Chapter 79 - A New Day
- Aug 18, 2018
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Chapter 79 – A New Day
They were like transparent pillars in a great, unholy palace. The dark gray plating on the floor and ceiling greatly contrasted the white tile that the rest of the facility displayed. Most of them were empty, but several of them bubbled ominously with lumps in varying levels of development floating inside.
A long hall of green cylinders greeted Step upon entering the main lab. Ten floors underground, past a long hallway, into a dimly lit room. Step looked between the empty cylinders, a scowl on her face. The urge to destroy every last one made her tail twitch and her claws flex, but her daughters and her mate kept telling her to hold off and focus on what mattered.
One of the cylinders was full of a thick liquid. Floating inside, curled with its wings wrapped around its tiny body, was a Noibat. She puffed a small cloud of ice at the container, enough to get his attention. But it didn’t care, curling back up.
“So, this is another mutant, still in its larval stage? Is that what you are?” Step asked, but it either did not hear or did not care. “Fine, ignore me.” And it did.
Mom, are you okay? Cent asked. You’ve been really… um, you know, agitated. Like, craaazy agitated.
It’s not that bad, is it? Kana added. Like, we cheat death all the time, kinda. We should be across the aura sea.
Ra was next. Step, what are you trying to accomplish by going down here? Destroying these things wouldn’t help anyone right now. We could use this army to fight Dark Matter.
That, Step said, is why they still stand. The sole reason I have not reduced the entire southeast of Kilo into a new tundra.
Geez, Mom, bring it down a few notches, Kana said. This is all kinds of extra.
I just need to see what we’re dealing with, and—Step abruptly stopped and turned her attention to the right. The aura felt familiar, but two things were odd about it. Firstly, unlike all of the other Pokémon in these incubation cylinders, this Pokémon was being formed into a fully evolved state. And second, the aura suggested there was a piece of Mysticism already within it—but a small amount. A Hunter.
It was small and lumpy, more like something vaguely plant-like. Draped in a thick, purple veil and hiding some vulnerable center, it vaguely reminded Step of a Cheri Berry.
Step approached the cylinder to get a closer look, making sure the tiny form wasn’t actually of something familiar. She wasn’t that knowledgeable about all the species of the land; this one, perhaps she’d encountered one long ago, but the name escaped her.
Thankfully, Cent knew. What’s so special about that Cherrim, Mom?
It’s a Hunter, I think.
Eh? In there? Weird.
Nevren walked down the hall, head cocked to the side.
Step grumbled and backed away from the cylinder. “Who is this?”
“Hm? Just another mutant, I imagine,” Nevren said, and then motioned behind him. “I finished my headcount, if you’d like a report.”
Step eyed the cylinder suspiciously, but with everything going on, this was the least of her problems. And he was right—she wanted to know if there were any mutants she would have to take care of. “Go on.”
Nevren motioned for her to follow, which she did, out of the cylinder chambers and back into the halls of Quartz HQ. “Seven mutants are still unaccounted for,” Nevren said. “A trio and two duos.”
“Unaccounted. What does that mean?” Step said. “That they aren’t in the facility, and are therefore running rampant somewhere in Kilo?”
“According to the aura logs, one pair had left recently, perhaps yesterday. Another had been missing for quite a while—he could be anywhere in Kilo by now. And the last pair, there’s no log of them being gone for longer than the day. A recent disappearance.”
“Your mutant escapes are so commonplace that you have to track and log their auras?” Step said with a snarl.
“Yes. As I said before, it’s not ideal, but it’s also the only way we could have fixed the issue with their slipping sanity now and then. If we notice a mutant has gone missing, we simply recover them.”
“I believe a proper solution would be to simply kill them.”
“Ah, that would also be useful,” Nevren said, nodding.
Step stared, wide eyed for only a second, before she returned to her original snarl. “You don’t even care about them?!”
“I care about them deeply,” Nevren replied. “Killing them would deliver them back to the Reincarnation Chamber. It seems that despite everything, that is still operational. Quite curious.”
“Reincarnation—” Step stopped herself, still wondering what part of Nevren she was supposed to be outraged about. The fact that Nevren was cheating death so easily—something about that angered her to her very core—or how nonchalant he was about it all.
In the back of her mind, it seemed hypocritical, since nearly everyone among them had cheated death long ago. But this felt different. This felt… blasphemous.
“I’m leaving.” Step moved ahead of Nevren, making sure her tail swept him off of his feet. Her irritation doubled when he simply tucked his legs in midair, floating in place in a Psychic half-jump.
“Now, hold on,” Nevren said, though he made no effort to pursue her, nor did his voice hold any urgency. “If you’re going to leave, I recommend you at least take a communicator with you.”
“A communicator?” Step swung around again, going for another sweep, but Nevren once again dodged out of the way. The icy Aggron went for a swing this time, aiming to graze Nevren’s mustache. He didn’t even flinch, staring at Step. “After everything you’ve done?” she said, undeterred.
What’s with this guy? Cent said within Step’s Orb.
No kidding. Nothing fazes him! Kana replied.
Perhaps he’s reading her mind, Ra theorized.
The thought didn’t bode well with Step; it only made her want to get out faster. If Nevren wasn’t going to respect the privacy of her own mind… Tell me, Alakazam, can you hear my thoughts now? Know that you only live because the mutants cannot be contained without your help. If your usefulness fades, then so will the light in your eyes.
“You’ve been staring at me for quite a while,” Nevren said.
Oh, he’s totally messing with you, Kana said.
The Alakazam tilted his head. “Is something the matter?”
“Give me the communicator. I will tell you when I’ve eliminated the mutants.”
“Do you even know where they are?”
“I’d rather search aimlessly than spend another second here.”
“Ah, I see. Very well.” He handed Step the silver badge. “Take care.”
“You aren’t even going to argue against me leaving?” Step said.
“No, I believe you intended to come here on your own volition. I never requested you to follow.”
Don’t fall for it, Mom! Kana said. It’s reverse psychology! He wants to keep you here!
But wouldn’t keeping an eye on him be a good idea? After all, he’s a traitor. Ra hummed. And I—oh, Step, hold on.
Um, called another voice—Alex. Now that he was an Ice Spirit, the cold of the region didn’t bother him. Step, I’m sorry to intrude on the family gathering in your Core, but I wanted to deliver some news?
Step tilted her head upward, earning another curious inquiry from Nevren, but she ignored it. Yes, Hydreigon? How are the wraiths?
Er, right. Everything is fine now. I don’t think the wraiths will be bothering us any time soon… It seems that the last of them gave up.
Gave up? Good. Keep an eye on the border until then. Step paused, then said, And I haven’t found any news on your mate. I’m sorry. Have you learned anything new on your side?
No… Thank you. But nobody has entered the Ice Realm aside from wraiths.
Mm. Take care.
Nevren came back to her attention. She glared momentarily, then said, “The wraiths have stopped attacking my realm. I imagine the same can be said for the others.” She frowned, then, and considered what that could actually mean. “…Give me more communicators. I will fly to Kilo Village to give them to the surviving Mystics.”
“A good idea.” Nevren dug through his bag. “And that means, I imagine, that you weigh the priority of communicating with them higher than any antics I may pull here.”
“You’re taunting me.”
“Merely stating a fact.” He handed her a small sack of the badges. “I’ve made quite a few of them just in case.”
“Then you hoard just like Rhys. The only difference is you create your own mess rather than collect it.”
Nevren merely shrugged. Step wrenched the bag from his claws, then angrily looked it over. Holding it would be cumbersome, and she didn’t have a bag on her otherwise to strap around her neck.
“Having trouble?” asked Nevren.
“No. I will manage.” She coated the sack in frost, then planted it on her chest. She focused… Soon, it sank into her body, the bag frozen within the outer layer of her icy form.
“Fascinating,” Nevren said under his breath. “You really are just made of Ice.”
You know, if that came from Owen, I’d think he was giving a compliment, Cent said. But from him, it feels more like a veiled insult…
Maybe you should give him a solid kick before you go, Kana suggested.
Ra said nothing, neither objecting nor encouraging her.
“Bah.” Step turned around, aggressively sweeping her tail near Nevren. He stepped over it wordlessly. “Manage this place as you like. Just know that if I am displeased, you will regret it.”
“…One final question,” Step said, thinking about everything that she had seen in this laboratory. The mutants, the experiments like Lucas and Lavender, the Reincarnation Machines, those all seemed to make some sense. The one thing that didn’t—the one abnormality that seemed off…
“How is this place powered?” Step said.
“Ah, a few spare spirits,” Nevren said. “In part. Eon provided a significant portion of his life force along with Elder, but it seems that Eon’s had faded considerably. Elder’s alone remains for that portion of the provided power.”
“Elder… A mere Hunter was capable of providing that essence?” Step turned around again, this time intrigued enough to humor Nevren with a neutral expression. “Can Hunters confer blessings?”
“Not usually, no, which is why I’m quite surprised Elder was capable of it. Then again, it isn’t as if being able to enchant things is unheard of. Elder is just the only Hunter without an Orb that can do it on his own.”
Something about that didn’t add up to her. Um, wait, Alex said. This lab has been around for a lot longer than they had Orbs. How did they…?
“What powered it before Eon got an Orb, then?” Step asked.
“Ah, aside from Elder, there was a bit of Owen’s life force powering it, too, as well as some spirits that we eventually turned into future mutants. From there, it became a cycle of spirits used for power before they moved along to bodies… And then those bodies that died, the spirits returned to their artificial Orb, you could call it, and . . .”
Every word—Step stopped listening after a while—made her icy blood boil more and more. She eventually wanted to hear none of it and spun around, slamming her tail against the wall. “Goodbye.”
Step didn’t look back, but she saw his shadow waving at her.
Compared to the plateaus, the tall trees of the blackened forest were less intimidating, yet somehow even more sinister. The plateaus stood tall and rigid, and even though they were wider at the top, it wasn’t as if they leaned over anything. These trees creaked at any movement Owen made. Their tall, thick trunks twisted and turned on their way toward the sky, and the branches were gnarled and jagged like loose brambles.
The tangle of rigid branches blocked most of the sky, and occasionally Owen would happen upon a fallen one. None of them had leaves, or if they did, they had fallen away long ago, joining the uncomfortable, damp ground. The mud-like dust went at least up to his ankles.
On his way to the forest, his nose—ever-sensitive thanks to the lack of any real smells in this wasteland—had picked up on the mouth-wateringly tantalizing smell of something cooking. Perhaps he had hallucinated it, but he knew, for just a whiff, he had smelled something savory. If he was lucky, that meant there were others nearby, perhaps some actual civilization! But he didn’t want to risk it or get distracted, and there was no telling if they would actually be friendly.
Amia had said she’d found berries in the forest. He wasn’t about to go off to another village and defer to their advice or help. He was supposed to be more independent, after all. And for once, he wanted to save someone all on his own, not relying on the decisions that other people made. More rationally, he had his doubts that a wasteland like this would leave others with food to spare.
And the berries would be free if he got them from the forest, and would guarantee that Amia would be healed. He just had to hurry. She was strong… but he didn’t want to leave her alone like that for long. The Fire Traps would protect from one wraith, but what if there were several?
The loud, dry crackling of a twig under Owen’s foot startled him out of his thoughts. He nearly spat out an ember on reflex, but suppressed his shock and took a deep, calming breath. He looked behind him and saw the edge of the forest. With how densely packed the trees were, he wasn’t sure if he should venture too far in. He’d be better off searching for berries near the edges.
No telling if wraiths loomed deeper inside, anyway. Amia had been injured the same way.
Berries, berries… Owen scanned his immediate area and found nothing. Would dead trees even provide anything? Owen looked at his green crystal again. It was a strange, perhaps random thought, but what if he could use whatever sense guided him to the crystal, and to his mother, to find berries?
Eyes closed, Owen focused on his surroundings. Perceive or not, he had some strange sense. He felt the crystal in his hands. That was always present. But he had felt Amia, too, even with that in his possession. What else was out there?
He remained motionless, but all he could see was the black cover that came from his eyelids. So, he stood for a while longer, searching, but still, nothing.
Eventually, he frowned and opened his eyes. He’d have to keep track of how far he went while searching. A little deeper wouldn’t hurt. He just had to keep his senses sharp. The flame on his tail would only draw attention; any dark areas would be best avoided.
He was meticulous, counting the number of steps he’d taken. Every hundred, he’d take ten deeper into the forest and then go back the other way for another hundred. After several of those, not finding anything, he instead took two hundred steps and swept across another segment of the forest, brushing along the very edge of the thicker perimeter before returning a few layers within.
His stomach tied itself into another knot, and this pang of hunger was enough for him to double over and wince. He had to find food soon—no, he had to find berries. And save a few for Amia. An apple would be nice, too.
He stepped over another twig, but accidentally lost his footing, crunching it. It reminded him of candy, those little, flaky wafers back home that he’d buy from Sugar ‘n Spice. They had once offered him one of their special menu items for being such a regular customer—Everything Nice, they called it.
It was just one of every item.
But he had taken the offer, and that crunchy wafer was one of his favorites. In a daze, Owen picked up the twig, inspecting it. What if…
He’d read about it…
But that wasn’t from normal bark, was it? He had to get to the core of the tree. A nibble on the fallen branch confirmed it; tasteless, dry—Owen wasn’t sure if he could properly chew it, even if he tried. Bits of it got caught between his teeth, under his tongue… Owen struggled to get most of it out, but his mouth was so dry.
He had to get it from the core of a tree. Thankfully, there were tons of them. But would any of them hold edible wood? He could at least try.
He approached the nearest one and ran a claw along the rough edges. He pried off a bit of the bark, only to see more solid wood inside. He’d probably need to actually use his claws for this one.
Could he tap into Metal Claw again? It had been a while, but he still remembered having to use it a few times. He could’ve done it to get to Zena’s hidden abode, had Demitri not headbutted his way in. For someone so mild-mannered, he really did think with his muscles when presented with an obstacle…
Maybe channeling some of that was a good idea.
Owen squeezed his claws, searching for that old energy. Steel-gray light collected at the edges of his tiny fingers, concentrating to a fine point. He drew his arm back, crouched down, and swung.
He felt something wet on his claws and his heart skipped a beat. It was either blood or tree sap. Oh, please let it be tree sap.
Nothing red against his orange scales. He looked at the tree. It was bleeding instead—a thin, reddish liquid, akin to the lake. His tail dimmed a bit at that, but still, it was liquid. It was water—maybe. Owen ran a finger along the tree and inspected it, giving it a tentative taste.
But it wasn’t any worse than the lake water, and compared to shriveling up, it was just what he needed. He tore off a piece, digging into the softer, reddish wood beneath the tough bark, and pulled out a long, thick strip. It dripped in his claws, and some primal part of Owen forced him to nibble at the bottom so nothing reached the ground. The ground didn’t need this water, he did. Even if it tasted awful. Actually, it was starting to taste tolerable. Not good, but tolerable.
He sucked at the bottom of the bark, waiting until the wood was dry enough to pull away from. That wasn’t nearly enough water. He’d need to get a little more.
The tree was bleeding too much. It was trickling down the rough bark and toward the dirt.
What if it ran out?
Owen lunged at the base of the tree and stuck his tongue near one of the little rivers, relief washing over him once it had stopped the flow. He ran further up, eyes crossing as he got closer to the source, and swallowed.
Good. All taken care of. Oh, the aftertaste. Owen tried his best to keep from wincing, but no matter how thirsty he was, that bile-like taste wasn’t going to go away like magic.
He pulled away once the liquid’s flow slowed, returning to the piece of bark that he’d taken. It was a lot easier to chew—and a lot softer—and he hoped it at least provided him with a little bit of energy.
He munched on the tough, yet soft bark like it was hard taffy. It was starting to taste like taffy, too. Bad taffy, but—sweet, too. Was he losing it? Maybe, but this would help him return to sanity.
He tore off a few more pieces for the travel ahead, and wondered if Amia would appreciate a few of them, too.
Owen realized that his hands were already full of tree taffy. How was he could to carry back the berries when…
He’d have to think about that while searching for them, because regardless, he’d have to bring a few along for Amia.
After more walking—and with half of the tree taffy consumed—he spotted color in his vision, something that stood out subtly from the purples and blacks. Blue, a vibrant blue like an early morning sky, poking through a pile of mulch near the base of a tree.
Could it be?
Beneath the pile, after brushing the dirt aside, he saw a small patch of berries. They actually grew here—Amia was right! He pulled at one, but then winced. It had a lot of… resistance.
He tugged a bit harder, but the other berries followed, attached to the Oran like they had grown together in bunches. Except—it wasn’t just Orans. A few were, but there were Pecha Berries, and Cheri Berries, all part of the same vine, stuck together.
Well, that solved the carrying issue. He glanced at the trees. He could have potentially used the branches to fashion a scraggly, crumbly basket, but this sped things up much more conveniently.
“That’s everything, I guess,” Owen said. His voice startled him; high and hoarse.
Eleven berries on the bunch, and of them, three were Orans. Perfect! That would be more than enough to heal Amia up, and even give her some actual food, too.
He quickly navigated back, still searching for any signs of wraiths—to his fortune, none came. Maybe they were afraid of his tail, or maybe they knew he was dangerous. That had to be it.
After grabbing another few bunches of tree taffy and placing them between the berries, hoping they would stick together, he hauled his findings out of the forest with a tired, but still present spring in his step.
It was going to be a long walk back, but at least now he knew what he was supposed to do with himself.
The first sun of a new era of Kilo rose to its usual routine. First, Kilo Mountain’s face and jagged rocks cast long shadows across the forest and fields, and then, as the sun rose higher, the light finally shined within the city, still named a village by tradition, within. Various flying Pokémon flew in a high circle around the large crater, searching for stragglers trying to find their way to the great, natural landmark at the middle of the world.
The cross-shaped main streets were flooded near the southern side with dots of civilians looking for answers. Meanwhile, the hospital had been expanded into nearby shops and buildings—commandeered for the sake of making room for the influx of patients, though very few protested. Many dots congregated around the center of Kilo as the hospital expanded to take up nearly the entire center of the city. North, the commercial district had a thin sea of Pokémon looking for their last supplies before the stocks ran out, indefinitely.
Most shops were already closed, sold out. Places that didn’t have food or equipment, simply items of pleasure or entertainment, closed early, their shopkeepers more concerned with keeping their friends and family safe, visiting the hospital, or checking the south where most of the remaining Pokémon had gathered. Perhaps some were in the hospital as patients themselves.
The training district was devoid of activity entirely. Every Heart, provisionary or otherwise, had headed to the heart-shaped building at the very base of the southern district, past Waypoint Road, and embedded within the dip of the crater. Even as everything else crumbled, even as Anam left, the red heart remained—there were still hundreds of Hearts ready to help.
That’s what they hoped, at least.
In front of the Heart HQ, at the top of the stairway, stood the one Elite Heart that remained after the sky had fallen. The strange, black vortex far north of Kilo village remained, ever-present on the distant horizon. Occasionally, great arcs of light flew over the ski and smashed into it, leaving distant, thunderous booms for all of Kilo to hear.
Rhys knew that was Arceus, preoccupied with keeping Dark Matter at bay, but did that matter anymore? It seemed that Anam had already kept him suppressed. Yet another stalemate, and despite this, it seemed that the world was one second closer to doomsday.
It was almost nostalgic.
Without communicators, Rhys had no way of knowing what Nevren was doing with Step. In their rush to leave, they had left them behind in Hot Spot—and beyond that, Rhys wasn’t entirely sure if they worked any longer. Berries, Orbs, and Waypoints were strongly tied to Anam’s blessings, to the point where the revocation of them led to the crumbling of social order as they knew it.
However, after searching through all of town, it seemed that not all was lost. Technologies that did not rely on Anam’s blessings were still in working order, such as the hospital’s medical technology, the aura reading systems… They all seemed to be working. What else did they still have?
The crowd was getting larger. Rhys cleared his throat and raised a paw to get everyone’s attention. Nobody was listening. A few stray eyes here and there, but then they returned to speaking to one another. The Lucario growled to himself, figuring he’d have to make a louder noise.
Good thing most of his strength was back after that long rest. He fired a small, crackling orb of aura into the air, then clenched his paw. It exploded with a loud POP! that startled enough of the crowd for a noticeable silence to quiet the rest of them.
“Thank you, everyone, for coming,” Rhys said, shouting as loudly as he could without coming off as screaming. “I would like to begin by—er…”
Someone pushed their way through the crowd. The Exploud that usually showed up for announcements, such as when the Thousand Hearts had performed the Ceremony of Advancement.
“Hey, hey!” he called out, waving an odd, rubbery tube of some kind, attached to a strange device at one end and a long, glowing rod on the other. “This still works! I made it myself; use me!”
“Er—thank you.” Rhys took the piece and, by routine, jammed the rod into one of the holes on Exploud’s back. He then opened his mouth wide, and Rhys spoke into the other end of the tube, his voice amplified for everyone else to hear.
“Thank you, everyone, for coming!” Much easier. “I understand that there is a lot of chaos, but rest assured that the Thousand Hearts are well prepared for such catastrophes!” They were only partly prepared.
“Many of you may have noticed that Arceus has descended from the heavens and Destiny Tower has returned. Do not be alarmed!” There may have been reason for alarm. “He is currently combatting the void in the sky that had also appeared north of Kilo, in the Shimmering Outskirts. That situation is under control!” They didn’t know that.
Murmurs returned. Rhys’ ears tried to tune in on whatever they were saying, some of the louder voices coming in clearly. Mostly names stood out to him, like ‘Anam,’ or ‘Nevren.’ He figured those were valid concerns.
“Elite Hearts Alakazam Nevren and Decidueye James are handling the situation on other parts of Kilo!” True for only one of them. “Meanwhile, Goodra Anam is busy battling the void directly, and will be working tirelessly to keep this place safe until then!” Rhys could only hope that was the case.
“Until then, I implore everyone to stay together in pairs or trios, just as you would expect of a Heart rescue team. Badges, Waypoints, and most Dungeon equipment is no longer useful, and until we can find proper substitutes and replacements, everyone—civilians and Hearts alike—will need to operate under extreme caution!
“I would also like to encourage anybody capable of learning Heal Pulse, Life Dew, or any other healing techniques to tune your auras toward being able to draw from that power quickly. I have already personally tuned my aura toward it. Please consult with species experts to learn if you are capable of the same techniques.
“And lastly, I would like to caution anyone from entering a Dungeon at this time, for fear of safety in the distorted environment. Go to a Heart as usual for any absolutely-necessary Dungeon operations. Report any mutant sightings immediately, and do not engage with them.”
Rhys believed he had covered everything he wanted to, but something was still nagging at him. The way the crowd seemed, while informed, suggested they were still… unnerved, uncertain. Something was missing. What was missing? Their eyes were lost and confused. Despite the fact that his speech was over, it felt like he was still losing them.
Realization hit him—his speech wasn’t over. If the world was in a crisis and they had nothing substantive to actually hold anything together, what was the one thing he could do to show a sense of unity regardless?
“And now,” Rhys amended, “I would like to remind everyone of why we are all here. While this is a mantra that typically applies to my duty as a Heart, it is something that applies to all of us broadly, as Pokémon of one purpose, to help each other. We are all Hearts at our core. And so…”
Rhys raised his paw, bringing it just below the spike on his chest. It seemed that many others caught on, mimicking the motion if they could, others taking on similar poses with their varying body types, using vines, hooves, or tails. Others simply bowed their heads.
“A thousand hands
A single heart
Working and beating as one.”
The crowd slowly stopped their shuffling, more and more of them murmuring the mantra to themselves. Others said it a little more loudly, and the energy was contagious. Indeed, a thousand hands, thousands upon thousands, but they all tied to the same heart. Rhys glanced back at the HQ, then back to the crowd.
“Unite the lands
From worlds apart
Until our battles are done.”
He thought of the Waypoints. It wasn’t so bad. They had gone without Waypoints long ago, when Kilo had been fragmented across various villages and small kingdoms, for lack of a better term. And so, once again, this verse regained its relevance. Rhys didn’t pause too long, and went with the rest of the crowd, which would have carried on the rest of the mantra without him.
“We serve Kilo and all its parts
Under one name: The Thousand Hearts!”
What followed weren’t cheers or shouts of roars, but little murmurs and echoes of the same mantra again. Some seemed frightened, but they were brought closer by hardened eyes and determined spirits. Others seemed less enthused, less hopeful, looking back at the void in the horizon. But more still were already dispersing, and Rhys saw their muted auras, focused on one or two tasks at most. Searching for a species expert, readying themselves for a Heal Pulse. A surprising number were already going to the hospital district—it was a district now, overnight.
No time for peace; before Rhys took his first step down the platform, something in the Heart HQ exploded. He whirled around; a puff of smoke billowed out of the main entrance. He rushed inside, spotting a glow to his right. He ran down the hall, followed the colorful path to the storage room, and spotted the fading, cyan barrier of a Golem’s Protect.
“What happened?” Rhys said.
“Sorry! Sorry!” shouted another voice inside.
Past the smoke, a Primeape holding a straight, wooden stick of some kind stumbled through the debris.
“What happened?” Rhys said.
“We were checking inventory, and suddenly this stick just… blew up!” Primeape held it up. It glowed faintly with energy.
“Ah, that’s… that looks like a Blast Seed’s energy, doesn’t it?” Rhys squinted. “In a wooden stick…”
Isn’t this Nevren’s storage room? He was always fond of making useless experiments…
Rhys stepped in curiously, taking a careful look at the shelves. Despite the blast, most of the area was undisturbed aside from a new layer of smoke and dust. More of those odd, metallic wrists bands lined one part of the room, while neatly organized rows of more wooden sticks decorated another. Some of them were curled, others had little leaves growing out of the top, but they all glowed faintly.
Golem grunted. “What are these things? Seems like Elite Heart Nevren really went crazy with making them all. Did he do them without Anam’s blessings?”
“Isn’t that illegal?” Golem said. “Just like those Jammers, they aren’t made by Anam—they’re totally underground.”
“Conferring blessings is usually impossible for most,” Rhys muttered to himself. Still… I’ve seen something akin to blessings happen by others, and Mystics also have some capacity for it. Considering how long Nevren had to practice, I shouldn’t be too surprised at how far along he’d come.
He should have paid more attention to his projects.
So lost in thought, Rhys didn’t notice the second explosion until Golem brought up his cyan barrier again.
“Will you stop that?!” Golem shouted over the rough coughs by Primeape.
“Sorry, sorry! I was just putting it down and I accidentally set it off, or something! Here, let me just… slowly… slowly…” And on the ground it went.
Rhys sighed and inspected the strange stick. “…Wands,” he muttered under his breath.
“What was that?” Golem asked.
“Nevren had been developing equipment that he called wands, but this is all we have.” He inspected the shelves. “But that does mean that if others that were not Anam can confer blessings, perhaps, with a little luck…
Rhys shook his head. It wasn’t much use at this point to theorize on what could be possible when they were still trying to regain lost ground. “Leave this room alone for now,” Rhys said. “This just gave me a thought: unregulated Orbs and other equipment might be in the hands of criminals.”
“Wait—you mean, Orbs not made from Anam’s blessings?”
“Or not based off of them,” Rhys said, nodding. “We’ll need to be careful.”
Rhys hummed in thought. Blessings—incredibly difficult, but not impossible, to channel techniques into empty glass Orbs. They had barely been a problem in the past; Anam and the regulated Orbs simply outnumbered and outmatched them. But now? Perhaps they were actually a threat.
And what of—
Rhys’ ears twitched, sensing a commotion outside. Flaring auras, panic. What now?!
At the base of the HQ, a bruised and battered, but still standing, Emboar stumbled forward. “We need to lock down every single Dungeon,” he grunted to Rhys.
“What? What happened?” he said.
“There… there are monsters inside. Shapeless… black things, they were everywhere, they… I…” He collapsed, sending another wave of panic through the crowd.
Rhys pointed his paw forward and channeled pink energy through it, blasting Emboar with a Heal Pulse. While it didn’t heal him completely, it was enough to seal his wounds, yet his aura still appeared… damaged.
Wraiths. Why hadn’t it occurred to him until now?
Anam’s blessings were gone. Every single Dungeon that he had blessed—every single one in all of Kilo—was infested all over again.