowned by the sounds of the winds.
Lapheth continued shouting insults at me, but up here, it didn't matter. I could unleash everything I could. I concentrated, and powered up to my max. I roared as my body began to change, my hair growing out to my shoulders and turning white. My flames become black and magenta as I assumed Form 5.
I concentrated my flames even more until I began to glow. Lapheth's eyes went wide as she suddenly realized what I was going to do. "You fool!" She exclaimed as I unleashed everything I had into a massive explosion. The clouds parted as the shockwave shook the entire University. The sky became dark from the amount of Darkfire, and a magenta thunderstorm began to manifest.
I let go, leaving Form 5 and reducing back to Form 1. Lapheth was heavily injured, her face bleeding profusely. She readied her cleavers when suddenly she stopped. "You ingrate. The next time we meet, I will torture you six times over. I swear by it. The Aspects call me. Mark my words."
Lapheth left as I started to lose consciousness. I began to fall, thousands of feet from the air as the ground below became more and more detailed. I could barely make out the sounds of Amana and Amber shouting my name as everything went dark.
We sat in silence around a campfire. Only Ken and Amber made it out alive from the attack of Lapheth's mind controlled slaves. Amana had a bandage over her face that covered one of her eyes. Seeing her like that made my heart feel heavy.
Amber stared at the fire as Ken tried to cheer her up. "We got marshmallows, we can make s'mores."
Yeah, nice one bud. Now we could enjoy s'mores while talking about how everybody was slaughtered and sing songs about it. I fully regenerated from my wounds, but Amana's regeneration was much slower, meaning she was probably going to have those bandages around her head for a while.
I looked at my hands. "The fall of humanity's champion, to succumb to the slaughter of thousands." Lapheth had told me. I wasn't a killer as Samuel Mason, but I was when I was Decen. I remembered all the people I had slaughtered as a Paladin, all the people I had killed without any remorse. It took an entire reincarnation to realize how unforgivable my sins were.
Amber looked at me. "We need to help you find Celestia. After this, I want you two gone."
Amana sighed. "If there was a way for us to fix this, I wish we could. This was out of our control."
Ken shot to his feet. "You got some nerve to say that, it's because of you two that everybody is dead! They're dead because of you, bitch!"
I instinctively shot to my feet as well, and grabbed Ken by the neck, slamming him into the tree. My goggles concealing the hatred in my eyes.
"Sam! Stop!" Amana ran up to me and pulled my hands away from Ken. I let go, trying to calm myself down.
Amana turned to the rest of us. "We need someone to keep watch while the rest of us get some sleep. I'll watch you guys and we'll do a few hour rotations. How does that sound?"
"I don't trust you with anything after what you've-"
Amber cut Ken off. "Fine. It's fine."
The two of them entered their tent, leaving Amana and I alone, the sound of the fire crackling in a torn down world.
Amana sighed. "Sam, I know Ken gets on your nerves. But you need to control your anger. What you did back there and back then... that's not like you."
I clenched my teeth. "I can't help it. I'm not- I'm not the same person you knew. My past as Decen..."
"Is your past. What you did back then as Decen shouldn't dictate who you are now."
I looked down. "Amana... Lapheth told me that it's foretold that I'll take lives. Kill people. Maybe I'm just destined to fall to this level."
"That isn't true."
I shook my head. "Look at me, everybody in that hideout was afraid. They all think I'm some bloodthirsty savage who craves bashing skulls. They think I'm a monster. And for good reason. I've changed.
"I wish I could go back to my good old days as Blackflame. Darkstar's Blackflame. That aloof kid who always got in trouble and fooled around with Tob and was everybody's hero. My goals in life were so simple. Become great. Strong. Heroic."
Amana threw another branch into the fire. "You know, I used to think that way with Jason. Nobody liked him in Croft. Nobody spoke of him in the papers, and everybody thought he was a monster, just like you think of yourself. But you know what he told me?"
I looked at her. Amana's face lit up in the fire, her eyes almost like the flames themselves. "What did he say?"
"Jason told me that he didn't care what they thought about him. As long as he stayed true to himself, he was happy. What you're saying is that the people around you think you are scary, a monster. So that's what you are. I'm telling you now, that who you are is up to you to decide.
"I don't care if some stupid prophecy says you'll become some mass murderer. You're Decen, but you're also Samuel Mason. My Samuel Mason. Darkstar's Blackflame. It's up to you to decide whether or not you want to be what they tell you."
I took a deep breath. She was right. It was much easier to succumb to hate and rage, but the real challenge was knowing when to control it. When to pull back a punch. It's up to me to decide what I will be. Not them. Not anyone.
I managed a small smile. "Thanks." Amana ran her hand over my hair, which made me cringe a bit. She always liked doing that when I felt really down back when Darkstar was just Jason, Tob, her and I. Even now, having realized that I spent a great deal of time as a Paladin, you might think I'm technically older than her. But in many ways, I felt like she was the one who acted like the older sibling. In my past life as Decen, I never lived past the age of nineteen. Being reborn as Samuel Mason, the maturity (what little I had) didn't really transfer over.
"Get some sleep, Sam. I'll wake you if I need anything. You're probably exhausted from that fight."
It seemed almost instant when I was jolted awake. Ken was on duty, his assault rifle aimed and ready. He was probably still ticked off, for good reason. We made the choice to run with a limited number of survivors, and our plan failed because Lapheth intercepted us.
It's up to you to decide whether or not you want to be what they tell you.
I got up and walked to him. Ken looked at me and feigned disgust. Turning around.
"That assault rifle isn't going to do much against the soul beasts." I told him.
"The hell do you want? Gonna show off to my girlfriend again? Your edgy ass powers and goggles of yours?"
I sighed, taking multiple deep breaths. I needed to do this.
"Look, I know we started off on the wrong foot, but I have no intentions to move in on your girl. I'm sorry if it looked that way."
Ken hesitated. "Really? Then how do you know her name?"
I took off my goggles. "Because I am one of you. I was... until I became involved with a war in another world."
Ken gasped. "Dude your eyes... your eyes even look like Riddick."
I laughed. "Yeah, I guess. Look, about your people..."
"I know. You did what you could. I saw you fight, sacrificing yourself up in the air. You really were holding back on us huh. Transformation?"
I managed a smirk. "Yeah. Transformations limit the amount of Darkfire that I release. I didn't want to hurt you guys or damage the place even more than I already did."
Ken shouldered his gun. "I should be apologizing too. It was a dick move of me to say those things to your partner. I just..."
He moved in closer to me, whispering. "I don't want Amber to know I'm weak. I'm, ever since the sky beasts came. Amber did everything. She took command and tried to help us all. I was just a passenger in all this. I wanted to prove my worth, and keep proving my worth as a man."
I leaned against the tree trunk. "She loves you. Strength isn't the only thing girls like in a guy. At least, I think."
Ken went to bed as it was my turn to take watch.
"Sentry, you there? Mind giving me an extra pair of hands?"
Sentry manifested, his body almost invisible in the dark, barely lit up by the embers of the campfire.
"You made peace with your enemy. Very un-Decen like." Sentry mused.
"Ha. I didn't know you were capable of humour."
"There's a lot of things you don't know about me, young master. You never took interest in asking me about my life when you were Decen."
"Oh wow. You're really bringing that up?" I laughed.
"Okay, Connor. What was your life like, back when you were with the Doma?"
Sentry inspected his claw-like hands. "I was a member of the Doma Clan, taught the samurai way from my mother, and my heritage as a hellspawn from my father."
"I know that part dude. But what was your life like?"
Sentry looked at me through his mask. "I wanted to become a computer scientist."
The howl of wind in the background made the scene almost comical. "Uhh come again?"
"What's so amusing? I thought you wanted to know about my life."
"I know, but seriously? I didn't expect that."
Sentry chuckled. I didn't know he was even able to do that.
"I may have been part of the Doma Clan, but I also lived in Millennium City, serving as a champion. We have access to many modern day technologies. I found a fascination in computers and my mother encouraged me to enrol in school."
This felt surreal. I could only imagine everybody in class, with Connor sitting there, a towering 6 foot 2 hulk of a man attempting to squeeze inside a desk.
Sentry continued. "I wanted to experience life as a normal teenager, despite being half hellspawn. I made many friends, but the relationships did not last long due to my parents being, well, parents.
"I eventually graduated, and wanted to pursue a college degree, but the responsibilities of the Doma came first. I was called into battle alongside my mother and father to battle many threats that came our way. We became warriors, proudly representing the Doma Clan and the Champions. The rest of the story, you probably know."
The mood died out. I knew. Arcel's betrayal on his own son. Then the slaughter. It was tragic, but despite that, I gave him a second chance to be my familiar.
After a few hours of patrol I started to get sleepy, and Sentry had already dissipated back into my conscious. I went up to Amber and shook her awake, but I suddenly realized she was awake already. The whole time.
"So you and Ken made up?" She was smiling from behind the blankets.
"So no more of that tough guy act?"
Amber managed a weak laugh. She sat up. "Thank you, Sam. For forgiving him. I don't know many guys who would have the guts to do what you did. That's honestly so respectable."
"Just doing what needed to be done. I have enough enemies."
Amber laughed again, but her smile died down. "I know it wasn't your fault, there was nothing you could have done. But... I knew these people, protected them for so long. To see them vanish like that..."
"I get it."
Amber sighed. "I just wish you could live longer. That prophecy..."
"It's fine. I'll just make whatever I have left the best moments of my life."
I went back in my tent. Amana was fast asleep on the other side. Bridget manifested from my consciousness. "Can I sleep on a real pillow now?"
"There's only one pillow here, Bridget."
"Then let's share!"
"What? No, that's mine!"
Bridget had already made herself comfy. I guess we were doing this now. I slept on the other side of the pillow, attempting to make myself comfortable with what little space I had left in the tent.
"I'm gonna miss you."
I sense of dread washed over me. Probably the one person who was hurting the most would have to be Bridget. I was like her big brother, and the closest person she had to family. To lose me again, like this, permanently. I couldn't imagine how much pain this little kid was going to have to go through.
"Hey." I wrapped the kid in a hug. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Bridget started to snore. I guess it was time for me to get my sleep too.
We made our way to a neighbouring university.
"I've only been there once, for a collaboration on my research." Amana told us. "Hopefully, they have functional equipment that will make this device work."
The road was barren. If there were survivors who were in this university, chances were, they were just as armed as the people in ours. We needed to be careful. I slipped on my goggles, searching for any hostiles with Hunter's Eye.
"So Amana, you're also from this universe too. What did you study?" Amber asked.
Amana wrapped her jacket around her waist. "Botany. I majored in Honours Biology in my Undergrad. I was thinking about going into environmental sciences for some time, mainly Forestry, but I found my passion elsewhere."
Amana loved the environment. I remembered Jason accidentally making the mistake of pouring out his leftovers on the ground because he thought it would "help the soil". An angry Amana was probably much scarier than an angry Jason. No one knew what happened to Jason that day. No one ever asked.
Sentry spoke in my head. "We must protect the two humans. If the university is guarded heavily, we cannot guarantee their safety. I suggest letting me provide defensive support."
"Good idea, Connor."
Ken gave me a strange look. "Uhh, who are you talking to?"
Oh yeah, I never introduced them to Sentry. In fact, come to think about it, whenever I had my conversations with Sentry, it must have looked really weird. Like I was talking to myself. No one really said anything about it, meaning it must had been that uncomfortable for them.
"Sentry is my soul-link creature. He's the source for my Darkfire and a good friend of mine."
I willed Sentry to manifest, and Sentry appeared before us in his towering 6 foot 2 hulking samurai badass glory. Ken screamed and Amber instinctively jumped back, pulling out her gun.
"Relax guys, Sentry is really friendly. Sort of. He's going to protect you guys while we search for the equipment to power the device."
Sentry eyed the two through his mask. His pure white pupils regarding them with a stone-faced demeanour. It didn't really help his image, which was already super demonic, but I guess the point was to keep them safe, not comfortable.
"I shall protect you humans with my blade. This entails your direct obedience to my orders. Should you choose to defy me, or my young master," Sentry drew one of his katanas and slashed at a nearby stretch of forestry. A huge black line appeared, severing dozens of trees. Amana's eyebrow twitched, but she otherwise kept her composure.
Ken began to whimper, but looked at Amber and put on a brave face. "Yeah, no prob. Honour to meet you Mr. Sentry." He extended his hand, and Sentry glanced at him. "You may have made peace with my master, but I do not share his compassion. You chose to disrespect him, and his comrade. Unless you prove your strength to me, I want nothing to do with you."
Ken awkwardly retracted his hand and cleared his throat. "Umm, right. Well, let's find Celestia!"
Yeah, good going Connor. We continued walking down the stretch of land when we finally stumbled on a sign, which indicated that the University was not too far off from us. We were close.
We reached the gates to the University. The way it was sectored off of the rest of the world, it gave big private school vibes. Amana waved at the security camera.
"We come in peace! We're just here to borrow some equipment!"
The camera was silent. It continued focusing on Amana, then on Amber, Ken, me, then it focused on Sentry. The camera instantly retracted. We heard a bunch of shuffling and footsteps from within the buildings. This wasn't good.
A bunch of people emerged from behind the gate, guns cocked and aimed at us. One guy stepped forward, a towering middle aged man with insane musculature and a buzz cut. Fresh out of military probably. He shouted at us. "I'm sorry, but we're jam packed in here. We can't be having more people in our refuge."
Amana tried to reason with the guy. "We're just here to borrow some equipment. Once we're done, we'll leave your refuge!"
The guy shook his head. "No. I'm going to have to ask you guys to leave, or we will shoot. We've lost enough of our people."
I stepped forward. "We mean your people no harm, though."
The man glared at me. "And what's the business with that." He pointed at Sentry. "From the looks of it, you're likely an infiltration sky beast squad. I will ask you again to leave our premises, or we will attack."
Sentry tilted his head. "Mason, we need to locate Celestia. This may be the last chance we have. Any more time wasted looking for another lab will be costly on our mission."
"It's talking! What the hell?!" One of the guys from behind the gate screamed. Mass hysteria erupted from the guard, as everybody started to shoot.
Amana jumped in front of me and began to shield the both of us with her tail. It was pretty unnecessary, but I guess it was probably instinct. I turned and noticed Sentry had done the same with Amber and Ken.
"We need the lab. I don't want to hurt these guys. Do you mind distracting them? They're not going to listen to reason. The sky beasts probably shook them down to insanity." Amana continued shielding me.
"That won't be necessary. I will distract the humans. You two work on getting her coordinates. Time is of essence." Sentry's voice appeared from the corner.
I turned around. "You sure? There's a lot of people. Defending Amber and Ken and distracting them seems like a lot."
"You underestimate the power of the Doma. I have learned to defend and fight as a Champion, have you forgotten?"
Amana nodded at Sentry. "Good luck."
I grabbed Amana by the waist and shot to the air with a jet of Darkfire.
"A devil! A devil walks among us! He wields the power of Hades!" One of the survivors screamed, trying to shoot at the two of us, but suddenly, Sentry summoned several clones, intercepting him and knocking him out unconscious. So that was how Jason was able to do those spectres. So cool.
Several Sentry Spectres materialized, pushing the guard back and smashing the gates, leading to all out warfare. One of the spectres guided Amber and Ken to safety as Amana and I soared in the air, locating the lab.
"There, this must be where the equipment is."
I flew to where Amana was pointing and landed on the ground.
The sounds of battle echoed in the emptiness of the lab as Amana started configuring the controls.
"How do you know which switches to turn on? I've never seen these things in my life?"
"When you've been working with lab equipment to collect sample data for most of your research, things get pretty intuitive."
I sat down on the office chair, playing with some whiteboard markers when suddenly Sentry's voice boomed in my head. "The threat has been neutralized. All attackers have been rendered unconscious."
"Alright, we'll meet you once this is done."
The device began to hum with power, a green light illuminating the entire lab as several runes appeared, circling the gem, feeding off of the energy from the equipment like some kind of perpetual cycle. I watched as a snake of power emerged from the gem, transforming, convoluted into a shape of a person.
Amana looked confused. "I thought the gem was to give us coordinates? What is going on?"
"No idea... did you follow the instructions?"
"Yeah, but... "
"The instructions were written by Mavus."
I facepalmed. Of course. Knowing him, he probably half assed the instructions and now we probably messed up the procedure. The person took shape, materializing and shrinking into the size of a....
"A fairy!!!" Bridget squealed in my mind.
Celestia stared at us. "Who? Who are you? Why am I here?"
I met her stare. "Um, uh."
Amana managed to save the conversation. "I am Amana Cross, this here is Samuel Mason."
Celestia fluttered in the air, then got close to my nose. I resisted the urge to sneeze. I didn't want to blast her away. "You smell of War."
I suddenly got really uncomfortable. "Uh, yeah. I'm a reincarnation of-"
"Decen! Oh god! Gross!"
Celestia flew all over the lab trying to get away from me. She picked up a bunch of textbooks and threw them at me, as if I was a pest.
"Stop, look, would you stop throwing things? We just need your help to-"
One of the books caught me in the face. I stumbled back and fell into a bookshelf, a bunch of textbooks burying me. I emerged from the mess, growling. I felt like getting a fly swatter for some reason.
Amana calmed us both down. "Celestia, we are warriors of the Inquisition. We need your help in locating the Subjects of Quinta. We were wondering if you were capable of transporting us into her energy realms. The Aspects have invaded and we need all the help we can get."
Celestia looked her up and down. "You're pretty. Why are you with him?"
I felt my ears burning. "What? She isn't with me! I mean she is with me, but not like that! She's got a boyfriend! I- you-"
Celestia interrupted me with her squeaky and annoying voice. "I can't take you to the realms."
Amana looked confused. "Why? I thought you were capable of transporting people anywhere?"
Celestia fluttered to a nearby bench and sat down on the edge. "It is true that I possess superior spatial magic. It was how I was able to supply my Paladin with the sands. In theory, I can transport a person anywhere if one so chooses, but unfortunately, there's two problems.
"The first is Queen Quinta's energy realms are strictly forbidden to anyone who isn't its conduit. One must be worthy to access the realm, and by extension, enter it."
I felt like my heart dropped a hundred feet onto the ground. I took a deep breath. "Okay. So what's the other problem?"
Celestia turned to me, her eyes, electric blue like the storm. "I no longer have my powers."
I stared at the fairy. "The hell? Then how are you able to fly?"
Celestia's face suddenly went full sicko mode. "Excuse me? What do you think these wings are for? Are you stupid?"
I burst into flames. But Amana calmed me down. Celestia continued.
"My powers became inhibited ever since my Paladin died. Since then, I have become dormant, living my days in the skies. Become one with the storms. I am a-"
"A ventari spirit." I finished her sentence, realizing that I suddenly recalled what she was.
Celestia fluttered back in the air. "Yes. So you have merged with Decen then, I suppose. But to continue what I said before I was so rudely interrupted, I cannot help you with your quest. My powers no longer work."
I looked down. So this entire mission was a flop. I couldn't believe it. Amana put a hand on my shoulder. "Chin up, Sam. There's still a way. We just have to find it."
Celestia studied Amana. "You have heart. Your lover must be so lucky." Amana blushed. "Uh, yeah."
Celestia put her hands on her cheeks. "So cute! Just for that, I will help you in your quest."
I shook my head in disbelief. "You just said you couldn't help us."
Celestia turned back to me, her face suddenly threatening. "Do not question what I say, you disgusting war obsessed Paladin! I say that because I am unable to help you as I am. But..."
Celestia looked me up and down. "I am able to aid in transporting a host to these realms, should they be a conduit. For you, if I link with you, I can transport you to the Restoration Force and the Motion Force."
I paled. "The what now? The Motion Force?"
Celestia facepalmed. "You really are just brawn no brains, aren't you? I thought you regained Decen's memories. You're a conduit to multiple realms, moron."
I thought back, recalling my days as Decen. I never remembered getting access to the Motion Force. But... there was a fight...
"I absorbed a fighter, a conduit... he was a conduit."
"Yes. You absorbed a Conduit of Quinta, gaining his cells, and obtaining access to the Motion Force. If you want to visit the other realms, you just gotta find other conduits and suck em dry."
I almost retched. I didn't like absorbing people. Even as Decen. There was still one thing that was bothering me.
"You mentioned... a link? I thought Paladins were only allowed to have one Guardian."
"That is true."
Amana scratched her chin. "Could a soul-link work?"
Celestia threw her hands in the air. "Yes! You are so smart!"
The realization finally dawned on me. "Oh hell no. I'm not soul linking with some stupid sugar plum fairy. There's already too much room in my consciousness for another."
Celestia glanced at me. "You think I like this any more than you do? Being a soul-link creature to a moron like you? It's been decades for me, you know. Living in storm clouds. I can't stand it. I'll do anything to get back in action again, even if I have to downgrade from Jonna to you."
I clenched my fist. Amana gave me a look of encouragement.
I held out my hand as Celestia looked me in the eye, eye to eye contact as I felt our souls linking. This feeling was different than with Sentry. When I soul linked with Sentry, I felt power. I felt peace, serenity, but at the same time, deadly precise strength. The way of the Doma. The samurai. With Bridget, I felt acceptance, happiness, and warmth.
With Celestia, I could only feel the wind. The howling and thunder. Lightning and the storm. I realized that I was shrouded in a storm cloud that was circling the two of us as Celestia dissipated into my mind in a flash of purple sparks, the sound of thunder booming in my head.
"Did it work?" Amana asked.
"Aww! Who's this little cutie?" Celestia's squeaky voice appeared in my head.
"I'm Bridget. Are you a fairy?" Bridget asked.
Celestia made a bunch of incomprehensible sounds as she interacted with Bridget then materialized in front of me.
"You should be ashamed of yourself, Decen Mason or whatever your name is now. Such poor mental living conditions for this little angel."
"Mental living conditions?"
"Yes. Your mind, so much memories of battle, blood, and SWEAT! Gross! I'd rather not be in your consciousness, thank you very much. I would have Bridget not be around, but seeing as you're always in the thick of things, it's best to keep her in your consciousness."
Amana held back a laugh. "I guess it worked."
The moment was ruined the moment I felt a twinge in my mind. Like a portion of me was broken, damaged.
BLACKFLAME OF CROFT. I HAVE DEFEATED YOUR FAMILIAR. FACE ME.
Lapheth was waiting for me. Sentry was horribly injured. Amber was nowhere to be found. I looked to the corner and my heart stopped.
Ken's body, impaled by a shard of rock. He was struggling to breath, locking eyes with me.
My eyes went wide, shaking with rage. Sentry dissipated and returned to my consciousness in the nick of time.
"I have failed you, young master. Lapheth ambushed us while you were gone."
"No. There was nothing you could have done. Let's destroy this bitch."
I turned to Amana, and she quickly collected Ken, carefully extracting him and evacuating.
Lapheth glanced at Celestia. "Celestia of Jonna, you have chosen to serve Decen's pathetic reincarnation over a free life. A choice you won't live to regret."
Celestia made a raspberry face at Lapheth.
I turned to her. "Okay, I don't know the full extent of your abilities. But I'm open to-"
"I'm a free spirit. I fight alongside you. That's how I roll, Mister War Boy."
Fine by her. I didn't need her stupid powers anyway. I just needed to destroy Lapheth for everything she did. First she killed all those people in the hideout, then Ken, and now... Amber...
I took a deep breath. She's still alive. What matters right now was I beat the crap out of this lunatic for everything she had done. I put on Wheeler's Goggles.
I yelled, powering up and assuming Form 5. There was no need to hold back. I made the mistake of using a weak form against the Aspect, but at the end of the day, the place was going to get busted anyway. So let's just go all out.
I closed my eyes as my hair grew out, becoming whiter and brighter, glowing bright as my blue and black flames became a fierce magenta, complete with magenta sparks and lightning. I opened my eyes, having already instantly closed the distance between me and Lapheth. Her eyes went wide as I opened my palm at her midsection, blasting the Aspect hundreds of feet into the air in a huge black and magenta explosion.
I shot up, releasing a gatling of flaming punches, driving Lapheth further into the air. Lapheth regained her composure and stopped in the skies, but suddenly, everything went dark, storm grey. A huge blue lightning bolt appeared out of nowhere, zapping Lapheth with immense heat and power. Celestia zipped around, wrapping Lapheth in a tornado of storm clouds.
She was dazed, but I knew for a fact that this was not going to hold out long.
"What are you waiting for, Paladin Moron? Finish this rat scum! This little storm isn't going to hold her for long!" Celestia shouted at me.
Didn't have to tell me twice. I flew back, raising my hand in the air, concentrating all my flames into my hand and creating a massive flaming black and magenta katana. The blue lightning in the sky turned red, as I powered up even further, my body turning incredibly dark from all the Darkfire. The only light coming from my eyes and my shoulder length hair.
Lapheth screamed, the storm clouds dissipating, and shot forward, but her speed was significantly reduced by the storm winds made by Celestia.
"This ends. NOW" I roared. I swiped down, the huge katana slashing at Lapheth Kesi-Giri style. My vision lit up with white light as the force of the slash severed the landscape, creating a massive fissure in the ground. Buildings and destroyed landmarks, trees, forests, everything fell into the fissure.
The smoke died down, as I watched Lapheth grunt and struggle with her breath. Her arm was completely cut off, and her body was bleeding in a million places, giving her a trench coat crimson makeover. She eyed me with a murderous rage. Dammit, she managed to evade that. She really was an Aspect.
"You shall... die, in the most gruesome way. I promise you.. I shall"
Lapheth screamed, powering up even more. Sentry's voice boomed in my head, concerned. "Her power is increasing at a dangerous rate. She's starting to approach her father in power. I advise evasive maneuvers."
"Good idea." I activating Hunter's Eye, scanning Lapheth. I hadn't fully mastered the technique, but I was able to predict her movements better with Hunter's Eye.
Lapheth shot forward, and I matched her blow for blow, zooming across the skies and the heavens. Celestia blipped in and out, attempting to catch up to us.
"Hey, idiot! I can't blast her with lightning when you guys are moving around so fast!"
"Figure it out, Tinkerbell!"
Lapheth slashed at me with her cleaver, cutting my side, but I spun around with immense speed, backhanding the side of her head with my fist and sending her through several mountains. I powered up, zooming to her, breaking the sound barrier.
We clashed, as our blows caused huge shockwaves of black and magenta fire. Landforms were being destroyed and levelled in our fight, but I needed to focus on putting her down.
The little trade didn't last long. I lost my luck when Lapheth blocked my fist with her knee, and slashed at my throat. I began to choke, clutching at my wound, preventing myself from bleeding out. I was dead open, and Lapheth took this opportunity with full stride, spinning in circles, cutting at my midsection over and over again. She kicked me and I was sent flying like a rocket into a mountain, levelling it.
My throat regenerated, and my midsection started to heal until Lapheth landed on top of me, slashing at me like a maniac. I raised my forearms to protect myself, but it was no use. She kept slashing as my body exploded with pain. I tried to open my mouth to yell, but nothing came out from the immense pain. She was doing too much damage. I couldn't regenerate in time.
"You shall die! You insect! You're not worthy in my presence! I shall kill you! I shall make you suffer! Your life, then your friends, then your family."
Lapheth began laughing maniacally as my body succumbed to the pain, my arms giving up and slowly hitting the ground, a mangled mess. I struggled to breath, as I reverted back to my base form, wheezing as I lay on the ground with the crazy Aspect looking down on me. Her eyes were bloodshot, and were abnormally large, like they were being squeezed from the sockets.
"Mason!" Sentry yelled in my head.
There was nothing I could do. I watched as Lapheth continued slashing at me, like a passenger in my own body. My vision lit up with the PTSD I had in Calliope's Capita. My horrible torture, an image of a clock playing on loop.
Two days. Became two weeks. Became two months. To twelve months.
The vision faded as Lapheth cocked back her arm, about to deliver the finishing blow. I sighed, accepting my demise. I was too weak. There was nothing I could do against Lapheth. Suddenly, my body began powering up, with blue electricity. Everything faded, then rematerialized. I was somewhere else. Like a blink. Like... like...
"Hey dumbass. The first fight we're in together, and you're already borderline dying?" Celestia appeared in my vision. Her little silver dress dancing in the air.
"H- How?" I croaked.
"Umm, I'm a spatial magic user, remember? I can blink you to different places."
My body began regenerating, red snakes of power healing my wounds. I got to my feet. Lapheth was screaming frantically, wondering where I went. Celestia had blinked me all the way to the other side of the battlefield in an instant.
"Celestia, I can... teleport? Like at will?"
Celestia rolled her eyes. "Well, duh. I guess, with the soul-link. Just will it, and I'll get it done. Imagine where you want to go."
Lapheth suddenly turned around, glaring at me. She finally found me. She screamed and leapt to my position. It was now or never. I concentrated, and before I knew it, I blinked to the other side where Lapheth was originally standing in.
"This... now this is cool." I said, as my body arced with purple electricity.
"Yeah, it is. Still think I'm just a little sugar plum fairy?"
I looked Lapheth in the eye. I'm not falling today. I didn't have much in me to assume Form 5, but with Form 4, I could still do some decent damage. Celestia's Blink Ability would compensate and possibly boost my effective speed considerably.
I transformed, assuming Form 4. "Bring it." I growled, activating Hunter's Eye once more.
I shot forward, as Form 4, approaching Lapheth. I swung forward with a huge chop which cut the entire mountain in two, black and red fire. Lapheth leapt into the air, preparing another slash. I blinked out of existence behind her, my body arcing with purple lightning as I chopped at her midsection. I felt a few ribs crack.
Lapheth screamed and kicked me in the face, launching me through several mountains. I blinked and appeared behind her once more, the cycle repeating as I continuously landed more and more hits.
I leapt back, catching Lapheth's cleaver, spinning it and disarming her. I knelt low, my hands transforming into claws as I slashed up, cutting deep as Lapheth flew into the air. I brought my hand back and unleashed a massive slash with my claw; five huge black and red lines appearing in the sky, parting the clouds.
I blinked to the top, instantly materializing above the Aspect, who had just recovered from the five huge cuts that I inflicted on her. She turned around and realized I was preparing a massive Darkfire blast.
"You are a fool, I can see your bluff. Your pathetic morals prevent you from firing that."
I smirked. I wasn't going to say anything. I was just going to let it play out. I continued charging and blinked.
Lapheth looked down, finally realizing what I was planning to do. I opened my hand, and fired a massive torrent of Darkfire upwards, consuming her. The blast was so great that the entire surroundings were shaking from the force of the Darkfire.
I approached the charred body of Lapheth, with Celestia by my side. I hated consuming. It was never something I enjoyed as Decen, but I had no other choice. Lapheth needed to disappear. I knelt down, putting my hand on her head. Lapheth's eyes went wide.
"You... you cannot absorb an Aspect. Think about what you are doing. You are making a mistake."
"The only mistake I made, was not finishing this sooner. Because of my mistake, you took the lives of many innocents. It's over, Aspect."
I tightened my grip as Lapheth screeched. Her power leaving her body and entering mine, feeding my immense power reserves. I saw Lapheth's memories. Fighting alongside her father, slaying Quinta, trapping the Subjects. I was able to make out their faces, as each Subject was thrown into their respective realms. So they really were in the energy realms.
"What should we make, of Quinta's body?" Lapheth asked Mogul.
"Her Subjects, when banded together, served them greatly. To the point where they surpassed their Queen. Appoint new Subjects of our brethren. The Subjects of Mogul. They will be Aspects, grafted with the flesh of Quinta. What more, than the beauty of recombination?"
My vision returned as I clutched my head. I looked down at the smoking body of a braindead Lapheth. Her eyes wide and mouth drooling. She was gone. For good.
"Ya beat her. You sunavabitch..." Ken coughed, his life fading.
I knelt down next to him. "I will find Amber. I promise. She will be safe."
Ken looked at me with a smile on his face. "Hey Sam?"
"Was I a... was I a man today?"
I sobbed. But managed a laugh. "Yeah. Yeah you were. The most heroic one I had ever seen." I had seen death before, as Decen. But no matter how many times I've witnessed someone die, a friend, an ally, it was all the same.
It hurt the same. No matter how many times I felt it.
A tear ran down Ken's cheek. "You're the real man. You beat a god dude!" Ken burst out in a fit of coughing. He was losing too much blood. These were his last moments.
"No. You were the real man. You fought and tried to protect Amber despite having no powers against someone who nearly killed me. I will honour that. Amber will remember that." Sentry suddenly manifested in front of Ken. Ken looked at him with glazed eyes. "Sentry...."
Sentry knelt down next to me. For once, he looked... kind. Gentle. He took Ken's hand. "A true warrior indeed."
The life in Ken's eyes began to fade. "That's... all I needed to hear..." His voice turning into a whisper as his face turned slack.
Amana wrapped me in a hug as I buried my face into her shoulder. Celestia spun around, creating a grave and small purple fireworks. A Paladin tradition to honour a fallen warrior.
Lapheth's memories showed that Amber was taken by a group of crazed survivors, who were still under her spell. I was going to their hideout, whether it was a trap or not.
Celestia fluttered next to me. "You do realize this is going to be a trap right?"
"I don't care anymore."
Amana didn't say anything. She fingered her necklace. The necklace used to serve as a com unit, but with Lazarus and Trill devoting all their magical power on the Warpgate, they just didn't have the power to maintain the device anymore. Our only chance of going home was for Sentry to create a portal that could be sensed by Calliope's insane magic.
We reached the entrance to the underground cavern where Amber was being held. Amana turned to me. "I'll keep anybody from getting in, soul beasts or survivors. Go." I managed a small smile. She always read me like a book. "Thank you, Amana."
Amana nodded. "Do what you need to do."
I slipped on Wheeler's Goggles.
I kicked the door open and stormed the hideout. A bunch of guys stared at me, their guns hovering midair.
"Where's Amber." I asked, my voice dangerously calm.
They started shooting, emptying their clips as I stood there taking all the hits, my vision red with rage. I walked up to them as their equipped their sidearm, shooting me with their pistols. I grabbed the faces of both attackers and slammed them into the ground.
A squad ran down the stairs, but Celestia appeared, zapping them with purple electricity.
I stormed and walked through the hallways, taking down each attacker with my bare hands, not bothering to even dodge their bullets. I activated Hunter's Eye and located Amber, who was moments away from being shot by one of her abductors.
I focused on her location and blinked, grabbing the guy's wrist and yanking the gun out of his hands. The guy stared at me. "Who-"
I grabbed him by the collar and launched him into the ceiling. The other two guys started spraying, but I took the hits head on, marching up to each one, dispatching them instantly.
I ran up to Amber and ripped her restraints off. She stared at me, her eyes welled up in tears. "Ken..."
"He died with honour. It's okay, I got you."
I lifted Amber, carrying her as she sobbed in my shoulder. I needed to get her out of here. I couldn't use Darkfire, otherwise she would get burnt up. Meaning I couldn't manifest Sentry's armour. Great.
"I got this." Celestia waved her hands, and flew around me, creating a mini tornado-like shield. A bunch of attackers appeared, and fired at me, but their bullets were being blown away by Celestia's storm. I turned to the fairy.
"Don't mention it. Let me take care of the rest of these idiots. Focus on getting out of here!"
I walked out of the hideout, with Celestia providing cover with zaps of purple electricity. I achieved it didn't I? What I always dreamt of, walking out of the chaos as the hero people looked up to, carrying my crush in my arms like a knight in shining armour.
But I was no knight, and I was definitely not shining. I didn't like this at all. This was real, where people died. Some by others, and some by my hand. Lapheth may have still be alive, but what I did, she might as well have been dead. I was a murderer. The more Amber sobbed in my shoulder, the more I realized how naive and stupid I was back then. Back when I was still in Tob's house dreaming and yearning for the life of a great hero, thinking that would happen with no regrets.
"So basically, if we want to access the other realms, we need Sam to absorb conduits. Each of a different realm." Amana said as she drove both Amber and I out of the chaos of the university.
"Precisely." Celestia confirmed.
I crossed my arms, staring at the road. I looked at the side mirror. Amber's face was expressionless, and sullen. She was silent throughout the entire ride. I couldn't blame her.
"Celestia, what are the five realms? I know there is a Restoration Force, Motion Force, and Power Force." I asked.
Celestia fluttered onto my shoulder. Sitting on it. "Comfy..." she muttered. She caught me peeking and quickly reverted back to her annoying tone. "Well, definitely not because it's your shoulder. It's the jacket.
"Anywho, there are five realms. You're right, there's a restoration, motion, and power force. The other is the Achilles Force, and the last one is the Unity."
Time seemed to slow down. "The... the what? The Achilles Force?"
"Ummm, yeah, did you lose your hearing or something when you were taking all those gunshots to the head?"
Amana pulled over. "The Achilles Force? Is it in any way related to the Achilles Boost?"
Celestia crossed her legs. "There's only one Achilles Energy I know of, and it is the Achilles Force, representing Queen Quinta's incredible versatility and adaptability. Conduits of the Achilles Force are known for their massive myriad of power variety. From constructs, to electrical manipulation rivalling yours truly, and incredible telekinesis. It's endless, really. At the cost of the massive variety, is the lack of power these powers have. At least, compared to the other realms.
"They're also capable of mentally linking with other Conduits."
I turned to Amana. "Junon and her kid, they're both conduits then."
Amana continued driving. "Then they might be able to help with one of the Subjects of Quinta. We should check in with them, hopefully get their help too, if they are conduits to the Achilles Force, maybe they might also help us pinpoint other Aspects who use Quinta's Energy Realms too!"
There was still one more thing bothering me. "Celestia, what about the Unity? Why isn't called the Unity Force? What exactly is it?"
"No one knows."
I scratched my head. "What do you mean?"
"No one knows about the Unity, the old stories and legends speak little of this realm. The only thing I know about it is, the Subject who rules that realm... she is the most powerful Subject of them all. She unites all of the realms together, unifying them and bringing them into one mind, one body. To make up Quinta's power as a whole."
My heart rate went up. "Then the Conduits of the Unity, they must be... beyond anything."
"That's the thing. No one has ever encountered a Conduit to the Unity before. The only known Conduit is the Subject, who has gone missing."
"Fantastic. Now how are we going to find that Subject."
"Figure it out, Riddick!"
We continued driving. Amana made a turn. "I guess our first order of business is to return home. Find Junon's squad and give Amber a place to stay."
I turned around. Amber was still sullen, her eyes empty from grief. I knew how it felt.
"We'll get you a place to stay where you will be safe."
Amber didn't answer, or even make eye contact.
We reached the rendezvous. Sentry manifested and slashed the air, creating a portal. The portal suddenly glowed gold, indicating that Calliope had approved our entry into Corinth.
I turned to Amana. "So, I take it you're probably going to help Jason now?"
Amana smiled. "Yeah, knowing him, he's probably gotten himself in trouble again and I have to bail him out."
Amana noticed my pouting. "Hey, don't look so down. I promise I'll join you again in your next mission. I'm sure Junon's team is going to be lots of fun."
I chuckled. "Yeah, I'm sure. Thanks again, Amana. For everything."
She ran her hand through my hair, which had grown out over the past few days. "No problem, kiddo. Now that you defeated Lapheth, we know that the Aspects can be beaten. Let's give em hell, alright?"
I looked at Sentry, who was being inspected by Celestia. "Strong muscles, towering build, wow..." Sentry gave her a strange look.
I helped Amber out of the car as we stepped into the portal, returning home for a new adventure.