The Legend of Samuel Mason Pt. II - The Hunt
The Legend of Samuel Mason Pt. II follows where Pt. I left off. Darkstar operative and Paladin Reincarnate Samuel "The Blackflame" Mason continues his quest to find and unite the Subjects of Quinta. After obtaining intel that to find the Subjects, he must enter their respective realms, Sam realizes that he must hunt down and consume the Aspects who stole Queen Quinta's power.
Sam teams up with Junon's squad to locate the Aspects, as he comes closer to fulfilling the prophecy that dictates his fate in the final battle.
"You can stay here for the time being. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, is in the mess hall." I showed Amber her room that Calliope and Kyrael arranged for her. Amber was still silent, her face blank.
She entered the room and sat on the bed.
I sat next to her. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes, but I know you won't be able to fulfill it."
"Amber, a prophecy is meant to happen."
Amber clenched her fists, wrinkling her jeans. "Sam, you never made things easy. Even now."
I didn't know what to say. Everything fell apart for her so fast, so sudden. She lost her family, friends, the people at the refuge. Her boyfriend. Now me, who was all she basically had, was destined to die. Life sucked.
Amber wiped her eyes. "I know you are." She sighed. "I shouldn't be putting this on you, I'm just... I'm exhausted Sam. I just want all this to end. Maybe it's easier to just end it myself."
"Hey, don't think like that."
"I have no one left."
"No one should take their own life, no matter how bad it gets. Amana cares about you, and if you give the people here a chance, so will they. Your life is too precious to be given up on."
"I want to be alone... I'm, I just need some space. Sorry."
I left Amber alone. Walking back to the main hall then to the Darkstar hideout. Wheeler was at the main computer. It was funny seeing a computer in Corinth; it was so out of place.
"Ayy, little man. How you doing?"
"What's up, Wheeler. How's training?"
"I'm perfecting my stone golems. Lady Calliope and I are comin' up with a real kicker combo right now. Involves making my golems crazy strong and durable."
I glanced at the computer screen, the golems that Wheeler had summoned were wielding golden armour.
"Damn, that's cool" I muttered.
I walked along the courtyard. Ferris filled me in on the details of everybody so far. Jason was still training in the Underworld, and Amana had joined him. Calliope and Ferris were working on a cool combo attack. Lazarus and Trill were working with Paladin Hark to create the Warpgate. Tob, Reya, and Dennis were training together. Junon and her squad were off, having completed their quest for Lazarus. They were chartering the furthest places of Corinth to fight and train. I guess that was where I was heading.
"Sam." A familiar voice appeared. I turned around, greeted by a woman with long flowing green hair. Merrow Rivenlight, my Guardian.
"Hey, Merrow! How was training?"
"Good. I see you achieved another soul-link."
Celestia zipped around Merrow. "Guuurlll! You're still looking pretty after all these years?"
Merrow laughed. "You're not looking too bad yourself, Celeste!"
My eyebrow twitched. Merrow and Celestia went way back. The two girl guardians who had to look after their Paladins. Most Paladins were assigned a Guardian to fill in their weaknesses. The best Guardians, well to us back then anyway, were the beasts. The powerful familiars that made us look badass and cool. When Icarus was assigned Polyth, the Serpent, Jonna and I were so excited to receive ours.
The look on my face when I was assigned Merrow the Mermaid was still memorable even now. She was so annoying. Like the high school popular girl type. Always texting on her phone, paying me no attention. We were an iconic duo. A popular girl forced to work with a nerdy edgelord. Every mission and contract I was assigned was never completed without the two of us getting in some sort of argument.
Merrow changed over the years, maturing and growing into Decen's caretaker. After all those years in the Formation, she didn't really age much, but it was still pretty apparent compared to Merrow in her twenties. Come to think about it, Merrow would technically be in her late forties. Thinking about Merrow that way felt weird.
Merrow caught me smirking. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing, just thinking about the past."
I updated Merrow on my quest with Amana. How I soul-linked with Celestia, intel on the Achilles Conduits, and how we could have Junon use her powers to locate the Aspects who stole Quinta's power somehow. The objective was to absorb these Aspects, so I could become a conduit to the other three realms. I would then transport myself into each realm and hopefully find the Subjects, convincing them to join our cause.
Merrow smoothed her frizzy green hair. "Seems like a good idea. But how sure are you that you can convince the Subjects?"
I looked down. "I... I don't know. I didn't think that far ahead."
Celestia giggled. "Aww, well let's just take it one step at a time. Where's this Junon chick anyway?"
I activated Hunter's Eye. "She's in the Marshes. Along with her squad. I guess that's where we're headed."
Merrow shouldered her backpack. "The Marshes huh. The swamp water there isn't my cup of tea, but wherever is water, I'm at my home turf."
I wasn't too thrilled to see a thirty something year old mermaid swimming in the swamps. The thought of it made me almost gag.
"You were thinking about me at my age swimming in my mermaid form were you." Merrow shot me a dangerous glare.
"No." I said a little too quickly.
Bridget giggled in my mind. This was going to be one hell of a journey.
I told Merrow I would meet her at the gates at sundown. I went to the Inquisition castle, returning to my room to pack. There wasn't much to pack, but having a bag was helpful. I strapped on my fitness gloves and put Wheeler's goggles around my neck. My tank top was shredded from the fight against Lapheth and the survivors. Thankfully, Hannah had supplied me with extra t-shirts. I slipped a random one on. It had a little engraved pun written dead centre.
What do you call a carrot with 4 sides?
A square root
I put on my nano-weave jacket and headed out, but there was one place I needed to stop by first.
"Hey Amber." I knocked on her door, which was open.
Amber was on the bed, staring at old pictures. "Hey." She replied, forcing a smile.
I sat on the other side of the bed. "I'm going to be gone for a while."
I looked down awkwardly and cleared my throat. "Hey, do you want to hear a joke?"
Amber gave me a confused look. "Um.. sure..."
"Have you heard of Murphy's law?"
"Umm, yes. It's if something goes wrong then it can go wrong. Seems pretty cruel if you ask me."
Crap. I didn't realize that before coming up with the joke. Roll with it.
"Yeah. So have you heard of Cole's Law?"
"No. What's that?"
"It's thinly sliced cabbage."
I totally stole that joke, but I hoped Amber had never heard of it. She gave me a blank stare. Held back a laugh. Suddenly Amber busted out laughing. "Oh my god. You're SO corny. Why am I laughing at this."
I laughed too. It was such a stupid joke that I found online.
Amber continued laughing. "The fact that you're wearing that shirt!" I smiled. Seeing her happy, even temporary, it washed over me.
We made eye contact. Amber's smile melted. "Your eyes are... really pretty." She muttered.
"Yeah, it's from the soul link."
She brought her knees up to her chin. "Sam... if, say the prophecy was meant for someone else, and you survive this war... would you..."
I raised my eyebrows. "Would I what?"
"Would you stay. With me?"
My heartbeat went up. I looked away. "I... um... well I don't see why not. Erm..."
Amber's eyes went wide. "I mean, like as a friend, you know. Not like I like like you or anything."
I stood up, fumbling with my words. "Yeah, definitely. You know, not like I like, like you or anything. I mean I like you, like as a friend. And stuff." I turned around. "Well, I guess I'm gonna go. Uh. Yeah."
Amber looked away, awkwardly. "Yep. Just friends. See ya."
"Bye." I said quickly, before I walked out and banged my head on the doorframe.
I flew to the skies of Corinth, my hands and feet leaving behind a trail of black and blue flames, with Merrow behind me riding a water serpent. I remembered chasing her down so long ago, when Jason and I were trying to locate her. The nostalgia.
Celestia initially wanted to fly by my side.
"I'm not going into your disgusting consciousness. I'm flying."
I made her eat her words as she found her tiny fairy wings struggling to keep up with Form 1's speed.
"So, Celestia, what other powers do you have? I know you're a storm spirit, and you're a spatial magic user." I asked her.
Celestia was silent for a few seconds. "I'm an enhancer type."
"What's that mean."
I could sense her rolling her eyes. "It means I enhance people."
Merrow flew closer to my side. "Enhancement type Guardians give their Paladins a tremendous boost in power. They're capable of unlocking new levels of ability that may be dormant."
I thought for a moment. "Does this mean you could help me unlock my Motion Force connection?"
Celestia shook her head. "It doesn't work like that. It's true that I can amplify your abilities, but Quinta's Energy Realms have their own set of rules. I have limits."
"So what can you enhance?"
Suddenly, my body sparked with purple electricity. Her powers mixing with my black and blue Darkfire, boosting the flame. I shot forward several times faster, like an arrow.
"Oh god, what the hell?!" I crashed through a mountain, leading to tons of rock being dislodged and falling to the ground thousands of feet below.
"You asked, didn't you? I can enhance any ability you currently have. Speed, strength, your flames..."
An idea popped in my head. "So I have my own Kaiju Boost!"
Sentry's voice boomed in my head. "I see. Your remnant, Jason of Croft was capable of an ability like that. He called upon my power to boost his physical parameters a thousandfold."
"But since I used all of your powers through Darkfire, I wasn't able to do so."
"Now you have Celestia, your combat prowess will improve significantly."
"Aww, you don't need to complement me, big guy."
"I beg your pardon?"
The tension was getting awkward. "Well, that's good to know. So does this drain you in any way?"
"It does, depending on how much I enhance. If I enhance your speed only, it doesn't really affect me. If I enhance your speed and your flames, then yes."
"Still, that's... awesome. I think this'll be great to have alongside Blink!"
Merrow laughed. "You are getting stronger, Sam. But don't make the same mistakes you made as Decen. The stronger you get, the more reckless you become."
"I know, I know."
We continued flying. "I think I see them." Merrow shouted at me over the wind.
I activated Hunter's Eye, making out six people. Junon, Mavus, Adam, Truman, Veran and Khione. They were fighting some kind of serpent monster, its size so big that I could see it from this distance. Adam was zipping around, leaving behind a trail of cyan electricity trying to protect the people. Judging from the way Junon was using her powers, she was holding back to avoid hurting the bystanders.
"Got a plan, Merrow?"
"I do, let me try to sedate it, you'll distract it. They're doing a good job distracting the monster, but at this rate, they're just letting it cause more damage to the surroundings."
I shot forward, concentrating my flames. The monster was about to make a huge lunge at Junon, but she managed to block it with two large cyan arm constructs. Hunter's Eye picked up cracks beginning to form. This wasn't good. If it broke now, the shockwave would definitely do damage to the surroundings. Junon probably knew that too, because she immediately shouted something to Mavus, who flew to the air in his armour and tried to intercept the lunge as well, but was swatted aside into several buildings.
It was now or never. I began flying downward like an arrow, readying myself with a restrained axe kick. I slammed my foot down on the monster's hide, generated a massive torrent of Darkfire outwards which charred the surroundings, but not completely destroying it. The monster's jaw slammed into the grass, mud, and sludge flying everywhere. I landed on the monster's head, my knee pinning the monster down. I noticed that Merrow had jumped into the water, probably in her mermaid form.
The monster growled, and tried to rise, but I put my hand on its head, superheating it. The monster began to squirm, but I upped the fire, forcing it to stay put. I looked up, and saw Junon staring at me.
"Umm... hi Sam." Junon's face was covered in sludge and dirt. But otherwise, she was fine. Adam, Khione, Truman, and Veran were still trying to evacuate and protect the bystanders.
Suddenly, the monster went slack, its eyeballs rolling back as it fell back into the depths. Merrow emerged from the waters, back in her human form. "Return to the depths, my very confused friend."
Mavus emerged from the rubble, his armour completely scuffed, but otherwise fine. His helmet retracted, revealing his face. "You know, I totally had that."
Junon smirked. "Sure ya did."
Junon parted Mavus' hair to the side. She glanced at me. "What brings you here, Sam?"
"You're a conduit."
Junon's smile melted. "I'm sorry?"
"You're a Conduit of Quinta, in particular, the Achilles Force. I need your help."
I told her about my quest, finding the other Aspect conduits and consuming them and my plan to unite the Subjects. Junon looked really confused. Ironically, it was her son who spoke up.
"I didn't know we had that ability... I'm only able to link with other members of the Achilles Force, as far as I can tell."
Junon still looked confused. "I didn't know I was a conduit. When I received the Achilles Boost, I thought it was just a spell or something. Do you remember anything about being a conduit, Mavus?"
Mavus looked like he was zoning out. "No idea. When I obtained the energy, I weaponized it. I only knew you had to be worthy to inherit it."
Adam tilted his head, the same way Junon did when she was deep in thought. "Sam, how certain are you that we have this ability?"
Celestia fluttered next to me. "You're a conduit to the Achilles Force, which represents Queen Quinta's versatility and immense adaptability. It should be innate to you."
Veran, Khione, and Truman bounded to our position. "Oh my god, is that BLACKFLAME?!" Truman squealed.
"Uh..." I muttered as Truman ran up to me like he was taking measurements.
I glanced at Khione, who looked uncomfortable. Was it because she was an ice affinity? I didn't look that threatening.
Mavus started looking Adam up and down like another one of his machines. Adam's eye twitched in annoyance. "You have super radar powers, that's so freaking cool dude."
"It only works on Achilles Conduits."
Merrow walked up to the kid. "Can you try searching on those first?"
Adam concentrated, but suddenly doubled over. Junon ran up to him in concern. "I'm fine Mom, I mean Junon. I'm just tired."
Junon turned to us. "Let's try this tomorrow, once everybody is well rested up."
Merrow nodded in agreement.
That night, we camped outside the marshes. Making ourselves comfy in Junon and Mavus' temporary camp. I walked by Khione and Veran laughing in a tent when suddenly I made eye contact with Khione, who quickly looked away. What was her deal? Celestia and Merrow were busy catching up, while Sentry and Bridget manifested, playing together. So I was kind of just wandering around alone, as usual.
Suddenly, Mavus called me over.
I went to his tent. Junon wasn't there. I sat down. "What's up?"
Mavus leaned in closer to me. "Word spread all over the Inquisition. You killed an Aspect?! With your bare hands?!"
"Well... not really. More like made her braindead..."
"Damn, dude. That's insane. Remember how we were barely able to put a dent on Mogul?"
I shook my head. "Mogul was a completely different beast all on his own. Lapheth was weaker."
Mavus shushed me hard. "Dude, don't speak her name. Adam... he's got a really really messed up future with that particular Aspect."
"Don't mention it. But damn. That means these guys can be killed! They're not immortal and unstoppable as we thought. We got an edge in this war!"
We sat in silence as I watched Mavus wave his hand over his suit, repairing it with green light. The glove he was wearing was enhanced by Lazarus' magic, allowing him to use pseudo technopathy. It was a cool concept that I didn't understand.
"So..." I said.
Mavus looked at me. "Sup?"
"What's it like."
"What's what like?"
"Having a son from the future. Must be trippy isn't it?"
Mavus laughed. "Oh yeah. Definitely is, but when I talk to him, it feels, different. He brings out a side in me that I never knew existed. I hate kids. But with Adam, it's different. Also the fact that now it's confirmed that Junon is preggers. So there's that to be feel weird about."
I suddenly felt alarmed. "Wait, Junon is pregnant?! Why is she moving around like that? That can't be safe."
Mavus shook his head. "She normally moves way faster. She's trying to limit her movement and her power at the moment. That's why she doesn't seem as Tier Zero as usual."
Mavus noticed me playing with Wheeler's Goggles. "Dude, you okay?"
"Huh? Yeah. Definitely."
"You have that look again. Like when you were dreading returning back to Darkstar."
"That obvious, huh."
I watched as a piece of his armour was restored, elongating back to its original shape and cladding onto the plating. "That face you're making, it's the same face I used to make when I thought I was gonna lose my life in the final fight with Mogul."
He was really perceptive. "You can't let the others know." I told him.
"I know. That's not for me to decide. But you gotta tell em eventually. Trust me."
I stared at the restored armour.
"Can I see those?" Mavus was pointing at my goggles.
"Yeah. Since we're pals now, I figured it's only fair if I gave you some Mavus magic on those."
"Trust me dude, it's fine. Come on now."
I handed Mavus my goggles. He put his hand over it, glowing green as I noticed that parts of metal began cladding onto it, giving it more of a technological appearance. He handed the goggles back to me.
"What did you do to them?"
"I gave em an upgrade. Try them on."
I put the goggles on. Suddenly, my vision was lit up with an HUD screen, analysis and several parameters appearing in my vision in a neat, futuristic, yet minimal user interface. Complete with all the essentials for a desktop.
"Dude... this is.... this is awesome." I muttered.
"Yeah, I repurposed your goggles to not just serve as your primary tool for Hunter's Eye, but also containing my signature vision module. Now you can get in contact with me and any other people in the Inquisition or Darkstar who has a com unit. Any com unit. The tech is magically linked thanks to Laz."
I turned to Mavus. "How do I look?"
"The most badass ripped Asian slash white guy ever."
I laughed. Mavus gave me a thumbs up. "If the goggles get damaged, just ring me up and I'll get em fixed. But if the HUD gets too busted up, you can always adjust and control them by touching the sides like a cursor."
I didn't know what to say. This was easily one of the coolest things I had ever seen. "Thanks. I really mean it."
Mavus leaned back, propping his feet on his armour. "No worries, just a little Mavus Magic you know?"
I waved him goodbye as I walked out of the tent. I didn't really do much fighting today, so I decided to hit up a little workout before bed.
I just finished my last set of one armed pushups when suddenly Khione appeared. I got up, causing her to look away, embarrassed.
"What's up? Oh, sorry." I quickly heated my body up, boiling away the sweat and slipping on my jacket.
Khione opened her mouth to say something, but suddenly looked away again. "Sorry. Nevermind. Enjoy your night." She turned around and walked back to the tents.
"Wait." I called after her. Khione stopped.
"Did... did I do something to offend you? As Decen? Or...?"
"Then why are you so uncomfortable around me? Like I get me being fire and you being ice..."
Khione sighed, and turned around. "I'm not uncomfortable with you. I'm uncomfortable with your power. The source."
I shifted awkwardly. "You mean Sentry? It's just Darkfire."
"You know what Darkfire is?"
"Yeah, that stuff in the Underworld, right?"
Khione shook her head. "Not exactly. Those flames you wield, they are the essence of the devil. They represent the Hellspawn, their rage. Their vicious nature."
"They're not all bad. Sentry's really nice when you get to know him."
Khione's hand clenched, causing the ground around her to be covered in frost. I definitely struck a nerve. "You don't understand. The Hellspawn, they are all evil. Their hands, are the source of darkness that killed my kind, the Boreans."
My heart felt like it was being wrenched. "Hey, I promise you I'm not like those guys. Me or Sentry. We're different."
Khione's face was full of sorrow. "They all say that. But it all ends the same way. You can't expect to clean a wound with a white cloth without it becoming stained with blood. Those who wield the darkness... their hands become stained with the darkness. As dark as night."
My head suddenly twinged with pain. I clutched my temple.
Hands of purity, stained with night.
"Hey, are you okay?" Khione ran to my side. I regained my composure, and Khione suddenly stumbled back. "Sorry... I didn't mean to cause this."
Khione whipped the braid along her shoulder behind her back. "Well, I just came here to warn you, after witnessing your powers for the first time up close. Those who wield the power of the Underworld... it'll take everything they have to retain your centre. Please remember, remember who you are. Don't let it consume you, when it happens. You're a good person. A hero to these people and to me. Everything you have done, you deserve a true hero's ending."
Khione left me alone in the moonlight, as I stared at my hand. Way to ruin the mood.
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.
I was in charge of who I was. But, when was a prophecy ever wrong?
"I see... a..." Junon muttered
"What? What? What do you see?!" Mavus poked his head into Junon's face.
"Shut up! I'm trying to concentrate!"
Junon glowed with cyan Achilles Energy, trying to pinpoint my location. I was hidden behind a bunch of trees.
"I'm sorry, I can't. I can't see you, Sam." Junon sighed in exasperation.
I emerged from the trees.
Merrow patted Junon on the shoulder. "It's okay. I guess we need to find a different way to pinpoint their location. How are you doing, Adam?"
Adam tried his best, but was unable to get anything out of it. "I can't pinpoint Sam either. Like I said before, my powers only work with other Achilles Conduits. Maybe I'm a second generation Conduit, my powers are dampened."
"Could be" Celestia put her hand on her chin. "What now?"
I plopped on the ground. We weren't getting anywhere with these guys. We needed to find the other Aspects before they decide to band together and come at us full force. At this rate, we weren't going to get anywhere with our quest.
"So, good news, we're getting somewhere with our quest." Merrow approached me, holding a dagger, stained with blood.
"Uhhh what's what?"
"A challenge." Merrow replied.
Merrow held back a snicker. "Yeah. But don't take it lightly. It's who it's from that worries me."
In case you guys were wondering, in the old days, becoming a Paladin of War, or an anything of war was a big deal. There were many who wanted to claim such a title, and as a result, only one who was worthy through a trial of strength deserved the name. If one determines or believes another to be unworthy of the title, they were eligible of sending a challenge to them. Typically, it was done through a spear with the head of a very powerful monster, sent to the champion to be challenged.
Whoever sent this clearly didn't know the customs.
I inspected the blade, and found an engraving on the hilt. It was written in flawless Acadi. The rough translation.
Reincarnation of Decen, I, Janna Kull, the Aspect of War, challenge you. It is time, to take my rightful place as ruler of the armies. Your time has come. I will be waiting on Earth XIX..
"Janna?" I gave the knife back to Merrow.
Adam's ears perked up as he looked in my direction. "You're kidding me. No way."
I glanced at the kid. "You know this Aspect?"
Adam put his head in his hand. "Janna, the Aspect of War. She's rumoured to be one of the strongest Aspects in existence, maybe even rivalling her uncle, Mogul, in power."
Truman pumped his fist. "Hot damn! The Aspect of War vs. the Paladin of War. Janna Kull vs Samuel Mason. This is gonna be SO EPIC!"
Adam shook his head. "There's nothing epic about this. Janna is ridiculously powerful, even for an Aspect. As much as I hate to say this, I can't see Sam winning against her."
"Gee, thanks Adam." I grumbled.
Merrow put away the dagger. "What makes Janna so powerful, may I ask?"
Adam brushed off some dust from his jacket. "Janna's known for her crazy arsenal of weapons, and the way she wields them. In terms of fighting skill, she is a cut above the rest.
"But that's not what makes her different from the other Aspects. At some point, her skill was recognized by the Prime Aspect, Quinta. She gave her a portion of her power, and became a Conduit to the Motion Force as well as the Power Force. Her already immense speed, was further boosted, along with her strength. Making her one of the fastest and strongest Aspects to ever exist. The only other Aspect to match her blow for blow, was Zophus, the Aspect of Motion. And even he had a hard time keeping up."
Adam turned to me, his cyan eyes emanating with Achilles Energy like his mother. "No one, and I mean nobody, has ever fought Janna and won. As far as I have seen, in the future, she was still undefeated. If you're planning on fighting her to consume her power, I just can't see how this will work."
I clenched my fists. "I don't have much of a choice. She's a conduit to the Power Force. I need her power."
"We need a plan." Khione polished her staff.
"What?" Khione's face looked incredulous.
"That's not how I roll. It's more natural for me to fight her head on. Maybe fighting her will unlock my Motion Force abilities or something. Besides, I'm a conduit to the Restoration Force. She can slash at me all she wants, I should be able to keep fighting. Maybe wear her down."
"I don't know about that, Sam." Junon was helping Mavus untangle his t-shirt from his armour. "I think we should come up with something. You could serve as a distraction, I guess. But just banking on a straight up brawl against a literal war goddess is probably not a good idea."
Merrow shouldered her spear. "I agree with Junon. You struggled in your fight against Aaron Sterling, who only wielded the Power Force as a mere meta human. This Janna Kull we speak of, she wields the Power Force as an already formidable Aspect. In addition to the Motion Force, this fight will be extremely one sided.
"On the contrary, time is certainly of the essence. Let's get to this Earth first, and figure out a plan then. Celestia?"
"On it." Celestia fluttered to the skies, holding out her hands, causing thunder to roll in the hills. The sky turned dark, as flashes of purple lightning wreathed her tiny little body. Storm clouds descended from the heavens, swirling and turning spherical as a portal emerged.
"What are you staring at, Paladin Idiot? Get moving!"
I approached the portal, entering it, alongside Junon's Squad and Merrow. I didn't know what I was getting into. But then again, I never did.
The high rises and buildings caught me off guard.
We ended up in the alleyway of a busy city, the environment was dark, but lit up with numerous signs and advertisements, billboards. If I was to describe this place in one word, I would have to describe it as busy.
"So much... going on..." Adam muttered.
He was right. This place was jam packed. We exited the alley and walked along the sidewalk. Tons of cars zoomed by, as numerous pedestrians crossed the roads.
I was about to step into the street when Merrow suddenly pulled me back. "We can't be walking around with our weapons in the open."
"It's okay, I got this." Celestia flew around, caking us in purple glitter. Suddenly, the goggles I hung around my neck flew into the air, and transformed, into a pair of eyeglasses, which hit me in the face. Merrow's spear as well as Khione's staff elongated into umbrellas, and Kronus turned into a water bottle, strapped onto the side of Adam's backpack.
"That's cool." Adam admitted.
"I possess a tremendously large satchel." Veran announced, pointing at his bag which was previously his giant broadsword.
I turned to Celestia. "What did you do?"
She gave me a confused look. "Ummm, I cloaked all your weapons and gear. Hello? Are you dumb?"
I looked down and realized that the usual protective padding I had on my jeans were no longer there. "You took away my armour you sugar plum idiot."
"What are you talking about, I concealed it. It's still there, just not visible. Dummy."
"What about you? I'm pretty sure people are going to find it weird to see a fairy perched on some guy's shoulder."
Celestia dissipated into a bolt of purple lightning.
"Are you happy now, meathead?"
"No. Why would I be happy about having to listen to you in my head."
We continued arguing as we approached the station.
It turned out finding Janna was a lot easier to find than we thought. We took a hyper-tube, which was a train system for transit travel. We needed a place to bunk out. Mavus had used his "ol' mighty hackatron" to rent a place for us to stay. The trip was about twenty minutes long apparently.
"Meet Spazz's number one most successful streamer.... Janna Kawley!" Janna's face appeared on the screen of the train. She had a big smile on her face, complete with wavy blonde hair. She waved at the screen a bit too much and squealed with joy, hugging the host. "Oh my GOD! I'm so excited to be on your show! Thank you so much to my amazing fans for getting me this far!"
I looked at the passengers on the train. There were a couple of guys who were just on their phone reading the news, but the ones who were on social media... pictures of Janna were plastered all over their feed. One guy had one of her old streams. I needed intel.
I tapped my goggles, well I guess eyeglasses, and the HUD lit up.
"Zoom." I whispered. The goggles zoomed in on the stream, as a little window popped up giving me a better view of the video.
Janna herself was sitting on a gaming chair, surrounded by a chat box in the corner. She was sipping a cup of coffee as she was talking to her fans, telling about her day. The stream looked dead as hell, but for some reason, the chat was extremely active. She got several donations within the span of twenty seconds. The donation messages were... well kind of hard to read.
"TrevorTheNinja27 donated $25: Hey Janna! I love your hair! There's more where that came from! Sorry I only donated $25 today, I've been saving more to donate to you later tonight on your gaming stream."
Janna spun in her chair. "Aww, thanks Trevor! I appreciate it!"
Another donation appeared on the screen, complementing her makeup. One went to the extent of donating $50. A lot of her viewers were guys.
"xShadowSword donated $5: Hey Jan, looking pretty today. I was wondering if you were interested in playing a game with me. It would mean the world to me. I hate playing with men, I'm not like them. Super toxic if you ask me. Anyway, thanks for always making my da-"
"Stop. Stop. Stop the feed. Unzoom." I fumbled with my glasses trying to turn the window off. Several passengers gave me a strange look.
"Here bro, let me." Mavus leaned in and touched the side of my face, attempting to tap in a reboot sequence. It didn't really help as he was so close. I didn't swing that way, and I certainly did not need people thinking I did.
"Don't mean to interrupt your bonding moment guys, but let's pay attention to the station names." Adam whispered at us.
The temporary look of pure hatred on Adam's face was enough confirmation that this woman was indeed Janna Kull. How was she able to publicize herself so easily in this universe?
We made out way to our rooms. There was two. One for Junon, Mavus, Adam, and I. The other for Truman, Veran, Khione, and Merrow.
Mavus fell on the bed. "Mad tired." He grumbled. He pulled out his laptop and opened the browser, then on a video site. On his recommended was Janna's latest video. "Wow, she's everywhere."
Junon tilted her head. "We need to come up with a plan to back up Sam in his fight against her. She seems to have the advantage for knowing this world better. But we'll figure something out. In the meantime, we need to go on a grocery haul."
I raised my hand. "I'll go." Junon nodded. "Alright. It's settled. I'm going to see if I can study this world's society system a bit more. Mavus, you mind coming along with Sam?" Mavus was enthralled by Janna's channel which clocked in at around 8 million subscribers, apparently having already binged two videos. "Sorry what?"
We walked down the street, which was illuminated by a ton of neon lights. "Dude this place looks like an RGB gaming setup." Mavus spun in a circle, taking in the scene.
"Got any ideas on taking down Janna?" I asked him.
"Bro... I haven't started, but I did do some research."
"I'm sure you did."
Mavus' eyes went wide. "Well I mean, not like that. I'm faithful to June-bug. But you gotta admit she's pretty hot-"
Mavus's face went red. "Okay, we have nicknames. Bite me."
The two of us continued walking down the street. The view was incredible. High rises, tall as the eye could see. Neon lights and signs decorating the whole scene and a giant screen on one of the buildings.
"What were we looking for again?"
"Groceries. Weren't you paying attention to what Junon said?"
"Nah man, I was zoning out."
I sighed. We entered a local grocery market. The old lady operating the counter looked at us with a bored expression. Mavus waved at her awkwardly. She ignored him.
A song was playing in the background, like some kind of cyberpunk hip-hop hybrid. I started to collect some basic supplies. Food, drinks, bandages and medical supplies. Mavus ran up to me.
"Dude, we need these." He dumped an entire month's supply of chips into the basket.
Celestia's voiced appeared in my consciousness. "Okay, the card I gave you should work. It's a universal transaction item."
I went to the counter when something caught the corner of my eye. A young woman, no older than me, with flowing blonde hair. She was wearing a pair of large glasses. She looked like she was in disguise, but I recognized her immediately. Janna Kull.
"Mavus." I whispered.
Mavus turned to me. "Yo."
Mavus looked in the direction I was pointing. Janna was picking some instant coffee packets.
"What, you want to hit? Can that wait?"
"What? No! That's Janna!"
"Nah, no way. She's pretty cute though. Here, I'll wingman."
Before I could stop him, Mavus dragged me to her.
Janna had two packets in her hand, frowning over which one to pick. I didn't know what to do. If I fought her here, it would do way too much damage. Not to mention the lady at the counter. I needed to get her out of here. Or I could move the fight.
"Now's your chance, you damn playa. Make your move!" Mavus whispered in my ear. Janna hadn't noticed us.
I needed to get her out of the store. I stepped forward, but slipped on a packet that was on the ground, bumping into her.
"Oh!" Janna yelped. "I'm so sorry, sir!"
She grabbed my forearms. I felt like combusting into flames to get her away from me, but I controlled myself.
"Steady, young master. She does not suspect your identity. Celestia's concealment magic has provided you with a good cover." Sentry's voice boomed in my head.
"Damn right it is." Celestia squeaked.
I looked up at Janna's blue eyes. "Are you okay?" She asked, kneeling down to pick up the packets. I stared at her. If she was playing an act, she was doing a really good job at it. With the disguise, to the girly voice, I wouldn't have thought she would be the Aspect of War.
"Dude, what kind of man are you? Help her pick it up!" Mavus exclaimed.
"Erm..." I muttered. He was not making this easy.
Janna laughed. "It's okay, really. I appreciate the thought. I'm Jenny, nice to meet you!"
I needed to take her out and get her powers, but the way she was treating us, part of me didn't want to fight her.
"I'm Mavus, and this here is-"
"Mason. My name is Mason. Uh, we're just..."
I turned to Mavus. "What the hell?!" I whispered.
"Jenny" looked confused. "Oh, that's... fast."
I gave Mavus a glare. He suddenly looked guilty. "Oh, not for me. I already have a girlfriend. I was asking for Mason here. We're both gamers, you know, so we're like pretty unpopular with the ladies."
I facepalmed. Bridget started laughing hysterically in my head. Celestia started to join in.
"Very good, Maven of the Machines has provided a good cover. I believe it is wise to play along." Sentry advised.
Jenny looked me up and down and laughed. "You two are funny. I play video games too. Maybe we could play a few rounds of Stonecraft some time. Here, let me add you guys on Wayland." She pulled out her phone, tapping on an app and fiddled around with it.
I looked at Mavus. "Do something!" I mouthed.
Mavus turned away and concentrated, his glasses momentarily glowing green. Several windows opened on my vision module, as a registration process began commencing.
"What's your WL?" She asked us.
The process completed at the nick of time. Mavus and I gave her our account usernames, and she sent us friend requests.
She left the store, as we went to pay for our groceries. We left too, eventually, and walked back to the apartments.
"Dude" Mavus said.
"What." I asked.
I buried my face in my hand. "She is Janna dude. How are you this dumb."
"Suuuuuure. Don't worry about it man. I never thought you would be the kind of guy to be into blondes."
We continued making our way back to our rooms, all the while, I had to put up with Celestia and Bridget laughing in my head.
"I see." Merrow listened as I gave her and the rest of the squad the briefing on our little haul.
Merrow's face was hard to read. Unlike Celestia, she saw the situation objectively. "This act, I agree with both Sentry and Celestia. If we can get closer to her, then this will open us to more intel on our opponent to come up with a plan for when you face her."
Veran leaned forward, trying to get the last chocolate almond, but Truman grabbed the last three and stuffed them in his mouth. Veran's face was full of shock and betrayal.
"Junon has familiarized us with the customs of this world. It is apparently rude to shout in gatherings. A lesson I shall take to heart!"
"You're literally shouting right now." Truman muttered.
I looked at Mavus, who was giving me a thumbs up.
"Why are you grinning, you didn't even know that was her."
"You can't blame me, her disguise was spot on."
I spent the day training in the residence gym, alongside Veran. Veran was extremely strong, but then again, that wasn't surprising given his build. While we were training, Veran gave me an inquisitive look.
"I sense discord in your movements."
"Your movements, they are from a warrior who is regretting to fight. I have seen that body language in my many years of battle."
I didn't think of Veran as the type to think. "Uh, yeah, just a little bit of things going on in my life is all."
"If it doesn't feel right, then don't carry it out. A true warrior must know when to take a life and when to spare one."
"Thanks man, I really appreciate it."
"Khione used to be like that, say you. Always hesitating in battle! She had a pure heart that was torn apart when her people were destroyed. She chose to join me in my adventures hoping to toughen up."
"I taught her to be tough, and she taught me that despite being a warrior who has slain many, our morals were just as important. That is what separates the killers from the warriors!"
I thought about it. It was true, I didn't really feel like killing Janna. But I reminded myself of the message she had written on that challenge. This was just an act. She was pretending to be her Jenny persona. But despite that... my gut feeling was telling me otherwise.
That night, I logged onto WL. Mavus told me he was going to join in, but the moment I logged in, he fell asleep in the bed. Junon and Adam were out training, and coming up with some tactics in my fight.
The WL interface was similar to an old gaming platform I used to use back in my days with Tob. I navigated to my Friends list and opened up a DM with Janna. Her username was SquishyPanda. She didn't seem to notice me logging in. How was I going to start this conversation? I was never one to have people message me before, and it was always weird being the conversation starter.
My hands hovered over Mavus' laptop.
"Hey." I typed.
Janna didn't respond. I waited for a minute, then two minutes, then five minutes. I got up.
"Screw this." I muttered. This was probably the dumbest thing ever. I went to the fridge and got some milk to prepare a protein shake while my soul-link buddies offered me words of encouragement.
"Don't give up, Sam!" Bridget said.
"Yes, you must soldier on, young master." Said Sentry.
"HAHAHA she left you on read! That's rich." Laughed Celestia.
I returned to my seat, shaking the bottle. I was greeted with a message.
"Hey, Mason! Sorry, I didn't see your message. I started a server on Stonecraft. You want to be in a call?"
I called her, and Janna's voice appeared in the mic.
"Hey! Can you hear me?"
"How was your day?"
"Uh, it was okay. How was yours."
Celestia snickered as she manifested, her fairy form fluttering to the bed. "Yeah, I'm not going to be up all night listening to you attempting to talk with a girl. Goodnight."
Bridget and Sentry followed suit. I had such a supportive team.
"Oh my god, it was SO hectic."
"Really? What happened?"
"Well, my shower stopped working, halfway through! I had to call in a repair man. Can you believe that?! And not even an hour later, I burnt my toast. Ugh!"
"Damn, that sounds brutal."
"It's cool, though. I hit up some Champions of Terra, and I managed to win a few games in ranked. So that made me feel a bit better.
"So, where's Mavus?"
"Oh, he went to bed."
Jenny, I mean Janna, laughed. For some reason, her laugh filled me with joy, like an adrenaline rush. "Well, that's okay. Here, I'll invite you into my game."
I spawned in her world, attempting to figure out the controls. I took two steps and fell to my death. "God.... dammit." I muttered.
"It's okay! Just stay close to me, I'll show you how to craft some onyx."
We spent the next few hours playing together. I got to know a little more about her. Well, Jenny, not Janna. Whatever. She lived in an apartment flat, and her career was a streamer on the website Spazz. She had a "modest following", and her main income was from both her Spazz streams as well as her videos she posted online. That part made sense, considering her face as Janna Kawley was posted all over the internet. She didn't mention that part.
"Well, that's my life I guess. It's not much. I'm just another streamer you would find on this site! What about you?"
"Uh. I work out. And, go on the internet, a bit."
"Wow, that sounds... kind of boring! But to each their own."
"I practice martial arts too. I'm kind of, new here. I just moved in."
"Where are you from?"
I really hoped Canada was a thing in this universe. "Wow, that's pretty far away. What made you want to move?"
"Just... job prospects. You know. Just looking for something. Searching."
"Aww, well I'm sure you'll find it."
We kept playing. I nearly died from a zombie, but Jenny saved me. "You're so reckless, Mason! Gotta know when an enemy is too tough, otherwise charging in will just get you killed."
"No enemy is too tough for me. Bulldoze em."
Jenny laughed. "You're funny. You'd make an awesome streamer to be honest. Some people like the alpha male act."
"Maybe I could come on your streams?"
"Oh... maybe not. It's... complicated."
It was getting late. And I died for the fifty sixth time. At least we got a nice castle made.
"It's getting late, I think I'm going to log off." I told Jenny.
"Aww, okay. You going to be online again sometime?"
I stared at my reflection, my eyes bloodshot from staring at a screen for hours on end.
"Probably not. I'm not a computer person."
Jenny was silent for a few seconds. "Oh."
"Well, if you want, we could always do something outside of video games. You want to hang out?"
"That would be nice. Maybe tomorrow afternoon?"
"Uh, sure. I'll meet you outside the grocery store we first met."
"Sounds good. See you then!"
I logged off, and closed the laptop. I was exhausted. I turned around and realized that Celestia had fallen asleep on Sentry's chest. Sentry was also asleep with Bridget close by. I made some space on the floor under Adam's sofa bed. I closed my eyes.
I made my way to the meeting spot. Despite being in broad daylight, the scene was still so neon and futuristic. I couldn't help but take in the view.
"How's the date" Mavus' voice lit up in my goggles.
"It's not a date. I'm extracting intel. Shut up." I muted his coms.
I kept walking. The thought that Janna was impersonating this, Jenny persona, was infuriating. But at the same time, I just couldn't imagine she was doing this as a trick. What if she really wanted to just take a step back from all the popularity? But even so, why do this in the first place. She was an Aspect. A goddess of war. There was no reason to do all this.
I downed the last of my protein drink and threw it at a garbage can that was a little bit too far away. I chucked the plastic bottle with a little too much force, making it sail several yards and hitting the trash can dead set in the centre.
"Wow. You have some killer aim, dude."
I turned around. Jenny was wearing a green hoodie, her blonde hair tumbling to her shoulders. She adjusted her glasses, waving at me.
"Oh, I practice, like a lot." I went up to her. "What's the plan?"
"I figured you're new here, so want to take a stroll around the city a bit?"
Jenny took me around the city, showing me where all the shops and malls were, the importance of being eco friendly in a heavily technological area. The little tour ended and we stopped by some ramen place for lunch.
I guess now was a good time to start extracting some intel. "So, what did you do, before streaming?"
Jenny's chopsticks stopped midair. "What do you mean?"
"You went to school, I reckon. Did you do anything else?"
Jenny suddenly turned guarded. Shoot. "Nothing out of the ordinary. Studied, made friends. I decided to stream instead of going to college. I preferred a more dynamic career."
We both knew that was utter bullshit. I tried to keep my face from showing it.
"What did you do? Before you ended up here? You don't like computers, gaming, and social media. Don't tell me you were a bodybuilder in your teenager years too."
"Haha, no. I was an engineering undergrad. In high school, I was a straight A student."
Jenny looked at a couple of people who were on their phones. One of them was watching one of her videos. Jenny started to cringe but saw me looking, and quickly reverted back to her old smiling demeanour. "Ah, well, that sounds great."
Judging from my expression, it looked like Jenny had already figured it out. "You're... not into that stuff are you?"
"I mean, like the big trends. The popular Spazzers, and streamers. You don't know much about them right?"
"No, that stuff doesn't interest me. Sorry."
Jenny and I left the restaurant, paid the bill, and walked down the streets. The sun was going down.
"What do you think about... Janna? Surely you know who she is." Jenny asked me.
"I don't know, she seems successful."
Jenny fidgeted with her sleeves. "If I told you, that Janna was standing in front of you, would you freak out?"
"I'd have a few questions to ask."
"Why she's keeping everything a secret from me."
Jenny's face suddenly went red. "I... um..."
"I know you're Janna Kawley. There's no point hiding it."
Janna sighed. "It's important that you keep it a secret. I don't want word to spread again. Ugh. I sometimes hate the popularity.
"It's nice to be well known, but when I'm shopping for groceries, or whenever I go out, I'm always bombarded by people. The dumbest mistakes that are always overlooked get put on the news. You know how annoying that is?"
"Well it is. It's why I created this, disguise. Sometimes, I just feel like taking a step back and moving forward at a slower pace. The responsibilities of being someone that big, it's just overwhelming sometimes, ya' know? I guess you probably don't wanna be seen with me, considering you don't even like Spazz streamers."
"I never said that."
Janna looked at me. "But-"
"I just said I don't find it interesting. I never said I don't like them, or you."
Janna turned away. "So, are we still cool if we hang out once in a while? As Mason and Jenny? Just two buddies having fun?"
"Like a secret identity?"
"I guess that could work."
Janna smiled. "That means a lot. Thanks, Mason. Most guys who I meet, they're only in on it for the clout, or for... other things. You're different."
I suddenly felt guilty. I was exactly like the other guys. But instead of trying to score a girlfriend, I was trying to get her powers. How was I any different.
I slapped my temple. No. She was the one that should be guilty. For tricking all of us. For deceiving all of us. I didn't know what her motives were, but she was an Aspect. I had to continue this ruse till the end. I needed those Power Force cells.
We continued checking out the night scene. Janna was distracted by a dog that was being walked by a elderly couple.
"AWW!!!" She ran up to it and started petting it. The granny was laughing.
I watched as Janna petted the dog, basically bursting at the seams. How could someone like this be an Aspect? I looked back at the dagger that was sent to me, the chill down my spine when I read it. I looked back at Janna. The two just, didn't match. At all.
The night was getting late. It began to snow. "Oh shoot! I didn't dress for the weather. Ugh." Janna began to shiver.
"You should probably put your hood on. Your hair is going to get all wet." I told her.
Janna looked at me. "This is usually where the guy hands me his jacket or coat and hugs me for warmth." She smirked.
"What? How does that make any sense? What am I supposed to wear then?"
It turned out we didn't need to worry about the extra coat, because three muggers appeared out of nowhere, aiming their guns at us.
"Money in. No sudden movements or we shoot." The guy at front aimed his gun at my face.
I needed to dispatch these guys fast, before Janna froze to death. Wait, why was I thinking about her? She was an Aspect, this shouldn't affect her.
"Stand back, Janna." I was about to assume my Doma stance, but Janna's face went momentarily surprised. Oh no. If I fought these guys here, she would definitely know who I was. The guy kneed me in the gut. I took it head on and fell to my knees, pretending to be in pain.
"Haha, playing a hero in front of your girlfriend? You're real stupid, kid."
I didn't need Doma Martial Arts. I've trained for so many years. I should be strong enough to smack that guy upside down with a good old fashioned brawl. But with the guns aimed at me and Janna, I'd be cut down before that happened.
I needed a strategy. A plan. I got to my feet, but the guy aimed his gun at my face again.
"Okay, enough screwing around. Give me all you have. We don't have all day. I guess we're just going to have to kill you both."
Suddenly, Janna swung her hand, knocking the firearm out of his hand. The two started to fire, but Janna grabbed a trashcan lid and shielded the bullets, throwing them at the attackers and knocking them down. The guy got up but Janna kicked him in the chest.
Janna ran forward and smacked the trashcan lid on the heads of the remaining two muggers, knocking them out. She grabbed my wrist. "Let's go!" She shouted.
We ran all the way back to the complex I stayed. We were behind a building, catching our breaths.
"Are you okay? Are you hurt! Oh god." She started to pat me down, searching for injuries.
"I'm fine, Janna. How did you learn to fight like that?"
Janna pursed her lips. "I... I learned to fight from my family. I hate fighting. But when it happens, I don't have a choice. I'm sorry you had to see me like this. I'm sorry."
"Hey, calm down. I thought it was pretty cool. You saved my bacon. Well, it's getting late. Are you safe going back to your place?"
"Yeah. It's fine. I can make it back myself. I'm so sorry our day was ruined like that. Are you going to be online sometime?"
"Uh, maybe not tomorrow. The night after, maybe. We could play Stonecraft and you can try to save my bacon online too."
Janna laughed. "Aww, it's okay. The game is pretty manageable once you figure it out. Don't be so hard on yourself!"
I went back to my room. Everybody was fast asleep. I sat down on the bed, stroking Bridget's hair.
"How was your date?" Celestia's eyes twinkled in the corner of my eye.
"Wasn't a date." I replied.
"Then why are you so reluctant whenever we mention about fighting her?"
"It's because I just can't see her as a bloodthirsty monster. I saw her in action today, and she seems to hate fighting, who she is. She came up with an identity to escape all that. I don't know."
Celestia's voice was surprisingly calm, not the usual bullying tone she had. "Sam, if it doesn't feel right, you should listen to your gut. We still don't know what her motives are. Just hold out, okay?"
"Why are you so nice all of a sudden." I muttered.
"Because this is the first time I've seen you like this. When you were Decen, you were always, fight fight fight. I want to get stronger, I want to consume this, that. But now, for the first time, I'm seeing you reconsider. You're being more... human. I respect that."
"I lost the dagger." We all stared at Truman.
"How the hell did you do that?!" Mavus screamed.
Junon calmed them both down. "Did you lose it, or did someone take it?"
"Some group. They took my dagger and ran off with it. They were using some kind of creepy neon tech, and knocked me out. Said something about a trade?"
Adam spun Kronus in his hand, the same way Junon used to do. "So we just gotta beat up these bandits right?"
"Not so easy." Khione stood up.
"It turns out this world also has super powered humans. This group, they're known as the Vice Syndicate. They're dangerous, tech rivalling that of Mavus' current suit."
"Well, regardless, we have to get it back." Merrow looked at me. "This dagger is the only thing allowing us to begin the bout with Janna."
Mavus crossed his arms. "The good news is I've pinpointed where they're heading tonight. We just gotta get it back."
We stood at the shipyard, that night, at the top of a bunch of heavy duty containers. Hunter's eye located the dagger, being handled by a bunch of goons. They all had some weird tech, glowing neon pink, as the dagger was placed into a container, ready for shipment.
"You ready? Mavus?" Junon's voice lit up in my coms.
"I was BORN ready."
Mavus landed on the ground in front of the goons in his armour.
"Who the hell is he?!" One goon shouted.
"Doesn't matter. Light em up." The other responded.
They began firing their guns at Mavus, but the bullets glanced off of his armour as he approached the squad, knocking them out one by one. Khione soared in the air, freezing the crane's machinery, while Veran swung his broadsword against the claw, unlocking the shipment.
Junon jumped in, catching the crate with one of her arm constructs.
More bandits appeared from the side, attempting to intercept her, but flashes of cyan electricity appeared, knocking them out as Adam zipped around, distracting them.
I activated my Darkfire, and flew to the crate with Merrow in tow. Merrow grabbed her spear and pried the crate open, taking the dagger. She handed it to me.
"That was easy." I mused.
Right on queue, a boom appeared behind me. I turned around, and realized that Mavus was sent flying several yards through several shipment containers. He was disoriented. A huge man with giant sledgehammers for arms towered over him, his arms glowing neon pink as he slammed Mavus further into the ground. Mavus tried to fire his repulsers, but the beams had no effect.
"Har har har! Puny metal man! I squishy puny metal man!"
The big guy swatted Mavus to the side as he crashed through more containers.
"Dad!" Adam shouted. He ran forward, along with Junon to support them, but suddenly, they were encased with pink chains. A woman with an emo, punk cut walked up to them, restraining them. Junon tried to activate her Achilles Energy, but the woman tightened the group around her midsection, causing her to gasp.
"Stop your villainy! That woman is pregnant!" Veran exclaimed. He ran forward, but was intercepted by another meta human. The guy gave Veran a smirk, and duplicated, surrounding him with a million copies. Veran yelled as he engaged the army head on. Khione jumped in to try and intercept him, but a huge figure appeared, like a hawk, knocking her unconscious.
Merrow looked at me. "These guys are coordinated. They know how to fight in teams. The dagger is our top prior-"
Merrow didn't even finish her sentence when that same hawk figure appeared above me, grabbing me with its claws, carrying me and the dagger into the skies.
I soared into the air, as the high rises and traffic below became an overhead view. I grabbed the person's leg, and superheated my hand, causing him to yell in pain. We spiralled out of control, decreasing in altitude, scratching the side of the high rises. The neon lights becoming a blur of streaks as we tumbled in the air. The hawk guy let go of me, but not before grabbing the dagger. I tumbled into the traffic before firing a jet of Darkfire from my hands and feet surfing the air a few feet from the cars below.
I boosted into the air, pursuing the bandit. We flew all over the city, the hawk guy ripping out signs and throwing them in my direction. I opened my hand and began firing columns of black and blue flame at the debris.
I couldn't risk using Form 2. There was too much bystanders and buildings in the way that could be damaged from collateral.
This was an aerial fight, which was not my forte. I concentrated my Darkfire into a ball, and fired a bunch of blasts at the hawk man, but he was far more mobile than I was. He dodged all my blasts and zoomed forward under a tunnel. I pursued him, Darkfire trailing from my hands and feet. I tried avoiding the cars as much as I could but ended up scraping my arm against the side of the tunnel wall. The abrasion ground up my left sleeve.
We exited the tunnel, but Hawk outmanoeuvred me, gaining more distance than before. I needed to close the gap. Fast.
I concentrated, a point just in front of Hawk. There. I dissipated into a bolt of purple lightning, blinking to the position, and firing a burst of Darkfire. But Hawk was too fast, instantly escaping, and gaining even more distance.
I continued giving chase, circling through a bunch of train tubes and air ships, attempting to avoid traffic and ramming into the buildings around us.
Hawk blasted me with a torrent of wind, temporarily blowing out my flames. I flew out of the control, smashing into the sides of several buildings, causing several people to scream from inside.
"Blink! Celestia! Do something!"
"You moron! I can't see anything, I'm stuck in your stupid jacket!"
Celestia was struggling to get out of the inside flap of my jacket, which had trapped her tiny body as we tumbled below.
The cars and pedestrians were becoming more and more detailed. I aimed by hands downwards, firing a huge blast of Darkfire, slowing our fall. Hawk was getting away. I regained composure and gained chase when suddenly, my coms unit lit up.
"Yo. Having trouble?"
Mavus's armoured figure zoomed from the corner of my eye, green jets of energy coming from his feet and hand repulsers as he pursued Hawk.
"How did you get through that guy?"
"His sledgehammer hands were pretty mediocre compared to mine."
Several targeting lasers appeared from his shoulder compartments as the both of us gave chase to the bandit. Hawk fired several torrents of wind at Mavus, but it did nothing against his heavily armoured body, glancing off his plating like a mere breeze.
Several tiny modules appeared on his shoulders, which fired a steady stream of green energy bullets at Hawk.
CHICK CHICK CHICK CHICK CHICK
The bullets cracked several windows as Hawk evaded them all, flying off.
"Dammit. Gonna bust the city before we get a hit in... look out Sam!"
Hawk sliced at a construction crane, which was coming my way. Before I could do something, a massive green laser beam cut the thing in two. Mavus's forearm laser retracted back into the armour.
"Thanks. We gotta slow this guy. Can your siphons work?"
"They don't work anymore. I can't recreate them, my foundry hasn't developed the tech for it yet."
Suddenly, Hawk made a complete 180, flying back from Mavus, who screamed a valiant "what the hell?!" before slamming face first into a building and falling several hundred feet to the ground.
Hawk crashed straight into me, the two of us tumbling onto the roof of a building. I rolled and hit my head on a sign, hard. I struggled to get up, seeing double. I got up, but Hawk opened his weird looking wing arms, which flashed pink, blinding me, adding to my vertigo. I stumbled, trying to land a punch, but Hawk slipped past every disoriented strike, pummelling me over and over. I fell to one knee and yelled, blasting the area with Darkfire. Hawk spun in a circle, dispersing my fire and sending me flying through the sign.
Celestia tried to blast Hawk with lightning, but the wind sent her flying out of control.
"Eeeeeaahh!" Celestia squeaked as she flew into a window and went unconscious. I felt like making a joke out of it, but Hawk closed in on me, slamming my face against a wall. I slid on the ground, which was caked with snow from the snowing weather.
Hawk approached me, inspecting the dagger. He had a slight Russian accent. "Good blade, boy. I hope you don't mind us taking it. Need the bucks. You know how it is, yes?"
"Give... it back." I muttered, getting to my feet. The cold was keeping me from concentrating. My left arm felt numb, and I looked down. Frostbite.
Hawk flapped his wing, the wind pressure sending me back onto the ground. "Children should not be playing with knives."
"And what makes you any different?" A familiar voice appeared.
Hawk turned around and was met with a kick which sent him flying off the roof. A woman grabbed his arm. Blonde hair, blue eyes. She wore a black parka, and light blue jeans. Hawk recognized him as well.
She picked the whole guy up with just one arm. Her strength... She threw him back onto the roof, the dagger clattering on the ground.
"I don't tolerate people who steal. I hate it, actually." She picked up the dagger, and slid it to my direction. I caught it with my good arm.
Hawk suddenly got to his feet, throwing punches. Janna zipped around the roof, with speed that was incomprehensible. One moment she was at one corner, and within the blink of an eye, she was on the other side.
"How... how are you so fast." Hawk muttered. He fired a torrent of wind at Janna, but she held up her hand, flicking her finger. Immense wind pressure cancelled out Hawk's attack, and sent him flying into a sign, sparks flying and the light turning off.
"Take the knife. Please spare me..."
Janna walked up to Hawk. I held out my hand, unable to move. The frostbite was getting worse. I couldn't feel my arm anymore. My regeneration wasn't working.
Janna reached into her pocket, pulling out an object. "No..." I whispered. She really was a killer. I was a fool. How could I have fallen for such a stupid trick. Jenny my ass. She was just as bad as the others, and she was going to kill an innocent right before my very eyes.
Suddenly, Hawk's expression turned confused. "What... what is this?"
"Money. Cash. You need the money, yeah? Take this to your boss. No more stealing, okay. This should be enough for you guys. In exchange, I want you to not mention this encounter to anybody. Otherwise..." Janna backhanded a pole, which bent in half from the force of her strike.
"Yes... yes I will keep secret. Thank you Ms. Kawley. I am... very grateful... my family..." Hawk's eyes pooled with tears.
"Go." Janna ordered.
Hawk bailed, flying into the air.
Janna turned to me, her blue eyes seemingly being complemented by the snow. Her boots scrunched on the snow as she walked up to me. She didn't recognize me. My disguise was deactivated during the mission. Wheeler's Goggles' coms were knocked out from the free fall on the roof.
I held out my hand, and a sputter of Darkfire appeared, but deactivated instantly. "Stay away..." I croaked.
"Relax. You're hurt. Let me see."
She knelt down and took my left arm, which was turning blue. She put her hand on it, and it felt like eucalyptus oil spread through my whole arm, then my whole body. I felt refreshed.
She looked at me, and suddenly her face became surprised. "You... I sense war in you."
My heart rate went up. "I... You're Janna Kull. Aspect of War."
"You know who I am."
"Are you going to kill me?"
"Depends on what you're going to do with that information."
I got to my feet. "The dagger, you challenged me." This was a stupid idea, but I didn't know what else to say. Janna looked at the dagger.
"I don't remember sending anything."
"Why would I issue a challenge. I couldn't care less about what my brothers and sisters want. I left my role as Aspect ages ago."
"Blackflame, huh. Paladin of War."
Janna sat next to me on the roof, overlooking the high rises and the night scene. It continued to snow, and I shivered. Janna noticed.
"Here." She took off her jacket, and put it around me, warming me up.
"Uh.. thanks." I muttered.
"Don't mention it."
There was so much I wanted to ask. "How... why are you here? You're an Aspect aren't you? You sent me this." I took out the dagger, and showed her the Acadi written on it. Janna took the knife and inspected it.
"This isn't my writing, sorry. I'm an Aspect, technically. But I'd rather not be called that, thank you very much."
"So... you're not going to kill everybody?"
"Why? Because I'm an Aspect of War? I'm obligated to kill people and love it?"
I was at a loss of words. "Umm, well I literally had to put up with Lapheth killing a bunch of innocent people, my friend, and she diced me up real bad with her cleavers."
"She's an idiot, like the rest of my kind. I want nothing to do with them. What happened to her?"
"I took her memories and now she's catatonic."
"Serves her right."
I shuffled. This was awkward. "If this wasn't you, why was it sent to me?"
"Probably a trick. Look. I want nothing to do with these people. I made a life here, became a streamer, a world famous one. I have fans, and a life where I don't have to be expected to take lives. Trust me, if I wanted to challenge someone, it would be through a Champions of Terra match."
Janna was an Aspect, who refused her role. She ended up here, to have a new life. So this whole challenge was fake, a ruse. Despite that, I still needed to access the Power Force. This war... I couldn't just sit by idly.
"Janna, my people are in great danger. They're going to be torn apart by the Aspects. I need to take them down, unite the Subjects of Quinta. If you're not with the Aspects, join us."
Janna turned to me, her face sympathetic. "I'm sorry, Blackflame. But I rejected my nature because I don't want to take another life again. That goes for both sides."
"So you're just going to let all these innocents die?"
"I'm not taking another life."
"Someone who just sits there and watches someone get killed, without doing anything, is just as bad as the killer."
I stood up. "You have a chance to save these people, Janna. We need your help. We're not strong enough to fight this war. You're just going to let it happen, you might as well be on the other side."
Janna's hands were shaky. "Listen well, Blackflame of Croft. My hands have been stained with blood for too long. I just want to live a life without war. Is that too much to ask?"
"It doesn't matter. That's just who we are. An Aspect of War. A Paladin of War. War isn't just bloodshed. A warrior fights not because they love the slaughter. It's because they love the very thing they're fighting to protect."
Janna looked at me. "You are young. So you don't fully understand the tribulations of war. The damage it causes." Janna turned back to the view. "This world, when I first descended from the heavens, I was taken aback at how beautiful the world was without war. There was the occasional robbery, crime spree, gang. But the beauty of a world without bloodshed. That's what I want."
"This world you speak of, won't last long. Until your brethren come for my world, they'll come for this one next." Janna stopped swinging her legs.
"I don't like bloodshed either. I quite frankly hate it. When I was Decen, I did so many horrible things. As a reincarnation, I need to put up with it. The memories of all the lives I took without remorse. All the people and families I had ruined because of my stupid, unforgivable thirst for battle. But even so, I'm fighting, because I want to make this world you speak of a reality.
"But, sitting idly, watching things just happen will not help. I fight because no one else has the power to. Someone who sits there watching their world burn, they have it the worst. They're the people who wish for the power to change things. But you're not that person. You have the power to change things."
Janna gripped the edge of the roof. "You sound just like Aunt Quinta." She whispered.
"Please, Janna. Help me. Help us. We can make this world you want a reality."
Janna stood up, looking me in the eye, holding out her hand. "I will help you, but only for the purpose assisting in your missions. I will not slay a soul."
I took it. Janna continued looking at me, her blue eyes piercing. "You seek to unite the Subjects of Quinta. So you're looking for their powers. As it so stands, my brother, Uthreal, the Aspect of Scorn and Conduit of the Achilles Force, has been in this universe too, working under the shadows of his organization. He is too weak to emerge, but his acolytes are slowly gathering the soul-gems. A resource found in this world, to power him up."
My heart skipped a beat. "Another Aspect... is in this earth?"
"And you just let it happen?"
"I figured since the process was so slow, I could have a few decades of solitude as Janna Kawley."
I sighed. Janna looked away. "I'm sorry. Perhaps I've been... selfish. But you must understand, millennia as a killer. You struggle with your guilt for one lifetime of bloodshed. Imagine hundreds of lifetimes. I only wish to start over. Become... someone else. Someone who isn't bound by familial ties. Blood." She had a point.
It was getting late. I turned around. "I need to go, is there a way I can contact you?"
"Here." She slipped me her number on a piece of paper. "Take the parka with you. You probably need it. Don't freeze up on me, Champion."
I felt the cold chains, brushing against my skin. My regeneration dulled, my vision hazy. I made out a figure, who was fighting off the captors, she wielded a spear, her frizzy green hair, wildly flying as she flipped around the battlefield, taking down her opponents.
Merrow ran up to me and removed my chains.
"Decen..." Her green eyes were full of concern.
"You came back for me." I muttered, coughing out blood.
"That's what a Guardian does, right?"
She helped me up as I limped out of the prison, relying heavily on my Guardian for support. Merrow looked onwards.
"I messed up. I thought I could... take these guys on my own without your help. What I said, about your kind-"
"Forget it. Shut up. Let's just focus on you getting out of here."
The scene changed. I was floating in a makeshift bed, my wounds still not regenerating. Merrow floated next to me in her mermaid form. Her eyes, glowing green underwater. "How are you feeling?" She asked.
"Like shit." I admitted.
Merrow floated next to me as I lay there in silence.
She looked up. "Yeah?"
Merrow smoothed the long strands of hair that were floating in front of my eyes. "It's okay, really."
"It isn't. I let my pride overtake me. Because of my actions, the sea folk were slain. I... I am weak without my Guardian, without my friends."
Merrow put her hand on my forehead, checking my temperature. "I'm... sorry too. I should have been there for you. I didn't see how badly you were hurting, looking for someone to be there for you, your loneliness. I let you keep it hidden inside for so long. I acted indifferent, ignorant.
"I am your Guardian. I will always be there for you. From the day you stand, to the day you fall. If one of us gets struck down by the sword, it will be me first. I promise."
I jolted awake. Adam looked at me from below. "Hey, sorry I didn't mean to scare you. But we need you for this mission."
I met Junon's squad. Merrow's eyebrows scrunched together. "Are you okay? You don't look like you slept at all."
"I'm fine." I lied.
Junon gave us a mission briefing. I had told them about the other Aspect. He was an Achilles Conduit, but because he was burrowed so deep in the shadows, we needed to intercept his followers and slow down his awakening. If we could do that, we might be able to get closer to his hideout, and hopefully take him down, and give me access to his conduit cells.
We made our way to a van, where we drove in the darkness. It was around 3:30am. Not a lot of people were on the road, but despite this, a lot of the lights still lit up the city. The van was soundproof, divided into sections.
Merrow and I sat alone in one of the sections while Junon drove.
"Nice parka." Merrow complimented.
Merrow continued looking at me. "Going back to your Decen phase?"
It took that for me to realize that my outfit was similar to the one I used to wear. "Not exactly. This parka fits nicely. Not like the huge coat I used to wear."
"And what about the amulet you used to wear?"
I dug deep in my pockets, bringing it out. "I still have it on hand."
I glanced up, looking at Merrow's aged face. She was definitely older, but the same vibes were still there. Her green eyes reminding me of calm waters, like when you're on a floatable in a resort pool, staring at the skies. The sounds of the ocean lapping the shore.
"Hey, you alright? You've been acting strange, recently."
"Yeah, I'm good."
"Are you sure? Why are you looking at me like that?"
I cleared my throat. "Nah. Just remembering all our times together."
Merrow leaned back in her seat. "I see."
If one of us gets struck down by the sword, it will be me first. I promise.
I didn't like how that memory resurfaced. Usually, when I had these dreams, it always foretold something. A sudden wave of emotion rolled over me. No. Not Merrow. I could accept my own death, but Merrow?
I clenched my teeth, looking away, hiding my tears from Merrow. She hadn't noticed. I took a deep breath. Steady yourself. You're a warrior.
"Hey Merrow?" Merrow looked up.
"What's up, hey. What's wrong?" She noticed my bloodshot eyes. Shit.
Merrow raised an eyebrow. "Huh? What's gotten into you all of a sudden?"
"Thank you for everything. I just wanted to let you know. During my time as Samuel Mason, living as Blackflame, I had so many people who were there for me. But, I slowly began to distance myself away from you, forgetting everything you had done for me. You were the first person to be there for me, helping me through the worst. The worst battles, outside and inside."
She tilted her head, smirking. "You don't need to apologize. I'll always be there for you. And if you need your distance, I respect that. Samuel Mason or Decen, I'm your Guardian either way."
Somehow, she made it so much worse by trying to make it better.
We finally reached the destination. I put on Wheeler's Goggles.
"Ten of them guarding the mine." I reported.
Mavus knelt next to Adam. "Run, Adam, run!"
Adam stared at Mavus. "Seriously? A pop culture reference?"
"Come on, gimme a break!"
Adam rolled his eyes, and ran off, flashes of cyan light zipping around as he took all the soul-gems.
The acolytes returned, discovering the gems were all gone. They started freaking out.
"We know you're there! Show yourself!"
Mavus landed on the ground, and braced his shoulder compartments, blasting several mini missiles that targeted the acolytes, knocking them all out.
I jumped down, Merrow followed me in suit. I scanned the area with Hunter's Eye. "They're down. No one coming our way."
Adam ran up to us. "They came from in there." He pointed in the inside of the mine.
Merrow peered inside. "So he really was burrowing himself underground. He must be guarded by a lot of his acolytes, I reckon."
Celestia fluttered next to me. "You guys ready?"
"Yeah." I replied.
Celestia zipped around, and we assumed the disguises of the acolytes, robes, and hood, and all. It still felt like I was in my normal clothes, but my appearance showed differently. It was time to start the mission, as we descended into the depths, carrying the soul gems to Ulthreal.
We continued walking down the path of the tunnels, everybody following me from behind as I led the way with Hunter's Eye.
Junon's voice lit up in our com units. "Wow... this place."
"I know right?" Mavus buzzed.
"What's your status, Junon?" I asked. Junon and the rest of the crew were above, as backup in case we were unable to put down Ulthreal. They served as calvary for a quick escape.
"Ok. Let's just hope we get this mission done soon."
We were getting close. Adam clutched his head. "Shit." He muttered. Mavus turned to him. "Hey, what's wrong kid?"
Adam continued clutching his temples. "My head, I'm seeing things, I see him"
This wasn't good.
Junon's voice lit up again. "Adam? Adam! I'm coming, just stay there."
"No!" Adam gasped. "No, I can continue. If you extract us now, this mission is done."
Mavus knelt next to Adam. "Hey, kid. It's gonna be okay. I'm here for you." Adam began to tremble, the visions clearly disturbing him.
"He's calling to me, Dad. I- I'm trying to fight it-"
"Stay with me, kid." Mavus embraced Adam. It was so weird seeing Mavus act this way. It was almost like he was breaking character. Becoming, more responsible.
"You can do this." Mavus reassured Adam. Adam continued to tremble.
"I can't. I'm weak, Dad. The Aspects. They scare me. They killed Jo, Sam, Merrow, everybody."
"You're not weak. You're stronger than this. You're stronger than me. I don't care who this future Mavus is who ruined your life in the future. I can bet my ass that I won't ever become that man. I refuse to. He's a loser."
Adam slowly regained his composure.
"I love you, kid."
Adam looked up, his cyan eyes regarding his father.
"Yeah." Adam wiped his eyes. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
Several of the acolytes started to become suspicious. I turned to the others.
"We gotta clear this, they're going to find out soon."
Mavus quickly ran forward, putting the soul gem on the ground.
"OH HAIL THE GREAT ULTHREAL! LORD OF SCORN AND PAIN. I LOVE PAIN! GIVE ME PAIN, GREAT ULTHREAL!" Mavus began grovelling like a maniac.
I facepalmed. Our cover was definitely blown. Junon was silent, probably facepalming too.
Suddenly, the other acolytes followed suit. "ALL HAIL ULTHREAL!"
Merrow looked away. "Um.. yeah. Let's just keep moving on."
"I agree." A drop of sweat running down the side of my face.
We continued walking down the tunnels when suddenly converged. We were here.
The gate was guarded by two guardians. Both were large acolytes, bigger than the ones we had encountered. We met eye to eye.
"Uh, we seek council to Lord Ulthreal." I told one of the guards.
He regarded me with empty grey eyes. "What for? State your reason."
"Umm, these soul gems?" I held one out.
The guard gave me a strange look. "Are you new? The soul gems go to the conveyor."
I started stuttering like an idiot, until Merrow stepped in, saving my bacon. "I'm sorry, sir. We are new, but we wish to seek council with the great Lord Ulthreal. We are avid followers of his ideologies. It would be an honour to meet him."
The other guard narrowed his eyes. "I'm sorry, but his presence can only be bestowed by those he summons. He is not ready to leave the room, for it powers him."
"I will take the soul-gem." The guard grabbed the gem, which got caught on my jacket. I noticed that something slipped out. The amulet. My eyes widened. If they found out, our cover would be blown.
"Oh, I need it back, I'll just take it to the conveyor." I quickly grabbed the rock, but the guard pulled it back. "What are you doing? Are you defying your senior?"
"No no, I, um, I just want to prove myself you know." I rotated the rock so as to keep the amulet from their view.
Merrow's eyes widened too. She probably saw the situation. "Yes, sir, please. My colleague really wants to prove himself to... put the rock on the conveyor..."
The guard yanked the rock. "Stop this. Stop it, give me the damn soul gem!"
"No!" I instinctively moved my hand, smacking the guard upside the head. The guard went unconscious.
Everybody stared at me, including the other guard.
"Dude, did you just slap the guard?" Mavus asked.
The other guard quickly powered up, but Merrow stepped in, punching him in the face and knocking him out.
Junon's voice buzzed in the coms. "We don't have a choice. They know we're here, and they'll probably relocate. We don't have the time to search for his acolytes again."
Adam looked confused. "What does that mean?"
I turned to the kid. "It means it's now or never. We're going to eliminate Ulthreal while he is still weak."
I kicked open the door, and we stormed the throne room.
Ulthreal was waiting for us. Sitting on the most demonic looking throne room I had ever seen. Bones, black as night, lining the pillars, the actual throne itself. He was alone, lit by two torches. Ulthreal himself, looked like every comic reincarnation of a devil.
Huge and bulky, even bigger than Mogul, Ulthreal had two large horns coming from the side of his head, and two upside down wings. His skin was pitch black, lined with veins of pure lava. His eyes, nose, and mouth, were similar to the veins, glowing a terrifying and smelting orange.
YOU HAVE COME, AT LAST. Ulthreal's voice boomed, like the sound of a volcano erupting.
I looked at the others, who were frozen in fear. I stepped forward. "Cut the chit chat. Let's throw down."
Suddenly, I doubled over. It felt like my insides were being unravelled, burning from the inside out. Like I was cooking from the inside.
Ulthreal's laughter boomed, echoing in the throne room.
REINCARNATION OF A MERE PALADIN. YOU BELIEVE YOUR CONNECTION TO THE RESTORATION FORCE IS ENOUGH TO SLAY MY BRETHREN.
Ulthreal leapt from his throne, landing on the ground with his huge demonic talons for feet. He approached me, stomping and booming as each footstep felt like a mini earthquake. I wasn't able to move as I came face to face with the giant.
WHAT SAY YOU, UNDERLING? IF YOU CANNOT BREAK MY SPELL, IF YOU CANNOT SURPASS MERE PAIN, YOU ARE NO MATCH FOR AGONY ITSELF. OF SCORN.
I fell to my knees. Yellow splotches began to appear in my vision as nausea washed over me. I couldn't even get close to him. This guy was on another level. We needed to get past this. I struggled to get to my feet, fighting the pain. Suddenly, a yell erupted from behind me.
"ASPECT!!!!" Adam roared, his body arcing with cyan electricity as he got to his feet. His face was pure murderous rage as he drew Kronus.
"I swore to her. I swore to Josephine, that I would slay you all. I WILL kill you. I don't care what kind of spell you put on me. I will. I shall. You. Will. Die!"
Adam shot forward, creating a shockwave that sent us back. Adam shot straight for Ulthreal, yelling in rage as he swiped at the Aspect. Ulthreal leaned back and laughed maniacally, as the kid began swinging, catching Ulthreal in the chest. Ulthreal reached forward, but Adam shot around, circling the Aspect and dealing hundreds of knife slashes.
I continued to struggle. I managed to get to one foot, and propped myself up.
Adam continued slashing, but suddenly, Ulthreal caught his wrist, squeezing it. Adam yelled in pain as Kronus hit the floor.
INTERESTING. YOU WIELD THE ACHILLES FORCE. HOWEVER, YOU WIELD IT INCOMPETENTLY. IF QUINTA WERE STILL ALIVE, SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN MOST DISAPPOINTED.
Ulthreal threw Adam to the side. Mavus yelled, seeing his son in pain, and became the second one free.
Mavus launched himself forward, catching Adam and putting him to the ground. "Hey, Darksiders. Just for the record, it was me who did the most damage on your stupid Prime Aspect Mogul. What, you scared, huh? Well, too late. It's time to pay."
Mavus launched forward, firing several missiles at Ulthreal, which exploded. Mavus leaned backwards, blasting Ulthreal in the face with his foot repulsers. The Aspect leaned forward and tried to grab Mavus, but he was already gone, sliding down, and slamming Ulthreal in the midsection with a giant hammer fist. Ulthreal didn't seem fazed. Mavus continued smashing, then smacked Ulthreal in the face, to no effect.
Ulthreal glared at Mavus, and suddenly, an orange explosion appeared between them, blasting him away. Mavus rolled across the other side of the throne room, his armour burnt and charred. Despite that, he got to his feet. Adam managed to recover, switching knife hand. The two nodded at each other and charged once more.
Adam zipping around, landing slashes as Ulthreal tried to keep up, and Mavus flying around him, blasting the Aspect with incineration beams and mini gun bullets.
I took another step forward. Fight! What was I doing?!
Ulthreal roared, and a huge burst of demonic orange power knocked both Adam and Mavus backwards. Mavus tried to shield Adam, taking most of the damage. As a result, his armour was completely destroyed, pieces of it falling to ground as he landed on Adam, unconscious.
"Dad!" Adam cried. Adam tried to get Mavus off, but Mavus' armour was still too heavy for him to lift.
"Mavus! I'm coming in. Just wai-" Junon's coms cut out.
"I'm being intercepted by acolytes! What is happening! Sam! Merrow! What's going on with Mavus?!" Junon's coms went out.
"No..." I growled. I was paralyzed in pain. Ulthreal turned to Merrow and I.
THE EFFECTS OF MY AURA ARE PARTICULARLY EFFECTIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE THE MOST REGRET. THOSE WHO HAVE SINNED, THOSE WHO LIVE IN GUILT. FOR IT IS THEMSELVES, THEIR ACTIONS, THAT LEAD TO THE MOST PAIN. THE MOST AGONY.
I looked at my hands. I looked back up, and visions of numerous bodies. Those I had killed, and slain as Decen. I had killed so many people.
"Sam." Merrow grunted from behind me. I turned around. She was also struggling to get up.
"Fight... we need to... move past this... our past."
More and more visions bombarded my mind.
Every person I had killed. Every person I had slain, by contract. Suddenly, I recalled, the meeting I had with Jonna and Icarus.
"That means we're going to be rivals, right?"
Rivals. We were the three Paladins. Each one of us, our race to becoming number 1.
"A good Paladin isn't just strong. But great." Icarus told me, a smile on his face.
The pain got worse. I yelled in pain as my midsection burned, cramping everywhere. Ulthreal looked at me.
I SEE. YOU BURIED IT DEEP. YOUR GREATEST REGRET.
I watched as the visions changed. Icarus' body, lifeless. Gone.
ICARUS WAS SLAIN.
He died. His familiar, Polyth, becoming Plyth, because of the rage. The rage of the death for his master.
HE WAS SLAIN BY THE HANDS OF A FRIEND.
The rage for the betrayal.
I watched as I approached Icarus, my claw outstretched. Icarus' eyes wide, struggling to breathe.
"You cannot... do this... Decen. We were... supposed to be great... together."
I shouted at the visions to stop. I couldn't relive this. It was all coming out. My biggest, darkest fear. That I had kept dormant for so long. That I never knew existed until now.
"I must become number 1. You've been blessed with too much power from the get go. I had to work my ass off to get to where I am." I sneered at Icarus.
"We're FRIENDS. DECEN!"
"You will never understand. What it's like to be jeered by the others. No matter how strong I get, how many monsters I slay. How many contracts I complete. I am nothing to you. Because you have it all. So..."
I screamed as I watched myself slash down at my best friend's midsection, absorbing him. I felt power well up in my body as Icarus' essence entered my system. The cells of the fastest, most powerful Paladin at the time.
No Paladin was as fast as Icarus. The lightspeed. I wanted it. I needed it. I NEEDED it so bad. I yelled as my body powered up, absorbing the cells to the Motion Force.
HE FALLS! THE PALADIN OF WAR, UNABLE TO ACCEPT HIS PAST. SUCCUMBING TO HIS SINS. Ulthreal boomed in glee.
I fell to my knees, hopeless. I felt so unworthy. So unworthy to be helping these people, to have these powers. To be a Conduit. Tears streamed down my face.
"Icarus..." I sobbed.
Merrow got to her feet. She approached me, putting an arm around me and wrapping me in a hug.
"Your past, is your past. You need to move on. I know. What you did was unforgivable. But that was then. You're Samuel Mason. It's time to face the present."
I continued to sob. I felt like giving up. Nothing mattered anymore. I was a killer. I deserved to die.
"Sam. If you don't get up, everybody is going to die. This mission is going to fail." Merrow's voice was stern.
I stared at the ground, my eyes empty.
Ulthreal cracked his knuckles. IT IS TIME. FOR THE PALADIN TO BE SLAIN ONCE MORE. ONCE FROM THE HANDS OF MY UNCLE. AND NOW FROM MINE.
Merrow stood between us, wielding her spear. "Not a chance."
"What are you doing? Merrow!" I looked up. "You can't beat him! Run!"
Merrow turned to me. "I refuse."
"WHY?!" I screamed.
Merrow smiled, the same smile had always given me when I was Decen. The same smile that I used to find annoying, then turned to for warmth and reassurance.
"I lost you once to Mogul. Then I watched your Remnants die. The fourteen Remnants I watched die, each one reminded me of you. It felt like I lost you fourteen times over. I lived my life of pain, and to see you again, it made me realize that it is now my turn to do what I was meant to do. I will give my life for you, Decen. You ask why?"
"Because I am your Guardian. I am Merrow Rivenlight, the sworn protector of Decen, the Paladin of War. I swore my oath. I will keep it. In the face of danger, no matter how great. I will always be there for my master."
Merrow aimed the spear at Ulthreal's face.
"Even if I must face a god."
Ulthreal laughed. LITTLE MERMAID. YOUR POWERS ARE NOTHING TO ME. IN HERE, WATER IS MEANINGLESS.
Merrow shot forward, slashing at Ulthreal, evading his jabs, and creating hundreds of water constructs, which all vaporized upon contact. Merrow bobbed and weaved, elegantly fighting Ulthreal and dodging his attacks, piercing his side, slashing at his midsection, and carefully, calculating. Doing her best to keep him off me.
"Stop..." I muttered.
This was something I had to face. Not Merrow. This was my past, yet despite that, Merrow still risked her life for me. Just like all that time ago. When I had faced Mogul the first time.
Merrow continued fighting, but a huge explosion caught her off guard. Several balls of demonic energy flew her way. Merrow slashed two apart, but the third caught her in the side, causing her to hit the ground, hard.
Merrow got to her feet, breathing hard.
Hands of purity, stained with night
Shut up. Shut up with their stupid prophecies. It was true. I was stained with darkness. I was not a good person, my hands impure. But right now, if I didn't do something.... if I didn't do something...
Merrow was going to die.
I roared as I got to my feet. I was a killer. A betrayer. But to hell with that. The past was the past. What matters is now. If I don't man up, and fight this guy, Merrow was going to die. Adam was going to die. Mavus was going to die. Everybody.
Merrow continued getting bombarded with Ulthreal's explosions until she fell to one knee. She coughed up blood. "Hah. You're... one hell of an opponent."
YOU IMPRESS ME, WATER DWELLER. NO WARRIOR HAS LASTED THIS LONG AGAINST AN ASPECT. YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION, TO DIE AT THE HAND OF ULTHREAL. THE ASPECT OF SCORN.
Ulthreal held out his hand, which suddenly glowed cyan, just like Junon and Adam's powers. His veins turned cyan, and suddenly, a huge demonic sword manifested. I had to do it. I needed to. Celestia and Sentry were silent the entire time, meaning Ulthreal's aura was keeping me from using my soul-link powers. I needed to do it. I needed to use the Motion Force. Icarus... the power that I had stolen from him. It didn't matter now. I needed to call the power.
I yelled as I sprinted forward, calling everything I had, begging for the power to come out.
I launched myself forward, putting everything I had in the lunge as I leapt to Merrow. The blade of Ulthreal's sword soaring to her stomach. I yelled as I caught Merrow, the two of us tumbling to the other side of the throne room.
AT LONG LAST, REINCARNATE. YOU HAVE ESCAPED MY SPELL.
Relief washed over me. Merrow was safe. Merrow was...
Merrow coughed. I fumbled at her midsection. Merrow looked at me. "Decen... Sam... I'm sorry." She croaked.
"No... NO! NOOO!!!" I screamed.
I stared at the glowing cyan blade, that had pierced through Merrow's midsection. Her blood pooling on the floor of the throne room.