- 1 Chapter 1 (James Cairo)
- 2 Chapter 2 (Samuel Mace)
- 3 Chapter 3 (Samuel Mace)
- 4 Chapter 4 (Rei Tsuyuki)
- 5 Chapter 5 (Samuel Mace)
- 6 Chapter 6 (James Cairo)
- 7 Chapter 7 (Samuel Mace)
- 8 Chapter 8 (Rei Tsuyuki)
- 9 Chapter 9 (James Cairo)
- 10 Chapter 10 (Samuel Mace)
- 11 Chapter 11 (Samuel Mace)
- 12 Chapter 12 (Colin Liu)
- 13 Chapter 13 (Samuel Mace)
- 14 Chapter 14 (Samuel Mace)
- 15 Chapter 15 (Rei Tsuyuki)
- 16 Chapter 16 (Samuel Mace)
- 17 Chapter 17 (Remnant 1)
Chapter 1 (James Cairo)
"Colin, Alex! Take down the ones on the side!"
I held out my spear as I slashed the air, as water exited my pouch and created an aquatic shield. The Abyssal Creatures charged into it, as I shaped it into a trap.
Nomi zipped in, and slashed with her sword, the heat of the blade causing pressure to expand from within the water trap, steam exploding everywhere.
Nomi landed in front of me and gave me a thumbs up. "I guess you can say... we've CLEANED this spot up pretty well!"
I rolled my eyes and laughed.
"Come on, let's help out the others."
A massive legion of creatures began to emerge from the portal. I held out my hand, ready to close it. I wasn't afraid. In fact, none of us were. Because we all knew what was going to happen next.
A bright green streaked appeared across the creatures, as they all suddenly burst into flames. The streak returned, kiting, zipping, and destroying the creatures left and right faster than any of us could process. Only one person I knew could move this fast.
"Holy shit! I'm gonna die!!!" Alex screamed. Nomi and I turned around, in concern, but we both gave him a dead expression.
Alex smiled. "What? Can't a guy have fun in the depths of hell?"
The green streak appeared and completely obliterated the monster that had overpowered Alex in a single blow, as the figure landed in front of us. She looked at Alex, her face expressionless but somehow emitting disapproval.
"Come on, Rei! I'm sure you enjoyed that. Got to save one of your own! My powerful Queen!"
Rei turned around and walked up to me, her eyes empty, as her purple hair tumbled to her shoulders from the wind.
"Finish it." She said. At least that was what I heard. Rei wasn't much of a talker. She was more of an action speaks louder than words kind of girl. It would be hard to believe this soft spoken 16 year old would have the power that could potentially be among the greatest of the Cleaners. But she had already made it a mission to become the best.
"Sure thing." I nodded, as Rei put her brass knuckles back into her hoodie pockets.
I raised the sealing rune at the portal, as it began to close.
"Good work, little sis!" Nozomi hugged Rei, but she stared at the ground, despondent. Clearly uninterested in returning the affection.
"Whatever." She said, dejectedly.
Colin ran up to me. "James, are you okay?"
Colin had noticed the wound on my side. He was always so perceptive. Probably among the whole squad, Colin had to be hands down the most hardworking. Of course, seconded to Rei. In my many years of working as a Cleaner (28 to be exact), I had never seen someone with so much heart. So much desire to better and protect the world from the Abyss. As Colin.
Most of the new recruits I encountered typically had the same mindset as Colin, but would quickly realize it's easier said than done. When they realize the horrors of the Abyss, the terrible creatures on the other side.
One of our militant commanders, Roy, always liked to scare the recruits into a reality check, by telling them of a tale of one Cleaner who became adventurous, believing himself to be the Aurum Savior, a legendary mythological figure who would one day lead the war into the Abyss, ventured in alone. He was missing for two years, and when he returned, he had never been the same.
Despite all the horrors of our missions to seal and stop the monsters from entering out world, Colin had never backed down from his dream to become a good Cleaner. I respected him for that. Unfortunately, many of our colleagues didn't, because... Colin wasn't exactly Cleaner material. Don't get me wrong. He had passion. He had heart. But he didn't have the skill or the power to be one. No matter how he worked, he always lagged behind.
But even so, I recognized it, and respected it. And accepted him into our squad. Colin has been a little brother to me ever since. Doing his best and looking up to me. And in a way, I looked up to him too, to stay strong. No matter what my heritage was.
"Heeeeey, come on Jamie. What's taking so long? I thought we were all going out for udon later." Nomi grabbed my arm playfully. Nomi, or Nozomi Tsuyuki is my step sister. Her father, Mato Tsuyuki, ran and owned our dorm. The place we stayed. I respected him too, but part of me felt isolated. Because no matter how Nomi, Mato, and on occasion, Rei, treated me like a member of the Tsuyuki household, I knew I was not truly related to them.
"Not sure why it's taking so long... maybe it's a bigger portal?"
"Hey... uhhh somethings coming out. And it's BIG!" Alex said.
Nomi narrowed her eyes. "What... oh god. What in the hell?!"
"Get down, James!" Colin shouted, as we all ducked. A giant Abyssal creature emerged from the portal and swung his hand, annihilating nearby buildings. The thing was gargantuan. His strength was ridiculous.
"James... that can't be..." Colin whimpered.
It definitely was.
The strongest kind of Abyssal, probably the most lethal and hardest to put down, even for a high ranking Cleaner. These beings were extremely rare. And if encountered, needed to be contacted right away.
The S Class Abyssal Sentinel.
"We can't beat that thing." I said, turning to Nomi, Alex, and Colin.
Suddenly, I heard a grunt, as Rei began to glow, her body burning with black and green flames as she shot into the air.
"Rei!" Nomi shouted after her.
"No Rei!" I shouted. "You can't beat that! We need to go!"
There was nothing we could do. I knew I should have seen it coming. Rei was never the type of girl to back down from a fight. Even if it was a S class.
Rei screamed as she launched a devastating punch on the monster's hide, but to no affect. The monster roared and tried to grab her, but Rei zipped out of the way, darting all across the battlefield like a rubber ball bouncing off of the walls at a hypersonic speed.
"REI! COME BACK HERE THIS INSTANT YOUNG LADY!" Nomi raised her fist in the air.
Alex walked up to me.
"Welp. There's no stopping her. Unless any of you guys are crazy enough to try. I guess all we got to do is try to help her out."
I gritted my teeth. There was no way we could defeat that thing.
I watched as Rei continued to kite in, delivering blow after blow on the monster's hide with her brass knuckles, doing no damage. She was fast, fast enough to hold her own against the S class, which was already really freaking impressive, considering it normally took at least seven High Ranking (even higher than me) Cleaners to dispatch one of these things.
But Rei couldn't penetrate its hide, or find any weak spots.
I clicked my communications device, to activate the distress signal.
I readied my spear, turning to the rest of our squad. "We gotta support Rei. No matter what. We're NOT letting these monsters take over our world!"
"YEAH!" Everybody shouted, as we joined in.
Rei rushed in, but finally lost her luck, as the monster launched a punch in her direction. Rei managed to block it, but was sent flying back. I instantly ran to the spot and caught her, as Rei got to her feet, breathing heavily.
"Rei... go easy on yourself. This is an S class. We just need to hold ou-"
"I will defeat it."
I looked at Rei. She stared at the ground, her eyes full of rage, clenching her brass knuckles so tightly her hands turned white.
"Rei, listen to me. I understand. But this is-"
"I WILL WIN." She shouted. "Even if I break my body to do it. I will become the strongest Cleaner. For Mom." She growled, as she zipped back into the air, trying to kite the monster, but the monster had already figured out her movements, and slammed her back onto the ground.
Our squad wasn't having too much luck. The monster was able to pick us off and fend us off like fodder. Its main focus was on Rei, but even despite that, we weren't able to get past its occasional wall of spikes.
Suddenly, a massive blast of darkness appeared from the monster's mouth, as it launched it at Rei. Rei swirled out of the way and shot inwards, trying to catch the monster's mouth, but apparently its insides were as tough as its outsides. Rei quickly darted out of the way.
My eyes widened as the blast exploded in our proximity, sending us all back. The only person left standing was Rei.
Rei breathed heavily, as she readied her knuckles.
"Won't lose. I won't lose." She muttered, as she looked at the monster with rage.
"You guys killed Mom. I will never forgive you." She said, as she readied herself for another shot.
"NO! REI! STOP! PLEASE!" Nomi pleaded. I joined in, begging for Rei to stop and try to evade, but Rei wasn't having it.
Suddenly the monster doubled over.
"What?" I asked.
The monster turned around, as something... some ONE. Stood on its head. Rei was motionless, as the figure stood at the top, and I realized he had just impaled the monster with a glowing sword. The sword looked nothing like the ones we used in the Cleaner Company. The blade was angular, silver, with weird markings on the side, like Alien language. The blade glowed silver, as the figure got to his feet. He was muscular, with a buzz-cut. His face, asian in appearance.
He regarded us, as he leapt into the air, and delivered a spiral cut with so much precision and technique, that it made my jaw drop. The boy ripped into the monster's neck, as a bright flash of light illuminated the street we had been fighting on.
By the time I regained my vision, the boy had landed in front of Rei, facing her.
He was around 5 foot 7. He had one of those faces that were hard to gage age from. He looked like he could have been anywhere near 15 to 20. But one thing was clear. He was ripped.
The boy held out his hand, and caught the monster's head from behind.
"So... strong..." Nomi muttered, as Rei was speechless, staring at the man who had just slain a S Class Sentinel in two strikes.
This wasn't normal. It couldn't be. No one was this strong. It just wasn't possible.
The boy turned to me, glancing at the seal.
"Seal it." He said. I stared at him, and shook my head, getting to my feet, and holding out the rune, as the portal began to seal.
I looked at the boy, as he put his sword back in its sheathe. He held out his hand to Rei, who had fallen to her knees in utter shock.
"Are you okay?"
Rei glared at the ground, clearly upset. I could tell. She had done everything she had to become strong. And rightfully so. She was the strongest of all of us. Far surpassing both me and her older sister. And potentially every high ranking Cleaner in the city. She did everything she could to excel. To become the best.
And to, in the span of ten minutes, realize there was a being far stronger than her.
Rei smacked the boy's hand and walked away.
The sky cleared, and I approached the boy, noticing the blood stains all over his clothes.
"So... I'm James. Umm what's your name?"
The boy looked at me.
"Mace. My name is Samuel Mace."
Chapter 2 (Samuel Mace)
"So... how did you... where did you come from?" The one who called himself James shook my hand.
I pointed at what remained of the closing portal. "Inside that."
Several gasps and a "what the hell" came from the rest of the team. A woman walked up to me, and looked at me curiously. I didn't blame her. In the span of our talk, I had already assessed everybody's skill.
The one named James was likely the leader of the group. His strikes and movements were experienced. The woman also appeared to be of some kind of high rank, considering her movements were also relaxed. Not as stiff. Similar to James.
One of the members looked inexperienced, a recruit? The other was oozing recklessness.
The last one... was hard to gage out. I could easily tell she was on a league of her own, different from the rest of her squad. But her attitude, and standoff like nature probably caused friction with the group.
"Mace, you mean to tell me you lived your whole life in the Abyssal Realm?" The woman asked. "I'm Tsuyuki Nozomi, by the way. But just call me Nomi."
I glanced at Nomi. "Yes... no." I put my hand on my head, confused.
"I..." My head flashed with weird visions as the others backed off.
"What... I have... I've lived. I died. I... I don't remember..." I muttered.
James put his hand on his chin. "Amnesia huh."
The reckless one, chuckled, causing the inexperienced one to jump, started.
"Well, doesn't really matter. You just freaking OBLITERATED that thing! Rei is probably SO pissed right now."
"Alex!" Nomi said, putting her hand on Alex's mouth.
"Mmf! Mmm mmm mmf!" Alex said.
The last member of the team reached out his hand. "My name is Colin. As what Alex... well. Tried to say, is that your power is astounding. You're clearly not from here. I guess all that time in the Abyssal Realm has made you strong."
James smiled. "No matter, you are absurdly strong. It's... unnatural. The other Cleaners are probably headed to our direction and have a ton of questions to ask you."
"Cleaners?" I asked.
James chuckled. "Yep! We're the Cleaners, Squad 170b. Residing in the Tsuyuki Dorm! We're responsible for defending this place of the monsters that come from the Abyssal Realm."
From the edge of my vision, I could make out tons of vans coming to our direction.
"Cleaners... an organization?" I asked.
"How strong are they."
James was silent, his face surprised. "Well, they're really strong actually. We kind of have to be, to protect this world. I'd say a couple of them are needed to take down the S-Class Sentient you killed."
I clenched my fist. These guys were not strong enough. I needed to get stronger. To defeat Mogul. I didn't know why I had that desire, but for some reason, with all the shattered and missing memories, one thing was very very clear and was nailed into my head.
Defeat Mogul, the Prime Aspect of Sin.
"Mace? You good buddy?" Alex said, waving his hand across my face.
I snapped out of my train of thought. "Yes."
Colin put his lance away. "You're seeking to be stronger, like Rei."
James looked at me curiously. "I have a lotta questions for you too. But I guess it can wait for Monday. It is the weekend, we deserve a little break, let the weekend squads take over, you know?"
"Hell yeah." Alex said. "Didn't Nomi say we were going out for udon? Where is she anyway?"
"Come on, Rei. Don't be like that." Nomi dragged who I presumed to be Rei by the arm, as she glared at me.
"This is Rei, by the way." Nomi said, ruffling her hair, much to her annoyance. "She's my little sister, and the powerhouse of the team!"
"Hello." I said.
Rei ignored me.
James crossed his arms, as the other Cleaners got out of their vans and were all eyeing me.
"Who is this? What happened to the S-Class? Don't tell me our little Cleaner superstar here took it down all on her own!" The man clapped, as he walked to Rei's side. Rei paid him no attention, as she continued giving me a death stare.
"Nope. That goes to Mr. Samuel Mace here. Very interesting fellow, I think I'm going to go with him and we can have him questioned." Said James.
The man raised his eyebrows. "This boy? Interesting... yes. We will have a lot to discuss. Monday morning, perhaps?"
"Sounds good." James replied, as the rest of the Cleaner squads got to work to fix up the area which was ravaged from the battle.
I was disappointed. There was no one strong in this world. I had stayed in the Abyssal Realm, because whenever a portal formed, and the monsters entered, I would see the other side. The beings who fought back. None of them were particularly interesting. So I stayed, hunting down as many S-Class and SS-Class monsters as I could to get stronger. But eventually, there was no point. Because no one stood against me. Even without my Phoenix Form.
Until the one named Rei appeared. She defeated the monsters left and right in the blink of an eye, and attracted my attention. So I followed, hoping she would be a powerful opponent for me to increase my power. But the disappointment when she was outclassed by the S-Class led me to be underwhelmed.
Yet for some reason, seeing her determination, made me reconsider staying. It had been so long since I had seen someone with so much resolve.
James turned to us. "Well, looks like we got ourselves a new roommate to the Tsuyuki Dorm! Old Man Mato is going to love this guy!"
Alex and Colin patted me on the back. "Welcome to the family!"
"Hold on!" Nomi said. "Where is Mace going to stay?"
James suddenly stopped, fist midair. "Oh. Didn't think of that."
Alex raised his hand. "I have an idea."
He pointed his finger to Rei, who looked up. "He could be Rei's roommate!"
Rei's blank expression suddenly changed. Her face becoming red. And her voice, both doubled in volume, and in octave.
"EXCUSE ME?!" She squeaked.
Alex snickered, and Colin held back a laugh.
James and Nomi both grinned. James gave her a thumbs up. "That's great! Rei has the biggest room in the house! I'm sure you can make some space for our newest recruit... Samuel Mace! You both like to be strong, I'm sure you two will get along great!"
Rei stormed in front of James, her face contorted in anger and annoyance.
"I refuse! My room is my own! Why do I have to share it with him?! A... boy of all people..."
"Hey, Lady Rei, you're turning a little red there." Alex joked.
Rei glared at him, her face reddening even more. "I am most certainly not!"
I glanced back at the portal. Perhaps staying back in the Abyssal Realm was a better idea. But... if Rei continued getting stronger, she might be strong enough for me to fight her. And if it came to that...
There could be a chance for me to become even stronger than I currently was.
"It's settled then!" Nomi said. "Congratulations, little sis, on your new boyfriend, I mean roommate!"
We walked back to this "Tsuyuki Dorm". As Alex put his arm around my neck and began talking to me about the customs of this world. I glanced behind me, and Rei's face was murderous.
Chapter 3 (Samuel Mace)
The Tsuyuki dorm looked like what you would see from a normal household. Multiple rooms, a living space. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was a lot better than the living conditions I had back in the Abyssal Realm.
"Well, I would tell you to drop your bags here, but you don't got any!" James laughed. He was so charismatic. It was almost too obvious that he was the leader of the team. The others entered the house and went off to their rooms.
Nozomi went up to Rei.
"Alright, go on and show Mace here to the room. Considering you two are going to be the closest together, I'm tasking you with giving the new guy a tour!"
Rei glared at me, and turned around, walking away.
I followed her, as she walked up some steps and took a few turns. She was silent the entire time, but her body language was enough to tell me she wasn't too thrilled to be given the responsibility of being my tour guide.
Rei opened the door to her room and held it open for me, as I walked in.
There wasn't much. A bed, and the floor. Some posters of what I presumed to be legendary Cleaners lined her room. But that wasn't the main thing. Her room was full of pictures of her family. In particular, an elderly woman who was seen with them. I guess that was her mother.
I turned to her.
"Where will I sleep?"
Rei pointed at a space in the corner.
"The ground?" I asked.
Rei looked at me, as she took off her hoodie, and smoothed out her white t-shirt.
"Hey, Mace." She muttered, her eyes trailing off to my swords.
"What is it?" I asked.
"When you are done with the questioning, and you have settled in. I want to fight you. One on one."
I regarded her. "You will lose." I said, calmly.
Rei glared at me. "I will not."
I sighed, as I sat in my corner, putting my swords down and unwrapping the chain on my left forearm.
"Rei, you struggled against an S Class Sentient. To me, those monsters are just warm up. They're nothing. I understand your desire to become stronger, but don't mistake ambition with delusion. You can't win against me."
I heard Rei clench her fists, her knuckles cracking. I turned around, and realized there were tears in her eyes.
"You don't have any right to tell me what I can't do." She whispered, her voice low and dangerous.
I put the chains on the ground, as the metal clanged against each other. I got up, and held out my hand.
"Come." I said.
Rei gave me a surprised expression.
"You want a fight? Then come. Come at me with everything you have. I'm unarmed. And you have experience with knuckle combat. If you think you have what it takes, try and land a punch on me while you have an advantage."
Rei was silent for a few seconds, probably trying to comprehend what was going on, but suddenly, heard expression and demeanour changed.
Rei lowered her head, raising her fists in the air, as she leaned to one side, and shot forward. Her speed was formidable. Much faster than any Cleaner I had seen before. But it wasn't enough.
I watched as her first punch came my way, and I blocked it, Combat Intuition instantly showing me her fight patterns.
She threw another punch, but it was clearly a feint. I weaved to one side and grabbed her wrist, then her other. Then closed in and pushed her against the wall.
I leaned in closely, until our faces were only an inch apart. Rei stared at me, her large eyes were wide in shock. In a way, Rei was very attractive. Cute and pretty, but her terrible personality acted as a counterweight.
"You couldn't beat me even when I was unarmed. I'll tell you now, that I only need one of my powers to defeat you."
Rei's face turned red. I couldn't tell if she was embarrassed or infuriated. Either case seemed likely.
I let go, as Rei put her hands down, her face still red.
I walked off, but Rei stopped me.
I turned around. Rei was wringing her wrists. She didn't look at me.
"Nothing." She muttered, as she walked to her side of the room, despondent.
I left to find James. We needed to talk.
I found James working on some documents, when suddenly he stopped me.
"Whoa there, Mace!"
"What?" I asked.
James pointed at the shrine I almost bumped into.
"That's Mitsuki's shrine. Don't touch it. It means a lot to us."
James sighed. "Man, I'm sorry if all the information is coming at you like a waterfall. Mitsuki was Mato's wife. Until she was... well."
"I'm sorry." I said, as I knelt in front of him. James was surrounded by hundreds of documents.
James smirked. "Ah, well, it isn't your fault after all. But Mitsuki was a great Cleaner. She was one of the best, but then one mission went awry..."
Mitsuki was Mato's wife... meaning she was Nomi and Rei's mother.
I remembered Rei's words when she fought the S-Class Sentient. She fought like she sought vengeance. The fury in her eyes.
James noticed my expression. "So I guess the pieces all fell into place, huh."
I suddenly felt bad. I squashed all of Rei's hopes of beating me, without thinking once about what she was going through.
"Well, if it isn't the new boy!" An elderly man walked into the room. He wore a pair of glasses, and he had a friendly smile. James' expression brightened up.
"Father!" He said, as he went up to the man and hugged him.
"Oh, James! I got the call from Nomi. This is Mace-san, yes?"
"Mace is fine." I replied.
Mato held out his hand. "Call me Mato. It is a pleasure to meet you!"
Mato turned to James. "Where's my two girls? What are they up to?"
James sifted through more papers. "Rei is probably studying in her room. Nomi, Alex, and Colin are out, with her boyfriend for udon. Alex heard banging in Rei's room, so he assumed she was busy with Mace."
Mato's face suddenly turned red.
I was confused as to why he had that reaction. "Mr. Tsuyuki, Rei and I were just sparring, as she requested it."
Mato sighed with relief. "Oh! I see. Well, Reirei always loves to push herself. I just wish she would just go easy once in a while. Always training, that girl!"
James laughed. "Well, I guess I'm done with my paperwork for today's mission. A bit more than usual, considering we got a new recruit. I'll go to the office and hand them in, in the meantime, you could have a word with Father. He's a real nice guy!"
James got up and slipped on his shoes, heading out the door.
I glanced at the shrine.
Rei's mother died as a Cleaner. It would make sense for her to strive to become the best. That kind of trauma...
Mato noticed me looking at the shrine. "Ah, yes. My dearest Mitsuki." Mato went to the shrine and did a ritualistic motion, probably commemorating her.
"This is my wife, you see." Mato turned to me.
"James told me she was a really strong Cleaner. I'm so sorry for your loss." I said.
Mato smiled warmly at the shrine. "She was strong, hardworking, but above all else, kind. In a way, she brought out the best in me. When she died, it was devastating."
Mato sat down. "My dearest Mitsuki, ripped away from me from the Abyssal Creatures. Her dying words was to tell me to take care of Rei and Nomi. And to be happy again."
Mato clutched his chest. "I did my best to be happy, but sometimes I would yearn for her. I did things that I regret. I'm sure you will learn of it when you walk around town. But I can't help it."
I stared at the picture of Mitsuki. She was beautiful. Her face, innocent and pretty, like Rei's, but her hair, brown and elegant like Nomi's.
Mato continued. "But the pain that was put on me, couldn't compare to the pain on my daughters. Nomi was crying for months on end. It took her boyfriend to show her that the best way was to move forward. In a way, she was the only person in this household to truly accept her death.
"Rei on the other hand... she took it to heart. She saw her mother's body in that coffin. And from that day onward, she stopped smiling. Such a sweet and happy girl, all that light taken away. It felt like on the day I lost her mother, I lost her too. Rei had never been the same."
Chapter 4 (Rei Tsuyuki)
"Mommy, why are you a Cleaner?" I asked, as Mom held me by the fire.
I was five at the time. And I remembered vividly.
A warm fire, and Mom's embrace. I felt safe. I felt loved. Everything about the scene made my heart feel protected.
Mom smiled at me. "Reirei, why do you ask?"
"Because you are always in so much danger. Every time you come home, Daddy sees you with bandages and gets really scared."
I looked down. "I get scared too."
Mom laughed. "I'm sorry for worrying you two! But I am fine."
Mom smoothed the locks of hair around my forehead. "Mommy just wants to keep everybody safe. So you could smile and have a great life. I work with my colleagues and my teammates because I know one day, my little Reirei will grow up to be one of the best people in the whole wide world!"
"Do you mean that?" I gleamed.
Mom nodded. "Don't you remember what you told me? When you came home from school? What you wanted to be when you grew up?"
I remembered. I wanted to be a princess. But not because I wanted to look pretty. Not because of the money. Not because of the dresses or the fancy princes who would want my hand in marriage. No.
It was because I could use my influence. My power, to keep everybody safe. I could become royalty, and do my best to make sure everybody was happy. I would give away my money to the poor, and end all poverty. I would teach the children who couldn't afford school, so no one could go without education. I would teach everybody to be able to cook. To be able to fend for themselves.
I wanted to be a princess so everybody could be happy.
I snapped back into reality. The sun was setting down, as my room became darker. I lay in my bed, tears in my eyes, remembering Mom's funeral. Her face. She was so peaceful, but I felt like a part of me had left just like she did.
I clenched my fists. Those Abyssal bastards took Mom from me.
They ruined my life.
They ruined Dad.
And they continued to ruin everybody, by killing innocent people, and Cleaners. Cleaners who had families. I couldn't let what happened to me happen to them too.
I needed to become the strongest Cleaner, so I could fulfill my wish. To use my power to keep everybody safe.
Just like all those years ago.
I turned around in my sheets and stared at Mace's swords. The silver one, glowing in the dark. Along the side was some writing I couldn't comprehend. The other sword was gold, and was elegantly made. There was no way those two blades were from here. Their magical properties were unlike anything I had ever seen.
Samuel Mace. The being who had defeated the S-Class sentinel with just two blows. He had power that was so obviously greater than mine. And I hated it.
He had no drive to become a Cleaner. He was just... some boy. He had no terrible past. He had nothing that drove him to become that strong.
But he was strong anyway.
"This... isn't fair..." I mumbled, as I closed my eyes tightly. Tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes.
You couldn't beat me even when I was unarmed. I'll tell you now, that I only need one of my powers to defeat you.
Of course I know I couldn't beat you, Mace. That much I know. But I have to fight you anyway. I needed to. I need to become stronger. To avenge Mom.
Suddenly, I heard creaking from the corner of the room, as the door slowly opened. Mace entered the room, his muscular frame casting a shadow from the side of the wall I was facing.
I remembered how he had pushed me against the wall, grabbing my wrists, how he leaned in close to me. So close that I could feel his breath on my neck.
My heartbeat went up, as I shook my head.
No. No. What was I thinking? I had no feelings for that passionless brainless dolt. He had no goal. He was just strong. That was it. Nothing was special about him.
I slowly glanced behind me, as I could see Mace walk up to his swords, and sat on the ground. He wrapped the chains around his left forearm, as it slowly began to wrap on their own. Those weapons... I wondered where he got them from? But I knew he wouldn't be able to answer the question. Because he didn't remember.
On his left arm was a tattoo of a spear. I never had a thing for guys with tattoos, I found it obnoxious. But for some reason, it looked... no. Stop Rei. This guy is an idiot. He's just another muscle head. A junkie.
Mace leaned his back against the wall and closed his eyes, before getting up and putting on his straps for his swords. He got up, fully armed, and left the room.
Was he training? I had to follow him. Not because I was interested in him or anything.
I got up from my bed and slipped on my purple hoodie, and put my knuckles in my pocket, following him outside of the house.
I entered the backyard, and found Mace standing in the centre. He had his eyes closed, breathing hard. What was he going to do?
Suddenly, Mace grabbed his golden sword, and cut his forearm. I gasped. What the hell was he doing?
Flames began to arc from his left arm, as it spread up to his shoulder. The flames were bright. Much brighter than normal fires. And much more intense that Nomi's.
What was this power? He never showed this ability in his fight....
Then it hit me.
I'll tell you now, that I only need one of my powers to defeat you.
Mace had multiple powers. This must had been one of them.
Mace stepped forward, and began to summon more of his flames as his face contorted from the effort of controlling it. Whatever this power was, it was clearly not natural. The flames looked... godly.
"Come on.... don't lose yourself, Mace. Don't lose yourself." He muttered, as the flames began to form some over-mold around his arm, similar to James whenever he went full power.
"I can't... lose myself... I need to... I have to..." Mace grumbled, as he suddenly doubled over.
I gasped as I leaned forward from the pillar to try to get a better view. This guy's power was immense. I gripped the pillar harder.
He was so much stronger... I needed to train much harder if I wanted to catch up.
Suddenly, Mace doubled over, as he fell to his knees. My eyes widened, as the flames covered his entire left side of his body.
"GrrrrrAAARRRR..." Mace growled. Was he losing control? He looked like he was going feral. I pulled out my brass knuckle, and slipped it onto my right hand, as it began to glow with a ethereal black and green. If Mace went berserk, I had to put him down... but did I have what it took?
"Kill him..." Mace seethed, as he stumbled around. "I must kill him..."
Kill... kill who? Who was him? I looked at Mace in curiosity and astonishment as Mace stumbled all over the backyard, mumbling and cursing.
I looked closer, and realized there were tears in his eyes. The next thing he said made my heart drop.
"I'm not strong enough..." Mace muttered, as he instantly took his sword and impaled his own leg, extinguishing the flame. Mace grimaced in pain, as the wound began to regenerate.
Self healing. Unbelievable. What other powers did this boy have? How many powers did he have?!
Mace fell to the ground, his face hitting the ground as he breathed hard.
"Mogul... how will I kill him. When I can't even get stronger than this..."
Chapter 5 (Samuel Mace)
"Yo, Mace? You good man? What happened?" My eyes fluttered open, as I awakened to Alex, Colin, Nomi, James, and Mato looking down at me.
Shit. I was in the backyard. I probably lost control of the Fires of War. I looked around. Thank god I didn't set anything on fire again.
"Sorry. I overtrained." I replied, as I sat up, and got to my feet.
"Overtraining?" Nomi asked. "You shouldn't overdo it. I'll tell you what I keep telling Rei. But if you keep pushing yourself with no time to rest, you'll never get stronger. Things take time!"
"Where's... what... what time is it?"
Alex chuckled. "Damn, you were passed out all night. None of us noticed you were gone. I went to Rei's room, and knocked on her door, she didn't answer. Well actually, she did. She told me to go away. So I just assumed you were asleep in her room."
I rubbed my eyes. "Sorry to have concerned you all."
Nomi laughed. "It's okay! As long as you aren't hurt!"
James eyed me. "Are you okay with questioning today? I told the guys to come here instead of us going to them. Since learning that you ended up passed out."
"Yes." I replied.
The others left, as Colin gave me a nod.
Alex gave me a thumbs up for some reason. "Noticed the banging from the other day. Hope you two weren't having too much fun!"
Nomi looked disgusted. "Alex! That's so inappropriate!"
"Sorry. Couldn't help it."
Mato put his hand on my shoulder. "Try to go easy on yourself Mace. Gosh you and Rei have so much in common!"
I nodded. "I will, thanks Mr. Tsuyuki."
I followed James to the living room.
The man asked me a bunch of questions, which I answered truthfully. I didn't know if my answers satisfied him, but I did surprise him at some points in the interview. Particularly my memory loss.
"Interesting. You don't recall anything before your life in the Abyssal Realm?"
"No." I looked at my hand. "Just bits and pieces. That make no sense."
"An image of several boys, who look like me. And one in particular... he had long hair, streaked magenta in the ends. But... that's it. And one person in particular. A huge monster. For some reason, he is the only person I can remember. All I know is I have to kill him. His name is Mogul."
"Mogul... I see." The man scribbled on his notebook.
He got up and shook our hands. "Well, I will relay this to the higher-ups and we can decide what to do. For now, Mace can stay at the Tsuyuki Dorm."
"Thank you, Zen." James nodded.
I looked at James as the man headed out the door.
"What will you do?"
James shrugged. "I'm done with paperwork. Let's join the others. Maybe you could invite Rei out? We'll leave in an hour."
"Okay." I replied. There was no way Rei was going to leave her room. But it was worth a shot.
James noticed my expression. "You know, as much as Rei doesn't want to admit it, she actually likes going out with people. She's just shy. Try to get past that barrier."
I climbed up the steps and knocked on the door.
"Rei, the others are going out. James would appreciate if you came with us."
"Go away." Rei replied.
I sighed and opened the door, slowly. I found Rei with her feet up on her bed, doing pushups.
I approached her, as she continued training. Beads of sweat rolled off her face as her tank top was drenched. She was working hard, to follow through with her goal. Something I could respect.
As much as Rei doesn't want to admit it, she actually likes going out with people. She's just shy.
I knelt down in front of her.
"You know, overtraining is just as bad, you should take the day off. Everybody in the team wants you to come with them."
Rei ignored me, and continued doing her pushups, but the moment she lifted her body off the ground for one more repetition, she froze, her forearms shaking from the effort. Rei fell to the ground.
Rei began to breathe heavily, as she struggled to get back up.
"Leave me alone!" She hissed, as she tried to get in pushup position, but fell back on her face again.
"I... I have to get stronger... I won't stop until I become stronger than you!"
I glanced at the numerous photos of Mitsuki on her wall. Of a young Rei and her mother, smiling in the photos. They were so happy. I could see how much her mother had an impact on her. But what she was doing was just destroying her body. It wasn't making her stronger if she wasn't giving it enough rest.
"James and Mr. Tsuyuki told me about your mother." I said.
"Wha-" Rei said, before losing her balance and falling to the ground with a yelp.
I regarded her. "I know why you're trying your best to become stronger. How about we have a deal. You go out with with the team, and tonight, I'll have a spar with you. We can get stronger, together."
I held out my hand, and Rei looked at me, her eyes watery.
It didn't occur to me that this was the same gesture I had done the first time we met. The day I tried to help her to her feet after killing the S-Class.
"Mace..." She muttered.
"I meant no harm when I said you were too weak. But I'm not going to tell you that you're stronger than me, because then I would be lying. All I am saying is I support you in your journey to becoming stronger. I'll help you."
Rei looked away. "I don't need your help."
"Alright. I guess I'll just leave you to sulk in this dead ass room while I keep pulling ahead."
"No! Wait!" Rei called after me as I began to walk away.
I turned around. Rei struggled to her feet. For some reason, seeing her like this, her purple hair plastered to her face, her black tank top and shorts made my heart beat faster. Maybe it was a survival reflex? It could explain why she was so formidable in combat, if she could emit an aura like that.
"I'll... accept your offer." She said, quietly.
Rei began to undress when suddenly her eyes widened, her face becoming red.
"Oh. Sorry." I said. I quickly left the room and waited outside.
"Pretty sick, right? It's the New Kona Autumn Festival, after all." Alex said, as he put his arm around my neck. Colin walked next to me. James and Nomi ended up separated. James had caught up with his old friends, and Nomi's boyfriend had shown up, leading to her breaking apart from our group. That left Colin, Alex, Rei, and I.
"Hey... Mace?" Colin asked, sheepishly.
"What is it?" I asked.
Colin wrung his wrists. "Do you have any advice for me? In getting stronger?"
Colin was the most inexperienced of the members in the squad. I remembered. But he had drive, he had passion and he wanted to become stronger.
"What is your end goal?" I asked.
Colin glanced at the people who were playing their stringed instruments.
"I want to become like James. It probably sounds silly. But I look up to him. He is strong, charismatic. Dependable. I want to be like that... but..."
Colin stared at his hands. "I am too weak. I do nothing but bring everybody down."
"Come on, Colin. You always say that! It isn't true!" Alex said, slapping Colin in the back.
"Alex, you wield the scythe with so much skill. Every time you're in battle you have a smile on your face. I don't have that courage or bravery." Colin sighed.
"Just keep practicing man! You'll get the hang of it! No one in the squad thinks you're a burden. Anybody thinks that I'll beat them up. Unless it's Rei. She scares me."
I glanced behind us. Rei was trailing us from behind her hands clasped together in front of her, her eyes empty, and disinterested. She kept looking at the numerous families that were all over the event. Like she was longing to be like them.
"So... what's going on with you and Reirei?" Alex leaned closer to me, wiggling his eyebrows.
"What?" I asked, annoyed.
"The two of you share a room. You're what.. like 15?"
"Yeah, my body... it..." I suddenly clutched my head. What was I saying? How did... did my body age differently?
"You're one special dude, ya know?" Alex joked. "But yeah. You know Rei is like 16 too. Who knows, if you enrol in Graham High, you might end up in her class! You two share a room, so you're basically a step ahead most couples anyway."
"School..." I never went to school before. I couldn't even recall ever going to any school in my little bits of memory fragments.
"Hey! Cotton Candy!" Colin said, surprised.
Alex's eyes went big. "No way! I haven't had that shit in months!"
Colin looked at Alex. "Hey! Language!"
Alex threw his hands in the air. "What?! I can't even curse when James isn't around either?!"
Colin crossed his arms. "It is a bad habit. When James or Nomi isn't around, it's up to someone to keep the integrity of the group."
Alex rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Let's hit up the vendor. Mace, want some?"
"Sure." I replied, glancing at Rei. She was looking at a stall. Some kind of shooting game? She looked like she wanted to play, but we weren't giving her a chance.
Colin and Alex bounded off to the stall and joined the line as I walked up to Rei.
"Hey." I said.
Rei continued looking at the stall.
I raised an eyebrow, as I snapped my fingers in front of her face. Rei jumped.
"You okay?" I asked.
Rei wrung her wrists. "Yes."
I looked at the stall, and went over. The man regarded Rei and I.
"You kids wanna play? It's one Roma for one game."
I sifted through my pockets. James had given me some allowance in case I wanted to buy anything.
I handed the man one Roma coin, as the targets lined up. Rei stood next to me.
I examined the toy gun. It was one of those shooting games where you had to shoot down the targets. But unfortunately, I only ever wielded swords. My ranged attacks were never precise. And I never once fired a gun before.
I took aim, and wasted half of my ammunition on one duck.
I heard a giggle, and looked beside me to see Rei had her hand over her mouth. She saw me looking and instantly zipped her mouth, forcing her usual apathetic expression.
"Your aim is atrocious." She said.
I narrowed my eyes. "I've battled Abyssal Creatures for a living. This is nothing to me." I announced, as I aimed my gun again and missed another shot. And another.
I would have said I managed to hit the target, but I would be lying. I missed every single shot.
"Oh well. Nice try, kid." The man said, as the game closed.
"Dammit." I muttered.
Rei glanced at me and then looked at the game owner. "Can I try?"
She paid the man the one Roma and took out her gun. There was no way she could have been proficient with-
PING, PING, PING
One by one the ducks fell as Rei shot them with flawless accuracy. Within the span of one minute, the ducks were all gone.
Rei turned around and put her hand on my jaw, closing it.
"Congrats, sweetie. You win!" The man said, as Rei selected her prize.
We walked back as Rei held her plastic sword.
"How is your aim so good?" I asked.
Rei inspected her very lethal looking game prize. "When I was young, I trained in firearms."
"But isn't your class melee?"
"Yes, but I tried to expand my reach."
"That's really impressive." I said.
Rei choked, and looked away. "I.. Oh..."
I couldn't even get past two minutes before I offended her. There was no winning.
"Yo, Mace. Here's yours." Alex said, as he handed me a cone with blue colouring.
"Blue?" I asked.
"What? You don't like blue? You seemed like the type of guy to like blue."
I was about to take a bite, but I noticed Rei staring. She quickly looked away.
I handed it to her. "Did you want some?"
"No." Rei whispered, quietly.
"Damn, look at you, all flustered!" Alex teased. Suddenly, Rei's menacing look returned, as she gave Alex a death glare.
"Sorry!" Alex said, quickly.
Colin looked onwards and at Nomi, who was with her boyfriend, having fun. They were taking pictures and everything.
"This is great." Colin said.
I nodded. "It's been a while since I've seen something like that. Since my days in Argen."
Everybody stared at me.
"Argen? What's that?" Alex asked.
I suddenly collapsed, dropping the cotton candy on the ground as I grasped my head.
"Mace! Mace?! What's going on?" Alex shouted.
"Go and find Nomi!" Colin shouted at Rei. But Rei stood there, staring at me, her eyes wide.
I couldn't process what was happening anymore. Argen? Was I... I was in Argen. But what in the world was Argen?
Colin got up and ran off, as everything went dark.
Chapter 6 (James Cairo)
I was walking with Nomi until her boyfriend, Findlay, had shown up. Swept her off her feet. Quite literally.
"I'll see you in an hour! We'll all meet up!" Nomi waved goodbye.
I smiled and kept walking. Nomi was happy. And that warmed my heart. After everything she had been through, she definitely deserved to be having fun.
Cairo. My surname. I knew despite how much I did for Mato and my family, I wasn't true family to them. I was just an adopted son. I never knew my parents, and I had been picked up by Mato when he was still in his scholarly days. Raised me. I looked up to Mato, but it was ultimately Mitsuki who led me to choose to become a Cleaner. Despite all that, Mato's work ethic stuck.
Nomi always wanted to cheer me up. She did everything she could, but deep down, it always bit me.
I continued walking as I saw family all around me. It made me both happy and sad.
Man what was I doing? Sulking over this? It was the Autumn Festival! I had to have fun!
I should have been with the others, but Nomi wanted to walk with me and now she was away with her boyfriend. So I was kind of just wandering around on my own.
"James Cairo." A voice said from the corner of my vision.
I turned around. It was Erwin. Another leader from a different squad.
"Still working with Tsuyuki the pervert huh?"
I clenched my fists. "Erwin, Tsuyuki is a respectable figure. His work ethic is admirable, you cannot deny that."
"Still wasn't enough for his license to get revoked though. That peeping tom!" Erwin chuckled.
I tried to control my anger. I was normally a chill guy. But whenever someone disrespected my family, I took it to heart.
"I heard you guys got a new recruit. The Abyssal Dweller. You know that's what they call them?"
"I am aware." I said.
Erwin walked up to me, his face suddenly concerned. "I'd watch out for him though. I mean, on a real though."
"You don't know Mace."
"And neither do you. The guy killed an S-Class bro, alone. You know how ridiculously powerful he is? In fact, the higher-ups told us all to keep it a secret. Mace's strength is confidential to everyone. Literally."
He was right, to some degree. I didn't know Mace. His powers were unbelievable. But even so, he was still one of us.
Erwin leaned in closer. "I'd watch my back if I were you. This Mace guy is definitely not human. He might even just be an Abyssal in disguise. We don't know for sure."
Erwin walked off as I glared at him.
My phone buzzed, as I took it out. It was Nomi.
"Hello?" I asked.
"James! It's Mace! Something's wrong with him!"
I quickly dropped everything and ran back to where we first met.
"Where are you guys."
"Near the cotton candy store. Please, hurry. Get your recovery gems ready."
"On my way." I replied.
I acrobatically leapt across the buildings and walls as I reached the point as fast as I could. I could make out the team, and Mace had fallen unconscious. Everybody was panicking as I ran up to the boy.
"James!" Colin ran up to me.
"What's going on? What happened?"
"Mace... he had some kind of memory resurface, then he got a really huge migraine. I don't know what's wrong. He's... not waking up."
I ran up to the boy and put my hands on his chest, activating the awakening gem. But Mace was non-responsive.
I tried another gem. Nothing.
I turned to Nomi. "We need to contact the paramedics."
Nomi held Mace's hand. "I already did. Oh god. Mace..."
Findlay put his hands on her shoulders. "It's okay, Nomi. Mace is a tough kid. I'm sure the medical workers will be top notch."
Nomi put her hands on Findlay's, giving him a sad smile. "Thank you, Findlay."
That night, we watched as Mace was sent off in a stretcher. We wanted to go with him, but none of us were allowed. The higher-up looked at me.
"Confidential. We can't have him exposed to the public if he so much as displays his powers."
We watched as the ambulance drove off.
The mood had died the moment Mace had collapsed. Apparently, a memory had resurfaced. Something about his time in a place called Argen. The moment he said that, he started to act up, and a migraine hit him hard. Mace didn't remember who he was before his time in the Abyssal Realm. But whatever his past was, it had shaped him into the powerful warrior he was today. That much we knew.
Nomi, Alex, Colin, and Rei went back to the house.
I pulled out my phone and texted my colleague.
"Going to have to delay my work. Family emergency."
I entered the house, as everybody returned to their rooms.
Mato appeared from the kitchen. "Back so soon? Where's Mace-san?"
"Dad..." Nomi muttered, as Mato quickly hugged his daughter. "Did something happen to the boy?"
I explained to Mato about Mace's situation. Mato sighed, and wiped his eyes. "Poor boy. I hope he gets better. How are the others doing?"
I glanced at Alex and Colin, who returned to their rooms. Alex had stopped cracking jokes. Which meant it was that bad.
Mato sat at the table as I joined him.
"Father, it is getting late. Let me help you with the dishes."
I took over, as Mato smiled warmly at me.
"Ah, James. Always so attentive, despite what is going on."
I continued washing and scrubbing. "Father, I have a question."
"What is it?"
"Is it wrong? To treat Mace like a member of our family? Despite being who he is. Or what he is? Am I just being foolish?"
Mato raised his eyebrows. "Why do you think that?"
I sighed. "Erwin mentioned that Mace could potentially be an Abyssal in disguise. I... I don't believe it. But what if it's true? What if I'm the reason the Abyssals infiltrate this house, humanity? All because I was naive?"
I dried the plates as I sat across from him.
"Father, I feel like I am too foolhardy to be a leader."
Mato laughed, as I looked up in surprise.
"James-san. Has all that work in the office made you gone mad?"
"What do you mean?!" I asked, incredulous.
Mato reached forward and stroked my hair.
"Too foolhardy to be leader? When is kindness ever considered foolhardy? These days, leaders are all about being tough, and strong. If you ask me, you might be one of the last few remaining true leaders out there. With your compassion. If it had been Erwin, he would have forced poor Mace-san back into the portal!"
"No more questioning yourself, boy. You are a leader. The members of this squad all look up to you. Even Nomi. Rei depends on you. We all do. Why do you think that is? Because we all see you as the backbone for this squad. Because you are kind, and compassionate. You introduced me to this wonderful young boy. He is lost. And now he needs a home."
Mace... he was just a kid. He went through all of that pain. Living his life in the Abyssal Realm. I couldn't imagine how brutal it must have been. Even if he was super strong. Being lonely could sometimes be as bad.
I smiled. Mace was family. Just like Colin, Alex, Nomi, and Rei. He was one of us now.
"Thank you, father."
"But you should still go to bed. It is past curfew!"
"Oh dear me!" Mato got up. "I've raised you a bit too well, haven't I?"
I led father to his room, as he lay down in his bed, and went to bed.
"Goodnight, father." I said.
Instead of going to check in Rei's room, I went outside. I found Rei swinging her brass knuckles in the air, practicing her kicks and her moves.
"Training as hard as ever, huh?"
Rei continued grunting, as she leapt into the air, to deliver an axe kick on a piece of steel, warping it.
I held out a towel, as Rei took it, wiping her face.
"Please don't get in the way of my training, James." She said.
"I'm not. I'm just worried for you, Rei."
Rei stared at the towel. "James..."
Rei looked at me. "Is... Mace going to be okay?"
I raised an eyebrow. "This has got to be the first time you were ever concerned about someone!"
Rei's face turned red. "I... not like I care about him or anything. I just think with him hospitalized it might... have an impact on our squad. We might be underperforming and-"
"Rei, it's okay to be concerned for Mace. We all are."
Rei began to stammer, her face becoming redder by the minute.
I laughed, and took the towel, as I cleaned her face off of the grime. "I won't poke into the details. But Mace is going to be fine. You saw how he managed himself in that fight. He's been living alone in the Abyssal Realm for so long. I'm sure a little migraine is just a tickle for him. He's also got the best doctors in New Kona working on him. He will be in tip top shape in no time!"
I heard Rei sigh in relief, as she sat down. I sat next to her.
"Mitsuki will be proud, seeing her daughter work so hard."
Rei said nothing, as she stared at the moon.
"James, I feel useless."
I stared at her. "Why would you ever think that? You're the best Cleaner I've ever seen! A natural and a prodigy. You will be doing great things when you're older!"
Rei rested her hands under her chin. "Would you say that, when Mace becomes a Cleaner?"
"Mace is a different story."
"Mace is stronger than me. And he doesn't even have a desire to become a Cleaner. Every time I see him, I'm reminded of how weak I am in the face of the stronger beings in the Abyssal Realm. I feel like all the work I've put into has been for nothing." Rei's voice broke.
I put my arm around her. "Rei, all the work you've been putting in as not been for nothing. We don't know Mace's story. We don't know what he's been through. But we do know what you've been through. At the end of the day, you've been working hard, and you've become a great Cleaner. That fact doesn't change."
Rei sniffled as she brought her knees up to her chin. I felt terrible, seeing her under so much stress. So many expectations that she had piled up on herself. She was only 16, but already had so much on her plate. I didn't want to burden her so much, but ever since Mace appeared, Rei had become more and more recluse.
"Between you and me, I think you would be the best Cleaner overall."
"Mace doesn't seem to be an academic type. In terms of intelligence, you might have an edge."
I laughed. "Well, tomorrow is school. So you better get to bed soon!"
Rei rolled her eyes, as she got up and entered the house. "Okay." She responded.
I smiled as I looked at the bent metal and destroyed training objects. Mace may have been the stronger fighter. But Rei was also great. Everybody in the team was great. No matter what everybody's story was. We all had a place here in Tsuyuki Dorm. I was here to make sure that fact was known, and that everybody knew that about themselves.
Chapter 7 (Samuel Mace)
I spun around. In the darkness. The voice was almost everywhere. He sounded like me. His voice a little deeper.
"Who's there?" I asked.
I turned around and saw my own reflection. Except... it wasn't me.
His hair was slightly longer, still short, but slanted to the left. Along his shoulder, a bronze strap that ran down the waist. But the two swords on his back confirmed it.
The boy held out his hand, as he regarded me. "My name is Arman Wan."
I took it, and suddenly clutched my head. That name.
"The name resonates with you. Doesn't it?"
I looked back up, and realized the boy had changed. His hair grew out to his chin, his eyes covered in black and magenta bangs. His pupils turned magenta, and a long black coat covered his body. The swords disappeared.
"Why did you leave your brothers?"
The boy stepped forward and grabbed my collar. "You abandoned Merrow. What did I frickin tell you? If you let something happen to her? You just gonna leave her alone for 10 years?"
Suddenly, an image of a girl with long green hair appeared. Flashed in my vision.
"You abandoned who you were to get stronger. I respect that. But you caused pain to everybody who cared and loved you. You really think you're making a difference?"
"Remember what you are." The boy said, as he pushed me to the ground. I felt something in my body leave me.
"Combat Intuition. The Old Priest's Blessing. Icarus' Phoenix. Regeneration. You have been blessed with too many gifts. If you want to get stronger. Start over."
Suddenly, a massive figure appeared. Mogul. The man approached the boy from behind and grabbed his throat, as the boy looked at me.
"Avenge me, Firstborn." He muttered, as Mogul began to squeeze.
"STOP!" I shouted, trying to get up from the ground, but hands grabbed me from the ground. I looked downwards, and saw hundreds of corpses moaning, trying to pull me into the darkness.
"Join us... murderer. Destroyer. Kingslayer."
I didn't know how I recognized them. But I knew who these people were. Their silver hair. Their silver eyes. Their wings.
They were the Silver Legion.
Mogul squeezed harder as the boy disappeared. The Aspect glowered over me.
YOU USE THE POWER OF LOSS TO BECOME STRONGER. INTERESTING. TO SEEK A UNIVERSE SUCH THAT I CANNOT POSSIBLY ENTER. BUT DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE MY SUBORDINATES. WE WILL COME FOR YOU...
My eyes flew open. I was in a hospital, on a hospital bed. A bright line shone, as I stared at the white ceiling.
"Mace! Thank goodness you're awake!" A woman's voice appeared at my side. I turned my head. Nomi was holding my hand, her face was flushed with relief.
"What happened?" I asked.
Nomi sighed. "You passed out. I think you had a flashback or something. You had us worried sick!"
Nomi looked surprised. "What do you mean, 'really'? You're part of us now. We're family."
I pursed my lips. Family. The boy in my vision said I left my brothers. In an attempt to become stronger. But if that's true, all I did was leave them for another. Was this really worth it?
I cleared my throat. "Sorry for making you worry." I replied.
Nomi took out a plastic bag. "It's okay! I bought you some snacks. I figured you must have a craving after being out for so long. It's been weeks."
I took out a small sandwich and nibbled on it as Nomi helped me sit upright.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like I just got microwaved after being left to cool off." I confessed.
Nomi laughed. "Well, that'll do it."
"Where are the others?"
"They're at school. It took a lot of convincing to get them to go after what happened. But they all come to visit you once in a while, while you were out."
They all came to visit me. That somehow put a smile on my face.
"A smile! You're alive after all!" Nomi joked.
I looked out the window. The sounds of traffic echoing across the room.
I found a couple of pastries and snacks in the corner of the room. Nomi noticed.
"Oh, you found the treats Rei made for you!"
"Rei made those?"
Nomi suddenly put her hand on her mouth. "Oops!"
I raised my eyebrow. "Was I not supposed to know?"
Nomi's face looked like she was trying not to laugh. "Ever since you were bedridden and asleep, Rei would make those little treats for you, in case you woke up and needed something to eat. She would always sneak off and peek in your room to see how you're doing and drop them off. She didn't want to be seen though. Always did it in secret!"
"That's really thoughtful of her. Maybe if you see her you could tell her-"
"She can't know that you figured it out. She'll know it was me! Of all the people who came to visit you, Rei actually visited the most. This might actually be the first time she was ever concerned for someone. It's so sweet, honestly."
I shifted in my bed and yawned.
Nomi laughed. "Well, looks like you still need some rest. You haven't been discharged yet. So I'll just head off for now. Let me know if you need anything!"
Nomi turned around. "What is it?"
"Thanks. For you know, accepting me. I probably already told you this. But I came from the Abyssal Realm. And you took me in anyway after what happened with... you know..."
"My Mom right?" Nomi said, her face was a bit sad.
I said nothing as I stared at my sheets.
"It's true I have a huge grudge against the Abyssal Creatures. But I know you're not like them. You care about people. You're not a monster. It would only make sense, right?"
I smiled as Nomi left the room.
Chapter 8 (Rei Tsuyuki)
"Well, I just got wrecked on that exam, HAHA!" Alex joked.
I ignored him as I left the classroom. Alex and Colin also left the opposite direction, discussing what they planned to do when they got home. Probably something lame.
I put my hands in my pockets as I went to my locker. Someone was there. Carl. I rolled my eyes.
"Hey! Rei Rei! How's it going?"
I disregarded him and shoved him out of the way as I opened my locker.
"Come on, Rei. You should lighten up. I know most guys don't wanna be with you. But I'm different. I guess I'm a special kind of guy, you know. I'm willing to accept you for who you are."
I put my books into the top shelf, avoiding the urge to punch this guy in the face. He was so annoying. Like almost all guys in this school, they always liked to pretend they were "not like the others". By pretending to be nice and kind, and "accepting". As if they really understood what I was going through.
"So, Rei? How was your day?" Carl asked.
I continued putting books into the locker.
"Well, my day was pretty shitty, honestly. But it got a lot better when you came around! I thought this migraine would never go away!"
I suddenly paused. Remembering Mace doubling over and falling to the ground, clutching his head in agony.
I stared at the plastic toy sticking out of my bag that I had won in the carnival game with Mace. How he had complemented me, genuinely. Without wanting something in return. It was just a kind and innocent remark. But I let it get to me because I couldn't... tell him...
I shook my head out of it. Mace was just a friend. No he was just a roommate. A member of our squad. He was unwell. It was only natural to be concerned. For the wellbeing of the group. Yeah.
I closed the locker, as Carl continued his obnoxious speech about how he was willing to "give me a chance".
"So, Rei, I heard you aced another exam! That's really damn impressive! You're so smart!"
"Hey. Simp City. Leave Rei alone." Another boy said, as the two began to argue.
"She doesn't want some kind of wannabe hero. If anything, I'm more deserving than your punk ass."
I left those two idiots alone as I left the school.
"Samuel Mace..." I muttered.
I didn't even know what to make of the guy. Part of him was so kind and passionate, but I wasn't sure if I truly knew who he was. He had a life before this. That was certain. And that past life... if it was anything bad. I wouldn't know. All I knew was whatever life he had lived, it must had been hard.
Part of me wanted to be with him. Unlike most of the guys who tried to hit on me in this school, or on the streets, Mace had something they didn't.
Power. Strength. He was powerful, and he didn't need to become that to prove a point. He didn't need to brag about it. Or flaunt it around to make sure everybody knew.
He was just strong. Undeniably strong. His actions spoke louder than his words. Something I always strived to do.
But another part of me hated him. I hated that he was so powerful. Where was his drive? I worked so hard to get to where I was. And Mace just shows up... and surpasses me just like that. I had my traumas, I had to go through hell. But... he was blessed with self healing. Multiple powers. Multiple weapons. As if he was blessed by the god of luck and given a massive foundation to just become strong right off the bat.
I clenched my fists. Whenever I thought about Mace, I was met with conflicting emotions.
We can become strong together.
Suddenly, I heard a rumble. I glanced further down the street. The sky was darkened with a purple hue. My eyes widened, as my hands went straight to my brass knuckles.
I instantly leapt into the air, running along the sides of walls as fast as I could. My heartbeat rising. My vision turning red in rage. I remembered Mom's body in that coffin. The day I had decided to never stop smiling. To only smile again, when all the Abyssal Creatures were wiped from the face of the planet, from the face of their realm.
One of the creatures hissed at me, but I cut it off, as I leapt from the side of a wall and slammed my fist straight into its face, crushing it and causing the entire monster to explode into dust. I turned to the others, who all hissed at me.
I brought up my fists, and powered up, the darkness inside me, the hatred of these things. I was going to rid them all.
One at a time.
I blasted forward, bouncing off the walls, each kite movement was another creature destroyed. Within seconds, the entire legion of monsters were killed off.
My phone buzzed, as I took it out.
"Rei? Are you at the site? Wait for us!" James' voice buzzed from my phone.
I looked at the portal, as more monsters began to emerge. If I let the monsters get through, they would terrorize the place. There was no time to wait for my team.
"Rei? Rei! Are you listening? Don't take them all on your own! Save your strength!"
I turned off the phone. I will take them all on my own. That was what Mom would have done. That was what Mace would have done.
I lifted my fists, as I glared at the hordes of monsters coming from the portal. I powered up, as the darkness began to emit green flames.
Class S Ghostfire. That was what my power affinity was. An evolved version of the Yin affinity, darkness. It could only be achieved with intense training. Something I had been doing pretty much all my life.
I yelled, as I charged forward, slicing and smashing every monster that came in my field of view. In seconds, I had cleared another horde.
One monster was left, as I zipped in and grabbed its face.
"This is for Mom, you bastard." I hissed, as I threw the monster into the air, and smashed it back into the ground, its body exploding into dust.
I breathed heavily, as I waited for the team to get to my position.
Another portal I had solo'd. But at this point, it meant nothing. I had done this so many times. I needed a challenge. I needed a-
My thoughts were interrupted from a roar within the portal.
I stepped back, as a huge shadow was cast all over the ground in a conical wave.
A massive foot appeared from the portal, followed by another. And another.
A tripodal Abyssal creature. At least the size of a building. It growled and snarled as it looked at me with a predatory glare. I met its glare with my own.
This monster had to be...
I brought my knuckles out. I was drained. But this thing was...
An S-Class Tripodal.
Don't take them all on your own! Save your strength!
I was drained from my fight. Even at my maximum power, I was barely able to beat the sentinel.
My eyes widened, as the monster launched one of its limbs at me, smashing the ground where I was just standing. I leapt out of the way, as I climbed up a building and reached the roof. The monster's eyes followed my every movement, as multiple limbs began slamming at my direction. I zipped and darted all around the battlefield, evading them.
An S Class.
Another limb came down, and I lost focus, the spiked barrage scraping my side as I cried out in pain. I managed to dart to another building, and launched myself forward.
I needed to do this. I needed to become the strongest.
Because who else could stand against these monsters?
I launched forward, but the monster simply looked at me, and a huge blast of heat sent me back. I yelled in pain as I slammed into a wall and fell into a bunch of trash bags.
My hoodie was on fire and I quickly took it off. This was... something else.
Another limb came flying my way as I darted away. This monster wasn't giving me time to think.
The shockwave of the limb sent debris flying everywhere, as one of them caught me in the shoulder. I grimaced in pain as I felt something pop. I fell to the ground.
I could hear the footsteps of the S Class approaching.
Mommy just wants to keep everybody safe. So you could smile and have a great life. I work with my colleagues and my teammates because I know one day, my little Reirei will grow up to be one of the best people in the whole wide world!
Mom did everything she could to keep us safe.
She would have kept fighting... but...
I tried to get to my feet, but my shoulder flared up in pain.
"I'm... too weak..." I said, tears streaming down my face.
I was going to die. Because after all the training. All the pain and sweat and tears I went through. It wasn't enough. The S Class...
We can get stronger, together.
Damn you Mace. Damn you. For being so strong. For being blessed with so much power.
If it was you, you would have killed this thing in two blows, just like you had with the Sentinel.
I stared at the monster as it appeared in the alleyway. Its horrifying eyes regarding mine.
Suddenly, I noticed something on the ground. A Roma coin.
I remembered Mace bringing me to the shooting game. I didn't want to admit it, but I wanted to play. It had been so long since I played that game with Mom. But it was almost like Mace could read me like a book. I remembered him bringing me to the game, and making a fool of himself.
It was the first time I genuinely laughed.
Mace's compliment to me. About how my aim. My firearms training...
Suddenly, something came to my mind.
Something I had told him.
I tried to expand my reach.
If I couldn't get a hit on this monster with melee... what if I just didn't use melee?
I took my brass knuckles and got to my feet. My right shoulder was definitely dislocated. But my other arm was still functional. I closed my eyes, and channeled all the power into my left fist. When I opened my eyes, it had become so concentrated that it began to glow green, the dark aura becoming jagged.
I turned to the monster, as I dodged another torrent of limbs, landing on one of the spikes. It pierced my foot, but I soldiered through the pain, and used it as leverage as the monster threw me into air.
I couldn't get close to it.
So the solution was simple.
Throw something at it that wasn't me.
I reeled my fist back, as I remembered my Mom's words. "My little Reirei will grow up to be one of the best people in the whole wide world!"
I was going to become the best.
So I could prevent what happened to me from happening to anyone else.
"You..." I seethed, as I could feel air begin to swirl all around my fist, accumulating from its massive power.
I launched my fist at the monster, and a massive blast of darkness emitted from my fist as it struck the monster's weak point, causing it to screech in pain.
Flashes of Mom's face in the coffin appeared in my vision.
No more backing down.
"DISAPPEAR!" I screamed, as my vision turned bright.
I fell to the ground, exhausted. The light had died down, and the creature buckled, falling to the ground, and exploding into a massive pile of dust. From behind I recognized four people.
"Rei!" Nomi and James shouted, as they ran up to me.
"Holy shit, she actually did it." Alex muttered.
"Incredible..." Colin said, as everybody ran up to me.
"Are you hurt?" Nomi asked, as she grabbed me tightly.
"No..." I muttered.
James put his hands on my shoulders. "Rei, do you have ANY idea how reckless that was?! Come on, let's get you back to the dorm."
James lifted me up and propped me against his chest as I felt myself losing all my strength altogether.
James and Nomi were probably mad at me. But it didn't matter. The end result was that I killed the S Class Tripodal. An S Class. On my own.
I stared at the sky, which began to brighten again, with the portal closing.
Do you see, Mom? Your death has not gone in vain. I will keep striving to become better. No matter what it takes.
Chapter 9 (James Cairo)
"Mr. Mace. We would like to see your skills for ourselves." One of the higher-ups, Constantine, said, as we stood in the platform.
Mace nodded, and drew one of his swords, Loz-Q. The blade was golden and angelic, segmented and beautifully crafted. But that wasn't all. White steam, frost, leaked out of the blade, giving it a celestial appearance. It was such an elegant piece of work.
Constantine put his hand on his chin. "This blade, is unlike anything I have ever seen."
Four more higher-ups stepped in. That made five SSS Special Class Senior Cleaners. The best of the best. Just seeing them together made my heart race. I had never seen so many high ranking cleaners in one room.
"Intermediate Class James Cairo, you may wait in the waiting room." Constantine said to me.
I watched Mace face off against the Cleaners from a window. There was no way he would survive, but this was Mace we were talking about. Legend had it, that on the day the Abyssal King would emerge from a massive portal, which would be named Gargantua, all the SSS Special Class Senior Cleaners, or SCSC, all twenty of them, would be required to take down the King. Alongside the Aurum Saviour.
On that day, would be the most titanic battle in history.
One SCSC was considered strong enough to defeat multiple SS threat Abyssal Creatures single handedly. That alone spoke volumes as to how powerful these guys were.
And Mace was going to take on all five of them.
"Go!" One of the Cleaners shouted, as two of them charged in.
Mace brought his chain up, and it unravelled, sending wide ranged slams at supersonic speed at the Cleaners. As I expected, their speed did not disappoint. They acrobatically evaded Mace's chain attacks, sending blasts of their weapon affinities his way.
Mace was consumed in an explosion, but when the smoke cleared, I could make out Mace's face gleaming from Pariah. He had absorbed the affinities. Drawing Loz-Q, Mace stepped forward, bringing a crossed slash arc at the Cleaners, who simply continued charging.
The arcs were pulled in by the third Cleaner, who was a Wind Affinity, and the three took on Mace 3 on 1.
Mace threw Pariah into the air, and his Chains wrapped around it, turning his weapon into a bladed chain. The clash continued, as I watched in amazement as Samuel Mace held his own against three SSS rank Cleaners.
But his luck ran out, when the other two joined in. The combined effort of all five Cleaners overwhelmed Mace, as a blast of wind sent him flying away.
Mace smashed into a pillar, and one of the Cleaners unleashed a dragon construct of air, which grabbed the kid and smashed him through more. The other Four Cleaners flanked him, and began sending their affinity blasts at Mace as he took the damage head on, smashing into the ground.
All five of the Cleaners jumped in, as Mace brought his swords up and initiated a clash that shook the whole room.
Mace started to lose the struggle, when one of the Cleaners immediately put up his hand.
"That is enough."
The other Cleaners backed off, bowed, and left the room. Constantine beckoned me in, as I ran up to Mace.
"Hey, you alright kiddo?"
"Yes." Mace replied.
Constantine nodded at Mace. "An exceptionally powerful warrior indeed. You have the potential to rank amongst the SSS classes with that power."
I stared at the Cleaner. "Really?!"
Mace scratched his head. "I still lost."
Constantine laughed. "My dear boy, you were able to hold your own against three of the best Cleaners in the Company. That is beyond exceptional."
My palms began to sweat. I was hoping to wait to ask another time, but it had been bugging me.
"Will Mace be allowed to stay in the Tsuyuki Dorm? Now that you know his power and his abilities?"
Constantine regarded Mace. Who stood there obediently.
"Yes. He is one of those rare breeds. Very strong, yet well behaved and responsible with his power. I will grant your wish to stay with the Tsuyuki Squad."
Mace and I bowed, as we returned home.
"James?" Mace asked, as I drove the two of us back to the dorm.
"Would you be upset if I told you I had no desire to become a Cleaner?"
I made a turn as I continued driving.
"Why would I be upset?"
Mace fiddled with his seatbelt. "My quest is my own. To gain the strength to defeat Mogul. I feel selfish for thinking this way, but my conscious is telling me that Mogul is my top priority."
I smiled. "Rei used to think that too."
Mace looked at me, in surprise. "But, she always talks about wanting to be the strongest Cleaner!"
I chuckled. "Yeah. But at the start, that wasn't her goal. Her goal was to become strong enough to kill all the Abyssal Creatures and to destroy the Abyssal Realm. Then over time, she began to see being a Cleaner as a way to carry that wish out. And now here she is, kicking ass as one of the biggest powerhouses here in New Kona."
Mace sat back in his seat.
"I'm worried for Rei."
I raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah?"
"Yes. She pushes herself, to extreme levels. And the way her mindset revolves around vengeance. It isn't healthy. I don't know how I know this, but I feel like I've... lived something like that before."
"We've all tried to tell her that, but she isn't the type of person to budge like that. The only way to help her is really to let her know she isn't alone." I replied, as we took one last turn and entered the garage for the dorm.
I parked the car and opened the door, as Mace followed me.
"You're one special guy. I think you're the only person in this household that Rei feels comfortable, well, at least somewhat comfortable talking to. She also cares about you. Which is unusual, considering her usual personality."
Mace held the door open as I grabbed a stack of paperwork and headed inside.
I continued. "Rei hasn't ever been the same since Mitsuki died. She was always shy and lonely. But I feel like those emotions only intensified. Both Nomi and I have tried to support her, but she has a habit of building walls in an act of self defence, keeping everybody who tries to help her out."
I put the stack of papers on the desk.
"You know, to see her open up to you, well, even if it is a little bit. It really brings a smile to my face. Thank you, Mace."
Mace looked away. "We all have our demons. But I'm no saviour."
I wiped the table clean. Darn Alex! Always making a mess and not cleaning up after himself!
The towel bumped into something.
"Hm?" I peered over.
"Ah, man." I muttered.
Mace walked up to me. "What is it?"
"Rei, she forgot her lunch again!"
"That is unfortunate. I'm sure she can buy her-"
"Nope. She doesn't carry a wallet to school. Do you mind going to her class and giving it to her?"
Mace took the bag. "The school is huge. How will I know where she is?"
I handed him another lunch packet, and a slip of paper.
"This is her class schedule. I'm sure you can find it by following the instructions. Since you're probably going to be out too, might as well have your lunch there. The teachers don't mind visitors. If anybody asks, just say you're affiliated with me, James Cairo of Tsuyuki Dorm. They'll recognize me."
Mace took the two packets and slipped his own in his bag, carrying Rei's with care.
I smiled as Mace left the door.
Maybe Mace might be able to open Rei's heart again. No one deserves to live a life full of hate and resentment. Mace may have come from the Abyssal Realm. But in an act of irony, something about it was kind of magical.
A girl who's life was ruined by the Abyss. To be healed by a being that emerged from the same place.
Chapter 10 (Samuel Mace)
Graham High. The building was massive, but the slip of paper that James had given me was straightforward enough.
I took one step into the building. There were students all around. It was strange to see so many people sitting on the floors, practically everywhere, eating their lunches and laughing. I wondered who Rei's friends were like.
"Yo! Heads!" A voice appeared behind me.
I sensed movement, and instantly whipped around, catching a soccer ball with my free hand.
"Damn!" The boy who kicked the ball stared at me.
"Sick reflexes, dude!"
I handed him the ball.
"Be careful with that next time."
"Will do! What year are you in? You should really consider joining our soccer team. Or any team in general. I mean look at you!"
The boy pointed at the exposed parts of my t-shirt.
I smiled awkwardly. "I will think about it."
I followed the steps as more and more students lined the halls. I heard that friends tended to aggregate based on interest. Come to think of it, I never really knew what Rei's interests were. She always seemed detached from hobbies. Her only goal was to train and seek strength, as if her whole life was but another battle.
I climbed the steps and opened the door to the room, and was greeted with a ton of students who were sitting together in little groups.
I scanned the classroom, searching for a girl with stringy purple hair. To my surprise, I found her, sitting in the corner of the class, all alone, gazing out a window. Her eyes apathetic. She seemed lost in thought.
I walked up to her and put the lunch bag on the desk. Rei snapped back into the reality.
"Mace?" She asked.
"Hey. You forgot your lunch. James told me to give it to you."
Rei took it and delicately laid out the contents on her desk.
"Why are you sitting alone?"
Rei didn't answer me as she nibbled on an end of the sandwich.
She finally spoke up after a few seconds. "I used to have friends, but they all left me after a week."
I leaned back on the chair. That was unfortunate.
As much as Rei doesn't want to admit it, she actually likes going out with people. She's just shy.
Did she have social awkwardness? Was that the reason? It did make sense, considering her terrible past as an additional thing.
My voice was interrupted by a few students who barged in.
"Reirei. My queen. How are you?"
Rei said nothing, as she continued nibbling on her sandwich.
"Hey, I'll buy you something better. Here you can have my lunch."
Rei was quiet, as she ignored them.
"Come on, Rei, why you gotta be like that?"
I was confused. Who was this boy? Why was he trying to push his agenda on Rei?
My stomach grumbled, as I realized I hadn't eaten anything since my spar with the SCSC's. I pulled out a similar sandwich, and I guess the boy noticed.
"The hell? Matching lunches? You're going out with him?!"
Rei stopped nibbling. And glared at him.
"What? I mean. Come on. Look, I'll do anything for you. What has this guy done for you? Make you these shitty sandwiches? Does he even go to class?"
Rei put the sandwich down and stood up to meet him face to face.
"Do not speak to him that way."
The guy began to hesitate.
"I'm just saying I can treat you like a queen. This guy is just another douchebag you can find in a stripclub. Please, think this over. Come on."
I was sensing escalation. I stood up.
"Hey, there's no need for this. Let Rei just enjoy her lunch in pea-"
Suddenly, the boy turned to me, and thrashed his fist. I didn't need CI to know that the punch was not going to land. I grabbed his wrist.
"Let me go! Asshole!"
I tilted my head. "Why did you attack me? Knowing full well the differences in our power. You should have known this was unwise."
The boy tried to yank his hand out of my grip.
"The hell are you talking about?! Let me go!"
I glanced at Rei, who looked at me, her face was a mixture of surprise and appreciation.
I tightened my grip, as the boy yelped.
"No more advances on Rei. She clearly does not appreciate it. If you do it again, I will return. Every single time. Got it?"
"Alright, cool. We're cool." The boy instantly ran off the moment I released my grip.
Rei sat back in her seat, finishing her lunch.
"You didn't have to do that." She said, quietly.
I sat across from her, as I finished up my sandwich in one gulp. "No, but I don't like people harassing those I care about."
Rei's face started to turn pink.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
Rei nodded. "I'm fine."
"You know, if you want to have people sit with you, I can keep you company during lunch. Then you could build on from there."
Rei said nothing, but from the corner of her mouth, was just the slightest hint of a smile. She put her lunch bag away.
"Don't mention it." I replied, as I got up from my seat, and headed out the door.
I left the building and found a spot where I was not seen. I clenched my fists, trying to summon my Blessing of Pollux. Nothing.
In fact, I seemed to be unable to use any of my transformations or boosts. Aside from my Fires of War. I couldn't use my Phoenix Transformation or my Pollux Boost.
It had happened ever since my encounter with that guy when I was hospitalized. This was bad. So very bad.
I couldn't use my powers.
Chapter 11 (Samuel Mace)
I walked out the door with my gear on, and overheard Nomi on the phone.
"Finn, how many times have we gone through this? You can't stop me from not going to work! I have a job to do."
The phone buzzed with a man's voice, as Nomi facepalmed.
"Look, Finn. I love you too. But I have to-"
The phone buzzed again.
"Finn, stop. I said stop. ENOUGH!" Nomi shouted, and hung up.
I stood outside, awkwardly, as Nomi noticed me.
"Hey, Mace. I'm sorry you had to see that. Let's go."
We couldn't get the whole squad today. Rei and the others had exams, while James was buried with paperwork. The only people who could close the breach was Nomi and I. Of course, it had apparently taken everybody to convince Rei to stay and focus on her studies. But at least that was what I heard. Chances were that Nomi didn't even tell Rei that there was a breach, knowing she would be the first on the site.
The ride to the site was quiet, as Nomi turned on the radio.
I knew it wasn't right for me to ask, but I was curious.
"Nomi, was that your boyfriend on the phone?"
Nomi pursed her lips. "Yes. It's been... rough for the both of us lately."
Nomi looked at the side of the road. "Findlay worries for me. He doesn't like that I'm risking my life in the battlefield. And I get it. But this is what I have to do. Rei and I, we're the daughters of a great Cleaner. When Mom died, Rei wasn't the only one who strived to carry on her legacy."
I was quiet. Being worried for someone was certainly a good reason. But this relationship, I wasn't one to talk, but there was so much friction. I couldn't imagine it possibly ending well.
Nomi continued. "Findlay wants me to quit my job. For my own sake. Every time he sees our fallen comrades, being carried with blankets over their head in stretchers, he freaks out thinking I might be one of them. I know what I'm doing is causing him grief and heartbreak. But..."
She sighed. "I guess it's hard to explain. I love him so much. He got me out of my depression over Mom's death. He and I went through so much. But sometimes I feel like I'm forced to choose between my destiny as a Cleaner and Finn. I just hate that I can't have both."
We finally reached the site, as Nomi analyzed the breach.
"James isn't here to close the portal, meaning I'll have to. I'm guessing you can probably handle all the monsters on your own? I'll serve as backup, and once we get it cleared, I'll seal it instantly."
I nodded, as I drew both of my swords, my chain unravelling.
I leapt into the air, and threw the chain, the metal links clanking onto a nearby hook, and I pulled myself downwards as I slammed into a group of monsters. Spinning wide, I cut them all down in one slash.
The monsters all glared at me and charged, but I brought my foot back, summoning Loz-Q's storms, and launching a massive twin crossed arc slash at the group, freezing them in place. Nomi jumped in, and swiped with her sword, disintegrating them with a blast of orange flame.
More monsters began to emerge from the portal, as I held out Loz-Q, generating a snowstorm and freezing them in place.
I held out my left hand, as the chains unravelled, wrapping around the giant ice blocks, and yanking them to us, as Nomi cut them down.
"Good work." She said.
Several roars boomed from the portal, as multiple bigger monsters emerged.
Nomi steadied her weapon. "Berserker A Class. Watch-"
I charged forward, without thinking, aiming Pariah, and cutting into them. The berserkers all lost their balance, as whipped around, wrapping Icarus' chains around my left arm, forming a knuckle, and smashed into them as hard as I could, lifting them off the ground.
I gripped Loz-Q with my other hand, and began sending slash after slash of frost at the monsters. I ran the opposite direction, wrapping them with the chains and slamming them onto the ground in front of me.
I leapt into the air, but suddenly, the other Berserkers grabbed me from behind, from the portal, and slammed me onto the ground.
"Mace!" Nomi shouted.
"Urghh...." I muttered, as I tried to lift them off of me. But even with my superhuman strength, they were too heavy.
I concentrated, summoning my Boost of Pollux, but suddenly I remembered. I couldn't use it. Or my Phoenix Form.
My arms were pinned, so I couldn't cut my tattoo either.
The monsters jumped into the pile as I began to sink deeper into the ground.
"DAMMIT!" I growled.
Suddenly, an orange line appeared, as Nomi slashed the monsters off of me. She held out her hand.
"Are you okay?"
I took it, as Nomi and I slashed at monsters left and right. For some reason, I felt... weaker. I couldn't use my powers. It was like...
You have been blessed with too many gifts. If you want to get stronger. Start over.
No. That kid! Did it have something to do with my dream? My vision?
A monster caught me, as I intercepted it with my two blades. I slid back.
"Mace? Mind letting a little more power out? We could use it at a time like this!" Nomi urged me, as she slid backwards beside me.
"Nomi... something has happened. I can't access my powers. I-"
Nomi pushed me to the side as I watched in horror, as the Berserker swiped at her, launching the squad leader into a wall. I heard bones crack as Nomi cried out in pain.
"NO!" I shouted, as I ran up to her, but three Berserkers intercepted me.
"Out of my way!" I growled, slashing at them with Loz-Q, but the Berserkers were suddenly faster. They launched inward, and I found myself struggling. Unable to keep up. One Berserker caught me in the side as I fell to one knee, and another kneed me in the face as I fell backwards.
The monsters closed in, and I struggled to keep them from biting my face off with my two swords.
I glanced at Nomi, who tried to get to her feet, as she clutched her side, wincing in pain.
"I won't.... I won't FALL!" I roared, as I won the struggle, launching the monsters back. Nomi managed to get to the air and swipe them down with her sword, as I caught her.
"Don't... worry about me." Nomi coughed. "Let's just make it out of this alive."
I glared at the legion of monsters. I was helpless. My powers taken from me.
No Regeneration. No Blessing. No Phoenix Form. No super reflexes. Nothing.
But even so.
I held out my swords, facing the legion.
"It's only when a warrior is backed in a corner, do their true colours show." I muttered. Loz-Q glowing white with the powers of the frost. Pariah absorbing the powers as both of my blades glowed white.
"What separates a man... from a coward!" I yelled, as I charged.
Suddenly, a green flash of light appeared before me, as a familiar figure appeared, dispatching the legion instantly. I stared at her in shock, as Rei regarded me with a blank expression, crushing the skull of the last berserker with her bare hands.
She glanced at the portal then went up to Nomi, kicking her over.
"Hey... little sis." Nomi wheezed.
Rei regarded her with apathy, as she took Nomi's sealing rune and walked to the portal, sealing it. The sky brightened.
I got to my feet and ran up to Nomi, helping her up by giving her my shoulder.
"Come on, let's head back." I said.
Rei looked at the both of us. "Why did you have so much trouble with the berserkers?"
I took a deep breath. "My powers. They are gone."
"What?" Rei said, incredulously.
I looked at Pariah, as the frost dissipated from the blade. Even its normal silver glow was missing.
That night, I laid both Pariah and Loz-Q on the ground in Rei's room. I took off both straps and undid the chain around my forearm as Rei watched me from a distance. I sat in my corner of the room and stared at the ground.
I had apparently come to this world to become stronger. I left my brothers behind. Yet here I was, not only having not gotten any stronger, but also losing my powers. I didn't remember much from my past life, but I knew whoever I was before, would have been pissed.
I glanced at Pariah, which sat on the floor. Even the words written on the side started to make no sense. In fact, I couldn't even remember what it stood for.
It wasn't just my powers that were leaving me. It was my memories. My past life. My identity.
Who was that girl the boy mentioned about? The one with the green hair? Was I supposed to protect her but ran away?
I closed my eyes, that same orc guy. With the red eyes. Mogul.
He was the reason I was in this mess. It was my purpose to kill him. But now I couldn't even fulfill that.
I glared at Pariah and picked it up, but the blade clunked on the ground as my arm muscles gave way. My eyes widened.
"No..." I muttered.
I took the blade with both arms and tried to lift it, but the blade began to sink the moment I jolted it up.
"No... no no no no no!" I said, frantically. The blade was getting heavier and heavier.
"Please... DON'T!" I cried, as the blade fell to the ground.
My superhuman strength.
"DAMMIT!" I growled, as Rei jumped in surprise.
I knelt in front of the blade. Why was this happening? My powers. Who I was. I couldn't even...
"Mace?" Rei asked, as she knelt in front of me.
"What do you want." I muttered.
Rei glanced at the sword. She walked up to it and tried to pick it up.
"Urk... wow." She said. "It's really heavy."
I looked at her. "Yeah. The whole point of Pariah was that it was heavy. I was only able to wield it with my super strength. Now I can't even do that."
Rei looked at my arms, and her face began to fluster, but she quickly looked away.
"You were still able to hold it though, right? Even if it isn't at the same level of ease?"
"What are you getting at?" I asked, as I glared at the blade.
Rei crawled up to me and poked at my arm. Her touch sent jolts of current into my body.
"I'm saying that with my power, I wasn't even able to make it budge. But you were still able to make it move. That means you still have some fraction of your strength."
Rei sat in front of me on the ground. In the dark, her beautiful purple hair complemented the moonlight.
"Then train it. And make it back to where it was before. Maybe even more. Don't give up just because you had a setback."
I stared at her. "Huh?"
Rei rolled her eyes. "I guess Samuel Mace, the man who kills SS Abyssals for a living had no backbone after all."
"He was only strong because of the powers he was given."
"Don't test me, Rei."
"If you want me to stop, then train and get stronger. So you can make me shut up." Rei said, her eyes piercing.
She continued. "I lived my whole life with people who were stronger than me. I did everything I could to become stronger, and when you came into my life, there were so many times I wanted to give up. But I didn't. I kept pushing."
She jabbed her fist against my chest.
"You told me we were going to get stronger together. Don't tell me you're another guy in my life who's all talk."
I gritted my teeth. "I'm not."
Rei shifted back, as she tucked her knees under her chin.
"Why are you helping me?" I asked.
Rei gazed out the window. "It is the least I can do. After everything you did to help me."
"I don't understand."
Rei turned her head. "You know what I mean. My entire life has been nothing but another fight. Another portal. Another means to an end. Until I met you."
She reached over and opened a cabinet, pulling out the plastic sword she had won in the Carnival event.
"I never told you, but the game you brought me over to play, was the same game Mom and I used to always go to in the Autumn Festivals."
I was surprised. "Really? I'm... sorry if I brought back bad memories."
"No. You actually brought back the opposite. For the first time, I felt... happy." Rei looked at me.
"I felt like life wasn't as cruel as I thought it would be. Because you were here." Her cheeks began to redden as she put the sword away. Rei inched closer until her face was only a few hairs away from mine. My heart began to race.
"So thank you, Sam." She whispered, quietly, as she leaned in closer, but suddenly stopped.
"Rei?" I asked, hesitantly.
Rei pulled away, her eyes wide. "I... Sorry. Good night." She said quickly, as she got up and slipped into her bed, facing the other way, and wrapping herself in her sheets like a burrito.
Chapter 12 (Colin Liu)
No one knows.
I sat in my room, as I looked at my hand. The marking that I had received to get stronger. It hadn't manifested yet, but the guy told me it would manifest when the timing was right. I hoped it did.
I lay in my bed. I wanted to become a Cleaner just like James. Strong, and dependable. He never budged whenever things got bad. Nomi was always so positive. Even when she had problems with Finn, she would always rebound back with a big smile. Rei was Rei. Obviously. Nothing to say there. She was just good at everything naturally. And Alex was a joker. Nothing ever got to him, and he was never afraid.
And then there was me. Who got scared and froze up every time a B Class and higher Abyssal appears. I couldn't even control my lance. The engineers and troubleshooters at the Company told me that I was only capable of wielding 20% of the lance's power.
Most Cleaners who started out could wield 30%.
I put my face in my hands. Why was I so damn weak? I wanted to become strong. And I worked so hard in all my classes to become a great Cleaner. But grades was all I had. And even then, I was somewhat mediocre. Oftentimes I would only just get barely above average.
Alex always tried to cheer me up by bringing up the fact that he always gets below average. But he never studies.
If my hard work really did pay off, I would get grades like Rei. She consistently scored 100% in all her tests. Sometimes the occasional 95%. But she was always the top of the class.
"Don't compare yourself to Rei, Colin. She's just a prodigy! It wouldn't be fair." Nomi would always say.
I turned around and looked at my phone. Alex had decided to share our photos on Instapage. As usual. Without our consent. I scrolled through the posts that he put out, of us together smiling. Except for Rei. Who would either not show up, or when she did, would always give us that dead expression.
I looked at his newest post, of us in the Autumn Festival. Mace stood with us.
Samuel Mace. Another guy who was just so good at everything. He showed up out of the blue, and had powers that rivalled and possibly even surpassed Rei. Another person who pulled ahead of me.
Rumour had it that Mace wasn't even human. Because the things he could pull off, just wasn't physically possible. Killing S class sentinels in two blows. That usually took several high ranking S Class Cleaners to take down.
To give you an idea of how strong they are, James and Nomi are A Class. Rei is (well, on record) B Class, but skill wise, according to many people who witnessed her kill Abyssals, SS Class, Alex is C Class, and I'm, as you can expect, the lowest class. D Class.
When I heard that Rei had defeated an S Class Tripodal all on her own, like many others in the Company, we were extremely impressed. Rei's like a celebrity in the Cleaner Company, as you would expect. The 16 year old prodigy with the biggest potential out of all of us.
That day when we took Rei back to the dorm, I told everybody I would meet them later as I had something to do. I went to a corner of an alley and tried to force the mark on my hand to grow. But it didn't.
The man told me that the way was to channel your intense turmoils. It was rage and anger, resentment to the world that treated you this way, that would allow sufficient adrenaline to activate the mark. But no matter how angry I got, nothing would happen.
I got out of my bed and left the room. I saw Rei outside, training, as usual. I sneaked out, hoping she wouldn't see.
I left the house and entered the alleyway.
"Sometimes, the power of the mark will take time to develop. But if you want a head start, you know where to find me."
I knew. The place I first found him. I entered a dark alley in the sketchiest place in town. I had a hood over my head, just like most of the people there. This place was extremely dangerous, known for its ridiculous crime rate. But if you could blend in with the others, it wasn't that bad.
I found the guy. He was big and bulky. Gigantic. He wore a pair of sunglasses, but it was so obvious that his face was horrendously damaged. Scarred beyond anything. Just looking at him made me want to run away. But I gulped and continued walking. Just like that day.
"So you want to accelerate the process, boy." The man spoke. Even his voice was dark and evil. I knew this was a terrible idea. He was probably the most intimidating criminal I had ever seen. He was supplying me with stuff that couldn't have possibly been found in the market. This was definitely black market illegal stuff. But...
I thought back to home James had smiled at me.
"It's going to be okay, Colin! You'll become a great Cleaner someday! I believe in you. We all do."
I will become a great Cleaner. Just like James.
Even if it means doing whatever I can.
"Yes, I do." I replied, keeping my voice from quavering.
The man walked up to me, and took my wrist.
From behind his glasses, was some kind of red light. I knew not to question him. I tried to ignore it. I just needed the power.
The man regarded me. "Once this mark spreads, you will gain unfathomable power. Far greater than the Cleaner girl. But it comes with extreme consequences. Are you willing to bear with this weight?"
I looked at him. "I do."
The man smiled, evilly. "Then you will become a great subordinate, to me."
I was confused. "What?"
Suddenly, my wrist exploded in pain as I tried to scream, but all around me, the reality began to warp.
"What... what are you doing to me?!" I screamed, but I fell to my knees, clutching my left wrist. Black electricity sparked from my hand as I yelled in agony.
THIS POWER IS AN ABILITY NOT FROM THIS WORLD. NOT FROM THE ABYSSAL REALM. NOT FROM THIS REALM. IT IS AN ANCIENT POWER... FAR BEYOND ANYTHING YOU CAN EVER FATHOM.
The man's voice amplified, as if it wasn't deep enough. It was dark, husky.
"Sub- subordinate?" I asked, as I stared at my mark in horror. It started out as a black three pointed star, but one of the points began to extend up my forearm and two more arcs began to grow. The pain began to spread just as the marks did. Black electricity surrounding me.
"AAAAAAH!!!" I yelled, as I felt voices in my head.
Kill. Avenge them. Destroy this world. For it has treated us poorly. For it has treated you poorly.
The man regarded me, as he stood, towering over my cowering body.
EMBRACE THE DARKNESS, COLIN LIU. YOU WISH TO BECOME A CLEANER LIKE JAMES CAIRO. UNFORTUNATELY, I CANNOT GRANT THAT REQUEST. BUT I CAN GRANT YOU SOMETHING MORE.
I looked at him, as he slowly took off his glasses, revealing eyes that were... just red. Red, like blood.
FROM THIS DAY ON, YOU WILL WIELD THE CORRUPTION. THE POWER OF MOGUL, THE PRIME ASPECT OF SIN. YOU WILL SERVE ME, IN TIME.
Chapter 13 (Samuel Mace)
Rei was beyond relentless.
Even with my powers dampened, she didn't care. Still went ahead and beat me up.
"Hold on!" I said, but Rei continued blasting forward, pummelling me in the side and the face and launching me into a nearby tree. I hit the floor, Loz-Q spinning out of control and landing on the ground.
I got to my feet, breathing heavily. I may have had most of my powers turned off, but I still had some degree of my super strength. For the next few weeks, Rei had been helping me to build that up. In her own special way.
"Wait.. Rei..." I muttered, holding out my hand. "Time out. Time out!"
Rei looked at me, expressionless, as she closed in, and slammed her knuckles into my gut as I fell flat on my face.
"Damn...it..." I groaned, as Rei pressed her foot on the back of my head.
"Well, I guess we could say Rei's back to being on top of this relationship." Alex said, as he strolled into the woods with his scythe on his back. Rei took her foot away, and gave Alex a death glare, as she walked off to take a breather.
Alex sat in front of me. "How long did you last this time?" He asked.
I looked at Alex. Between the bruises and the pain that was inflicted, I didn't even feel like lying today.
"Well, that's three seconds longer than before!"
Rei returned with a bottle of water. She opened the lid and held the opening in front of me.
"Uhh, I can drink by myself, thanks." I said.
Rei said nothing as her face turned red. Oh no.
"Wait, Rei what did I do this tim-" My words were cut off, as Rei's face became furious. She gripped the bottle so hard her knuckles turned white, and threw it in my face.
Rei stormed off, as Alex chuckled.
"Damn, you pissed her off. I'm surprised you're still alive, being this dense."
"What? Does she-"
Alex hit me over the head.
"You dumbass. Think about it. She prides herself in being tough as nails. The strongest around. Every time you're with her, she gets lovey dovey then whenever we're around she gets embarrassed. Why is that? You gotta stop and think about what she's going through."
I thought about it.
"Anyway, not that it really matters. Rei is still Rei to me. Even if she has a crush on someone. Imma keep teasing her the same way I did before. Only difference now is another thing to make fun of her about!"
Alex stood up, and took out his scythe, swinging and practicing some moves.
I watched as Alex slashed up and around, assuming his stance. But something was off. His movements. They were stiff. Uneasy. Hesitant. Like he wasn't putting his entire mind into his strikes.
"Alex?" I asked.
Alex stopped swinging. "Sup?"
"Is something bothering you?"
Alex yelped as he suddenly lost balance, falling on his face. He quickly got up. "Damn, perceptive dude."
I watched as Alex put his scythe on the ground and sat on the log next to me.
"Yeah. It's about Colin. I'm sure you already know the dude's been improving."
I knew. It was almost sudden, that during one of our missions, Colin's skill drastically improved. He was able to fend off B Class Abyssals easily, and take on A Classes. The Colin we knew from before would cower from the B Classes. It was almost miraculous, like a switch had flipped on inside of him that unlocked his dormant abilities.
"Maybe he found his rhythm?" I suggested, but Alex shook his head.
"I've known Colin for years. I know how he fights. I know his strengths, weaknesses, and limits. This is... not Colin. I don't know if that makes any sense. Whenever he goes out to fight, I sense something different about him. Even the way he sees his opponents. It's like something inside him, something dark, wants to come out. And the only way for it to come out is by fighting."
Alex turned to me.
"His power, it feels... evil."
I hadn't fought beside Colin due to our schedules being different. But from what I heard from James and Nomi, Colin's new rebranding was somewhat comfortable. His whole demeanour, was steadily becoming more and more brutal.
"Have you talked to Nomi or James about it?"
"They noticed it too. They kind of just let Colin keep doing what he was doing. Since he was fulfilling his dream to become a great Cleaner. But as his friend, I'm kinda bugging out. Maybe you could give him a good talk? Since he did look up to you to some extent as well?"
"Sure." I said. Alex smiled.
"Thanks dude. Colin has been my buddy for years, I just don't want him to do something he's gonna regret just because he wants to become strong. I don't know if he knows this, but when something happens to him, it affects all the people who care about him too."
Alex put his hands to his face.
"Damn! What am I saying?! I'm sounding so deep. HAHA. Well, I'll see you later man, let you catch up with Reirei. If you can find her, that is."
I waved Alex goodbye, as he returned back to the dorms. Colin... he wanted to become strong. But he didn't have what it took. A bad hand of cards. I felt bad for him, but I knew no matter how bad things got, you had to keep true to yourself. No amount of power could fill any void in your heart that you put on yourself to get to that level. There is never a payoff when it comes to sacrificing yourself to get what you want.
"Rei?" I shouted, as I ventured to where she had run off. It didn't really help that she beat me up to a pulp. Limping around was terrible, as my slowed regeneration got to work on my bruises. I had to carry both Loz-Q and her water bottle. I inspected the bottle with one hand. It was metallic and had a bunch of funny drawn cartoon characters on the side. I didn't think Rei would be someone to like that kind of stuff. I was kind of half expecting it to be a bunch of bones, death, carnage, and weapons.
Colin had developed his powers. But if it was true that his development was different from his usual self, it could mean he had gotten a power that was not natively his. I knew I shouldn't barge in to his business. Colin wanted to become strong, I knew that feeling.
I found Rei sitting on the edge of a rock, gazing at the horizon.
"Hey." I said, as I sat next to her, handing her the water bottle. Rei took it.
"Thanks for the drink." I said.
Rei continued looking at the horizon, the wind spreading her bangs outwards.
"You didn't drink directly from the bottle, did you?" Rei asked.
"Uh, was I not supposed to?"
Rei's eyes went wide, as her cheeks turned pink. "You did."
Rei glared at me, and put the bottle to the side, looking away.
"An indirect kiss." She muttered.
I positioned myself as I leaned in closer. "Sorry if I did anything to offend you earlier. I didn't mean it. Honest."
Rei glanced at Loz-Q. "You got a little bit stronger. If we keep this up we might be able to have you to hold Pariah again."
"I hope so."
Rei and I watched as the sun went down, making beautiful colours in the sky.
"You know Colin's been getting stronger, right?" I said.
Rei nodded. "Mmhm."
"Alex fears it might not be good for him. How he's achieving it." I leaned back and put my hands behind my head.
"He wants me to talk to him, but I don't want to meddle with what he wants to be or do. It's his life."
Rei looked at me. "Colin always wanted to get stronger. I respected him for that. But I know him. He's not the type to get that strong naturally. Whatever he has been doing, it can't be from his own efforts."
"That's pretty harsh, don't you think?"
Rei regarded me with a blank expression. "It's reality. Some people aren't fit to become strong in this world. It's just how it is."
"You can try to sugarcoat it all you want. That's how it is."
I smirked. "You're telling me you don't care how people feel?"
Rei tucked her hair behind her ear. "I'm just saying it's pointless. I don't care how people feel about me, I just care about the results."
I reached over and took the water bottle.
"Cute water bottle." I remarked.
Rei suddenly became flustered. "Give me that!" She snapped. I pulled the water bottle away from her reach.
"HEY!" She shouted.
I laughed as I stood up, holding the bottle up high as Rei tried to jump and reach it.
"I didn't think you would be the type to be into cartoon characters!" I joked.
Rei continued trying to reach the bottle, her face all shades of red and embarrassment.
"Sam..." She muttered, as she stopped resisting and sat on the ground.
"Whoa, hey, you're not crying are you? I thought you said you didn't care what people thought about you." I said, as I lowered the bottle.
"Not when it's... you." She said, quietly.
I sat next to her, handing her the water bottle. "Come on, it was just a joke, Rei. I think it's adorable."
Rei became even more red, as she grabbed the bottle and shoved it into her bag.
"Wha... Whatever." She stammered. "Let's head back home."
Rei hurried back as I tried to follow, but she was so fast I found myself chasing after her footprints.
"Rei! Wait up!" I shouted, but suddenly, I bumped into her, causing her to yelp.
"Rei? What's wrong?" I asked. I stepped in front of her, and to my surprise, Rei was frozen in shock.
"Hey, Rei. Rei?" I said, and slowly turned around, realizing why.
A boy, who was lounging on a tree branch. Who looked just like me. His face, exactly like mine. Except he was smaller, less muscular. Still somewhat fit. He had a black tank top on, baggy black cargo pants, and a sleeveless black trench coat. His hair, like mine, but longer, scruffier.
He regarded us with magenta eyes.
"This is the Firstborn? Legit?" He asked.
Rei pulled me behind her and took out her brass knuckles, her body glowing green as dark flames shrouded her.
"Who are you." Rei said.
The boy got up from the branch and shrouded his body in black flames just like Rei's. Black and red highlights, as he levitated in the air, slowly descending.
"Whoa whoa. I don't mean no harm Miss. Tsundere! Let me introduce myself formally." The boy said, as he landed on the ground. He walked closer to us, as Rei gritted her teeth, holding out her knuckle.
"I'm warning you." She said, her voice dangerous.
The boy put up his hands.
"Jeez! Calm down." He said, as he put his hands in his pockets, tilting his head, and giving us a sarcastic smile.
"The name is Sammy Le. I'm Decen's Fourth Remnant."
He then pointed his finger at me.
"I'm his brother."
Chapter 14 (Samuel Mace)
"What?" I asked, as I stepped forward, but Rei grabbed my arm.
"Don't. It could be a trap."
Sammy looked at us inquisitively. "Look, I'm not here to start any shit. I'm the only person who can travel far enough here without some crazy ass spatial magic. Just concentrating on this point is making me use a lot of brain power and could wake the real me up any minute."
I stared at him. "What? The real you?"
Sammy chuckled. "Long story. But I'm here to warn you. I don't know if I can show up here again, because this universe is so damn hard to find. But you probably noticed some hints of Corruption. I don't know. Visions? Stuff like that? Mogul himself isn't here, but his subordinates who can travel to these places can reach this place. Just try to keep yourself safe. Even though Mogul can't reach you, his Corruption can. His influence can."
Sammy suddenly narrowed his eyes. "What the hell happened to your powers?"
Sammy stepped closer, and Rei put distance between us, causing Sammy to put his hands up in the air.
"Arman, did you lose your abilities?"
I clutched my head as I doubled over. "That name..." I muttered. Rei ran up to me in concern. "Arman? Why is he calling you that?"
Sammy tilted his head. "Right, you changed your name. Something must have happened when you crossed the portal. I guess amnesia is a common thing for this kind of travel."
"No..." I gasped. "I never lost my memories when I crossed..." Memories and fragments attempting to resurface, only to disappear again.
Rei looked confused. "Sam... what is going on? I know you were amnesiac. But is Samuel Mace your real name?"
I looked at her. I had no answer. "I don't know."
Sammy put hands behind his neck. "Well, I don't have much time. Consider my presence to be a warning. Keep your loved ones close. Mace. I hope you get your powers ba-"
Suddenly, Sammy dissipated into smoke.
"Oh shit! I'm out of time!" He said, as he disappeared.
Rei had her hands on my shoulders, as I regarded her, shocked at what I had just witnessed.
"What do you want to be called as."
I turned to her. "What?"
Rei helped me to my feet. "I'm asking you what you want me to call you. Samuel Mace, or Arman?"
I looked at my hand. "I knew you as Samuel Mace. I lived my life here as Samuel Mace. Something must have happened that made me want to change my name, so I guess I'll go with that."
Rei smiled. It was weird to see her smile, since she rarely did it. "Okay."
Rei's phone rang, as she pulled it out. "Yes?"
James' voice buzzed in the coms. "Something's up. We're being outmatched. We need your help. Both you and Mace."
Rei put her phone away and nodded at me. We both left the forest and got to the location as fast as we could.
We managed to save Alex just in the nick of time from being crushed by a rock.
"Alex! What is going on?" I asked.
Alex coughed. "Dammit. We were doing so good. But someone. Some thing attacked us from the portal. We don't know what it is. But I think it was a person with Abyssal powers. She had black electricity all around her."
My heart dropped. "Black electricity?"
Rei clenched her fist. "Corruption."
Alex turned to us. "She pulled James, Nomi, and Colin in. Colin was holding his own, but both James and Nomi are injured. Don't mind me, I can fend for myself, but they need your help."
I helped Alex back to the van. "Drive back home. We'll get everybody back."
Rei nodded to me as she ran into the portal.
Alex clutched my arm. "Mace..."
"What is it?"
"Colin... his powers... they've changed. That lady I told you about, the black electricity. He manifested it too. I think she wants him."
"Just get back to the dorm. Notify everybody for backup if you haven't yet."
I followed Rei to the portal.
Chapter 15 (Rei Tsuyuki)
James. Nomi. Colin. I needed to get them out of there.
As much as Nomi annoyed me. I loved her. She was my older sister, and I had known her longer than anybody. Like me, she wanted to become a great Cleaner too, but her feelings for Findlay have always served as a crutch.
Nomi needed to see her boyfriend again. I needed to make sure of that.
Sam followed me from behind. He had Loz-Q unsheathed. Hints of his past were revealed when his "brother" showed up out of the blue. But for some reason, I didn't feel suspicious about Sam. For some reason, it made me want to trust him more. I wanted to help him.
Who was Sam before he entered the Abyssal Realm? It was obvious that he was from another world. He mentioned a portal. His life as Arman.
"Rei!" Sam shouted, as two Abyssal creatures tried to ambush us, but I spun around, launching a flaming back kick at the attackers, disintegrating them.
"Two more!" He shouted, as I powered up, zipping and bouncing off of nearby rocks and dispatching them instantly.
Sam ran forward, as I followed him, searching for footprints.
Nomi, James, Colin. It didn't matter how much they annoyed me. They were my family. At the end of the day, I would risk my life to make sure they would make home back safe.
I stopped dead in my tracks, as I found them. Nomi and James were unconscious, and the only one left standing was Colin, who was facing the woman who had pulled them in. Seeing my sister and brother like that made my vision red, as I clenched my fists.
"Sam." I said, quietly.
Sam approached me.
"Take the others out of here." I said, as I glared at the woman. "She is mine."
Sam nodded, as he and I charged. I leapt right at the woman, my fist coiled back.
"Get away from my family." I hissed, as I swung as hard as I could, catching her in the face and sending her skidding back from the hellish gravel of the Abyssal Realm.
Sam grabbed Colin and the others.
"Let me go, Mace!"
"Colin, we need to get the others out of here."
"She is mine to kill!"
I glanced at Colin. He had gotten stronger. His powers had changed, evolved. His lance was sparking with black electricity. It was obvious the power he had gotten was not his, but this was just hard evidence at this point.
"Colin..." I muttered. How could we have let him resort to something like this? I should have supported him, but instead I was so focused on myself.
"Colin, let Rei handle this. There's always next time." Sam said, calmly, as he led them back to the portal. I faced the woman, my black and green flames illuminating the hellhole.
The woman got to her feet, smirking through her mask.
"You are the prodigy. How you have grown." She taunted.
I didn't feel like talking. She needed to pay for what she did to my family. I couldn't let this person run loose, because she was clearly a cut above the rest of the Abyssals in this hotspot. I needed to take her out.
I charged in, but suddenly, the woman evaded, with flawless dexterity. She smiled, as she kicked me in the midsection and sent me flying away. I fell on the ground, but not before scrambling back to my feet and shooting forward again, attempting to flank her. But no matter what tactic I tried, she seemed to know my every move.
"Give it up. You are predictable." She said, but I didn't listen. She was taunting me. I zipped into the air, and blasted downwards as the woman evaded, but I already knew that would happen, as I punched the ground as hard as I could, generating a shockwave. The woman was sent flying back. I landed on the ground, and brought my fist back, powering it up, and launched a blast of darkness at her direction.
The woman held out her hand and absorbed it.
"Your yin affinity has developed so much!" She said.
"Stop pretending you know me." I retorted, as I flipped in the air, sending arcs of darkness her way, then using that as a distraction, I zipped behind her and and tried to aim for her face, but the woman jumped in the air as I watched the projectiles come my way, blasting me as I fell backwards.
Her skill was ridiculous. I hadn't met a single Abyssal with this level of agility before. She was clearly not normal, but she was not human either.
"Is that all you have to offer? The future strongest Cleaner?" The woman taunted.
"No." Sam said, as he appeared behind her, the woman turned around and tried to evade, but Sam smirked as he flipped underneath. The strike was a feint, and Sam delivered it skillfully, as he managed to slice upward.
"Urgh." The woman muttered, as she held out her hand, and stopped the blade, causing it to narrowly miss. A black electrical explosion sent him flying back.
"So you wield the Corruption." Sam said, as he readied his sword.
The woman smiled. "You are him."
Sam looked confused. "How do you know who I am? In fact, why do you address Rei like that? Like you know us? Who are you?"
The woman held out her hands, and a blast of Corruption sent both of us flying back.
"You don't remember me, Mace? You don't remember what you did?"
Sam put his hand on his head. "I don't understand."
The woman clenched her teeth. "Then I will make you." She powered up her hands, as they sparkled with black electricity, and launched herself forward, as Sam intercepted it with his sword. I also jumped in to join Sam, and we engaged the woman in a two on one exchange.
The woman managed to slip past both of our strikes and send us both flying back into a rock.
"Ugh. Wow. She's tough." Sam muttered.
I tried to escape, but the woman flicked her hand, and tendrils of energy kept us both imprisoned.
"I'm disappointed in you, Mace." The woman said, as she approached Sam, running a finger down his chest.
Sam grimaced. "Who are you, how do you know my name?"
"You truly do not remember. I suppose the trauma must had been too much."
"Trauma?" Sam asked, as his eyes went wide. He began to growl as a migraine hit him.
"What are you saying?" I asked. "How do you two know each other."
The woman glanced at me. "And you... my dear Rei, how you have grown from the last time I saw you."
How much I have grown? Did this person know me from when I was little?
My heart began to beat faster. No. She couldn't be.
"You can't be... you're... you're not supposed to be..." I muttered.
The woman laughed as she looked back at Sam.
"Remember, boy. Remember what you did. Remember what you did to me. What you did to HER." She pointed her finger at me.
I was dumbstruck. "Sam... what the hell is she talking about? What did you do?"
Sam continued struggling. "I don't... something happened. Something made me lose my memories. Something I did."
The woman grabbed Sam's face. "Look. Look at my neck." She said, as she slowly undid her collar, showing a massive scar. Sam's eyes went wide.
"You killed me. And in a way, you killed Rei."
"I didn't. I couldn't have."
"The guilt of such an action."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The pieces of it falling together slowly.
"Sam." I muttered, glaring at him.
"What did you do."
The woman slowly undid her mask, as Sam began to pant, his face turning pale.
"You remember now, do you, boy? How you killed me. How you ended my life in the realm, pulled me inside."
The mask fell on the ground as I began to sob. Because the person behind that mask. It couldn't be possible. But everything about what had happened up until now pointed so clearly at it.
Mom pointed her finger at me.
"Tell her. Samuel Mace. How you killed her mother. How you caused her all this pain and suffering. How you did all this, then turned your back on it, pretending that wasn't you. To throw away your memories. Tell her."
Chapter 16 (Samuel Mace)
"YOU BASTARD!" Rei screamed, as she charged me with overwhelming speed. I blocked her attacks and tried to evade, but Rei's rage made her even faster than before, as she slammed her fist into my face. I slammed into a nearby mountain as Mitsuki's Corrupted Form cackled in delight.
"Yes, Reirei. Avenge me. He hurt you. He hurt me."
I got to my feet. This didn't make sense. Why would I hurt Mitsuki? Something would have happened to make me do something this terrible. But there was no time to think, because Rei was beyond bloodlust.
"I'm going to kill you!" Rei yelled, as she grabbed my throat and punched me into the sky, materializing, and slamming me back onto the ground.
"Rei... listen to me! Please!" I pleaded, but there was no point. I couldn't...
Suddenly, my vision flashed. A charging Rei was replaced by... a boy. With hair swept to one side.
"Brickhouse?" I asked.
Wait. Brickhouse? What?
Rei slammed into me as I smashed into several rocks. Rei was sobbing as she kept pummelling me. I had no more strength to evade. I couldn't hit her. I just couldn't. The hurt in her eyes. The rage and pain she had to go through. I couldn't believe it was because of me.
I tried to block Rei's punch, but she yanked my hand away.
"WHY?!" She screamed.
"WHY?! Why did you have to pretend to be all this. You couldn't have just killed my mom and leave. You had to COME BACK. You had to be all KIND TO ME." She screamed at my face, her tears dripping onto my shirt, as she grabbed my collar, punching me over and over again. I could feel my consciousness slowly slipping away.
I had to deserve this. I had no idea who I was before. But, whoever this Arman Wan guy was. He did something inexcusable.
I deserved to die.
Rei brought her fist up to give the final blow.
"Finish it, Reirei." Mitsuki, said as she walked up to her and embraced her from behind.
"Accept it. This boy. He ruined our lives. Let the Corruption take you over."
"Cor... Corruption?" I managed to choke out. Sammy. He had warned us. Mogul's influence in this world.
My vision began to flicker. A memory.
"You'll have to kill me for that to happen, Remnant." A human form of Mitsuki said, as I held both Pariah and Loz-Q to her neck.
"Why have you chosen to side with the Aspect of Sin? You are not protecting your loved ones by succumbing to the corruption, human." I heard myself say.
Mitsuki smiled evilly. "Who said anything about protecting my loved ones?"
Mitsuki held out her hand, as black electricity began to flood the Abyssal Realm, creatures entering the portal. "These people, will know the true terror of the Abyssal Realm. Even if you stop me now, you cannot possibly fathom the many who will take my place. My daughter, Rei Tsuyuki. A prodigy in the making. She will take my place. You cannot stop the Great War from happening."
"If you let the monsters in, numerous will die. Your daughter will die! Your husband! Everyone!"
Mitsuki cackled evilly. "And you think they matter to me?"
My vision returned to the present, as Rei struggled to deal the finishing blow.
"Do it, Rei." Mitsuki urged.
Rei's fist shook, her eyes flooded with tears. "Sam... what part of this was real. Was caring for me. Was that night in the Carnival. Was that real?"
I regarded her, I could feel my very essence slipping away. Flooded in pain. "Yes." I said.
"It was... very real. I love you, Rei. That part was real."
Mitsuki shook her head. "Rei, I am most disappointed. How could you have grown up to be so soft." Rei looked at her mother. "Mom?"
Mitsuki grabbed Rei's hand and thrown her to the side. "You were supposed to be my successor. My staged death was supposed to make you invincible, so when the two of us reunited, we could reign havoc on this pathetic world."
Rei stared at Mitsuki. "What.... what are you talking about?"
Mitsuki looked at her daughter in disdain. "Arman Wan, was the one person who was in the way of my plans. All those years ago. I knew I couldn't be enough to defeat him. But you... you had potential greater than anyone. The greatest, strongest Cleaner. I thought you would be great but it seems you are just..."
Rei stood motionless as Mitsuki closed in and struck her midsection. Rei fell to her knees, her face in utter shock.
"Mom..." She sobbed. "Why..."
Mitsuki watched as Rei fell to the ground.
"STOP! MITSUKI!" I screamed, as I tried to get to my feet, but my Regeneration. It had slowed down so much, it was basically neutralized.
Mitsuki laughed. "Look at you. You were driven by rage. By vengeance. But after all of that, you couldn't even keep up with me. How could you possibly fulfill your purpose?"
Rei closed her eyes. I could feel her devastation, as she shuddered.
"This... this isn't happening." Rei began to cry.
"Yes, Rei. Cry. Show your true self. A pathetic." Mitsuki kicked her. "Powerless." Mitsuki kicked her again. My vision turned red in rage.
Mitsuki picked up Rei by the hair, as Rei began to bawl. "Mom... why...." She sobbed.
Mitsuki held out her hand. "You fight with knuckles, just like I did. But your display of it has been nothing." She said, as her hand began to power up with black lightning.
I got to my feet and charged her. "Let Rei go!" I yelled, but Mitsuki simply glanced at me, and let loose her blast, which went right through my midsection as my eyes widened. Vomiting out blood.
"SAM!" Rei screamed.
I could see my surroundings elongating as everything went black.
Chapter 17 (Remnant 1)
A voice said, as I shuffled.
"No. Let me sleep, a little longer." I grumbled.
"Wake up, Sam." Another voice said.
My eyes flew open, as I looked up. Fourteen boys, who all looked like me but had different clothes, different hairstyles. Some were older than others, but they were all younger than me.
The boy stepped forward. He had long hair which reached his shoulders. His right arm was corroded with some spiky black and red material.
"You need to fight."
Another boy stepped forward, this one had long hair like the previous guy, but he looked innocent, kind. Almost like he was nothing like his brothers.
"You need to save."
A third, his hair completely white, covering his eyes almost, which were orange like flame.
"You need to win."
I sat up. "Who... what is this."
If you don't get up, Rei will die. A voice swirled all around me.
"Decen..." I muttered, suddenly remembering the name.
"Rei!" I shouted, as I got to my feet, but I was surrounded by the boys and the darkness. "I need to save Rei!"
The Tsuyuki girl is your first objective, but remember why you came here. Decen said.
I panted as I looked around, trying to escape this place. Rei needed me. Mitsuki was going to kill her. I had caused so much pain, I knew I didn't deserve this, but I needed to protect her, because I loved her.
From the way you are thinking, it tells me you have not fully embraced who you are. Decen continued, as the boys began to disappear.
"Look." I said. "I don't care about who I was. Rei is going to die!"
You won't be able to save her like this.
I drew Loz-Q. "I don't care!"
Suddenly, a wave of force blasted me in the chest, as my surroundings began to change, becoming a hut.
"Where am I? What is this?! I don't have time for this, Decen. Let me out of this vision!" I shouted.
You don't remember this place? Decen asked.
I glared at my surroundings. An old hut, and a hole at the centre of the backyard. I turned around and saw an elderly man, and a young woman, tending to a boy who was asleep in layers of clothes. My eyes widened.
Your home. Where it all started.
The young woman looked at the boy. "Kaius, we must not kill him. He is just a boy."
Kaius glanced at his sword. "The boy is not human. I know that much. Perhaps he was sent to kill you. If that is such, I am left with no choice but to end his life."
The woman put her hand on Kaius' arm. "Is that befitting for a fallen to say? A little boy, who simply tried to protect himself. He has no one."
Kaius sighed. "Lyra, if we accept this child into our home, we must bear full responsibility."
Lyra put her hand on the boy's forehead. Suddenly, a rush of warmth entered my body as I touched my own forehead. This feeling. I only felt it once. Like a motherly touch.
Lyra smiled at the boy. "One I am willing to take. I was cursed to never have a child, for my bloodline forbids it. Perhaps this is a gift from fate."
"A gift of fate..." I muttered, as I put my hand from my own forehead, tears streaming down my face.
I stepped forward. "Lyra..."
Suddenly, the vision dissipated into the darkness. "NO." I screamed, as the bits and pieces formed together to form a boy with black and magenta hair.
"Decen! Don't end this... I need..." I sobbed.
Decen regarded me. "You beg to me stop this, but you made the decision to abandon them to become stronger. The first family you ever had. Kaius of the Silver City, and Lyra Tetras, the Daughter of Diablos."
I fell to my knees. "I am foolish..." I muttered, as I felt my hair growing back, longer and longer.
"When I was around your age, I believed I didn't need family. Because I thought it made me weak. But you always had that over me. Perhaps not related by blood, but they were family nonetheless. I may have been your biological father, but no one can replace these two."
Lyra's image rematerialized, in her current age, as she approached me and embraced me from behind. I took her hand as more tears ran down my face.
"A mother..." I murmured, as Lyra's smile filled me with warmth.
Decen knelt in front of me. "I understand your desire for strength. But you are not me. I became strong my own way, and so did you. Why must you sever your ties to become strong? How did you awaken Icarus' power in the first place?"
I clutched my fists as Lyra began dissipating, entering me.
I began to glow gold, my hair becoming spikier.
Decen smiled. "Your desire... for what?"
I got to my feet, slowly. My misty and swirling aura becoming more aggressive. Power that was already there, but no. Something more. Something beyond anything I had before.
"My desire to protect." I said, as the muscles along my body became bigger, stronger. My golden aura becoming spikier, as blue electricity surrounded me. A new form? No. This was the same Phoenix energy I always had, but intensified. Much more intensified.
Images of my past began to flood my brain. Lyra and Kaius feeding me when I was a child. A mere baby boy. Kaius teaching me manners, and Lyra teaching me to hunt. My fight against Caile of the Sixth Pillar. Our trip to Amod. Obtaining Pariah. Battling Reimos. My trip to Argen. My time battling the Titans of Olympus. Fighting the wars with Trista and the Argen Guard. The numerous people I had met in my life.
Meeting Merrow Rivenlight. Lucius Cassidy. Sophia. Deacon. Kanade.
You are the Firstborn. And you are strong, the strongest of your kind. But you became this way because of all the people who helped you up. Who walked by your side. Decen said, as another being manifested next to him. A middle aged man with curly brown hair and blue eyes.
You are beyond Decen, because you are kind. You have loved ones. This is why you awakened my power. And Decen didn't. Icarus said.
"I... I remember." I said, as I closed my eyes, feeling my body continuing to evolve.
You are the Champion of both War and Light. Kanade may have been pure, but you are our Champion. A warrior to the end. Your honour, your dreams, your loved ones. This is your true power...
Priest Arman Wan of Argen.
I opened my eyes, as I stared at my reflection. I had evolved. My muscles had gotten even bigger, my hair, which was already spiky, became so spiky that it all stood up, only one bang sat at the front. My hair was so bright it was almost white, and my aura, no longer swirling, but jagged and spiky, as blue electricity surrounded me.
Decen stepped forward. "You inherited much more than just my regeneration and my superhuman abilities. You inherited both my ability to evolve, and Icarus' ability to ascend. Together, you have accomplished something that neither of us could ever dream of becoming."
Icarus put his hand on my shoulder, as I looked into the sky. Pariah, fully restored, both halves, descended from the skies, and Icarus' chains wrapping along my arm.
"So fight, Arman. Evolve. Ascend. And always remember, your loved ones will always be here with you. We will always be here with you."
Decen smirked, and grabbed my ear. "And if you dare lose, don't lose like a bitch. You hear me? Go and save Rei."
I put out my hand as I grabbed Pariah, dual wielding both swords and the chain, as my vision disappeared, melting back into reality.
Mitsuki was about to deal a finishing blow, but I had already intercepted it with speed even faster than before. Mitsuki stared at me, her eyes wide in disbelief.
"This.. this power isn't what you used before." She said.
I smiled, through my new transformation. Phoenix Form 2.
"No." I said, as the last bits of my memory came back. Why I had killed Mitsuki the first time. It was true that I had ruined Rei's life. Because I had no choice. I had to kill Mitsuki, because she was never good to start with. She was always an agent to Mogul. She had decided to marry Mato to create a child who would be her successor, as she realized a Remnant of Decen had entered her world.
I pushed Mitsuki back, as my electrical aura blew everything away. Rei stared at me in disbelief.
I let go of a completed Pariah, as the giant blade linked with the end of Icarus' chains, as I spun it into a deadly bladed cyclone. The energy of my transformation infusing the sword until it glowed a bright gold.
I aimed Loz-Q at Mitsuki, as a massive blast of wind sent her flying back into a mountain.
"I stopped you once, to prevent you from overtaking this world with Mogul's corruption." I said, my voice becoming ancient.
And I will not let Rei walk in your footsteps I declared as I flew in with astonishing speed that even surprised me, launching Mitsuki into the air.
I brought a chained Pariah back, and prepared a giant swipe.
KSENIA OF MOGUL, THIS ENDS HERE. I bellowed, as I launched a massive arc of energy that overwhelmed Ksenia.
Ksenia growled, as she emerged from the mess, clearly depleted. She had used all of her remaining power to block the blast. But now she was powerless.
"I will return." She said. "I will make sure you are dead at my feet. The both of you!" She snapped, as she clicked a button on her neck, activating a portal, and entering it.
I exited my form, as my hair returned to its black colour, and my original length. The length from before I entered the Abyssal Realm.