Thursday, September 14, 2017

Blue Nexus #71 - Man With Machine

Previously on "Blue Nexus": With a renewed sense of courage and a burning drive, Kyle and Brenda dove headfirst into battle against two of the Six Pillars. Sandy soon joined and the three overwhelmed them, furthering their confidence. However, a distress call from Phoenix told them the day wasn't won yet: one of the Six Pillars was attacking the Cube, and the only one left to defend it is former super villain Professor Boomer!

Vivian strolled, quite casually and without any sense of care, through the second hallway of the Cube, eyeing some of the criminals that banged against the soundproof glass. She winked and nodded at some, teasing them with every step. Boomer watched her, arms crossed and chin tilted up, from the installed screens of his own large room. Thus far, she had yet to release any super criminals. Perhaps she was just making an initial pass, or perhaps she was looking for one in particular.
                He had no idea how she got into the Cube. He recognized her instantly as the Pillar of Deception. The mark on her forearm gave it away, as well as her inability to hide her face during the raid on that one Reality mage Tania’s camp. She managed to get through two of the doors without making it seem as if she’d opened them, and not even Boomer’s trained eye and mind could discern how exactly she got through them.
                It’d be just as easy, no doubt, to get into the cells with the prisoners. If she wanted to break them out she could. Normally, if someone somehow busted into the Cube, they wouldn’t be able to manually release anyone: the controls for the door were up on the Zanderia’s moon base. There was no installed way of opening the doors to the prisoner’s cells, with the exception of Boomer’s cell, since Blue Nexus and Shindari often came around to pay visits.
                Vivian stopped at one cell, Sandstorms, and leaned over to talk to him. He blushed. Boomer rolled his eyes. She was beautiful, yes, but she was a Deception mage. Of course she would be a little liar about whatever false promises she was trying to make him. She placed her hand on the glass. Boomer stood up, but eased when Vivian backed away and waved to Sandstorm, who watched her go away. Rejection painted his face.
                He strummed his fingers along his sides. Combatting her would be difficult, and not just because of her abilities. He would expose his biggest secret to the Zanderia if he didn’t play things carefully. He had to act smart, and act far below the radar…although his plan was far from the latter.
                Boomer turned his attention to the bottom right screen, which was a view of his own room. It was small, much smaller than the other big-screens, but let him see if there were any invaders. Sometimes he swore he saw the veiled spirit of a woman standing near him, and could sense an extradimensional presence, so he had that little camera installed to make sure he wasn’t going mad in his self-requested solitary confinement.
                He looked along the right wall, where there was still just one panel slightly jutting out of the wall. He checked the camera once again. It looked fine.
                Boomer knelt down and turned, facing the floor. He swiped his hand along the panel and a grid appeared, then a holographic keyboard. He typed in his request, and looked over his shoulder. The image remained frozen on him standing there, examining the screens. Boomer grinned.
                Much as he wanted the Zanderia to trust him, Boomer also needed to pass the time by some means, and doing some writing to himself wasn’t cutting it. It did at first, where he could write down all his ideas, but now he had time to execute them. He was thankful that their primary teleportation systems had been down while he began his work.
                Cata’s influence was dispelled, he no longer heard her voice in his head, but the intelligence and knowledge she bestowed upon him remained. It gave him periodic migraines, yes, and made sleeping near impossible, but it provided his mind a greater expanse for creativity. And with the state of Earth’s technology, even tech as advanced as the Zanderia’s, being so primitive compared to that of a Kingdom Planet’s, it was easy pickings for Boomer to begin his work.
                He started with the computers, finding a way to tamper with the display screens and create his own system on particular panels around the room, based on various camera angles. The system was primarily holographic, based on the programming that was used up on the Moon base. At first he was afraid they would notice, until he realized that the cameras he had personally set up in his cell weren’t connected in the same feed as that of the Moon base. Thus, hacking into their systems became just a bit simpler.
                Next came his own installations into the Cube: hacking the doors. Before, he hadn’t been able to get outside his room until he came to the realization that the door opened by some sort of code, some sort of program. The walls of the Cube were some sort of alien metal, provided as a gift by, Boomer could only guess, Orion III, one of Eclipse’s planets across the stars. Strong as the metal was, though, it had weak points, and Boomer needed to only assess such weak points before finding a way across and finding the control panel and wiring that allowed Blue Nexus and Shindari to open the door.
                Using the same holo tech and paneling, Boomer manifested his own door, and ensured that it would respond only to his touch. He hadn’t gone so far as to make the other villains out there see him, fearing that they would blabber to any Zanderia that came down into the Cube for inspection, but he could do it, and could probably get around quite easily now.
                What he assumed would be the most difficult part turned out to be the easiest, as well as the part that would be most vital against Vivian. Some cybernetics from his attachment to the armor that he used, in vain, against Alucard remained. Not that he was full cyborg, but he still had implants around his body that didn’t affect his normal bodily functions. However, they could serve as a base.
                This part took Boomer the longest, although it came together naturally over time. And it also took up the most of what Cata knew from her own personal studies, having watched the evolution of several great technologically-based civilizations. Boomer, using those implants around his body, and in particular the one that still connected to his spine and nervous system, manifested his own connection with the Cube, accessing most of its memory banks and discovering some of its lesser known secrets. He even, of course, found a way to bend some of its resources to his own will.
                He struck upon the idea of creating a new armor, and had only created a prototype before Vivian arrived to possibly muck everything up.
                Boomer watched her again on the screen, stopping to say hello to Fire Tiger, while the two other Tigers watched her speak to their leader. So many of Boomer’s creations and former colleagues were trapped in the Cube with him, and now it was his responsibility to ensure that Vivian didn’t plague them as he once did.
                The former professor reached out and tapped his hang along the jutted panel. It registered his touch, thanks to an implant in his hand, and the panel slid open, revealing a thick piece of paneling Boomer managed to carve out into mostly a shield. He plucked it out, feeling its weight along his arm, and then sealed the panel again, making sure it looked the exact same.
                He took the path across some of the specific panels before he stopped back at his main panel, and strummed his fingers along the keyboard. The panels he’d stepped on shifted and moved, as if in a puzzle, before settling and allowing the one he knelt before to give way and raise some of the armor. Boomer inspected it.
                It was pure white, like the walls surrounding him, and glowing as cords and wires hung like a jungle all around it. Boomer placed his hand on two of the gloves, meant to supply his body with the power that the Cube had. It’d drain him quickly and give him quite a sore, but he’d be able to punch Vivian clear across the room.
                No, that’s not how to defeat someone like her. She’d be defeated with mind, not muscle. He had to use his environment to his advantage. The Cube, under his provision, held secrets that not even the Zanderia knew about. He could bend it to his specific will, and nobody else. Even if Vivian had been here before, which Boomer had a hunch about, she would have no idea the capabilities latent within it.
            He typed away the keyboard again, keeping the gloves on. He wouldn’t use them for muscle, but indeed, for mind. He held his hands against the panel and the keyboard flashed. The gloves’ lights glowed for a moment before fading. The two systems synced completely. Good, now he wouldn’t have to touch the panels along the walls to make them interact with him.       
            “Computer,” Boomer said. “Initiate voice recognition, code L8A.”
            “Initiated,” the computer said. Boomer looked the monitors, and saw Vivian stop dead in her tracks. He couldn’t stop the computer’s signal from staying just in his cell, but what mattered most was that it did not leave the Cube. “Syncing.”
            Boomer felt some chills in his spine from the implant. He flexed his hands and shut his eyes. He felt the implant spread some little tentacles and latch onto his spine, infesting him with more of its information. He gritted his teeth together, ignoring the irritation in his back. It was like a worm was wriggling around right in his lower back and he could do nothing of it.
            He clenched his fists and tensed up until the moment it stopped and he relaxed the muscles in his back.
            “Time to be a hero,” he muttered, and rolled his shoulders back. He opened his fists and then slowly brought them together. The lights in the room simmered down and all the panels closed up. He approached the opening door, pushing it open the rest of the way.
            He walked right through the corridor, keeping to the left wall before it curved and revealed to him the main hallway, where the second cells of prisoners were. He checked the door leading to the lowest, most dangerous, area, and nodded when he saw it was okay.
            Boomer lolled his neck around a bit. He hadn’t had an opponent in mind in quite a while. Alucard gave him a run for his money, even going so far as to win. Damn demon. And now, he had to go up against one who was of equal power, in terms of magical abilities, and probably far intelligent than he, who just wanted to throw shadows everywhere.
            After all, Boomer wondered, what had her master told Vivian not to do compared to what he wanted her to do? Was she sent to kill all the Cube’s villains, or to free them? If it was the latter then why hadn’t she done so already, and if it were the former, again, why not do it already? Unless none of them were her target.
            Vivian stood in the hallway, arms crossed, her head tilted as if she’d just checked a watch. Her impatience radiated off her.
            “Professor Boomer,” she said. “About time you got out of your little cage.”
            “Just cleaning things up,” he said. “Nice to have you back, Vivian.”
            “You’re a Deception Mage, you can get in and out of places like there’s nothing to it. You were the one who released the Tiger Trio a little while back, right? With the help of one of your Reality mages, perhaps the Pillar of Reality?”
            “Did all that time in your penthouse make you psychic?” Vivian asked. “Or were we really caught on camera?”
            “I’m not an idiot,” Boomer said. “Everyone else you’ve faced so far has been pretty remedial compared to what you’re seeing now.”
            “I’ve faced the greatest Reality mage and the Blue Nexus, lured them straight into a trap,” Vivian said. “And you’re the big threat? The big thing that stops me?”
            “I’m the thing that kills you,” Boomer said. “So, right there, you’re already proving my point that you’re behind.”
            “Yeah, sure,” Vivian said. “The Blue Nexus has enough power to level a city if he wanted to and I walked away from him. What sort of firepower are you going to bring? You were a teacher, so, you probably couldn’t afford much, anyway.”
            “Again, you’re mistaken,” Boomer said. “I was a teacher in title, but a mad scientist in occupation.”
            “You admit you’re crazy?”
            “I admit to listening to voices coming from an ancient outer god bent on destroying worlds,” Boomer said. “And it really helped me out. And it’s really going to end poorly for you.”
            Boomer held his hand out, opening his palm with the glove. Vivian pursed her lips and nodded, then snapped her fingers and vanished, reappearing next to him, hand on his shoulder. Boomer remained frozen.
            “See that?” Vivian asked. “Your eyes deceived you right there. Unfortunately, your eyes are going to be doing a lot of that. But it’s not just your eyes that’ll deceve you. Maybe even your thoughts. I mean, just look, all those people are just sitting around, doors open.”
            Boomer kept his hand on, and raised an eyebrow.
            Computer, he thought. Mental recognition, initiate scan for prisoner locks.
            “Scanning,” the computer said overhead. “No doors unlocked.”
            Vivian rolled her eyes. “We’re really going to do this?” She snapped her fingers and the doors flew open. Boomer’s hand remained unmoved, and nothing on the glove changed. No computer settings were overridden, nothing about the Cube changed.
            “Yes we are,” Boomer said, and lowered his arm. “You’re right, my eyes do deceive me. But you assume that I’m completely human, and therein lies your problem.”
            “I won’t even ask,” Vivian said. “You’re like part alien, or something?”
            “We’ll let you figure it out,” Boomer said. He opened his palm and then closed it.
            A panel along the wall came loose, ripping free and nearly bashing Vivian’s skull in. She moved away, and her chest heaved up and down in a panicked state. Boomer lowered his hand and the panel, magnetically connected, locked right onto the glove. Boomer felt some of the weight, but chose to ignore it. He replaced the panel, which covered the emergency lights switch in the event of a lockdown.
            “Getting it yet?” Boomer asked.
            Vivian held her hand open and a silver glow appeared around it. She braced, then vanished and reappeared right in front of him, fist pulled back. Boomer didn’t even blink as the image faded right in front of him.
            He turned and ducked underneath her long-legged kick, sweeping his arm and sending her to the ground.
            “Two more tries,” Boomer said. “Then it’s three strikes, and you’re dead. I’m not dealing with this, and I don’t really have the ability to control magic in the cages just y—.”
            Vivian, from the slide, slammed her shoulder into him, then snapped her fingers and then panels wrapped around Boomer, squeezing his arms in. Vivian clutched Boomer’s throat.
            “I’ll make you feel like you’re in a thousand years of torture, you asshole,” Vivian said. “Right up until I let you die, you’re going to be begging me for death, over and over again and I’ll just laugh and remind you of this exact moment where you could’ve surrendered and left me alone.”
            Boomer’s chest seemed to seize under the pressure mounting from the panels squeezing him tighter, and he felt the joints and bones in his arms start to give. He saw stars, and only just had the strength to look down to the glove and see that, again, nothing was different.
            “You really are an idiot,” he said, and swung his fist out, clocking her across the face. Vivian stumbled back, and Boomer straightened out. Everything was back to normal in a second, as if nothing had happened. He shrugged. Well, nothing had happened. “So, what exactly is the difference between a Reality mage and a Deception mage?”
            A silver aura flared around Vivian and she vanished. Boomer kept his eye on his glove while he was seemingly tossed around, broken in two, left for dead at the bottom of the ocean when Vivian opened up a hole beneath him.
            At each turn, Boomer opened his hand up and the deception broke, returning his mind’s eye to exactly where’d been the entire time: starting right across from Vivian, who watched on, drained of her magic.
            “How?” she asked. “How are you seeing any of this?”
            “I imagine Rafael picked you to be the Deception mage because you, above most other Six Pillars that I’ve noticed, have a knack for making things believable,” Boomer said. “You can bring people in and out of places without ever making someone wonder why. But, the problem is you often need a Reality mage to make any of this work, right? And without them, I daresay, your powers are incredibly weak.” He shrugged. “Computer? Initiate doomsday protocol, code Father.”
            A red light flared overhead and all the panels, save for Boomer’s lit up red. He looked across from him, at one of the villains, who watched on in horror.
            “What is this?” Vivian asked.
            “You’re a Deception mage, right?” Boomer asked. “You can get out of any trap, in anyway. Go ahead. Try.”
            Vivian smiled and nodded. “Oh, I will come back. I’ll wipe that smug smile right off your face!”
            “I believe you,” Boomer said. “Good luck.”
            “I don’t need luck, I have my power!” she exclaimed, and swung her hand up.
            A red laser shot across the way, from behind Boomer, and darted right through Vivian’s chest, hitting her out of her spell. A silver light flared for just a moment. Boomer opened and closed his fist and the doomsday protocol ended.
            Vivian’s corpse rolled down some of the steps and stopped with her head facing, shocked. She’d been so confident, and in that single moment, all her power couldn’t fail her. She’d succumbed, rightfully, to the power of the machine.
            Still, Boomer wondered if that silver light was the cause of her magic leaving her, or perhaps her spell just ending, expelling whatever magic was kempt up in reserves should she need it. Boomer approached her, and knelt by her body. She wouldn’t bleed, the heated laser would cauterize any wound she suffered.
            “Computer,” Boomer said, standing. “Locate any files you have with these phrases: Deception Mage, Magic, Six Pillars, and cyborg.”

            Brenda stood from her kneeling position, and the red square beneath her faded. Sandy opened her eyes up, too, sighing, and nodding to Kyle.
            “She’d out, too?” Kyle asked. “Phoenix, confirmation? You seeing anything in the Cube?”
            “I wasn’t able to get a visual confirmation, something must be up with the cameras down there,” Phoenix said. “Probably something Vivian did. But, oh man. There were two heat signatures out in the hallway and then…there was one.”
            “She’s dead,” Brenda said. “Boomer must’ve killed her to prevent her escape.”
            The words rang false for Kyle. He looked away, back toward the two contained bodies of John and Axel, still unconscious.
            “Why would he?” Kyle asked. “He could’ve just knocked her out, she wouldn’t have been much of a threat then, right?”
            He’d been making his turn back, things were looking up for him. Damn it! Why’d she have to go there? What if this were just some smaller step for him to get back to his old ways? Maybe all he needed was to just kill one person and it’d start the spiral back to where he was. The good part was that, even if he were to slink back to his evil ways, he was already in the Cube. He wouldn’t get free.
            But that wasn’t the point of keeping him there, it was rehabilitation, not a means of imprisoning him within his own twisted ways.
            Even worse, what if Vivian was being mind-controlled by Rafael? None of them had any real idea of how far his power went regarding how the Six Pillars operated, maybe all of them had been pressed into his service. If that were the case, then whatever spell could’ve lifted when Rafael was defeated. An innocent life would’ve been saved.
            “Blue Nexus!” Sandy shouted, and Kyle realized he had someone talking his ear the whole time. He shook himself off.
            “Yeah, what?” Kyle asked.
            “Oh, good, you’re finally with us,” the Sentinel said in his head.
            “What the hell are you doing on Zanderia coms?” Kyle asked.
            “Shut up and listen,” the Sentinel said. “This is important. Axel ditched Pacific City to head for Orlando while on Rafael’s tour of destruction. He was on his way toward the Capital Industries building that Shindari, Violette, and myself raided a few days ago. If what Violette says about that place is true, then we might have a shot at beating it.”
            “Sorry, wasn’t paying attention,” Kyle said. “What’s there? Wasn’t Capital Industries debunked years ago?”
            “Not the point,” Sandy said. “Dr. Luna is there.”
            Oh, jeez. What a day for Boomer. Wait…
            “She’s dead,” Kyle said. “We exchanged soul places when Alucard was about to hit East City, I saw her soul fade into the Nether.”
            “I’m going to pretend like I understood that,” the Sentinel said.
            “But it was her,” Sandy said. “Trust me, Kyle, I’d recognize her. From what she was saying, she’s become some sort of a tether for Rafael.”
            “And the Grand Elder said he had one weakness that kept him from immortality,” Brenda said. “It has to be Dr. Luna.”
            “Rafael’s going to be pissed off once he realizes that you’ve all done in half of his Six Pillars,” Phoenix said. “Get to East City now and do what you can for Dr. Luna.”
            “How do we kill a dead person?” Kyle asked.
            “Rafael came back to life,” Sandy said. “Maybe she did, too.”
            “Then maybe we can turn her around,” Kyle said.
            “Talk about it on the way there,” Phoenix said. “Get moving, now. I can see something else is headed for East City as well, and it’s something major.”
            “Could be Rafael trying to cover his ass,” the Sentinel said.
            Kyle sighed and let his aura consume him. Sandy stepped onto a red square and Brenda lifted them into the air. Kyle and Brenda nodded to each other and took off. Sandy braced herself against the base of the square as Brenda lifted another side up to block the wind. Kyle crossed his arms as they flew over Alabama, staring ahead into the blue sky.
            Dr. Luna now, too? Was everyone just going back to how they were? No, he realized, Dr. Luna’s turn would make some sense. When Kyle got out of the Nether, it’s naturally dark energy infected him, turning him evil. Brenda managed to stave that off with her Shield magic, and Brian…well, he was more experienced with the Nexus, he must’ve had some trick of getting around that.
            Whatever Rafael did to pull Luna free from the Nether, and however he managed to do that, must have triggered that malevolence from the Nether inside her soul, and turned her against the good of the world. She was just at the cusp of being good, too, until Alucard had her killed, slowly. Kyle shook his head, trying to bury that memory of seeing her whittled corpse in East City, clinging to hope that Dr. Boomer would fight back against Alucard.
            They changed up course a bit to move away from a flight path and Kyle sped up just a bit. He had to get there before the other two, if only so he could maybe talk some sense into Dr. Luna. He heard Brenda’s voice in the wind, and then over their communicator. Kyle removed the communicator from his ear and sped up, almost going into a Wave 2 speed. He lowered himself, still out of a flight path, and let the wind whip around his aura.
             The faster Kyle got, and the further he got from Sandy and Brenda, the more he felt himself slipping away from both his physical body and into the Nexus. It was as if he were doing intergalactic travel, but he was so zeroed in on his target that speed, or the fabric of time and space, hardly seemed to matter.
                No, of course it mattered, this was about the fabric of time and space! How the hell did Luna get from the Nether to the living world? Kyle clenched his fists and continued to ramp his speed up, with everything around him becoming a blur. He was surely over Texas now, and headed right in a bee-line for western California. If he remembered hearing correctly, the debunked building that Luna was holed up in was near the bay of Pacific City, so he could even rip across a good portion of the state before finally slowing down.
                Kyle maintained his altitude, rising only a little bit should a building appear in his way. He was going so fast that he may just faze through it, and was banking on that. He heard, on the communicator dangling from his ear, that someone was screaming at him. No, multiple voices were. And it wasn’t as if he couldn’t just talk back while in his aura, but they would just distract him. Or, worse, convince him to slow down.
                That wasn’t an option. He had to get to Luna first, confront her first. Of any of them, Kyle stood the best chance of swaying her back to their side. He wouldn’t do what he feared everyone needed him to. She was going to live, she was going to find Boomer and they would finally be happy together.
                Kyle started to slow up significantly, pumping the brakes on his energy and then slamming the aura off, sending him hurling through the sky. His stomach churned and his entire body did several flips before he got a grip for his location. He was in the middle of the desert, probably Nevada or Arizona. Kyle recharged his aura and continued on, straightening out and plugging the communicator into his ear.
                “…stop this, Kyle!” Phoenix exclaimed. “Damn it, listen to us!”
                “Am I on my way?” Kyle asked. “Do I need to change course?”
                “You need to slow down or you’ll run straight into L.A.,” Phoenix said, then groaned.
                Kyle nodded and plucked the ear piece out again, curving north. Pacific City served as a nice divide between southern California and northern Cali, and would be hard to miss if Kyle just changed direction a bit and continued on toward the sea.
                He soared free of the desert, getting a little higher up, since he would be hitting metropolises soon. He maintained his speed, and intended to manage it right until he hit the building. Nobody there would be particularly friendly. Kyle was unsure what awaited him. Nothing too challenging, if their information was correct.
                All the other Six Pillars, all three of them, were still out in other countries. Unless Rafael himself were at the building, which Kyle twitched an eye at when he realized that possibility, Luna would be left guarded by some meager mages that Rafael recruited, or possibly some sort of monster he created with his Divine magic. Either way, Kyle would get through them.
                Even if he had to go through Rafael himself.
                The adrenaline pumped faster than ever as he envisioned his fight with Rafael. The first two hadn’t gone quite as planned, nor quite so great for him, but just like Axel, the third time could be the charm. And he would have Eclipse to back him up if necessary, and eventually, when they caught up, Brenda and Sandy.
                Luna remained the priority, though. Kyle glared ahead, and saw the outskirts of Pacific City coming up. He slowed up just a bit, flying above the buildings until he saw only three that were level with him. He looked to the south just a bit and saw the big Capital Industries sign. He recognized the building from when he and the Sentinel first uncovered the mummy of Rafael.
                He curved and shot, like a beam, right for the building, headed for its upper parts. He’d just have to raze it if it came to it. Luna wasn’t escaping.
                Kyle shook his head. Not escaping? What the hell was he thinking?
                No time for that! The building rose, higher than he expected, and was right on top of him. Kyle surged energy forward and the force shattered the windows and sent everything near it flying. Some goons went flying with the furniture. Kyle slammed his feet on the ground and slid to a halt, just in front of the stairs.
                “LUNA!” he exclaimed, using the Nexus. His voice boomed all around him.
                Some of the guards stirred, getting back up. Kyle saw marks on some of them. His aura flared.
                “Rafael recruited you guys, right?” he asked.
                He heard footsteps from the stairs, getting faster. A Power mage dove at him. Kyle ducked under him and slammed his elbow in the guard’s chest.
                “Rafael recruited you, right?” he asked. Validation, that was all he needed. Kyle felt sick, but he needed to hurry.
                “Axel said you’d be here,” the guard said, some saliva trickling from his lips. “We’ve been waiting, Blue Nexus, what’s with the hold up?”
                “That’s a yes, thank you,” Kyle said, and flung him to the side.
                All the other mages started to get back on their feet. Most of them were Power and Demon mages, and Kyle was thankful for it. He didn’t have the time to be screwing around with a Reality mage. Kyle looked behind him, to the stairs, and shot up them. All the mages dove after him.
                He burst free of the stairwell into another level, then shot himself up, standing in the center of an entire party of mages, armed with weapons. One, a Combat mage, must’ve heard him, as they were already mid-swing. Kyle, faster, dodged it, and kicked them away, and finally got his footing on the level ground as they all advanced on him.
                “Tell me where Dr. Luna is and you’re all free to not get hurt,” Kyle said. “Deal?”
                “No deal!” exclaimed a guard behind him.
                “Rafael said this is our big test,” another said. He stopped. He was the biggest one, a Demon mage. “We’ve gotta make sure to pass.”
                Kyle flared his aura out to Wave Two levels and knocked them all back. He dodged a dark blast from the Demon mage right back at him, knocking him over some furniture.
                “Where is she?” Kyle asked, glowering down on one of the mages nearest him.
                “Top floor,” he said.
                “Thank you,” Kyle said, and fired an energy blast. Debris crashed all around him, and another mage hurtled for him. Kyle leapt up, caught the mage, and tossed them onto a cushioned chair on the next level. He flew all the way up to the main level, an open office with three guards and a woman, staring at a desk.
                “Kill him!” one of the guards shouted, and darkness encompassed Kyle.
                Kyle swung his arm out, nailing one of the guards across the chest, and stepped forward, loosing energy  from his hand into the chest of the demon mage. He flipped over the hole and slammed his legs down on the other remaining mage.
                The Demon mage shook off the blast, clearly much stronger than his opponents, and lunged at Kyle, aiming for his right arm. Kyle stepped to the side, and was blocked from attacking by another surge of Demon energy.
                Kyle closed his fist and punched forward, clipping the Demon mage across the face with the energy and sending him spiraling across the room. Kyle sighed and lowered his energy down to normal, and approached the desk.
                Dr. Luna sat up, revealing her face. Kyle winced when he saw her. She was pale, almost a pure white color, and her eyes were little more than black pupils. She wore no emotions on her face, not even some form of malice. She was just…nothing.
            “What are you doing here?” he asked. He took a step closer, and could feel the chills in the air.
            “Serving my master,” she said. “And you, Blue Nexus? There are more Pillars to be fought. They’re yours for the taking.” She looked off, to the east. “I sense that half of them are down now. One of them must’ve been your doing?”
            “You were in the Nether,” Kyle said. “We exchanged places. I defeated Alucard, I fought with Boomer, I lived. Because of you.”
            He fumbled for his next few words. A mix of emotions swirled within his heart. Was he thankful for all that she’d done? Angered that she was siding with Rafael? Or just, plainly, perplexed that she was back? Had Jericho allowed her amnesty, or had she outwitted him and found some way out? But, that led back to the question of why Rafael?
            “Then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind making that exchange again,” Luna said. She flickered a little grin on her lips. “No, that wouldn’t work. I can’t go back. I’m simply not allowed to.”
            “What did Rafael tell you?” Kyle asked. “What friggin’ promises did he make? He won’t own up to them.”
            “Really?” Luna asked. “You think so? You think it’s all bad?”
            “He wants to redo the world,” Kyle said. “Yes, I think it’s all bad.”
            “Then why was I given a second chance at life?” she asked. She pressed her hands on the desk and attempted to stand, but couldn’t. Her arms wobbled and she was immobile. Kyle could hardly watch it.
            She looked almost exactly as she had before, when Kyle saw her dying. No, this was worse. Dr. Luna was little more than a husk now. A knot welled in his throat. He shook it off.
            “It’s not living if you’re constantly under someone’s thumb,” Kyle said. “Everything you are is gone, Luna. What are you here for?”
            “I attained all the knowledge I may have ever wanted,” she said. “A goddess beyond any human understanding bestowed that to me, and I refuse to believe it was purposeless.”
            “It wasn’t,” Kyle said. “The tech that you and Boomer were using has been installed by the Zanderia. Maybe soon more people will have access to that level of technology. It’s all because of you. Plus, it’s like you said, you communed with someone on a higher plane. That’s awesome, and you did it on your own.”
            “But I lacked power,” Luna said. “Look at me. Guarded by some of the most powerful beings to walk the planet. Hard to get that kind of influence as a scientist underground.”
            “And what are you going to do with it?” Kyle asked. “Honestly? What happens when Rafael wins, what happens to you?”
            “I’ll have proved myself,” Luna said.
            “By siding with a psychopath?”        
            “By being smart about which side I chose this time,” Luna said. “I sided against Alucard last time and lost it all. I won’t make that mistake again. I will live.”
            Kyle’s aura flared in response to his emotions. “Damn it! It’s not living! Where’s your soul, Luna, where’s your heart? Rafael took that from you, and you’re just going to blindly follow him!”
            “My heart died when I realized how insignificant I was to everything,” Luna said. “Alucard dealt with me as if it were some parlor trick. You wouldn’t understand. You have incredible cosmic abilities. You’re lucky. Some of us aren’t.”
            “And you’re significant now?” Kyle asked. “Because you’ve been brought back to life to serve the enemy?”
            “Because I keep a god on this world!” she said, and her eyes immediately told Kyle everything he needed to know. Her jaw slacked and she looked away from him, wavering her look to the corner of the room.            
            “What?” he asked.
            “There’s a Pillar on their way here,” Luna said. “You should face them, or people will be hurt.”
            “Luna,” Kyle said. He approached the desk. “What did you mean?”
            “I’ll never talk,” she said. “What’ll you do, kill me?”
            Kyle knelt down in front of her desk, trying to meet her gaze. He reached out and touched her hands, which felt frozen. They were brittle.
            “Boomer defeated Vivian,” Kyle said. “We’re not sure how, nobody saw anything. But he stood up against her and stopped her from breaking anyone out of the Cube. He’s become a hero.” Kyle smiled, masking the mental image of Boomer killing Vivian as he’d truly done. “Isn’t that what you really wanted back then, in East City? You wanted him to become the man you envisioned him as, beyond just the smartest man on the Earth. He’s done something with his intellect, he’s done something good.”
            Luna couldn’t meet Kyle’s gaze. Her lips trembled before tears finally started to stream down her eyes. She tried to squeeze Kyle’s hands but he hardly felt a thing.
            “You’re lying,” she said.
            “No,” Kyle said, shaking his head. He felt the knot in his throat grow. “I’m not, he’s really become something special. And he does it to honor you, and what you two started.”
            Luna shook her head, burying her head into her chest. “He’s against me. Boomer’s against me.”
            “Tell me how we can help him,” Kyle said. “How we can help everyone. Luna, what did you mean about keeping a god on this Earth?”
            Luna continued to shiver and tremble while tears ran down her face. She pulled her hands away from Kyle, and sat up. She sucked in a breathe and sat up, managing to get to her feet.
            “I am Rafael’s tether to this world,” she said. “Divinity magic has two clauses. One is some form of immortality, and the other is the connection to all six forms of magic.”
            “And when you were brought to the Nether, you…”
            “Met him.” Luna nodded. “Hidden so well not even Jericho noticed. However, instead of exchanging places again, Rafael offered me new life if I could leave my soul behind. I did, and together, we were able to return to the world of the living. Now, his soul is tethered to me. With this gone, Rafael, even with Divinity magic, can be killed. He’ll be weakened, very much so.”
            Kyle nodded, and the terrifying realization settled in. He stepped back, away from her. He shook his head, bumbling the words. Luna hobbled to him, balancing on her desk.    
            “Blue Nexus,” she said.
            “I won’t do it,” Kyle said. “I can’t.”  
            “What would Boomer want?” she asked.
            “I can’t,” Kyle said.
            Luna limped in front of the desk and reached out to Kyle. Her hand shook. She could barely keep it up.
            “Kyle,” she said. “Please. Boomer is…he’s okay, right?”
            “He’s—yes,” Kyle said. “Yes, he’s okay.”
            “Then I’m ready,” she said. She sighed. “If this will help him, if this really will bring him closer to what he truly is, then I’m ready for this.”
            “I won’t, Luna, there’s another way,” Kyle said. “Maybe Shindari can do something, or maybe there’s another clause.”
            “I am the vessel for Rafael’s soul,” Luna said. “Kill me and you strike a direct blow against him that he can never recover from. If you don’t then this will continue forever, or until you all finally give out. You’ve faced his strength, you know you’re no match against him at full power. But without a soul? He’ll be crippled.”
            She reached out and put her hand around his hand, trying to squeeze it again. She smiled, and it was warm.
            “It’s okay,” she said.
            Kyle nodded, and opened his palm. She guided his hand to her chest. The knot in Kyle’s throat burst open and tears started to roll down his face. Just a quick burst, that was all it would be. Luna smiled again, and sighed.
            “Tell him I’m proud,” she said. “Can you do that?”
            “Thank you.”
            She lowered her head and Kyle shut his eyes.
            The energy surge knocked her back for a second. Kyle caught her body, limp in his arms, and lowered the two of them down gently. Her eyes had remained closed, as did the smile upon her face. The color in her body began to return as Rafael’s soul faded back into the Nether. Kyle laid Luna down flat, keeping the tears from his face away from dripping upon her. He clenched his fists and keeled over, screaming his sobs out.

            He brought her out of the building with him, dropping down in a controlled flight all the way to the base of the building. He spotted Sandy and Brenda flying toward him as he came down, and the Sentinel came roaring on his motorcycle.
            They came together at the same time. Kyle touched down and adjusted the hold he had on Luna’s body. He’d wrapped her up in his cloak, but made sure to leave a mask across his face. Sandy and Brenda touched down next, and Brenda took down the cube they were in.
            “What…who?” Brenda asked.
            “Luna,” Kyle said. He nodded. “She asked me to.”
            “Why?” Sandy asked.
            “She was here as a vessel,” Kyle said. “She was brought in thanks to her connection to the Nether, it allowed Rafael’s soul to remain separate from his body. Without it, he’s weak. He’s not immortal anymore.”
            “Why separate the two?” Brenda asked.
            “He wouldn’t be immortal unless he was connected to something that couldn’t die,” Kyle said. “Like the power of the Nether.”
            The Sentinel approached from his bike, lowering his hood in respect. “Damn it.”
            “I know,” Kyle said. He held out his arms, and the Sentinel took Luna. “Can you find somewhere for her? She’ll want to be buried in East City, but, for now, we might have a bigger problem to deal with.”
            “Like what?” Sandy asked.
            “Someone’s coming,” Brenda said, and Kyle nodded.
            “Luna said another Pillar is on their way,” Kyle said. “Thankfully the three of us are here so we can take them on together, but still.”
            “Let’s hope they’re alone, too,” Sandy said. “It’ll make things that much quicker.”
            Kyle nodded. The Sentinel hopped on his bike and sped off. Kyle watched Luna go, and the further she got, the deeper the pit in his own gut got. He replayed the memory, quick as it was, of the energy pulsing from his body. And how easy it’d been, how quick. Just, boom. Lights out, and he didn’t even have to use a muscle.
            He looked to the bracelet that glowed on his left wrist. So much power, so much left untapped…
            Brenda grabbed his shoulder. “This is impossible.”
            Kyle saw, in the corner of his eye, Sandy nock and arrow and aim it down the street. An explosion drew Kyle’s attention next, and debris flew around. Red sparks flew everywhere while people fled.
            “The new Shield Pillar?” Kyle asked. “Rafael found one so soon?”
            The red sparks continued and an entire building got cleaved in half. Kyle moved immediately, but it evaporated before his very eyes under the quick smashing of another red barrier. He could hardly moved before another barrier attacked him. He dove under it, landing hard on the ground.
            Brenda rushed up to help him. Sandy dove forward, slinging arrows at the new Shield Pillar. Each one was deflected back with even more power into a building or part of the road.
            Brenda removed her hands off of Kyle and her thin aura exploded around her. Her hands and eyes glowed the brightest red Kyle had ever seen.
            “Not, not a new Shield Pillar,” Brenda said.
            The debris began to drift apart, and the cloud of smoke came undone, revealing their attack. Brenda stepped up to face them. Sandy even lowered her bow, in respect. Kyle managed to get back to his feet.
            “Then, wait, who?” he asked, looking at their assailant.
            She had shorter red hair and her body seemed ready to come apart, as jagged crack lines ran all around her. Red energy flared from around her in all directions, out of control and lashing out constantly with red sparks. The mage let out a bone-chilling laugh.
            Brenda clenched her fists. “Clarke.”
            Clarke raised her hand, with an open fist. “Shindari! I heard you were in town!”
            She closed her fist and red light filled Kyle’s vision while the sudden rupture in the air sent him flying back. He braced himself and managed to catch Sandy as well. He watched Clarke’s barrier that exploded in front of him fade, but Brenda remained just as she was.
            “Remember how we were saying it’d be easier to take on the next Pillar three-on-one?” Brenda asked, half-turning to face her allies.
            “Don’t tell me…” Sandy muttered.
            “Forget it,” she said. “Clarke’s mine.”

Next time: A rematch to decide the strongest Shield mage! Clarke has somehow been brought back to life and Brenda knows she is the only one capable of defeating her for good, but can she do it without stooping to the depths Clarke has reached? Find out in "Blue Nexus #72 - Coldness of Revenge"!

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