One week later…

"—There's a theory by scientists to why the Colossus manifest in our world in such colossal sizes, and that theory is based on the possible home world that these beings live in. Let me make a comparison."

Professor Jackman pressed her remote and lowered the projector screen that then displayed pictures of marine life on a slideshow.

"When marine biologists capture deep sea creatures from their natural habitat, they discover that these same creatures sometimes increase in size due the amount of the hydraulic pressure being reduced significantly from their bodies and the gases that expand inside them. And because of these significant changes, the creatures die quickly as a result."

Switching to pictures of Colossus beings, Professor Jackman continued by saying, "Now, to compare this to the Colossus, scientists theorize that these beings come from a world where gravity is many times greater than that of Earth, similar to the pressurized environment deep sea creatures live in. So, when one manifests in our world, their size increases many times to that of their original size and the lack of gravitational pressure prevents their cores from maintaining their structure. With their cores destabilizing, it is only a matter of time before the Colossus self-destructs and thousands, even tens of thousands of lives are lost in the process."

Images then appeared of the ground zero areas of Washington DC, Paris and Madrid.

"Yes, it is true that the self-destruction of a Colossus does not destroy the entire city, but the radioactive-like emissions that come from the explosion does cause the city to be completely uninhabitable. We, as Americans, are fortunate enough that the emissions from the first Colossus invasion did not devastate the entire Washington DC area and that we were able to rebuild some of our lost historical landmarks at a nearby location. However, cities like Moscow and Beijing were not as fortunate. Therefore, you all, as Champions, must fight the Colossus, not just to save humanity, but also our planet. It is your duty, it is your cause, it is our lives.

"Please, turn to page one-hundred three on your tablets, so we can now discuss the biology of the Colossus."

Ryan always found Professor Jackman's lectures very captivating, always ending them in a short speech about the cause of the Champions and why they were necessary for the continued existence humanity and planet Earth. He especially enjoyed one lecture about how Champions defeat a Colossus by comparing it to how fish can either survive in saltwater or freshwater through the process of osmosis. When Champions dismantle a Colossus's armor and attack its core, the Strikers specifically reduce the concentration of light by creating opening on the core's barrier that allow light to escape at a safe level, equalizing the light concentration of the Colossus to its surroundings and preventing self-destruction. This was like how fish used osmosis to maintain equal salt concentrations of their bodies to the water and Jackman ended that part of the lecture by stating that Champions were the literal equalizing force that prevented the Colossus from self-destructing and united humanity as one equal whole.

Ryan rarely was bored or distracted from her lectures, however for a full week Ryan had been distracted from not only Professor Jackman's class, but the rest of his classes as well. Especially today since Chris told him that he had a surprise waiting for Ryan after his classes and even training session ended. It was all Ryan could think about, and the minutes felt longer than usual as the class continued.

So, when class finally ended, Ryan was the first one to exit the huge lecture hall and as he walked back to the dormitories, he felt his anxiety start up. With his heart starting to beat faster and his body temperature beginning to rise, he worried about meeting Chris again at his penthouse the closer he walked to the dormitories. He was still recovering somewhat from the knowledge that Chris still wanted to see Ryan despite what Chris told him just a week ago. It felt like it was an ending when Chris said that he did not want to see Ryan again, that was of course right before Chris sucked him off and gave him the best orgasm he ever had in his lifetime.

Ryan still remembered waking up in the penthouse that was completely illuminated by the morning's sun and lying on the couch that form-fitted both him and Chris who he was still holding with his arms. As he yawned, he felt Chris turn around and then they were face to face. Ryan was worried that this was the moment when Chris was going to say that he regretted everything that happened between them last night, but the smile on his face told him otherwise.

They continued to look at each other, in silence, with Ryan admiring the strong, defined features of Chris's face and wondering how it was possible for someone so handsome to exist in the human form. He then felt Chris's hand on his cheek, his thumb brushing along the contour of his cheekbone as he looked sleepily into Ryan's eyes like he was watching something entrancing or enlightening. Then with his hand pulling on Ryan's hair, Chris moved his face forward and they kissed. And man was it a kiss.

The kiss felt walking into a warm room after hours of spending in the frigid cold, or landing back onto the ground after being anxiously in an airplane that traveled halfway across the world. Ryan did not know how deprived he was without something so simple as a kiss, but when their lips reunited, it was all Ryan wanted most of all. With their lips becoming wet and the heat of their passionate kiss rising once again, Ryan knew that things will only get better form there.

So, as Ryan entered the dormitories and typed in the right code to the elevator that led to Chris's penthouse, he told himself that there was nothing to worry about and that this meeting that Chris had planned will only be good. Ryan then wondered if he should have brought something, like a flower or a card since this could have been a date. Or was that too much?

Ryan scratched his head, telling himself not to overthink things as the elevator door opened and he was introduced to the short hallway of Chris's penthouse. Taking a deep breath, Ryan exited the elevator and walked the short trek through the hallway and entered the living room area of the penthouse where Chris was. He was sitting on the couch with an arm stretched out on the back as he was watching the news.

"How long were you going to keep me waiting?" Chris asked without turning his head.

"Oh, sorry! I just got out of class and I came as fast as I could—"

Chris turned his head and with a smirk said, "Calm down, Ryan. I'm not mad."

Blushing, Ryan smiled and said, "Oh…I knew that."

"Sure, you did," Chris said, chuckling. Patting his hand on the couch, he said, "Come here and sit with me."

Ryan nodded and sat down next to Chris who was wearing just a plain, white shirt and black jogging pants. He looked like he just came out of the shower with his hair looking like dewy grass on a morning day. Also looking relaxed, this was a definite change of energy that Chris usually emitted since the first time that they encountered each other. Ryan was too humble to believe that it was maybe because of him that Chris had a better aura around him…or it could have just been the extended vacation that he had.

Looking at the screen of the television, Ryan saw the aftermath of a category five hurricane that just struck the state of Florida just a couple of days ago. Massive flooding, fallen down trees and widespread power outages made Ryan grateful that he did have to experience any of that either in New York City or Washington DC.

"I feel sorry for those people," Chris said as he turned up the volume.

"Yeah…me too," Ryan empathized.

"There's actually a theory that is trying to explain the influx of natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes around the world," Chris suggested.

"You mean other than that it's the end of the world," Ryan joked.

Chris chuckled and said, "Possibly. But another explanation states that Maria could be the reason."

"Really? Do you mind explaining?" Ryan asked, turning his body to face Chris.

"Not at all." Adjusting his seating position, Chris continued by saying, "Maria's body is currently being held at a top-secret facility somewhere in an undisclosed location, most likely in the Philippines, but I could be wrong. Through decades of observations, scientists have discovered a correlation between the rise and fall of natural disasters over the decade with the opening and closing of Maria's eyes."

Ryan's eyes widened in response to that. "Really?"

Chris nodded, his eyes still on the television screen. "For some reason, Maria's eyes gradually open and then reclose over the span of a decade, and scientists matched a graph of that with the graph of the natural disaster levels, and they look almost completely identical. It's all just speculation, but if it's true that this phenomenon relates to what is currently happening in the world, this means that Maria has more power than we have ever thought before."

"Wow," Ryan muttered. "If it is true…Maria is kind of like the moon and its effect on high and low tides back on Earth."

"Good comparison. Yeah, currently her eyes are more than halfway closed and the rise of natural disasters is not the only thing that this phenomenon is affecting."

"What else?"

"I don't know about the average node, but my most powerful node has been extracted directly from Maria's body, now the embodiment of the last surviving sacred treasure as you already know. And ever since I have been implanted with that node, the amount of power that I can summon from it, though still a lot, has been decreasing at the same rate that Maria's eyes have been closing. To relay back to your moon comparison, the moon's influence of the Earth is most powerful when its full and least powerful when it's a new moon. Maybe Maria's eyes are having a similar effect on my node, and possibly that node is having a similar effect on my nooks, exacerbating the side effects of them. I don't know."

Ryan furrowed his eyebrows. "Is…Is there a reason you're telling me all of this, Chris?"

Turning off the television with his remote control, Chris turned his body toward Ryan and said, "I…I just wanted to make sure that you know everything about me that involves my nodes…to give you a reason to why I originally wanted to break things off before it got…too serious, you know? I won't blame you if you want to leave now since I'm a total mess with a lot of baggage and—"

Ryan ended what Chris was going to say next with a firm kiss on Chris's lips. Chris was surprised by the kiss, retracting slightly, but he soon leaned forward and deepened the kiss between the two of them. Ryan then combed his fingers through Chris's wet hair before departing their lips and looking at Chris directly in the eyes.

"Chris…try as you might, you're not going to rid of me."

"I wasn't trying to get of rid you, Ryan. I just wanted you to know that I'll understand that if you want to leave, then you can and—"

"I know. And I want you to understand that regardless of how messed up and you claim to be, I also see a smart, sensitive…and very sexy man right in front of me and no amount of you trying to persuade me to think otherwise is going to change that," Ryan explained without breaking eye contact with Chris.

Ryan was surprised by the words that came out of his mouth since just moments ago he was panicking about meeting Chris again and how things between them could have ended right then. However, the words that he just spoke were so true and real, and maybe that's the reason why they came out so easily and with such confidence. Ryan still was not sure about his impact on Chris, but he definitely knew that Chris had a huge impact on him, the connection that they were sharing making him a stronger, more assertive person overall.

After a moment of silence, Chris smiled. "I like you too."

Ryan chuckled and gave Chris another kiss, a light one before saying, "So…you said you had a surprise for me?"

"Oh, yeah! I almost forgot. I'll be right back," Chris said before standing up and walking to the direction of his bedroom.

As he waited, Ryan redirected his attention to the news that was now covering Brazil and Nigeria and how these two countries could soon become members of HERO and establish their own Champion division as well. As the reporter stated, this is mostly due to both countries' people promoting new methods to the organization, like the Brazilian people researching ways to combatting the Colossus more effectively by merging it with their own style of martial arts and the Nigerian people who recommended synchronizing Champions' movements while on the battlefield that would enable better teamwork between Champions based on a form of synchronized dance originating from their country.

The news then talked about people from different regions around the world exhibiting unique attributes and abilities with their nodes made Ryan wonder if there were other people who played a role in creating what this world was today in such a way like Maria. For example, the people of Hesperides, otherwise known as Greece, Turkey and Egypt possess a unique ability called wind that allowed them to charge their nodes and redirect that energy to their weapons to deliver extra damage to their opponents. And the people of Sweden, Norway and Denmark that formed the alliance called Himinbjörg could create very damaging waves of energy from just the swing of their weapons via their nodes as well. Could the Greek god, Zeus, and the Norse god, Thor, be the reason for why these people possessed these unique talents?

And the people of India were very unique as well since they could be implanted with a node on the center of their foreheads that allowed them to have greater enhanced sight compared to a normal Champion. What explanation could there be other than otherworldly forces influencing the world in a way that caused these unique characteristics to appear today in certain groups like the people of India, Hesperides and Himinbjörg. Who knew, at least for now?

"Hey, Ryan!"

Ryan turned his eyes from the television screen to Chris who was holding what looked like another board game, except for the fact that the cover art looked like the page of a comic book. This instantly caused Ryan to stand up and walk to Chris with curiosity filling his mind.

"Whoa. Is that a new board game?" Ryan asked.

"Not any board game," Chris said elatedly as he walked to the coffee table and placed the game down. "I know you like comic books with superheroes in them, so I thought that this game would be perfect for us to play together."

Ryan kneeled to his knees at the coffee table with Chris right beside him as he unboxed the board game. "I didn't think a board game like that existed."

"Me neither. Then I did some research online and this appeared as one of the top search results. The basis of this game is that you use these comic book panel-like tiles to form your own superhero story, all the while trying to prevent the supervillain from interrupting your story with their own tiles and making the ending suit their diabolical goal. You get to create your own superheroes and supervillains as well and this can really fuel your creativity, making you even want to create your own comic book… What do you think?"

Ryan looked at Chris and with a big smile said, "This is awesome!"


"Definitely! Can we play now?" Ryan asked eagerly.

Smiling back, Chris said, "Of course."

So, as they opened the bags that contained the tiles and laid them out on the coffee table, Chris turned to Ryan who was examining the rulebook and said, "And Ryan?"

Looking up, Ryan said, "Yeah?"

Leaning forward and giving a light kiss on Ryan's lips, Chris said, "Thank you."

Ryan wondered what Chris meant by that, but then smiled and said, "Of course."