Sunday, January 21, 2018

Blue Nexus - Dark Soul, Part 1: The Halls of Penetanon

           The waters of the Atlantic rippled beneath Brenda, leaving a small trail but a large wake behind her. She sliced through the Atlantic sky atop her red platform, formed with her magic, her vision locked squarely on her targets up ahead speeding away from the Bermuda Triangle on a speed boat.
            “You done yet?” Kyle, the Blue Nexus, asked in her ear through her communicator.
            “I’ve only just found them,” Brenda said.
            “Well, come on, hurry up so I don’t have to go to this stupid press conference,” Kyle said.
            Brenda rolled her eyes, but nevertheless smiled. She weaved her fingers through the air and two more red walls formed aside her while she continued to fly through the skies. She sped up a bit, closing in on the boat.

            One of the men on the boat noticed her, and the one closest to him spun around and hurled a black bolt of dark magic at her. Brenda threw the wall up in front of her, blocking it and then cast the block down in front of the boat, tilting it to create a ramp.
            She almost laughed as the boat went airborne and all the men aboard it screamed so shrill they could’ve broken glass. Brenda waved her hands through the air and brought three walls around the boat once it stopped. She leapt off her platform and landed atop what was now a cube.
            The mages within, shooting black magic at the walls, fought for all they were worth to try and get out. Brenda sighed and shut her eyes, not entirely used to what she had to do next. She knelt and placed her hand upon the red cube, and with a pulse, felt the magic on the cube intensify. She felt some ripples along her hand, and opened one eye down to her right hand. The scarring that’d formed during her fights in the Magus War glowed again. She tried to ignore it, and then ripped her hands away.
            She heard a series of grunts and looked down to see black mist—mist?—floating free of their bodies. Brenda got up, shaking off the stinging in her hand. All the men on the boat dropped while the black mist fizzled out from the pure magic that her Shield magic naturally gave off.
            “All done here,” Brenda said. “They didn’t get far.”
            “Did they get what they’re after?” Kyle asked.
            “Doesn’t look like it,” she said, and dropped through the magic that she turned intangible for just a moment.
            She floated down, so to not sway the boat, and gently brought herself onto the floor. She stepped over one of the unconscious bodies, sifting through some of the fading black mist. She waved her hand through it, and covered her mouth.         
            “Not magic,” she muttered.
            “Not what?” Kyle asked, but the communicator was giving terrible feedback. Brenda reached along her back and tapped the communicator on her belt to mute any further talking. She could still talk to Kyle, though.           
            “This isn’t Demon magic like we thought,” Brenda said. “It’s something totally different.”
            She knelt in front of the one that’d been shooting the bolts at her. He was a pale man with short black hair. She rolled his sleeves up, and saw inscriptions, not necessarily magical markings, running up and down his arm. She nodded.
            “It’s the Mystic Sven for sure,” Brenda said. “Go ahead and give Phoenix props for calling it. But, like I said, I’ve never seen this before.” She observed the now, basically disintegrated, black mist. “Maybe it’s like Alucard’s hybrid Demon magic. But, even then, it doesn’t really feel like that.”
            It wouldn’t be any use to try and contain any of it. The mist had nowhere to go in this cube, so what would containing it in a smaller one do? She furrowed her brow and lowered the barriers around her.
            She was pretty proud of her achievement, though, and not just for herself, but for the Zanderia as a whole. They’d been working around the clock to get back to the level they were before the destructive Magus War. Now that everyone was emotionally healed up and returned to Earth from longer missions away, the group was functioning brilliantly on all ends.
            It’d only been maybe an hour ago that they first got notice that a mysterious boat was headed for the Bermuda Triangle, and it seemed their course was going to take them right over the Cube, which was the underwater facility that the Zanderia stored their most dangerous enemies. The most recent additions to the Cube were members of the legendary Six Pillars, the supposed six strongest mages in the galaxy.
            But the Zanderia saw a stop to them, and their divine leader, Rafael. In fact, Brenda had seen to it that one of them, Clarke the Shield Mage, no longer had magic. Brenda rubbed her hand. In the process, she may have given herself a countdown to her own destruction…
            She shook her head, and looked about the boat again. There, by the one who now was unconscious at the wheel, was enough deep-diving gear for the lot of them. No doubt they thought they could break in and attempt to get out some of the Six Pillars, but the question was why. Phoenix believed it was the Mystic Sven only because they were the super group that was proving a thorn in the Zanderia’s side of late, but now Brenda had other thoughts.
            She leapt into the air, and then formed another block around the boat and hefted that into the air as well. The mental strain tugged on her mind a bit, but not to a distracting amount. Brenda turned in the sky and started to head toward the Cube, where they could be placed properly. There were no prisons on Earth that were befitting mages.
            Brenda rolled her eyes. That’s right, the press conference. She was expected to speak on behalf of all mages. She groaned at the thought. That’d be like if Phoenix spoke on behalf of all humanity. Brenda wasn’t just a mage, she was an alien mage. She understood Earth and it’s evolving, inconsistent customs, but to speak for all mages? That they, what, come in pace?
            How many mages had lived among people for so long? The most famous magicians and daredevils in the world are Deception or Reality mages. Brenda was sure that there were some strongmen that were, knowingly or not, Power mages.
            But all it took was for some hypocritical Earthlings to see that their friend was being controlled by a psychopath from eons ago to think that Brenda was a threat.
            She shook her head, and reached back to tap her communicator. “I’m sorry, Blue Nexus, but I’m getting a little caught up over here.”
            “Yeah, I’m taking them back to the Cube and then I want to interrogate them,” Brenda said. She’d just made that up, but it actually wasn’t a half-bad idea. “Make sure you wear your, what is it, Sunday best? No need to make a bad first impression with the United Nations.”
“I hate you.”
“I owe you.”
“Oh, you have no idea.”
Kyle sat in front of his bathroom mirror, lips pursed, shirt on, pants tight, shoes tied, hair combed well, but…
            His tied laid atop his chest, as if in the frown that Kyle soon shifted his face to match. He grimaced. Neither his grandmother, nor his grandfather, were around: they’d gone into town for their weekly meetups with the other seniors. And of course, his father never bothered to teach his nine-year old son to tie a tie before shooting off into space with his wife, never to be seen again.
            Well, not yet. Not while Kyle was stuck on Earth having to go to some press conference that he wasn’t even going to be speaking in.
            “She can’t make it?” Phoenix had said when Kyle reported back. “A shame. Well, I have a good way with words with the United Nations; I’ve only threatened them once…twice…Just, be sure to look your best.”
            Kyle laid his phone on the counter and started the “How to Tie a Tie” video up for the fourth time, and ran through the procedure, keeping an eye on both the video and, somehow, the mirror in front of him. His hands fumbled and the tie turned to an inverted knot. He sighed and restarted the video.
            Something buzzed. Kyle checked his phone, and then there was a beep. Kyle lowered his phone, forgetting, for a moment, that he was a super hero.
            He placed the Zanderia communicator onto the counter and hit the “talk” button.
            “Blue Nexus,” Lalay, the alien Wind Elemental and one of the founding members of the Zanderia, said, with quite the amount of formality.
            No, wait, that was just how she talked. Kyle muted the video. “Yes?”        
            “I have need of your assistance.”
            Kyle flung the tie over his head. “Awesome. What’s up?”
            “There’s been some sort of magical disturbance at the remnants of Magus Forest,” Lalay said. “Prism will meet you there. I’ll teleport you now, if you’re ready.”
            Kyle swiped his hand over the Nexus bracelet and felt his clothes blink out of existence, and in the same instance, he donned the dark blue gear that was now so well-known around the world. His cape draped behind him and his hood fell atop his head. Power surged in his body and glowing blue lines streaked down his body.
            Blue Nexus nodded, clipping the communicator to his belt. “Ready.”
            “You’re quite eager.”
            “Happy to help.”
            Before Lalay could say anything back to him, he felt a bit of a shiver in his body before the room in front of him turned to a bright light, and his feet left the floor. When he could blink again, and his body wasn’t billions of tiny light particles shooting through the Earth, he touched down at the entrance to a long, deep, dark underground tunnel.
            He touched his ear, where the embedded Zanderia chip was. “So, I guess we have a problem with mole men.”
            “The problem is we don’t know what the problem is,” Lalay said. “As far as our records show, there was no tunnel in Magus Forest prior, and no mages can recollect there being on at all.”
            Kyle knelt down, getting a feel for where he was. The entire forest was gone, turned to an ashen plain where the tiniest bits of foliage were beginning to sprout up, thanks to Rafael’s Divine magic exploding out and washing over what he’d only just destroyed.
            “I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that this is where that huge bonfire always was,” Kyle said, sliding his fingers through some of the dirt. “Near the Grand Elder’s tent.”
            “It would make sense, then, for whoever did this to dig there,” Lalay said. “Prism’s only a few minutes away. I’ll brief him and then you two can explore.”
            “Right, thanks,” Kyle said, and tapped the earpiece.
            He stood up straight, filling his hand with blue light, and then hucked it down the tunnel. It soared down, illuminating everything in its path, but it just kept going and going, until the ground curved and the light splashed against the ground.
            “How the hell did nobody notice this much digging?” Kyle wondered aloud. He knelt at the rim of the hole, peering down as much as he could.
            It was poorly dug, with the walls being jagged all the way until tunnel actually opened up and a true path became visible. Was that stone? Kyle pursed his lips. Perhaps. But, the tunnel really opened up. Almost as if there were another structure down there. He stood up, looking around for Prism, who was still nowhere to be seen.
            It’d be good to have him around. His light energy would be perfect for exploring the tunnel. Perhaps they’d get clues to who were the ones that’d been digging. The list of suspects had to be short, though Kyle was blanking on any. Perhaps it was some government-run operation; after all, they had really come down on mages in the world. If they found something “incriminating” down in this tunnel, it would give them reason to begin their vendetta.
            This sort of thing wasn’t new. The moment Riko had his first battle against a villain that pursued him from Mars, the world at large decried the super-community until Phoenix showed that they’re actually good for the world, as he sprang up several different fundraisers to show the goodwill that the super-beings had for the world. So far, Kyle wasn’t sure of anything mages had done in terms of helping each other out; at least, nothing since the Magus War. Kyle and Brenda had been recruiting mages to go to Magus Forest to learn and several did indeed go, but their home was consequently destroyed by a psychopath, and they’d been scattered to the wind since.
            It’d been months since that final battle, since the destruction of the forest, and the heat on mage-kind only grew. It took the brunt of the microscope off of beings like Riko, Lalay, and Kyle, but placed it heavily on Brenda and other mages.
            Kyle heard a sonic boom overhead, and saw a multi-colored cloak floating down toward him. Food for thought for later, he figured, and waved Prism down.
            The man touched down. He knelt when he landed, but got up right as rain. He wore a similar getup to Kyle, with a cloak and hood, but his shirt was actually a strange, alien fabric that allowed for light to be soaked into the cloak, therefore giving him power to draw on. Prism absorbed light and reciprocated it in various colors based on his needs, a power he supposedly attained from Ancient Egyptian magicians for something.
            From what Kyle knew of him—since neither had exposed their secret identity to another—Prism was a man only fresh out of college, making him maybe four or five years older than Kyle. Still, he’d been a super-hero for quite some time, and only started to gain notoriety when the Zanderia began expanding their roster as Blue Nexus and Shindari jumped on the scene. Since then, he and Kyle had been teamed up a lot together, given their light-motif.
            “Big tunnels, big problems,” Prism said. “Sounds like fun.”
            “If you can call a mystery fun, then yeah,” Kyle said.
            “Who did it and all that.”
            “It was the Mystic Sven. Did Lalay not tell you?”
            Kyle could feel only stupidity ebbing throughout his body. “She failed to mention it, yes. But that makes sense. Still, we didn’t notice?”
            “Apparently they’re a bigger organization than we anticipated,” Prism said. “So I think the bigger mystery is how they were able to do all of this without anyone noticing.’
            “Well, honestly, I don’t think they did much,” Kyle said. “Look down just a bit. There’s maybe twenty or thirty feel of soil before it drops into the actual tunnel. It probably just opened up for them.”
            “And then they found what they were looking for, I bet,” Prism said. “May as well see what it is.”
            “May as well,” Kyle agreed, and both boys took one step over the hole, and then plummeted down into the tunnel. Prism drained light with him as he went while Kyle flared his aura. He dropped faster than Prism, and let his feet touched the side. He sloped down, and then dropped onto a stone pathway.
            His drop echoed around them. Prism landed more cautiously. Both boys were the only sources of light in the entire place. Even the sunlight above barely leaked through. Kyle looked back up to the drop.
            “Looked a lot shorter from up top,” he said.
            “How far down do you think we are?” Prism asked.
            “Probably a hundred feet,” Kyle said. He looked to Prism. “There’s no way a bunch of dark mages with digging gear survived a fall like that. If the floor did just give to them, they would’ve fallen right…”
            Kyle looked around and saw no evidence of bodies. Prism shrugged “Maybe they did dig this deep. Look, over here.”
            Prism gestured behind them, to some bits of gear. Kyle observed. He’d never seen anything like it before. They were tools, clearly, and they had dozens of runes inscribed in them.
            “Definitely mages,” Kyle said, and turned around. “Must’ve gone that way.”
            “Let’s see.”
            Kyle chucked another ball of light ahead of them as they started their advance. It soared across the wide-open cavern, revealing the stone walls all around them adorned with various runes as well, and some strange calligraphy scrawled along the wall. He intensified his aura, but it was so marred by dirt that he could hardly make it out. Still, it registered quite clearly that this was not human handwriting. At least, it didn’t look that way.
            He heard the energy ball splash against something again, and Prism pointed ahead. Kyle returned his attention ahead of them
            At the end of the stone path, where it widened the most, was a massive stone door, towering above them and reaching up to touch the ceiling. The path sloped before it reached the door. Kyle and Prism jogged the rest of the way. Kyle slid to a halt, stopping Prism.        
            “Wait, look,” he said, pointing down.
            Through the light of his aura, Kyle saw heavy footprints embedded in the dirt and dust that’d compiled over time. Prism nodded and took the air, as did Kyle.
            When he did, though, he felt a strange pressure around him, almost as if someone had wrapped a hand around him and slowly squeezed, but kept it at the same pressure. He and Prism drifted through air until they reached the titanic iron door.
            Six holes, big enough to fit basketballs, were embedded in the door, while large, empty streaks coursed across the door from the six slots. Kyle pressed his hand against the door and tried to push, but instead felt a spark from his right hand.
            The door reacted, and one of the holes filled with a glowing black light. That light filtered down one of the large slits and up and around the door.
            “It drew my demon energy through the Nexus?” Kyle muttered, stepping back.
            “What’d you do?” Prism asked.        
            “It must’ve read some of my magic and it activated that…orb,” Kyle said. He floated up and touched the orb. It was his own magic, and it gave the door some kind of life, as far as he could tell.
            “Then I guess we’ll need the five other mage types to open the door,” Prism said.
            “Shouldn’t be a problem,” Kyle said, think already of three of the five they’d need.
            “Then I guess we’ll find out what happened with the Mystic Sven,” Prism said.
            Kyle raised his eyebrow, and looked down to where Prism was pointing. The footprints stopped at the door, where there appeared to be some damage done to the floor.
            “Either they got in,” Prism said. “Or something made sure they didn’t.”
            “Fantastic,” Kyle muttered. “Come on, let’s check out anything else.”
            Kyle went down while Prism explored some of the upper tiling on the cavern. Kyle dropped down the side of the path that led to what he would’ve assumed was an endless darkness until he hit the bottom, and his bones seemed to freeze over.
            Once again he filled his hand with light magic and tossed in the direction of the iron door. His fingers shook in the cold. Kyle readjusted his aura to block him from it. If he could avoid freezing in space, he should be able to avoid freezing down here.
            That oppressive pressure was more evident than ever. No, perhaps it wasn’t a pressure, it was a presence. Kyle felt surrounded on all sides, sending his senses into a tizzy that he should be acting on it. The ball of blue energy dropped when it hit what appeared to still be the iron door, but no light from his energy fazed through it. He looked up, to the darkness above where Prism was still floating. He shouted for Prism, but the hero of light didn’t even seem to hear him.
            Kyle blasted up into top of the cavern. How the hell did nobody at Magus Forest know about this? Perhaps all of them prior to Kyle’s arrival to save Brenda some months ago did know about this place and wanted to keep it hush-hush.
            No, that couldn’t be possible. If they knew of it, then Rafael would’ve known, and he would’ve done something about it. This was something that’d been so well-hidden from the denizens of Magus Forest that they never would’ve bothered to look for it. Yet the Mystic Sven had? How could they have known but not the actual people living here?
            Kyle and Prism met in the air above the path. Prism reported back with nothing, and Kyle didn’t want to check the carvings alone when he could wait to come back with the other five mages that would know more. They agreed to leave it be, for now.
            They flew out of the tunnel and back into the sunlight. Prism seemed quite content with it, soaking in the energy as much as he could. Kyle felt much better about being in the open air again. His breathing cleared up and he didn’t feel quite as stuffy. The two retained flight as Prism explained he’d go back to start researching the tunnel more at the Zanderia Moon Base.
            “And you’ve got that press conference, right?” Prism asked.           
            “I don’t think so,” Kyle said. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
            He felt a beeping on his back pocket, and shut his eyes with utter dread. When he tapped his ear piece, he could only hear Phoenix cackling over the air.

            Kyle slouched in his seat. He was in a mixed crowd of several men and women that were four times older than him and had more college degrees than he had years in high school. They sat in one of the many United Nations buildings. This one was located in London, from what Kyle understood. He’d been teleported there, straight into the bathroom to finish changing. The Sentinel, who was still allowed in his costume just without any weapons, had to tie his tie for him. Kyle had never been more embarrassed in front of another super hero.
            Riko, Phoenix, and Sentinel, all adorned in their outfits, sat together at a table while the United Nations ambassadors all sat in a rim around them. The audience, where Kyle was located, formed another rim overlooking that. Kyle was at the front row, in prime position to spring into action should anything be happening.
            Just below the cacophony of dialogue were the clicks and shuffling footsteps of all the photographers in the room. The court was on break—Kyle arrived after their first session begin—and they would soon wrap.
            When they began again, it started mostly with Riko giving a testimony for the mission and promise the Zanderia have made not just for Earth, but for the galaxy. People seemed to often forget that the Zanderia considered Earth its home but were also sworn protectors of various other planets in the galaxy, with the prime exceptions of Venus and Mars; Mars since it was a Kingdom Planet and required no protection, and Venus because they had the Molten Men, a group of super beings on par with the Zanderia.
            The court inquired on if the Zanderia had ever planned for such a magical outburst, and Riko freely admitted that they didn’t, because so few of them were aware of such magic still existing on Earth. This, Kyle knew, would open the floodgates.
            “So,” the Secretary General, Mr. Hannes, said, “You’ve never anticipated such an attack as this?”
            “It’s safe to assume that we can often not anticipate such attacks with enemies we’ve never heard of,” Riko said, “Yes.”
            “Doesn’t this show a fallacy in the way the Zanderia operates?” Mr. Hannes asked. “Or does it show the versatility and danger that the mages pose?”
            Riko grinned. “It shows both, Mr. Secretary General.”
            “So they’re a threat even a league of super beings cannot stop?” Mr. Hannes asked.
            “To say that all mages are a threat because of a few madmen is to say all humans are a threat because of several terrorists,” Riko said.
            “Normal people do not possess extra abilities such as these,” Mr. Hannes said. “Mages can shape the future of our world and leave the rest of us behind.”
            “They haven’t shown the idea to do so yet,” Riko said.
            “Except,” one man, an American, said, standing up. “Pardon me, Secretary General, but except for the seven that were causing global destruction.”
            “You mean the ancient organization that hadn’t been around for several millennia?” Phoenix asked. “The Six Pillars lived among us for their entire lives and only sprung into action when a mummy was accidentally resurrected.”
            “But therein lies the problem,” an Italian representative chimed in. She rose as well. “Accidental resurrection.”
            “You should understand our concern,” Mr. Hannes said. “You, with your abilities, can contend with these mages and their abilities. You fight in your high towers while we below are left to struggle against titans.”
            “What the hell did you just say?” the Sentinel asked, getting up, and the entire room froze. Kyle’s hand quivered over the Nexus bracelet. Several red dots appeared on his chest, and under the mask, Kyle was sure that the Sentinel was smiling. “We live in a high tower? We were the ones on the ground.”
            “While the rest of us could do nothing,” the American said.
            “And you tried nothing,” the Sentinel said. “I have no super abilities. But I fought to save my city against one of the Six Pillars directly. It almost cost me my life.”
            “The world appreciates your gesture,” Mr. Hannes said.
            “I don’t think the world does, because right now the world has their guns aimed right at me,” the Sentinel said. “And if I were a mage, I bet I wouldn’t be talking anymore.”
            “Do you have a mage with you?” a British representative asked. “That they may plead their case?”
            Phoenix looked for a moment up, to the audience ring, where Kyle sat. Kyle shook his head. If they pulled out a mage that was just a boy, Kyle would be eviscerated by the media, the government, and would have to live his life on the run. Phoenix shook his head and Kyle sighed. Phoenix grinned.
            “Fortunately no,” Phoenix said. “They’re currently out doing what we should be doing. Saving the world, that is.”
            “Then negotiating terms is going to be difficult,” Mr. Hannes said.
            “Terms?” the Sentinel asked.
            “Someone must answer for the crimes of this mage overlord, or whatever he was,” the British ambassador said. “And it should be a mage that is capable of doling out punishment.”
            “Show of hands,” the Sentinel said. “Who knows a mage in this room, right now?” Nobody’s hands moved. “I don’t mean that. I mean who in this room knows the other is a mage?”
            Again, nobody moved, so Phoenix sighed and stood up, raising some sort of barometer that was lingering at about a quarter power. Riko just stared ahead at the Secretary General.
            “This is a device created by the Zanderia, recently developed with the purpose of measuring magic,” Phoenix said. “As some of you can see, it’s at quarter the power it would be if it were reading a full-powered mage such as Shindari.” He showed it around. “There are mages in this room right now.”
            Kyle and Riko shared the gesture of a sigh as the entire room erupted into camera flashes and dialogue. Phoenix lowered the signal, and sat down as the ambassadors of the world ripped into screams of order but could not quell the chaos that brewed.
            When the adults of the room could get themselves organized, the council called it quits for the day to reassess the situation tomorrow, as this is probably going to be a week-long event. The news didn’t afflict Phoenix or Riko nearly as much as it did the Sentinel, who just groaned and dropped his head onto the metal table.
            The four Zanderia members teleported away, and reappeared in the back alley of a London tea shop. Riko clicked a button on his belt and morphed back into his human alias while the Sentinel just stuff his gear into a bag and Phoenix clicked a button his belt as well and was back in normal attire, but with sunglasses and a hat. Kyle felt way overdressed.
            The four started walking, sifting through crowds that, from what Kyle could hear, were raving about the tragedy of what just happened. The four stopped at a stop sign and Phoenix swore to himself.
            “Damn it,” he muttered. “Ruined everything.”
            “You showed them their true colors,” Sentinel said. “It was just a pure and good mic drop, simple as that.”
            “One that will have repercussions for years to come,” Riko said. “It’s likely we’ll see a diminished crowd tomorrow.”
            “I doubt this guy will be let in again,” the Sentinel said, nudging Kyle.
            Phoenix nodded to him and they started walking again. “What’d you think of all that?”
            Kyle responded after being buffeted by a few people. “It was a pretty solid mess, didn’t really get much done.”
            “You got to see the good half,” the Sentinel said. “We basically had to spend the entire first two hours explaining why we were in our gear.”
            “That sounds horrible.”
            “It was,” Phoenix said, and they reached the opposite end of the street, and approached a bridge overlooking Thames.
            The Sentinel stopped and sat upon the short stone wall. Phoenix did the same. Riko looked over his shoulder a small group watching the events transpire on their phone.
            “We should bring Shindari in this,” Riko said. “Or at least a mage that we know we can trust.”
            “So Shindari or Violette,” the Sentinel said.
            “Lalay’s a mage, isn’t she?”
            “It bears magic properties, but none of the Four Elements are proper mages,” Riko said. “She’s not in tune with the magic we’re talking about.”
            “If we bring her in, any of them, they’ll get torn to shreds,” Phoenix said. “People can barely handle mages from Earth, but mages from planets they’ve never even heard of? They’ll be run out of the building.”
            “We need to do something,” the Sentinel said. “And it seems Shindari is our best option. I mean, can anyone even find Violette?”
            Kyle grimaced. Sandy had gone off into a self-imposed exile to begin her own training. If he and Brenda put their minds to it, they could find her. In fact, if Kyle remembered correctly, Brenda would sometimes talk about Sandy as if they’d just talked.
            “I can try talking to her,” Kyle said, though lied about what he would say to her. The other three agreed to it, and Kyle felt a bit of guilt for lying to them.
            When the time came to talk, he met Brenda atop one of the sky scrapers in East City just after sunset. She drifted in from the skies above, touching down on the rooftop. Kyle patted the stone next to him and she nodded.
            Brenda joined him on the rooftop, sitting down, overlooking the entire city. Kyle swashed his feet around in the air, hanging thousands of feet over the stone ground.
            “You want to ask me to go to the conference,” Brenda said.
            Kyle reached behind his back, unclipped the communicator, and tossed it away. “That’s what I’m supposed to do. But I’m not an idiot, so I know you’ll say no.”
            Brenda smiled. “You know me so well.”
            Kyle looked back to the glowing city. “They’d kill you if you went. Not literally, but, you’d never get a moment to yourself ever again. I could never live with myself if that happened to you.”
            “What’ll they do, then?” Brenda asked.
            “I don’t know,” Kyle said. “I’m hoping I won’t have to go.”
            “Why won’t you speak?”
            “If I speak as the Blue Nexus, they’ll see me as double the threat,” Kyle said. “And if I go as me? I’ll be on the run my entire life.” He looked at Brenda. “You wouldn’t happen to know if Sandy would want to be involved, would you?”
            “No,” Brenda said. “I mean, no, she wouldn’t, not in the slightest.”
            “Figured,” Kyle said. “And you haven’t spoken to her recently, have you?”
            “This isn’t about the press conference.”
            Kyle sighed. “Prism and I explored a tunnel that someone, probably the Mystic Sven, dug up in Magus Forest. It led straight to a big iron door that, when I touched it, reacted to my Demon magic. If we’re going to get in and see whatever it is that they found, or stole, we need the five other mage classes.”
            “You’re sure it was the Mystic Sven?”
            “No, but, who else would think to violate Magus Forest like that? Probably the same people what wanted to bust some of the Six Pillars out of the Cube.”
            “Good point.” Brenda placed her hands to the sit and swung her legs out as well. She sighed. “I’ll contact Sandy. If it is pressing enough to deal with the Mystic Sven, we may need her.”
            “Great,” Kyle said. “Because I’ve already bribed Andreus into this.”
            “I promised I’d get him food for the week, with a budget,” Kyle said. “Of course he went for it. Plus, we’re exploring cool underground stuff, sounds fun.”
            “Sounds dangerous.”
            “He can handle it, and we’ll be there to protect him,” Kyle said. “Besides, it’ll get him away from the hell storm that being a mage is turning into.”
            Brenda’s legs stopped swinging, and her face filled with remorse. “Do you think it’s all my fault, Kyle?”
            “That these people are being hounded like this, and that everyone is suddenly being forced into these terrible decisions and situations. If it weren’t for me, would magic have become so relevant in the world?”
            Kyle’s mouth hung open, but he reached out and touched her hand. He gripped it, and she returned the grip. She squeezed his hand. He sighed, shaking his head.   
            “I think about that all the time,” Kyle said. “What if I never found that bracelet? What if my parents never drew Gargador to Earth?”
            “What if?” Brenda echoed.
            “I think I know exactly what if,” Kyle said. “Black Nexus would’ve killed us all.”
            Brenda’s thought seemed to stop, get back going, and she nodded and chuckled. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. Without us, we wouldn’t have an Earth to argue over.”
            “I think it’s better for us to deal with some problems now than not be alive to have any at all, right?” Kyle asked.
            “Perhaps,” Brenda said, “but it doesn’t mean that this magical explosion isn’t my fault.”
            “Brenda, I was there,” Kyle said. “I literally saw Rafael Awaken the world. It’s his fault, it’s whoever Luna found to steal his grave’s fault. We could do nothing about it, since we didn’t know anything about it. But we stopped him, and now, all we have to worry about right now is the Mystic Sven, and how big a deal can they be?”
            Brenda opened her mouth to speak but something crackled behind them. They were both up, in an instead, hands broken apart. Kyle caught himself before tumbling off the side of the wall.
            A few more sparks crackled in a circular motion before a human shape began to form out of a loud, booming vortex. Kyle covered his eyes from the sudden burst of light, and when they refocused, they settled on a familiar face.      
            “Brother Time?” Kyle asked.
            The chief Zanderia member, exhausted, nodded. He looked back and forth between them, and then to his surrounding.
            “Trapped,” he said, barely able to get words out. “Past…far future. Agh…oh, this…Listen…Corbin… Alkeste must be…AGH.” He buckled over. Kyle stepped forward but the temporally energy lashed back and stung his hand. Brother Time looked up with bloodshot eyes. He was straining just to remain in this time. “Must stop them before…they find it…”      
            “Find what?” Brenda shouted, but Brother Time’s screaming must’ve muted her.
            “Hurry!” he exclaimed, and the portal clamped shut over him.
            Kyle immediately turned to Brenda. “Who the hell is Corbin Alkeste?”

            “He’s a mage, a dark mage,” Lalay said, reading off her small screen in the Zanderia Moon base. Brenda stare up at the image of him from his days at Oxford. He was a jovial looking man, certainly the scholarly type. “A former doctor of archaeology at Oxford before he was dismissed.” She smiled. “Just around the time Rafael showed up on the scene.”
            “Did he have a particular field?” Silver Eagle, a newer member the Zanderia from Japan, asked. He sat at the meeting table, looking at the screen as well. Kyle was going through a tablet that had all the information on Corbin as well.
            “He would begin one, quit, and then go to another,” Lalay said. “Just enough to master one. His latest funding was about preparing another exploration team, but it doesn’t say for what.”
            “I think it’s safe to assume now know what for,” Kyle said. “He wanted to get into the doors at the Magus Forest tunnel.”
            “What about any essays or journals he kept, are those on record?” Silver Eagle asked.      
            “I’m just seeing a bunch of blog posts,” Kyle said. Brenda raised her eyebrow. Blog posts?
            “About what?” Lalay asked.
            “The Halls of Penetanon,” Kyle said. “Something about it holding secrets for…ah-ha! Secrets for magecraft, secrets not since seen for several civilizations, with a capital C.”
            “This is sounding more and more like he found some sort of Elder God,” Silver Eagle said. “He sounds insane.”
            “Knowledge if the first step to true insanity,” Lalay said.
            “Or is insanity the mask of true knowledge?” Brenda asked. Lalay nodded to Brenda understandingly, and continued looking through the computer.
            “We should get to the Halls first thing in the morning, then,” Kyle said. “If he did find his way in, it’s possible he found whatever this secret is.”
            “There’s no real indication that he got in, right?” Brenda asked. “His tracks just stopped there?”  
            “Right, but, what would’ve stopped him?” Kyle asked. “Prism and I didn’t see any runes or weapons around, and they didn’t just turn around, either.”
            Brenda crossed her arms. “We should get the rest of the Zanderia in on this. It’s far more important than some ridiculous meeting with the United Nations.”
            “As ridiculous as it is, there are millions of people worldwide waiting to hear what the Zanderia have to say,” Lalay said. “It’s important for them.”
            “And if Corbin opens that vault, it’ll be even more important!”
            “That’s why we’re sending you two,” Lalay said.
            Brenda backed away from the screen, toward a teleporter. “I’m going to the Cube to talk to the Mystic Sven again.”
            A blue-gloved hand grabbed her shoulder, stopping her dead in her tracks. “Wait,” Kyle said. “You and I need to stick together for this one. We need to get the other mages and in the morning go to the vault. We have no time to lose focus.”
            “I’m tightening my focus,” Brenda said.       
            “You’re venting your anger,” Kyle said. “Trust me, this isn’t the way to things. Let’s just be patient. Brother Time said we need to act now, but there’s no reason we have to act out of reason.”
            “Whoever this Corbin is has gotten several steps ahead of us,” Brenda said. “And could have whatever he’s looking for.”
            “So you want us to work through the night, get exhausted, and then go in the morning to open the big door, and face whatever’s on the other side?” Kyle asked. “We simply don’t know enough to act yet. Let’s just keep researching this guy, okay?”
            Brenda shrugged his hand off, and agreed by moving to the roundtable to sit and stare at the massive computer monitors, displaying all the information they had on Corbin. Nothing of the Halls of Penetanon came up, nor of any Civilizations. Brenda watched the screen until her adrenaline slowed and her sleepiness began to settle in.
            She came back to at what had to be an early time, to a yawning Kyle, asking her to get up so they could round up their expedition crew.

            As great as it was for Kyle to be seeing Sandy again and talking about what they’d been up to, it was hard to do so when they were in the company of people who didn’t know their secret identities, and in the company of a massive iron door holding ancient secrets from a time not even the Grand Elder possibly remembered.
            Kyle, Sandy, and Andreus lined the front of the company. Andreus was giddy to be with not just Kyle, but the Blue Nexus. They’d shared company before, but now they were on a mission. Andreus considered himself an honorary member of the Zanderia for this quest, and Kyle wasn’t mean enough to say that wasn’t exactly true.
            Brenda lowered all the mages down while Kyle just floated down. The two mages he didn’t know, Steven the Reality mage and Ashli the Deception mage, were pretty sweet people that, as he and Lalay discovered late into the night while researching more into Corbin’s past, happened to be his old students, and they still lived in Oxford.
            Steven and Ashli were quite excited at the idea of not only helping the Zanderia, but getting a peak into the life of their professor. Oddly enough, despite being some of his best students, neither were ever aware of his archaeological digs or studies until well after they’d been completed.
            They mumbled to each other and Brenda while they strode along the stone path. Kyle heard their voices tighten with a bit of fear as they walked over the great chasm below. He and Brenda had their auras flaring to provide as much light as they could.
            The massive iron door was soon visible, reflecting the blue and red lights of the two superheroes.            
            “Looks pretty heavy,” Sandy said. “Didn’t feel like giving it a good punch or two?”
            “Didn’t want to break anything,” Kyle said.
            “What do you think’s behind it?” Sandy asked.
            Kyle thought back to the research Corbin had been doing, and there were so many weird proper nouns in it that it could be anything. A relic of some lost Civilization. A man bathed in shadows, artifacts from generations ago, something about a “Dark Soul,” powers greater than even Rafael.
            “No idea,” Kyle said.
            “Always a good start to a mission,” Sandy muttered. “Hope you didn’t pull me out of retirement for something that’ll kill me.”
            “Did I say that? Well, whatever’s a word for temporary retirement?”
            “Taking a break?”
            Kyle stopped the group a few feet in front of the door. Steven and Ashli stopped quite suddenly, bumping into one another. He pointed to the glowing black orb.
            “All I did was touch my hand to the door, and my Demon magic reacted to it,” Kyle said. “Do the same, and then we should back away quickly.” He looked around him, where there were still no footprints by the door. “It could be a trap.”
            “I have a better idea,” Brenda said, and formed a plaform in front of them. “Everyone hop on. I’ll carry us to the door, and then fly us away.”
            Kyle started to levitate. “Smart, let’s do that.”
            Sandy and Andreus stepped on first, and then Steven and Ashli did so quite gingerly. Kyle floated near them with a reassuring smile.
            “I get that this is a lot to take in,” Kyle said, but Ashli waved her hand.      
            “No, this is amazing,” she said. “I mean, it is a lot, but don’t worry about us.”
            Brenda nudged her, and she gasped a bit, then giggled it off and approached the door with Steven. All the lights were filled, save for the ones waiting for Reality and Deception magic. Steven and Ashli tapped the door and stepped back. Brenda immediately threw a wall up on the platform and yanked them back.
            The iron door groaned with rusted wenches and then something clicked, and dust fell from the shifting door. Kyle braced himself. His vision darted all around the door, waiting for some trap to go off. The doors opened inwardly, revealing a dim-lit hall with beautiful stone pillars adorned with the same calligraphy that was outside on the walls. On the other end was another door, smaller, and already opened.
            “Guess we can go in,” Andreus said.
            “Sit tight,” Kyle said, and led the group into the room.
            The chill from below returned when he entered the room, and that pressure from before also came back, but a bit stronger. He felt as if there were someone standing atop his shoulders as well as someone clamping down on his body with a light grip.
            He kept his aura around him, but dim enough to see through and study the room. It was as tall as the door and the room had dark silver tiling on it. The floor was a similar pattern. At the back of the room stood four silver knight statues, aged and with rusted armor.
            “Looks like we’re in the clear,” Sandy said.
            Kyle would’ve nodded if he didn’t hear a TWANG and saw Brenda’s red barrier explode when a massive arrow shattered through the platform and crashed into the stone wall behind them. Brenda’s shock forced her to the ground, and all of the mages dropped.       
            Kyle spun around and was just fast enough to knock an arrow out of the way from hitting him square in the head. It spun away, careening into the back wall.
            “Shindari, get everyone out!” Kyle exclaimed. “Violette, with me!”
            A purple arrow was already soaring past his head as he made the exclamation. One of the knights put up their shield and blocked the arrow with ease while two more sprinted for Kyle. He blasted his aura and held out his hand for the lance.
            Kyle spun it and jabbed at the knight closest. He threw up his shield with wicked fast speed and shattered the lance. Kyle through his shoulder into the other and avoided the sword, but barely slowed him down. Kyle spun out of the attack and bounded off the already-raised shield of the other knight.
            Kyle landed and filled his fists with blue energy. Behind the knights, Kyle saw Andreus sprinting. His own body swelled with Power magic. Andreus took to the air, leaping up, and brought his fist down on the knight.
            He nudged his head forward, and without even looking, knocked Andreus out with a single back-handed shield bash. Andreus tumbled to the ground, out.
            “Damn it!” Kyle exclaimed and caught the blade of another knight. He heard a second arrow getting loosed and leapt out of the way. It soared across the sky, and through the open door, nearly hitting a fleeing Ashli. It exploded and the force jarred her from her feet, sending her sprawling to the ground.
            Kyle whipped around, knight in hand, and kicked him away. The second one was immediately upon him bearing down their shield. Kyle caught it but lost his footing from their sheer strength and dropped to the ground. He braced his feet against the knight and kicked up.
            He gripped the shield, infusing his Nexus energy with it. Rather than it become one with Kyle’s powers like normal, the shield instead disintegrated.
            “Oh, not fair,” Kyle muttered, and rolled out of the way of another powerful arrow.
            Sandy flipped over an arrow coming her way, and loosed two arrows simultaneously at the archer, shattering their bow.
            The knight in the air dropped right next to Kyle, swinging out with his elbow. Kyle blocked the elbow with all his power and then punched the knight in the gut, but it hardly reacted. He tried peering into its helmet, and saw nothing. Kyle leapt up, dodging the sword, and tried to kick its helm off to no avail. He caught himself in the air and flew away, taking his eye off the first knight he hit, who threw his sword across the room with incredibly accuracy and speed.
            Kyle rolled, in the air, away from it, and threw an energy blast at the knight. It hit its armor and made a bit of a dent. Kyle dropped, aware of the knight in front of him and the one behind. They both launched fists at him. Kyle caught them both, feeling both of his wrists crack. He shoved out with his right hand and pulsed energy through his left, knocking that one into a wall.
            Sandy flipped end over end and then readjusted her balance. Kyle quickly looked around the room, surveying the situation. None of the knights were all that damaged, and Kyle and Sandy were completely on the defensive. Plus, the door nearest Kyle was already open. Someone had been here, somehow had somehow gotten past these guys.
            Kyle quelled his energy for a moment, silencing the Nexus within him, and then ignited the spark in his core where his energy came from. His aura flared once around him, and the entire Nexus started to open to him. In a single explosive blast, his aura consumed him and fed him more power.
            “It’s over now,” Kyle said.
            The knight behind him swung his sword down, and with a single swing, Kyle broke through its arm. The sword clattered to the ground. Kyle kicked it away, but destroying it, and turned in time to see another knight on him. Kyle moved away, with blinding speed, and kicked it in its back away.
            The third knight that did battle with him picked up his fallen sword at cast it at Kyle. Kyle reached out, caught the blade, and threw it back. The friction from the speed of the blade ignited it and it ripped right through the knight, and obliterated an entire section of the iron door.
            The silver knight fell to a knee, and then exploded in a plume of dust. All the other knights quickly dropped to a single knee, bowing their heads in defeat.
            Kyle sighed, lowering his power. “Wave Two, everybody.”
            Sandy chuckled, lowering her body. “Forgot you could do that for a second.”
            Kyle cupped his hand around his mouth and shouted, “Shindari! It’s safe now! Come back and heal Andreus!”
            Brenda called back in agreement and started head back. Sandy jogged over to Andreus to check on him, and Kyle felt another shiver coming from the side of his body facing the open doorway.
            He turned to face the dark tunnel that lay ahead of them, even darker and more oppressing than the one they had to come down through. These knights were just guarding whatever was down there, and Kyle had to go into his second wave of power to take them out.
            What the hell had Corbin uncovered…and what sort of insanity would drive him to keep going in?

            Kyle grimaced with a dark realization: the same insanity that would make Kyle go down there as well. 

Next time: This new, monthly adventure continues as Kyle and Shindari follow the path that the Mystic Sven have carved, deep into Hall of Penetanon, where more of this mysterious "Dark Soul" is learnt from an unlikely source. Stay tuned in February for "Blue Nexus - Dark Soul, Part 2: Red Eyes"

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