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Arc 3 of End War Online: Shattered Boundaries.


Chapter 14

December 10th

I sat in my classroom, staring out the window. The chicken and rice I had packed for lunch had long since gotten cold. I hadn’t taken a bite of it. I had just been sitting here, staring out at the city, cloaked in white from the snow drifting down from the white sky. I was still a bit out of it from everything that had happened… my mind was trying to wrap its head around a million things at once… everything I witnessed in Void… it all came back to me, played over and over in my head every second. I had the same dream last night… it occurred to me that the dream and Void were pretty much the same thing… that there was some unspoken connection between the two.

Or maybe there wasn’t any connection at all… maybe I was just crazy.

I shiver in my seat, curling up a bit in my coat.

“Yamato.” I hear Rena call me.

I look over to her. I had to admit, seeing her gave me a definite feeling of relief… just having her around right now made me feel better.

“Hey…” I say quietly.

“You haven’t taken a bite of your lunch.” She noticed.

“I’m not that hungry.” I say plainly, looking back out the window.

We stay in silence for a few more seconds before I speak up again.

“So…” I say. “You found me. I’m the third Nephilim.”

She looks at me in surprise, like she remembered that her whole goal all along was to find the third Nephilim. I put my arms out.

“Now what?”

She sighs and sits down at a desk next to me.

“Well…” She began. “I don’t think I’m going to be completing that contract.”

“Well why not?”

“Why do you think?” She asks. “Those AEP guys hacked into the entire game and trapped most people inside. Most of the people from our school aren’t even here.”

I look around the classroom and notice she was right. There were only a few other students around, which were the ones who didn’t play the game, weren’t online at the time, or were one of the lucky ones.

“Yeah…” I say, looking back out the window.

“Listen, Yamato…” Rena says. “Is it okay if… if you come with me to the hospital?”

I look to her, a bit surprised by her asking that. I didn’t expect her to actually want me to go anywhere with her… I guess she finally thought of me as more than just some guy.

“Yeah.” I say. “Sure, that’s fine.”

She sighs and smiles warmly.

“I’m still really worried about my mother.” She openly tells me. “She’s still visiting my father in the hospital day in and day out… it’s affecting her work, too. She’s not able to keep up… I really don’t know how much longer she’s going to last like this…”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I assure her, not actually knowing if it’ll really be fine.

“I hope so.” Rena sighs. “I really hope so…”

---

As I said I would, I walk with Rena to the hospital after school, following her down the halls to where her father’s room was. We stop when she puts her hand on the door and sighs.

“Can you come in with me?” She asks. “I… I’d feel better if you were with me.”

“Um… sure.” I say, shrugging as she opened the door.

We step inside the room and I close the door behind me. I see two people there. One, I assumed was her mother, who was tending to the other that was in the bed, the man who was her father.

Her mother looked like she had seen better days… she didn’t look all that old, but even so I could see some strands of gray in her hair, and some wrinkles in her face to accompany the bags under her eyes, all of which I assumed were due to stress. She was trying to feed Rena’s father in bed, but the man was sickly and struggled to even lift up his head.

They both look to us when they hear us come in.

“Ah, Rena.” Her mother said, before noticing me and putting on a weak smile. “Who’s this you brought? You finally find a boyfriend?”

Rena blushed a bit and looked away.

“He’s not my boyfriend, mom.” She said. “We’re just friends.”

“We’re friends?” I question. “I had no idea.”

Rena shoots me a glare, and half of me thought she was going to slap me, but then her father spoke.

“Naoto…” He said in a weak and frail voice that sounded well into dying.

“I told you not to call me that…” Rena scoffed, refusing to look at him.

“Honey, please come here.” Her mother requested.

Rena, or was it Naoto? She reluctantly walked up to her mother and next to her father. I stayed on the other side of the room, watching them, figuring I didn’t have anything to do with their family business.

“Mom…” She said, getting a good look at her mother up close. “God… I can’t stand to see you like this…”

“Rena, all your father wants is to make things up with you.” She said, putting on a weak smile.

“I told you, I don’t want anything to do with him.” She said angrily, refusing to look at her father.

“Naoto…” Her father said quietly from the bed. “Rena… I know you must hate me for not being there for you and your mother all these years but… I want you to know I truly am sorry for leaving you.”

“Yeah, right…” Naoto… Rena scoffed. “If you cared you wouldn’t have left at all.”

“Honey…” Her mother tried to say.

“No!” Rena shouted. “No, mom! I hate this! I hate how you’re always worried about this man who you haven’t seen in years! I hate how he comes in all of a sudden expecting both of us to forgive him so easily! I hate him! I don’t want anything to do with him! Why can’t you get that?!”

Rena’s parents both stayed silent. Her mother looked like she was about to cry, while her father just lay there motionless.

“He left us, mom…” Rena went on to say. “Do you even remember how hard it was for you?! You had to take two jobs just to support us! You worked yourself day and night just trying to keep us from being evicted! He could’ve prevented all that! HE could’ve stayed! But he didn’t! He left us both on our own for selfish reasons!”

“You’re right…” Her father sighed. “It was selfish. I won’t deny that… and I don’t deserve your forgiveness or affection. But even so… I still regret leaving you two… I should’ve stayed…”

“No point now.” Rena growled. “You had your chance.”

“Naoto…” Her mother said.

“I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL ME THAT!” She shouted. “MY NAME ISN’T NAOTO!”

She stormed away towards me, grabbing my sleeve as she passed and pulling me out of the room with her, slamming the door shut. Once outside the room, she sighed and sat on the bench along the wall. I stay up against the wall for a few seconds, but end up joining her on the bench, sitting next to her while staring out the window.

“Your name isn’t Rena.” I say after thinking on whether or not I should say it.

She sighs, but doesn’t get angry at me.

“My real name is Naoto.” She explained. “But… I hate that name… it’s the name my father gave me.”

“You seem pretty determined to erase any trace of him you have.” I comment.

“I don’t want anything to do with him.” She tells me. “I hate him… mom had to take down any pictures of him in the house because she was afraid I’d destroy them… she’s right. I would’ve if she hadn’t hid them. Any gift he gave me I destroyed… burned dolls into ashes… things I made for him when I was young I burned too. I made him a paper mache bird once. Got rid of that too… even forsake my own name.”

“I think it’s a nice name.” I comment.

She looked up to me, a little blush coming onto her cheeks, before looking away angrily.

“You don’t know anything…” She muttered.

“I also think you should reconcile with your father.” I end up blurting out, this time without thinking about it.

That’s when she got mad.

“What, you’re taking his side?!” She shouted at me, standing up from the bench. “Do you know what he’s done?! He’s completely destroyed this family! Just look at my mother!”

“And now when given a chance to reunite it you refuse to give him the chance.” I say.

“He doesn’t deserve a chance!”

“Your mother seems to think he does.”

“My mother is an idiot!”

“I don’t think your father’s the only one affecting her, Rena.” I look from staring out the window and over to her. “The way I see it, the only thing she wants is for your family to be together again. You’re not letting that happen.”

She stays silent at my words, sighing before sitting back down next to me.

“I’ve always wanted a father.” She said. “For as long as he’s been away, I’ve wanted him to come back… but now that he’s here… the only thing I feel for him is contempt, despite the fact that I want to love him… I want to be able to have a father again, the way things used to be before he left… I can remember happy times I spent with him. When we all would go out to festivals, and we’d play together.”

She takes a deep breath and a long sigh.

“But now… even on his deathbed, I can’t work up the courage to accept him again…”

“Why’s that?” I ask her.

“I’m scared…” She admits. “I’m scared that if I accept him again, he’ll die right afterwards… you saw what he was like. He looks like he shouldn’t even be alive.”

“Yeah… I saw.” I look back out the window, contemplating.

I got to thinking about my own father… I realized I was distanced from him as well. I didn’t even know who he really was… this whole time I thought of him just as my dad, but… there was clearly more to him than I was seeing… there was more to me that wasn’t immediately apparent as well.

I guess I had a lot to figure out as well…

Rena sighed and leaned against my shoulder, closing her eyes. I put an arm across her back and hold her close, trying to give her as much comfort as I could while at the same time feeling pretty crap myself… a lot was going on in both our lives it seemed.

---

In light of recent events, it was decided that I should have a day off.

Suits me. Wasn’t in the mood to do anything anyway.

Callahan decided to take me out to lunch so we could talk about everything that’s happened. He took me to one of his favorite places in Halfen, a little place called Abernelle. Nice cozy place that was a far cry from the bars that Blenheim and Jager would force me to go to with them on a guy’s night out. It was quiet and there were few customers, and the customers that were here were mannered well enough. Callahan was a regular patron here, since everyone knew him. The waitress came to us and with a smile greeted us.

“Hello, Jack.” She smiled warmly. “Who’s this you brought with you?”

“Hey, Michelle.” Callahan replied. “He’s just a friend. Taking him out for lunch and stuff.”

“Alright, the usual for you?” She said.

“That’s right.” He nodded.

“And you, sir?” She turned to me.

“Ahm…” I flip through the menus. “The salmon any good, Callahan?”

“Best ever.” He says. “Seafood restaurants don’t want you to know about this place.”

“Yeah, I’ll have that.” I say.

“Any sides?”

“White rice.” I say.

“Alright, and what do you want to drink?” She asks.

“Water’s fine.” I say.

“Lemon squeeze?”

“No thanks.”

“Alright, we’ll have your drinks out in a bit and your meals will follow shortly after!” She smiled and walked away with our orders.

“Alright, Yamato…” Callahan got right down to business. “I’ve looked up on you.”

“That so?” I ask.

He nodded.

“I wondered why you were so important; why it seemed like everyone wanted to get at you.”

“And why’s that?” I ask him.

“Well… it seems that you have some significance in the lore of this world.” Callahan crossed his arms. “You’re the second Nephilim ever to use the power of Void as specialty.”

“The second?” I ask. “What about the first?”

“Don’t know much about him…” He says. “I searched around but in the end couldn’t find many specifics about the guy. Probably Michael or Amanda, the other two Nephilim, would know, but… I don’t really feel like going over and asking them.”

“Well what else do you know, then?” I ask, as Michelle came in with our drinks and leaving the table again.

“Well…” Callahan takes a sip of his drink. “I do know that you’ve been prophesized. Some old legends speak of another Nephilim that can fully control Void… one that is closely tied to Void and nothingness.”

“Hrm…” I take a drink of my water. “What is Void, anyway?”

“Void… is nothing.” Callahan replied. “That’s it. It’s literally nothing. It’s a force that represents the eventual decay and rebirth of Creation… when I fell into Void I imagine it was similar to your experience, only… less intense. I saw these images and heard these sounds… I felt coldness creeping into me… the only thing that kept me from being completely consumed by it was my Soul, which naturally repelled it and kept it from completely infecting me… but Nephilim are different.”

“How so?” I ask.

“The Souls of Nephilim don’t repel Void.” He explained. “In fact, they embrace it. This is why Nephilim are able to utilize Void moreso than any other race… and why you aren’t dead right now.”

“So you’re saying that… I’m infected?”

“Infected is a strong word for you…” He says. “In your case it’s more like… mutually beneficial? Void is manifested inside you, but your Soul is able to control it.”

“Why’s that?”

“Beats me…” Callahan takes another sip of his water. “The Souls of Nephilim aren’t understood. We can’t observe it in any way… my Soul Vision couldn’t see your Soul because… well, it’s beyond my ability to comprehend it. Maybe other Nephilim are able to see it, but I sure can’t.”

“I couldn’t see it.” I say. “When I used it, I couldn’t see my own energy.”

“Probably because you haven’t fully grasped your newfound ability yet.” He said. “In time as you come to realize your new power, you’ll be able to fully harness your abilities as a Nephilim, and by then you’ll probably be able to completely control Void as well.”

“I don’t know if I want to.” I tell him. “This… Void is… it’s terrifying. When I was in there I… I felt like I was dead, but… I was aware of it. Imagine being dead, but at the same time inside your body and fully aware that you’re dead.”

“I can imagine that’s pretty rough… I didn’t feel it to that extent, but I can understand why you’re afraid. Void is powerful and chaotic… it’s the end of everything. But as the third Nephilim you have the ability to control it.”

I sigh and lean back in my chair, staring up at the ceiling.

Michelle came back with our meals, setting them down at the table. Callahan got a great looking sirloin with mashed potatoes with a bowl of soup to go with it. My own salmon looked cooked to perfection, and the rice looked delicious.

We started eating our respective meals, and I’m surprised at how good mine was. Now, I always liked salmon, didn’t really matter where it came from as long as it was cooked well enough… but this was something completely different. It had a unique flavor and texture that was just… wow. Why couldn’t there be a place like Abernelle in real life?

“So…” I continue. “You’re saying that it’s been foretold that I’d appear?”

“That’s what I found out.” Callahan says, eating his sirloin enthusiastically. “I don’t know exactly what it is you’re meant to do. I couldn’t find anything else on it.”

“Honestly, I don’t care about any of that.” I say. “The only reason why I came back here is so I could help free everyone trapped here.”

“That, I wouldn’t know how to do…” He says. “I figure the only thing we can do is wait for the devs to fix the problem.”

“You think they can?” I ask.

“Hell if I know…” Callahan says, sighing. “Damn, this is just like the SAO Incident…”

“You know about it?” I ask.

“Yeah.” He says. “My father was one of the players trapped in there. Told me all about it. He was actually pretty lucky. He was killed in game but as it turns out, his Nerve-Gear glitched out and didn’t microwave his brain. Only reason why I’m here right now.”

“Hah… wow…” I smirk and take a bite of my rice. “What was he killed by?”

“Another player.” Callahan replied. “Called the guy the Blade Master of SAO…”

“Blade Master, huh?” I think on that title… I recall how my father called himself a Blade Master… I wasn’t going to start making assumptions about that, though. I’m not going to start connecting things without anything supporting it.

“Yeah, apparently this Blade Master was one of the legendary players of SAO.” Callahan continued. “There are a few others I can think of… The Wandering Swordsman… The Supreme King… Champion of Aincrad… my own father was known as The Reaper.”

Callahan chuckled lightly.

“It just occurred to me that all of the people I mentioned were player killers. The only guy I can think of who’s legendary but not a player killer is the guy who actually beat the Game Master…”

“Who was he?” I ask.

“Eh, nobody that important…” Callahan takes a sip of his water and sighs. “That was a pretty long time ago.”

The rest of our meals went by with idle conversation between the two of us, and before the hour was done, we had finished up lunch. I sighed and kicked back in my seat, satisfied with the great meal I had.

“Damn… that was good…” I smile and sigh contently.

“Yeah…” Callahan said. “No place quite like Abernelle.”

Suddenly, someone bursts through the front door.

“Everyone come quick!” A guy says. “Michael Christen is here!”

People in the restaurant stopped what they were doing and went out to see.

“Michael Christen?” I ask. “The Angel Nephilim?”

“I wonder what he wants…” Callahan says. “Want to go check it out?”

“Do we have to?” I sigh.

“Might be a good idea.” Callahan replies, standing up from his seat after leaving the payment for our meals.

“Ugh…” I groan. “Fine… I guess…”

I stand up and leave the restaurant with him. We make our way down the streets, with some other people going in the same direction towards a large crowd that was accumulating in the streets a bit down the way. We work through the crowd, pushing people out of our way in order to see what was going on. When we got through, we saw three people there. Two of them were Angels, high ranking, looked like. They were dressed in typical Angel commander wear, only a bit more intricate, and they both stood at attention to the left and right of their leader. Their leader was Michael Christen. He was the commander of the Angel Army and a Nephilim… like me. Unlike me, however, he was much more experienced, and could probably floor me by looking at me.

“I’m looking for the third Nephilim!” He called out to the crowd. “Has anyone seen him?”

“How’d he know?” I whisper to Callahan.

He leans over and shrugs.

“I know he’s here somewhere.” He says. “I’m not going to try anything. I just need to speak with him.”

I shrug and step out from the crowd. Immediately all eyes were on me as I stepped up to Christen. He looked me over a few times and crossed his arms.

“Are you the third?” He asks me.

“I am.” I say, after a brief silence.

The crowd around us immediately began to talk amongst themselves. Dammit… word was going to spread fast about me being Nephilim. Wasn’t going to like that…

He gives me a skeptical look, but in a blink, activates Soul Vision and looks me over again.

“Hm… so you are.” He says, blinking again to deactivate the soulcraft. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to take you in or anything. I just want to talk to you.”

“About what?” I ask as Callahan stepped up to my side.

“Come with me.” He said. “I’ll explain.”

I sigh and turn to Callahan.

“I’ll see you back at HQ, alright?”

“Yeah, sure.” He nods and turns to walk out of the crowd.

“Let’s go somewhere a bit more private.” Christen suggests, telling his two guards to leave us. The two fly up into the sky and disappear as I follow Christen through the crowd.

---

Christen led me downtown to a church… well, it was actually more like a cathedral than just a church. Now, normally I’d be totally against going into a building like this. Religion wasn’t really my thing, you know, and I found church to be the most boring thing ever right next to politics or watching a glacier move. I sucked it up, though, and followed him into the house of God. The cathedral was actually completely empty; the many pews lining the single aisle down had nobody sitting on them at all. Except for one. The furthest one up front had a man sitting down at it, reading a book with his arm casually braced up along the back of the intricately engraved dark mahogany pew.

We stepped down the aisle and approached the man, who looked up at us from his book, putting a bookmark onto the page he was on and silently closing his book. He stood up from his seat and smiled at Christen.

“That was quick.” He said. “Didn’t have any trouble at all, huh?”

“Honestly, it was a lot easier than I had thought it would be.” Christen smiled back.

The man then looks to me, peering at me through his black framed glasses.

“This is the third, I take it?” He says.

“That’s correct.” Christen confirms.

The man smiles and extends a hand to me.

“Alexander Iscariot.” He introduces himself. “Head Exorcist of the Brotherhood of the Faithful.”

I take his hand and shake it once.

“Yamato Haseo.” I introduce myself.

I take note of his appearance… he was dressed in the traditional garb of his religion, dark blue vestments, as well as wearing a black cassock over it. He wore a silver cross around his neck that shined in the light.

“Well… we should get started, hm?” Iscariot says, turning to Christen. “Have you told him anything yet?”

“Not yet.” He said. “I figured you would be able to help explain it.”

“Well, it is a lot to take in…” Iscariot rubs his chin.

“You mind telling me what you’re on about?” I ask the two of them.

“Come with us.” Iscariot gestured for me to follow, and I do so.

I’m led down a hallway to a back room of the cathedral, which looked to be a large library, filled to the brim with hundreds of books. It wasn’t the biggest library ever, but it was still a pretty big one. I guessed that all the books were religious in nature, however, so I couldn’t care less about any of their contents. I was led into the back of the place, which looked like it had less visitors than any other place here.

“Yamato Haseo…” Iscariot said, searching through a shelf for a specific book. “The Third Nephilim… where is it…”

He sifts through more books until finally coming across the one he was looking for.

“Ah, here it is.” He said, picking the book out and opening it up, flipping through certain pages. “Alrighty, then… ah, but before that I should ask… how much to you know about yourself?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I’m talking about the prophecy of the Third Nephilim.” He clarifies.

“Well… was filled in by a friend that apparently I’m the second Nephilim ever that can use Void proficiently.” I say. “Also know that my Soul is somehow compatible with Void moreso than other Nephilim.”

“That’s correct.” Iscariot says. “Allow us to fill you in more on the lore of this world. It’s actually pretty interesting.”

He turns a few pages and skims through them before closing the book. My guess was that he was refreshing his memory on a few things.

“I’ll start with the first Nephilim to use Void.” He began. “This Nephilim was unique, of course, among the other Nephilim. He was more closely tied to nothingness than any of his other brethren. This made him powerful… so powerful in fact that he practically held complete dominion over Void. He was one of the few Nephilim that were able to invoke a Persona.”

“Persona?” I ask.

“A Persona is a Nephilim’s true ability personified.” Christen explains to me. “It is the manifestation of their power that is able to be invoked and used in battle. Those Nephilim that were able to unlock this power held ability far beyond others.”

“Do you have a Persona?” I ask.

“I do.” Christen nods.

“Hmm…”

“Anyway.” Iscariot continues. “This Persona of his was the very incarnation of Void… Erebus. Erebus was nothingness in physical form. It was nothing, but at the same time was more powerful than anything that had ever been seen before. Using Erebus, this Nephilim brought Void into Creation, and began to infect all the worlds with it. This was the First Void Insurrection. It was one of the darkest times of the history of Creation… both figuratively and literally.”

Iscariot chuckles lightly.

“This was eventually brought to an end by one of the Lord Knights, who were the most powerful and skilled warriors that Humanity had. Lord Knight Falken was the one who ended the First Void Insurrection. He held the ability to freely traverse Void using a special soulcraft he himself developed, and is the only non-Nephilim in history to do so. He managed to defeat this Nephilim by sealing Erebus within Void… however, after the battle he was left weakened and could not sustain his soulcraft any longer, and he himself fell to Void… but it was a worthy sacrifice to end the darkness that threatened to destroy everything.”

“I notice you keep saying the ‘First’ Void Insurrection.” I point out. “Why is that?”

“Because there’s thought to be another.” Christen takes over. “The Second Void Insurrection has been foretold to come about by the hands of the second Void Nephilim… you.”

“Me?” I say, letting out a quick laugh. “You don’t think I’d invoke the end of the world or anything, do you? Why would I do anything like that?”

“That’s the thing…” Christen said. “You wouldn’t… you don’t even have the ability yet… but still, it has been prophesized that you’d come along.”

“You don’t really believe in all that prophecy stuff, do you?” I ask. “This is just a game. The only reason why I even logged back on was because I wanted to help everyone get out.”

“Do you even know how you would go about this?” Iscariot asked.

“Well do you?” I return.

“Yamato.” Christen interrupts. “We’re only telling you all this because… if this comes to pass… everyone will die. Everyone and everything in this came will be completely destroyed and returned to nothingness.”

“You think I’m going to kill everyone?”

“Maybe not intentionally…” Iscariot says. “But it may still happen nonetheless.”

“You’re both complete lunatics…” I say.

“In any case, you need to come to terms with your new powers.” Christen told me. “I can help you there.”

“I’m not interested.” I say sternly, turning to leave.

“H-hey!” Christen rushes over to me, grabbing my arm and stopping me. “Yamato, this whole thing is bigger than just you. This could affect everyone.”

“The devs will probably get this whole thing fixed soon.” I say. “So what’s the point?”

“I don’t think that’s the case, Yamato.” Iscariot said, casually sitting down at a chair. “I’ve looked into this too. You see, what the hackers did was completely cut off all communication between the Nexus Rift Core and the main servers. Reestablishing that connection can’t easily be done while the game is still up and running.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, turning around.

“I’m saying that they can’t fix the problem without rebooting the entire system…” He closed his eyes. “And that would involve killing everyone currently inside.”

I clench my fists and scoff. This whole thing was unbelievable… all this crap about me apparently supposed to bring about the end of the world… fucking unbelievable, all of it… but still, they had a point. If something like this actually did happen it would be a disaster. And if I’m meant to cause it… well I don’t even know what that would mean.

“Yamato.” Christen put a hand on my shoulder. “I’m not sure how we’ll be able to help with this whole situation… but I know we’ll find a way. In order to do so we’ll need your help, and we’ll need your unique abilities. I can help you with controlling your abilities.”

“You know how to control Void?” I turn to him.

“I’ve used it before.” He said. “But the principle is the same as with anything else, though a bit harder to master. However I believe with you, you’ll have an easier time than I would in dealing with Void.”

“What do you say?” Iscariot smiles.

I think about it… I did need to be able to control these abilities…and I needed to stop this whole thing with Void if it was ever going to happen. I’d have to check in with Maverick, but I think that they’d approve. I don’t want to sit idly by doing nothing about anything and wait for this whole thing to pass. Besides, if Iscariot was right about the devs, the only chance we’d have would be from inside the game… somehow.

“Alright.” I nod. “I’ll do it.”

“Great!” Christen smiled widely. “We can meet up here tomorrow and then we can get started.”

“We’re going to be training here?” I ask.

“Ohoh, no, no, not at all.” Christen laughed. “We’d probably bring the entire cathedral down… no, we’re going up to Heaven for that. Plenty of space up there.”

“Think they’ll let me in?” I ask him.

“I’m the commander of Heaven’s army and a Nephilim.” He smirks. “They can’t say no to me.”

“Well, alright, then.” I shrug.

“Well, I guess that’s it, then.” Iscariot says, standing up from his chair and walking back out of the room. “We’ll see you tomorrow, Yamato.”

“You should get some rest.” Christen suggested. “We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

We finish up and I leave the cathedral, yawning and stretching myself out. He was right… I probably should get some sleep. Dealing with Void wasn’t easy whichever way you sliced it, and I was willing to be outright controlling it was going to take some effort.

I open up my menus and log out there.

---

Back in the real world, I wake up and stretch myself out, taking my RiftGear headset off and placing it on my nightstand. I walk outside my room and down the hall into the living room. I see dad there, having another coughing fit. This time he was on his hands and knees, looking like he was coughing up his guts. Mom was over him, her arm around his back.

“I’m… alright…” Dad wheezed, coughing into his fist.

“Ishi, you’re not alright…” My mother told him. “This cough has just been getting worse and worse.”

“I’ll get over… it…” He said, regaining himself and calming his fit down.

“You alright, dad?” I ask as I step into the room.

“Heh, me?” He smiled. “Ah, yeah, it’s… just a little cough is all…”

“Doesn’t look so little to me.” I note.

“Yeah… no kidding…” He get back up onto his feet.

“Sweetheart, I think you should go to the hospital.” Mom suggested.

“Asuka, relax.” Dad smiled. “I’m alright. Just feeling a bit under the weather is all. I’ll be fine.”

Mom gave him a look, but sighed and shook her head.

“If this gets any worse I am taking you to the hospital.” The said firmly.

“Nyegh…” Dad groaned. “I hate hospitals.”

“Suck it up.” She retorted, turning to me. “How are things going in the game? They fix the problem yet?”

“No.” I simply said, turning around and walking back to my room, leaving my mother confused.

It wasn’t that late, but I decided to go to bed anyway. I was pretty tired, and had a lot of work to do next time I logged in.

Chapter 15

December 11th

The next day, I met back up with Christen, who took me with him to the gates of Heaven itself. It didn’t take long for us to get there with him. His status gave him shortcuts to and from, I guess, I don’t know.

Either way, we soon found ourselves at those big pearly gates. Except there weren’t actually gates, we just ended up in the middle of a large courtyard. Looked like a town square or something. Immediately I’m struck with just how different this place was to home, but at the same time feeling oddly similar. It wasn’t all gold and stuff like the books would have you believe. It was designed somewhat like our own world, with streets and buildings and all. The buildings themselves were similar and different as well, with reflective spires reaching high up into the sky. The roads were much like ours, only a lot cleaner, if I had an opinion. It almost looked like some kind of super high-tech world more than a super high-magic world.

Speaking of magic, I could feel myself strangely… attuned to this place. One half of me felt merged with the energies around me. It wasn’t like in Limbo where there were small tugs. Here… it felt like I could swim in the Anima around me, it felt so thick.

It was fucking weird, man.

Noticing my disgruntled look, Christen smiled at me.

“Don’t worry.” He said. “You’ll get used to it.”

We took a few steps before I looked up and noticed all the Angels flying around in the sky. Only a few actually bothered to use the roads, which was why there weren’t any vehicles around. The sky, I noticed, looked exactly like ours. Blue with white clouds, and the sun shining down on everything, so there was at least one thing that was completely familiar.

Christen didn’t bother flying, as much as I knew he could. He chose to stick with me on the ground, walking the almost empty streets that somehow didn’t seem abandoned despite the fact that they pretty much were. Due to me not being able to fly and all, it took us some time to get to where we were going; a huge towering building that looked like a palace or a castle compared to the skyscraper buildings around it. It reached up higher than most buildings around here, and it was definitely a lot larger, so I assumed this was where they did accounting.

“Impressive isn’t it?” Christen said, looking up at the building. “This is the Archon’s place. It’s where everything is run here in Heaven.”

“Archon?” I ask.

“He’s our leader.” Christen explained. “He’s like a king. Well… king isn’t the right word for it. He makes sure everything runs the way it should, but his decisions usually have to be authorized by the Divine Council before being carried out.”

I shrug and we make our way up the steps and into the main courtyard. The guards around us paid us no mind, even though I was around and wasn’t an Angel. Christen’s authority took him far, it seemed. We enter the main building and made our way to a main room, which I assumed was where the Archon was. Sure enough, there was a big chair, and seated at this big chair was an Angel that looked pretty important. He was donned in fancy armor and everything. He was surrounded by a large group of other important looking Angels that were discussing a whole bunch of stuff I really didn’t care about. It looked to be some sort of council meeting or something. One which we interrupted by walking through the door.

“Michael.” The Archon said as we entered the room. “What brings you here?”

Immediately all eyes were on him… then the guy behind him, which was me.

Not gonna lie. I felt the pressure. I definitely didn’t fit in around here. I mean, even my clothes were mainly black and gray while everything around me was white and gold.

“Who is this?” The Archon said. “He isn’t an Angel… under what authority to you bring him before me?”

“Mine.” Christen stated. “This is the third Nephilim.”

Immediately, three guards dropped around me and held blades to my neck, trapping me in my place. The Archon stepped down from his throne and stepped up towards me, stopping in front of me and inspecting me top to bottom.

“Michael!” He turned to Christen, an angered expression on his face. “I did not give you permission to bring him here! What is the meaning of this?”

“I had to bring him here.” Christen explained calmly. “Someone like him can’t be allowed to wander freely without anyone watching over him.”

“You know about the prophecy revolving around him.” The Archon stated. “The second Void Avatar…”

He looks to me, throwing daggers with his gaze.

“I can tell just by looking… you reek of Void.” He looks back to Christen. “And you, my most trusted guard, and Archangel of Heaven, bring him directly to our doorstep!”

“He has neither the power nor will to do anything.” Christen stood his ground calmly. “I brought him here so I could help him harness his abilities and make sure nothing happens.”

“You want him to become more powerful?!”

“He would become more powerful if left alone either way.” Christen crossed his arms. “This way I can monitor him and make sure his abilities are kept in check.”

“You are undermining my authority with this…” The Archon growled. “You may be Nephilim but you are still under my jurisdiction!”

“Things have changed, sir.” Christen said. “Action must be taken. We cannot sit idly by and wait for the Council to give permission for everything.”

“But something like this?!”

“I will make sure nothing happens, I assure you.”

“You…”

“If it comes to it, I will kill him.” Christen’s expression suddenly got a lot more serious. “I will train him and make sure he can keep up with his abilities. But if he starts to lose control, I won’t hesitate to put him down.”

The Archon stood silent, thinking this over, before turning to me, once again giving me a cold stare before raising a hand, signaling the guards around me to lower their weapons. He then stepped up to me, looking me over again.

“I know of you, third Nephilim.” He said. “What you’re destined to do… but Christen is right… someone like you is much too dangerous to leave unchecked.” He turns back to Christen. “Michael, we’ll talk this over with the Divine Council. Do with him what you will in the meantime. Make sure nothing happens.”

“I will, sir.” Christen bowed before leaving the room. I quickly follow to escape the judging gazes of everyone in the room.

“For fuck’s sake, Christen!” I say after we exit the room.

“Yeah, sorry about that.” He says. “You’re a bit of a hot topic around here. Ever since I notified the Council of your awakening they’ve been arguing non-stop on how to deal with you.”

“You knew about me before?” I ask. “How?”

“I felt it.” He said plainly. “The instant your abilities sparked inside you, I was able to sense it, even from all the way up here. No doubt Amanda felt it from Hell as well.”

“You think she’ll be looking for me too?” I ask.

“Knowing her, I don’t think she really cares.” He sighed. “She’s always been trouble…”

“Seriously, why is everyone so up in arms about me?” I ask. “I barely have any power yet, and I don’t even know why they think I’d fulfill this ‘end of the world’ prophecy.”

“I don’t know either.” Christen said, leading me down the halls of the palace. “You don’t have the ability, and you definitely don’t have the will to do anything like that… but legends carry weight around here, and something this big can’t be taken lightly.”

“Bunch of nonsense if you ask me…”

“That’s why I want to make sure you can keep your own powers in check.” Christen explained as we entered a large and empty courtyard that was most likely used for training purposes. “The powers of Void grow constantly over time, even if you don’t notice it. If left alone for too long it will consume you and release Void into the world, which will most likely cause another Void Insurrection… my job is to make sure you can keep your own abilities under your control.”

“Is that even possible with Void?”

“You have Void manifested within you. That means you have a strong connection with nothingness itself. Controlling Void will be easier for you than anyone else…” He crossed his arms as he stopped in the center of the courtyard. “In fact… it may even become second nature.”

I shrug.

“Alright, I want you to test yourself out.” Christen tells me. “See if you can use the Anima around you to… say… boost yourself into the air.”

“How would I go about that?” I ask.

“Just manipulate the Anima around you into an upward force.” He said. “It’s pretty simple, with the abundance of energy around you it shouldn’t be too difficult to pull off.”

He was right. Weirdly, I knew what he was talking about when he told me to manipulate Anima, and redirecting it underneath myself to lift myself upwards shouldn’t be too hard.

I give it a shot, closing my eyes and concentrating, reaching out to the Anima around me and pushing it underneath me, before allowing it to lift myself off the ground. I bounce up, but fail to keep my balance and end up falling onto my back.

“Ow!” I groan as I sit up, rubbing my back. “Dammit…”

“Well, heh…” Christen laughed a bit. “Well, you got the concept down. Just need to figure out the technical parts.”

I stand back up to my feet, dusting myself off.

“Alright, try to do more than boost yourself up this time.” Christen instructed. “Try to move yourself around while you’re in the air.”

“Okay…” I prepare myself, holding my arms steadily outwards as I try again. I boost myself up into the air like last time, but this time I manage to keep my control in the air. I concentrate my Anima in my feet and hands to keep my balance in the air, managing to stay upright and relatively steady as I float back onto the ground.

“There you go.” Christen claps. “You’re a natural at this.”

“I think generally Nephilim are naturals at this kind of thing.” I point out.

“Heh, yeah, you’re right.” He smiled. “You seem to understand the basics of Anima control. Now I want you to try something a bit more advanced…”

“Not too advanced, I hope.” I say.

“Don’t worry, I think you’ll be able to pull this off no problem.” He said, bringing out a handgun from his side. I get a good look at the thing… it looked pretty nice. White plated with gold inlays. Looked to be an original firearm; I didn’t recognize the body style. Even if it was heavily modified I would’ve been able to at least make out what kind of model it may have been.

“I want you to make a shield of Anima.” Christen explains, taking the safety off his gun. “Strong enough to stop this.”

“Okay, so I, what, condense the Anima in front of me?” I ask.

“Precisely.” He smiled, taking aim at me. “Better not mess up, these hurt, you know.”

“How would you know?” I ask.

“Well… I’ve been told.” He shrugged. “Go for it, tell me when you’re ready.”

I nod and put my hands in front of me, closing my eyes and concentrating on controlling the Anima around me. There isn’t really a proper way of explaining the mechanics of what I was trying to do… it was something you just had to experience to understand. I basically pulled in the Anima around me and layered it on top of each other multiple times until I formed a wall of condensed energy in front of myself. It was a bit difficult, keeping the wall I had up in place while at the same time stacking more on top of it… but in the end, after losing a bit of it and picking it back up a few times, I manage to make a wall that I felt was sturdy enough to block bullets.

“Okay…” I say, hoping that it would be enough. “I think I’m good.”

Christen takes the shot, and I can see where the bullet hits the wall. The Anima shield lights up at the point of impact, becoming physical as the bullet hits, but it’s not enough to completely block the bullet. It pierces through, but luckily, the bullet warped under the impact and its trajectory was curved, causing it to stray away from me and lose enough velocity to fall to the ground.

“Not bad…” Christen says. “But you’re going about it inefficiently. You don’t need to stack so many layers on it. Instead of having a bunch of weaker layers on top of one another, try fusing the surrounding Anima into one shield. It takes less energy to hold everything together and you get a lot more power out of it.”

I nod and try again, this time following his instruction. I place one thin layer in front of me, before pushing more Anima into it, strengthening the energy in front of me slowly. He was right, it did require a lot less energy to hold it all together than stacking multiple layers on top of one another. I could get a lot more protection for a lot less energy with this way. It took less time for me to get to a higher level than last time, and I signal for him to take another shot. He fires, and I watch as the bullet is shattered on the barrier in front of me. I barely even felt the impact as I held my shield up. He takes more shots, each one ricocheting off into tiny fragments as my shield held true. I found it easy to keep the shield up alone, so I could focus my energy into absorbing impacts instead of just keeping the shield up in the first place.

“Nice.” Christen says, nodding and reloading his weapon, holstering it to his side. “You’re a quick study for someone who doesn’t practice often.”

“Heh, this is pretty neat.” I say. I hadn’t thought about soulcraft all that much before all of this fuckery, but now that I was getting the hang of it I began to think of some pretty cool things I might be able to do with it.

It was at this point that two Angels came down from the sky, drifting down and landing next to us. They looked as high ranked as Christen… then again, who didn’t around here?

“Ah.” Christen said. “Yamato, these are my brothers, Gabriel and Raphael.”

They both nod to me, and I nod to them.

“Michael.” Gabriel said. “The Council requests your presence.”

“Again?” Christen sighed.

“You are second in command.” Raphael shrugged. “All three of us have to attend.”

“I was in the middle of training Yamato here.” Christen holds a hand towards me.

“Yamato…” Gabriel turns. “The third Nephilim, I take it.”

“That’s right.” Christen confirms, looking to me.

Gabriel steps up to me, giving me a long and insightful look… felt like the guy was staring into my soul, which in this world probably wasn’t out of the question.

“So the legends are true, then…” Gabriel says after looking me over.

“Possibly.” Christen told him. “His strong connection to Void definitely fits the Void Avatar, but right now he’s not particularly well versed in controlling it.”

“And you’re teaching him how?” Raphael asks.

“I’m teaching him how to control his powers.” Christen specifies. “You know how Void is.”

“This is a dangerous game you’re playing, Michael.” Raphael crosses his arms and closes his eyes.

“Don’t worry, Raphael, I’ll take care of it.” Christen smiles at his brother before turning back to me. “Sorry, Yamato, I gotta go. Business and all… we’ll continue later. In the meantime, feel free to roam around Heaven. There’s a lot to do here.”

“What, won’t people think that’s strange?” I ask. “Seeing how out of place I am here…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Christen says. “Angels in Heaven shouldn’t give you too much trouble, even if they do think it’s odd that you’re wandering about. But just in case…”

He grabs a pendant from his pocket and tosses it to me. I catch it and inspect it. It was a small golden circle with two white wings and a golden sword in the middle.

“Show that to anyone who might want to bother you.” Christen said. “That’ll get them to back off. It’s basically an Archangel’s pardon.”

“Yeah, alright.” I say, stuffing it in my pocket.

“I’ll find you when we’re all finished.” Christen said, taking off with his brothers and flying up to the throne room tower, leaving me on the ground.

I take a deep breath through my nose and sigh outwards through my mouth, looking around to the skies, at the Angels flying overhead. I really didn’t get it… why was I so important to so many people… this damn AEP we still knew next to nothing about still sometimes crossed my mind. We haven’t had much info on them since that whole ordeal with me falling into Void. The Angels seemed to have my number as well… something told me Christen wasn’t training me just out of courtesy. If the Angels knew about me, then no doubt the Demons did as well, though I’ve yet to see anything about them… all this prophecy business revolving around me and Void. It was all bullshit if you asked me; a complete waste of time and energy on everyone’s part.

I didn’t really feel like wandering around, so I sat down at a nearby bench and decided to wait.

30 Minutes Later

So, kicking rocks got boring real fucking fast. I did try my hand at flying and figured out how to do that properly. Christen was right about me getting used to the atmosphere here. Flying felt almost like swimming with how dense the Anima was around here; it barely took any effort to stay in the air. I was playing around in the air, spinning around and performing a bunch of different aerial tricks when I got bored of that too.

I sigh and wonder what the hell was taking Christen so long, and I wondered how much longer I was going to have to wait. I eventually shrugged and decided to eavesdrop on what he was doing. I take off and fly upwards towards one of the windows of the throne room, where I was sure Christen was. I take a peek inside, seeing Christen in the middle of a circle, talking to a whole bunch of important looking people. Looked to be this Council Christen mentioned before; the one I first saw when I got here. I make sure I’m leaned up at a proper angle to make myself unseen and I peek into the room. Luckily the glass wasn’t soundproof so I could hear well enough.

“He’s too dangerous…” The Archon said to Christen. “He should be destroyed before anything happens!”

“That would be counter-intuitive.” Christen said calmly. “He could be a valuable ally to us.”

“An ally?!” The Archon shouted. “Listen to what you’re saying! Have you any idea what the stakes here are? We’re talking the end of Creation!”

“I’m fully aware of what he’s meant to do.” Christen stated. “But if he can control Void we won’t have to worry about it.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of, Michael… that he’ll learn to control Void…”

“It seems to me either way you’re looking at it he’s going to cause the second Insurrection.” Christen crossed his arms. “What makes you think he even wants to cause such an event?”

“One rarely grasps true power without being consumed by it.” The Archon said. “And Void… the power to destroy all… that power is inside him. That desire has been planted into his Soul.”

“Those desires can be controlled.” Christen states. “You know that. You’ve seen it.”

“You’re suggesting that you wish for him to awaken a Persona?!” The Archon shouted. “For God’s sake, Michael, what are you thinking?! You’re only trying to make him more powerful!”

“He needs to be able to control his powers if he’s to not bring about the Insurrection. The Persona is the personification of perfect control over one’s abilities.”

“The first Void Avatar has complete control over his abilities with Erebus!”

“You speak as if he and Yamato are the same person.”

“THEY ARE THE SAME!” The Archon stood up and brought the entire room to complete silence for a moment, before he sighed and sat back in his chair. “I want him secured and quarantined.”

“What?” Christen said. “That’s not-”

“What does the Divine Council think?” The Archon asks the circle of people around Christen, who quickly began speaking amongst themselves. Several minutes go by, before the silence themselves and one speaks up.

“The Divine Council rules that the third Nephilim, Yamato Haseo, shall be kept within the hands of the Angels for the time being.”

“What?!” Christen began to lose his cool. “No way!”

“The Council has spoken, Archangel Michael.” The Archon said. “It seems you’re alone in your argument… Raphael, Gabriel.”

“Yes, sir.” The two brothers said simultaneously.

“Secure Yamato. He is not to leave Heaven under any circumstance.”

The two nod and head for the window. I was already halfway to the ground by the time they got out the window and flew down to me. They touched down in front of me. I already knew what they were up to.

“Yamato Haseo.” Gabriel stepped forward. “By order of the Divine Council we’ve been tasked with securing you and bringing you in for quarantine.”

I don’t say anything. I give them both a knowing stare… I wasn’t going to fight back. There was no way I was going to defeat these two… I let them bind my arms behind my back and I follow them as the lead me back into the palace.

---

“For fuck’s sake… not even two hours in Heaven and I get locked up. That’s gotta be a record or something…”

I sigh and lie down on my back on the bed in the cell I was being kept in. At least they had the decency to give me that much here. They had taken away all my weapons and threw me in here. This was basically a box that completely kept any Anima from getting out or in, and on top of that there were high ranking guards just outside. I guess they pulled all the stops to keep me under lockdown. Though really, all this wasn’t at all necessary. I didn’t even have the ability to try anything… it’s amazing how paranoia always trumps logic and reason.

I had been in this cell for the last two hours, just lying on the bed and staring up at the ceiling. My guess was that Christen was arguing it over with this Divine Council on what to do with me. It seemed the general consensus was that I should just be killed off before I got a chance to do anything… but I wasn’t even planning anything! This was still just a game. I don’t know why everyone was so serious about all this. I mean, sure people were trapped here, but I still believed the devs would fix the problem soon. I couldn’t see what the big deal was about me and all this prophecy business… everyone just seemed to be freaking out for no damn reason.

Finally, the door to my cell is opened, and I see Christen walk through, closing the door behind him. He stepped up to me and sighed.

“Damn Divine Council is stuck on the thought that you’ll kill everything.” He shook his head. “Sorry, but you’re going to be brought in for interrogation to see what you know.”

“What, you mean absolutely fuck all?” I ask.

“Yeah, pretty much…” He shrugs. “I know for a fact you don’t know anything about this business, and aren’t the least bit interested in it either, but the Archon and the Council feel that you’re dangerous.”

“This is some bullshit.” I say plainly.

“I can’t do much about it…” Christen says apologetically. “I may be an Archangel and second in command but everything is dictated by the Divine Council. My voice carries weight, but not enough weight to overrule their decisions alone.”

“Damn…” I stand up and walk up to him as he takes out a pair of cuffs.

“Put these on.” He says, directing me to put my hands behind my back so he can bind me.

They were a special kind of binding I realize… not like regular handcuffs, they bound me with energy, and on top of that I could feel them restricting my Anima flow as well… these things made sure I couldn’t get free no matter what I did.

“They aren’t going to beat me up or anything, are they?” I ask as Christen grabs me by the cuffs to direct where I went.

“Eh…” He puts on a nervous smile.

“The hell does that mean?”

“Just… bear with it…”

“For fuck’s sake…”

Christen leads me down a few halls in the dungeon I was in before we arrive at another room. He opens the door and lets me walk myself in as he follows behind, shutting the door.

“You’re interrogating me?” I ask.

“Oh, no.” He says. “I’m not fit for interrogating… but I’ve been asked to make sure you don’t try anything… being a Nephilim and all.”

“Right…”

I notice there was a single pole next to the wall of the room. Christen instructed me to kneel down on my knees and I do just that, allowing him to lift the bar and hook my bindings onto it, sliding it down and locking it into place, properly locking me against the bar.

Fucking cozy.

“Your actual interrogator will be here shortly.” He told me.

“How bad is he?” I ask.

“He’s… pretty physical…” Christen rubs the back of his neck. “You’re gonna be hurting a bit.”

“Oh boy, can’t wait…”

A few minutes later, the guy who was going to beat me up stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him and walking over to me, sitting down casually on a chair in front of me.

Yeah, this guy looked mean, alright… just by looking at him I could tell he was a rather impatient man. Didn’t deal with bullshit. Kind of like me.

“So…” The guy said. “Here’s how this is going to go. You’re gonna tell me everything you know, or else you’re going to be missing a few teeth… sound good?”

Brusque… yep.

“You’re wasting your time.” I say plainly. “I don’t know anything.”

And that earned me a solid kick right to the face. Didn’t dislodge any teeth, but definitely made my mouth bleed. I grunt loudly before laughing off the pain.

“Hah… ow…” I smile.

“Anything else?” The man asks.

“Heh… maybe…” I smirk. “The most I know is what I’ve been told. Some stupid prophecy business that for some reason has to do with me.”

“You know what I think?”

“What’s that?”

“I think you’re lying.”

“I think you’re an asshole. One of us is right.”

And that landed me another foot to the face, this time causing a good scrape on my cheek that bled. I lay leaning to the side for a bit before straightening myself out and smiling as fresh blood went down my cheek and from the corner of my mouth.

“Agh, that hurt…” I chuckle.

“I’m not in the mood for games.” My interrogator told me. “The Council has given me permission to handle you however I want. Just because Christen is here doesn’t mean you’re getting a free ride with me!”

“Oh, of course not.” I smirk with an eye closed. “I mean, who wouldn’t pay for the price of admission for this?”

“You better get talking real soon, boy.” The guy said menacingly. “Tell me everything.”

“Well, I was born in Nagoya, Japan, July 19th, two-thousand twenty-s-”

And another kick to the face. Blood was starting to fill my mouth, and I had to spit some of it out to my side.

“Gah, yeesh!” I say. “Where’s your sense of humor?”

“Tell me everything!” He shouted.

“I already told you what I know.” I say. “But this isn’t about that, is it? You don’t want the truth, you just want the answer you like most. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, as long as you get your job done.”

The guy gave me a look, before he started laughing.

“Hah! You got some fight in you, don’t you?” He says. “But don’t worry… I’ve broken plenty like you before…”

He goes back to a table, which now I noticed was covered in a whole bunch of instruments… you know, blades and stuff… some of the devices I didn’t even recognize… aw shit…

The guy inspected his tools and took a particularly nasty looking blade off the table. He gave it a quick look over before walking slowly over to me.

“You know something?” He asks me. “I’ve always wondered just what a Nephilim’s regenerative abilities are like…”

On instinct, my heart began to pick up, as did my breathing. I began to sweat a bit and I could feel my eyes dilate. Crap… this wasn’t good… this wasn’t good at all…

“Hey…” Christen spoke up. “I don’t think we need to go that far…”

“Stay out of this, Michael.” The guy said, walking up to me. “Let me work…”

The guy crouched down in front of me with the blade, looking at it with an almost sort of fondness… this guy was a grade A psychopath, that was for sure. No wonder why he was an interrogator.

“I’ve heard that Nephilim can sustain all sorts of injuries…” My interrogator told me, casually spinning the knive in his hand. “Lacerations… puncture wounds… bullet holes… even whole limbs I’ve heard they can grow back no problem…”

He pointed the tip of the blade right to my eye.

“What about the eye?” He asked. “Does the eye grow back, I wonder?”

My heart was pounding in my chest, almost threatening to just burst out of it. I started shaking and my breathing was erratic… I was afraid… was this guy really going to go so far as to take my eye? I didn’t know anything… I couldn’t tell him what he wanted to know.

Shit… this was bad… this was really fucking bad…

I struggle against my restraints on impulse, but the guy grabs my chin and holds me in place.

“Don’t struggle, now…” He said. “You might end up hurting yourself…”

He moved the tip of the blade in slowly, inching towards my left eye, which he held wide open with two fingers… he moved the blade closer and closer… I could see it come in towards me…

Oh shit, this was gonna hurt…

The tip of the blade was so close… then… something cut it… the tip of the blade was sliced clean off and it was sent skittering across the floor. The interrogator seemed confused and pulled the blade back to look at the tip. Then the rest of the knife was cut into pieces, the blade being segmented by some sort of black energy. He let go of the blade and backed up. I was left wondering what had happened… what had cut his blade? Why did he back up so far? It took me a few seconds to realize that the black energy had come from me… and there was more of it where that came from. I look to my sides, noticing a black shadow floating in midair around me… flowing like slow moving flames… the tips of which pointed forward.

What the hell was going on? What was happening to me?

My head throbbed, and I grunt, closing my eyes and clenching my teeth as the shadow then suddenly shaped itself into multiple blades that immediately lurched forward towards the interrogator. They would’ve skewered him into pieces had Christen not intervened, setting up a powerful shield that stopped the shadow from harming either of them. That didn’t stop it from lashing out every which way, cutting up the walls of the room, making large gashes as it flailed around randomly. The heavily fortified steel door to the room we were in was cut into pieces and fell out of its frame. Even my bindings were cut and the bar I was locked into was sliced into pieces, making me fall onto my hands and knees in pain. Still, Christen’s shield held as the shadow slowly died down, receding back into me before disappearing completely.

I’m left exhausted and out of breath… I had no idea what the hell I just did… that shadow wasn’t in my control… that didn’t stop the guy from blaming me, though.

“I knew it…” He said as Christen lowers his defense. “You’re just like the last one… you’re a Void Avatar.”

“Easy, now!” Christen tried to defend me. “You provoked him! His abilities were invoked on their own to defend him!”

“Stop trying to defend this monster, Michael!” The guy shouts. “This… thing. It needs to be destroyed!”

“You caused it!” Christen shouted back, now angered. “You put him under extreme stress, of course something like that would happen! He can’t control his abilities yet!”

“I’m taking this to the Divine Council.” He said, walking out of the room. “That thing is dying, you hear me?”

He stormed off while I’m left in a daze… I barely even knew which way was up… my head still hurt and my entire body felt numb. I slowly calm down my breathing and return to my senses, shaking my head and groaning.

“You alright?” Christen walked up to me and offered a hand.

I take it and he pulls me up to my feet. I almost fall backwards but catch myself by bracing my arm up against the wall.

“What… what the hell was that?” I ask.

“That… that was Void.” Christen answered. “But not like I’ve ever seen it… you actually manifested it into a physical form… that’s something no other Nephilim can do.”

“What does that mean…?”

“It means you’re definitely the second Void Avatar.” He said. “It also means Void is definitely active inside you if it acted on its own in order to protect you.”

“It also means these guys are going to kill me…” I note.

“They’re afraid of what they don’t understand.” Christen tells me.

“This is insane…” I mutter, looking down at my hand.

“I won’t let them harm you.” Christen assured me. “And… by the looks of it, neither will you.”

I smirk and sigh tiredly. I rub my cheek and notice that the scrape I got from earlier was completely gone… it had healed in that short amount of time… I wipe the blood from my cheek.

“Well, I guess we should head up to meet up with the Council…” Christen said. “C’mon, let’s go.”

---

I was once again tied up and bound as I stood before the Divine Council. Not just them, though… there were quite a few legislators and magistrates here. The room I found myself in was more akin to a large courtroom, in the middle of which was me, tied to another pole in the same fashion as before in the interrogation room. This time, however, I was kept inside a strong field of energy that would probably keep me from hurting anyone in the room in the case Void wanted to tear shit up again.

Currently, I was sitting minding my own business as everyone talked amongst themselves and argued on what to do with me. Some people were on Christen’s side; keeping me around to serve as an ally to the Angels. Others wanted me dead… that was the majority. The Divine Council themselves seemed to be the only ones who weren’t talking, as they stood silently at the front of the room.

Suddenly, though, one of them stepped up and spoke.

“Silence!” He shouted, immediately quieting the entire room, halting all argument. “We will not have this turn into a free-for-all. We will hear each argument and assess each one fairly.”

“This is ridiculous!” I hear a random voice say. “There’s nothing to assess! This is a Void Avatar we’re talking about!”

“One who can control Void could be a valuable asset in the End War!” Another argued.

“I said silence!” The same member of the Council said, stopping any more arguments from rising up. “The two representatives for this case are Archon Daniel and Archangel Michael. The Archon will speak his case first.”

The Archon stood from his seat and began his argument.

“We all know the legends.” He spoke plainly, in contrast to the anger that fueled him earlier. “The First Void Insurrection. How the first Void Avatar brought Void into Creation and nearly destroyed everything that ever was. And in the wake of this catastrophic event, it was told that another Insurrection would occur at the hands of a second Void Avatar.”

He glared at me from within my semi-transparent box.

“This Nephilim.” He pointed at me. “The third Nephilim, is this second Void Avatar that was spoken of. He is the one who will incur the Second Void Insurrection and plunge all of Creation into nothingness!”

“And what do you propose we do with this Nephilim?” The Council asks.

“Destroy him.” The Archon says plainly. “Destroy him so he’ll never have a chance. His power is weak. He won’t be able to defend himself.”

“And what if Void reacts again?” The Council asks

“Even if it does, it won’t be able to resist our most powerful forces in its state. It may be powerful, but it’s not as powerful as it could be if we let him live.”

“And what do you say, Archangel Michael?” The Council then turns to Christen.

Christen then took the floor, standing from his seat and sighing.

“I believe that Yamato could prove to be a valuable ally to Heaven.” Christen said. “As the Void Avatar, you all know Void has manifested itself inside his Soul. If he received proper training in harnessing his power we wouldn’t have to worry about him getting out of control. Just executing him would be a waste of his potential. With him on our side there’s nothing we wouldn’t be able to do.”

“That’s outrageous!” I hear a voice in the crowd say. “Your solution for this is to make him stronger? Where are your senses?!”

“He’s too dangerous!” Another voice said. “We need to destroy him while we still can!”

“He’ll kill us all if we don’t kill him first!”

“You’re supposed to be an Archangel of Heaven yet you invite the enemy into our home!”

The arguing began to start again, the voices all forming white noise to me as the entire room once again became a cacophony of shouting.

“Enough!” The Council once again silences the entire room, before they look to me. “Third Nephilim. What have you to say for yourself?”

I look them, before looking all around the room at the eyes that were now on me. I look to Christen, then to the Archon, who was giving me the coldest glare.

“You guys are a bunch of dicks.” I say plainly.

Whatever.

“We have reached a decision.” The Council then says, ignoring my remark. “We have deemed that the third Nephilim is too dangerous to be kept alive, and it would not be worth the risk to allow him to live.”

“No!” Christen shouts as the Archon smiles smugly.

“Aw, come on!” I shout.

The entire room once again broke out into bitter argument as two Angels unlocked me from the pole only to forcefully drag me out of the room. They pull me down the halls and to a window, flying out with me and landing in a different courtyard, supposedly the one they were going to use to execute me. They use powerful magic to bind me to the ground, making me unable to move an inch as I lay down with my back on the ground. I struggle a bit against the restraints but I’m unable to do anything as the Archon slowly stepped up to me, pulling out a blade.

“Sorry it had to end like this.” He said condescendingly. “It’s nothing personal. Just doing my duty in protecting Heaven from the likes of you.”

He raised the blade, tip pointed to me, and brought it down. Time seemed to slow as the tip of the blade neared my chest. Once again I’m put under the same stress as before… but this time it wasn’t my Void that stopped the blade.

It was light.

The blade stops dead just before it pierces me, before it’s blasted back and away from me. The Archon grunts and looks over to see Christen standing there, a hand outstretched towards me. I figured he was the one who shielded me from his blade.

“Michael!” The Archon shouted. “You defy even the Divine Council?!”

“I will not stand for this.” Christen said, his voice tainted with malice. “I won’t let you harm him.”

The Archon simply laughed.

“What? You’ll stop me?” He chuckled. “Don’t think I won’t kill you too, Christen!”

“You won’t.” He said. “You know you can’t.”

“You may be Nephilim, but I am the Archon!” He stands tall. “I have every Angel at my disposal!”

“Understand this, Archon Daniel.” Christen grabs his own blade from his side and unsheathes it, pointing the tip at the Archon. “I will face all of Heaven in order to protect him.”

“You overestimate yourself…” The Archon growled. “Insolent fool… what power do you think you have over me?”

Christen says nothing to that. He simply holds out his left hand to his side and mutters one word.

“Persona.”

Instantly, a powerful energy surged around him, before a halo manifested above Christen’s head. After that, a circle of white light encircled him before rising into a blinding pillar of light that breaks my bindings, sending me sliding back a bit as I raise a hand to shield my eyes from the light. When I open my eyes again, I see Christen standing there, as well as a large humanoid figure behind him, three times taller than him. It was dressed in white and gold armor, with robes adorning its bottom half. It wore a white hood that covered a face that glowed golden, and it bore two pairs of large white feathered wings, as well as a halo of pure energy above it. I could feel the power radiating from the thing… it felt like I was a thousand feet below sea level.

The Archon stood there completely speechless at the sight before him… it must’ve been his first time seeing a Persona as well as mine. He simply stood there in awe at the power displayed before him.

“This is my power, Archon.” Christen said. “Uriel.”

Uriel – I assume that’s it’s name – materialized a shield over its left arm and a sword in its right, ready to do combat with anyone that would stand in Christen’s way. Before the first shots were fired, however, a voice sounded to interrupt the two.

“That won’t be necessary.”

I look over and notice the Divine Council standing there silently. They acted so calm even in a situation like this…

“We have reached a new decision.” One of the Council said. “In light of Archangel Michael’s passion and determination in defending the Third Nephilim, we have ruled that Yamato Haseo will live.”

“What?!” The Archon snarled as Christen’s Persona faded away, as did the halo above his head.

“Yamato Haseo is free to leave Heaven and return home.” The Council decreed. “He will be kept under the watchful eyes of Heaven to ensure that he does not threaten Creation.”

“You can’t be serious!” The Archon was furious.

“Thank you.” Christen said as he walked up to me, helping me up to my feet.

The Archon gave me one last death glare before storming off, with the Angel guards following him.

“Damn…” Christen sighed in relief. “That was messy…”

He turned to me and smiled.

“You should probably go home.” He suggested. “You’ve had a pretty long day… you’ve probably earned yourself a break from all of this business.”

Yeah, no shit… holy crap… I was interrogated, brought into court, almost executed, and released in the same damn day… Heaven was not all it was cracked up to be…

---

Christen took me back to Eden, dropping me off at the front of the cathedral… god, it felt good to finally be home… I don’t think I was ever going to go to Heaven again…

“Hey, Yamato.” Christen said before I left. “Sorry about all this… I know you’re new to this whole being a Nephilim thing, and I know a lot is being put on you quickly without giving you time to adjust… it must be overwhelming for you.”

“A little, yeah…” I admit.

“Well, you should probable take some time off.” Christen told me. “Heaven won’t bother you. Nobody’s stupid enough to go against the Divine Council.”

“Except you?” I smirk.

“Heh, yeah…” Christen chuckled lightly. “Except me… god I could be executed for doing what I did…”

“I’m sure you’re fine.” I say. “I mean, after all that power you showed off I doubt anyone is gonna try to go against you.”

“Probably not.” He smiled.

He waved me off as I headed back to HQ, ready to log out and get some sleep after today’s ordeals… yeah, I think I was gonna take a long break now… take some time to myself. At least give myself some time to get used to all this shit going on around me.

I still didn’t understand it, but I was tired of thinking about it for now… I needed some damn sleep…

Chapter 16

December 18th

It was snowing lightly as I walked to school. I was feeling a bit better now that I was actually able to take a break from all this stuff happening around me… all this crap with Void and this Insurrection or whatever. Fuck all of it for now.

I was kind of hoping I’d run into Naoto on my way to school, but I found myself walking alone as I entered school. I look around and take note of how little people there actually were around here now that most of the students that attended this place were trapped in the game. Naoto and I were two of the lucky ones that could log out, while those others that were here either weren’t on the game at the time of the glitch or they didn’t play at all… there were roughly half the students there usually was in the school now. Made me wonder why they bothered still holding classes.

I entered the main building and find the halls decked with boughs of holly in preparation for the holidays. It was Japan, so we didn’t really celebrate Christmas like one would in the US, but the students here still made it a point to decorate, because Christmas decorations were fun and they had a habit of lightening up the mood quite a bit… especially since half the school was trapped in a death game.

I didn’t much care for that kind of thing. Just a bunch of sparkling tinsel and stupid bells… I didn’t have much of a use for any of that.

I unzip my winter coat and head down the halls towards homeroom.

---

The day went by pretty quickly. Nothing too important happened in between… nothing worth mentioning anyway. Even lunch was uneventful. I hadn’t seen Naoto all day either. I thought we had gotten into the habit of having lunch together, but she was nowhere to be seen.

I guess she wasn’t at school today…

The final bell rang and I get up and grab my school bag, walking out of the classroom and heading down the halls at a slow pace, looking out the frosty windows as I go along. I hear voices coming from a room ahead of me. It was one of the club rooms… I forget which club it is. I wasn’t part of any clubs, nor did I want to be.

I heard Naoto’s voice, actually…

Just as I was about to walk by the door, I see it slide open, and out comes Naoto, walking backwards out of the room and shouting at someone inside. I bump into her lightly and she backs up a bit and looks to me. My cheeks go red a bit when I notice what she was wearing…

A full blown Santa outfit… a tight red top with a white and red skirt, red leggings and red elbow gloves, as well as a Santa hat. Everything was lined with white fuzz.

I suddenly wanted to join this club.

“You look fucking awesome.” I say casually as Naoto quickly covered up her exposed bits, blushing heavily and looking away from me.

“Dammit…” She muttered.

“What’s with the getup?” I ask.

“It… it’s a club thing…” She told me, still refusing to look at me.

“You’re in a club?” I say.

“Culture club.” She specified. “I… we’re doing this thing where we dress up for the holidays…”

“And you agreed?”

“Hell no I didn’t agree!” She shouted at me. “I was forced into this… Moriyama wouldn’t let me out of it…”

“You look great.” I note.

“Shut up!” She yelled again. “It’s skimpy…”

“I know.”

“The skirt is way too short… and the top is too tight on me…” She tried to pull on her top to loosen it up a bit, making her breasts bounce a little, and I have to be careful she doesn’t catch me staring too much… but then I notice something odd about it…

Wait… hang on…

“Aren’t…” I start out. “Are they really that big…?”

“Hm?” She looks up to me curiously, shortly after looking down to where I was looking… right at her breasts. She blushed and immediately covered herself up. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU LOOKING AT?!”

“I mean, in the game they’re not as pronounced…” I say from a purely objective standpoint. “They aren’t in your normal school clothes either… you wrap them up or something?”

That’s when she nailed me in the stomach with a solid kick, knocking the wind out of me and sending me into the ground.

“You’re a pervert…” She muttered.

“I’m… just saying…” I groan, trying to regain my breath.

She stormed off back into the room while I stay on the ground. She comes out a bit later, back in her normal school clothes. She looks at me down on the ground completely motionless and sighs, grabbing my leg as she walked past me and dragging me down the hall with her.

---

I walked with Naoto on our ways home. We followed the same route up to a point, so I could stay with her some of the way.

“How’s your dad doing?” I ask her while we walked.

“I don’t really want to talk about him…” She said plainly.

I shrug and continue walking alongside her. I figured asking about her mother was out of the question as well.

“You going to be on tonight?” Naoto asks a bit later.

“Um… I don’t think so.”

“Why’s that?”

“Eh, I need a break from all this Nephilim business…” I say, already tired just from thinking about it. “Heaven is all up in arms about me and this whole prophecy behind me…”

“You mean the Void Avatar?” She asks.

“Yeah…”

“I’ve heard about that… must be tough.”

“It’s a bunch of bullshit is what it is.” I tell her. “I could care less about all that. The only thing I’m trying to do is get everyone out of the damn game.”

“How do you think we could do that?” Naoto says.

“These AEP guys would probably know…” I say. “I guess I’m just gonna have to hunt them down until I get an answer… not just to that, but everything about me. I want to know what they want with me and why they had to trap everyone in the game.”

“Do you think the mods can do anything about the glitch?” Naoto looks to me.

“I don’t know…” I say. “Either way, I’m putting these guys down. If they’re capable of doing something like this, they need to be stopped one way or another.”

“I’ll help however I can.” Naoto assures me.

I look down to her, putting on a small smile.

“Thanks.”

---

I stood a few paces away from my father, blade in both hands and in front of me. He stood opposite of me, his blade wielded in one hand with the scabbard of the blade in his other hand. We stared each other down for a few seconds, but we didn’t wait long before rushing inwards, striking at each other, the clashing of metal on metal ringing through the air. We pass by each other, before both spinning back and launching another volley of attacks.

This kind of training almost seemed natural to me now… I couldn’t remember how I even fared with the normal training my father’s students had. This way was so much more efficient… if much more risky.

I was getting a lot better. I was able to read my father’s movements and react quickly and fluidly to keep him on his guard, and although he was still far faster in both reflexes and blade, I felt I was slowly catching up to him.

This was actually just what I needed to take my mind off recent events… wielding a blade in my hand, the rush of cutting through the air, the thrill of the blade clashing against the other, the exhilaration of narrowly dodging an attack only to turn and counter with one of my own… it was all so amazing, and it filled me with this absolutely incredible feeling of euphoria.

I slash my blade fast and hard through the air, locking blades with his, pushing against him. He was stronger than I was, so I was pushed back, but I quickly push his blade to my side and slide under it, allowing it to pass beside me and releasing my blade, letting me spin and slash at him again. He ducks under it with a spinning sweep kick that hooks one of my legs. He fails to put me on the ground, though, as I spin on my heel to keep myself upright, stomping my foot back onto the ground in time to block an attack of his own, redirecting his blade over me and allowing me to get a good solid kick into his side. It wasn’t that strong, but it did manage to push him back just a bit, allowing me to sweep inwards with my blade with a fast and hard attack that he jumps away from, putting some distance between us.

“Heh, you’re improving.” My father says with a wicked smile.

“I’m surprised, actually.” I point my blade at him. “You’re not that bad for an old man.”

“I’m only 41!” He smirks as he sheathes his blade and grips it, ready to draw again.

“Old man!” I say again, rushing towards him, blade pulled back and ready to strike.

I swipe at him, but he’s much quicker as he draws his blade and strikes outward at me, meeting my blade and slashing it back with almost enough force for the shock of the blade to knock it out of my hand from the pain. I tough through it and keep a grip on the handle to prevent it from flying away and embedding itself in the nearby wall as he lowers his sword and steps forward in preparation for an upwards sweep. I manage to tighten my fingers onto my own blade and bring forward, bracing it in front of me to block the fast and hard strike, which this time did manage to wrench the blade from my hands, launching the blade spinning into the air and finding ground in the wooden floor, embedding itself firmly there.

“Aw sh-” I don’t even have time to finish that as I dodge a fast swipe that would’ve probably beheaded me had I not seen it coming. I evade two other swipes before rushing forward and grabbing my father’s arm to stop his blade, twisting myself around to allow myself to kick him in the side hard. He takes the blow, but doesn’t let up as he twists my own arm around and forces me to spin around so that my back is on his chest, and he quickly puts his arm across my chest to lock me in place before bringing his blade up to my neck. I put my left hand up in defense, grabbing the blade and feeling small pain as it cuts lightly into my hand. He swipes it out, slicing deeper into my hand and this time causing sharp pain as blood immediately seeps from the cut in the palm of my hand, making me flinch, but allowing me to hook my legs up so he’s forced to hold me up. With the added weight, he falls forward, allowing me to bend down and throw him over my head and onto the ground. Using this, I rush towards my blade, but my father is hot on my trail, extending his blade to reach me. I quickly spin around without losing any speed and swipe my bloodied left hand out, splattering some blood into his eyes and causing him to stop and wipe it away, giving me enough time to retrieve my blade and close in on him, managing to put him on defense as I bore down on him fast and hard, wielding my blade in one hand due to the injury to my left.

It didn’t stop me from launching an all out attack however, as I force my father to stay defensive as I slash at him repeatedly. He blocked or dodged my attacks, but I didn’t let up, making sure he couldn’t get out of my string of attacks, before finally, I rear back and twist myself, lurching forward with a powerful overhead swing that managed to get past his guard and slice his arm, drawing some blood, but not too much. We’re both left at a distance, breathing heavy and sweating from our intense sparring.

“Dinner!” I hear mom call from the other room.

I look over and see her peeking in. She gives us both a look.

“You both need a shower.” She said plainly.

We only smile at that, despite the bleeding injuries we took from each other.

---

“Alright, that should do.” Dad says as he wraps up my left hand in bandages.

I clench my hand a few times to test out the bandages, finding they fit snugly over my palm to cover up my injury, which had by now stopped bleeding enough. Dad himself had wrapped up his arm where I had sliced him.

“Alright, now let’s get dinner.” Dad smiled as we put away the first aid and headed over to the dinner table, sitting down around the table with mom.

“You have an accident, Yamato?” She asks, noticing the bandages on my left hand.

“Oh, no, I was just training with dad, is all.” I tell her. “I got him too.”

“You train hard, huh…” Mom says, a little bit solemnly, as she looks over to dad, who shrugged and started digging into his food. “You sure that’s a good idea?”

“What do you mean?” I ask her, looking up from my own meal.

“Well…” Mom puts a finger to her cheek. “I’m just… I’m worried about your safety is all… I mean, I know Ishi tends to be a bit tough in his training, but…”

“It’s fine, mom.” I tell her. “So what if I get a scratch or two?”

“Asuka, it’s alright.” Dad says to her between bites of his food. “You know what kind of training the style requires.”

“Well… I know that, but…” Mom sighs and shakes her head. “Nevermind… forget I said anything.”

“Something wrong?” Dad asks.

“No, no, it’s nothing.” She said in a tone that almost succeeded in fooling us into thinking that was the truth.

Either way, we both dropped it. I shrug and get back to my meal, not thinking much of it. I understood her concern about the way we sparred, but it was evident that she’s seen the training before. Hell, she’s even practiced in the art herself, though not nearly at the level my father is now at.

“Anyway…” Mom changes the subject. “How is that whole situation with End War Online going?”

“Well…” I take a quick sip of my drink. “I’m not entirely sure… I mean, there’s this whole thing revolving around me in the game.”

“Like what?” Dad asks.

“I’m the third Nephilim I was looking for.” I say. “And now everyone is after me because I’m apparently supposed to bring about the end of the universe or something.”

Mom and dad stay silent for a few seconds.

“Sounds fantastic!” Dad says in a cheery voice.

“Not really…” I say. “It’s a pain in the ass… I need a break from it all.”

“You’re not in any danger, are you?” Mom asks, worried. “I mean, you can log out of the game, do you think it’s a good idea to log back in with the risks involved?”

“I don’t know…” I take a bite of my meal, leaning my head on my hand. “But I need to help out my friends in the game. There’s gotta be some way to fix all of this…”

“You think you can find out on your own?” Dad asks.

“I don’t know… right now the thing most on my mind is this whole business with me and the destruction of everything.”

“That wouldn’t be too good if anything like that happened…” Dad said. “I mean, there are a lot of people on that game. I mean, SAO only had 10,000 players. A lot of people died there.”

That immediately sent a red flag up with me… him mentioning SAO so casually like that suddenly made me make the connection… Callahan was saying before, there was a Blade Master… I had dismissed the thought of it being my own father, but he sounded like he had experience with SAO by his tone of voice…

“How do you know that?” I question him.

“Looked it up.” Dad told me casually, dismissing the slight aggressiveness of my tone. He said it in a tone that didn’t make me believe he was lying, but he also came up with the answer a little bit too quickly…

“Speaking of SAO…” I say, staying on the subject. “This whole event is pretty similar to it from what I’ve heard.”

“I can imagine.” Dad said.

“What exactly do you know about the SAO Incident?” I ask him.

“What do you mean?” He asks, pausing with a bit of food in his mouth.

“You seem oddly sympathetic to my situation.” I tell him.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” He asks. “You’re my son. It’s only natural for me to be worried about you.”

“Before, the first time we went to that lake behind the temple… you said you aren’t who I think you are.” I stare at him. “What are you, then?”

“Yamato…” Mom says.

Dad sighs and puts down his utensils, taking on a more serious tone.

“Get to your point.”

“I want to know what you’re hiding from me.” I say plainly.

“I’m not hiding anything.”

“Bullshit.”

“Yamato!” Mom again says.

“Yamato, we can talk about this later.” My father tells me.

“I want to know now.” I demand.

“It’s not important now.”

“Like hell it isn’t.”

“Both of you!” Mom shouts, silencing both of us. “If there’s something between you two, you can work it out later! Right now, all I want is to have dinner!”

We both settle down at that and get back to eating, but there was no way I was done with him… there was something about him that I didn’t like… I was only now starting to see a different side of him… either that, or I had always seen it but hadn’t started noticing until now. Something about how he seemed to be able to empathize with this whole situation in End War Online made me a bit uneasy about him…

There was definitely something he wasn’t telling me… probably a lot of things, actually… but at my mother’s request, I’d put that aside for now. It didn’t really matter; one way or another I was getting to the bottom of this.

---

December 24th

Christmas Eve. Yay. I guess.

It was still cold as hell, and stupid shit in End War Online was still going on, so I didn’t really have too much to celebrate… well, it was winter break now, I guess… we got two weeks off for that, going back early January, but I never really did anything. I didn’t have any friends to go out with, and there wasn’t much worth doing around town, so I’d probably end up doing the same thing I was doing before: End War.

This past week I wasn’t spending too much time on End War. I had logged on only two days out of the week. I was spending most of my time either with my father, sparring or at the temple lake, which was frozen over, or researching the SAO Incident.

More specifically, I was trying to find player records.

Problem was that kind of thing was confidential.

I was looking for the player records because I suspected that my father was this Blade Master I first heard of from Callahan. Since then, I’ve looked into it and found out that there was in fact an individual in SAO whose title was Blade Master. On top of that, he was noted as being one of the most skilled and influential players in the game, described as a hero by some and a monster by others… he was a player killer, and a deadly one at that. I didn’t know much else other than personal accounts from people who had survived the incident. Nobody knew his real name, so I figured only the official player records would have the roster.

But… yeah, confidentiality and all that. The only way I was going to be able to see the roster was if I somehow contacted one of the moderators for the game or if I did it illegally… so more than likely I wasn’t going to be able to find out for sure that way, but I was still trying to see what I could find out by just looking around on the internet.

I was currently searching on forums and message boards about the subject. I was able to get in touch with a few of the survivors who gave me some accounts of what they knew, but none of them seemed to have ever been in really close contact with the guy. They just told me stories they’ve heard about him, like how he apparently killed the deadliest player killer in the entire game. That was probably the most common story among all the accounts I’ve heard, so I could probably safely assume that was something that was true. Other stories told of how he worked with a guild called Pendragon Court, which was apparently a pretty renown guild in the game, and others claimed he was some kind of unsung hero who saved the entire game from being destroyed by… something… and very few people were even aware. And some stories were just… all over the place. Not really even worth mentioning.

I had talked to Callahan more about it, but he didn’t know much more than I did. I knew his father had met the Blade Master, and was defeated by him, but stupidly enough, he apparently never caught his actual name… couldn’t rely on him on that.

I didn’t want to confront my father about it… well… no, that’s not true. I did want to know… but at the same time I was afraid of what I’d find out. I didn’t know my father like I thought I did… all this time he had a side to him that he had never shown before; one that I was only now starting to see.

Maybe I could ask mom… yeah… yeah, I think I would. I’d probably have to if I wanted to find out any more about all this. I decided when she got home from work that I’d ask her about it privately.

---

When mom finally got home, the first thing I did was ask to speak with her privately. She seemed confused, but agreed anyway. Once she was done getting out of her normal work clothes into more casual wear, she came into my room, shutting the door behind her. I spin in my chair to face her from my laptop.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” She asks me.

“I want to know what dad had to do with the SAO Incident.” I say plainly. “I figured since you married the guy, you’d know.”

She straightened up a bit when I said this, but closed her eyes and sighed.

“Alright.” She said. “You’re old enough now to know… and I doubt your father will tell you.”

She walked over and sat down on the bed, looking down to her lap and lacing her fingers. She sighs again, before she finally confirms my suspicions.

“Your father is a survivor of SAO.” She said. “So am I… as a matter of fact, that’s how we met.”

That, I didn’t expect… my mother and father met in a death game…

“I looked around, did some research.” I tell her. “I’ve been able to dig up some things about him. Things about defeating the deadliest player killer in the game and working for a guild named Pendragon Court.”

“Yamato Ovan.” Mom said. “Your namesake… you know of him… Amaterasu’s previous owner. He was known as the Wandering Swordsman, and it’s true… he was the deadliest player killer in the game. He was near undefeatable with a blade.”

“But he beat him…”

“It was a long and hard journey, but yes, he did.” Mom sighed. “You see, Ishi and Yamato were alike in many ways… the two reflected each other perfectly but in different ways. Yamato had a goal for Ishi… he wanted him to become strong enough to kill him.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because he knew that your father was the only person in the game who was able to wield both Skeith and Corbenik.” She said. “Skeith and Corbenik were two glitches that made it into the game… Skeith had the power to corrupt and destroy just about everything in the game. Most people who had encountered it were instantly killed… the thing changed the rules of the game wherever it went. Corbenik was its opposite equal. Corbenik was able to counteract Skeith’s corruptive properties as well as heal damage it had done. Your father came across both and ended up being able to wield both, as well as fusing them together… and ultimately destroying both.”

“I… I don’t get it.”

“It’s difficult to explain properly.” Mom smiled. “But… there was an entire war over this… over Skeith and Corbenik… and over him. You won’t find much about it, being overshadowed by more well known conflicts… but I saw it. I was a part of it. It was a bloody war that took many lives… it almost took your father’s at one point.”

That struck me as odd… I mean, sure, my father was way younger during SAO, and surely he wasn’t as good back then as he is now… but I found it difficult to picture my father being outmatched by anything. It must’ve been rough…

“Your father went through so much to ensure the survival of the entire game.” Mom continued. “If it weren’t for him… more than likely everyone would’ve died. Everyone in the game… people will never know just how close they game to being completely destroyed.”

She smiled faintly.

“That was Yamato’s wish… even though he was viewed as the most dangerous player in the game… someone to be feared… his one wish was to save everyone. He gave his life to that end. He had one last fight with your father… one final test to make sure he could carry on the war he had fought before him… and in the end, Ishi finished it for good.”

“He saved everyone…” I mull over that fact… I had no idea about any of this. Before any of this I wouldn’t have even suspected these things he had done.

“You inherited quite a bit from him, you know.” My mother smiles at me. “You have his spirit… his drive and determination; the kinds of things that made him a true Blade Master.”

“Is that why…” I say. “Is that why I… I can feel blades? Is that why I can see those memories, and why when I have a blade my hands I… I feel… I don’t know…”

“You feel complete.” Mom said. “With a blade in your hands you feel like something missing from you is found. You’re naturally attuned to wield a blade, just like he is.”

“That’s what that’s all about…” I say quietly to myself. I take a deep breath and sigh outwards. “Blade Master… that was his title, right?”

“Yes.”

“What does that mean? What does it mean to be a Blade Master?”

“That’s…” Mom began, but only sighed. “That’s something that can’t be explained.”

“Why not?”

“It’s something you need to experience for yourself.” Mom explained. “When the time comes, you’ll know what it means.”

I was about to question that, but we hear a knock at the front door. We look over to the noise, before we both stand up and head over to the front of the house.

When we get there, I hang back in the hallway as my mom opens the front door. Standing there were two men… young men, actually. Looked to be in their early to mid-twenties. They weren’t door-to-door salesmen, by the looks of it. They were dressed in casual winter outfits as they stood at the front porch.

“Hello, ma’am.” One of them greeted. “We’re looking for a Yamato Haseo… are you his mother?”

Mom looks back to me, and I walk up to the front door, staring the two men down.

“Are you Yamato?” The same one asks.

“Depends on who’s asking.” I say.

“My name is Shinji Nakajima.” He introduced himself. “This is my associate, Kou Shinden. We’re from the EWO Team here in Japan.”

Oh boy…

“Okay…” I say cautiously. “So what do you want?”

“If it’s alright with you and your parents, we’d like to speak with you.” Shinji said. “Over lunch, maybe?”

I look to my mother, who looked to me, but then back at Shinji and Kou.

“What’s this about?” She asks.

“We’d just like to discuss some things about the recent occurrences in End War Online.” Kou stated. “He’s not in trouble or anything.”

“What’s going on here?” I hear a voice behind the two say. We look back and I see dad there.

“Oh, are you Yamato’s father?” Shinji asks.

“I asked what’s going on here.” My father said plainly.

“We were hoping we could speak to Yamato.” Kou told him.

“It’s about what’s been going on in End War.” I tell him.

“What about it?” He asks.

“Well…” Shinji looks to Kou, then back to my father. “You know about the glitch in the system that trapped everyone in the game. This was caused by a group within the game that have since eliminated all means of us tracking them or stopping them from doing whatever they want in the game. We wanted to talk to Yamato because we believe he can help us.”

“Help you?” I ask. “How?”

“We can explain over lunch.” Shinji said. “If that’s alright with you two.”

Mom looked over to dad and he looked to her, going back and forth between the two and each other. My dad sighs after a brief silence.

“Fine.” He says. “Yamato, you can go.”

“Should I?” I ask.

“Don’t worry, you aren’t in trouble.” Shinji smiles. “Besides, lunch is on us.”

---

We went to a local restaurant and ordered our lunches. We were having lunch inside, since the outside tables were for insane people who liked to have their meals as cold as ice in two seconds. Luckily, today was a slow day for the restaurant and we were able to get a table in the far corner of the building where we could talk in private. When we ordered our lunches and the waitress went away, Shinji got to talking.

“Alright… down to business…” He said. “You know all about how this group managed to completely wreck the game and keep everyone inside. They’ve denied us access to the player servers where the Nexus Rift operates, pretty much shutting us out of the entire system.”

“What does that mean?” I ask.

“It basically means there’s nothing we can do from the outside.” Kou stated. “In order to regain control of the systems we’d need to reset the entire mainframe…”

“And doing that will kill everyone in the game.” I finish for him.

“Exactly…”

“So what do you want me to do about it?” I ask.

“Well… we know you’re the third Nephilim.” Shinji explained. “And we know you’re the second Void Avatar. See, this whole storyline involving all the lore was supposed to be part of a special event… but with everything that’s been happening of late that event is now out of our plans.”

“From mods we have in the game we’ve been able to deduce that this AEP are definitely after you, for whatever reason.” Kou carried on. “We don’t know what they’re end goal is for you, but if they were willing to lock everyone, even themselves, in the game, and risk their own lives for it, we can’t imagine it’s anything good.”

“We believe you can stop them.” Shinji said. “You carry a lot of influence in the game, whether you realize it or not. Not only from a lore perspective, but by the fact that these AEP guys are after you exclusively.”

“Locking everyone in the game was smart…” Kou put a hand up to his chin. “Odds are they were trying to lock you in as well, but even when that didn’t work they must’ve known you’d log back in…”

“I logged back in because I want to make sure my friends make it out alive.” I say.

“Which means they must know about your friends as well…” Shinji deduced. “They knew about you being a Nephilim, and about your friends… they probably have access to all our player records, so they know who everyone is and who they associate with among everything else.”

“The only good thing about that is that they can’t monitor your activity outside that; messaging and ISDs and the like.” Kou said. “For legal reasons we aren’t allowed to monitor player activity completely. Part of privacy and all.”

“So you want me to stop them… somehow.” I say.

“Yeah, that’s about right.” Shinji said. “Not too bad, right?”

“These guys aren’t fucking around.” I say straightly. “They’re willing to go to great lengths to do whatever it is they’re doing.”

The waitress came in with our meals, and once she left again and we got to eating, we continued conversing.

“We know that…” Shinji continued. “But if they’re going after you, you’ll be the one with the ability to strike at them directly.”

“I barely know how to control my abilities.” I tell them. “I don’t think I’d be able to do much.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” Kou agreed. “At least not yet, anyway.”

“As a Nephilim you have the ability to learn to harness your abilities much more quickly than others.” Shinji explained. “Unfortunately… your abilities also center around Void, so it’ll be pretty damn risky.”

“No shit…” I mutter, taking a bite of my meal. “So do you have any ideas on what they could be planning?”

“Well, to us, it kind of looks like they’re trying to use you to initiate the Second Void Insurrection…” Kou speculated. “For what reason? We have no clue… it’s damn near impossible for us to get any info on them with how sneaky they’re being.”

“But, like we said, we believe you have the ability to directly fight back against them.” Shinji said. “These guys are playing with fire. They know how dangerous you can be to them, that’s a reason why they’re keeping to the shadows. If you can raise your abilities and snuff them out, there wouldn’t be much they can do.”

“They can fix the glitch?” I ask.

“Well… no, that’s the other thing.” Shinji said. “Freeing everyone from inside the game without permanently wiping the game would require a safe reset.”

“Safe reset?”

“Completing the game is a safe reset, to give an example.” Kou informed me, sighing afterwards. “The problem is… EWO doesn’t have an ending. It’s supposed to be radial and always changing.”

“So… we’re screwed?” I ask.

“No…” Shinji thought it over in his head. “No, there must be another way. Maybe… if there was some sort of… shift in the world… like, a metaphorical reset of the entire universe in the game… maybe that would be enough to safely reset the game world and reestablish our connection with the Rift Core.”

“How the hell would that work?”

“Well, it’s kinda hard to explain…” Shinji smiled and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Basically, if a large shift occurs in the game on such a scale as what we’re talking about, their control over our systems can be disrupted enough to allow us access to the system. Just one small window is what we’d need to take back the system.”

“Huh… I guess it’s kind of easy, actually…” Shinji smiled nervously.

“The game is adaptive.” Kou continues. “It constantly attunes itself to every player’s actions in the game, shaping branching storylines that intertwine, separate, run parallel or together… it’s a complex system that’s meant to enhance reality beyond what could be achieved before. You can think of the entire system as a large pond. It moves and ripples naturally with player actions, constantly changing without ever being the exact same shape twice. Throwing small rocks into the pond is the equivalent of player-made events that affect other people within a small area, or a large area depending on the scale of it. What we’re talking about is like tossing a giant boulder into the pond, creating a large wave that washes over everything. This would be enough to break their control over the system and allow us to regain access.”

“Hrm…” I put a hand to my mouth and conceptualize what he was saying. “Alright… I think I understand…”

The system behind EWO was complex, alright… it was amazing how it worked compared to standard technologies. I mean, sure, it wasn’t perfect. Technically, it’s still an experimental system. It’s the first of its kind, after all. But if such a system could be refined… who knows what could be made possible?

“Would the Second Void Insurrection be enough of an event to do that?” I ask.

“Well… no.” Shinji said. “The way that would work, it’s not instantaneous. Void slowly seeps into the world over time. It’s not like a-” He snaps his fingers. “Bang, you’re done. It wouldn’t cause enough of an immediate impact to do what we’re after.”

“What about the other two Nephilim?” I ask. “You contact them about all this?”

“As a matter of fact, we have.” Shinji says.

“The team has already brought them up to speed on the situation.” Kou explained. “We think all three of you will be able to pull this off somehow.”

“Somehow?” I say. “So you don’t even know how we’d go about doing this.”

“Unfortunately, no…” Shinji bowed his head. “That’s the problem… since the system is so random and unpredictable, there’s no definite one-way solution to anything. The players inside the game make it happen, not us.”

“Especially now since we lost access.” Kou noted.

“Well…” I take the last sip of my drink, setting it back down flatly on the table. “Either way, my goal in the first place was to stop these guys, so I guess that doesn’t change… but doing something like this on a universal scale… that’s gonna be hard.”

“Harder than you know.” Shinji said. “But we wouldn’t be talking to you right now if we didn’t think you could pull it off.”

“Kind of a tall order considering nobody even knows how to make something like this happen.” I say.

“Well… what do you say?” Shinji asks. “Will you help us out?”

I cross my arms and close my eyes, thinking it over. One way or another, I was going to take down this AEP group, that was for certain. This thing about them trying to cause a Second Void Insurrection using me as a catalyst seemed completely insane to me… I couldn’t figure out why they’d want to do that, or even how, really. Did they think that I would somehow cause it? Or were they going to try to force it out of me… I had no idea. I couldn’t come up with an answer no matter how hard I tried; the information just wasn’t there right now.

“Well…” I said. “One way or another, this AEP is going down. And if somewhere along the line I see an opportunity to pull this crazy plan of yours off, I’m going to do it.”

“So you’re in?”

“I’m not going to do it because you asked me to.” I clarify. “I’m doing it because there are people in there whose lives are in danger.”

“Fair enough.” Kou said.

“Alright… now that’s settled…” Shinji sighed. “Now, unfortunately we won’t be able to help you much with this. You’re pretty much on your own with Michael and Amanda on this one.”

“Have you met up with either?” Kou asked.

“I’ve met Michael.” I say.

“You might want to speak to Amanda next, then.” Shinji said. “Maybe she can help you out a bit more with this.”

I sigh as I finish up my meal.

“This is all a bunch of bullshit…” I mutter.

So I guessed my next course of action was to meet up with Amanda in Hell… hopefully it wouldn’t be as eventful a visit as Heaven was…

Chapter 17

December 29th

So my next order of business was to get into Hell to visit Amanda. Now, I couldn’t pass in between worlds myself quite yet, I still had a ways to go before I could do it on Christen’s level. Speaking of him, the reason why I couldn’t get his help in getting into Hell was because he was busy with the Divine Court, and especially the Archon, who hadn’t forgotten about my little episode in Heaven. Oh yes, he was still pretty mad at me. I did give Christen an update on the whole situation, however, and he told me whenever things got rough he’d back me up, so I had his support.

I had told Callahan about the situation as well, and had asked him some days ago about the whole thing and he told me he’d look into it, but he hasn’t gotten back to me since, so I can only assume he hasn’t found a solution yet. But apparently Callahan had some friends in high places, so if anyone could get me a ticket to ride the Hellcoaster it’d be him.

But for now I was just hanging around, training with Void and progressively getting better at using it. I was currently in the training yard, which had by now been repaired from the damages I had caused a while back. I was slowly learning how to fully harness my abilities and bring it forth into reality. I’d swipe my hand, and black energy would appear to cut through the air. I’d push my open hand forward and a swirling black cloud of energy would appear, then I’d clench my fist and it would collapse violently inwards before exploding outwards. I’d pull my arms down and raise them up to have Void lash outwards in front of me. It all felt… well… natural would be too strong a term for it… but that’s honestly the only way I could properly describe the feeling I got whenever I seized control over this dangerous and terrifying power. I felt a connection to it… like I was always meant to wield it.

I look to my hand, bringing to life a black flame in its palm. I stare at the energy… the fact that the sun was out didn’t seem to have an effect on it. It didn’t respond to light… it didn’t reflect or refract light in any way, if anything it seemed to absorb light that hit it. It was just a pitch black flame of… nothingness. Looking at it in my hand I could understand why everyone was wary of it. It was something they didn’t understand… something they couldn’t understand… and it frightened them. This was not the case for me, however. Somehow, I did understand it… I could conceptualize what it was in my head, though no words could ever explain it, for how would one describe nothing?

There was also the matter of those dreams… I was still having them most nights. The same dream over and over… but I noticed over time the dreams were starting to become more and more lucid. Another thing I noticed is how I felt in the dreams… it felt alarmingly like I did when wielding Void… a familiar yet foreign feeling. I could only assume by this that the two were in some way related… like my dreams were trying to tell me something about Void…

And lastly, there was my father. I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable about the whole situation with him. I knew from what mom told me that he was keeping things from me… had been keeping things from me all my life. Why didn’t he want me to know these things about him? What was he so afraid of?

My thoughts were interrupted when I hear Blenheim’s voice call out to me.

“Oi, scrub!” He walked out onto the training yard as I looked over to him, traces of black energy still circling around me before disappearing in the sunlight.

“What’s up?” I ask him.

“Those are some pretty neat tricks you got, there…” He put a hand up to his chin. “I mean, I could still kick your ass, but even so… neat.”

“Whatever you say, man.” I summon Void and cast it outwards to cut into a nearby cement wall, putting a bit more force into it just to intimidate him a bit as the entire thing crumbled as it was sliced clean in two.

“It’s the last Friday of the month, you know.” Blenheim said.

“Oh yeah… our match.” I say, sighing up into the sky as I stretch myself out. “I don’t know, man… with my powers the way they are right now I don’t think that’s such a good idea… could accidentally kill you or something.”

“Don’t think you can take me down that easily!” He smirked, raising a fist. “I’ll always be better than you!”

Something told me he was SEVERELY underestimating the forces at work here. He wouldn’t be saying this had he seen my outburst in Heaven… I don’t think he fully understood just what a Nephilim was capable of… hell, neither was I.

“Have you even seen what a Nephilim can do?” I ask him. “Better yet, have you seen what Void can do?”

“Why don’t you show me?” He smiled cockily.

Yeah, that’s Blenheim for you; always too big for his britches.

“Whatever, man.” I toss my arms out and let them fall back to my sides. “I’m not taking responsibility if anything happens.”

“Sure, sure.” Blenheim says in a sardonic manner.

---

I was leaning back on my corner of the ring, as Blenheim faced me, getting ready for our monthly sparring match. Honestly, I thought this was a super dumb idea. I knew Blenheim had taken on some pretty fearsome opponents in the past… but now he was going up against something he had no chance of ever understanding… I didn’t know what would happen. But I figured I could at least control myself. I’d been doing a pretty good job at it recently. I haven’t had any other violent outbursts like the one that almost got me fucking executed, so well done there.

Still… I was a bit worried. I mean, Blenheim was a total fuckhead, but that didn’t mean that I wanted him dead. I think… he’s a dick.

“Alright…” Blenheim tapped his foot on the ground twice and stretched himself out, swiveling his head a bit and stepping out into the ring. “Ready to lose?”

“Sure, whatever.” I say, stepping out to face him.

We took our stances, Blenheim raising fists in front of himself and me putting my left leg forward and my left hand out and open, ready to take anything he had to throw at me.

He came at me first, after a brief period of waiting, and I push his punch out of the way. He reacts by swinging his heel around to try to nail me in the head. I grab his leg and twist around, grabbing his other leg and sweeping him off the ground, spinning him into the air and letting him fall hard onto the mat. I try to finish him off there, but he kicks me back and flips back onto his feet.

“Lucky…” He muttered.

I don’t respond and instead take my stance as he comes at me again. I dodge two punches and grab a third grabbing his leg when he tried to kick me. I bend back around and let him go at an awkward angle for him, forcing him to try to regain his balance as I capitalize on the opening, nailing him in the stomach. The blow was enough to send him back a few feet and reeling to catch his breath. He shook it off, however, and came at me again. I block and evade everything he throws at me, being forced into the corner. Before he’s able to lock me in, though, I jump backwards and land on the corner pole, front flipping over him and nailing him in the back with a kick as I came down, putting him into the corner as I backed up back into the center of the ring.

He came at me again, but I wasn’t exactly completely focused on the fight… for some reason I didn’t need to be. Compared to my last sparring match with him this felt… I don’t know… I felt faster and stronger… my senses felt heightened. I could see his attacks coming from a mile away and I knew exactly how to react. Normally I at least needed to pay attention in order to do this, but right now… it was second nature. I didn’t even need to focus on him. Information was coming from so many places at once and I could somehow comprehend each one of them perfectly. There was information coming in from places that I didn’t even know existed… a sixth sense telling me what was happening and what to do. It felt strange, but at the same time… it felt right.

Blenheim came at me again, but he left himself wide open for me, and I slip right past his punch in a cross-counter and nail a straight jab right into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him and making him cough up a bit of blood as I pushed him off my fist and let him fall to the ground. I look down at him on the ground as blood poured out of his mouth and he struggled to breathe…

Oh shit, I hit him way too hard.

“Shit, Blenheim!” I kneel down next to him as he hacks up blood, trying to breathe but also trying not to drown himself in his own blood.

“Fuck…” I curse. “Fucking fuck.”

I call Abigail on my UIP. She picks up after a few seconds.

“Hey, Yama-”

“Get down here now!” I shout before she can even finish. “Blenheim’s hurt bad!”

“Huh? Wait, what?” Abigail said, confused. “What’s going on, Yamato?”

“JUST GET DOWN HERE NOW!” I yell through the communicator, probably loud enough for her to hear me through the building as well.

“Okay, I’m on my way.” She says, registering the severity of the situation in my voice.

---

Abigail took Blenheim into the infirmary while I waited on the bench outside, waiting to hear his condition. It had been about an hour after she took him in there and I was worried… I figured I probably cause a shitload of internal damage with that punch. I looked down at my hand, realizing that I still had a long way to go before mastering my new abilities… God, I may have killed Blenheim… is this what being a Nephilim is like? Hurting my friends? I didn’t want that. I’d gladly give all this up if I could. I didn’t want it… not if this was what was going to happen.

I hear the infirmary door open up and Abigail comes out.

“He’ll be fine.” She said, making me sigh in overwhelming relief. “You did a number on him, though… he’s lucky you didn’t hit him in the chest. A blow like that would’ve shattered his ribcage and probably destroyed his heart and lungs.”

“For fuck’s sake…” I mutter, hanging my head low.

Abigail sat down next to me on the bench, sighing as she did.

“Hey.” She looked to me. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. You couldn’t have known.”

“I almost killed him, Abigail.” I turn my head to her. “Fucking hell, I can’t even control my own abilities now.”

“You just need more time, Yamato.” She put her hand on my shoulder. “I know all this business about you being Nephilim and this prophecy has you worried, but I’ve known you for long enough to know that you’ll find a way.”

“I don’t know…” I sigh, looking down into my lap.

“You will, Yamato.” Abigail said sternly. “You won’t let yourself be beaten by this.”

“A lot of people are going to die.” I say plainly, silencing Abigail. “People have already died since the AEP locked everyone in the game, and with this whole business around me and this Second Void Insurrection and everything else the body count is only going to get higher.”

“Yamato…”

“I’m going to be responsible for a lot of those deaths. Directly or not, my existence will require others to end.”

“You shouldn’t think like that.” Abigail said. “It’s not healthy.”

“Kind of hard not to.” I say. “I just… I have a really bad feeling about all this…”

I sigh and stand up from the bench, walking away down the hallway. Abigail didn’t try to stop me.

---

“This… is… bullshit.” I say as I kick an empty soda can down the street, hands in my pockets as the breeze rolled past me.

It looked like it was about to rain. Dark clouds hung above me and the breeze was picking up. The sound of distant thunder could occasionally be heard as I made my way downtown. I decided I needed a bit of a walk after almost killing my friend… to contemplate a bit on recent events as well as to cool myself off. I had been out walking for around an hour now, and I walked through downtown Halfen. Downtown was still a pretty busy area of the city… not nearly as busy as uptown, of course, where Maverick and the Rangers were stationed and all, but it was much more quiet, even with other people walking around. I was on my way to Abernelle, deciding that a good meal would do me some good…

“Ah… oh, dear…” I hear a voice say from around the next corner.

I turn the corner and see a young girl there, trying to carry a few boxes on top of one another… it looked like she was having some trouble getting them stacked right for her to be able to carry all three of them at once. She put down the boxes and bent down, putting her hands on her knees to catch her breath.

“Need some help with that?” I ask her, startling her slightly.

“Ah!” She jumped. “Oh… oh, no, I… I can get it.”

She went back down to try to get the boxes again, finding it difficult to lift them up. I sigh and take two of the boxes out of her hands, carrying them both at once and leaving her with just one to carry, which was no problem for her.

“Um… thank you.” She said.

“Where’re you headed?” I ask her.

“Oh… just this way.” She said, walking back down the street while I followed.

“Running some errands?” I ask her as we walk.

“Yeah.” She said. “I’m usually stuck with the errands since Mr. A can’t be asked to get up off his butt to get supplies himself…”

“Mr. A?” I ask.

“Oh, my boss.” She looked back to me. “You’ll meet him when we get back to the office. Chances are he’s sleeping on the couch…”

“Sounds like a great boss.” I smirk.

“If it weren’t for me he wouldn’t even have business to run!” The girl said. “He’s always so lazy… and he always hands out money to complete strangers!”

“What kind of business does he run?” I wondered, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s a loan company.” She explained. “We’re called Nights Finance… it’s just the two of us… me and Mr. A…”

“You say he hands out money to strangers?”

“He barely charges interest in his loans.” She said. “He only ‘tests’ people to see if they’re worth giving money to!”

“What, he just gives them money?” I ask. “That’s it?”

“Basically…” She sighs. “It’s a wonder we’re still in business…”

“Yeah, how are you in business? Seems like a loan company that barely charges interest and just hands out money would’ve gone bankrupt a long time ago.”

“I don’t know…” She says as we make our way down a back alley and towards a flight of metal stairs. “It’s just up here.”

I look up the stairs and find that it goes up just two flights up to the second floor of the building, where I see a single door. Strange place to have the entrance to your business…

“Why is this place in an alleyway?” I ask the girl as we make our way up the stairs.

“Well, Mr. A’s office is also his home.” She responded. “This used to be a big apartment complex until everyone else left. He’s the only one who stayed.”

“Hm…”

We get to the second floor landing and the girl pushes open the door which for some reason was unlocked and already slightly open.

“He left the door open again…” She muttered as we stepped inside.

I look around the room… it was a small office with a single computer on the far side, a coffee table in the center that had a few books and magazines strewn about it, a big bookshelf with various books on it to one wall, and two black leather sofas to both sides of the table. On one such sofa, I saw a man lying on his back, a magazine over his face and sleeping soundly.

“Mr. A!” The girl said, setting down her box in a corner, while I put the other two down with it. She stepped up to the man on the couch, taking the magazine off his face. “Come on, wake up.”

“Ngh…” The man groaned, turning over to his side away from her.

“Hey!” She said, sighing and hanging her head before looking to me. “I’m sorry. He’s always like this…”

Mr. A turns back over onto his back, this time eyes open as he yawns and sits up on the couch.

“Oh, hey, Kirie…” He said tiredly, before looking over to me. “Oh, a client?”

“Not exactly.” I say. “I was just helping out Kirie with these boxes.”

“Oh, right! I sent her on an errand…” He stood up off the couch and went over to the boxes, opening one of them up and taking out cups of instant lunch noodles. “Been running low on these.”

He got to stocking up the cups into a cupboard he had in a corner of the room, which looked to be filled with nothing but instant lunches.

“Sorry about this…” Kirie stepped up to me. “He’s not all bad…”

“I like him already.” I smirk.

“Alright… there we go…” Mr. A smiled as he completed restocking the pantry before closing it up and turning to me. “I appreciate you helping Kirie get these to me.”

“Do you just live off instant lunches or something?” I ask.

“Sort of…” He shrugs.

“Those boxes were heavy… and they were just filled with instant lunches…”

He shrugs again, smiling.

“I guess I should introduce myself, heh?” He smiled, rubbing the back of his head. “I’m Seiji Akyama. This is my assistant, Kirie Sugihara.”

“Ah! I’m sorry!” She bowed to me. “I forgot to introduce myself!”

“It’s fine…” I hold a hand open. “I’m Yamato. Yamato Haseo.”

“Alright then, Yamato…” Akiyama said, sitting back down on his couch. “What brings you all the way out to our little suburb?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well you’re obviously not from around here.” He smiled. “I can tell just by the way you walk and talk… you’re from the big city.”

“Observant fucker, aren’t you?” I say.

“Hah… sometimes.” He laughs, sighing afterwards.

“I was just out for a walk.” I explain.

“Long walk.” He said.

“Yeah…”

“What’s up?”

“Nothing important.”

“Really?” He raised an eyebrow. “Now, don’t call me arrogant… but I like to think I’m pretty good a judging someone’s character…”

“And?”

“I can tell more than just where you’re from by the way you walk.” He smiled warmly.

Oh boy… this guy…

“That so?” I ask.

He nods.

I take another look around the office, deciding to change the subject.

“Kirei told me you run a financial company.” I say. “Doesn’t look like much…”

“You think so?” Akiyama says. “I don’t know… I think it looks homey.”

“This is your home.” I mention.

“Heh… Kirie told you that, huh.” He smiles bashfully.

Unprofessional is the word I would use to describe this man… but that wasn’t all bad, I guess. I mean, I consider myself unprofessional as hell but I still manage to make a ton of money. Then again, I was a mercenary… this guy worked in finance.

“So what’s your interest rate, if it’s okay to ask?”

“Eh… I don’t know…” Akiyama sighs. “One… two percent?”

“One perc… how the hell are you even a business?!” I say in disbelief.

“Yeah… that’s what everyone says…” Akiyama smiles. “But, you know, we still get business… though the loan sharks around here don’t really like the fact that I barely charge any interest on my loans…”

“How do you deal with them?” I question.

“Eh… beat the holy hell out of them, usually.” Akiyama stretched himself out. “What do you do for a living?”

“Mercenary.” I say.

“Ah… should’ve figured with all those weapons you’re carrying around.”

“You’re a mercenary?” Kirie asked. “Are you a freelancer or do you work for a contractor?”

“I’m with Maverick.” I explain.

“Maverick, huh?” Akiyama put a hand up to his thin beard. “Interesting… I’ve heard you guys are pretty good.”

“I’ve heard that too.” I say.

I sit down on the other couch and sigh.

“Want something to drink?” Akiyama offers.

“Got water?” I ask.

He nods and gets up, heading over to the fridge to grab a bottle of water, tossing it across the room over to me. I catch it and twist it open, taking a sip and sighing again afterwards.

“So you aren’t gonna let me in on what’s bothering you?” Akiyama asked. “I could help.”

“It’s nothing anyone can help with, really…” I say. “I don’t want to drag other people into it anyway.”

“So… it’s something dangerous, then?”

“Yeah…”

“Dangerous?” Kirie looked to me worriedly. “Will you be alright?”

“We just met and already you care?” I look to her curiously.

“Well… yes, of course, I do!” She said. “I don’t want other people to get hurt!”

“Hm…” I take another sip of water before receiving a message on my UIP.

I open it up and see it’s from Octavia.

I heard about what happened. Are you alright? Abigail told me you walked off somewhere afterwards. Please give me a call or something so I can make sure you’re okay.

I expected this much from Octavia… after all, we were childhood friends. She knew me probably better than anyone else in the game. It was a shame that her recent contracts have kept her out most of the time, as well as all my business with being a Nephilim and all.

“Girlfriend?” Akiyama asked as I closed the message.

“Not exactly.” I say. “Childhood friend.”

“You have a girlfriend?”

“No.”

“Plan on getting one?”

“Not anytime soon.”

“Why’s that?”

“Why are you asking me bullshit questions?”

He chuckles and leans back on the couch, putting his hands behind his head.

“Don’t know…” He says. “Just curious, I guess.”

“You shouldn’t be so intrusive, Mr. A…” Kirie sighs.

“Heh, I guess not…” He smiles sheepishly and rubs the back of his head.

“Do I look like the kind of guy who’d have a girlfriend to you?” I ask.

“Eh… not really…” Akiyama says, leaning forward. “That’s why I was asking.”

“I’d say that’s not really any of your business.”

“I guess not…”

I take another sip of my water when the door opens and someone steps inside, the sound of rain being heard behind the footsteps. I look over and see Callahan, folding up a wet umbrella and setting it down in a corner.

“Hey, Seiji,” He says, before looking over to me. “Oh… Yamato. Fancy seeing you here.”

“Could say the same about you.” I say. “How is it you somehow end up everywhere?”

“Who knows…” He shrugs.

“Hey, there, Jack!” Akiyama raises a hand. “What’s up? Usually you send Fuuka over here instead of showing up yourself!”

“Eh, she’s busy with other errands.” Callahan says. “Mitsuru wanted me to head over for this month’s loan.”

“Over there.” Akiyama pointed to a suitcase on the computer table, which Callahan walked over and picked up.

“Thanks.” He says.

“You find a way to get me into Hell, yet?” I ask Callahan.

“Unfortunately, no…” He sighs. “My contacts don’t go that far, I’m afraid…”

“Hell?” Akiyama asked. “Why do you need to go there? A normal person wouldn’t last three seconds in Demon territory.”

“Good thing I’m not a normal Human, then.” I say. “Not anymore.”

“Hybrid?” He asks.

“Not quite…”

“Seiji.” Callahan said. “Yamato is the third Nephilim.”

Kirie gasped at this, where Akiyama simply leaned back in his seat.

“Hm…” He says. “I see… interesting.”

“How so?” I ask.

“It’s just that I’ve heard that you’re the one the people who trapped us here are after.” He says.

“How would you know something like that?” I question.

“Jackie here isn’t the only one with connections.” He smiles. “I also know that the Aozaki Organization was also after you until recently…”

“Aozaki Organization?”

“The organization I work for.” Callahan said. “I already told you why that particular contract has been terminated.”

“Who gave you the contract?” I ask.

“We’re actually looking into that now.” Callahan answered. “We think it may have been a member of the AEP.”

“You too, huh?” I say.

A thought suddenly crossed my mind. Naoto… she never mentioned who her contractor was, nor why she was tasked with finding me… could she have also been contacted by the AEP…? Did she know? They tried to use her as well… what’s more, she was probably in even more danger if this was the case.

“Callahan.” I turn to him. “What did they say they wanted? What were the specifics of the contract?”

“Just to find you, nothing more.” Callahan explained. “They didn’t want us engaging you or bringing you in or anything else, just find you.”

“But… that doesn’t make any sense…” I say. “They had player records, they already knew me by name… why would they send you to find me if they already knew?”

Callahan put a hand up to his chin in thought.

“Damn… you’re right…” He said. “Something’s not right here…”

“They knew who I was… and they knew about me being the Void Avatar…” I look over the few facts we had. “They knew how to activate my abilities, and afterwards they made sure I wouldn’t leave before completely disappearing…”

“That I don’t understand, either…” Callahan said. “How do they know all this? How did they get this kind of information? They seem to know more about you than anyone else.”

“And further, what’s their end plan?” I question. “Why would they activate my abilities just to disappear… they had a perfect opportunity to capture me when I fell out of Void… I was pretty much helpless there.”

“But Rena and I managed to get you out no problem… there wasn’t even any resistance…” Callahan sat down next to Akiyama. “Damn, none of this is matching up…”

“Okay, hang on a sec…” Akiyama shook his head. “I’m completely in the dark here… what the hell are you two talking about?”

“The AEP.” I say. “The people who locked you guys in the game. They’re after me for whatever reason, but their behavior doesn’t make any sense… they sent Callahan and possibly Rena as well out to find me even though they already knew me by name, they knew about me being Void Avatar, as well as how to activate my powers, then they just let me get away, lock everyone in the game to make sure I wouldn’t leave, then just fall off the map entirely.”

“Sounds… confusing…” Akiyama scratched his head.

“On top of that, those mods you met up with think that they’re planning on using you to start the Second Void Insurrection…” Callahan said. “That doesn’t make much sense either. What would destroying everything accomplish?”

“I don’t fucking know, man…” I say. “But right now the thing I need to do is get into Hell somehow. I need to find Amanda and get her help with all this.”

“Amanda?” Kirie said. “You mean the Demon Nephilim?”

“That’s right.” I say. “Michael Christen is already on my side… but it’ll probably take all three of us to take on whatever these guys are planning.”

“Sounds like business way beyond my expertise…” Akiyama said, leaning back on the couch and sighing up towards the ceiling. “I’m just the manager of a lowly loan company.”

“One that never seems to go out of business.” Callahan commented.

“Yeah.” Akiyama chuckled.

“But then there’s the business of how I’m even supposed to get into Hell.” I say. “How would I go about doing that…?”

“Maybe Amanda is expecting you?” Callahan suggested. “I mean, Michael was, there could be a chance she knows you’ll be wanting to meet up with her.”

“But how would I get in contact with her?” I ask in return. “I can’t rely on Christen right now since he’s busy trying to keep Heaven’s attack dogs off by back.”

“Storm the gate?” Callahan shrugs. “You can get into Hellside Limbo easy enough. I’m guessing they guards there will probably take you in on account of you being the third Nephilim and all that.”

“Why would they let someone who’s supposedly going to destroy the entire universe into Hell?” I ask.

“Because they can’t kill you on the spot.” Callahan says. “They’d need to consult the Charred Council beforehand, as well as Rozalin, the Archdemon of Hell.”

“How do you know this?”

“Man in my line of work picks up a few things.” Callahan smiles. “Like I said, chances are Amanda is already expecting you to seek her out if you’ve already got Michael’s support.”

“That’s a big risk, you know.” I point out. “Heading right into enemy territory expecting to be captured… after my visit to Heaven it doesn’t really sound like the best of plans.”

“Only one you got.” Callahan took out a cigarette and lit it up, taking a few puffs before exhaling the smoke. “I don’t like the plan either. Right now with what’s been going on jumping right back into the fray probably isn’t the best idea.”

“I think I’ve been sitting on my ass long enough.”

“True…” Callahan holds his cigarette in his mouth as he speaks. “These AEP guys are no doubt still scheming right under our noses. We can’t afford to waste time now. We’ll all need to take risks if we’re going to catch them.”

Callahan sighs and takes the cigarette out of his mouth, holding it in between his index and middle fingers.

“Yamato.” He says. “I heard about what happened… with you and Blenheim.”

I don’t say anything. I just look at him.

“I want to level with you right now, Yamato. This whole business… it’s bigger than anyone can imagine.”

“Get to the point.” I say plainly.

“Heh… alright…” Callahan takes another puff of his cigarette and sighs heavily. “I’m sure you already know this, but as the third Nephilim, as a Void Avatar, death is going to be unavoidable. In order to stop the AEP you’ll need to be willing to do what’s necessary. You need to be prepared to kill without a moment’s hesitation if you’re going to get through this.”

I remain silent, allowing him to continue.

“Yamato… I’m worried you won’t be able to bring yourself to do it when the time comes, and I’m afraid that innocent lives could be lost as a result… you’re at the center of all this, and that means that when things heat up, death is going to be following you wherever you go. You need to be ready to take the lives of the few to save the lives of the many.”

I scowl at this, as he was simply reiterating something I already knew deep down… but what happened with me and Blenheim… the question I had for myself was this: if I would be willing to kill someone to save many… would I also be willing to kill a friend to do the same? If these bonds I had became detrimental to me and this cause, could I bring myself to sever those ties?

Do whatever’s necessary… no hesitation, no compromise. That was the logical thing to do. Sacrifice the few to spare the many… but I still had doubts… something that could kill me if I wasn’t careful.

“Yamato?” Callahan brought me out of my thoughts, noticing my expression. “Are you alright?”

“Ah… yeah…” I say. “I’m fine.”

“This isn’t a game anymore, Yamato.” He told me. “Like it or not, when the time comes, everything is going to come down onto you, and when it does, you need to be ready to make these decisions.”

“We’re talking about taking lives here.” I say. “Do you know what that’s like?”

“I may not know… but I probably will before this is all over. Many of us will have to in order to survive this.”

“I understand. I’ll… I’ll do what I need to do.”

Callahan noticed my hesitation, but spoke nothing of it as he nodded.

“So… you’ll head over to Hellside?” He asked.

“Yeah.” I respond. “That’s probably my best bet right now.”

“Man… I was feeling pretty good today…” Akiyama groaned. “All this talk about killing and stuff has me really bummed out now.”

“Yamato.” Callahan said. “Whatever happens, I got your back. I promise.”

I nod to him.

“Thanks.”

It reassured me a little to know Callahan was on my side… but still… taking lives… would I really be able to make the decision when the time came?

Chapter 18

I made it back to HQ later that day. Immediately upon entering, I see Octavia rush up to me. “Yamato!” She says. “Are you okay? Where’d you go off to?”

“I’m fine, Octavia.” I say, holding up a hand. “How’s Blenheim?”

“Oh… he’s doing better.” She told me. “Abigail’s still taking care of him right now.”

“Anyone else here?” I ask.

“Yeah, we’re here!” I hear Walker’s voice call from in the main room.

I walk in and see everyone save for Blenheim and Abigail was present. Jager was currently playing a game of cards with Walker at the side table, Lucy was reading a book, and Vixen was tinkering with some electronic thing.

“Hey, Yamato.” Walker waves. “You mind explaining what happened with you and Michael? Abigail told us you were doing your sparring match when you punched his guts in.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened.” I say. “I mean, I don’t really know what happened… it was an accident. I guess I’m still getting used to being Nephilim and all…”

“You alright, there, tovarich?” Jager asked. “Need a drink? Always cheers me up!”

“Thanks, I think I’ll pass.” I say.

“You sure you’re okay?” Octavia asked me, looking into my eyes. “You still look a bit shaken up…”

“Maybe I am…” I say. “But Blenheim is okay, at least.”

“Yeah…”

“So, you come up with any ways of getting into Hell while you were out?” Walker asked me.

“Spoke with Callahan.” I say. “I’m thinking my best bet is to just walk right up to the gates.”

“That sounds like a shit plan.” He replied.

“Yeah, seriously, now…” Lucy said, looking up from her book. “Where’d you get that one from?”

“I don’t have very many options, here.” I say. “Chances are Amanda is expecting me to look for her, so if I go to Hellside then I could just be let in by the Demons there.”

“You really think it’ll be that easy?” Vixen asked.

“Nothing is ever easy.” I point out.

“Well, considering you’re Nephilim and all that, I’d say we don’t really have to worry about your well-being.” Callahan said. “And I can see that little fact being your ticket into Hell.”

“You have any plans once you’re in?” Octavia asked.

“Ask for Amanda and request her support.” I say. “That’s pretty much all I’m going there for.”

“Well, if you can get the other two Nephilim on your side that’d be nice.” Lucy said. “Maybe they’ll be able to do more in tracking down the AEP than we have.”

“No luck?” I ask.

“They’ve completely disappeared…” Walker said. “There are no traces of them anywhere… it’s damn frustrating. We’ve made no progress in the entire time we’ve been searching.”

“Well, I’m sure three Nephilim can handle it.” Jager pointed out.

“Lucy.” I say. “I’m gonna need you to bring me into Hellside and take me as far into Demon territory as you can. I’ll be able to go the rest of the way on foot.”

“Now?” She asked. “Shouldn’t you prepare a bit first?”

“I’m plenty prepared.” I say. “Besides, I can’t afford to waste time.”

“Alright, I guess…” She said, marking the page and closing her book, setting it down on the table and getting up off the couch.

“You sure you’re ready?” Octavia asked in a worried tone. “After everything that’s happened don’t you think you should take a bit of a break?”

“I already took a break.” I told her. “I need to take care of this as soon as I can.”

Octavia looks to the floor, clearly not content with my decision. I put my hand on her shoulder.

“Relax, I’ll be fine.” I assure her, shaking her shoulder lightly. “Take it easy, alright?”

I walk over to Lucy.

“Ready to go?” I ask her.

“Whenever you are.” She replies.

“Be careful, alright?” Walker says.

“Yeah, wouldn’t want to lose my favorite drinking buddy!” Jager adds.

“I don’t even drink.” I comment.

“Exactly!” He says. “You’re the designated driver!”

He lets out a hearty laugh as he goes back to his game with Walker, and I head upstairs with Lucy to the roof, where the VTOL was waiting. I hopped right in while Lucy entered the cockpit, going through the usual startup sequences before lighting up the engines and lifting off, taking us up a ways before Lucy flipped the switch and brought us into Hellside. The world became distorted outside the aircraft, before everything came back into focus with a red hue. The landscape looked just about the same as in Heavenside Limbo, albeit more on fire and harder to see. I had a lovely view of the entire landscape from inside the VTOL; just miles and miles of ruined buildings and fire. Now, there were ruined buildings in Heavenside as well, but they were still more or less standing, just in need of some to a lot of repairs. In Hellside, almost everything was pretty much leveled due to how much Demons loved blowing shit up.

The transition into Hellside also brought forth a foreign source of power suddenly flowing through me… a sudden jolt, almost like a low electric current surging through my body that made me shake slightly. I figured since Limbo had more Anima floating about something like that was to be expected… Dark Anima would be my source of power here. I guess I didn’t need to worry about collateral damage seeing as everything was pre-wrecked for me.

“I’ll bring you as close to Hell’s gates as possible, Yamato.” Lucy called to me as I shook my head to get acquainted to the unfamiliar energies of this place. “You’ll have to go the rest of the way on foot.”

“Yeah, alright.” I say, sighing readying myself. I didn’t know what I was going to be facing around here… I didn’t know if I’d have to fight my way through or what… if I did, drawing Void out in a place like this shouldn’t be too much of a problem… then again, I’d do just as well trying my hand at the darker side of soulcraft.

As expected, it didn’t take too long for Lucy to get as far as she could safely get without being gunned out of the sky.

“Alright, Yamato.” She said. “Here’s your stop. Can’t find a decent place to land so you’re gonna have to jump.”

“What, so just because I’m Nephilim means I can jump from 100 feet in the air, now?” I joke.

“I’ll roll you out of this thing if you don’t get moving.” She smiled back at me. “You’re the one who said you don’t have time to waste.”

I flick two fingers back at her before hopping out of the aircraft, sailing down from the sky and landing on both my feet in the center of a ruined street, landing hard and kicking up dust with the impact, bending down and planting a hand onto the ground. I slowly stand up and dust myself off, looking back up to the VTOL as it sailed off. I was on my own from here on out.

“Agh…” I sigh. “This is such a bad idea…”

I get to walking, not knowing exactly how far I’d need to go, but I was sure a Demon patrol was bound to find me if I just kept walking in that direction.

---

20 Minutes Later

I’d been walking for around 20 minutes to half an hour, navigating ruined streets and collapsed buildings, finding it pretty easy considering I could just fly over whatever was in my way. Turns out, manipulating Dark Anima wasn’t unlike Light Anima. It was less controlled and more violent in nature, but it still followed the same rules. I had learned how to boost myself up and over things with the first wrecked building that got in my way. Could probably just fly my way over to where I needed to go, but walking was just as good. Besides, with my inexperience with this kind of destructive magic I didn’t think I was yet suited for full-on flight. I might explode or something…

By now I was pretty thick into Demon territory and I’ve seen quite a few Demon patrols around, though I wasn’t in any hurry to give myself away, exactly. They’d probably just try to swoop down and murder me. It was at this thought that I had no idea why I thought that going even deeper into Demon territory would somehow resolve this problem. I’d probably have to fight my way into Hell either way… I was pretty much just riding on the hope that a commander type would’ve been informed by Amanda of my coming.

This was a shit plan and I’m a shit person for thinking of it… wait, I forget, was it my idea or Callahan’s? We’re both shit people.

I was currently navigating my way through the rubble left by multiple collapsed buildings. I was pretty high up, actually, since a bunch of buildings collapsed into each other at one point so it might as well have been like climbing a mountain. It looked to be just one last hurtle before I would be out of this wreckage, so nimbly I jump up, boosting myself up and over the final jump and finding myself falling headlong into a Demon command base.

“Nyuoh, shit.” I flail around in the air, trying to fly off before they noticed me plummeting towards them. I misfire, however, and in my panic to get my Anima going mid-fall, I end up exploding, launching rocketing myself downwards right into the ground, creating a crater with the impact and causing me to rip up the ground as I slid to a stop, making a nice hole where I landed and a long path after that to where I had stopped.

“Aaaaaaagh!” I shout, rolling out of my little crevasse and curling up into a little ball to roll around some more. “That… huuuuuurt!”

When I get over it and flatten myself out onto my back, I see a whole bunch of guns trained on me.

“Agh, well fuck me sideways.” I mumble as I’m forcefully brought up and then down again onto my knees.

“Who are you?” One of the guys said. “State your business here!”

“Fuck off.” I grunt, receiving a hard punch to the face.

“I said state your business here!”

“I said fuck off!” I say again.

“What the hell is going on here?” I hear another, more authoritative sounding voice say.

The crowd splits, guns still on me, to reveal a commander type walking towards me. I could tell he was a commander type just by the way he was dressed; differently than everyone else. Whereas the guys around me wore typical combat armor, this guy wore only a steel pauldron on his left shoulder, along with steel boots and fingerless gauntlets. The rest of his outfit looked to be a lighter version of his subordinates’ combat gear.

“And who are you?” He spoke.

“Sigmund Freud, asshole.” I smirk.

He looks down to me, giving me a long and hard look, and I can see his yellow eyes glow a bit as he looked me over. He closed his eyes and stood back upright.

“I can’t see your Soul…” He said. “You must be Nephilim. Am I correct?”

“Sometimes.” I say with a smirk. I didn’t know what it was about being held at gunpoint that brought out the sarcastic in me.

“Hm…” The commander scratched his chin and closed his eyes. “Didn’t think you’d actually show… stand down, men.”

All the Demons around me dropped their arms and let me up onto my feet. I dusted myself off and stretched myself out.

“You don’t look like much…” The Demonic commander remarked.

“Am I supposed to?” I ask.

“Amanda told already informed me you’d probably be coming.” He told me. “I’m impressed you got this far in before any of our forces noticed you… just proves how incompetent my men really are…”

I shrug as the guy gestures me to follow him through the base.

“So you’re going to take me to Hell?” I ask.

“Not quite yet.” He said. “First, I want to make sure you’re the genuine article.”

“What do you mean? You already know I’m Nephilim.”

“I want to make sure you have the skills of a true Nephilim.” The guy said, leading me into a clearing in the base. “I want to see just what a Nephilim can really do!”

“That’s not really necessary…” I say.

“Amanda Hathaway has better things to do than to deal with the likes of someone who can’t hold their own.” He explained. “I’ll be your test. Defeat me in combat and I’ll grant you access to Hell!”

“I don’t have time for this.” I say.

“Better finish it quickly, then.” The man smiled as he held out both his arms, materializing on them massive steel caestus that he seemed to have no trouble lifting, despite the fact that they both looked like they weighed tons. He smashed them together, sending out a shockwave when he did. I hold my hand up in front of my face to protect myself from the dust as he chuckled.

“Let’s see what you’ve got, then.” He said.

“I don’t want to have to kill anyone.” I say.

“Oh, don’t worry.” He smiled. “You won’t!”

With a roar, he raised one of his caestus and slammed it into the ground, causing a large shockwave to be sent towards me through the ground, lifting me and chunks of earth off the ground. I quickly bring out my blade and activate it just in time to slice a large piece of rock in two before it hits me in the air, doing the same to another on my way down. I land on my feet, readying my blade as the commander came at me.

“Ready yourself, Nephilim!” He shouted as he jumped up and came crashing down on me. I brace my blade up in front of me, holding it diagonally, tip pointed downwards, one hand on the handle and the other on the flat of the blade, successfully blocking the blow and sending a shockwave out as I was pushed into the ground by the force of the blow. Fucking hell, those things were massive… how the hell did he even lift them?!

“Ngh!” I grunt. “Holy hell! How much protein do you eat?!”

“Plenty enough!” The guy laughs. “Work out a bunch too!”

He brings his other caestus in from the side, and I’m forced to erect and Anima shield quickly in order to take most of the hit. His gauntlet shatters it and he nails me right in the side, sending me flying back in the same fashion as when I landed here.

He puts his hands on his hips and lets out a jaunty laugh into the air as I shamble up onto my feet.

“Come, now!” He called to me. “Is that the best you can do?”

“Ngh…” I growl. “Now even close!”

I form a flame of Void in my hand, twisting around and drawing it along my blade, sheathing it in pitch black energy before raising my blade overhead and slashing downwards, letting loose a powerful and fast blade of energy towards my opponent. He barely manages to dodge out of the way, letting half of the compound get bisected before it finally disperses.

“Hohoh!” He chuckles. “Impressive! I didn’t expect you to be so well versed in using Void so early! You really are a Void Avatar, aren’t you?”

“That’s what people keep telling me.” I say, letting Void flow around me, stomping my foot down and rushing him, delivering a hard slash downwards that meets his gauntlet, bouncing off it and allowing him a solid punch that I bring my hand up to meet. With my new strength as a Nephilim I managed to absorb most of the impact, but I still had to shove his fist to the side to stop myself from just flying backwards. In pushing him aside, it allowed me a small opening, which I used to quickly deliver a slice with my blade, cutting into his side. He quickly slammed his other caestus into the ground in order to knock me back and preventing me from causing him any further harm.

“Heh, you’re quick.” He said. “Where did you study?”

“My father taught me how to fight.” I say.

“Sounds like a great man.” The commander smiled.

“I wouldn’t know.” I say plainly, charging him again and unleashing a flurry of strikes onto him in a futile attempt to break his guard. When that didn’t work, I quickly boost myself up and over him, bringing my hand down to launch Void at him. This did affect him, and he was forced to move away before his caestus were broken by my attack.

When I land back onto the ground, I send my hand out behind me to launch more his way. He slams his fists into the ground, and I see the huge caestus move up and slam back down like a hydraulic hammer, creating a large and powerful shockwave of Dark that dispersed my Void and sent me sliding back on my feet a bit. I rush up as he recovers from his own attack, and I manage to nail a solid punch in his gut, focusing my Anima into a concentrated point on my fist which I then release, sending him flying backwards with a powerful forward force.

At this distance, I sheath my blade and bring out Freedom and Justice, rapidly firing shots towards my opponent. Some managed to scrape by him, but most were deflected against his giant weapons that covered most of his body as he advanced towards me.

“Not having that, huh?” I smirk, reloading the guns and holstering them, bringing out Wolf 500 from my leg holster. “How about this?”

I fire the first two shots, and though they were much more powerful than those of Freedom and Justice, they still didn’t do too much to deter him as he closed the distance. I toss the revolver into the air and bring out my blade again, catching the firearm in my left and pointing it right to his face as he moves in for a heavy punch. I fire off the shot but he manages to push my arm out of the way right as the bullet left the barrel. I spin around and slash at him, metal striking off metal as my blade bounced off his caestus again. I jump up and use the giant weapons as a platform to jump above him, firing another shot downwards that nailed him in the left shoulder, staggering him a bit, but not enough to stop him from blocking the next blow I had with my blade coming down. I jump back quickly to avoid a hard punch he sent my way, sending flickers of Void towards him to make him back off as I plant a hand on the ground and slide sideways and onto my feet.

I had two bullets left, and I was gonna use them.

The Demon commander advances again, throwing a hard punch my way. I see it coming and manage to put a bullet in his leg as he’s coming in, throwing him off and letting me dodge easily as he flew into the ground. I approached him there, but he tries to throw another punch at me. I block it with my blade and nail the last bullet into his left arm, making him unable to hold the caestus up as I holstered the gun and drove my blade into his arm, twisting it and wrenching his arm out of the caestus. I sheath my blade and stick my hand inside the massive thing, lifting it up off the ground on my arm… thing must’ve weighed a few hundred pounds… I had no trouble holding it. I move in as he throws an overhand punch at me, sliding through his guard in a cross counter and nailing him right in the face with his own weapon, the force of which sent him flying across the base and into a nearby wall. I casually let the caestus off my arm and reload my revolver before taking out Challenger from my back hip holster, holding it in my left hand as I bring out my blade again with my right. I start walking towards the dust cloud that was made with his body, ready to finish this fight.

As I got closer to the cloud, I could see the commander’s sillouhette within. I noticed as he charged up energy in his left hand, ready to cast it out at me. I was faster, and with Challenger I put a shot into his forearm, tearing it apart and shredding it off his body, causing him to yell out in pain as I brought the tip of my blade in between his eyes.

“You lost this one.” I state.

“Fuck me…” He smirked, looking to the stump on his side that was once his arm. “You’re a tough bastard… losing an arm hurts…”

“I expect you’ll take me into Hell, now?” I say, sheathing my sword.

“Agh… yeah…” He said, standing up, holding onto his bloodied side. “I’ll… just give me a minute to take care of this…”

He walks off further into the base while I walk over to the caestus I had used and sit down on it… might as well be a bench with how big it was.

---

“Alright…” The commander said, after he had his side patched up from our fight. “Oh, I never mentioned my name, I realize.”

“No you did not.”

He holds out his remaining hand.

“Vincent Heckler.” He smiled.

I take his hand and shake it.

“Yamato Haseo.” I respond. “There any treatment for a lost limb?”

“Prosthetics.” He said. “No big deal, really… hurt like hell, but at least in the real world I still have both.”

He seemed surprisingly lighthearted about losing an entire arm… something told me this guy didn’t take too much seriously, but even so still held fear and respect from his subordinates… I mean, fucking hell, how he fights…

“Can you log out?” I ask him.

“Well, no…” Heckler responded. “But I’m still holding out hope that the devs will fix the problem sometime soon.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, my friend.” I say.

“Well what else are we supposed to do?” He asks.

“I’m working on it…”

“Well, if anyone can figure out a way I’m sure you can.” He smiled. “You’re one hell of a fighter, I’ll tell you that!”

“So I’ve been told.”

Heckler leads me towards a sort of gate in the base… well, it wasn’t so much of a gate since it let straight into a wall. But on Heckler’s command, the gate came to life and a red ball of energy formed in its center, quickly expanding until a wall of red energy stood before us.

“This is one of the gates we use to get to Hell and back.” Heckler said. “There’s one in every Demon outpost so we can get to and from home quickly, mainly for supplies or extra soldiers.”

“I see…” I say.

“Come on, I’ll escort you to the Queen.” Heckler says. “You’ll have to speak to her before you can talk to Amanda.”

“Why’s that?” I ask.

“Rules.” He shrugs. “Besides, having another Nephilim in Hell would stir up a commotion under any circumstance.”

“I bet…” I say as I follow him through the portal.

The transition into Hell was pretty much what I expected it to be: fucking oppressive as shit and I got a nosebleed.

“Ah, fucking Christ…” I mutter as I put my hand up to my nose.

Heckler laughs at my display.

“Yeah, first time in Hell will do that to you!” He smiles. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”

I shake my head as I stop bleeding and look up. With the transition into Hell I was pretty much spot on, but what Hell looked like was strikingly different than what I had in mind, which was pretty much the generic fire lava pit stuff. The buildings were organized not unlike they would be on Eden or even in Heaven, though the architecture was definitely different, being dark gray mostly. The sky was orange and oddly enough the temperature was pretty moderate… I guess I couldn’t use the term ‘hot as Hell’ anymore… not that I really used it in the first place.

“Not what you were expecting?” Heckler asked when he noticed me looking around.

“Not really.” I say. “Except for that.”

I point to the big fuck-off castle thing that towered over most everything else that was pitch black and looked like the oldest thing around; something that was built millennia ago.

“Yeah, that was around when Hell was probably what you were thinking.” Heckler explained. “That’s where we’re headed.”

“Of course it is.” I say, following him as we made our way down the main street and up to the castle, where we made our way up the steps and were stopped at the main gate by some guards.

“Heckler.” One of them says, before looking to me and then noticing Heckler’s missing limb. “What happened to you?”

“Fell down the stairs.” He smiled and shrugged with one arm.

“Who’s he?” He gestures to me.

“Special guest.” Heckler says plainly. “Don’t worry, he’s fine.”

“You sure about that?” The guard asked. “I mean, you are missing an arm.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He repeated.

“Whatever.” The guard shrugged. “I’m not one to question my betters.”

Heckler guided me past the main gates and into the castle, where we walked through hallways, ignoring passing stares and climbing a few flights of steps before reaching a huge door. Heckler stops here and looks to me.

“Alright, Yamato.” He says. “Try not to make a fool of yourself.”

“Coming from the guy whose arm I shot off.” I smirk.

“Hah.” He chuckled. “Just a flesh-wound.”

He used one arm to open the door and we stepped inside. The room wasn’t unlike the throne room in Heaven, only it was darker, not in lighting but in color. The walls and ceiling were all black, and the floor was just a lighter shade of black and was covered by red carpet. Overhead were metal chandeliers holding glowing white orbs of some kind that lit up the entire huge room. I look ahead and see two general looking types conversing with a woman on the throne, who I assumed was Rozalin. She looked pretty bored out of her mind by looking at her… and also she looked… well…

Fucking hell, how does she even stand up with breasts like those?!

“Ah, finally!” She says, noticing us two entering the room and standing up, ignoring her two generals as she stepped down from the small steps leading up to her throne and up to us. “Heckler! What happened to your arm?”

“Had a taste of what a Nephilim could do.” He smiled. “Turns out, they can do quite a bit.”

“Ohh…” She stepped up to me, eyeing me up and down, walking around me to get a good look at everything, which made me feel a little more than slightly uncomfortable as I’m pretty sure she was positioning herself so I could get a good look at her body as she got a look at mine.

My nose started bleeding again

“Gah, fuck…” I grumble, wiping my nose of blood.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Third Nephilim.” She bowed in a way that let me get a good look at her gigantic cleavage. I look away before I feel more awkward than I already did. “I’m Archdemon Rozalin.”

“Yeah, figured…” I cough a bit to distract myself. “I’m… Yamato Haseo.”

“Hmm…” She stepped up close to me, almost pressing herself against me and looking up into my eyes as I looked down into hers. I could feel myself heating up a bit as she smiled seductively. “Aren’t you cute…”

I instinctively take a quick step back and she pouts a bit.

“I assume you’re here to see Amanda.” Rozalin crossed her arms under her chest. “She told me you’d probably be coming for her.”

“Well… yeah.” I say. “I need her help.”

“Hrm…” She gives me another look-over with sultry eyes, her mouth curling into a smile as I imagined an idea came to her, which worried me quite a bit… this chick was dangerous enough to me just by her looks alone, but on top of that she had the attitude to make me bleed out through my nose.

“Sure… I can take you to Amanda…” She said slowly. “But you’re going to have to do something for me, first…”

“Don’t kill the poor kid, miss.” Heckler commented from the safety of his corner of the room.

She stepped up to me again and looked me dead in the eyes, piercing right into my very soul as I tried desperately to keep my eyes locked onto hers instead of the two other huge things just below them. My face bends into a crooked and nervous smile as I fight against myself.

“I want you to take a bath with me.” She said.

“Have you lost your fucking mind?” I say through my still gritted smile.

“Nope!” She smiled, lifting her finger and closing an eye. “We got hot springs nearby! I can get us a bath just for us two!”

“Fuck. That.” I say, regaining my composure.

“I wouldn’t argue with her…” Heckler said. “One way or another, she’ll get what she wants.”

“But this?!” I turn back to him and hold a hand out to her.

I look back to Rozalin, who had a hand on her hip, looking at me with her bedroom eyes that didn’t fail to make my face heat up.

This was bullshit… this was total bullshit. What the hell kind of queen was she?! There was no way in hell I… gah… there was no way I was going to be getting into a bath with her! Who knows where that could lead… well, I do, obviously, I’m not that oblivious. I shifted around uncomfortably at the thought, and I felt myself heating up a bit more at the implications, but at the same time my mind began to wander and think up possible scenarios in my head that only made me even more bothered. I shake my head to try to get the explicit thoughts out of my head.

“So?” Rozalin smiled. “What’s it gonna be?”

“I… I don’t think…” I was starting to sweat a bit now, and my face was probably completely red at this point.

“She’s not gonna let you out of it, Yamato.” Heckler remarked from behind me. “Might as well just get it over with.”

Rozalin stepped up to me and grabbed both my hands and walked backwards as she pulled me along with her.

“C’mon, now.” She said. “It’ll be fun!”

“I think your definition of fun is diametrically opposed to mine…” I mutter as she drags me along with her.

For fuck’s sake, I just came for one damn person…

---

Damn... how the hell did I end up in this situation...

I was sat up against the steps into the water, my lower body concealed by the water and steam of the hot spring. I kept my hands on my knees in preparation to keep myself covered in case Rozalin tried anything... speaking of her... she was currently relaxing a few feet next to me, everything up to her neck covered as she sighed happily, enjoying the feeling of the hot water. I was anything but relaxed in this situation, and I refused to look at her in case doing so got me worked up.

“Yamato!” She sang as she waded her way over to me.

I glance over at her, but quickly look away. I could tell she was deliberately trying to get me all bothered by the way she was behaving... she was making an extra special effort to accentuate herself to me... showing off bits of skin whenever she could... pushing her breasts together acting like she's just supporting herself on her arms... I wasn't getting a good look at anything, but the suggestiveness alone was more than enough...

“The hell do you want...?” I turn my back to her, still refusing to look her way.

“How about I wash your back for you?” She smiled happily.

“How about not?” I say.

“Aw, come on!” She said. “You're supposed to be relaxing! That's the whole point of these springs!”

“It's kind of hard to be relaxed in a situation like this...” I mutter.

“Well... let me help you...”

I feel a cloth get pressed up to my back, startling me slightly as she gently washed my back for me. She tenderly scrubbed me, making sure to get me clean with the warm and refreshing waters of the spring, humming to herself as she did... I tried desperately to take my mind off things... she was washing my back, no big deal... not like she was trying anything...

Just when I begin to get a little bit eased up, I feel her bring herself forward and press her breasts up against my back, putting her hands on my shoulders and making me jolt.

“Your back's all done...” She said.

I only shiver, failing hard at not getting excited by all this... fucking god damn hell...

“How about I wash your front now...?” She murmured into my ear in a seductive tone.

That's when I bolt forward and cause her to lose her grip on me.

“HELL NO!” I shout. “Quit trying shit on me! I didn't even want to do this in the first damn place, no way in hell you're making me do any more!”

“Oh?” She smiled, raising herself out of the water a bit, allowing more of her cleavage to show. “You want to wash me first...?”

God damn this chick...

I look away with a heavy blush and shake my head rapidly.

“No way, no FUCKING way!” I yell, splashing water a bit with how much I was shaking my head. “The hell kind of guy do you think I am?!”

“I think you're the cute kind...” She closes one eye and smirks at me seductively. “You know, a lot of guys try to court me but none of them strike my fancy quite like you do…”

“Well why the hell did it have to be me?” I sink down a bit into the water and turn away from her. “I only came for Amanda, that’s it. How the hell you got me into this kind of situation I have no idea.”

I look behind me just in time to catch her as she jumped onto me, pushing me back into an underwater bench, pressing her naked body up to me as she looked up to me. I look back down at her, my breathing getting heavier and my heart racing. She wore a heavy blush as she moved closer to me, starting to slowly move her head closer to mine. She closed her eyes as she slowly got closer and closer… just when our lips were about to meet…

Then I literally shot out of the bath, Void exploding underneath me and sending my naked body flailing through the air and over the wall, into the other adjacent bath, which thankfully was empty since Rozalin had rented out the place. I splash into the water, sinking down to the bottom with the most stupefied and bewildered look you’d ever see on a man.

That was the scariest thing I had ever witnessed in my entire life…

---

So we made it back to the castle, and thankfully I was still in one piece, though still a bit shaken up by that whole ordeal. I was still debating whether or not this was still better than when I had gone to Heaven… I guess to some men it would be, but I’m not some men.

I imagine Michael would be super jealous of me whenever he’s done being almost dead and all…

Dammit…

But anyway, Rozalin and I made it back to the castle fully dressed and dried off. I dried myself off, before you ask, and away from her, which made her pout a bit but oh well. Rozalin took the liberty of calling Amanda to the castle while we were on our way back, so by the time we got back to the throne room she was already waiting for us, sitting lazily on Rozalin’s throne.

“Took your time.” She said casually as she lied sideways on the seat. “Had another great conquest, then?”

I nearly fall back onto my ass.

“Alas, no.” Rozalin said. “He’s a stubborn one… he likes playing hard to get.”

“Oh fuck off, already.” I scoff.

“Well he’s got more willpower than most, then.” Amanda said, standing up and walking up to me, looking me over like Rozalin did except in a not sexual way this time so I didn’t feel like exploding. “So, you’re Yamato, then… the Third Nephilim everyone’s been talking so much about.”

“Apparently.” I say. “People can’t shut their mouths about it.”

“No they can’t.” She crossed her arms and smiled, shaking her head. “Michael told me about you and that you were coming… he also told me what I should probably expect…”

“What’s that, then?” I ask.

“He told me you’re the next Void Avatar.” She explained. “Something I find most surprising…”

“Is that so?” I ask.

“Look, I’m just gonna cut to the chase, alright?” Amanda said. “You’re going to need to get control of your powers before they basically kill you. You probably already know this. Luckily, I might know someone who can help with that…”

“Oh, you don’t mean him, do you?” Rozalin asked from her throne.

“I do mean him, Rozalin.” She answered. “If anyone can help Yamato with Void, it’d be Samael.”

“What makes you think he’ll cooperate?” She questioned.

“He doesn’t have a choice.” Amanda said plainly.

“Who are we talking about?” I ask.

“One of the previous Archdemons of Hell.” Amanda explained. “Probably the most powerful Demon that ever lived. Samael was the King of Hell during the Nephilim Purge. After the First Void Insurrection, all three races exterminated the Nephilim due to fear of their power and the fact that it was prophesized that another Insurrection would happen eventually… that’s why there’s just us three now.”

“And how does this guy know about Void?” I ask.

“He’s basically living off Void now.” Amanda told me. “See, during the Nephilim Purge, there was a special Nephilim named Tyrael who could also use Void. Not nearly to the extent that you can, but more than enough to take Samael on. Samael was eventually defeated, but Tyrael, instead of killing him outright, trapped him in a prison of Void. He’s been in there ever since, and in his thousands of years of imprisonment, he’s learned to attune himself to Void.”

“Couldn’t he just break out if he can use Void, then?” I ask.

“Not quite…” Amanda said. “He may be strong with Void, but still not enough to release himself. His own power and influence is being inhibited by the field, so there’s nothing he can do from the inside.”

“And you think he can teach me how to use Void?”

“I think he can do a lot of things. But a word of warning: Samael is smart. Dangerously so. He may have no choice but to help you, but that won’t stop him from trying a few tricks.”

“What do you think he can do?” I ask.

“I don’t know…” She said. “But you should be careful, just in case. Come on.”

She walks out of the room and I follow her closely.

“I’ll see you later, Yamato!” Rozalin called to me cheerily as I left.

---

We had to make our way through the castle and into a completely separate building behind it that I didn’t notice before. It was located across a large metal bridge that spanned over a lava lake, and looked to be a dark dungeon moreso than an actual part of the castle. It was pitch black, just like the castle, only was covered in dark steel chains that hung around the spires and clung to the walls and hung off the tall island the thing was perched on. Hell of a place to imprison someone in…

“Homey.” I comment as we make our way across the bridge.

“Be aware, Yamato, that under normal circumstances nobody is ever allowed anywhere near Samael.” Amanda cautioned. “The only ones who are allowed access are the elite; Rozalin and her most trusted generals, as well as myself and the covenant of soulmagi that keep Samael’s prison in check. You’re the first person outside these few that will set foot in this place since it was first built thousands of years ago.”

“Oh, well don’t I feel special?” I say sarcastically.

We approach the large metal doors of the prison, and Amanda opens it up by placing her hand on it and surging her Anima through it, making the chains laced around it loosen up to allow the door to open enough for us to get through, but not all the way. Inside was a long hallway that was lit up by glowing panels in the walls, lighting up the entire hallway down to the end, where there was another large double door. This one didn’t have such an intricate locking mechanism to it as outside, but looked no less impregnable by the looks of it.

We approached this door and Amanda put her hand on it, but stopped to look at me.

“You ready?” She asked.

“For what?” I return.

“Samael is a former Archdemon, and probably the most powerful Demon to have ever existed.” She reinstated. “He’ll probably want to try to use you to escape his imprisonment, seeing as you’re a Void Avatar.”

“Is he really that dangerous?”

“Moreso than what I’m letting on.” She said, unlocking the door and pushing them open. They swung all the way open and I’m greeted by the sight of a large circular room that towered above most of the whole buildings I’ve seen. In the center was a large circle that leaked black energy upwards and around into a semi-transparent dome that encapsulated the Demon inside. Supporting this field were four pillars that surrounded the field and provided more dark energy to the barrier.

Samael was a large generic looking Demon that almost took up the entire room, being about 5 times taller than I was. His skin was an ash-like gray, and his demonic looking wings and horns atop his head were pure black. He wore dark looking armor on his chest and legs, wearing large metal gauntlets and pauldrons as well as greaves that fit around his cloven hooves. Attending to his prison were a group of soulmagi, like Amanda said, making sure the Demon inside didn’t escape his imprisonment.

I could tell just by looking at the guy that he was immensely powerful… much more powerful than I was…

Amanda and I stepped forward and the Demon took notice of us, addressing Amanda by name.

“Ah, miss Hathaway.” He said, in a low Demonic voice that held a tone of authority to it, even when his former kingdom was long gone. “To what do I owe the honor of another visit?”

The Demon then notices me, and I have to physically stop myself from shaking as his eyes pierced straight through me.

“Ah… how very surprising…” He smirked. “I can practically taste the Void on you… you’re a Void Avatar, aren’t you? Yes… so much work for nothing, it seems…”

“Samael.” Amanda said sternly. “You are to teach Yamato in how to control Void.”

“Is that so?” The Demon chuckled. “And tell me, by whose authority do you command me?”

“You don’t have a choice, do you?” Amanda said. “Besides, you know what happened the first time. Would you want such an event to happen again?”

Samael put a clawed hand up to his chin, thinking this over.

“Hah… just like you, Amanda.” He said. “Too clever for your own good…”

The Archdemon turned to me.

“Step forward.” He commanded.

I hesitate a first, but I do as he says, taking a few steps forward towards him and stopping when I’m in front of the prison. He leans down and looks me straight in the eyes. For fuck’s sake, I felt like he was going to eat me or something…

“Yes…” He said after looking me over, which seemed to be happening a lot even before I got into Hell. “That power… it is faint, but no less familiar to me… you carry the same ability as the first. Ahh… the memories…”

The Demon sighed in remembrance. I couldn’t tell if he was smiling or not.

“I can sense the Void within you…” Samael continued. “Nascent as it may be, it is growing ever stronger.”

He chuckled lightly as he thought to himself, before redirecting his gaze to me.

“Yes, I think I will assist you.” He stated. “Though do not mistake this as an act of kindness on my part. I simply do not wish for the same menace to befall my once proud kingdom again.”

“Either way, I guess.” I say.

“However, you will have to step within my prison for me to help you.” Samael told me. “From within these confines I cannot properly teach you.”

“How am I supposed to get in?” I ask.

“You are a Void Avatar.” Samael said. “You can simply pass through. Void will not deter you as it would others. In fact… it will embrace you…”

I look to Amanda.

“He’s up to something…” Amanda said quietly into my ear.

“Do I have a choice, though?” I ask. “What do you think he can do?”

“Samael always has an ace up his sleeve, no matter what.” She said. “He’s never without a plan. Chances are he’s going to try something with you…”

“I have to take the risk, though…” I say. “There’s nobody else like him that can help me.”

“I will assist you, Void Avatar.” Samael said, drawing our attention again. “You have my word. On my honor, this I swear.”

“How can we trust you?” I question him.

“As an Archdemon, I am nothing if not a man of my word.” He said. “I am far above such petty things as betrayal.”

I’d say he was hiding something… yeah, he was definitely hiding something, but unfortunately he took the fun out of that one. I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. I’d either take him up on his offer or I’d have to try to sort through it myself… and I didn’t think that I’d be able to do it on my own. Besides, what could he do in that Void prison of his?

I tried not to think about possibilities as I slowly stepped up to the barrier, reaching a hand out and finding that there was barely any resistance as it passed through. I step the rest of the way through the barrier until I’m face-to-face with the Demon. He looked down upon me with a grin that made me more than a little worried.

“Now, then.” He said. “I will give to you the ability to conquer Void. I instill within you the knowledge of millennia that I have accumulated.”

He raised a finger and at the tip of his claw, a violet ball of energy sparked to life.

“This will give you the potential to harness the power you are meant to wield.” He continued. “I will give you these secrets, but it will still be up to you to find them within yourself. Hold still, now, Nephilim.”

He brought his finger down closer to me. Just as he instructed, I didn’t move, despite every fiber in me screaming to get the fuck out of the way. He slowly inched the ball at his finger to my head, and lightly touched my forehead. Instantly, I reel back in pain as foreign knowledge assaults me. I grab my head as my powers begin spiking, and I yelp as it explodes outwards. I fall to the ground, almost losing consciousness, but hanging on as I try to regain my senses.

When I do, I hear Samael laughing.

I look up to him as he raised himself off the ground, stretching himself out as the Void prison around him collapsed, being disrupted by my outburst.

“And so you now have the knowledge to conquer yourself, just as I promised.” Samael looked down to me on the ground as I struggled to get to my feet. “And in return… I am granted my freedom… farewell, Void Avatar!”

With that, Samael launched himself skyward with his powerful wings and blasted through the roof of the dungeon, freeing himself of his millennia long imprisonment.

“Yamato!” I hear Amanda shout as she runs to me, picking me up off the ground. “Dammit, I knew he was up to something!”

“Amanda…” I say quietly, still trying to regain my strength.

“Come on!” Amanda slung me onto her back and immediately took flight, flying out of the dungeon and back to the castle, where she practically crashed through into the throne room.

Inside, the generals were arguing amongst themselves, and Rozalin was doing her best to get everything into order.

“Amanda!” She said, rushing over to both of us. “What happened?”

“Samael broke free.” Amanda answered. “He used Yamato to break his confinement. We need to recontain him before he breaks out of Hell entirely!”

“Dammit…” Rozalin cursed under her breath, turning to her generals. “I want all available forced mobilized now! I want the Hellguard to directly assault Samael to slow him down as much as possible! Heckler!”

“Yes, ma’am!” Heckler walks forward, and I notice he had a new arm to replace the one I shot off. It was mechanical, but at the same time archaic. It looked to be machinery powered by Anima… a hybrid of two arts.

“I want your squadron in position at the Hellgate. You’ll be the last line of defense. Set up the most firepower you’ve got to hand and make sure he doesn’t get through.”

“You got it.” Heckler smiled, flying out of the castle to perform his orders.

“Amanda.” Rozalin said. “We’ll need Yamato.”

“I don’t think he’s in any condition to fight right now…” She said as I supported myself on her shoulder.

“Alright… Amanda, I want you to go up and assist the Hellguard. Try to slow him down as much as possible.”

Amanda let me down onto my knees and nodded, flying out of the castle to engage Samael.

“Everyone else, do what you have to do!” She ordered the rest of her men. “Go! Now!”

The remaining generals quickly mobilized as the battle began. I could hear Samael beginning his rampage off in the distance as the Demons already began to engage him. Rozalin stepped up to me and kneeled down, placing her hand on my shoulder.

“Yamato, honey.” She said. “Are you alright?”

“I’m… I’m fine…” I stammer. “Just give me a minute…”

The entire castle shook as the battle just outside continued.

“I don’t think we have a minute.” She said. “Samael will want to retake his kingdom before moving up to Eden. It’ll be total war if he manages to get out of Hell.”

“I know that!” I shout, shaking my head, trying my best to recuperate as quickly as I could. “I just… dammit…”

The castle shook again, this time more violently, and both Rozalin and I were thrown to the ground. The roof of the throne room was ripped off as Samael looked down on both of us.

“Ah, there you are, Rozalin…” He smiled. “I think you’ll be the first to go.”

He waved his hand towards Rozalin, and she quickly brought up a shield to defend herself as the entire room exploded in a blast of pure Void, causing half the castle to collapse, taking both of us with it. I lost consciousness when I fell down and hit my head.

---

I slowly wake myself up, and judging by the sounds of the battle still going on overhead, I wasn’t out for too long. I wake to find myself recovered, but trapped in darkness. I feel around me and find that there was a whole bunch of rubble on top of me. I charge up energy and release it around me, shattering the stone around me and freeing myself. I look over to the battle that raged off in the distance. Samael was still in combat with the forces of Hell and Amanda, who were doing their best to slow his advance towards the Hellgate. I could see the Hellgate from here… it was a lot bigger than the one Heckler and I used… possibly an old relic of ancient times that was much more powerful than the ones Demons used now. It was a towering black monolith that Samael would easily be able to fit through. Pretty much everything in his way had already been destroyed, and he was only annihilating more as he went. He had to be stopped.

“Yamato…” I hear a voice say to my right. I look over and notice Rozalin trapped under some rubble. I jump over and quickly pry the black stone off her, allowing her to breathe, though I suspect her breasts cushioned most of the impact…

“You alright?” I ask as I help her to her feet.

“I’m…” She coughs a few times. “I’m fine… my dress is ruined, though…”

She dusts off her now torn up and dirty dress a bit as she looks towards Samael.

“He’s almost at the Hellgate…” She said. “If he makes it there…”

“He won’t.” I say. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Are you sure you’re okay, Yamato?” She asked, genuine worry in her voice.

“I’ll have to be.” I say. “One way or another Samael needs to be stopped.”

I focus my Anima to my feet, preparing myself to take flight.

“Let’s see if I picked up anything new from the bastard…”

I kick off and instantly achieve mach speed as Void blasts me forward and into the air, supporting me as I fly towards the battle. On the way, I bring out my blade, enveloping it in Void as I increased its power by 250%, removing one level limiter and engaging the plasma edge for more power. I reach the battle in no time at the speed I’m at, and I go straight for Samael’s face, making one powerful slash that takes him by surprise as he takes the hit. I manage to cut off one of the horns atop his head as I sail past him, slowing myself down in the air and preparing to battle against the most powerful Demon that ever lived.

“Ah, Void Avatar.” He says upon noticing me, flicking his wrist out to take out an entire battalion of Demons next to him. “I shouldn’t be surprised… your kind has a knack for being hard to put down.”

Samael then defends himself as Amanda flies in, launching a flurry of Dark energy at the Demon. Amanda seemed to be the one doing the most damage, as she was Nephilim, but it still wasn’t quite enough to stop him. Samael makes a quick swipe at her and she dodges out of the way into the air, regrouping with me.

“Glad you could join us.” She said. “We don’t have a lot of time left to stop him.”

“I know.” I say.

“Got any ideas?” She asks.

“One.” I turn to her. “But it’s pretty crazy…”

“A crazy idea is better than no idea.” She commented. “What do you have in mind?”

“We need to get him weakened.” I say. “We need to stop his advance so I have enough time to reseal him.”

“You’re going to reseal him?” She asks. “How? The seals are way over there!”

“I know.” I say. “Just do it.”

“I’m trusting you on this one.” She said. “Don’t fuck it up!”

She holds her hand out.

“Persona!”

A blast of energy is released as her own Persona manifests in a dark cloud behind her, forming into a humanoid figure that looked like a legless torso in a dark black cloak of energy, its pale face hidden by more dark energy taking the shape of a wide brimmed fedora. Two thin arms with long blood red bladed fingers emerged from the cloak as Amanda and her Persona moved forward to engage Samael. I moved in as well, flanking him to his side as Amanda distracted him. After invoking her Persona, it seemed that Amanda’s power had increased drastically, as Samael was actually getting staggered by her attacks, which seemed to be power equivalents of nuclear explosions. Using the distractions, I make attacks of my own, launching Void out to lash out at him. This too proved to be effective, as my powers in Void were far more powerful than his, it seemed. Even though he had millennia to attune to it, it still didn’t match a Void Avatar.

Samael continued towards the Hellgate, reaching closer and closer as the minutes of continuous assault rolled by. The Hellguard, as well as myself and Amanda, were doing all we could to slow his advance, and although we were slowing him down a little, he was still going to get to the Hellgate at this rate.

“Dammit!” I shout. “We’re not gonna make it!”

“Don’t be too sure!” Amanda shouted back, pointing down to a fuck-huge line of Demon soldiers positioned at the Hellgate, led by Heckler. Heavy cannons were lined up towards Samael and were ready to fire.

“Alright, men!” Heckler shouted with a big grin on his face. “LET’S GIVE THE KING A WELCOME HOME PARTY!”

With that, the cannons fired, sending massive beams of energy forth to hit Samael. This proved to be pretty damn effective as Samael was thrown back a bit from the heavy weapons, allowing us airborne forces to continue our attack. With the elite Hellguard and Amanda with her Persona, as well as a Void Avatar, it didn’t take long under the continuous fire of Heckler’s heavy weapons to bring Samael down.

“We got him!” I hear one of the Hellguard say. Perhaps a little too soon, as Samael roared, and his eyes glowed as an entire division of the Hellguard exploded in a massive tempest of Void and fire, sending both me and Amanda back along with the surviving Hellguard with the shockwave.

“Agh, shit!” I shout, trying to keep myself from being knocked out of the air from the explosion.

Samael, seemingly now unfazed by the cannon fire, looked towards them and instantly they were obliterated. He had broken through the last line of defense from the Hellgate.

“Dammit!” Amanda shouted. “Yamato we need to end this now!”

I snarl and fly forward at lightning speed, attacking him with Void once again, slashing at him with black flames that cut deep. It distracted him just enough so that he couldn’t focus on opening the Hellgate, That, added with Amanda and her Persona, who were now pelting him with red explosive spears summoned with Anima, have Samael a difficult time. We just needed him on the ground… come on…

“Amanda!” I shout. “We need him on the ground!”

“On it!” She said. She stopped her assault and began charging her Anima along with her Persona. It took several seconds, but in one swift motion, she cast her arm out and a large explosion erupted right on Samael’s face, making him roar in pain as it knocked him sideways away from the Hellgate, sending out a massive shockwave that I struggled to keep airborne through.

The bad news about that final attack, was that while it did stagger him significantly, it didn’t completely put him to the ground like I was hoping it would. On top of that, Amanda’s Persona was now gone. It seemed that last attack took out a lot of her energy and she needed to withdraw it.

Dammit… that’s not good. I had to do something fast before he got back up.

I land on the ground in front of him as he tried to get back up, and threw Void out at him, leashing it around his neck and around his shoulders, before pulling back, trying to pull him down. It was hard as fuck… even though I was a Nephilim with increased strength, and was pushing all of my Anima into pulling him down, he resisted.

“Dammit…” I curse. “Come on!”

I try to pull him down harder, but it only results in him resisting more. I was about to lose my grip when I hear a cry of joy from above. I look up and see Heckler, bloody and beaten, but still very much alive, a huge smile on his face as he laughed from above Samael, caestus equipped as he shot downwards to the back of his head, slamming the massive weight of his gauntlets down, successfully stunning the Demon and allowing me a bit more room to work with. From atop Samael’s head, Heckler kept punching downwards, and slowly, the two of us began working him into the dirt.

“HAHAHAH!!!” Heckler laughed maniacally. “THIS! IS! FUCKING! FUN!”

Soon enough, with one last mighty pull from me, and one last mighty punch from him, we managed to bring Samael down into the dirt, where I quickly restrained his arms and legs as well as his neck with Void, preventing him from moving too much. He roared at me and his eyes glowed, and a massive explosion erupted in front of me. I barely manage to put a shield up in time as I get singed by the flames a bit and my legs get pushed into the ground from the force of the attack. I push through it, however, tearing my legs out from the ground and preparing for my crazy as hell idea.

I turn my back to Samael, and cross my arms. I close my eyes tight as I focus myself… I draw upon the knowledge Samael gave me that was set to be his downfall. Slowly, but with great effort, I manage to create a seam in the air; a wavering black line that radiated immense power. I bring my arms out slowly, struggling against it as I slowly open up the rift I created, grunting with effort as I do. Finally, I let my arms close a bit before throwing them out, and with a shockwave of black, a portal to Void opened completely, immediately beginning to suck everything around it in, including myself. The bindings around Samael dissipated as he tried to hang onto the ground, but this proved fruitless as both he and I are sucked into Void, the portal closing behind us and trapping us both in nothingness.

Thankfully, my second trip into Void wasn’t as nightmarish as my first. I still held control of myself, and I didn’t feel cold, though I could feel my strength being sapped away by the Void, as I was still inexperienced in traversing this plane of existence. Samael and I float freely through the Void as I try to focus on where we needed to go. I focus hard on that location as I floated through it, but my thoughts are broken when I hear a voice call out to me.

“Void Avatar…” I heard it say, seemingly from everywhere at once. “The time is here…”

The voice was dark and threatening, and it chilled me with how it seemed to reverberate through my entire body from everywhere. Something in my body lurched as I curl up in pain at a sensation I’d never felt before… it felt foreign yet familiar at the same time… it was tearing at me… it occurred to me a bit later that it was something that was actually attacking me from with the Void; something that actively meant me harm. I tough it out, though, and we finally reach where I wanted. I quickly open up a portal again, which was much easier from within Void, and instantly we’re both brought back into reality, crashing into the ground inside the dungeon Samael had escaped from.

Everything hurt… my head, my body… but I couldn’t worry about that. I quickly stagger up to my feet, almost losing my balance, before shaking it off and once again summoning Void, charging up the ring around Samael with Void before doing the same with the pillars around him. Samael regained his composure just as the barrier began to reform itself, and he quickly lashed out with energy to try to escape again. I held on, though, as the barrier began to encapsulate him once again as he thrashed around, punching and slashing at the walls of his newly formed barrier and unleashing energy blasts that I had to compensate for.

It took a lot less time than it seemed to me, but finally, a new Void prison held the former King of Hell. He roared in rage as he continuously tried to free himself again, but he wasn’t getting out… not again. The prison I made was much stronger than his previous one, and most likely didn’t need to be continuously sustained either. This prison was here to stay forever.

I slump down onto my knees, sweating and breathing heavily as I slowly calm down now that the fight was over. Just then, Amanda flies in through the roof, along with Heckler and some of the Hellguard, landing next to me and seeing Samael in his prison, who had finally calmed down and accepted that he had been defeated.

“Holy shit…” Amanda said. “Yamato… that was insane!”

“Hahah!” Heckler said, coughing up a bit of blood but still keeping his smile. “Good work, kid! I knew you had it in you!”

“Yes, Void Avatar…” Samael said from within his new prison. “Well done… well done indeed. I did not expect this from a fledgeling such as yourself.”

I stagger up to my feet, leaning on Amanda to keep myself from falling on my face.

“Void runs strong through you.” Samael continued. “I underestimated this fact… but be warned, Void Avatar. I will escape again, one day… and I will not be made a fool of again…”

“Sure, whatever…” I mutter weakly, coughing a bit.

“Come on…” Amanda said. “Rozalin will want to see you.”

Amanda led me out of the dungeon while the Hellguard attended to Samael, making sure the new prison was in order. They didn’t need to check… I already knew that prison was never breaking.

---

We made it back to what was left of the castle, and we were greeted by cheers as the soldiers and others congratulated us on our victory. Rozalin herself was there, waiting for us, still a bit scraped up from the battle, but nonetheless beaming with a smile at the both of us.

“Yamato, Amanda.” She said. “Thank you. If it weren’t for you, Samael would’ve broken free of Hell for sure.”

“Yeah, sure, anytime…” I say, on my feet but still a bit exhausted.

“That was quite the feat you pulled with performing a Space Alter soulcraft, Yamato.” Rozalin smiled. “Those kinds of soulcraft are some of the hardest to perform. I doubt even Samael could do something like that.”

“Is that what it’s called?” I ask. “I didn’t know… I kind of just did it.”

“Well it’s a good thing you did.” She said. “Samael is back where he belongs, and though there was quite a bit of destruction, much more was avoided thanks to your efforts.”

Rozalin stepped up to me and gave me bedroom eyes again, smiling.

“I think you deserve a reward for all your hard work…” She said in her normal seductive tone.

“You’re still going on about that…?” I ask.

She laughs at my expression.

“Don’t worry, I’m only teasing.” She said, smiling cutely.

I sigh, but receive a kiss on the cheek from Rozalin anyway.

“I suppose you have to get going now, huh?” She said after she pulled away.

“Uh… yeah.” I say, clearing my throat. “Oh, Amanda.” I turn to her. “I already have Michael’s support with this, but when things get rough I’ll need yours too.”

“Count me in.” She said. “I got your back all the way.”

“Heh… alright.” I say, smiling. “I guess I got what I came here for. Guess I should get going now.”

“Alright.” Rozalin said. “Take care, Yamato. You should visit sometime!”

“I don’t know about that…” I smile nervously. “I’ll try.”

After the congratulations were finished, I made my way back to the gate I used to get into Hell and stepped back through, coming out into Hellside Limbo. From there, I made my way back through Demon territory to where HQ was located, before making the transfer myself back into the real world. The red hue shifted back to normal, and the collapsed buildings around me faded into the whole, intact buildings they should be. To people looking in, I materialized right in front of Maverick HQ.

“Neat.” I say, as I step into the building.

Now I got Michael and Amanda. Now it was time to really crack down on the AEP.

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