The day it happened.
I sat across from Aiko. Unsure of how to broach the subject of what I wanted to talk about- at our favorite restaurant in Lamass, no less- I ate in silence, cutting and biting into a particularly savory piece of steak from Fraglan’s Family Grill.
I involuntarily moaned. Holy fuck, they made it perfectly today.
Fraglan’s Family Grill is run by the aforementioned Fraglan Family, and their claim to fame is using their high-level Fire-element manipulation to cook their food perfectly. What would require an expensive sous vide setup for most people, even other Fire users, is something they can do naturally. Perfectly-seared, perfectly rare to medium steak. It was genuinely fucking heavenly.
Unfortunately, it would not make what I was here to do any easier. My girlfriend leaned back into her side of the booth, looking at me with a bemused smile on her face. “It’s that good?” Aiko asked.
I nodded, slightly ashamed. “You should eat.” I said after swallowing my food, gesturing my right-hand knife (which I also used as a skewer) in the direction of her plate.
She shrugged. “I ate some of it. Not that hungry today. You can have it, if you want.”
“So you just go out with people to watch them eat, Aiko? Do you have an oral fixation I need to know about?”
She smirked. “I think we both know that’s you, Mikey.”
I winced at the implied perversion alongside my wholesome nickname, then winced harder at this little banter happening pretty much right before I was going to break up with my best friend. Who I was also dating.
“What’s wrong, by the way?” Aiko asked, leaning forward with a look of concern on her face, “You’ve been unusually quiet today.”
I froze, then sighed.
“We need to talk,” I said, “And it’s going to suck.”
March 23rd, Year P-132.
Colony 1’s Maximum Security Prison, Bedauern.
I sat at my desk in my cell, observing “Jeremy Fraser’s” letter once more, seeing if there were any more clues to pick up on. The handwriting wasn’t familiar at all- either Richter had gotten someone else to do that, or he had gotten really good at disguising his handwriting. Before he took his position as CO of the Royal Guard, he had gone undercover a few times, so that could have been when he picked up the skill.
When did he send this? When is ‘tomorrow’, even?
I grasped the Lockheart Family pendant on my chest, rolling it between my fingers as I continued to contemplate.
The letter definitely arrived in the span of time between me fighting those guys and getting out of solitary confinement. Hell, Moreno had it on his person when he came to let me out.
Post doesn’t deliver until roughly 9AM. I was let out of solitary somewhere around 7 or 8. The letter wasn’t sent over a long distance, it was placed in the mail yesterday. What if…?
I didn’t remember the exact time that visitation was supposed to be yesterday, but I knew that it was much later in the day than yard time. Considering I ended up in solitary right after that, I might’ve missed my visit window with Aiko…
She learned what happened then. I realized, Then, she told…oh shit, she told Richter. They’re working together. And after that, he wrote the letter…
“Well,” I muttered under my breath, “Time for baby’s first prison break.”
Disc One: [RE]vival
Track 16: Prometheus
The day he came to visit.
“Hey, bro.” Richter grinned, “How’s it been?”
I hugged my older brother tightly. We were at the Lamass airport, and he had just flown in to visit me and our sister for one of the few vacations he got as CO of the Royal Guard. We were both wearing black jackets with a white Lockheart Family crest on the back, but where we differentiated was that Richter wore his closed and with an additional Royal Guard patch on his chest, which I didn’t have. His jacket was also more of a long coat than mine was.
After separating from him, I shrugged. “Not much has happened. Aiko went back home after staying up here for a few months. I don’t think she’ll be back until April or so.”
“How are things going with you two?” Richter asked.
I grinned. “Great, so far. Not a whole lot of awkwardness when you pretty much grew up together.”
I walked at Richter’s side as we started moving through the airport.
“Isn’t she a better swordfighter than you?” Richter asked, “I thought that would damage your ego a little bit.”
“I’m still faster than she could ever hope to be, so it works out. We do two-on-two sparring sometimes, haven’t been beaten yet.”
“That’s the same for any Lockheart-Lane combo,” Richter said, “Even since Vincent and Sokudo, in fact.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, I know our families have been friends forever. Wait, has anyone else ever-”
“No.” Richter replied, knowing where I was going with that, “Our families actually haven’t ever mingled. The Lockhearts and Lanes aren’t connected like that. You and Aiko…might change that.”
“That’d be weird.” I said, “Who would change their name? Do we both keep our name? What would the kid be named? Would the kid get both names? Would we have to make some kind of amalgamation name? Laneheart? Lockla-”
“You’re doing that thing again.” Richter interrupted.
I stopped myself. “Right,” I said, “Sorry. You know how I am.”
“Always getting carried away, little bro.” Richter said, “Speaking of that phrase, where’s Michelle?”
I rolled my eyes. “She’ll be back tomorrow, she’s taking a trip to The Mainland. Birds or some shit. Asked her to pick up some short grain rice while she was there.”
Richter raised an eyebrow. “They don’t sell short grain rice here?”
“It’s stupid fucking expensive,” I sighed, “They don’t grow shit up here. And all they sell is little bags of it, too…it’d be cheaper to get strung out on coke than to have some good fucking rice.”
“You’re the ones who wanted to live on a floating island.”
“It’s nice up here.” I said, “Windy. Humid. The volcano. How did it even get up here? How does this place even float? Really makes you think…”
“Yeah, yeah, doing it again. I get rambly when my guard’s down.”
My brother grinned. “Your guard is down around me?”
“Sometimes.” I replied, “Not when we play games, though. I am going to thrash you when we get home.”
“Playing your games, sure.” Richter replied, “Last time we played something of mine, you looked ready to chuck your controller at light speed through the window.”
“Keep talking shit and it’ll be your face instead of the window, bro.”
Richter punched my shoulder and we chuckled together.
“I missed you, bro.” Richter said.
“I missed you too, man.”
March 23rd, Year P-132.
Colony 1’s Maximum Security Prison, Bedauern.
“Pros: I get to see my brother in person for the first time in like a year. Aiko will be there. Cons…” I paused, sighed, “Pretty much everything else about the situation. And Aiko will be there.”
“What are you talking about?” Snake asked from across the lunch table. The man with a caterpillar tattoo squinted at me, “What’s this about your brother?”
“Just thinking about what I’ll do when I get out of here.” I lied casually, then spoke honestly, “I miss spending time with my family. I feel shitty without them around.”
“Family is a tough cookie. Kind of like this one, actually,” Snake said, lifting the stone-stale chocolate chip cookie we’d been given alongside our shitty prison lunch today, “You just have to know the right place to bite into them.”
I bit my lip. “I’m…not tracking that metaphor.”
Snake bit a large chunk out of the cookie. The caterpillar tattoo shifted as he did this, and it made me uncomfortable. “It wasn’t a metaphor,” he replied, “You’ll never really understand what they’re thinking until you bite them.”
I don’t know what this man is in here for, and now I’m afraid to ask.
Is…is that why he’s called Snake?
I nodded as if this were completely sensible advice and not the ramblings of a deranged man. “You’re very smart, Snake. Always know what to say.”
Snake nodded sagely. “I’ve been told that.”
Well, I was already a fugitive before this.
But after breaking out of here, well…
I’m going to be The Fugitive.
This might actually be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.
I stood in the grass, about a meter from the fence blocking me from the outside world, staring through it and waiting for a sign. Also wondering if I should just signal to Richter somehow that hey, I appreciated the gesture, but breaking out of a maximum-security prison would be a gun that I couldn’t easily unfire.
Shit is gonna be real after this.
Piercing, deafening sirens went off in the prison behind me as a masked figure appeared on the other side of the fence. He was dressed in black all over, holding a distinctly white katana- Prometheus– in his left hand, and wearing a white marble mask depicting the crying, screaming face of a creature Vincent Lockheart once defeated.
“Well,” I muttered, “There’s my ride.”
The masked man slashed the katana in his left hand, opening a rift in spacetime that he leaped through, landing by my right side silently. The portal fizzed out behind him as a barrier of black-and-gold Lightning appeared, encasing Bedauern in a barrier capable of distorting Prometheus’ space-cutting techniques. I stared up at it absentmindedly as I looked at the Epsilon mask and smirked.
“I hope you counted on that, bro.” I said, raising my cuffed wrists, “Little help?”
Moving swiftly, Richter slashed through my cuffs, releasing the Darkness inhibiting the flow of Light energy through my system. With a surge of incredible power, it all rushed back to me and I turned in the direction Richter was facing.
In his right hand, Richter held a long, white spear, crafted entirely of moonshard by Vincent Lockheart, enchanted with the ability to penetrate any physical surface. Its name was Diarmuid, and its last wielder was Saiten Lockheart. Silently, Richter tossed it into the air above my head and I snatched it with my right hand, contact with me causing Diarmuid to crackle with scarlet Lightning and emanate a golden glow.
“Thanks, bro.” I said, staring at my mother’s spear, “I’ll try not to get it too dirty.”
Prisoners in the yard screamed as their cuffs snapped together and Royal Guard members appeared en masse, some herding them back into the prison and some approaching us with weapons at the ready. Richter didn’t say a word as they came closer, and I gulped nervously.
“I’m fast, bro,” I said, “But not take twenty guys at once fast, you know?”
Pulling a scabbard off of his right hip, Richter held Prometheus out in his left hand and the scabbard in his right.
“That’s not a useful strategy against twenty dudes.” I said, wincing.
“Drop your weapons, Lockhearts!” one of the Royal Guard members screamed, brandishing an electric blue dagger in our direction, “You’re surrounded!”
“Plausible deniability!” I called back, pointing at Richter with my left hand, “He’s wearing a mask! I got no clue who this guy is!”
“Get ready.” Richter said, voice filtered and distorted through the mask, “On my mark…get set…”
Richter leaned forward and sheathed Prometheus completely, holding the sheathed blade in front of him.
I built the Light energy in me, prepared to rush at our opponents.
In a rapid motion, Richter pulled his hands apart, unsheathing Prometheus.
As zero seconds turned to one, Richter was holding the handle to a blade that wasn’t there.
Even as I crossed the yard at speeds too fast for anyone but a Lightning or Light user to see, I had trouble seeing it. The white blade of Prometheus cut through the air, at ten different rifts in spacetime, slicing open the stomachs of the Royal Guard members standing in front.
As one seconds turned to two, I blitzed through the wounded Royal Guard members, hitting them with my mother’s spear at the speed of sound, sending them flying into the air and each other. These people were like moving statues to me, all except two- a Light user and a Lightning user- who were incredibly fast and coming at me from either side.
The surge of Light and the speed it granted me faded as two seconds turned into three.
I leaned my head back, barely dodging a bolt of Lightning that blasted past it.
A very, very fast fist slammed into my stomach. As I was sent flying off of my feet from the force of the blow and desperately heaved, I channeled Light once more and began to somersault in the air.
As I landed, I grasped Diarmuid in both of my hands and swung from my right, swinging the non-bladed end into the face of Mr. Lightning Bolt, who wouldn’t be getting up from that anytime soon.
I twirled just in time to make eye contact with the Light user, a man with blonde hair, blue eyes and an infuriating smirk that dissipated as I blocked his fist with the body of my mother’s spear.
As we returned to normal speed, Blondie hissed, “What is that thing made of!?”
“Moonshard.” I retorted, “Mom’s affection. Pretty soon, one of your teeth.”
Before we could return to sound-speed, Richter slashed the air again, Prometheus’ bloody blade reappearing on its handle as Blondie howled in pain and fell to his knees. Blondie’s Achilles tendons had been cut the moment we slowed down, and I winced down at him.
“You won’t be moving around for quite a while.” I remarked, “Even with our medicine, that’s gonna be at least a week.”
Blondie looked up at me, eyes full of rage. “Lockheart, you-”
I interrupted him with a punch as hard as I could manage into his face, knocking Blondie out cold. I turned around to face the eight remaining Royal Guard members, who looked shit-terrified. For good reason, too, considering twelve of their friends had just gotten decimated in about six seconds total.
Twirling Diarmuid in my left hand and allowing it to rest over my left shoulder, I gave a weary grin to the people assigned to apprehend me. “I’d tell you boys to run,” I said, “But I think we know that won’t be enough.”
They were frozen in fear, seemingly completely unsure of what to do.
Stepping through another portal, Richter joined my right side silently, terrifying the poor bastards even more. Their friends were on the ground, still groaning and clutching their wounds. As far as I could tell, the closest they had to healers were Light users, and even then all they could really do was seal the wounds to prevent blood loss. The absence of Wind users in this group meant these guys were out of commission until they received medical treatment.
“Eight’s a lot more manageable.” I said, my body starting to crackle with scarlet Lightning, “Bet I can do it in one second.”
“Five.” Richter retorted, “You aren’t that fast. I did all the work with that batch.”
“Three.” I insisted.
“Three.” he agreed.
With a surge of speed, a left hook, a right hook and a leaping dropkick just because I could, three were down in the span of a second. Over the span of the next second, a left elbow, a right swing of the blunt end of the spear, a left slash from the sharp end of the spear and a left-shoulder blitz, four more were down.
One second to go.
As I rushed for the last of the Royal Guard members who had come to engage us, a man standing far in the back, I took the time to register his appearance. He had short-cut brown hair, wore a black Royal Guard jacket with a gold-and-white insignia on its chest, and stared back at me with very familiar, very cold blue eyes.
Jackson Moreno’s eyes, glowing with blue Light, tracked me in real-time. His arms were coated with glittering diamond, and I soon realized from the protrusions in the torso of his jacket that the rest of his body was, too, and would be able to endure any blunt-force blow I inflicted upon them.
I adjusted Mom’s spear as I covered the distance between us, getting ready to skewer Moreno where he stood.
A powerful barrier of Wind met me before I reached him, stopping me just long enough for my Light-boost to fade. As my feet left the ground and I realized, rather unambiguously, that this motherfucker was a Sage, I grit my teeth.
Moreno brandished his right hand in the shape of a gun, firing a bolt of black Lightning that connected with my chest and electrocuted me, causing me to scream in agony and crash to the ground, losing my grip on Diarmuid.
“This little prison break is over, Lockheart.” Moreno snarled, “Stand down or I will execute you.”
Writhing on the ground as the black Lightning continued to wreak havoc on my system, I gasped back, “The only thing you’re executing is Daddy-Didn’t-Love-Me-Enough-Dot-E-X-E.”
Moreno snarled and moved to fire another bolt of black Lightning at me from his right hand, only for a white blade to appear in thin air, absorbing the bolt and vanishing before reappearing back on my brother’s blade. Richter slashed Prometheus again, this time not bothering to teleport the blade at all, but sending a crescent of Moreno’s black lightning right back at him.
Reaching out with his left hand, Moreno blocked the crescent with his bare hand, de-synthesizing the combined elements back into their basic Darkness and Lightning forms, which he then destroyed with Light and absorbed into himself, respectively.
Jackson Moreno began walking toward my brother, both his arms held outward. “In my right hand,” Moreno shouted, “I can create any synthesis of any elements! With my left, I can deconstruct any attack, any material, to its truest form!”
“Either of your hands know how to pleasure a woman?” I called.
“You crude little shi-”
“Didn’t think so!”
With a surge of Light and a roll, I dodged a retaliatory bolt of black Lightning and joined my brother at his side.
“So, what’s our game plan?” I asked.
“I can’t cut through the diamond on his body,” Richter replied, “That’s a new move I haven’t seen from him before. He’s probably been preparing to be able to handle anything I throw at him for a while now. Diarmuid should be able to penetrate if you can stab him with it, but he’s skilled at Wind and Gravity manipulation, so that won’t be easy.”
Moreno continued to walk toward us slowly. With a wave of his hand, the ground that his fallen comrades were laying on shifted and rocketed out of sight, closer to the entrance to the yard, where they would likely be pulled in for medical treatment. The message seemed clear: these two are mine.
“You two’re trying to come up with a way to beat me.” Moreno chuckled, “I think we all know that you can’t. My defense is perfect. I can deconstruct any attack you send at me and return something stronger. Unlike you, Richter, I earned my position in the Royal Guard.”
Richter didn’t respond, but gripped Prometheus more tightly.
Moreno snarled, “Without nepotism, without that sword, you are nothing. Your family has ridden on the coattails of Vincent Lockheart for over a century. Everything I have, I worked for it. Struggled for it. Neither of you will ever understand that.”
“Aside from the genetic jackpot you hit by being born a Sage, you mean.” I retorted, “Don’t give me that sad everyman shit. You were born special.”
Moreno shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps. But where others only need to train mastery of one Element, I’ve had to train mastery of all Nine. I deserve everything I have.”
The distance was closing. In a matter of seconds, or less, we’d re-engage.
“Sure you do,” I replied, “Just like you deserve what’s about to happen.”
Filling my body with Light, I shouted “Golden Fang!” at the top of my lungs and hurled my mother’s spear at Moreno, imbuing the weapon with my father’s fastest technique.
Diarmuid was moving faster than the speed of sound.
Moreno caught it with a diamond-coated fist, less than an inch from penetrating his chest. His eyes, still glowing blue with Light energy, stared through me.
“My turn.” he growled.
Richter slashed the air in front of us, creating a portal that Moreno blasted through at a speed comparable to a Lightning user’s, re-appearing in the distance and already starting to rapidly close the distance.
“He’s fast too!?” I spat.
“Unfortunately.” Richter replied.
Seeing no other option, I leaned forward and screamed, releasing the scarlet Lightning of my father’s Howl technique.
Moreno was nowhere near fast enough to evade it. Instead, he lifted his left palm to block it, but the force of the attack stopped him in his tracks and he didn’t seem to be deconstructing it, just holding it at bay.
“Jackpot.” Richter and I said, simultaneously.
“The hell is this!?” Moreno shouted.
I grabbed Richter’s back collar and, glowing with Light, ran us to Moreno. Leaving Richter at his left side and snatching my spear back from his right hand, my brother and I attacked simultaneously. Moreno stomped his foot, creating a rapidly-rising pillar of stone that blasted him skyward and was promptly vaporized by Howl.
Blowing on his singed, smoking left hand, Moreno snarled and raised his right, summoning two massive bolts of golden and black Lightning from the dome that condensed into the shape of a war hammer in his hand.
“You’re fucking kidding me.” I muttered.
Accelerating his descent through Gravity manipulation, Moreno screamed “Mjölnir!” at the top of his lungs and crashed back to the ground, slamming down his hammer as he did so. The lightning compressed in the hammer exploded violently on impact, and even with my Light-boosted senses and speed, I knew we wouldn’t be fast enough to outrun it.
But maybe if I…
Pushing Richter out of the way, I took a bolt of golden Lightning to my chest, evading the black bolt meant for me and pushing Richter out of harm’s way.
Ooohhhh this still fucking hurts!
“Redirect it!” Richter shouted.
“I’m trying!” I hissed.
My body was overflowing with foreign energy. Try as I might, I couldn’t direct it to my mouth or my hands, where I would be able to expel it. I felt electricity surge through my heart and gasped.
“Too much for you, boy!?” Moreno taunted.
“I can’t move.” I whimpered to my brother, “It’s too much!”
“Howl!” Richter shouted, “Turn it to a Howl!”
“I don’t-” I stammered, barely able to see through the tears, the Lightning paralyzing my muscles, “I don’t know how-”
Moreno raised his right arm again, pointing in my direction as his hand started to crackle with black Lightning. His eyes were cold.
“Moreno!” Richter shouted, “You’ll kill him!”
Moreno’s face betrayed no emotion.
“Good.” Jackson Moreno replied.
Leaping in front of me, Richter took the bolt of black Lightning, which surged through him and shattered the mask of Epsilon on his face.
Still paralyzed by the golden Lightning overwhelming my system, all I could do is watch as my brother fell at my feet, a deep gash across his face as he gasped and tried to recover. His blonde hair was longer now, his white eyes staring into mine with desperation and sadness.
“Not-” I hissed. “Not my brother, you son of a bitch!”
With a surge of power, the golden Lightning surrounding me turned scarlet.
Moreno’s eyes widened.
“Howling Fang!” I shouted.
Faster than I’d ever been, my body full of destructive energy, I channeled everything into my mother’s spear. Diarmuid crackled dangerously as I hurled it at Moreno. The spear blasted through his stomach and continued flying past him, meeting the barrier of Lightning surrounding the prison and causing it to explode.
Richter caught me as I fell, my body singed and smoking from Howl, my muscles sore from the Lightning, my heart beating a million times a minute-
“You did it.” he gasped, hugging me tightly, “You did it.”
Moreno was on his knees, clutching his wound. Richter slashed a portal into the air and pulled me through it.
We were out on the street, some distance from Bedauern. Now that we had destroyed the barrier, Richter was able to use Prometheus’ space-cutting to get us out. Still supporting me, we leaned against a familiar, electric blue convertible.
“We have to go back,” I muttered, “For mom’s spear, we have t-”
“Don’t worry about it.” Richter said, “It’s just a weapon. Get in.”
Aiko looked up at us expectantly from the driver’s seat. “What took you so long?” she asked.
“Got my ass kicked.” I replied weakly, “Sorry about that.”
I opened the back door and fell face-first into the back seat. I groaned as I heard the sound of approaching sirens and Richter getting into the passenger’s seat.
“You alright back there?” Richter asked.
“Forget his attack,” I muttered, “If I had waited a second longer to use Howl, I would’ve vaporized myself.”
The car started and Aiko sighed. “Hang on back there,” she said, “We’ll stop once we make it to a safe house. Richter, call your-”
“Already on it.” Richter replied, lifting a burner phone to his cheek, “We’ll have medical treatment ready when we arrive.”
I sighed- in relief, in pain or some mixture of the two, I couldn’t tell.
“Thank you.” I said, to both of them.
They didn’t need to respond.
As the overwhelming desire to sleep overtook me, I smiled.