Two Weeks Ago:
Sophie finished up her shift at her aunt and uncle's souvenir shop in their hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. After closing up, she left the store and set out on the short trek back to her home. She kept her hands tucked into the pockets of her jacket since it was quite chilly out. The brunette had a lot of time to herself to think about things. She decided to remain in Alaska following her brother's death and hadn't bothered to make any new friends or visit her old ones. Her routine was always the same. She would go to work, she would go home and waste her time on the internet, and then she would go to sleep. She hardly even spoke to her aunt and uncle except during dinner. Her only real hobby at the moment was writing various fanfictions and posting them online to garner attention.
Suddenly, her phone vibrated in her pocket. She was hesitant to pull it out and check it, but eventually did so after entering through the front door of her house. She left her shoes and jacket downstairs as she headed up to her room and glanced at her Blackberry. She had been getting strange texts lately and this one was no different.
As usual, she ignored it. She tried to evade the messages by changing her phone number, but that didn't solve anything. Someone was clearly interested in her and knew a lot of her information, but she couldn't fathom who it could be. Eclipse was gone. She'd cut off all ties with Serph and his sister was dead. This wasn't the kind of silly prank that Ash or any of her other old friends would pull. She was worried about what would happen if she kept ignoring the texts but she was afraid to respond as well.
She tossed her phone onto the desk in her untidy room and flopped down on her bed. She let out a sigh as she tried to figure out what the strange orders in the messages meant. She figured that she should probably contact Ash or Leena to find out if they were receiving similar threats. Perhaps an old foe wanted to track them all down. Before she had time to ponder this further, her phone started vibrating again. She initially ignored it but the rattling sound of the device against her desk persisted. This time she was receiving a phone call.
"You haven't been replying to my messages," spoke a voice she'd never heard before. She was shocked to hear that it wasn't her uncle or another relative that had called her. This was the first time her mystery texter had bothered to call. It seemed that he was getting impatient... or was running out of time.
"Who the hell is this?"
"You don't need to know who I am. What you need to know is that I know everything about you, Sophie Briante."
Sophie became concerned as she listened to the threatening voice on the other end of the line. There was a lot of static and the call sounded as if it were coming from a faraway place with pitiful reception. It was impossible to identify the mystery caller's voice under these circumstances. She reluctantly decided to hear this person out with the hope that the harassment would stop if she did.
"I've heard from an associate that you'd be a valuable asset to our cause."
"Say words that I care about or I'll smash this phone and then you'll be boned if you want to contact me."
"Fine, I know what gets you going. I'm calling to warn you. You'll want to return to Colonia very soon if you still care at all about Leena. I'm told you'd do anything to protect her. Is this correct?"
"... of course I would. What's happened to her?"
"Someone is going after her. Someone who hates her with every fiber of their being. This woman has been advised that Leena is responsible for much of the hardships in her life and, understandably, she wants to pay her back."
"Ridiculous. Leena isn't the kind of person who-"
"If you don't return soon, she will die. I don't want her to die and I know that you don't either. Right now I'm not in a position to do anything about this, so you'll have to act in my place. I'll reward you for protecting her, of course."
"What kind of reward...?"
"You hate your Anomaly powers, right? I'm offering you a chance to get rid of them forever. And not just your own... I plan to eliminate the powers that Anomalies wield from this world completely. They're an unnatural force that only serve to corrupt and ruin the lives of good people. You know that better than anyone. Protect Leena, and perform a few other tasks for me, and you can be a part of this glorious revolution. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement."
"Sounds almost too good to be true. But if Leena's in danger, then I guess I've got no choice..." Sophie said with a sigh. She sat up on her bed and leaned forward, pointing toward her phone as if the voice on the other end could see her scolding mannerism. "But I'm going to be pissed if you're lying to me. I never planned to return to that city of bad memories."
"I'm not lying. Move fast. If you don't, the assassin will get to her first."
"If anyone ever harms her... I'll take care of them myself."
Volume 2: Collapse
Sophie reacted with an understandable degree of horror when she saw Leena's body lying at the blonde renegade's feet. It was unbearable for her to witness the damage that had been done to her friend. Leah quickly noticed Leena's entourage and glanced up at them while in the midst of a euphoric state. She'd finally claimed her revenge and their arrival wasn't going to ruin her moment. Clearly none of them were interested in celebrating with her and leapt into action after recovering from their initial reactions of shock. Quinton furiously charged forward first, pulling his Affinity Arm out of thin air and preparing to engage the Vapor Anomaly.
"Get away from her, you evil bitch!"
Quinton leapt over Leena and attacked the renegade, forcing her back and allowing the others to converge on their fallen friend. Ash, Axel, and Sergeant had trouble stomaching the gruesome sight as they drew nearer. Ash became exasperated and glanced away; this reminded him very much of a similar situation with both Leena and Felicia. It was a horrible sense of deja vu. Axel dropped to his knees before Leena and frantically attempted to confirm if she was still alive.
"This is- I can't even describe this," Ash said. He was reluctant to get any closer. "I'm going to be sick. How could anyone do this to her, of all people?"
"She's still breathing!" Axel screamed, overtaken by a state of panic. He cradled Leena in his arms as he desperately looked toward his allies for assistance. "We have to save her, somehow! Ash, do something!"
"M-me?! I-I don't have the expertise to deal with a wound like this. If Felicia was still with us, she could-"
"Well she's not, so figure something out!"
Ash knelt down next to Axel and hovered his hands over his friend's torn-up body. Leena had two incredibly deep wounds through her midsection and another gash on her head. There was so much blood that Ash and Axel's clothes were already coated. The normally cool-headed Vapor Anomaly shivered as he attempted to remain focused and think up a method to preserve Leena's life for as long as possible. He eventually recalled a last-ditch attempt he once used to stop his own blood from escaping when he was critically injured.
"I-I can seal the wound. Coat her torso in... ice or something," he said. He looked at both Axel and Sergeant for approval and they frantically nodded, unable to come up with any better ideas of their own. "It's going to be really tough on her since she doesn't have the Vapor Affinity a-and may even make her condition worse, but..."
"Better than letting her die right here and now," Gaff spoke in a much more composed manner as he approached them from behind. He took it upon himself to order the distressed group around. "Do it."
"This cannot be forgiven," Sophie muttered as she finally composed herself and got up off of her knees. Yoshino stood at her side, oblivious to just how horrific the scene unfolding before her was. She only had their reactions to go off of. She listened to Sophie's tone and tried to be the voice of reason.
"Don't rush in there with only revenge on your mind, Sophie. If you do, you're no better than that renegade. We'll deliver a level-headed yet appropriate response."
"We're way past the point where I even remotely care about what's appropriate or not."
"Okay, that should stop the flow of blood... temporarily. Oh god, I'm so sorry, Leena," Ash said after applying some hectic patchwork to Leena's midsection. Leena flinched and weakly cried out as the freezing substance touched against her open wounds. She started to shiver as well and indicated that she was in very bad shape. Ash gently lifted her up and turned toward Axel.
"Take her, damn it. You're the one with the super-fast Affinity Soul, right?"
"Where the hell am I supposed to-"
"Let's take her to the Creator's Spire," Sergeant suggested. "It's the safest place for her thanks to the force field. And if anyone can figure out what to do with wounds like this on such short notice, it would be the Creator. I'll accompany you since I know the way."
"And I as well," Gaff volunteered. "In case any of the renegades have recovered and try to interfere."
Axel nodded in agreement and held Leena tightly in his arms as he summoned and mounted Tindalos. They took off in a flash and were followed as closely behind as possible by both Sergeant and Gaff riding on Yang's shoulders. Ash could only pray that the ice didn't melt before they arrived at the Creator's Spire... or that Leena didn't expire before then. She was likely to get very sick after being frozen with open wounds like that, which presented yet another danger. Before he was able to fret and worry any further, Quinton crashed to the ground nearby after being repelled back by Leah's water bullets.
"She'll never survive the trip with wounds like those," Leah spoke to those that remained on the bridge with her. "She's done. Justice has, at long last, been served!"
"Bitch, I'm going to mess you up for what you did to her!" Quinton yelled back. He coughed water out of his lungs and propped himself up with his staff as he struggled to his feet. Ash, who was equally furious, materialized his bow and took aim at the renegade.
"You honestly call this justice? I'll show you-"
"Don't," Sophie commanded her allies as she stepped and faced Leah. The renegade apathetically stared back at her, waiting to hear what kind of drivel she was going to spout. Ash and Quinton both quieted down, sensing the rage and bloodlust emanating from their companion. The brunette simply materialized her claws and continued to hatefully glare toward the one that put Leena in such a critical state.
Meanwhile, Valor and Phalanx's battle had brought them into Harmony's castle. After Valor made his initial sneak attack and the two powerful Anomalies exchanged some blows, Phalanx struck the Lord of Solid with a bolt of light that knocked him clear across the ravine and crashing through the wall of the stone construct. The Beta Anomaly tracked and followed him inside the castle, furious that he'd inadvertently sent Valor flying to the destination that the renegades were trying to stop them from reaching. Valor righted himself and regained his footing just as the Zone Scrambler's effect wore off and they were returned to the true God Realm.
"Damn, it's finished already...?" the one-eyed renegade muttered aloud as he noticed the zone shift. He aimed both of his guns toward Valor and continued to make threats. "Oh well, it doesn't matter. Even without my artificial eye, I'm still superior to you. I'll prove that here and now."
"I don't have any more time to waste on you," Valor responded. He picked up his gunblade and prepared to deflect any shots Phalanx might fire at him. He glanced around at the walls of the castle surrounding them and suddenly got a better idea of how to deal with the renegade. They were in a fairly narrow hallway that ran along the edge of the great fortress. "Actually, I think I'll have us shift zones one more time, bro."
"And what will you accomplish by doing that?"
"Quite a bit... if we head to the Solid Zone. We are surrounded by my element, after all."
Phalanx became unnerved as he realized what was about to happen and fired upon Valor with both guns. While he fired, he felt the zone around them shift once more. Valor was now in control. The Elemental God leapt forward, deflecting Phalanx's shots as he did, and slashed toward the renegade with his blade in his right hand. Phalanx dodged to the left but found himself pushed in the opposite direction as a pillar of stone sprouted outward from the wall to interfere. He was pushed back into the range of Valor's blade and received it in the chest, followed by a point-blank gunshot from the multi-purpose weapon.
Phalanx stumbled backward, wounded from Valor's two-pronged attack. Suddenly the floor beneath him rose up, crushing him against the ceiling. The god with the ponytail stepped around the pillar that made a pancake out of Phalanx and admired his work.
"Okay, you getting back up from that? No? Good. I'm busy."
He turned away to continue his mission when suddenly a sphere of light emanated outward from where Phalanx was pinned. Every bit of the stone structure in the affected area crumbled under the might of Phalanx's attack and Valor found himself blown away when struck. He crashed through a wall and then through a railing before rolling off the side of a balcony and plummeting to the floor of a massive ballroom. He groaned as he tried to count all the different parts of his body that hurt.
"Urrghh... Harmony will rage if she sees how much we trashed her castle. Oh wait, I can fix this all with my Affinity. If this Elemental God thing doesn't pan out, I'd have a great career as a-"
Phalanx stomped down upon Valor with both feet, crushing him against the floor. Valor struggled to endure the pain and used his arms and legs to spring himself upward, flinging the renegade off. Phalanx scowled toward his foe and took aim at him while they fell through mid-air in unison.
"Why don't you just give up and admit that I'm superior?!"
"Ummm... because you're not."
Another pillar of stone erupted downward from the ceiling and crushed Phalanx against the floor before he could take his shot. Valor had learned by now that clobbering the Beta Anomaly repeatedly wasn't enough to keep him down, so he decided to try a different approach. He simply dismissed the Solid Zone and returned to the true God Zone... but he didn't bring Phalanx back with him.
"Hoo-boy, that's really going to piss him off," Valor thought as he dusted his robes off. He counted his fingers as he tried to calculate the amount of time that he could keep Phalanx trapped in the other zone. "Let's see... with my aura depleting at the rate it takes to sustain someone within a zone, taking into account the amount of aura he'll be expending trying to break out, multiply by the number of hours, divide by two, carry the one... yup, he'll be there for four days.
"Of course, that's if I felt like sitting around here and keeping him trapped. He'll be freed automatically once I leave the area. As much as I want to keep attacking his ego, that battle could've gone on forever. I need to track down Harmony and get back to Leena ASAP. Now, which direction is the throne room in this place...?"
It didn't take long for Valor to get his bearings and find the aforementioned throne room. Keeping focus on Phalanx's captivity in the back of his mind, he entered Harmony's main chamber to investigate for clues as to her whereabouts. The first clue he found was not only obvious, but incredibly shocking as well.
There was blood everywhere. A coat of red decorated the throne and the platform it sat on. The eerie hue was speckled in various other spots of the normally-pristine chamber, as well. Valor could taste and smell metal when he came into close proximity of all the dried-up blood. It was both alarming and cryptic, and gave him a pretty good indication as to what had happened to his fellow Elemental God. As he cautiously stepped toward the throne, a puzzling thought kept running through his mind.
"Is this Harmony's blood? Judging by this evidence it seems like it could only belong to her, but that contradicts a glaring fact. If she'd been killed, the whole elemental balance have been thrown into disarray already. There must be some sort of explanation..."
Valor felt footsteps behind him, coming from the stairs. He glanced over his shoulder to see who it was. Perhaps it was Harmony and this was all one big set-up to lure him in. But if that was true, that meant Harmony had to have killed someone in this throne room. His mind anxiously kept coming up with theories since he simply wasn't able to accept the fact that one of his peers had died without the rest of them noticing. One theory that quickly passed through his mind was the only one that seemed plausible, yet it was improbable.
That her powers had been transferred somewhere else.
"Ah, so it's Ryan," the approaching figure addressed him by name. Valor knew who was coming now without even needing to see his face. It was the same person he frequently saw in his nightmares: Matt Booker. Leena's elder brother stepped into the throne room to face his old foe. Valor forgot about the disgusting state of the room around him for a moment as he observed that something was very different about the teal-haired man since they last met.
"Of course this jerk would pick now to show up. Did he do this? Why does he look so exhausted and pale? He seemed fine when I bumped into him at the Creator's Spire. It must have something to do with that weird implant in his chest. I'm really not looking forward to finding out what happened here..."
"So you're the first one on the scene of the crime, huh? How fitting. I've done what you should've done years ago... I eliminated the instability that that woman brings to the status quo."
There was a glowing, spherical object that seemed to be bulging out of Matt's chest. Valor couldn't see clearly, but the outlines on Matt's shirt indicated that much of his skin was disfigured after being re-grafted around his new centrepiece. This was obviously more of Shaendru's handiwork.
"Stop showing off your vocabulary and tell me what happened here. And what the hell have you done to yourself? You're not cool or rich enough to become Iron Man."
"I told you exactly what happened here. I eliminated Harmony. Violently."
"And why did you do that? She was very much in love with you, if I recall correctly."
"That was what made it so easy to catch her in a moment of weakness."
"Okay, well, you didn't think this out very well. Now I'm going to kill you for what you did to her."
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you..." the renegade spoke as he leaned forward and stared toward the furious Elemental God. He tapped the glowing appendage that adorned his chest and chuckled as he shared some very important information.
"... if you kill me, the God Core that's hooked up to my heart will shut down."
"Tell me why I should care about that," Valor said as he materialized his gunblade and aimed it directly at Matt's head. The renegade continued to chuckle and laugh as he continued to be thoroughly amused by the situation. Eventually he started coughing and hacking out chunks of matter; Valor's presence had prematurely woken him up from his week-long slumber and he wasn't fully recovered yet. Still, he'd never pass up a chance to taunt his old enemy and made a threat that even Valor would respect.
"Because this world will end if it does."
James scoured the Lord of Flora's castle for any trace of Jeska and Tammy. He could feel his heart beating rapidly as he pushed himself to his limits, moving as fast as possible to interfere with the Mental Adjutant's plot. He didn't know why she was doing this but figured that she was in league with the renegades. If she was their insider that attended the summits then it made perfect sense why they were always one step ahead. The Darkness Adjutant fumed over the fact that the Eight Seats were being so easily manipulated and strung along into the renegades' plot.
"Whoever facilitated this entire ordeal is a genius. I can't even begin to fathom who the mastermind is. Jeska is pretty crafty but I don't see how she could organize something on this scale. There's no way it was Lee. Harmony is a maybe. Damn it, I'll just have to catch Jeska and find out from her."
James eventually descended to the castle's basement when it was the last area he had yet to check. The area was dark and needlessly large. Thanks to his Darkness Affinity, he had a 'night vision' ability that made everything appear clear as day to him. He moved past several wooden pillars that served as support until he finally came across a dimly lit area where he heard voices. Two figures were standing over a third person laid out on top of some sort of table or workbench. He identified the blonde girl on the table as Tammy and the red-haired woman standing over her was Jeska. The last person was draped in a white cloak so James wasn't able to see his face, but he quickly noted that the cloaked man was missing his right arm.
"Who's there?" Jeska asked, turning to see James had found them. She gave the well-dressed man a dirty look and stepped forward to impede his path. "I knew you were being too nosy for your own good."
"What are you doing to Tammy? Actually never mind that question, I've already figured out your plot. You've been brainwashing the other Adjutants, haven't you? I picked up that they've been acting strangely."
"I'm blown away by your powers of deduction. But it looks like no one else was since you came down here alone. Dumb move."
"... they know I'm here. Hieshi will be right behind me any moment now."
"Liar. You're clever, Jamie, but not very good at concealing the truth. You should be worrying about how you're going to escape alive instead of gloating about stumbling upon our plot. You're right, though. We've been brainwashing the other Adjutants. The only one in this castle that hasn't fallen under our control by now... is you."
"Why would you go to so much trouble to take control of the Adjutants?"
"We need an army. An Anomaly War is about to unfold between Lord Domino's archaic system and our leader's more extreme methods of preserving the world. Not everyone will be willing to make the necessary sacrifices so we're picking their side for them. While I would've happily served along the rest of you if it were beneficial in the long run, I'm succumbing to my basic desire to live and helping the renegades out."
"So you think the world is doomed if we continue with the God System. That's what this is all about? This isn't our decision to make, it's for Lord Domino and rest of the Eight Seats to decide."
"They've already decided, jerkoff."
"Okay then, mouthy one," James said as he materialized his rapier to threaten her. "You know you're no match for me in a fight. So I'll just drag you before Lord Domino so that you can repeat what you just told me. Oh and, by the way, tell your creepy friend to move away from Tammy and show me his face."
"What, you don't recognize me?" Jeska's cloaked accomplice asked. He stepped away from the table and reached for the hood that masked his identity. "I'm surprised that you can't even identify your fellow Darkness Adjutant, little James."
"... oh shit," James muttered in realization. The tall, cloaked man used his sole arm to pull back his hood and revealed his identity to the stunned onlooker. Long black hair dropped down and framed his pale, wicked face. James subconsciously took a step back as his instincts warned him to be incredibly cautious of the foe he was now faced with.
"So you do remember me. I'm flattered."
"How... how are you alive?" James asked between nervous gasps. "I read the report that you were killed in the human realm by Jack Scofield's son. I went there to verify it myself. All traces of your aura were gone. How could you sneak around for so long while evading detection from Hieshi and the other Gods?!"
"Let's forget about the how and why for a moment. Let's discuss now. You should've been more diligent in keeping an eye on my actions in the human realm. You allowed me and my Eclipse organization to roam about freely which gave me ample time to perfect my brainwashing technique on the local Anomalies. Now I've applied it to my ultimate goal of overthrowing the God System. I've decided to reward you for catching me in the final stages of my plot...
"... so since I can't re-educate you like the other Adjutants, I'll simply have you killed."
At Seth's command, Tammy leapt up from the table and dashed forward toward James. He knew it wasn't her fault, that she was being controlled, but he had to be relentless in his counter-attack so that he could warn the others. He aimed his rapier at her and fired a dagger-like bullet of darkness from the tip. It struck her in the left shoulder but went completely ignored as she materialized her own Affinity Arm; she was like a mindless drone with no regard for her own safety. She lashed her whip forward and coiled it around James' arm to prevent him from fleeing. He pulled back and attempted to overpower her when suddenly another female leapt out of the shadows and landed before him. She had long blonde hair and sported sunglasses even in the dimly lit basement of the castle. Another distinct feature about her was that she only wore a skintight bodysuit that left little to the imagination.
"Who is that!?" James thought as he attempted to escape Tammy's grasp. The stoic blonde drew a handgun from a unique holster on her opposite forearm and took several shots at the Darkness Adjutant while he was trapped. He received three bullets in the chest and became desperate, using his free hand to hurl his rapier into Tammy's stomach. The Flora Adjutant wasn't able to simply shrug off that wound and doubled over, allowing James to deal with the pistol-wielding mystery girl. He blocked her next shots using a shield of darkness and stepped back to get some distance. He struggled to catch his breath and utter a chant.
"Spider god, feast on the miserable insects that you ensnare within your webs. Stretch your legs and heed my call... ANANSI!"
The mighty spider Affinity Soul burst upward from the ground between James and his blonde assailant. She was bashed aside by one of the Affinity Soul's eight legs before she could react and summon her own. Tammy pulled the rapier out of her stomach and started to emit a green aura, indicating she was about to start her own chant. James mounted Anansi and directed the oversized spider to spray Tammy with paralyzing webbing, rendering her harmless for the time being.
"That was close..." he thought as Anansi bounded away and carried him toward the exit. "Damn, I was shot three times. I need to get back and warn my stepbrother before this chaotic scheme reaches its final act. I can't believe I ever doubted Hieshi and the others, when it was really Seth all along..."
Suddenly a chain wrapped around the spider's neck while it was in mid-leap and pulled it down to the ground. Jeska had materialized her own Affinity Arm, a lengthy flail with a blade at the end, and used it to lasso the cybernetic arachnid. James spitefully aimed his rapier in her direction, but Seth intercepted him. James's pale opponent smiled and materialized his own weapon: a lengthy pole with a single-edged blade at the end, called a glaive. The former Eclipse leader plunged the weapon into Anansi's back and bisected the arachnid with an emission of bladed dark energy.
"No!" James cried out for his Affinity Soul. He dove off at the last second in an attempt to preserve himself as the spider fell into two halves and exploded. The Darkness Adjutant rolled across the dusty floor of the cellar, suffering from the wounds in his chest as he strained to pick himself back up. He stared at his loyal pet's still-burning remains and felt despair wash over him after Seth's demonstration of his power. After a few seconds, the man who lived in the shadows emerged from the flames, unscathed, and smirked wickedly in James' direction.
"Seth... are you really reviving that plan? How did you get anyone onboard for this?!"
"It's simple to convince desperate beings to side against their own demise."
The throne room upstairs was shaken after Anansi's explosion rocked the castle. The five Elemental Gods that still resided within became alert after feeling the impact. Amara, Hieshi, Earnest, Sylvia, and Domino each exchanged glances as they underwent similar states of curiosity and dread. The Adjutants Adrian, Ulric, Brick, Koji, and Leila, reacted to the rumbling as well. The Plasma Adjutant, Leila, was the first to voice an opinion about what was transpiring outside.
"Something is exploding somewhere and I wish I was directly responsible."
"I'm going to guess that Lee and James' discussion regressed to a physical altercation," the Lord of Plasma said. "As if we all didn't see this coming."
"Lee..." Amara repeated her husband's name. "What is he doing? I don't understand him lately..."
"His time is up," Domino stated. He stood up and prepared to take action personally. "I know at least one of you is conspiring against the God System and now I'm sure that it's Lee. I'm going to drag him back and make an example of him. If any of you leave this room, you'll be replacing him as-"
The Lord of Darkness ignored his master's orders and leapt to the floor below. Lord Domino bellowed for the Adjutants to stop the now-rogue Elemental God. Ulric was the closest and moved to block his path, but Hieshi was swift enough to dash out the door before the armored Adjutant could get within an arm's length of him. Leila utilized her super speed to track the black-haired God but he threw up a barrier of darkness in the hallway to block her pursuit. She stopped just short of running directly into the black, translucent wall of dark energy and stomped her foot down in frustration.
"Tch... he's pretty slippery. Clearly he's the one conspiring against you, Lord Domino."
"Or perhaps not," Amara suddenly spoke up. The Lady of Mental stood up and looked down upon the Plasma Adjutant, continuing to speak in a declarative tone. "You let your guard down when you chased after Hieshi and I was able to catch a fragment of your thoughts. Lord Domino, Earnest and his Adjutant are plotting to overthrow you... right at this very moment!"
Just as James was pushed into a corner by Seth, another figure came rushing onto the scene. Lee made his way down into the cellar and quickly absorbed the situation. He immediately ran to James' side and faced off against Seth. The renegade smiled once again when the Lord of Light entered; his facial expressions often gave very little insight into what he was thinking. James apprehensively stepped away from the man who was badgering him just moments ago. Lee noticed James was eyeing him suspiciously and attempted to quell his doubts.
"What's wrong? Didn't think I'd chase you? Good thing I did since you led me straight to Seth," said the always-confident Elemental God. "My plan was to 'interrogate' you so that Lord Domino would let me free and give you the motivation to track down the true culprits for me. Worked out pretty well, right?"
"You didn't seem the least bit startled by Seth's presence..." James said. Just like during the summit, the Darkness Adjutant was very good at reading the reactions of others. He tightly gripped his rapier with his right hand, feeling consumed by pressure as he realized just how futile this situation was. Everything was starting to make sense now. The reason Seth was able to sneak around and get away with his schemes was because he had the assistance of one or more of the Elemental Gods. Furious at being set up, James spun around and jabbed toward the Lord of Light with his weapon.
"I knew you were involved in this, you bastard!"
James should've known he wouldn't stand a chance against one of his superiors. Lee snatched James' arm to prevent his attack from connecting before delivering a brutal response. Before James realized what was going on, he was impaled through the chest by the Lord of Light's cross-like Affinity Arm. The Darkness Adjutant's weapon clattered against the floor as he was lifted off of his feet as a result of Lee raising his weapon into the air and dragging him along with it. They stared into each other's eyes for a brief moment before James succumbed to the massive wound and choked out his last breath.
"I really wish I didn't have to do this, James... but it's for Amara. Sorry."
"Doing what's needed in order to save the world is virtuous. These dutiful followers of the God System don't realize that they'll bring ruin to this world. James' eyes could not be opened, so you spared him the pain of seeing his beliefs crumble to dust. Do not apologize to him; he died fighting for what he believed in."
Seth stopped commenting on the topic when he sensed a presence that disturbed him. His blonde minion in the bodysuit recovered from her earlier injury and dutifully returned to her master's side while he issued orders to the regretful Lord of Light.
"I sense a certain powerful being approaching so I'll leave him to you. Kat, Jeska, come with me. We're about to deliver a powerful message."
As Seth and his minions disappeared into the shadows, Lee was left with James' blood on his hands. Hieshi was the next to arrive on the scene. Seeing James impaled at the end of Lee's weapon was almost exactly what he feared he would discover. He continually had denied that his best friend would ever be capable of such a despicable act, but there was no arguing with the horrible truth that stood before him. Unable to explain or justify his own actions, Lee turned to face Hieshi with an apathetic look on his face.
"Oops. My hand slipped."
The Lady of Mental drew her own unique Affinity Arm: a wide sword with multiple ridges protruding from each side. It looked as if it were composed from many parts collapsed together and anyone on the receiving end of the tortuous weapon would surely regret it. She took flight and burst toward a stunned Leila, who was in no position to fight back against her superior. Amara kept an eye on Earnest to see if he would interfere with the attack on his subordinate. He remained seated and watched as Amara was counter-attacked by a different surprise assailant: Sylvia.
The Lady of Magma collided with Amara and launched her toward the ground with a powerful stomp. Amara grunted as she rolled onto her back and lashed her blade upward, separating the metallic parts that bound it together. Sylvia was ensnared by the threads and cords contained within the trap weapon and dragged to the floor to join the other goddess.
"Sylvia, you're in on this too?! Why?"
"I don't necessarily have a problem with the current system, but with those who support it."
"Don't bring personal feelings into something that affects everyone!"
"Lord Domino, we have to-aanngh!" Amara cried out as she was suddenly blasted into the side by Brick's wrist-mounted cannons. She glanced over to see that the remaining Adjutants in the room also seemed to be gathering on Sylvia and Earnest's side. Her attempt to erect a telekinetic shield and defend herself was interrupted as she was pushed into Ulric's clutches by the beams of light. The armored Adjutant crushed the Lady of Mental against the ground with a single drop of his right arm. Even someone of Amara's caliber was knocked senseless by the Magma Adjutant's colossal strength.
"What should we do with her?" Leila asked as she approached Amara's unconscious body. "She'd never join our cause. Should we finish her off?"
"Leave her be," Earnest said as he joined Leila, Sylvia, and the others on the ground floor of the throne room. "Lee will only work with us if we don't harm her."
"... it's a bit late for that."
"Are you the ringleader behind this little revolution?" Domino asked of Earnest. "You claimed to respect me, but it seems you only seek to undermine my authority and devotion to this system."
"I do respect you, Lord Domino, but the world will not heal if we simply sit and wait."
"Earnest, Sylvia..." the old man sorrowfully spoke their names as he looked over the crowd of traitors that stood beneath him. Leila, Koji, Brick, Ulric, and Adrian were all supporting the rogue pair of Elemental Gods. He was very shocked that some of those level-headed Adjutants would choose such a chaotic path and realized that James was right about foul play being involved. Now he was forced to punish many loyal subjects that he'd fondly looked after as if they were his own grandchildren.
"... this is regrettable. None of you will survive my onslaught."
"You honestly think I'm the ringleader?" the Lord of Plasma asked. "You know that I don't possess the skills to pull all of this off. But I can introduce you to the man who set this up. You may remember him..."
Earnest, Sylvia, and the Adjutants all stepped to the side as Seth, along with Kat and Jeska, stepped through the entranceway into the throne room. The true puppetmaster behind recent events grinned as he was once again face-to-face with the old man who shot down his ideals and cast him out of the eight seats. He stood in the center of the room and cast out his arm as he announced his ambition to the Lord of Flora.
"Your foolish subjects have finally become desperate enough to recognize my greatness, Sir Domino. I shall now lead them on a glorious crusade to save this world via the methods that you renounced. Your tired and archaic God System crumbles here."
"Seth. Do you really intend to sacrifice all of the citizens of Colonia?"
"No, I'm going to save them."
In the Land of Vapor, Sophie faced off against Leah atop the great bridge that led to Harmony's Castle. Leah's back was facing the castle while Sophie's back faced her three remaining allies: Ash, Quinton, and Yoshino. The Vapor Adjutant was resting her scythe against the ground to help prop herself up; many of her ribs were cracked or broken after receiving a gravity-powered punch from her prior bout with Leena. Sophie was unscathed from her previous fight, save for some foam that Shaendru sprayed on her in order to suppress her fire form. Judging by Leah's wounded state, the Magma Anomaly was certain that she would be able to overpower her.
"I hope striking Leena down felt good, because it's the last victory you'll ever savor."
"It's the avenging best friend now, huh," Leah said. She'd sobered up somewhat after revelling in her bloody victory. Even with her goal achieved, she had no intention of letting herself be killed by these people. "I thought we've already established that you're no match for me. Why don't you be a good little girl and go home?"
"I'm going to tear you apart," Sophie said, completely ignoring the blonde woman's warnings. "I don't care what you say or what excuses you make. I don't care if you're injured. I don't care how you justify your violent crusade against my innocent friend. This is the second time I've lost the most precious person in the world to me... and this injustice will not go unpunished."
"Hah! Innocent?! It was Leena Booker herself that took away my most precious-"
"You don't know what you're talking about. I was informed-"
"Then you were lied to." Sophie had interrupted her once again. Leah's expression changed once she realized how unwilling Sophie was to listen to reason. It was the exact same way she acted when she first confronted Leena and Sophie in Tempest City. She'd already made up her mind on what she was going to do at that point and nothing would deter her. She had decided she'd kill the person who took away her best friend's life. Now Sophie stood before her and made that same choice.
It was only now that Leah finally realized that she'd ripped open the gateway to a terrible, violent cycle. She looked down at Leena's blood on her hands and felt sick. Seeing the vengeful scowl that was twisted across Sophie's face was like finally having a chance to look into a mirror. She'd become so consumed with taking revenge for the past that she never looked toward the future.
"What... have I done...?"
"I already told you that I don't care about your excuses," the brunette said as she began to march toward the renegade. She materialized her gauntlets and clenched her fists, triggering the mechanism that sprouted claws from atop her knuckles. "No matter what you or any of my comrades do to try and stop me, I'm going to kill you."
"Sophie, you can't take her alone," Ash cautioned her. He and Quinton attempted to join her but were met with resistance. Sophie cautioned them to stay away with a few poorly-aimed fireballs. The redheaded APS member quickly became irritated with Sophie's behavior and yelled toward her.
"Bitch, you've gone effing crazy!"
"I said to stay out of this."
"Now, now," Yoshino said as she walked up and held the two men back. "Just let her vent it out. This is the path she seems determined to follow."
Sophie ignited both of her arms in flame and charged toward the renegade, letting out a furious scream as she did. Leah wondered why the Magma Anomaly didn't assume her full fire form, but it would be the same end result either way. She raised her right arm and summoned a geyser of water from the ravine below. It burst through the bridge and struck Sophie from below, launching her into the air.
She was nearly flung off of the giant stone structure but managed to hang onto the railing and pull herself back up. She kept an eye on Leah as she advanced again, knowing that the Vapor Anomaly's gestures would allude to the type of attack that was incoming. Just like with their battle in Tempest City, the renegade had the elemental advantage. However, Sophie had the edge when it came to raw strength. She figured it was time to abuse her ability to increase her muscle strength. Increasing the strength of her legs allowed her to move super-fast and dodge Leah's subsequent attempts to pelt her with water bullets. She finally closed in on the blonde, who raised her scythe as a last resort to deal with the furious brunette.
Sophie caught the polearm of the deadly weapon before Leah had a chance to dig it into her flesh. The avenging Anomaly increased the muscle strength of her left arm next. She powerfully pulled the renegade's weapon inward and yanked her off of her feet. As Leah fell forward, Sophie kneed her in the chest before backhanding her across the head with her gauntlet. Leah rolled across the ground in recoil from the hit, struggling to get her bearings. She slapped her palm against the ground, summoning a barrage of tiny water pellets created from what was already strewn about the bridge. Each small projectile homed in on Sophie and pelted her, but she uncaringly walked right through them in pursuit of her quarry.
Leah, still woozy from the blow to her head, began to feel pressured by the Magma Anomaly's unrelenting pursuit. A bluish aura emanated from her body, signaling the forthcoming appearance of her Affinity Soul.
"My guardian beast, appear on the battlefield and punish my enemies with your frozen breath. Let the doomed ones gaze upon your majestic form... FENRIR!"
The wolf Affinity Soul emerged from a crystal-like cocoon of ice that formed next to its master. The quadruped wasted no time in identifying its target and leapt toward Sophie. It bared its fangs and bit down on Sophie's left leg. She screamed in pain and attempted to free herself from the beast's jaws by slamming her claws into its upper back. It bucked and released her by flinging her aside. The wounded wolf crouched down low as Sophie ignored the state of her leg and attempted to right herself. Her struggle was interrupted as Leah recovered and once again pestered the brunette with water bullets in order to keep her off-balance.
"Face it! No matter how pissed off you are, you're simply outclassed by me!"
Fenrir released its signature freezing breath to augment its master's proficiency with water, quickly freezing the parts of Sophie's body where she'd been splashed. She kept her teeth clenched shut as she was stung intensely by the ice and tried to figure out how to fight back. She was still unable to assume her fire form and any attempts to use her Affinity would be quickly doused. Her leg was in bad shape so she wasn't able to simply charge through the aquatic barrage that was keeping her down. At this rate, she'd be completely frozen before long.
"I will not give up here. She won't get her way ever again. To avenge Leena, I have to channel all of my hatred for this woman into creating my ultimate weapon!"
A ring of fire appeared around Sophie that seemingly served to protect her from Leah and Fenrir's attacks. Leah initially didn't believe that her water bullets could be stopped and increased her rate of fire, but soon noticed they were evaporating just before making contact; the mysterious flames shielding Sophie were very potent. Sophie shakily got to her feet and glared toward the renegade. Furthermore, her body was emitting a reddish aura and everyone present knew what that symbolized.
"She's finally summoning her own..." Ash gasped. He had started to think that Sophie wouldn't catch up with the rest of them since she despised her powers so much. He, Quinton, and Yoshino backed away from the intense flames that scorched each of them. Yoshino didn't seem entirely pleased by the arrival of Sophie's new power.
"An Affinity Soul born not from determination, but pure rage and hatred... what good can it do? Perhaps we shouldn't have let her fight alone, after all."
"You're the one who said to let her vent," Quinton said. "Make up your mind, you bossy wench."
"Dash through the war-torn fields and swiftly eliminate those who dare to step in your path. Arrive at my side in a burst of brilliant flame... SABA!" Sophie cried out the chant to summon her own beast at long last. The flames that encircled her gathered together and took the physical form of a striped tiger Affinity Soul. The feline was comparable in size to Fenrir, but breathed hot ash and had eyes of flame. Leah and her pet cautiously surveyed the new threat but weren't too afraid of another fire-wielding entity on the battlefield.
"You're still playing at a disadvantage, even with that oversized kitten."
"We'll see," Sophie responded. Leah unleashed another flurry of water bullets that were again evaporated when Saba let out a mighty roar accompanied by a wave of flames. The Adjutant was taken aback by how intense the tiger's firepower was and sent Fenrir ahead to deal with it instead. The wolf dashed forward and dove through the air to engage Saba, but was bashed away by a single swipe of the tiger's front paw. Leah let out a shocked gasp when she saw her Affinity Soul dealt with in such a swift manner.
"How... can it be so powerful...?"
"Tigers can take down most other beasts in the animal kingdom, even lions, with ease," Ash stated. He was less shocked than his fellow Vapor Anomaly since he knew this fact. "There's no contest if we're just talking about the animals they're based on."
"This is a world where freakin' worms can gobble up wolves in a single bite," Quinton dryly reminded him. Yoshino shook her head at her companions' chatter and offered up her own observation.
"I'd say the power gap is simply because Saba is fueled by Sophie's rage right now."
Saba prepared to unleash another wave of scorching flame upon Leah, who wasn't able to dodge agilely thanks to her battered physical state. The renegade figured she needed to increase her output of water to stand against the beast. After collecting as much water from the environment around them as possible, she unleashed a mighty geyser forth from her palm. Leah's water blast collided with the flame that Saba spewed with neither outright overpowering the other. A large amount of steam was generated as a result, blanketing the bridge and obscuring everyone's vision.
"Damn, can't see...!" Leah thought as she continued to hold her ground against the mighty tiger. "I can't believe I'm being outmatched by a creature with the Magma Affinity. I might have to- wait, she's-"
Leah's detection skills didn't give her enough time to react since she was focusing on fighting off Saba's fiery breath. Sophie had used the steam as cover to close in and successfully managed to stab her right set of claws into the renegade's torso. The blonde kicked the brunette away and collapsed backward, now suffering from four separate puncture wounds just above her gut. Sophie recovered quickly and pursued the renegade, who rolled away and cried out for Fenrir. The wolf recovered and dashed into the fog to its master's side. It sprayed ice at Sophie, forcing her to guard, as Leah weakly climbed onto its back. She wrapped her arms around Fenrir to secure herself before the wolf turned and leapt over the side of the bridge into the ravine below.
"You will not escape! Do you hear me?! I'll chase you to the ends of this world!" Sophie screamed as her enemy retreated from sight. She limped toward the railing of the bridge but realized she wasn't getting anywhere fast in her condition and called for Saba. She mounted the tiger in a similar fashion as Leah did with Fenrir and prepared to pursue. Meanwhile, the steam had started to clear up and gave the onlookers a good view of what Sophie was planning to do.
"Wait, Sophie! Don't chase her," Ash insisted as he dashed forward with concern. "The bottom of that ravine is filled with water, you'll be leaping into a death trap. Plus, we can't cover you if you're down-"
"I never asked you to cover for me," she shot back. "I told you I'll do this alone. I thank you for looking out for me, Ash, but let's face the truth here. I've changed a lot during those three years we were apart. I've always cursed these powers we've been given but I'm still going to use them to finish that renegade off. And after that... I'm not coming back."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll take Leah's place after I kill her. That's what my mystery texter wanted me to do from the beginning. He involved me again by putting Leena in danger and rekindled my hatred for Anomalies. And, with her gone, there's no reason for me to stay on this side anymore. I want to help purge Anomalies from this tragic existence we've fallen into."
"You can't mean that, Sophie..." Ash gasped. A single tear ran down her cheek as she bid farewell to her comrades and leapt over the railing in pursuit of Leah. Ash ran to the edge and yelled after her even though he knew it would serve no purpose. "Sophie!"
"Shit, I was right when I said she's gone crazy," Quinton said as he joined Ash in looking down at the ravine below. "Screw this! Just summon your giant-ass squid thing and snatch her up, yo!"
"My Affinity Soul sustained too much damage earlier, damn it. Yoshino, what should we-"
"There's nothing to do. I saw this coming and so did you," the Light Adjutant interrupted him. As much as Ash didn't want to admit it, he knew she was right. He'd tried but he knew he couldn't change what was in Sophie's heart. Yoshino continued to provide a cold, but calm, voice of reason to the other two.
"You'd better prepare yourselves. We may have to strike her down as an enemy the next time we meet..."
"Explain yourself," Valor said in response to Matt's claim that the world would end. He aimed his gunblade at the Gamma Anomaly and narrowed his eyes, desperately wanting to fire and eliminate the stain on his past. The teal-haired man simply chuckled and continued to taunt his hated rival.
"You'll find out what I mean firsthand, eventually."
"Perhaps not. I trust you haven't forgotten that your Affinity, your original Affinity anyway, is Solid. That makes you my vessel. A vessel can never attack the source of their power, no matter the circumstances."
"Oh I haven't forgotten," Matt said. In a confident move, he turned his back to Valor and prepared to leave the bloodstained throne room. As soon as Valor took a step forward to prevent his quarry from fleeing, Mia burst through the floor and engaged him with one of her wrist-mounted blades. Valor blocked using his own weapon and stared into the Alpha Anomaly's hazy green eyes.
"Mia! Why have you allied yourself with him?!"
"My accomplice's brainwashing ability really does come in handy," Matt answered the question in Mia's stead. "I'll let the Alpha Anomaly keep you busy while I head out to test my awesome new power. We'll settle our score later. Much later, heh heh."
"Damn you, get back here!" Valor yelled as he was forced back by Mia. She was a formidable foe that the Lord of Solid hoped he'd never have to face again in battle. "This is bad. She's an opponent I'll need to go all-out to defeat. I won't be able to focus on keeping Phalanx trapped if I do... meaning I'm going to have to deal with both of them! I pray that everyone is safe, because I won't be making it back anytime soon..."
Sophie cut off Leah's path of escape by launching a sizable fireball into the water ahead of the renegade's path. Fenrir was forced to stop when the water erupted before them and made it impossible to continue using its freezing breath to create a path along the river. Sophie and Saba had caught up quickly by dashing along the side of the riverbed. The wounded renegade looked toward Sophie, who still wore a furious look on her tear-soaked face.
"Leave me alone."
"You don't get to just run away from what you did."
"Ugh..." Leah was out of excuses and her wounds were too severe for her to put up any significant resistance. She dropped into the water and sought refuge on the other side of the river, leaving her pet to deal with the Magma Anomaly. Even though Fenrir was no match for Saba, it still pounced forward in order to cover for its master. Sophie stabbed into Fenrir's chest as it descended upon her and allowed herself to be scratched by the wolf's metallic claws. The pain only fueled Sophie's rage further as she also stabbed her second set of claws into the beast's chest in order to immobilize it. With her weapons still gouged into the Affinity Soul, she opened her hands and combusted the air between them in order to forge another fireball. Leah had just clambered onto the other side of the riverbed when she turned and saw Fenrir blown to bits by Sophie's brutal, point-blank attack.
"Stop this..." Leah pleaded as she watched her precious Affinity Soul burst and explode before her eyes. Sophie collected the flames that were emitted from Fenrir's destruction and forged it into a destructive projectile that she held over her head, readying herself to sentence Leah to death. She told herself that she wouldn't hesitate like she did in the past when she looked into the wounded renegade's terrified eyes. She could see that Leah was misled and regretted what she'd done.
But that didn't matter now. Nothing could undo what had been done to Leena.
Sophie felt a slight pain in her chest but shrugged it off as impending guilt over the choice she was about to make. The pain seemed to get worse until she snapped out of her murderous trance and realized that she wasn't imagining it. She glanced down to see a several spears of ice had protruded from the frozen river and gouged through her. Her entire body was already so numb from the cold that she'd hardly realized it. She stared in disbelief at the sneak attack for a brief second before looking back at Leah, who seemed just as surprised as she was.
"Leah didn't do this? But then, who? … ugh... I should've listened to..."
The spears of ice that impaled Sophie melted quickly thanks to the fiery sphere that she was holding up. She lost the strength to throw it and collapsed off of Saba's back, crashing through the surface of the frozen river below. The fireball fell after her, erupting and creating a mighty splash when it struck the water. Leah was drenched by the brief rainfall that ensued, staring on in utter bewilderment of what had just happened.
The cliffside suddenly opened up like a doorway and Matt, with his right arm outstretched, stepped onto the scene. Thanks to his stance, Leah quickly realized that he was the culprit who used the Vapor Affinity to attack Sophie. Saba roared out and moved to strike down the Gamma Anomaly in vengeance for its master. Matt clenched his fist and thrust it upward, commanding the rushing water to rise up and consume the Affinity Soul. The wailing tiger was dragged underwater while the man with teal hair coldly looked on.
"I told her that I wasn't finished with her. She failed to kill the Creator and jeopardized everything we've been working toward. She put her feelings for my sister before everything else and, thus, was a liability."
"Wh-why did you save me after what I did...?"
"I still have a use for you. But, more importantly, I wanted to test out my new powers."
"Did you... steal Lady Harmony's powers?"
"I'm now an Elemental God, just as I rightly should've been. But this is just a small stepping stone toward my true ambition. I will ascend even further and save this rotten world from itself. And Sophie, who clung to my sister so tightly, can wait for her... at the bottom of the river."
Vol. 2 Fin
Next Volume: Beginnings
- The artificial continent of Colonia has just opened to the public and many young people have ventured forth to be a part of the new world. This includes Ryan Valor, Mia Auria, Sam "Ace" Chambers, Matt Booker, and even Seth. Witness their stories from the beginning as they are absorbed into the Anomaly Project and lose control of their otherwise normal lives. When they realize they've been turned into human weapons, will they choose to revel in their newfound power or seek a greater purpose at the cost of isolating themselves from everyone they care about?