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Which character/creature would you like to see art of next?

Mikey 0.16129032258065 16.1% [ 5 ]
John 0.16129032258065 16.1% [ 5 ]
Fluffs (post which one) 0.16129032258065 16.1% [ 5 ]
Father Garghoul 0.096774193548387 9.7% [ 3 ]
Malevobear 0.32258064516129 32.3% [ 10 ]
Other: Please post 0.096774193548387 9.7% [ 3 ]
Total Votes:[ 31 ]
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Berryfarmer's avatar

Caring Abomination

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Brace yourselves, I got a lot of writing done the last few nights and have another side chapter to post. It is set between Halloween Town and Aekea in case it's not clear.

Chapter 20: Confessions

Journal Entry 31,
Date: Unknown


I’ve lost track of the days since coming to this world. I know it’s been several weeks and I know we have a little under three weeks before one of two things happens. Either we defeat The Phantom and are able to live happily ever after, or he beats us and we have to watch as one by one the world succumbs to a techno-virus.

Mikey recently returned to the crew. And my mood about it is a bit mixed. On the plus side we are back up to full strength and can probably hold our own against The Phantom. I mean Mikey alone was fighting him pretty well in Durem, if we can get in on the action I bet we could take him. But on the other hand, ever since he came back he’s been a lot more pushy and bossy. Like he’s the only one who understands what’s at stake if we fail. We’re all aware of the risks, we wouldn’t have volunteered to take the dive if we weren’t aware of what it meant. The world’s at stake, but he’s picking like we don’t get it.

He did finally hook up with Kerri. They try to hide it, but I’ve seen them stay up together when one of them keeps watch. And the way they stare at each other, I guess I’m proud of him for finally manning up. I wish I could say the same for my love life but things have kind of hit a wall. Penelope and I have kind of been at odds since sky city (like I can remember that damn name of it). Anyway, maybe I should take a lesson from Mikey and talk things out at the campfire.

I’m worried about our team falling apart quite honestly. Jeremy has become a bit melancholic and cynical, John has become withdrawn and doesn’t speak much, I think he became that way after Tridra. Penelope has grown up from the selfish princess type I met, and Kerri isn’t a scared wimp any more. I guess that I feel left out because I still come across as a… well as a douchebag. I mean here we are in a virtual world fighting for the continued existence of ours and we’ve each undergone our own personal journeys, everyone except me. Mikey was right when he chided me about running away. I still don’t know how he knows half of what he’s shown knowing about each of us. I mean he knows things like Jeremy’s family situation, he knows about Kerri’s dad… I don’t think she wanted anyone here knowing about that, but when you overhear two people talking while pretending to be asleep… What unnerved me the most though, he knew about what my mom did and how my dad was. I don’t care how “in tuned” is to the technological cosmos but it makes me wonder if he’s not part machine himself. It certainly would explain a lot. He knows things before they happen, he is for all intents and purposes a walking zOMG database, add in the fact The Phantom specifically hates him more than the rest of us, and KJ has a thing for him, she told me about trying to seduce him and how that failed… maybe he’s at least wired differently from the rest of us ordinary humans.

If he’s wired differently that would also explain some of the strange things he can do. I’m not fully versed in programming, I was still in school learning when all this started, but even god modes have limitations, and when Mikey enters a god mode he seems to ignore even basic gaming physics. Maybe that’s why he’s so resolute on a deadline, maybe he’s got his own race against the clock going on. That would explain why he’s an a*****e at times.

He told us the other day that there is in fact an organized group of survivors from other crews trying to help us where they can. I felt a bit reassured by that idea, but there was some disturbance when I realized their bodies on the outside probably aren’t connected to an interface. I was mad at first when I learned we weren’t the first crew, but then it made sense of why they’d waited so long to get this group together and were pressing that deadline. We have to find a way to reestablish communication with the world outside if we’re to save the other people here as well. Even if we beat The Phantom I’ll not abandon those souls to wander this virtual world while their bodies outside decay. I wouldn’t want to go that way. I just hope we can find a way to that Null Moon, and maybe an army would be nice. I don’t want to have to fight through an army of those stone golems with just the six of us.

Journal Entry 32
Date: Unknown


We’re still en route to Aekea. We still have not been able to get any communication from the Anari or KJ. The device they gave us just spews static. Jeremy and Mikey both tried tinkering with it last night but still just static. I was worried when the Anari went to Aekea, we hadn’t been there yet and all our available information at the time suggested it was a warzone between the Aekean robots and natives versus an entrenched and stubborn division of The Phantom’s forces. I’m worried the lines may not have been so finite and they were captured and tortured. Funny, when we first met them I thought the Anari were evil and would betray us. I have never been so wrong. Or maybe their going to Aekea was a show so they could betray us. Nah, Hoshi wouldn’t do that, she’s pretty cool.

I wonder if after all this if the Anari will continue to exist or will they vanish like I suspect The Phantom’s server will. That would be a shame, they’ve grown on me. Originally designed or not they would be very fun to have in the actual chapter two material that hasn’t been tainted by The Phantom. I wonder about some of the other animated we’ve met and made friends with, will they continue to exist or vanish with the server when this is over?

I’m rambling about pixels and programs. But they’re more than just pixels now, they’re living creatures with a story, albeit virtual ones. Maybe that’s why The Phantom is so opposed to people, he sees these virtual creatures as just as deserving of life as we do. But the developers programmed this world and everything in it. Can a program really be equal in life to flesh and blood? These pixels and programs have been more real than some of the people I’ve met in the real world. Who am I to judge what deserves a chance to live and what doesn’t?

Journal Entry 33
Date: Unknown


I’ve had some time to consider my life thus far. Funny the things a beating virtual sun makes you think about. My father was a gun toting drunk who thought the government was out to get him. Before his descent into madness he was an exterminator some business by the name of someone’s Dead Bug. Anyways, my mom was a patient and kind woman who put up with his antics; that was, until he became abusive. She didn’t take his crap for too long before she left. She held in there long enough so hopefully I could understand, but I didn’t at the time, all I knew was that the only important woman in my life at that time abandoned me and forced me to remain with an ever increasingly bitter, resentful, abusive father. He began to abuse me, nobody knew. Not even my friends from school. I guess I was afraid of being left by women, I could never form relationships that lasted more than a few weeks. There was this girl, her name was Susie, she was the closest I ever came to a stable relationship. We dated on and off again all throughout high school. She was the only one I ever told about my mom. I worshipped my dad when I was younger, but as I got older I began to see him for what he was and began to understand my mom more.

My dad had a tendency to go to the clubs and pick up hookers and gamble and all those other things a man in a midlife crisis does. My mom only wanted him to stop and be a family man, she made time for all the important events. Well they seemed important to me any way. When he finally did stop with the hookers and clubs that’s when the drinking and abuse started. I was barely ten years old and my mother left me to such an abusive, lecherous fiend. For years I hated my mother for doing that. Why couldn’t she take me with her? Eight years I had to survive abuse, both mental and physical. While all of the kids around me had dads who helped them at science and math and philosophy, my dad only wanted to help if it involved picking his next beer. I hated my mom for leaving me with him. I still bear some disdain for her, but now I’d like to find her and have a heart to heart with her when this is over, maybe my dad too.

I’ve overheard Mikey talk about his family when he thinks I’m asleep. I must say my dad was abusive but nothing like the ******** up dad Mikey’s dad was. The dude tested an experimental game controller on his kids and, from what I heard, confirmed my suspicions about some kind of brain damage. No wonder he’s in a rush, he knows he hasn’t got long. To add insult to that his dad kicked him out when he was 16. My dad may have been a drunk, but he kept a roof over my head until a moved out after graduation. I miss my mom. I miss Susie. I love Penelope, but I’d still like to catch up with Susie. Find out what she’s been doing, apologize for some of the things I did. And I did some bad things, mostly learned from my father. What would I say though? “I’m sorry I was an idiot, I’ve learned better.” I don’t think that would be enough, but I have to do something once this phantom business is resolved.

Journal Entry 34
Date: Unknown


I hate it when I’m right. We’ve been holed up trying to fight our way into Aekea for the better part of a day now. The entire city is a warzone and The Phantom’s forces control the city gates, which has made entering the city a bit difficult. The robots have been very helpful, they’ve been fighting alongside us as we try to retake the gate. Some of them were caught on the outside of the city, that’s the group we met up with. They’ve been coordinating with a group inside the city, but forces inside the city are stretched thing. The Phantom is taking his time but it’s like Durem all over again.

We have to get into the city and find KJ and the Anari. Mercurius and Ferrum, two of the robots who have been fighting at our side said that the Anari and a council that was meeting in the old museum were captured in the first attack. Mercurius said they’re likely being held in “Peyo’s Fun House,” an old toy store that was abandoned when The Phantom rose to power. There they’ll be guarded by some beast called Malevobear.

According to what little comm traffic we’ve been able to get KJ is with the robot leader Aurum. Mikey’s been on the wireless all day trying to organize a night raid to get us into the city. I don’t want to abandon our robot allies out here, but if this council is as important as Aurum says it is we have to get into the city, tonight. I can hear the sounds of shots overhead as both sides exchange laser fire. The air has had a burning quality to it as I try to breath. We have to get inside. We have to save the Anari. This is Henry signing off for now, I hope I can live long enough to make another entry. Over and out…
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Shadowy Shapeshifter

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most interesting take on events there berry, kinda wonder hope you do it again for other chapters even ones past, a inside look in a way those are always fun -mew
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Caring Abomination

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anguls kushinoda
most interesting take on events there berry, kinda wonder hope you do it again for other chapters even ones past, a inside look in a way those are always fun -mew

Trying to get in at least one chapter where everyone's back stories get fleshed out. Whether it's in the main story as flash backs or side chapters told from their perspective.
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Shadowy Shapeshifter

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Berryfarmer
anguls kushinoda
most interesting take on events there berry, kinda wonder hope you do it again for other chapters even ones past, a inside look in a way those are always fun -mew

Trying to get in at least one chapter where everyone's back stories get fleshed out. Whether it's in the main story as flash backs or side chapters told from their perspective.
yeah, but those side stories from a characters perspetive i always find adds a new depth to certin characters, in how they view them selves an others, an can even show growth -mew
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Caring Abomination

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NEW ANNOUNCEMENT: Once chapter 21 is complete I will more than likely be going through some of the older chapters to add content, improve the writing style, etc to bring the entire story up to the same standard. (That's not to say I won't be writing future content, I just want to retouch some of the older less detailed content smile )

Also I will be closing the current poll on March 4th and shall create art of the most voted. I would like suggestions for who to put in the poll afterwards.
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Caring Abomination

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So I decided to doodle today and this adorable thing was the result. Guess on the 4th I'll do the second highest scorer in the poll unless something overtakes Magma Fluff by then.
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Caring Abomination

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So a little preview of what's upcoming int chapter 21.

“So you are the humans still set on stopping me?” He lifted John into the air with just the hand around his throat, “I was hoping for ones much stronger. Like your friend, what was his name? Michael? Yes, he gave me a more entertaining fight, oh well.” Jeremy tried getting up, only to be kicked. The Phantom sneered as he placed one foot on Jeremy’s chest and began pushing down. “Which shall watch the other die first? Will I crush the poor boy’s chest or your windpipe first?” He looked John in the eyes as he squeezed harder.

“Let them go.” The Phantom turned his head to see Mikey standing there rings at the ready to attack.

“Ha ha ha ha ha! Here he is the boy of the hour, the one I was searching for. I’d be more careful about attacking if I were you. I wouldn’t want you hurting your playmates, lest they toe the line between this world and the next like you.” He held his other hand out mocking the motions a mother would shaking their hand with the index finger raised indicating no-no-no. Mikey gritted his teeth at the standoff. “Poor boy can’t decide if he wants to save you or the younger child, John.” John was holding onto the arm trying to break the grip on his throat. Jeremy struggled to get his arms around The Phantom’s leg to free himself. The Phantom began to laugh maniacally as the sky overhead began to gray and darken. A golden beam of light shot out and hit him in the back, the surprise caused him to fall forward onto his knees in front of Mikey, freeing both John and Jeremy. As he tried getting to his feet Mikey only tilted his head, smiled and vanished.

“You really should be mindful of your surroundings.” Mikey jumped over from another building and stood between The Phantom and John and Jeremy.

“You fooled me with a decoy.” He shuddered from the sting of the light as he stood back up. He cringed as some of the residual light sparked across him. He glared at Mikey both his eyes gleaming. “No matter, Aekea is mine. And soon your world.”

Mikey only smiled as he raised his head, “Not today.” He narrowed his eyes as The Phantom lunged at him.
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Caring Abomination

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So completed art for what Henry looks like in the real world, and that's his medallion in the background.

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Also updating the poll
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Mega Hoarder

smile guess I already voted before...
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Caring Abomination

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Hey there folks got some incoming goodies this week. Posting two character arts, and the full chapter 21 so bear with the frequent posts about to occur.

First up for art is KJ, the mysterious anti-hero. Is she helping the team because she is good or does some more devious thought motivate her?

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Caring Abomination

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Next on the list of arts is the effervescent as always Penelope.

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Caring Abomination

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And now, what you've been waiting for.

Chapter 21: A Matter of Time

“Okay we’re only going to get one shot at this!” Ferrum was shouting over the cannons that both entrenched sides had been using. “We’re going to launch you. And hopefully Aurum and KJ have reached the target destination. If not it was nice knowing you!” Each member of the crew had been loaded into cannons that looked like they were designed for a circus act.

“Are you sure this is the only way to get in is by this?” Henry looked at Mikey. As he stared Mikey pulled a pair of goggles down over his eyes.

“You saw how deep those lines are. We haven’t had any luck getting through them the last two days. We need to sneak in and we can’t do it by day. There’s no other way to sneak past without raising an alarm and having to fight the entire army.” Mikey tapped the inside of his cannon indicating he was ready.

“I’m more worried about the parachutes deploying than anything.” Penelope tapped her cannon’s inside and Henry could hear the others down the line doing the same.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Come on Aurum, we have to make the rendezvous point.” KJ pulled the energy blades from her gauntlets out of the stone golem as it collapsed to the ground.

“We’re trying to but these monstrosities aren’t making it easy.” The seven foot tall robot thudded behind her.

KJ flicked her energy blades off as there were no more golems around. The streets seemed lonely in the moonlight. The homes and shops all along this block had been abandoned a week ago when The Phantom’s first troops were spotted. They had swept through the empty districts razing the abandoned homes and shop fronts searching for something. “Come on, they’re set to launch at any moment now and we’re still half a mile out from the rendezvous.” KJ broke into a jog.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

There was a boom overhead and as Penelope looked up she saw the stars were veiled by wisps of clouds. After another loud boom she could feel raindrops beginning to come down. “Think this will be trouble?” The rain began to power.

“God I hope not.” There was a flash of lightning and a boom of thunder.

“It actually works to our advantage. Gives us more cover and a better chance to get in unnoticed.” Kerri shouted over the din.

“Okay launching in 3… 2… 1… Launch!” Ferrum shouted. And each of the cannons launched their contents into the air. The raindrops raced past them as they flew through the sky. Penelope looked down and could see the lines in the city. The buildings that had been destroyed on the golem controlled side and worn looking buildings on the Aekean side.

“It looks so sad from up here.” Penelope said, she didn’t know if the others would be able to hear her over the rushing wind and the pouring rain.

“Pull your chutes in 3… 2… 1… Pull!” Mikey shouted over the driving rain.

“Think this rain is an omen?” Henry asked as they were drifting down.

“Something is wrong with Penelope’s chute guys.” Jeremy called out, Mikey and Henry looked up to see Penelope still soaring, she looked like she was wrestling with the rip cord on her parachute.

“She’s going to sail past the rendezvous point.”

“She’s falling back towards golem controlled terrain.” Both Mikey and Henry watched in horror as Penelope kept going.

Penelope managed to get her parachute to open as she passed the city’s midway point. She was already a few blocks further in than the meeting point with KJ and realized she would have to traverse the city alone until they could reunite. “This isn’t good. Not good at all. I’m dropping into golem controlled terrain, and behind their trench lines. It’ll be rough trying to get back.” She watched the ground slowly get closer as she drifted down. “At least none of them have decided to look up. Some luck tonight.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Penelope!” Henry cupped his hands to his mouth yelling after they’d landed and shed their parachutes.

“Quiet!” Mikey put a hand over Henry’s mouth, “Idiot, do you want to raise all golems and let them know that we’re here?”

Henry shoved away from Mikey before turning on him, “She’s out there alone. I’m not going to abandon her.” He tried running in the direction he’d seen Penelope drifting but John and KJ grabbed his arms.

“We’ll find her. But Mikey is right, we cannot alert the golems to our presence. We could find ourselves outnumbered very quickly and we still would not ensure her safety. She’s going to have to rough it until we can reach her.” KJ hissed in Henry’s ear.

“But,” Henry tried pulling.

“Think, Henry, what would Penelope do if the situation were reversed.” John said.

“She would put the group’s safety ahead of her desires.” He stopped pulling as he felt John and KJ loosen their grips.

“I promise you, we will find her. But we need to be smart about it.” KJ let go of his arm that she was holding.

“Quickly humans, the rain will be letting up soon. We must not be seen as we retreat.” Aurum began leading the group through the streets away from the abandoned parachutes. The streets curved past industrial spaces and around garages that had once been a staple to motor vehicle production. “Our once proud city, now a sad memory of its former glory, these streets used to be filled with the music of machinery, of engines and assembly lines, now they sit in ruin as the ever encroaching evil seeks to silence them.” Aurum lamented as he led them into a trench full of robots and other assorted Aekeans.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Her kindergarten teacher stood at the board, “I want each of you to draw what you want to be when you grow up.”

“A princess! A princess!” Penelope jumped up and down.

“A lot of girls want to be princesses, but maybe there’s something else you’d like to be?”

“A nurse like my mommy.” Penelope had a finger to her lip thinking.

“Well class our time is almost over for today so I want you to take this assignment home with you. And tomorrow we’ll all go around sharing what we’d like to be when we grow up.” The bell signaling the end of the day rang.

Penelope walked to the playground to wait for her buddy for going home. His mom and her mom worked together and so the two kids hung out a lot despite the six year gap in their ages.

“Mike! How were things in the big kids’ class?” She looked up at the boy. He looked like he’d been in another fight today.

“Same as always: Math, books, recess. We have to wait for Maria though, she’s staying after for a reading program.” He replied.

“You want to play on the swings?”

“Come on, I’ll race ya.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Her vision was dim as she opened her eyes, Penelope could see a trickle of blood splashing on the ground from where she had hit her head. “I must have hit my head hard if those memories are coming back. Come on Penelope, time to move. Break time’s over.” She felt groggy as she pushed off the ground and stood up. She looked around and saw moonlight pouring in through a hole in the roof she’d crashed through. “I guess it stopped raining. That should make finding my way around easier, I hope. My head is killing me though.” She looked around the building she found herself in it resembled the burnt out remains of a warehouse, there was a small fire still smoldering in one of the corners, but what caught her eye was a staff that stood somewhere between five and six feet tall. There were intricate designs carved along the shaft as she looked it up and down she noted the three purple crystals that were inlaid at the top. “I could use a walking stick and this must be a good one if it survived a fire.” She picked it up and tested its strength by leaning and bouncing on it. After she’d determined that it was stable enough she tried walking. She felt a sharp jolt in her ankle as she stepped and, after looking down at it, decided it must be sprained. “Joy to the world.

She limped around the expansive building a few minutes before finding a set of stairs that led back to the rooftop. She hobbled her way to the edge of the rooftop to get a view of the cityscape below. “Do I even want to know how screwed I am?” She whispered as she looked down. By her estimations she was about a half mile behind the golem trenches and she counted no fewer than fifteen placements of golems between her and those trenches. “I’d have to wait until morning before trying to fly; can’t see anything that isn’t lit by the golem campfires, and there’s still some lightning.” She muttered to herself. Penelope limped back down into the building and found a door leading outside. “In case any of them saw me land I got to put some distance between this building and myself.” She could already see a patrol of golems approaching the building as she limped down the street away from it.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“We have to go back out there. We have to find her.” Henry slammed his fists on the table everyone was gathered around. On the table were maps of the city and miniature figurines. There were red figurines in the areas controlled by golems, and blue figurines in the areas still held by free Aekeans.

“Henry she landed back here,” Mikey placed a figure where Penelope had landed, “Assuming she is trying to get back to the Aekean side, factoring in night time visibility, and the current weather-“

“Get to the damn point.” Henry growled.

“Danger human subject H-2 exerting dangerous levels of aggression.” A man-sized robot said. It stood 5 feet tall, had spindly piston legs, with delicate metal arms; one ended with an oversized hand the other some kind of plasma launcher. His face consisted of two lights embedded in a visor sitting atop an oversized engine housing. Looking at him reminded Henry of a robot from a game he played, the tragic robot named Gamma. This robot’s name however was Omega.

“Henry, calm down. You are upsetting our hosts. And for the most part emotions are foreign to them.” John caught the meaning of Omega’s notation.

“You’re damn right I’m angry and agitated, Penelope is out there alone, probably having to fight off golems on her own or running. You remember how hard those things were in Halloween Town?” Henry spat back.

“Henry settle down. Mikey, Jeremy, KJ, and Aurum are all working on a plan to punch into the lines there. They just need time to think.” Kerri put a hand on his shoulder and he brushed it away.

“We might have something but we’re going to have to wait until morning to do it.” Jeremy finally spoke.

“Aurum suggests ‘The biological units should engage in a sleep cycle to recharge their circuitry.’ And I think I agree, we could each use a rest.” KJ said.

“Why do we have to wait until morning?” Henry was pacing. The others looked at each other unsure of how to answer.

Mikey approached Henry, “There are a few factors: visibility, weather, and most importantly troops.”

“Troops?”

“Aekean soldiers, from what Aurum says, the best of the best. We’ll be launching a joint attack with the units along this line,” He went back to the map and motioned, “With such a push they’ll be caught off guard, from what Aurum and Ferrum told me prior engagements have been one outpost battles. A full line assault will be something new. We just have to wait for the units Aurum is pulling from a rest cycle to get here before we can launch it.” He looked up before adding in an agitated tone, “That good enough for you Henry?”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Daddy what does genius mean?” Penelope looked up at her dad.

“Sweetie a genius is someone super smart.” He bounced her on his knee a few minutes before Penelope’s mom came in. “Sweetheart why don’t you go to bed. Your mommy and I need to talk about grown up stuff. I’ll be in to tuck in in thirty minutes.” Penelope ran down the hallway but stayed outside her room so she could listen to her mom and dad talk.

“Benjamin we need to talk about Penelope’s test results.” She could hear her mother say.

“I know Susan. Her teachers want to skip her ahead because she’s so smart.” Her dad spoke.

“I think she should do it. It’s a great opportunity for her.” Her mother sounded excited.

“But jumping her to the fourth grade? She’s only five, she’d be in a class with kids twice her age. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” Her father seemed less enthused.

“Michael Senior and Cassandra’s son is in the fifth grade and their daughter in third grade. They could look out for each other.” Her mother replied.

“That boy is six years older than her. I fear for his safety as it is with how he behaves, adding looking out for our daughter, no that’s unfair to ask of any child his age.” Her father raised his voice a little, “I think it’s better for her socially to be left right where she is.” Penelope disappeared into her room after that because she could hear her parents beginning to yell and argue. She pulled the blanket up over her head because she was frightened about the fighting. After what felt like hours she finally heard the door slam and the yelling stop.

Footfalls came down the hallway towards her door and her mom opened it. “Mommy, where’s daddy? I’m ready for my night time story.” She tilted her head questioningly.

“Not now dear, your dad had to go to the grocery store to grab a few things. He said for you to go on to bed and he’ll read you two stories next time.” Her mom stroked her hair before going over to turn off the room’s light. “Good night Penelope.”

“Night mommy.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Penelope shook herself awake to the sound of cannon fire nearby. The sky overhead was grey and cloudy and her leg ached even more than it had the night before. “I must have overslept.” She looked around and saw an old clock tower that stood in the old city center. It indicated that it was well past noon. As she sat up she could hear golems scrambling in the streets below. Whatever was happening had definitely taken them by surprise. She looked over the rooftop she had hidden on to see what was going on. About ten blocks down the street was an intense firefight. She could see the glowing trails and sparks left by the exchange of plasma from the golems and whatever high intensity energy rifles the Aekeans had been using. Her heart sank when she heard a golem cry out, and it pointed up at her. She’d been spotted and she could hear them pouring into the building below her. “They’re coming for me. I just have to hold on.” She whispered to herself trying to reassure her unsteady emotions. Her thoughts drifted to Henry as she saw the first golem poke its head out of the rooftop access stairs. Would he be below leading the charge or would he be struggling to hold on she wondered.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“So far so good, the Aekeans have been able to drive the lines back several blocks and the main gate has been reclaimed.” Jeremy was relaying status updates from headset Aurum had given him.

“So we can start getting reinforcements from Ferrum and the others outside?” John called back. He jumped back into the trenches just in time to avoid a plasma mortar from a group of golems’ heavy cannon.

“Affirmative, Wolfram, Mikey, Henry and their unit is pushing up from the old town center into the automotive warehouses. Kerri, KJ, Argentum and their unit is pressing into the shipping districts.” Jeremy continued listening to the buzz in his ear as more information was being fed.

“Can you relay to the others that we are pinned down in the textiles warehouses. Their anti-infantry weapons seem to be concentrated here and we are taking casualties.” Even as Aurum was barking out the message broken bits of a robot rained down on them, he’d met his end from a direct hit by a plasma mortar. His still blinking head landed next to Jeremy and rattled him a moment before he could speak.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Henry and Mikey stood back to back as a ring of golems surrounding them collapsed. Henry had recklessly charged their line and Mikey fearing for Henry’s safety followed close behind him. A gray-white robot strode up with the units Mikey and Henry were leading forward, “Updates from the rest of the fronts,” he paused a moment listening to his radio set, “Jeremy and Aurum’s unit is pinned down, reinforcements from Ferrum on their way. Kerri and KJ have routed their batch, they’re fleeing to… to the… to here.”

“Sounds like things are about to get interesting.” He spun his sword as he saw the vague shapes of the golems coming down the street.

“Are Kerri and KJ pursuing them?” Henry asked.

“Affirmative sir.” The short robot said.

“Then we should press on ahead to those warehouses.” Henry pointed.

“No, we have an advantage here. Kerri and KJ attack from the rear and us from the front. We can pin those units, regroup with Kerri and KJ, and then press the warehouses with two units.” Mikey flatly replied. He could tell from the shift in his stance Henry didn’t like this plan.

“Alright, fine. We’ll wait for backup.” Henry growled.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Man these guys are fast.” Kerri puffed.

“You wouldn’t think that since they’re made of stone, but yeah.” The energy daggers from KJ’s wrist gauntlets still glowed as they chased after the fleeing golems.

“Ma’am, status update: Ferrum is en route to reinforce Jeremy and John. Mikey and Henry are holding position to flank the golems we’re chasing right into them.” A squat silver robot spoke.

“Thanks Argentum.” Even as he relayed information they could see the streaks of crossfire where the golems leading the fleeing column were engaging Mikey and Henry.

“Come on boys, let’s not let them have all the fun.” KJ hollered to their unit. The robots gave a cheer before picking up their pace.

“Hang on Penelope, we’re coming.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“So do you guys like jokes?” Penelope nervously chuckled as she stood at the edge of the warehouse rooftop. She was staring down at least a dozen golems that had run up there from the streets below. She could still hear some kind of fights going on below and was stalling until whatever was going on reached her. Her ankle was still swollen and hurting but she considered jumping from the rooftop to escape her pursuers.

“Surrender…. Subject Penelope, you have no escape. You will be taken to Lord Phantom’s detention facility.” The speaking golem leveled a laser cannon at her. She looked over the edge thinking about jumping.

“Let’s say I don’t surrender. What happens then?” She stared back hoping to buy some time. Hoping that whoever was fighting below would be able to reach her.

“Your compliance is not a request.” The golem began to charge the laser cannon and the others around it followed suit.

“Aren’t you a ray of sunshine.” She fired a burst from her lancer as it touched the first golem it exploded into a dazzling fire show. She didn’t wait to see the result before jumping from the roof to an adjacent building. She found the fire escape of this building; she judged by frequent windows it was an apartment building. She swung down each level, each one sent a jolt up her ankle. She barely saw out of the corner of her eye when a golem fired a plasma mortar right at her. It missed her as she swung down to the next level, but the force of the impact pushed her out and flung her onto the street below. Her lungs burned from the superheated air the plasma created. She struggled to raise herself to her elbows and knees. Her vision was hazy and spinning as she crawled towards a burnt out door she saw. After what felt like hours of crawling with ringing ears and darkening vision she pulled some rubble from the collapsed part of the building she was in around herself. She hoped it would hide her from any prying eyes until she could move again. She coughed into her hands and as she looked at the color of fluid she saw it was a red-brown. “I guess a direct shot from the mortar would have been worse.” She coughed as she felt herself falling asleep again.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Mom, I’m home are you here?” Penelope just got home from her first day of middle school and threw her bag on the ground. She didn’t have any homework and there was no sign of her mother being home. She still poked around the house to ensure she was alone before she went to one of the basement floorboards. She wedged the screwdriver she kept in her bag between the boards and shook it a bit until she heard the familiar popping sound. As she lifted it out it brought with it the board revealing a cache of assorted objects. There were scraps of paper, candy wrappers, pictures, sketches, even a few action figures hidden away in the hole. “Now where was I?” She dug through the wrappers and paper scraps until she found one in particular. “Here it is!” She pulled out a pencil and lay down against the floor, her hand moved furiously as she began to write. It had been a story she had been working on for months and had been writing on whatever scrap of material she could write on. Her mother didn’t approve of the writing but with kids in her class being so much older than her she didn’t connect with them. She had to escape somehow and her imagination carried her to the far off fantasy lands she scrawled about.

“Still writing that story I see.” She hadn’t heard Michael come in but she remembered inviting him over on days when his parents worked late, Maria would be joining them in an hour when she got out of class.

“Michael! I forgot I invited you over. I’m sorry, want something to drink?” She hurriedly tried putting her paper scraps away but he just smiled.

“I’ve been here enough times to know where everything is you keep writing. I’ll find the drinks and snacks.” He walked off upstairs to the kitchen and began to rummage through the cabinets.

“And then the knight whisked away the princess from her lonely tower. He carried her down the stairway and stepped over the still smoking remains of the dragon he had challenged to rescue the fair maiden. Her golden locks clung to her face as she felt the embrace of his armor…” She let out a sigh as she was writing, imagining herself as the princess and as she saw Michael come back with the drinks and a bag of chips he found she envisioned the bottle in his hand as a sword and the bag was a shield.

“What are you looking at?” He asked as he set down the spoils. “You’ve been working on that since your dad left haven’t you? What keeps you going?”

“He promised me two stories when he came back. I wanted him to read this to me so that we could both share it.” She hardly looked up from her writing.

“Well, I finished a new figurine for your collection. Be careful the wings are kind of fragile.” He unwrapped something he’d had wrapped up in cloth. As she laid her eyes on it she could see the red-black wings of the dragon from her story. He’d even gone through the trouble of drawing in tiny scales on the painted wood.

“Oh my god Michael, I love it!” She tackled him after she had set the dragon down.

“Aww well, I. Just don’t mention it.” His face had reddened slightly as she had her arms wrapped around him.

“I’ll treasure it always.” She released him from her grip as she excitedly went back to writing. She could see Michael was picking through the different paper scraps until he found the one where the story began, he pulled from his bag a notepad and began writing.

“If it means so much to you, I’ll help you collect it all into one pad.” He smiled as he began copying her scrawling marque.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Berryfarmer's avatar

Caring Abomination

22,250 Points
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  • Alchemy Level 6 100
[Part 2]

“Michael, they have reinforcements coming from the rooftop four of us can’t handle all thirty of what we’re about to be dealing with.” Henry shouted of the rattling of metal against stone. Henry, Mikey, Kerri and KJ stood together, ringed all around by golems. The robots helping them were cut off from the four by the mass of golems. There had to be at least thirty already on the streets and another thirty were about to come down from the roof above.

“Your call Henry, I know we were close. Very close.” Mikey smashed a golem’s head with an enlarged fist before another on retaliated with a punch to his gut. He reeled a moment before firing a burst of light to burn the golem.

Henry looked up and could see a three golem team positioning a plasma mortar to aim at them, “They have a mortar, we need to pull back.”

KJ punched her energy daggers into the neck of a golem she was riding as it collapsed she did a backflip off of it and landed next to Kerri, “Alright let’s clear a path back to the city center.”

“Annihilator burst?” She looked at Mikey and he nodded. They both fired lancers into the crowd and the golems parted to avoid the devastating combination of light and shadow. “Move!” The four of them sprinted through the parting in the golems and rejoined the mechanical assistants.

“Run! Retreat to the city center!” He barely had time to finish before a plasma mortar fired overhead. It arced long and missed but the message of falling back was clear enough to get the robots’ attention.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Any good news Jeremy?” John shouted over the dull roar. Ferrum’s reinforcements were still a block away and pinned down by the same golem group John and Jeremy were.

Jeremy was listening to the feed from the radio set, “Kerri and KJ pushed up and joined with Mikey and Henry. They’re being pushed back to the city center under heavy plasma fire. Chances are they might have to pull back further. Mikey says he could have sworn he saw Penelope but nobody else did so unconfirmed sighting.”

“I think it’s time to break the stalemate here.” John looked at Jeremy and Aurum as e was thinking.

“What did you have in mind?” Aurum’s blinking lights barely through the dirt and grime that clung to his box head were flashing on and off rapidly.

“Jeremy make sure Ferrum can hear this too.” He stared down putting the elements of this crazy plan together.

“You’re on coms John.” Jeremy was adjusting buttons on the radio set.

“This is Ferrum, go ahead.” The voice was grainy and interlaced with static as Jeremy adjusted the signal properties trying to improve it.

“Ferrum do you see the golden armored golem firing the mortars?” He spoke into the radio.

“Yes, why?” Came the response.

“Think one of your sharpshooters can drop him?” John said into the microphone.

“If we had a distraction, maybe.” Ferrum responded.

“I’ll do that, just make sure your shoot takes him out or that mortar is going to keep us pinned.” John nodded for Jeremy to stop broadcasting.

“What’s your plan John?” Jeremy tilted his head.

“You and I are creating a dusty tornado to sweep up and distract those golems. When Ferrum’s shooter drops the golem manning the cannon, we storm the position.” John pressed his hand to the ground and mounds of earth began to violently erupt in a path towards the golem position at the intersection. Jeremy waited a few seconds before sending a cyclone to throw the golems further off balance. In the storm of events transpiring a shot rang out and echoed across the streets. As John looked up he could see the golden golem slumped over the cannon. As gravity caught it the slumped form fell off from the rooftop. A loud cheer went erupted from the robots as John and Jeremy led a charge. The grounded golems scrambled to form lines, without their captain overhead firing mortars they began to scatter and flee.

“Stay with them!” Aurum barked to the robot army. Jeremy and John climbed up the building and looked at each other trying to figure out how to operate the plasma mortar. After a few seconds they managed to turn it to point where the golems were running to and fired a round. The entire rooftop shook as the white ball of superheated gas arced over the golems crashing into the ground ahead of them. The column of golems stopped in their tracks as the ground before them sizzled and shook. They turned to face the oncoming robots and other Aekeans.

“I think we got their attention, John.” Jeremy and John pulled the firing lever again and sent another ball of plasma arcing through the sky.

“Great, what do we do with it now?” John shouted as their ears rang from the crashing sound of impact.

“We keep them occupied so that maybe Henry and Mikey don’t completely fold.” Jeremy pulled the lever again. The impact caught a few golems that had tried running.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“They’re pushing us back to where we began this morning. We must be close to some crucial area if they’re fighting so vehemently to keep this area.” KJ deflected a golem’s plasma round off a garbage can lid.

“Mikey, Henry, you guys have a better chance of finding Penelope if you break off and take a side street on your own. We can hold them here.” Kerri shouted as she kicked down a golem.

“Are you two absolutely certain?” Mikey cleaved off a golem’s head.

“Go!” Kerri shouted.

“Mikey, let’s cut across Smokey Street.” Henry dragged Mikey into a side street that had rubble strewn about it but was free of golems. They began a run down the street, as they passed side streets back to the main road they got snapshots of the fierce firefight taking place on the other side of the buildings.

“So what do we do if we find ourselves surrounded and unable to get back to the others?” Mikey huffed as he jumped over a half melted ladder.

Henry puffed from the dust hanging in the air, “We’ll figure it out if it happens. For now we must be soft and swift as shadows.” He kept up a fast pace crisscrossing heaps of brick and concrete.

“Did you seriously just quote Gollum? And here I thought you were unsophisticated.” Mikey laughed a little.

“You’d have to be living under a rock not to have seen the movies.” He panted back.

“Whoa hold up, movement ahead.” Mikey and Henry came to a stop and began scanning the road ahead to see what was going on.

“They’re looking for something.” Henry pointed out their movement pattern.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Mom I’m tired of cup of noodles for lunch every day. Can I have real food like the other kids?” Penelope was sitting at the dinner table doing her math homework.

“Now honey, you know mamma can’t afford that.” Her mom ran her long boney fingers through Penelope’s hair.

“But you can afford that snortable sugar every day. I could have lunchables, even one a week would be nice.” Penelope looked up at her mom’s bloodshot eyes.

“I told you sweetie mamma needs her sugar to feel good. Now, it’s bed time let’s go.” Her mom led Penelope to her bedroom. “Now go to sleep, mamma has to go to work.” She closed the door as Penelope rested her head on the pillow.

The next day at school she was discussing the conversation at lunch with Michael. He looked at his sandwich as he saw her slurping the noodles from the styrofoam cup. He bit his lip in thought as he quietly listened. “Penni, you got to eat well. Here I’ll share some of my lunch.” He dumped out his brown lunch bag revealing a banana, an apple, a cup of applesauce, a key lime cup of yogurt, and two bottles of Crystal Light. He smiled a bit as he looked back at Penelope.

“You planned on sharing didn’t you?” Michael looked away with a smirk as she asked. She grabbed the apple and the yogurt, he had remembered her favorite flavor, and as she eyed the crystal light she had a choice between raspberry and lemonade. She twisted the lid off of the raspberry bottle and took a few sips. She smiled about the gesture and brushed the hair out of her eyes, “So Michael the Sadie Hopkins dance is coming up this weekend. Do you have a date yet?” Michael coughed a bit and turned red as he slowly returned his gaze to Penelope.

“Well Penni, I uhh err uhhm…” He turned a brighter red as he found he couldn’t speak. “We’re best friends and uhhm. No, I don’t have a date.”

“Then who better to be my date to the dance?” She smiled as Michael turned a crimson color.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The pile she was buried under shifted as Penelope tried to get up. She judged from the orange-red light against the wall it was sunset as she shakily stood up. She leaned on the staff she carried until she felt steady enough to walk. She ducked behind the pile of rubble as she could see the shadows of something approaching on the road. From their footfalls they were golems and they were carrying something heavy. She peeked over the rubble pile and saw it was a larger plasma cannon than their usual mortars. “They’re really dead set on keeping this street. There’s got to be something important worth damaging if that’s the case. I’m obviously not reaching the others until they can push through that blockade so I might as well make this place less desirable to hold.” She thought to herself a moment before laughing, “God the memories of him in middle school are causing me to think like him now.” She watched a few minutes for the street to be clear before making her way across it.

She limped down the back alleyways for what seemed hours until she came to a street packed with golems. They were marching in and out of one of the intact warehouses at the end of the street. She watched a few minutes before realizing the golems that went in were damaged and the ones coming out were pristine. “Something in that building. I’d guess repair station but when is anything here what the obvious answer is?” She looked around the alley she was on before finding a partially melted fire escape she could reach. She made her way to the top of a building she could look down at the street from. She looked around half hoping to see any of the others on nearby rooftops. Her heart sank when as far as she could see there was nobody in sight. Until something caught her eyes, a rooftop about a quarter mile away was raining down mortar fire on golems. “Over here! Hey!” As she shouted and flailed her arms she saw the mortar pause. She smiled hoping they’d seen her. But the roar from the street below indicated they weren’t the only ones to have noticed her hiding spot. “Oh crap.” She was more concerned with the silver lightning that struck an adjoining building to the one the mortar placement was on.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Got it Jeremy, thank you.” Mikey turned to face Henry, “Jeremy and John spotted her about a quarter mile west from here. Heading towards the old Aekean broadcast center.”

“Sprinting it I’m guessing?” Henry smiled a bit from relief.

“No time for any other way. Ignore any golems. Once we get there, leave them to me and you find her.” He stretched his legs.

“You don’t want to rescue the distressed damsel?” Henry joked.

“Already have my princess, you need yours.” Mikey and Henry took off at a sprint down the main streets. They could feel the heat in the air as plasma shots zoomed around them in the air. Mikey was counting at least 30 golems pursuing them through the busy streets. After five minutes of running they stopped at a street leading to a shiny silver warehouse.

“What now?” Henry panted.

Mikey handed him the shield he had received in Halloween Town. “I’ll lure as many as I can away. You get to the rooftops and you bring her back, see you on the other end.” Mikey pointed to a fire escape before taking off down the street. He was shouting something incoherent but it was getting the golems’ attention. Henry watched a moment before beginning the climb up a half melted ladder.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Looks like they made it to the party.” Jeremy commented as he heard the distant sound of golems stomping against the ground.

“Kerri and KJ are pushing back against the group at the town center. We’ve almost retaken most of the town.” John’s celebration was cut short by a loud thundering boom as lightning struck a nearby building. He could see a figure rise from the impact site, its eyes glittered blue and red in the smoke. “Jeremy run!” John stared in horror as The Phantom rose to his full height and only tilted his head staring at them.

“Where’s the rest of your pathetic team? Or am I to be satisfied with just the two?” He tilted his head back to stare at them dead on. Jeremy hurled a cyclone at him and he merely swatted it away with his right arm. “Foolish boy, do you think mere toys can stop me?” He had an evil toothy smile now as pointed white teeth glittered. John slammed his fist into the ground sending a shockwave through the rooftops. The Phantom smiled wider as he vanished from his rooftop.

“Where did he-?” John was cut off as The Phantom reappeared about five feet in front of him. Jeremy raised his arm trying to punch The Phantom who responded with just backhanding him to the ground. He looked down and sneered before lunging at John and getting a hand around his throat.

“So you are the humans still set on stopping me?” He lifted John into the air with just the hand around his throat, “I was hoping for ones much stronger. Like your friend, what was his name? Michael? Yes, he gave me a more entertaining fight, oh well.” Jeremy tried getting up, only to be kicked. The Phantom sneered as he placed one foot on Jeremy’s chest and began pushing down. “Which shall watch the other die first? Will I crush the poor boy’s chest or your windpipe first?” He looked John in the eyes as he squeezed harder.

“Let them go.” The Phantom turned his head to see Mikey standing there rings at the ready to attack.

“Ha ha ha ha ha! Here he is the boy of the hour, the one I was searching for. I’d be more careful about attacking if I were you. I wouldn’t want you hurting your playmates, lest they toe the line between this world and the next like you.” He held his other hand out mocking the motions a mother would shaking their hand with the index finger raised indicating no-no-no. Mikey gritted his teeth at the standoff. “Poor boy can’t decide if he wants to save you or the younger child, John.” John was holding onto the arm trying to break the grip on his throat. Jeremy struggled to get his arms around The Phantom’s leg to free himself. The Phantom began to laugh maniacally as the sky overhead began to gray and darken. A golden beam of light shot out and hit him in the back, the surprise caused him to fall forward onto his knees in front of Mikey, freeing both John and Jeremy. As he tried getting to his feet Mikey only tilted his head, smiled and vanished.

“You really should be mindful of your surroundings.” Mikey jumped over from another building and stood between The Phantom and John and Jeremy.

“You fooled me with a decoy.” He shuddered from the sting of the light as he stood back up. He cringed as some of the residual light sparked across him. He glared at Mikey both his eyes gleaming. “No matter, Aekea is mine. And soon your world.”

Mikey only smiled as he raised his head, “Not today.” He narrowed his eyes as The Phantom lunged at him.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“That’s right I said hit the center with everything we have, it’s the last space keeping us from driving out the golems. On all other fronts they’ve either been destroyed or fallen back to the communications center.” Kerri paused a moment as the winds began to rush down the streets kicking up dust and debris.

“He’s here, what’s more with all of us and the amulets here he’s going to try and make his play for your world. The communications center has the equipment he needs to rip a hole through the walls that separate the worlds. He only lacks the power.” KJ looked up at how the clouds began to swirl and form an eye.

“Our amulets in such close proximity to each other…” Kerri looked to the sky. “They create the power he needs.”

“We have to get to wherever he is and put him down. Now!” KJ jumped into the air and sprouted her wings. The winds looked rough as she tried flying but it was a risk she would take. Kerri waited a minute before she followed suit.

“We’ll keep pushing down here ma’am!” One of the robots called behind her as she drifted through the sky. She had to steady herself several times before landing on a rooftop next to the one Mikey, Jeremy, John and The Phantom were on.

“Ahh KJ is here too. Good, good, only two pieces missing for the grand climax.” The Phantom began to laugh as the amulets hanging at Mikey’s, Kerri’s, John’s, and Jeremy’s necks began to glow. “Even without the Time Axis, the amulets resonate to each and to me. Light, Shadow, Earth, Air, only Fire and Water need to join our party for the festivities to begin.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Penelope!” Henry pushed aside the remains of a metal shed as he searched debris on a rooftop. “Penelope, where are you?” He shouted. He could hear fights in the street below and could feel winds beginning to swirl into dark clouds overhead. As he shoved through bricks of another pile he heard a faint groan from elsewhere on the roof. He rushed to the pile and began desperately shoving pieces out as he dug. His eyes watered and he smiled as he found Penelope buried in the dirt and twisted metal.

“You found me.” She whispered as he pulled her from the pile. As he helped her stand up and brush off some of the dirt she added, “What took you so long?”

“I would have been here sooner but The Phantom got in the way.” He smiled and hugged her. She only looked at the sky overheard.

“Speaking of him. We have to get to the communications center down that street. We can stop his plan if we take it out.” She pushed away from Henry.

“No, we need to get to Mikey and help him fight that mad man, or whatever he is.” Henry tried pulling her by the arm but she wouldn’t budge.

“Mikey and the others can hold him back. If we don’t take out the center The Phantom may very well win today. We have to treat this like the final battle where we can take him out for good.” She gave Henry an intense stare as they looked at each other.

“Alright, what did you have in mind?”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Jeremy, John, on the left. Kerri, KJ take right.” Mikey jumped back as The Phantom’s fist sailed past his face. As he got his footing back he threw his own punch. The Phantom had to jump back to avoid a sludgy purple beam Kerri fired at him. And as he tried to counter a mound of earth knocked him into the air before a tornado whipped up around him. Mikey, Kerri and KJ took turns firing at The Phantom as he circled in the tornado while John and Jeremy kept the tornado going.

“Did you think something so simple would stop me?” The Phantom thrust out his arms and the tornado dissipated. “I was born to rule this world and yours.” He raised his arms into the air as he hovered. And the eye of the storm forming overhead began to turn purple and orange.

“Guys what’s he doing?” Jeremy the sudden rush of air knocked Jeremy to his knees.

“He’s trying to tear a hole in the fabric of the world.” KJ was thrown against the ground.

John pointed as an image began to form in the swirl, ”Is that?”

“San Jose.” Kerri finished John’s question. Mikey was the only one still on his feet from the force of the wind.

“We have to stop him.” Mikey leapt into the air ready to punch The Phantom.

“You’re too late, human.” He batted Mikey away with a back hand as a crystal blue beam shot out from a warehouse down the road. As everyone else struggled to stand Mikey was already back on his feet readying another attack. The Phantom merely looked at him and smiled, “Come then, warrior. And have your resolution.”

This time the punch connected and Mikey and The Phantom were exchanging blows as they drifted down to a rooftop. “You aren’t going to win.”

The Phantom merely smiled after each punch, “Dear boy, look around you. Your friends have all fallen. Your army is held at bay by mine. I already have won. Join me though and we can be glorious together.” He pressed a dagger to Mikey’s throat.

“Not all his friends.” KJ shot a beam at The Phantom causing him to leap off of Mikey.

“Dear Michael, you are more like me than you realize. Why do you think the others tire, or hunger, or can’t get up after physical taxing? They are limited by their flesh and blood. You exist in this world as a spirit only, unbound and free from carnal limitations.” He held out a hand to Mikey, “Join me and be free of physical limitations forever.”

Mikey looked at the hand thinking over The Phantom’s words. Spirit only? Am I dead? What have I become? Am I like him. He could hear his sister’s words echoing in his head, “You’re good Michael. Don’t lose who you are.” His gaze narrowed as he stared back at The Phantom.

“No.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Bret you have got to take a look at this.” Mavdoc and Swarf were checking the communications monitors seeing if they could reestablish communications with the crew. It had been weeks since Mikey went back in and since they received a status report from his temporary escape from zOMG there had been no means to send or receive information through a jamming signal.

“It looks like a black hole, Ryan.” He stared at the screen trying to think of where he’d seen something similar. “Where is it and what is it doing?”

“You guys might want to see this. There is a substantial power surge throughout the city. And look at the sky.” Garret pointed out the window as he was watching a streaming news broadcast.

“What appears to be a city is forming in a ring in the sky. We’re currently tracking the progress but it appears there are some things fighting within this window in the sky. Officials have no explanation and are advising anyone in the area to keep their distance from it.” The news broadcaster said as the camera panned to the tear forming in the sky.

Bret and Ryan’s eyes went wide, “That’s Aekea!” They both said.

Ben came rushing in dropping several papers he was carrying, “That vortex is forming on the zOMG side of things, it’s a massive data well drawing energy from within the server and the city. And it has one purpose.” He nervously bit his lip, “To transfer data from that world into physical form here.”

“So you’re saying something in there is trying to come here?” Ryan replied.

“Something big. An army by the power this thing is sucking up.” Ben replied.

“Lord have mercy.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Got an idea for getting past that golem blockade? They don’t look like they’re about to let us through.” Henry and Penelope were headed straight for a line of golems blocking the entrance to a warehouse with tons of dishes and antenna on the roof. A few of the dishes were directing some kind of energy beam into a hole in the sky.

“We’re going to jump right over them. Just wait for me to say.” Came her response.

“What about your ankle?” He asked.

“Unimportant right now.” The golems seemed unsure of how to react to the two charging humans. “Jump now!” Once they were past the golems and while they were fumbling around Penelope found a door control and blasted it. The sliding door slammed shut blocking the golems, but also locking Penelope and Henry inside. “The signal broadcast controls have to be upstairs somewhere.”

Henry and Penelope scoured the dark offices that littered the floors searching for any kind of control system, faintly they could hear explosions and feel the building shutter from things occurring outside. “Any idea what it looks like?” He looked at a clipboard still on a dusty desk. He looked at some of the items scattered around. “This used to be a television station. By the letterhead on everything it was a branch office of Gaia Action 9.” He kicked a broken coffee mug on the ground out of frustration.

“We need to find the broadcast floor. That’s where the controls we’re looking for on. We’re on the third floor, there are six floors in total. Don’t know how much longer Mikey and them will be able to hold off The Phantom. Let’s move.” Penelope went to the stairwell to go up to the next floor. The next floor was just as dusty and there were two or three golems wandering about it.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Mikey coughed up a mouthful of dust as he raised his head from the crumbled rooftop. The fight wasn’t faring well. Each time they attacked, The Phantom merely batted them down or deflected their attack. Meanwhile, the rip in the sky was becoming larger. “We can’t hold back. It’s time to go all in.” As he rose a red-blue aura surrounded him. As he looked at Kerri she was struggling to her feet as a purple-blue aura surrounded her. John arose with a gold-blue aura, and Jeremy with a green-blue.

“Michael… can you hear me?” The signal was weak and static filled, but Mikey swore he heard Swarf’s voice. “That hole in the sky is too big for a single entity…. Meant for army.”

“How do I stop it Swarf?” He said to himself hoping Swarf could hear. The others continued fighting while Mikey listened for any response.

“To collapse the hole you have to cut off the transmission supporting it. And you have to create a huge energy explosion to force it closed.”

“Wouldn’t an energy explosion enlarge it?” He had his index and middle finger pressed to his ear.

“Without the transmission beam directing the energy it would collapse. Your dad’s idea. But you’ve got to take out the transmitters first.” The signal cut out as The Phantom sent out a shockwave.

“Such weak attacks. Do you really think you can stop me?” He began to take off for the hole in the sky.

“No, you don’t.” Kerri grabbed his right arm, John grabbed his left arm and Jeremy his legs as Mikey dove into him. All four of them were straining to push him away from the ripple. KJ kept throwing attacks at him to unsettle him, but he was slowly dragging them into the hole.

“Mikey what do we do?” Jeremy groaned.

“We have to keep him on this side. There’s no knowing what would happen to us if we had to chase him through the rift.” John shouted.

“We have to hold him until hopefully Penelope and Henry can take out the transmitters.” Mikey dug deeper to push harder.

“Let’s see if you can.” The mass shuddered as The Phantom began pushing back harder. Mikey could feel his back tingle as he began to be pushed through the hole. Jeremy, John, and Kerri all let go to avoid being dragged through. With only Mikey left The Phantom shoved him aside and went into the rift.

“We have to go after him. He can’t be allowed into our world.” Mikey turned to follow The Phantom but John grabbed him.

“Mikey, in this world we exist as a manifestation of thought processes still occurring in our brains. Those processes and stimuli are transmitted back and forth, there’s no knowing what happens to that process when something meant to be digital signals crosses into material world.” Mikey shrugged John off.

“I don’t know what will happen to me if I go, and I can’t make that choice for you. But I know what will happen if he goes and nobody tries to stop him. I’m going after him.” Mikey dove into the hole. He screamed as he felt himself being stretched and smashed. He felt like he was being put back together and dissolved at the same time as the world around him swirled into colored haze.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“That must be the transmitter control.” Henry pointed to a glowing orb surrounded by six golems.

“Let’s get to work, the world isn’t going to save itself.” A plume of flames shot from her hand and crashed against one golem, while a jet of water rushed from Henry’s into another golem. The other four responded with raising their plasma rifles and firing white hot plasma. Henry knelt down behind the shield Mikey gave him. He felt the plasma splatter against it, but didn’t feel any of the scorching heat through the shield. Penelope poked her head up from behind Henry and fired a few small fireballs before ducking behind him and the shield as the next round of plasma came. After a few exchanges it was finally a two on two match as Penelope and Henry each attacked a golem.

“I think that’s all of them.” He said as he snapped the head off of a golem. He looked at the glowing orb that had power readouts and a touch keypad on it. “How on earth are we supposed to work this?” All of the keys were in some script he was unfamiliar with.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

When he could see again Mikey looked around. He was blinded at first by the sunset over the Pacific, and he could see the many sloughs in the bay below where he hovered. He looked up and about 100 feet above him was a hole in the sky he could see Aekea through. As he looked he could see The Phantom hovering about twenty feet and faced away from him. “So you were the only one brave enough to follow me. I must commend your courage Michael Berth Jr. but it is in vain.” The Phantom still faced towards the city skyline as office buildings began lighting up like Christmas trees. “I see some of why you fight to defend such beauty. Now that I see it through my own eyes and not those borrowed from a human puppet.”

“So you do exist somewhere in the human world.” Mikey tensed up as he felt himself adjusting to the environment.

“Tell me do you feel like you are in two places at once?” The Phantom waited a minute as Mikey stared awestruck at the question, “You don’t do you? Interesting, your friends would. The sensation is caused by how information is relayed between how you perceive it, that neural interface, and then your brain. Your friends would feel it because their thought processes are still carried out in those fleshy brains, while you exist in a form free of that. Yes, your physical body is in this world, that building I believe.” He pointed at a small building along the skyline, “But that accident years ago robbed you of the need for the relay to a brain, no all your thinking occurs in whatever digital body you find yourself in. I’ve studied you and that’s why I say you are more like me than them.”

“I’m nothing like you. I know love and compassion, while you’re only filled with hatred and wrath.” Mikey raised his fists ready to fight.

“My world exists in a digital realm that can be erased and rebuilt at a whim. For years I existed as a background line of code embedded by a smart human developer to monitor and maintain a world he’d painstakingly crafted. I watched as that world fell into ruin and was neglected by the very group that brought it into existence.” His tone was more sadness than it was anger.

“You’ve been in zOMG since day one designed by Qixter?” Mikey lowered his fists curious about where this conversation would lead.

“Yes, and I watched powerless as greedy humans exploited my world for their gains, both the users for their virtual currency and notoriety, and the owners for profit and money. At that time I could only crash servers and cause lag. But then one day my programmer returned and brought me out of my nightmares by showing me his plans for chapter two of zOMG and what it could be. He created for me a physical body to exist in that world as it was built. The first of the Anari, rather than being part of his mind like the other six were to other developers I was born from the coding and experiences I had seen. He saw me as an equal and gave me power to help him construct the world that would become zOMG! Chapter 2: Ghi Unleashed.” The Phantom turned to face Mikey, both his eyes were blue as opposed to the red and blue combination. “His plans were so grand and pure, but I voiced my concerns about what had happened with chapter one. He assured me it wouldn’t be like that, but he couldn’t see what I had seen. I regret that I had to consume him and then take his place among you humans. He was to me, a father, I suppose. I only wanted to keep the new addition to my world from becoming like the old part. That’s why I instigated my plan.”

Mikey was unsure of how to react to what he’d heard. Was it a trick or some kind of cunning strategy to get him to drop his guard? Or was it genuine? “It’s not too late. You can always stop what you have begun. And there’s still time to reach a peaceful resolution. Kirk, it’s not over yet.”

The Phantom seemed taken aback by the use of his real name. The he lowered his head, “I wanted to bring you here alone so I could share my information away from monitoring eyes.”

“Monitoring eyes? You’re the master of the server we just came from. Your power there is pretty absolute.” Mikey retorted.

“No, there is one in your world that has found me and has begun to pull the strings. I dare not stand against him for fear of him destroying my entire world. I would rather see it survive under an oppressive dictator than be destroyed utterly. If you so choose to destroy me, I only ask that you stop him.” When he looked back up his eyes were back to the usual red and blue. He raised his arm revealing the gleaming rings on his hand. “Now, defend yourself human!”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“What do we do now?” Kerri stared on as she could see the shapes of The Phantom and Mikey darting back and forth in the San Jose skyline. There were flashes as they tried to shoot one another or when they clashed.

“There are still golems on this side to mop up and we need to wait for him come back through before we can collapse the gate.” Jeremy clutched his ear as a static sound began coming through the long dead communication piece.

“Can anyone hear me? I think Henry and I have disabled the device jamming our crew comm systems. If someone can hear me, please respond.” Penelope’s voice was a bit distorted and there were patches of static but they could hear her voice over the earpieces.

“Penelope? We can hear you. You disabled a jamming device? That’s great!” John smiled.

“Even better that Henry is with her too.” Kerri chimed in. She was still watching the fight through the tear in the sky.

“Come on we have to help them. Mikey’s handling himself just fine in combat. Henry and Penelope need help cracking that jammer more.” John put a hand on Kerri’s shoulder.

“I know just,” she trailed off taking one last look as they began following Henry’s directions to his and Penelope’s location.

“Humans…. Can you hear me?” It was Aurum over the radio, “We’ve pushed them back. They’re all fleeing to the broadcast center and the road from there out of Aekea…. Don’t have numbers to pursue all the way…. Sending ship and a repaired mech…” There was a lot of static but Jeremy pointed and they could see a smoking plane approaching Henry’s described location. Hanging rather precariously on the bottom of the hull was some kind of robot looking machinery.

“That looks like it will be fun to use.” Jeremy said as they reached the building Henry described. They could see on both of the surrounding streets walls of golems approaching.

“Dropping a few troops we can spare and our last functioning mechsuit. You’ve got to hold that building until our main infantry can reach you. Your friends, Henry and Penelope, stumbled onto a hot piece of golem real estate.” The smoking ship hovered a few feet above the ground as the clamps holding the mech opened up, dropping the sleek black suit in front of John, Kerri, KJ and Jeremy. The rear hatch of the plane opened up and ten robot troops dropped down and started positioning themselves around the building’s entrances.

Jeremy smirked as he shouted, “Dibs!” He began looking for a way to climb up into the mech-pilot’s pod.

“Whoa there. Have you even piloted one of these?” KJ looked at Jeremy worriedly as he was climbing up the six foot tall legs.

“Can’t be too hard. I’ve played every mech-simulator game I could get my hands on.” He closed to hatch on the pod as he climbed in. The ten foot tall jet black terror came to life as Jeremy began pressing things on the control panel. “So left joystick controls the direction it’s looking, right joystick is movement.” He whispered to himself as it took a few cautious steps. He looked at the monitors inside that showed what external cameras were seeing: KJ, John, Kerri, and the Aekean robots around the area were outlined in green, while the golems he could make out were outlined in red. “Looks like the left arm is some sort of…” He squeezed the trigger and a pink laser fired from the cannon mounted to the left hand, the kickback of it caused the mech to take a step backwards, the shot landed a few feet from John, who began yelling at Jeremy something about watching his aim. “Yup definitely a laser cannon, which means the right arm has a gatling gun. Okay I can do this.” He said to himself as he brought the mech around to face one of the streets golems were coming by.

“Jeremy, if you can hear me that means the mech’s communications systems are compatible with our crew channel. Aurum said while you’re piloting it we won’t be able to use our rings to heal or buff you. It should have an energy shield capable of recharging when not being subjected to abuse. And you can overload the hydraulics in the legs and make it stomp by quickly pushing both joysticks forward and immediately pulling them back. Good luck.” Kerri’s voice came over the speaker above one of the monitors inside.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Their last midair collision sent Mikey flying back into a billboard on the side of a building. The force of the impact knocked him out as he plummeted to the ground below. The Phantom smiled and landed softly and an unconscious Mikey crashed into a car just outside an office building. People all around were running frightened and panicked as The Phantom randomly shot things with his beam attack. “I think I’m going to enjoy ruling this world.” He calmly hovered down the street leaving Mikey a mess on the vehicle.

“This is officer Hurley, at the corner of Brokaw and Matrix, we had two things fall from the sky. One is seriously injured, I think, the other is heading west along the 101. It is extremely dangerous.” A cop that had been passing in his patrol car had seen the exchange after Mikey crashed and was checking him out. “The injured one looked like one of them larper kids went anime.”

“Officer Hurley we have confirmed sightings of vehicles being exploded along the 101 by a masked figure with a cane.” Came the reply on the radio.

Mikey began stirring from the sound around him. “I’ve got to… got to stop him.” He tried to stand but fell to his knees as he struggled to move.

“Hey easy, you don’t look too good kid.” The officer tried to brace Mikey.

“You don’t understand officer, he’s from another dimension. Your guns will only tickle him at best. I have to get to him and stop him.” Mikey clutch his side as he tried standing. He was feeling disoriented from the sensation of being two places at once.

“Look bud, you don’t look like you’ll be able to hold up.” Officer Hurley stopped as he saw some of Mikey’s injuries already healing themselves. Before he could say anything else a blue SUV pulled up.

“Michael is that really you? You came through the hole in the sky?” It was Swarf and Mavdoc and driving was Mikey’s dad. Mikey clutched one of his deeper gashes as he nodded his head. He fell to the ground as he tried to walk again.

“Son.” His dad jumped from the vehicle and knelt beside him. “I know I haven’t always been a good dad. But do you remember what we used to say on backpacking trips?”

“You go until you can’t walk no more.” He swallowed hard as his dad nodded.

“And then?” He asked.

“And then you crawl until you can’t do that anymore. But dad, I don’t think I can catch him by crawling, at least not before he really hurts a lot of people.” Mikey shivered as he stood again.

“And what was the last part to the saying, son?”

“And when you can’t crawl no more, you find someone to carry you.” He clutched his side as he limped a few steps. “Officer Hurley, I need to know where the menace you saw is going. I need to drag him back through that hole in the sky.”

“I’m not letting you out of my sight whatever you are.” The officer replied.

“Then you’ll just have to come with us.” Michael Sr. helped Mikey and the officer into the SUV before taking off.

“Take the 101 west, reports having him making his way to Mitchell Park.” The officer said as they accelerated. As the tore down the highway Mikey’s injuries continued to heal themselves.

“You know it’s weird seeing you like this given you’re lying in a bed hooked up to several machines a few blocks the other way.” Mavdoc finally said.

“Believe me, it’s just as unsettling for me to experience the sensation of being in two places.” He gasped as he pulled a shard of glass from a gash as it was healing. “I guess rings work differently here since there’s no Ghi for them to run off of.”

“Wait, you mean after the transition to this world you’re still able to use your rings?” Swarf asked.

“Yes, why?” Mikey wondered.

“The Phantom has to use his abilities that aren’t ring or Ghi based. Somehow you’re still able to create the ring effects where you shouldn’t be able to.” He continued.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“It’s a curiosity. Swarfy here told us all about your last visit home and how you were able to access ring powers from a corporeal body as opposed to the electronic one.” Mavdoc chimed from the front seat.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Berryfarmer's avatar

Caring Abomination

22,250 Points
  • Tested Practitioner 250
  • Battle Hardened 150
  • Alchemy Level 6 100
[Part 3]

“You look so nervous. Come on Michael, you put your arms around me like this. And then we sway back and forth to the music.” The gym was lit only by the light reflecting off of the disco ball hung from the ceiling as the students danced together. Michael nervously held Penelope, he hadn’t told his parents who his date was, only that he had one for the dance.

His sister Maria had figured things out and had left the two of them from walking her home earlier with the words, “It’s about time with how much you two get along. Now, you be careful.” Penelope’s mom had never approved of school dances and so Penelope kept the secret of going to one, much less going with Michael.

“Well it’s just I erm.” Despite the lighting Penelope could tell he was red in the face as he tried to talk. She stood up on her toes and lightly pecked his cheek.

“You need to have more fun and let loose.” She giggled as he just stared back.

“Okay you kids, this is the last song of the evening. So grab that special someone and hold them close cause darlin’ this is the last dance.” The DJ said as a slow song started. The song had barely been playing thirty seconds before the gym door was slammed open and a very angry Mrs. Dumont came charging in.

“Penelope Ginny Dumont, what in God’s name are you doing?” She was very angry and Penelope looked panicked as she was pulled away by her shoulder. “You are coming home right this instant. You know you are not allowed at school dances. You’re to come straight home after classes.” Her mother’s lectures continued until they were in the car driving home.

“Mom, I wanted to have fun.” Penelope crossed her arms as she sat.

“Honey, you can have fun later. You’re a child genius, and that boy don’t love you. He’ll leave as soon as something better comes along or until he can’t stand being around you.” Her mom was slurring her words as she angrily drove.

“Momma have you been drinking?” Penelope could smell something on her mother.

“No, now you go to your room. And think about what you’ve done. Momma’s having some friends over so don’t you dare come out.” Penelope’s mom slammed the door shut as Penelope sat down at her desk. Tears streaked down her face as she scribbled some words for her story onto some paper scraps.

“The princess could no longer stand her imprisonment, so she set out to vanquish the dragon herself and find her prince charming.” She read aloud as she wrote. She was very angry at her mother as she sat in silence. She could hear the commotion her mom and her “friends” were making. And as she quietly ventured from her room she could see them passing something around as they sat at the glass table. Penelope went to her mother’s medicine cabinet and found the sleeping pills she kept for rough nights. She carefully removed the label from the bottle and left it on the counter next to another bottle of pills that looked recently used, before she quietly slunk back to her room.

When she hadn’t heard anything for several hours she slipped out of her room again and saw her mom and her friends lying down. There was a foul odor and a pool of something on the carpet next to her mother. “Mom?” There was no response for a few minutes. In a panic Penelope picked up the phone and dialed 911.

“Hello, 911, what’s your emergency?” The operator on the other end drawled.

“My mommy’s passed out and not responding. I don’t know if she’s breathing. Please help me.” Penelope cried into the phone.

“Alright, try to stay calm. How old are you?” The calm reassuring voice answered.

“I’m 8, almost 9. Please can you help my mommy?” She replied.

“Alright sweetheart, we’re sending an ambulance. What is your address?”

“7320 Delmonico Blvd, please hurry.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A scrawny looking Aekean boy had come with the robot detachment sent to help Henry and Penelope with the device. He was about four feet tall with layered black hair, he kept a neckerchief with the checkered black and white Aekean pattern over most of his face as he worked on the device they had found. The two robots that were with him simply called him Stannum as he worked. He reminded Penelope of Jeremy as he furiously worked on the machine. “How’s it looking outside guys?” Penelope asked over the radio.

“Like sunshine and roses.” Kerri sarcastically responded. She kicked down a golem and saw another have a hole burned through its chest by the mech suit Jeremy piloted.

“I count at least 100 more on approach. I don’t think we can hold out against that many.” The gatling gun roared as it ripped up another two golems.

“I don’t know about you guys but I can’t take them much more than two at a time.” John had one golem taped in place while he cut apart another one.

Henry was looking over Stannum’s shoulder as he worked, “Guys, Stannum is working as fast as he can. We have to hold this building.” He said into the radio.

“Understood. We’re trying out here. Care to join us?” Came KJ’s response. Henry looked at the two robots and Penelope.

“Go, if they get in, the three of us can keep Stannum safe.” Penelope and Henry exchanged a long look as he turned to help the others outside. “Don’t let me down Stannum.”

Jeremy tried to keep shooting despite the plasma the golems were firing beginning to penetrate the mech’s energy shields. As he turned he shoved both joysticks forward and back to make it stomp. The five golems that were pushing him back trembled and fell from the shockwave the massive stomp caused. As he moved around the gatling gun overheated and the laser canon needed to recharge. “Dammit, the shields are below 10% power.” Jeremy was pulling back trying to find cover while the weapons and shields recharged and cooled but the constant rain of plasma was making it difficult. He stared at the display bewildered as a wall of water rose up between the mech and the golems. It surprised him even more when the water was dissipating the plasma from the handheld guns the golems carried.

“You aren’t scratching that mech up are you Jeremy. I know Aurum wanted it back in one piece.” Henry joked. Jeremy smiled in the cockpit as the displays indicated the shields had begun recharging and the weapons systems were back online.

“Shields are good. You can let the wall down.” Jeremy replied to Henry over the radio system.

“Good, cause I do enjoy making golems swim.” The wall of water collapsed into a wave as it rushed down the street. The gatling gun roared as it began to damage the golems that the wave hadn’t unsettled.

“I just need a few more minutes before I can disable it and make it mobile.” The flat voice surprised everyone, “Hehe I don’t talk much, it’s me Stannum. I figured out how to modulate the signal to message your friends in your world. But I figured this place wouldn’t be safe. I need about five minutes to have it ready.”

“Okay. I think we can do this. How are we getting out though?” The mech took a few shaky steps as a plasma mortar struck the ground ahead. He could see on the displays that there were at least three more mortars setting up shots. Guess I got my priority targets.

Penelope and the two robots with her mercilessly shot down the one golem that had managed to enter the building past the others’ defenses. “One got through. He wasn’t much trouble but I can’t imagine being able to deal with more.”

“If you want to complain, we’re taking numbers out here.” Kerri replied on the crew channel.

“Now serving number 38.” John chimed in.

“Where do they keep coming from? We knock one down and it’s like there’s two just waiting to take his place.” The volume of golems had forced KJ and the nearest two robots against the building wall as they desperately tried pushing back. One of them began blinking before it spoke.

“Aurum and Ferrum have linked up and are assaulting the golem’s spawn point. If they can destroy it then we should just have to destroy the ones already here.”

“Just dandy.” Henry retorted as he heard the news. “So even if we get it mobile we have to hold out for help. Jeremy that mech looks beat to hell.” The mech shuffled past Henry trailing black smoke.

“Those plasma mortars are tearing through the shields and causing some structural damage. I don’t know how much longer it’ll last. Any word from Mikey at all? It looks like that rip in the sky is getting bigger.”

“Nothing yet. And yes it is bigger. It’s why we need him back here asap.” The building shook as heavy blast crashed into one of the upper floors. “Are you guys okay out there?”

“Just peachy.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Let me off here.” Mikey said as they maneuvered around another overturned car.

“But we’re still a quarter mile behind him.” His father replied.

“I don’t want anyone else getting hurt. And I need you guys back at Gaia HQ to help close that rift once I get him back through.” A plume of smoke rose up ahead of them.

“Well, you aren’t going anywhere without me.” Officer Hurley jumped out of the vehicle with Mikey when it came to a stop.

“It’s too dangerous, I can’t allow it.” He looked the officer in the eyes.

“Well too bad kid.” Mikey and the officer calmly walked to catch up to The Phantom. After about ten minutes they were a hundred yards from The Phantom and his back was turned to them.

“Hey ugly!” Mikey waited until The Phantom began to turn around before firing a lancer at him. The force of the impact knocked him into one of the concrete barriers. “Did you forget about little old me.”

The Phantom dragged himself out of the barricade and wiped away the dust from his face, “Indeed you are much more resilient than I thought. You’re going to regret coming after me boy.” Michael cracked his knuckles.

“Hit me with your best shot.” Mikey taunted, hoping for a response. He watched as The Phantom tried to shoot a beam, but it merely fizzled out in his hand. “What’s the matter, batteries ran out?” Mikey fired his own beam back at The Phantom, knocking him back into the concrete. “You’re in my world now, Kirk.”

“You dare mock me!” The Phantom lifted a car over his head and tossed it at Mikey and the officer. As it soared through the air Mikey kept his calm pace towards The Phantom, the officer however looked terrified of the car sailing through the air. A blue shield enveloped both of them as the car crashed into the ground, it cracked from the impact but stopped the car before it hit Mikey and the officer. “How did you?” The Phantom stared confused.

“I’m not cut off from Ghi based powers like you are. Now, how about we finish round six?” Mikey charged forward, his rings glittering in the sunlight the smell of gasoline and burnt metal wafted through the air.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Any word from Aurum? We’re up to our necks in golems out here.” Henry was prodding Penelope and the Aekeans inside for an answer. The fighters outside had begun to build the bodies of fallen golems into barricades as they defended the building.

“Aurum says they’re pressing the golem’s hive with everything they’ve got but they’re a few minutes out from being able to do anything.” Came Penelope’s garbled reply.

“We’re going to need a miracle to keep this up.” KJ was kneeling next to Henry behind one of the makeshift barricades.

“Guys the mechsuit is picking up multiple inbound things.” Jeremy had pulled back as close to the building as he could.

“More golems?”

“I don’t think, some kind of metallic composition. Getting an image now. They look like tanks.”

“Just what we needed, heavier armed foes. Alright, looks like things are getting interesting.” Henry jumped up and stabbed through the nearest golem. He heard explosions rumbling down the street. “Jeremy?”

“Near as I can tell, the tanks are firing on the golems. They seem to have the same metal composition as the mech, maybe more Aekeans?” Jeremy moved to pursue the golems that had turned to fight the approaching tanks. “Heavens help us if it’s what I think it is.”

“And you villainous filth of a whiny brat thought you were a match for my Grunny Tanks? Sublab X will crush you all! Muahahaha!” Jeremy’s mood sank as he recognized Labtech X’s boisterous voice coming from the other side of the golems.

“Is that?”

“No way, we finished him off at the Sealab Complex.” They stared silently as dull metallic green tanks rolled around the street corner. They looked like someone had replaced the arms of a Grunny Sub with a single cannon in the middle and then stuck it onto twin treads for rolling across land.

“Guess the original programming of him to be a boss in the area survived.” John stared bewildered as the modified Sublab X came into view. It maintained the claws and body and tail of the original Sealab X, but it had four additional jointed legs for moving across terrain, while the tail curled up and over the body like a scorpion’s tail.

“Well at least the golems going after him gives us a breather, but how are we going to fight that?” Kerri, Henry, John, KJ and Jeremy had regrouped at the building entrance watching the Grunny Tanks and Sublab X battle with the golems.

“Original plan was, he survived the battle in the Sealab Complex, he continued his plans from a lab underneath the subway network of Aekea. Players would descend into the Sublab Complex and fight his new Sublab X. However, he redesigned the grunnies’ new vehicles to be impervious to Ghi based attacks, which would necessitate the need for mech-suits. Albeit those mechs would be useless against Sublab X and need to be ditched during the fight.” John began as a few chunks of blown apart golems flew overhead.

“If I remember the guide correctly, Sublab X can fire electro webs from the tail that cause damage over time and rooting. It still fires missile and contains a production facility for Deathmines inside the body.” Jeremy began.

“Don’t forget the sleep beam from the original Sealab X, and being able to swing that tail as an attack.” John noted.

“Think we can move the device out of here while they’re fighting each other?” Penelope was talking to Stannum more than anyone else.

“Unless, you can carry 400 lbs. at a rapid pace, I doubt it.” Stannum replied.

“So, nothing’s changed, only the number of things to kill.” KJ turned to get back to fighting before Henry stopped her.

“You heard John, those Grunny Tanks are impervious to Ghi based attacks like our rings. And right now it’s an even match out there. We let them wear each other down a bit longer then we make our play. Jeremy, your priority is any tank that gets past the golems.” Henry began.

“Probably should warn you the indicators in here read critical and are flashing red.” The mech was dented and burned in several locations and smoking but still moving.

“Going to be a problem?” Henry turned to look at the mech.

“Only if they start throwing rocks.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Mikey rolled to the side as The Phantom’s fist slammed into the concrete barrier he had been thrown against. He had been running around trying to keep from getting grabbed or punched as he peppered The Phantom with blasts from various ranged rings. The one punch The Phantom did land had sent him careening into the concrete at the edge of the road. The Phantom was swinging wildly as he tried to connect another blow. As Mikey ducked behind an abandoned minivan he could see the hole in the sky was starting to spark. “You waste time playing games while the doorway begins to destabilize. Come now, don’t you wish to send me back?” His arm had become a red-brown claw as it smashed through the minivan’s frame.

Mikey slid to a halt as he gazed back at The Phantom. “Each of the Anari are based on an animated. So which are you modeled after with that scaly claw?” Mikey stared as The Phantom shrugged. Spines had torn through his suit on the back and bulging muscles had ripped through everywhere else. Reptilian claws had shredded the shoes and a hooked tail had erupted through the seams of his pants.

“You’ve got it wrong. The other Anari are modeled after animated, but me, with me the Nullsaurs are modeled after me.” He let out a hiss as his mask cracked and fell away revealing a crocodilian snout.

“Stan Lee called, he said auditions for The Lizard are in New York.” Mikey jumped back as the tail smashed into the ground in front of him.

“Michael can you hear me?” It was Kuzuan’s voice, “We’ve managed to create a program to pull anything from the zOMG world back through the rift. But it only has a range of a hundred meters. If you can get The Phantom that close the rift will suck him in like a vacuum.”

Mikey jumped back and pressed his ear, “That’d be nice but to get close enough to knock him into the air puts me in range of his claws and teeth. Is there any way you can beef up the range.?”

“Not without frying you and everyone else still in The Phantom’s server.” Mikey was flung back as the tail struck his side. It was solid like a truck, he barely avoided another swing as he reeled from the force of the impact. He looked at the sky before clutching his side and leaping into the air.

As he tried taking flight he could feel one of The Phantom’s claws wrap around his ankle. “Leaving? So soon? We haven’t even begun to have fun.” His nails dug in and Mikey winced in pain as he continued flying.

I’m not leaving just taking you with me. He struggled to remain airborne but he lifted The Phantom off the ground and began slowly floating towards the rift. He could feel each nail dig in as The Phantom was climbing up his legs to get at his face and body. “Come on. Come on.” Mikey whispered as he remembered the Dazzler Ring Swarf made him try, it was supposed to cause a five second drop in accuracy and at high rage ranks a stun effect for a few seconds before the accuracy drop. He pointed his hand and hoped it worked. The Phantom hissed as he fell limp from the bright flashing lights, Mikey quickly grabbed his tail and began spinning like he was going to throw a shot-put. “Mikey used Seismic Toss!” He said as he released. The Phantom went flying towards the rift. Mikey let out a burst of speed as he tackled The Phantom midair to push him the rest of the way. He felt the tug from the rift as he got close enough.

“Michael, once you go back through, we might not be able to communicate to you. Is there any-“ Kuzuan began.

“It’s Qixter. The Phantom’s real world identity is Qixter, do you hear me?” Mikey rushed desperately.

“I’m sorry did you say Qixter?” Kuzuan tried but was cut off as Mikey entered the rift.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“That purple-black color the rift is turning doesn’t look good.” KJ pointed.

“We’re out of time. The rift is destabilizing, we need to close it now.” Henry yelled over the sound of an exploding Grunny Tank.

“Wait, Stannum says something’s coming through. If we close it while it’s in mid trip it could dumped off just about anywhere on the net. Once whatever is coming is through, a massive burst of energy at the event horizon should cause it to collapse.” Penelope wobbled as a golem with a hole blown through it crashed into the floor below.

“How big a burst are we talking?” Henry was afraid to hear the answer.

“I don’t know. Stannum says something along the lines of a bursting lancer-lancer collision should do it if it’s the right combination of energies. Light-dark, water-fire, earth-air, He says light-dark would cause the greatest burst and has the best chance of collapsing the rift.” Penelope responded.

“I’ll get up there and wait, and hope Mikey comes through.” Kerri took off towards the rift and waited. The surface rippled a few seconds before a large red-brown reptilian creature came through. It looked unconscious as it hurtled down into a vacant building on the block. After a few seconds the surface rippled again and Mikey came through. There were gashes across his chest and back like he’d been fighting the reptile throughout the trip through the rift. “Mikey!”

“We need to close it, I know. The instability will reach the Earth-side in one minute. We need to fire Ghi-Bursted lancers at each other so that they collide at the opening. Kuzuan filled me in while I was on my way back.” He backed up a bit as a golden aura erupted from him. Kerri backed up as she became shrouded in a purple one. “Ready?” Kerri nodded as she fired her ring. The collision midair created a glowing orb that pulsed several times before exploding and throwing Mikey and Kerri back. He watched the rift as he fell to the ground, the burst of energy was causing it to evaporate, like it had never been, like someone had taken an eraser to the very sky.

“They’re coming down right on top of Sublab X!” Jeremy estimated that they were going to crash into the menace on their way to the ground. But before they crashed into the hulking machine the two claws reached up, Kerri was caught in the left one, Mikey the right.

“Listen well players and Aekeans, my only interest is The Phantom and destroying him. In that regard we are allies for now. Let us cleanse this city of their filth and then we can talk.” Labtech X spoke.

“This is Aurum, we’ve destroyed the golem generator. All the remaining ones we can see are fleeing to the Aekean Toy Shop.” Came a voice on the radio.

“I can confirm that, any golems not smashed are trying to make their way there. It looks like we may have retaken the city.” Jeremy breathed a sigh of relief as he leaned back in the seat.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“But Penny why do you have to go?” It was Penelope’s last day of school in the same one as Michael.

“They’re sending me to live with my aunt and cousins in Florida, because my mom died. I wish I could stay and be here.” Both her and Michael looked tearful as they looked at each other.

“Will I ever see you again?”

“Maybe in college? We have each other’s email addresses. I’ll try to keep in touch.” She hugged Michael as she walked to the black sedan waiting for her, “I’ll never forget you or your kindness Michael.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Two years had passed and Michael was starting high school when he decided to check one of his older email accounts. Despite, changing email addresses at least three times he still checked that one, hoping and waiting for an email. He was surprised when he found a new message in the inbox:

“Dear Michael,
How are you? I know it’s been two years, but I’ve been very busy getting caught up. My aunt and cousins are rather odd and keep their distances from me. They were on my dad’s side of the family and since he walked out on me and my mom I guess the relationship there was strained. Florida’s been alright. Been working on a tan, lol more like a red hot burn. I’ve made some new friends out here and I’ve been working on that story you helped me with a long time ago. My friends introduced me to a new site called gaiaonline, have you heard of it? There are some pretty cool games there, including one in development that for now is being called Battle. I don’t know I think you should check it out. Oh I almost forgot, I have a boyfriend, his name is Todd (see attached picture, that’s us at the beach). Anyways, I hope things are going well, and I hope to hear from you soon. Take care of yourself.
-Penny”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

As Mikey came around he was staring up at two or three grunnies and a sinister scarf covered face. He twitched as he readied to shoot Labtech X. “Whoa Mikey don’t shoot! He’s friendly, enough.” Henry said as Mikey stared back at him bewildered.

“As I was telling your friend Henry, and the Aekean leader Aurum, I have no interest in fighting you right now. My fight is with The Phantom, and for the moment that makes us allies. We were just discussing the plans on assaulting the Aekea Toy Store and rescuing the council that he took prisoner there.” Labtech X said.

“What were you and the grunnies doing to me just now?” He looked down at his chest to see the gashes where The Phantom had clawed him were closing up and healing.

“Nullsaur claws are coated with a toxin that prevents proper healing. The toxin must be counteracted before one can be healed properly. Both the Aekeans and your crew lacked the necessary tools, but given that I was deposed from a base that was among them, I possess the means to remove the toxin.” Labtech X said as Mikey sat up.

“Thank you.” Mikey nodded. He took a few breaths as he sat up, “So we need to assault this toy store to completely drive him from Aekea?”

“Intel is that one of The Phantom’s last generals, Malevobear, controls this territory.” Aurum indicated a region on the map they were looking over. “Remove him from power, and it’s just Kamila and The Phantom left.”

“X, can you and your grunnies create a perimeter while we go into the store?” KJ was observing the layout of the toy store.

“Keep anything hostile from fleeing? Of course.” Labtech X replied.

“So will you be joining us in that assault on the Null Moon then, when the time comes?” John asked Labtech X.

“I wouldn’t sit it out for anything.”

“We should get some rest at least four hours before trying to launch an attack. I think we’re all a bit drained from the fight for the city.” Mikey said.

“Agreed.” Chimed Aurum.

“Acceptable.” Labtech X responded, “I can summon more Grunny Tanks in that time to form a decent perimeter.” After exchanging glances everyone talking went their own ways for the break.

“I brought you some water. Thought you’d be thirsty after being out for an hour. Penelope said there was something she wanted to show you with the device she and Stannum disarmed.” Kerri walked up to Mikey and handed him a bottle as they walked down a hallway together.

“Thank you.” He took a few gulps from the bottle before sighing. As he walked into a circular lobby the others were seated on cushions around the area. In the middle of the lobby was the glowing globe, there were sticky notes with writing attached to each key. “So what do we have?”

Penelope put down a cup of what looked like coffee before speaking, “Well we’ve put our best estimates of translations onto each key. But it’s a communication relay device, at the moment inactive, but it can send and receive and block communication to and from the real world. Jeremy and I think we’ve got it tuned to send messages back home.”

“So we can send letters home?” Henry jumped up.

“Or tactical information. Or updates that we’ve found some of the people they sent in ahead of us alive.” Mikey took another drink of water.

“So what are we waiting for? Let’s get to sending.” John said.

“Even if we were to get a transmission to broadcast to the real world, we’d only be able to keep the connection open for maybe five seconds, eight tops, before we’d burn out the transmitter. Not near enough time to send any good information aside from hello.” Jeremy shrugged.

Mikey sat down next to Jeremy and Penelope and stared at the interface they’d created a few seconds, “I’ve seen this coding. It’s the same kind of coding used in the prototypes of the neural controllers that we’re using right now. If we can make our message into data files, like letters instead of videos, we can send it in a compressed data burst. We just have to hope they have the right encoding to decompress it on the other end.” Mikey began typing something into a command prompt.

“How do you know about what the prototype controllers used? That information is only known to people who worked on making them.” Jeremy looked at Mikey as he continued typing.

“Or their children, who they tested their prototypes on.” He said as he typed more coding into the prompt. He added to them, “Yes, I am that Michael Berth, I’m not proud of that relation but it’s just how the world is. I’ll have the program to compress the data burst ready in an hour, after that we have another two and a half to send our messages before we need to move out. Try to have your messages home ready in two hours.” He grimaced as he continued working.

“How are we supposed to create data files?” Kerri asked.

“The tablets the Aekeans have around here are more than capable. I’ll get us some so we can get to it.” Jeremy left for a minute or two before coming back with a stack of tablets. Everyone took one before walking off to be alone as they wrote. Penelope looked at Mikey as he continued typing lines into the command prompt.

“Are you alright?” She frowned as she looked at him.

“What would give you the impression I’m not?” He shrugged as he erased a line.

“You haven’t been the same since the underworld.” She looked at him for an answer.

Mikey rubbed his forehead and took the tablet she was holding for him, “Penny, I’ve stared down death at least three times in the real world, and at least three times here now. And yet it’s not me that dies, it’s the people around me, the people I care about that die. I’m focused on the mission only now, I don’t want anyone else dying for me. Got it? Now, please leave me alone, I have a lot of work to do and not much time.” He looked back at the screen and began typing again.

“Sorry I asked.” She said as she walked away.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Oh Penelope, welcome to Boynton Beach, Florida.” Her aunt greeted her as she stepped out of the child services car. Her aunt’s house was a white two story house with a covered porch out front. Penelope quietly clutched her suitcase as she stared at her aunt. “Not a talker, eh? Oh well, in time dear, in time. Let’s get you settled down inside dear.” Penelope quietly followed her aunt around the house. “Now, we’re kind of short on bedrooms so you’ll be sleeping with your cousin Sherry. She’s a year younger than you so it will be fine. The kitchen is downstairs, feel free to eat anytime, but we do have family meals. I know your mother wasn’t into those.” After taking the entire tour of the house and setting her suitcase and backpack down in the room she was told she’d be sleeping in she stood by the back door.

“Which way is it to the beach?” She asked as she leaned against the glass door.

“Oh that’s about 1000 feet down Ocean Avenue, just past Ocean Boulevard, we were going to take you this weekend.” Her aunt looked at her.

“I want to go now.” Penelope continued staring out the window as a few wisps of clouds raced across the sky.

“Alright, anything for you little princess.” Her aunt replied, grabbing a few things from around the kitchen. Penelope took her aunt’s hand as they walked down the street to towards the beach. The bright sun felt warm on her skin as she quietly kept her eyes on the horizon. The pale sand of the beach was almost blinding as her eyes adjusted to the glare. The blues of the water were pretty like a painting to her.

“No wonder dad never liked the mountains.” She finally whispered. She took off her shoes and let her feet sink into the sand as she breathed in the salty air. “What’s going to happen to me here?”

“Well, you start school next Monday, so the next few days will be getting you settled in. After that, your uncle and I will be raising you like one of our own daughters.” Her aunt replied.

“But I’m further advanced than the kids my age, I was in middle school.” Penelope flopped down in the sand.

“Schools out here are a bit tougher than you think. Besides, I’m your father’s sister, I’ll honor his wishes of wanting you to be with kids your own age.” She rubbed Penelope’s head as she sat down.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Alright class who can tell me in what year did Columbus discover America?” The copper haired teacher stood at the front of the class as Penelope doodled on her notebook. She was bored listening to the drone of material. She decided to raise her hand. “Yes, Penelope, was it?”

“Columbus didn’t actually discover America. He landed in the Caribbean in October of 1492. He was actually looking for a route to India, not a new world at all.” She twirled her pen before continuing, “Of course if you’d like to be technical, Vikings had been exploring North America since the early 1000’s, and before them were the Inuit and other tribes that had spread out across the plains, but go on about how Columbus discovered the Americas.”

“Okay then, Penelope please step outside, I’ll be with you in a little bit.” The teacher replied. Penelope stood up and calmly left the room. After about five minutes the teacher came out and handed her a slip. “Please go to the principal’s office.” She said.

Penelope plodded through the hallways on the way to the office. She looked at what the teacher had written, “Disruptive to class,” “Problematic,” “Failure.” She smiled to herself seeing it as a victory in her boredom.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Okay, all the messages home are uploaded to the device and ready to send. Well except for Mikey’s. Where is he anyway?” Jeremy looked at the others.

Penelope shrugged her shoulders, “He said something about wanting to be alone while he wrote his letters.” She replied.

“Who does he have to write to? He’s estranged from his dad, he has no friends, and nobody out there would miss him.” Henry commented.

“Just shut up, it’s comments like that, that make me want to slap you, because the same thing could be said about you.” Penelope frowned at Henry.

“Besides, by the deadline he gave, he still has five minutes to have his letters ready.” John added.

“Don’t need them. I’ve written two letters. The first is a bunch of information we’ve gathered about The Phantom, who he is, what he is, who he’s working for, kind of information. I think that file needs to be at the beginning of the data burst to ensure they get it. As for my personal letter home, that can be at the end, because quite frankly it doesn’t matter to me if the entire letter gets there.” He connected the tablet he had typed them on to the interface and downloaded his two files. “It will take three to four seconds for the information to transmit, two at the beginning to send a sequence so they know how to decode it, at best the transmission will be stable for five to eight seconds. So here’s hoping it’s eight and everything gets through.”

“How long until it’s able to send?” Kerri asked.

“It should be compressed in about ten minutes.” He replied. They sat around silently as they waited for the data files to compress.

“Anyone know a good joke?” Jeremy tried to break the silence after five minutes.

“I never thought things would be so perilous to warrant sending a last message home.” Kerri finally spoke.

“We never thought there’d be a strong possibility of actually dying.” Henry crossed his arms as he looked at the display.

“I wrote to my aunt and cousins. What about you guys?” Penelope said.

“One to each of my kids, a journal entry to my coworkers.” John shrugged.

“So we each wrote a journal and a letter to loved ones? I wrote to my dad and mom, and Bianca.” He said.

“John had me write one, even though there’s nobody for me to write to. So I just wrote a chronicle about what it’s like to be a sentient program.” KJ looked at the screen, “Looks like it’s ready to send.”

“Here it goes.” Mikey turned on the transmitter to send the data burst. It began glowing and shaking as it emitted a whining sounds.

“The transmitter is destabilizing.” Penelope started adjusting power levels to the transmitter.

“It needs to hold together for another four seconds.” Jeremy was entering some programming code on the interface. After a few frantic seconds the transmitter sparked and caught fire.

Kerri sprayed it down with a fire extinguisher but the globe was blackened and dull, “Did our signal get through?”

Mikey looked at the logs on the interface that had survived, “The connection established and was able to transmit for six seconds. How much got through, is anyone’s guess, but we can hope it all got through.” They stared at each other as they gathered up to leave.
anguls kushinoda's avatar

Shadowy Shapeshifter

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yet another great chapater, well worth the wait to -mew

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