Into the Oblivion

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Chance - Stupidity and Consequences

“I knew it.” Jaden whimpered. His voice shivered, and his skin went slightly pale. I could taste the fright at the back of my mouth. “My dream was right. All this crazy talk, and I ended up being right!”

“I’m sorry I kept it from you. But I think I am ready to tell you everything what’s going on.” I expressed as I collapsed my dagger back into my shadows. “Please believe me when I say that I’ve hidden all of these to protect you.”

But Jaden just glared at me as if I was some sort of murderer. Maybe I was, and I just don’t know it. My best friend stormed to one of his drawers, pulled a small bottle, and threw it at me. I caught it midair and checked what it was. In my hand was a glass bottle filled with meds. But there was no label on it.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Anti-depressants.” Jaden stated dryly. The somber mood that he had shown all made sense lately. My body felt heavy at his sudden revelation. “I’ve been taking them lately because mom brought me to a therapist. I lost appetite, but I had to keep eating even if I can’t. It would be obvious if I started losing weight.”

“I don’t know what to say.” I told him.

“Ever since that day, when JJ provoked a fight in front of the school, I started to have nightmares. Then I was losing sleep. I could barely eat. The school was already such a bum, and this…thing even made it worse.” He chuckled lightly. But I barely had the energy to laugh at the comment. “Sometimes, I just want to die. Sorry for not telling you.”

“Don’t be.” It was all I could tell him. Then I sat beside him and attempted to comfort him. But Jaden felt like a robot. His meds were really the reason why he was down lately. Aside from the fact that I forgot about his birthday. “That’s why I’m here. Right? No one gets left behind. Ever.”

“If you really trust me, then let me know the whole story.” Jaden taunted. And he said it with a straight face. My best friend was earnest about it. But I was reluctant if he could take it. “We need to both come clean. We promised each other back then that we wouldn’t keep secrets. Ever.”

So, I did. I said everything. All the lies that I told him. Rei. Ven. Dark magic. Altimeraea. The short trip to the Citadel of Jeonnan. The boy prince. The sealing of his memories. The impending attack in the Black Daze event. All of it. Everything except the deal with whatever is inside Morsus. His eyes widened as I described all the unfortunate things I had to deal with. But for some reason, I felt even worse that I lodged it all on him right after he let me know about his condition.

I was a selfish prick.

“Craig is a mage, huh? No wonder he got to beat your ass in the arcade. He’s a cheat.” Jaden snickered. Then he looked at the wall and sighed. “I guess you’re now Mr. High and Mighty. Or maybe Mr. Untouchable. You can no longer be bullied if you want to.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked him.

“It means you’re above us mere humans.” Jaden replied sarcastically. There was just this pissed off tone from him that I couldn’t figure out. “If you ask me to worship you, you’re out of your mind. I’ll beat you up like when we were kids, whether you have powers or not.”

“Why on earth would I do that? That’s not funny!” I shot back.

“I bet you wanted to show off on campus at some point.” Jaden taunted even further. “You’ll be the talk of the town. Or get kicked out. Or maybe you’ll get to be famous or something.”

“Stop it!” I urged him. “I’m not that kind of person. You know me, Jaden.”

“Are you sure? All this time and you’ve been hiding who you really are from us. It’s like I don’t know you anymore.” Jaden retorted as he stood up and walked frantically around his room. “Now it explains everything why you spend so much time with Craig. Now I get why you forgot my birthday. You were too busy enjoying your time in this other universe you speak of.”

“What’s wrong with you? I was not enjoying that at all.” I exclaimed. Jaden looked back. His blue eyes were intense. And he stared at me like I’m some kind of monster. “You’re angry all of a sudden! That’s not like you!”

“You’re out there playing hero and getting ready to rescue everyone while I’m nothing but the collateral damage of that incident. I even had my memories erased just so I would shut up! There’s nothing heroic about that!” Jaden growled. “All this time, I thought it was all me. But it’s actually your fault I’m turning crazy! Now I even have meds!”

“Please. Calm down, Jaden.” I stood up to my feet and slowly approached him. I wanted to hug him. I tried to comfort him. But both of us were surprised when he lashed out and his fist connected to my jaw. I winced in pain as I stepped back. “I really am sorry for everything that happened.”

“Get out of my room.” Jaden admonished harshly. “I don’t want to see you.”

Then he looked away after seeing me held back my tears. His eyes glistened, too. I reluctantly obliged and slowly walked towards the door. Before I exited, I made sure to look back at him.

“Are we still on good terms?” I asked bravely. It was a stupid question right after he jabbed my face. All of those hurtful words, and I still had the audacity to ask him that. “I have to know.”

“Just get out of my room.” Jaden urged me. His heated voice was turned into a mellow temperature of guilt and shame. “I just need time to think about all of this.”

I nodded at him and left. But as I closed his bedroom door, I couldn’t help but sigh and rested my forehead on the wooden thing. I slowly sat down and turned with my back against the door. Moments later, I felt some kind of weight on the other side. A person was leaning on it, too.

A few seconds after and I could hear him crying his eyes out. I couldn’t help but tear up, too. It felt like a sharp thorn was traveling inside the arteries of my thin chest. Every heave and moan from the other side was a bump of that thorn to an artery wall. And it felt like a depressingly sharp prick. Sometimes, it even felt stuck.

“I’m so sorry.” His muffled voice said on the other end. He kept repeating it over and over again. “I’m so sorry, Chance. I’m so selfish!”

Before I bawled my eyes out in their hallway, I decided to leave. Thankfully, Mrs. Parker was in her own room, so it wasn’t much of a hassle. I had to wipe my eyes a few times along the way.

When I got home, I immediately washed my face so it wouldn’t be noticeable. I had dinner with my family after, and it was a pretty typical evening. My limits were stretched as I had to pretend gracefully before them. I didn’t want unnecessary questions. It would be too painful to answer them right away. After some small talk, I excused myself back to my room.

I pulled my crap together and swallowed all the pain. The next thing I did was to call Uncle Chase. His phone rang for half a minute before my uncle picked it up.

[Hey, sport. How have you been?] Uncle Chase’s enthusiastic voice greeted me over the other end. I was not expecting that he would answer back because he was one of the busiest people I know. Sometimes, dad’s messages wouldn’t have a reply for over a week. [Have you seen the X-VIP Badges? Cool, huh? The VIP Badges for your friends are great. But nothing beats the X-VIP one.]

[It is! It’s really awesome! Can’t thank you enough, Uncle Chase.] I greeted back at him. My uncle wasn’t the aloof type since he’d been my wisdom guru for years. It was always a wonder why he has not yet settled down. Celine and I had lost count of how many women had swooned over him for the past decade. [I’m great! I’m great! I’m just really excited about what’s going to happen a week from now.]

[Listen, Chance, I don’t really have much time with the event being a week from now.] He replied with a bit more of a serious tone. I felt the stress in his voice and the deadlines behind it. Uncle Chase was your more-than-average kind of a workaholic. [Cut to the chase. What’s really going on, Chance? Anything I could do to help?]

[About that, I was just wondering if I could have another X-VIP Badge for my best friend.] I flatly stated. Then I winced on my end because of the silent reply from my Uncle. He cared a lot for our family. As I mentioned, he had spoiled me rotten since I was his only nephew. [I had to make it up to him because I forgot it was his birthday. And I couldn’t think of anything else.]

[You’re talking about Jaden, right?] My uncle clarified.

[Yeah.] I replied sheepishly. The mention of his name caused my brain to show me an image of his sad face. It made my skin crawl that I indirectly caused it. It was the last thing I wanted. [He was furious at me.]

[I would have been mad if my own best friend forgot my own birthday.] My uncle pointed out. I cringed at myself because of how true that statement was. Uncle Chase was the kind of person that makes so many lifetime friends. He quickly connected with many different people all over the world and yet still have time for us. [That kid practically grew up with you. He’s your brother from another mother!]

[I know! I know!] I hissed. I could imagine my uncle shaking his head on the other end. But I couldn’t blame him. He didn’t know the whole story. Yet I wonder if he was capable of understanding. [Don’t make it sound that bad, Uncle Chase!]

[Well, it is that bad!] He pointed out. Disappointment strangled my ears. It felt like I let both my uncle and Jaden down. Both of them were alike, after all. Both of them were natural conversationalists that could get others to do their bidding. They capitalized on their strong charisma to bring out the best in others. [No wonder that kiddo is mad. He felt betrayed.]

[Fine!] I snapped. Betrayal was such a hurtful word for me, especially after Jaden learning the secret that I kept from him. That bottle of meds was the last thing I expected from Jaden. [But I really need help in making up to him. I promised him I’ll get him an X-VIP Badge. I’m sorry.]

[And if I refused?] He asked a challenging question. The first thing I felt was the disappointment I was about to throw at Jaden’s face. It would be too much given his mental state. My fingers twitched at the sound of Uncle Chase’s query. [What are you going to do about it?]

[Please!] I pleaded. My voice even broke from being under tension. I already broke one promise to Jaden. I absolutely couldn’t afford another broken promise. It would be too much for our friendship to take. There was just too much at stake on the following week’s events. [I’ll do anything!]

[Hmm. Anything, huh?] My uncle hummed playfully. It was a reluctant dare from me, and it would seem that I would regret it. Uncle Chase knew my flaws and weaknesses. But he was always merciful with me. Maybe not this time. [Why don’t you start with what was bothering you.]

[But Uncle Chase, that’s too personal!] I lied abruptly. In a sense, it was true since it was a personal thing that I wanted to protect my family and friends. And my Uncle Chase didn’t know that I also wanted to protect him. He would surely be there at the event either way. [Sorry, but that’s something I couldn’t admit.]

[That’s new.] My uncle commented dryly. Then he played that cheerful hum out again as if he was taunting me. Although both my dad and Uncle Chase majored in the Business Sector, my uncle had the knack for figuring out people. It was what made him a dangerous opponent in business. He always mentioned that he would have been a psychologist if our grandpa didn’t harshly egg them on to be businessmen. [You never kept a personal secret from me.]

[Wait. That’s not fair!] I shot back.

[What’s not fair is promising an X-VIP Badge to your best friend without letting me know first. That was a risky move. But I’m proud that you’re willing to bet on me. It makes me feel important.] My uncle chuckled in a matter-of-factly way. But it was true. And I hated that it’s true. [The X-VIP Badge is still a few thousand bucks because you get to have a chance to meet celebrities backstage. And that’s not really your money.]

[Can’t it be anything else?] I pleaded again. [That’s absurd!]

[You’re not really in a position to bargain.] Uncle Chase pointed out. My lips quivered. I wanted to retort and tell him how hard I’ve been working my ass off so his event would not be a disaster. But that was off the table. My uncle was still right in a sense. [You owe your best friend for letting him down. And you owe me for using my position to get back to your friend.]

[You’re right. I guess I asked too much.] I responded sadly.

[I just want to know what’s bothering you. Chance, I’ve known you since you were in diapers. Do you really think I wouldn’t notice?] Uncle Chase asked. The answers were on the edge of my tongue at that point. I trusted Uncle Chase profoundly, and I knew that he might give me an ounce of wisdom or something. The man met so many people all over the world but always welcomed their insights with much humility. [That’s a pretty cheap cost in exchange for a few thousand bucks if you ask me. You’re not really the type to keep secrets from me. Celine would be understandable. But not you.]

[Fine.] I resigned. Then I slowly took a deep breath. I could feel my uncle’s anticipation on the other end. [Do you believe in the existence of other dimensions?]

[Before that, open your Gmail account. Don’t ask. Quickly go to your room and lock the door.] Uncle Chase erupted. His voice went chilly and rigid. There was heightened tension in it. [Do it now and wait for my encrypted email.]

The line was suddenly cut. I went for my door and locked it. A notification went off from my phone, and I opened my email. It was an encrypted one coming from a person named CV. Chase Valentine. But those initials were also applicable to me, my dad, and my sister. I tapped on the hyperlink, and it started installing another app on my phone.

FordTech, Inc.

The FT logo was in front before the app opened to let me see the UI. It was a Social Media app wherein ‘Chase Valentine’ was the only listed friend on it. It was weird because the account was already listed under my name. Even the username’s credentials were the same as my other social media accounts. The app started to ring for a video conference, and I answered the phone as I sat back on my bed.

Much to my surprise, he dyed his hair blonde that complimented well with his gray eyes. He was almost a decade younger than our dad, but they pretty much look alike. Except there was a small scar at the corner of his chin. As far as I could remember, my uncle got into a fistfight with some kids in the neighborhood, and dad had to rescue him. They were really close despite their age gap. But he looked really haggard. Probably due to the incoming event. There must have been a whole lot of preparations for that.

My grandparents would often call him an unexpected blessing to their family since they only wanted a single child. But indeed, he was a blessing to us. Since my parents married young, he was the middle man between my parents and me. And Celine, of course.

[Sorry for the sudden change of communication lines. This is an encrypted channel so no one can eavesdrop on us. I’ve already given the task to my IT dude to erase all the digital footprints of our previous call.] He started explaining. His vibes quickly shifted from empathic to diplomatic. It was quite confusing. [I also had to cancel my meeting later. It seems we have a lot to talk about.]

[Wait, what’s going on?] I asked.

My uncle’s face was grim.

[You know something, don’t you?] I asked gravely. It was a stupid question. I knew that answer already. It was just hard to swallow. My jolly and carefree Uncle Chase knew about Altimeraea. [Impossible.]

[Confirm the name of the other dimension first.] My uncle urged.

[Altimeraea.] I said. My uncle went pale after what I said. I saw him covertly take a deep breath from the side of his mouth. [Have you been there, too?]

[Yes. But a couple of times only, though. Moving forward, this looks like just as I feared, Chance.] Uncle Chase lamented. Then he rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he gazed at the camera. I just gulped at his bewildered response. [You’re also involved in that other dimension, aren’t you? There’s just no going back after this.]

I just nodded reluctantly.

[Since when?] He asked again.

[Within the past month, I started showing some signs of magic. I also got stronger as the weeks passed by.] I confessed right away. He already knew about Altimeraea anyway. [Then there were mages from that other dimension claiming that I have the soul of their friend. I was being protected from an organization called Teios Kyr. It seems they want to capture me.]

[I’ll send covert guards all over your town.] My uncle said, then started typing on his laptop. Probably a request for some private military protection. [Just to make sure you guys are all safe.]

[But your event is being targeted by Teios Kyr!] I abruptly said. He was taken back by that. But so was I. Then I decided to press forward. My uncle has every right to know because he was the Project Head of the whole thing. [That’s why I missed Jaden’s birthday because I was cooperating with the people who would want

[Don’t tell me that you’re planning to fight.] He muttered. But his face said it all. He didn’t want me to get involved. Just like everyone else. And it really hurt me because it felt like no one trusted me to be strong enough. Everyone saw me as someone to be protected. [Chance, that’s a terrible idea.]

[Of course! These people and I will make sure to protect your event and takedown anyone who wants to ruin it!] I lied. He didn’t need to know they these so-called friends wanted me to stay out of the way. And it was painful for me to lie to my uncle just to hype some kind of bravado. Truly pathetic. [I’ll do anything to protect my family and friends.]

[Let the adults handle it.] Uncle Chase stated flatly. His eyes were filled with pity for me. And it angered me to see that. I wanted him to be proud that I was resolved to protect the ones I love. [Chance, I wish to know the whole story.]

I took a deep breath and started how I met Rei that one evening. It took me half an hour to lay down all the details of what happened. From the moment that we got cornered to the alleyway to my short trip to the Citadel of Jeonnan. And then I also had to include that Jaden had some sealed memories so that he wouldn’t be a target. But that was just a pathetic attempt. If the enemy knew that Jaden was a close friend, they would inevitably be targeted.

Uncle Chase listened intently throughout the whole time. I was really thankful for how intentional he was in letting me hear my side of things. But he kept a straight face most of the time. The only time he flinched was when I saw how broken Jaden was due to the mishap with the illusion mage. Plus, it was really exhausting to talk about the whole narration twice in a day.

The only thing that I omitted in my narration was the mark that lingered invisibly on the palm of my hand. It was a horrid deal I was still considering. I wanted to protect everyone. But a deal with the devil was still off the table. The foretaste of that power should be enough to defend my friends.

[That’s why I wanted to fight.] I said with conviction. Uncle Chase had his poker face on. The only time I get to see that was during our card game nights whenever he would visit us. [The only way to protect everyone is to eliminate the enemy. But all I could do now is to protect people. Please, if you already know about this, help me.]

[I will think this through. And I meant that. I just couldn’t accept how fast you’re growing up. You’ll always be my baby nephew.] He replied with a smile. The mood was lighter again. [But okay, you got me. I’ll set an X-VIP Badge to be sent to your best friend. Just tell me his address, so I know where to send it to.]

[Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You won’t regret this!] I exclaimed over the camera. My uncle just chuckled at how I was zapped back into a childish form of excitement. Then after a few seconds, I went solemn. [But how did you know about Altimeraea? How much do you know? I don’t have anyone to talk to about this.]

Uncle Chase raised his hand and emitted a ball of light in the center of it. The small thing started to morph into different sizes before vanishing into thin air. I couldn’t help but look like a little boy who opened his Christmas presents.

[You’re one of us!] I shrieked.

[Not quite. It’s the only thing I could do, so it doesn’t really do much. It was something I discovered back when I was a teenager. ] He admitted. But for some reason, it was something he felt shameful of. His attitude towards his abilities was kind of weird. [Your dad didn’t know, though.]

[Does it run through the family?] I asked.

[It seems so. After years of tracking down our family tree, it appears that your great grandfather came from Altimeraea.] Uncle Chase explained. [Magic is in our blood. But by now, there should be only faint hints.]

[I also find it weird that you’re using light-element magic. But the one I’m using is dark-element magic.] I said, then I raised my hand. With a flick of my finger, a black dagger appeared out of thin air. But my uncle wasn’t really too impressed. He did mention that he had been to the other dimension before. I guess that would be a conversation for some a different time. [With my avoid, I could quickly command my shadows to extend before compressing it until it turns into a solid-state. But yours is a different one. Why?]

[Looks like I need to keep researching our family tree then. I honestly don’t know why you have a different kind of magic.] He replied heartily. Yet I could see it in his eyes. He already wanted to discuss other matters. I had my dagger collapse back into my shadow. [About the incoming attack, what do you know?]

[As far as our discussion went, Teios Kyr wanted to try some sort of new weapon, and they need a lot of people.] I explained then went over again how we came up with that idea. Prince Zein was a massive help on that one. [But this is what we had deduced. So, we really don’t know anything yet.]

[It seems the rumors were true.] Uncle Chase thought loudly to himself. [It’s not yet too late. I would need to contact that man again and set up defense protocols for the event. I’m sure he would be happy to help.]

[Rumors?] I asked. But at the back of my head, it gave me peace of mind that my uncle would be giving us reinforcements. Although I couldn’t help but wonder if technology could keep up with magic.

[Yeah. I partnered with FordTech because there is a certain man inside that also knows about the other dimension. He mentioned that the event might call unwanted attention.] Uncle Chase enlightened me with more details. The fact that he knew meant that he was prepared. But he said that they were also rumors, so he was not too sure. [The only reason I organized this event was to informally launch some of his new projects. That was our partnership. I’m kind of a marketing and event specialist for his company.]

[If only I knew you were aware of Altimeraea, I would have told you right away about this.] I contemplated. [It’s so hard to carry this secret alone. The only people who knew were the ones from the other side. But I don’t have anyone close I could share the burden with.]

[Anyway, it looks like I need to recheck my schedule and set them in order.] He said as he started typing down on his laptop. Uncle Chase looked really pale already. Based on his heavy eyebags, the man was really busy. I couldn’t help but be thankful that I was able to take hours from him. [You have to school tomorrow, right?]

[Yeah.] I confirmed. [Thank you so much for the favor. Jaden would be so mind-blown that I got him the X-VIP Badge. Good night, Uncle Chase.]

[By tomorrow morning, I’ll have people around the house. Please keep that a secret in the meantime. Your dad wouldn’t understand. And if it gets too dangerous, I’ll snatch your whole family away from there. No complaints will be tolerated. Do you get me?] I just nodded reluctantly. He never really gave me a choice. I guess he was just trying to protect us in his own way. [It was nice catching up with you, sport. Good night.]

Then the feed was cut off.

For the rest of the night, I pondered whether that would be enough to win Jaden back. He was really shaken. It was really stupid of me to let him know about my powers. I cursed myself repeatedly, but what’s done is done. Stupidity really had its consequences. My mind would wander off if everything had a chance of going back to normal. Yet deep down, I knew the answer. I just couldn’t accept it at all.

The next day, I tried to act as normal as possible. Jaden was pretty shaken, but I was happy that he didn’t ignore me this time. Everyone else seemed to be pleased that Jaden forgave me. We tried to be civil to each other and showed some level of comfort like before. It was already lunchtime, and we were on the way to the cafeteria.

Since Ven tagged along, he also noticed the tension, so I told him that I’ll explain privately after school. I knew he would be upset if I said to him that I outed my secret to Jaden. Because it threw all our efforts to protect him in vain.

“So, how did you apologize to Jaden?” Dylan suddenly asked me in the open. I was caught off guard because I promised them that they would get X-VIP Badges, but we only got them the standard VIP. They didn’t complain, though, since a VIP Badge is still a VIP Badge. All of them understood since they cost a few thousand bucks. Jaden was the only special case, but they didn’t know about it. “Did you bribe him or something?”

The tension was there, and I didn’t want to be obvious, so I just shook at my head as I tried to make a legitimate excuse. I cussed at myself inside my head for not thinking about a good reason in case something like this came up. My thoughts the night before was so busy in being hopefully heroic. The crashing reality was kicked out by my wishful thinking.

“Well, Chance was a perfect kiss ass!” Jaden suddenly butted in and put an affectionate arm around me. Then he pulled me in closer and acted as genuinely as possible. It was an excellent save. “You might want to try his kiss ass skills one time!”

“That’s just gross, Parker. What the hell is wrong with you?” Dylan chuckled, and everyone laughed along. Then I playfully shoved Jaden back to show that we were really in good terms. I guess we really were. Jaden just didn’t know how to deal with everything that came up. “Why would you use Chance as an ass-wipe?”

“Nah. I’m lucky to have Chance.” Jaden pointed out. “He’s quite exceptional in being the butt of the joke this time. It’s where he belongs.”

“I guess we can no longer deny that you don’t know how to wipe your butt.” I retorted back. Dylan and Anya snickered at the comment while Caitlyn was clearly disgusted. Meanwhile, everything flew over Ven’s head. He didn’t get it at all.

“That’s exactly why I need a kiss ass friend like you.” Jaden shot back.

Our banter kept going until we made it to the cafeteria. It was a good thing that Jaden was used to exchanging insults with me. And thankfully, everyone bought it. Except for Caitlyn. She knew something was up. She just always knew.

“What’s going on with you and Parker?” She asked aggressively after she cornered me when I fell in line for our food. “I thought you already apologized?”

“Hey, we’re already on good terms with each other.” I defended. But I knew she wouldn’t buy that. Caitlyn had strong instincts when something was up. She was some sort of watchtower in the group. She always knew there was a screw up before the one who even did the screw up knew. “What’s up with that accusation?”

“Dylan and Anya might fall for it. But not me.” She quipped firmly. Caitlyn was just utterly convinced that she was correct in her intuitive statement. “Something isn’t right. I just know it.”

“Fine. But that’s none of your business.” I softly snapped at her. Yet Caitlyn didn’t budge. She’s like a tigress who already lunged at her prey. But mixing truth with a lie can set her off course. “Heck, it’s not even my business. Jaden will let us know when he’s ready. But for now, I’m willing to wait for him to deal with it. I can’t force him to spit it out. That’s just insensitive.”

She went silent. And that was I knew Caitlyn fell for it. I couldn’t let any of our friends know my secret. But I would gladly give my all to defend them. My only problem was convincing Rei and the others that I could fight. Even worse, I also had to convince my uncle for that.

“Sorry.” It was all she could muster. And she really looked disheartened at the situation. “I’m just worried about him. He’s not himself for that past week. The others just don’t notice it as we do.”

“It’s okay.” I comforted her. “I’m just as worried as you are.”

After the last class, we all had to go home. To make things worse, Ven said he had to be somewhere. Then he whispered that there will be an emergency meeting that night, so he needed to check out a few things. I felt the pressure of how the walk home would be. I had no choice. It was a stroll down with only Jaden. But I had to pull my crap together. He’s my best friend, and I shouldn’t be pressured at all.

Jaden and I started walking, so I initiated the small talk. It was a surprise that he played along. We talked about the lousy homework that our math teacher had to give us. Then we talked about that new slutty librarian that we kept on hearing about. We had a good laugh on that one. It felt natural despite the invisible elephant walking behind us.

Everything was just slow. Every word was dragged out of my mouth. I wanted to keep telling him that I’m sorry, but I enjoyed the fake normalcy that we had. I severely missed those moments. Because everything about Altimeraea just didn’t exist during that walk home. And I would treasure that for years to come.

“I’m sorry about last night.” I abruptly said with remorse. I couldn’t even face him as we walked along the open street. The people that passed were faceless as I focused on making amends with Jaden. “Now, I wish I never told you. You already have too much burden to carry. I wasn’t fair. ”

“I’m sorry for punching you.” Jaden replied with a small voice. Those were the few moments that he would use such a low tone. It was almost unnatural for him. My best friend barely had the intention to even look at me. “That was uncalled for. I think my meds mess up my mood at random moments. But that’s not an excuse.”

“It’s okay.” I muttered flatly like a programmed robot. “I deserve that.”

“Save the self-pity. It doesn’t suit you.” My best friend commented. Even his slightly thick eyebrows crossed themselves from frowning. “I’m furious at you for not telling me everything right away. All that time, I was blaming myself. All that time, I thought I was crazy. Mom was worried sick. She had never seen me acted that way. Heck, I didn’t even know I was capable of acting that way! And each day was a drag because I don’t like anyone being worried for me!”

Silence. Sheer silence. A minute passed, and we just kept on walking.

“Can you forgive me?” I asked him to break the ice.

“You’re a jerk.” He snarled harshly. “Please, stop.”

“Seriously. I want to be clear.” I pressed on. It was quite a stubborn move. But I really wanted to know. “Are we on good terms? You’re my only best friend, and it’s hard for me if we’re not okay. It’s painful.”

“Stop. Just stop, you insensitive fuck!” Jaden raised his voice. His hand already turned into a fist. “How dare you tell me that it’s hard for you, but you never considered what I would have felt! You’re a big fucking moron, Valentine!”

“I’ve kept you in the dark to protect you!” I shot back immediately. My tone level tried to catch up to his. But I knew that Jaden was just beyond hard-headed for his own sake. It was a defeated cause. Yet, for some reason, I kept pressing on him even further. It was annoyingly stupid for my part. Just stupid. “Can you at least be a little grateful? Just a little. Can you do that? Huh?”

“You know what? Let’s just stop, or I might end up punching you.” He replied with a pang of dignity. And it merely provoked me even further. He acted maturely, and that made me angry for some reason. “This is getting out of hand. If beating up your stupid ass to make you shut up, I won’t hold myself back.”

“Try me.” I taunted him and added a tart flavor to my statement. His ears got red, but Jaden just took a deep breath. “You’ll regret it.”

“That’s why I don’t think you deserve those powers.” Jaden argued back. I was caught off guard with that. “Deep inside, you’re just a big bully.”

I was flustered by that statement. But it rang true. I even stopped walking to reflect it upon myself. Jaden kept walking and left me. It took me a few seconds before I realized that he was further away. My best friend and I maintained that distance, along with the deafening silence between us. It went on until he got back into his house, and I simply passed by his door with a snobbish attitude.

For that whole week, Jaden and I attempted to repair our friendship. Yet every single time, we just ended up fighting again. So we went for the silent treatment for days. It was a cold war between the two of us. But our ability to understand each other really got nowhere.

We would still let our usual banter be displayed in front of friends to avoid suspicion. It was between Jaden and me, and we didn’t want to involve anyone else from our friends. Even Ventus seemed to have bought it already. Except for Caitlyn. She was annoyingly observant. Even Jaden had to assure her a few times. Yet in all those moments, Jaden was still aloof.

Sadly, he really just hadn’t fully forgiven me yet. That was understandable, though, since I placed him under so much pressure to keep an inter-dimensional secret. I would notice that some of his usual snarky comments were filled with bitterness and resentment. So, I had to let it pass more than a few times. There were even a few instances that he reverted back to that hateful self in his room. And I had to calm him down. I was the sponge to absorb that undealt emotion within him. It would always end up with him breaking down in front of me.

It was excruciating to watch.

His mood would really go haywire at random times. It was some sort of bug on the brain, and his usual programming would just go nuts. He had allowed me to kick him in the shin under the table to remind him to keep his cool. I had to do it more than a few times, too. Jaden said that he entrusted me to keep him in check so others wouldn’t know. Of course, I was more than glad to help. I was driven by guilt, after all.

But everything must come to an end.

The first day of the Black Daze event started during the afternoon. The grounds would be open for more almost 72 hours straight. I’m not sure how my Uncle Chase did it and convinced the local government to have an event like that in our area. But since the event grounds were quite far from the residential areas, they were bound to give in. It was pretty secluded, and some sort of unique sound system was used to create so much noise. Most likely, it came from FordTech, Inc. It was in the middle of an open ground surrounded by thick trees. There were only two or three roads that allowed visitors to come.

A couple of days before the actual event, we already saw some trucks that moved in to set it up. According to the mainstream media, it was a lowkey project that will be used to launched internationally if it fared well. And if things went terrible, then it would be my uncle’s head on the line.

That morning, Rei gathered us in a small headquarters they had set up near the event grounds. I had to make a lousy excuse from my parents so I’d be able to attend the secret meeting. It took a while before they agreed, and I had to use Jaden as a convenient excuse so they would let me go. However, Celine seemed to have picked up the blatant lie but decided to keep herself silent about it.

All the events that had happened for the past month were about to converge. And all I felt was the shaking of my muscles. Even my breathing was heavy and erratic because it was the first major fight I would see myself in. Before, Ven had always been there to protect me. But not this time. The odds were against us. Rei mentioned that there would be no reliable support. We were on our own defending the town.

The last hope I had was what my uncle mentioned that there would be many defense measures that will be used. But I was not too hopeful since he only had a week of preparation. Procuring powerful defense systems might be tricky. Plus, I never noticed anything dangerous in the moving trucks that moved into town for the past couple of days.

Everyone I knew from Zidania was there. Nisroc, Chrystal, and Evron were all present. Surprisingly, even Morsus was allowed to go. I had no idea what kind of leverage he had over Rei to force him to do that boy’s bidding.

There was a total of thirteen people in the huge room, including me. There were twelve mages from Altimeraea. I had only met half of them: Rei, Ven, Morsus, Evron, Chrystal, and Nisroc. The other half was unfamiliar. As I checked them out, some of them didn’t strike me as too friendly. The only one that looked approachable was the blonde hair who seemed to be in his late teenage years. Despite the introductions, it still made me wonder how they could set up the headquarters so quickly.

“We don’t really have time, so let’s cut to the chase. This team was assembled during the last minute. And I was not able to bargain Estelle from the higher-ups.” Rei initiated. The mention of Estelle’s name stirred something animalistic inside me. I wouldn’t ever forget what she did to Jaden. Her magic was useful, but his mental health was sacrificed. Everyone started to gather around the big room and took their respective spots. Some were sitting on a chair. The others were leaning on the wall. And then there was that dude who was gawking around in an aloof manner. “The operation starts in two hours, and I don’t want any screw-ups with our limited manpower.”

Limited was an understatement. I didn’t want to side with Rei, but I was sure that he did what he can to call forth reinforcements. But that was pretty much every person that would help us. A team of thirteen was pretty small for a defense against an unknown enemy. To make things worse, there were only five in the Knights that were present.

“You might want to introduce us first.” One of the women spoke up. She was like the other intense guy in terms of age, except she looked more at ease. Her aura was hot, and Ven stirred in her direction. That’s when I noticed that they had the same shade of sandy blonde hair. Even the texture was the same. “It’s hard to keep up if we do not know each other.”

“Fine.” Rei resigned. “You start.”

Everyone started introducing themselves. The woman began on Rei’s cue, and I was surprised to know that she was Ven’s aunt. Her name was Jezebeth, and she had the same elemental forte as her nephew. After was the grim-faced man with the scar. His striking trait was the scar on his face and the same intensity of dark hair and aura as Reizal. His name was Valafar, and he was also Rei and Israfil’s uncle. The man was a former Captain in the Knights and had tons of experience. It was a curious thing that he respected the chain of command despite Rei being younger and less experienced than he was.

The other woman who also had a blood relative was Aldria, the older sister of Nisroc. They had the same brown hair, slightly lighter than Jaden’s, but theirs were wild like a lion’s mane. Plus, there were long streaks of red splattered randomly in their hair. The last woman that I didn’t know was Elune Adelsia, who had silvery blonde hair. She seemed timid and soft-spoken, and her gray eyes were a mystery.

The last couple of guys looked about Nisroc’s age. The one that leaned on the wall was bald and had tattoos on the side of his head. They were mysterious symbols that I’ve never seen before. His skin was really tan as if he sunbathed all day. His name was Rai’li Auris. Finally, the aloof blonde dude that looked the friendliest of them all was River Knightley. His light blonde hair and blue eyes looked like your typical cool kid in school. He also seemed to be excited to speak to me for some reason.

One thing I hated about the introduction part was my turn because everyone’s eyes were on me. There were some low whispers, but it was clear that I was Israfil’s chosen vessel. No one really created a wild

All in all, every House of Zidania, which represented each of their respective elemental magic, was there. There was a variety of elemental mages present that could help us in different situations. Rei, Evron, and Valafar were from the House of Vladimir. Nisroc and his sister, Aldria, were from the House of Kaiser. Ventus and his aunt, Jezebeth, were from the House of Yeter’ el. Rai’li was from the House of Azshara, which focuses on the lightning element. Chrystal was from the House of Aquarii. And lastly, Elune Adelsia was from the House of Arathuria that uses light element magic.

But I was impressed with the friendly guy, River Knightley. He was also a Rune Mage like Morsus, except he was already done with the Basic Course that Morsus mentioned before. That means he was able to study in all eight ancient Citadels of Solus Magus. It was indeed a feat. The boy even whispered to me that River was already halfway through the Intermediate Course of his specialization.

The boy had bet silently with me that River Knightley was the most powerful mage in the gathering. Based on Morsus’ already formidable skills despite lacking the last few years of his basic training, River could possibly a one-man army. The second one next to him was probably Valafar Volaniss, Rei’s uncle.

“There are six areas that needed to be taken care of. And I need you guys to take care of your responsibilities as much as possible.” Rei started. Then he sat on the chair with his dark poker face on as if he was about to start a fight. He took a deep breath and started explaining. “The Main Entrance area is at the south where the people would be pouring in. I doubt that the enemy would be making an entrance here, but the goal is to protect people.”

“Right.” The grim-faced man objected. Valafar was clearly the oldest in the group and looked to be battle-hardened. He was probably in his mid-40s. There was even a long scar on the side of his face. “I noticed that this team is insanely small to protect thousands of people.”

“I will get to that later.” Rei affirmed. The other man backed off respectfully, but I felt the tension between Rei and that guy. “Anyway, the Central Plaza will be in the middle area of the field while the Food Stall Area is in its east. The Concert-Grounds will be in the northeast while the Kiddie Grounds is in the west. Lastly, the Backstage and Luxury Area is in the far north.”

“Rei and our team with River had already prepared a seal around the area for the past couple of days. Thanks to Knightley’s Abjuration Magic, we can enclose the space.” Evron started to speak on behalf of Rei. “Since Enchantments are also his field of expertise, we’re able to let any Tidian pass through the five-layer barrier. We just need to activate it in case the attack comes. It was a complicated spell, but that would be our first line of defense.”

“In short, once the attack starts, we just need to cause the crowd to run in all directions until they passed by the barriers. Any person capable of using magic will be trapped inside.” Rai’li pointed out. His light blue eyes were indeed electrifying after he made the point. Paired with his dark tan, it looked like his eyes were glowing. “But that means we’ll also be trapped. Correct?”

“That’s right.” Rei replied dryly. “We’ll trap all of our enemies inside the barrier. If any opponent that gets out, River is assigned to eliminate them. That’s why he was assigned in the Main Entrance Area.”

“What about us?” Aldria asked.

“You and Jezebeth will be placed in the Kiddie Grounds since Jezebeth’s magic isn’t designed for fatal blows. And your advanced fire-elemental Combustion Magic heavily relies on precision. Both of your damage control is needed to defend kids.” Rei explained. The two women just nodded along and looked thankful that their strengths were utilized. When he mentioned Combustion Magic, I just wondered how was that damage control. “Nisroc and Chrystal will be assigned to the Food Stall Area since both of them can easily eliminate any fires that will go up. That area is the most susceptible to being burned to the ground.”

“Rei and I will be in the Backstage and Luxury Area in the far north of the whole event. Most of the VIPs will be there, and since we focus on Sealing Magic, we can launch pre-emptive spells to undo any potential damage. High-value targets are in that area, and we can easily warp them out of range with our Shadow Flit.” Evron continued explaining. The guy was really Rei’s second-in-command and was well-versed with how Rei did things. “Since Valafar’s Dark Magic focuses on wide-area spells, he will be in the Central Plaza. He will also be focused on creating panic away from the center of the field. Lastly, Rai’li and Elune are arguably the fastest in movement speed because of their respective elements. They will be assigned in the northeast’s Concert Grounds area, where they utilize their element the most. Any questions?”

Ven, Morsus, and I weren’t included in the plan. My heart thumped madly inside my chest. For some reason, I already knew that it meant. I wanted to speak up, but Elune raised her concern.

“What’s our endgame?” She softly spoke. Her voice really soothed me, but behind it, I could sense that she was a fierce warrior. “We can’t just defend blindly and not knowing when it will end.”

“Good question.” Rei pointed out. “Once the enemy’s attack commences, I was able to set up an alarm with River that will call for reinforcements from Zidania. It would give us half an hour at most to defend as much as we can.”

“Rei, River, and I will also be hunting down the enemy’s commander once the coast is clear. Valafar is assigned in the Central Plaza because that’s the least populated area. Everyone will be flocking into their chosen areas.” Evron continued with an explanation. “He’ll also move into the northern area to substitute in our absence to protect high-value targets. If anyone is free to move, you may also opt to move into the Tech Zone and the Rides Area since we do not have enough people to cover them right away.”

“If there wouldn’t be many enemies in our area, I’ll move to the Rides Area right away.” Jezebeth interrupted. “My magic can easily protect those people who are on the rides. It will be the safest option.”

“And I’ll move into the Tech Zone just in case.” Rai’li added.

“I trust that you’ll do everything in your power to protect these people.” Rei acknowledged. Rai’li and Jezebeth just nodded back. “The plan is just a guideline. Move accordingly to the need of the battlefield.”

“Don’t try to electrocute everyone, though!” River playfully intervened. His mood was intensely light for a gathering for battle. “There will be a lot of kids in that area. We don’t want too much collateral damage. I am sure that GAEA will beat us down for that.”

“I’ve been here on Earth to study Technology. The only thing that I could do is to blast it with an EMP.” Rai’li shrugged it off casually. “You might want to learn a thing or two here.”

“Sorry. I’m too busy studying for Eldric Finals.” River replied sheepishly. I could only conclude that they had met before. The blonde teenager was extremely charismatic. I also noticed that his strand of hair was braided behind his left ear with some kind of small trinket that tied its end. “The only reason I’m here is that my father is gone. My little brothers are still busy studying. At least Skylar is finally in his Final Citadel this year.”

“So, the Supreme Qirian Council really didn’t budge, huh? It wasn’t really new anymore.” Valafar lamented loudly. “Those old fools don’t know what they’re doing. Aleus didn’t die for this. Leo Knightley’s son is here with us because he still believes in the legitimate threat of Teios Kyr. And Romero’s son is still out there and missing for more than a decade.”

“Trust me, uncle, I tried to ask more, but they will not be convinced until they have a solid proof.” Rei replied firmly. But I knew there was a sense of defeat behind that facade. The lack of support from their own government was astonishingly fatal to their morale. “As of now, an actual attack is all the proof they need to actually make a decision. The whole thing was based on scattered rumors and Chance’s intel.”

Everyone suddenly looked at me. My concern was pushed to the surface.

“All of you guys have roles to play.” I stated out of nowhere. My courage was there for a second. And I took the chance even if it was an absurdly absent-minded interjection. “But what about me?”

Then Rei looked at me with dead eyes. My anger seethed as I tried with all of my power not to rush at him. I already knew what it meant. “Ven and Morsus will be your guardians for this mission. You’re going to Altimeraea.”

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