“Flare Kick!” Jamie flung a heated foot at Josh, who spun with wind to dodge. He blew a small cyclone at her and stuck her in it. He dashed, preparing a Wind Tackle, but she spun in the cyclone like a pirouette and flung blades of fire at him, knocking him back and into a tree. She floated down from the cyclone and walked up to him, panting, and looking even more attractive as small beads of sweat strode along the red highlights that loosely formed her face.
“You alright?” She reached out a hand, which he grabbed.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “How did you turn all of my moves against me like that?”
“Well...let's call it prediction. In battle, I learned that predicting the opponent's move will help you be ready for it. I mean, I didn't know you'd make a cyclone, but I knew you'd try to finish me by rushing in.”
Josh took this information to heart. The team were near the edge of the forest, training. That was the first time Josh had seen Jamie fight. She fought like a dancer, gracefully executing kicks and twirls as if she were at a ballet recital. It was unique. Chet poked the ground, making tiny statues of earth. Diana looked at the map.
“Alright, guys,” she said, “Central City is directly that way.” She pointed to the north, indicating the edge of the forest and the entrance to the plains that followed.
Josh walked up to her and sat down, looking up at her. “Why were you acting so weird with that Jason guy? He offered us a mission, which is bound to bring great rewards.”
“Or a reputation.” Jamie chimed in, twisting her hair at the thought.
“Or challenges.” Chet said, pounding a fist into his hand.
“Or consequences.” Diana crossed her arms and sat down, unable to resist the urge Josh emanated. “Jason...he...I don't know...I don't trust him.”
Jamie stood behind her. “Oh, come now,” she put her hands on her hips. “You've no reason not to. He's done nothing wrong. At least nothing we know.”
Diana wasn't convinced. “Fine,” she said reluctantly. “We will do this journey. But how we tell Kenji?”
“Well we...” Josh rubbed his chin. “You see...we...it's actually easy because we...err...”
Diana shook her head. “Did you guys think this through?”
Jamie frowned. “If somebody told us they were being robbed by someone who was stronger than us, we would find any way to help right at that moment. There would be no time to make a plan.”
“I don’t know,” Diana sighed. “I feel like planning is more important than rushing in like idiots.”
Jamie turned red, and Josh backed away. “Idiots?” Jamie stamped her foot. “Look, Little Ms. I'm So Smart, we can see who's right. Here's the deal. We battle. You and me. Whoever wins will have things done their way.”
Chet was now interested in this. He put his hands in his pockets and listened intently with Josh, who just couldn't find the will to quell the ensuing cat fight. Diana shook her head. “No way. It's a waste of time. I know I'm right, and thus find no reason to spend extra effort trying to prove it through a barbaric fight.”
Jamie's face blended her highlights into her face. “B...Barbaric? Q...Que...Ugh! This is of course because you proved yourself useless by setting you and Josh up for that take down by Ryo and Jenny, right?”
Josh and Chet's breaths escaped them as they stared at Diana for her response, only to see her silent and staring at the ground. Chet frowned sadly. “Jamie, that was a bit too far...”
Jamie shook her head. “No quiero. She needs to face facts. If she truly believed I was wrong, she would prove it.”
Diana nodded. It was a subtle nod, unseen by her team members. “You're right. It's on.”
Jamie and Diana stood on opposite ends of a clearing in the forest. Josh stood beside Diana, trying to convince her not to get into this, but it went to no avail. She pushed Josh back and scowled at Jamie, who returned the favor with twice the fervor. She stamped her foot and Burned Up, surging flames around her body as she yelled a war cry. Chet stepped back, seeing any effort to break them up at this point futile.
Jamie rushed in with a flaming fist. Diana splashed water on the ground and blew cold breath to freeze it. Jamie's steps melted the ice as she threw a fist at her. Diana stepped back, narrowly avoiding it. She took the water and soaked Jamie's hand in it, making her jump in shock. Jamie leaped back and shook her hand dry, so Diana splashed her with more and more water, just before freezing it.
“Now, a chilling reception really is the best way to end a fiery feud.”
To this, Jamie began melting the ice just by being encased in it. Her body heated to an unbearable temperature and she shattered the ice, blasting Diana with fire. Diana staggered back, smothered in flames. She doused herself in water, froze a spear, and ran at her. Jamie stamped the ground again, and became enveloped in a pillar of flame. She dashed at Diana again, ready to clash her out.
The explosion was enormous. Both girls tumbled backward, panting and hurt. Josh and Chet widened their eyes in disbelief. Diana climbed to her feet, barely able to stand. She teetered a little and groaned.
“Looks like neither one of you were right.” Josh folded his arms. “We do things the way I assign them.”
“Why you?” Chet asked.
“Kenji said I'm the fastest thinker. With you guys keeping my ideas in check, and me spitting them out, I honestly don't see a flaw in the idea.”
Chet frowned. “Glad to see you thought this out. Luckily I don't see myself fit as leader.”
Diana, although exhausted, tried to object.
“Look, you guys just took each other on trying to decide who would have the right of way in leading the crew.” Josh helped Diana to her feet, his body tensed when he felt the cool touch of her fingers again. Jamie dusted herself off. “I suggest you apologize and respect each other’s wishes. We will never get anything done if as a team if we are fighting amongst ourselves.”
Josh's shadow flickered, and then traveled silently away from him. It moved through the forest, seeking out its owner. It stopped periodically, then, slipping down a tree, it stopped, arriving at its destination. The shadow slowly rose from the ground, dripping in darkness. It had a mask that curved up to one side like a blade, and a single eye that was stitched on. Two arms oozed from its body with bones that protruded out from it. It hissed as it spoke to its owner, Jason.
“Really? So this is indeed a rookie team. I thought they were bluffing.” Jason was headed around to the Eastern Forest, where a certain group would be able to help him out. “This should be fun. They have no idea what power the orbs possess. That makes this all the easier. You're sure they fought each other?”
The creature hissed again, drooling darkness that rushed into Jason's shadow.
“Humph. Truly a sad thing. Then my mission is on. They collect the orbs, and I may not even need to hire these guys to finish them off. But there's no reason not to be sure. Teams like that are likely to realize the strength they carry as a unit, and that can prove to be a powerful opposition that I just don't want to deal with. I will have to discourage them. Looks like a Kageken was the best to use after all. You've done well.”
The Kageken hissed again and became his shadow. Jason looked around. The Eastern Forest was not as bright and sunny as the Northern Forest. It was swampy and dank. Jason floated off of dark aura toward a shack in the middle of the swamp. His cloak shrouded his arms and covered his body, so he looked just like the Kageken as he floated through to it. A sudden burst came out from a bush to his right and he put out a hand. Shadow aura came from his finger tips and surrounded the causer of the shuffling.
“Hello, Janette.” he turned his head to the side as he looked at the terrified woman being held at the throat by the aura he put out. She looked in her mid-20s with long, sleek, lilac-colored hair tied in one ponytail with cropped bangs. She wore a kimono with two katana in her hands, ready to fall as she almost reached for her throat. “Good to finally see you.”
He dropped her, and she was caught by a larger man who wore sunglasses, a torn T-shirt over cargo pants and boots. He looked like he had been in the army, though he hadn't.
“Thank you, Kyle,” Janette sighed. “What do you want, Jason?”
“I came to ask you that question. What do you want? Was it not to become the most powerful force known to man-kind?”
Jason had one thing, a way of manipulating anyone he wanted to do what he wished, simply by making them think they were getting the benefit. Kyle put Janette down. These two were captains of an organization known as the Marauders. The Marauders were a band of mercenaries placed all over the continent that scrambled treasures and pillaged towns for their riches. They were essentially pirates.
“You know what we want. You were once-”
“I know, I know.” Jason was once part of the group. He was what they considered the “runt.” The youngest, but the most skilled. With his mastery of one of the two forbidden elements: darkness, better known as shadow aura, he quickly overpowered the older members and as a result, he left the group.
Janette put her swords away and Jason approached them. “Listen,” he began, “I need you to help me.”
Janette looked at Kyle, then back at him. “You're serious?”
Jason smiled, expecting this. “I know I didn't behave all too well during our previous encounter, but what if I told you I had a way to resolve the dysfunction between us and make us both threats to the world?”
Kyle looked skeptical. “Let's hear it.”
Jason explained the arrival of the Eclipse of the Phoenix, and the importance of the orbs. He explained that four rookies from the Elemental Warriors planned on retrieving them and removing all opportunities of them ever becoming a power. He explained that they had to be eliminated, and the orbs retrieved first in order to preserve their odds.
The pair talked it over, seeing no reason for rejecting this plan.
“We get the cuts, right?” Janette asked.
“You live, you get the cuts.” Jason smiled.
She looked at Kyle, who shrugged and nodded. “Then it's a deal. We'll round up as many members of the Marauders as we can and make sure they know what's going on.”
“Great. I will do what I can to make sure it all comes together.” Jason couldn't believe this. His entire plan was falling together like pieces to a puzzle. He had only two people to worry about. Diana, who may blow his identity if he figures it out, and Josh, who for some reason felt like he had something hidden within him. He left Kyle and Janette to their business, headed back to the castle to prepare.
The team arrived at Central City. It was more a town than a city. There were buildings here and there, and people traveled back and forth, running errands. Merchants were stationed all around town, selling different items to patrons who requested them. They searched out the merchant who requested the boxes they had but, not knowing which, they ended up asking around.
“Hello sir,” Diana bowed to an old man selling random trinkets. He had a crazy eye that wandered away from her face and fuzzy facial hair. He spoke, but spat while doing so.
“Why hey there, little girl! Whatcha be needin' today?”
Diana cringed and stepped back. Josh was behind her, and chuckled. He wiped the old guy's spit off her cheek with his sleeve, and she twitched with wide, horrified eyes.
“Hello, sir. My name is Joshua Nikolay. We are a team from the Elemental Warriors, here to deliver a couple boxes ordered by a merchant. Was that you?”
The old guy stroked his fuzzy chin and spoke, Josh blew the spit with wind, but it landed on Diana again, who shrieked and ran. “I ordered two boxes a couple days ago.”
“Wait, really?” Josh's eyes lit up. The old guy nodded, and then stopped.
“Nope, I ordered foxes...that's right.”
Josh's smile faded. He took the box he placed to his side and began to walk away, when suddenly the old coot said “Wait!”
“What, guy? You've already proven to me that these aren't yours.” Josh protested.
“Those there! They's my foxes!” he took the box and opened it, seeing a bag of fox trinkets inside the box. Josh's face twisted in wonder.
“Nope,” he decided, “I refuse to ask.”
Chet walked up with his box. The old man grabbed it and ripped it open as well. The girls joined, now conversing pleasantly instead of arguing.
“What?” Chet asked. “Is that it? Was that the mission?”
Josh, who was unable to stop watching the guy, nodded. He gestured the team to leave when the guy stopped them.
“I gotta thank you whippersnappers for giving me what I waited for. Whaddya want?”
Josh shook his head. “Nothing, sir. Your happiness is-”
“Now don't play this old man like a fool. Name's Rupert and I know when somebody wants something. I am psychic after all.”
“What? Really?” Diana was shocked.
“Nope, but I surprised ya didn't I?”
Diana and Josh frowned, slightly irritated by this guy's behavior. Rupert wheezed as he laughed.
“You're young to be warriors, ain't ya?”
Josh rubbed the back of his head. “Well, yeah, but we really have to-”
“Why hurry? Don't you want to talk to a man who has little time left? You're all young; ya got plenty of time ahead of ya.”
Josh looked down sadly. Chet nodded in agreement. “There is one thing we would like, if you know who sold it.”
“What's that, young feller?”
“Special stones for the enhancement of equipment.” Chet said. Jamie snapped her fingers, remembering this. Rupert scratched his chin, and then wheezed again.
“I sell that.” Rupert said simply. Josh shook his head, refusing to fall for his trick. Rupert pulled out a box full of crystals and shards. “See?”
Jamie widened her eyes at the marvel of colors Rupert had to offer. “Wow,” she said.
“What do they do?” Chet picked a couple up.
“Beats me.” Rupert gave him the box. “Just take em. Ya like em better than me.”
Diana couldn't believe it. Josh picked up a bunch, and then dropped them, adoring the clack they made as they fell in.
“Wow,” Jamie said. “Thanks.”
“Ya'll get along now. Got work to do.”
They looked around, but not a single customer was in sight. Diana shrugged and Jamie giggled.
“See ya later, Rupe.” Josh waved. “Come on guys, we need to see if Gyrome finished the weapons yet.”
“You're right.” Diana looked at the box as they started to leave. “Why don't we check out these gems?”
Jamie dug in the box until she suddenly jerked her hand back. “Yikes!”
“What?” Josh looked inside, as did Chet. Jamie reached back in the box and felt whatever it was that shocked her. She pulled out a shard of ruby.
“Dios mio,” she gripped it fully in her hand. “These are real...”
Diana widened her eyes and dug in herself. She picked out a piece of her favorite jewel, sapphire. Chet picked up obsidian and Josh a peridot. They showed their amazement and pocketed them.
“Alright, now that we've confirmed these jewels are real, we can-”
Behind them they heard an argument. Josh jogged over to see what was up. One of the merchants had had their things knocked down, and was arguing with who seemed to be the perp. The man was large with sunglasses, a torn T-shirt, and heavy boots.
“Hey!” Josh ran up to the pair to break them up. The perpetrator, Kyle, looked at him and shrugged with laughter.
“What do you want, pipsqueak? The adults here are talking.”
“It doesn't look like talking to us.” Jamie was behind Josh. Kyle grumbled.
“You're seriously doing this? Stay out of business that doesn't concern you.”
Diana and Chet were farther back, deciding not to get involved.
“What do you want?” the merchant asked. “You never asked if I had it, you just knocked my cart down!”
“I did that to get attention. You were the unfortunate guinea pig.” Kyle stepped back, looking at the crowd he created. “Listen up. I'm gonna make this nice and easy. Don't get any fuzzy ideas and hide this from me. I'm here in search of shards of gems and jewels.”
Jamie and Josh exchanged surprised glances. Kyle caught it.
“Wait, you know, don't you?”
Josh widened his eyes, and then quickly narrowed them to put up a poker face. “And what if we do?”
“You weren't listening. I said don't get any fuzzy ideas and try to hide them from me.”
“Wouldn't you have to see if we had them first?” Jamie had Josh's back.
Kyle grunted, and then looked at the box in Chet's hands behind them. Chet and Diana stepped back. Kyle pushed Jamie and Josh back with earth walls and stepped toward the two. Diana stepped in front.
“Hold on to that box, Chet. No matter what, do not lose sight of it.”
Chet nodded and tightened his grip. Kyle was suddenly blasted with a powerful burst of heat. He looked back and saw Josh and Jamie blowing air and fire from their mouths. Kyle ripped his shirt off, seeing it singed.
“That was my best shirt!” He stepped toward them. “Now it's on.”
Kyle stamped his foot and knocked Jamie into the air by pushing up the earth underneath her. Josh surged himself in wind and ran to Kyle.
“Wind Tackle!” he bashed into him, and then staggered back, holding his shoulder.
Kyle looked at him, his face as serious as can be. “That tickled.” he swung an arm and knocked Josh into another merchant's stand, then turned back to Diana, ready to push past her. She put her hands on the ground but Kyle locked them there with earth. “That'll be all you do here.” He walked to her and was kicked in the head. He teetered a little and turned back to see Jamie crouched beneath him. She flipped back and threw a kick at his jaw. He barely flinched. Jamie hopped back, holding her foot.
“He's too tough to fight head on.” she told Josh. Josh nodded in agreement and fixed his hat.
“We nailed him twice from behind. Maybe if we...”
“Looks like I gotta squash a couple flies, because they're buzzin' a bit too much.” Kyle made a ramp under Jamie's feet and she began to slide toward him as he covered his fist in earth and ran at her. Josh blew Bubble Bombs at him, but like everything else, they bounced off harmlessly. He ran beyond Jamie and placed his hands on the ramp.
“Gust Palm!” he called as he launched himself at Kyle. “Wind Tackle!” covered in wind, he rammed into Kyle again. Kyle flew back and rolled; Josh fell to his knees and held his arm, yelping in pain. Kyle gritted his teeth when he realized. This was the rookie team Jason was warning him of. He grabbed a large stone and crushed it in his hands as he growled in rage.
“I will not be taken out by these lowlifes!” he launched large stones at them, and Jamie crushed each one with a kick. Kyle used earth to sink her feet and she gasped. Chet put the box down and released Diana and Jamie, seeing that he could stand back no longer. Kyle took his glasses off and bellowed in rage when he saw nobody shared an element. “You're after the orbs, aren't you?”
Diana ran to Josh and held his arm. Her hand began to glow as she touched him. Josh stopped wincing in pain. “What if we are?” she said.
To this, Kyle stomped and pulled them to him again, but Chet stopped it. Kyle ran at them but Diana froze the ground beneath him and he slipped. She gasped and pulled the sapphire from her pocket. “This thing is nature's blessing!” When she said this, her hands glowed again, and then faded. Kyle crushed the ice with a make-shift mace and threw it at Chet, but Chet destroyed it and threw the stones back at him. Kyle began to despise Chet's very being, seeing him as the only reason he hasn't finished off either of the two. He covered him in earth and he destroyed it. He launched rocks at him and he threw them to the ground. He ran at him and he tripped him to the ground by putting a stone up. The crowd laughed.
“Shut UP!” he bellowed as he put his arms out, ready to crush the crowd. Jamie and Josh quickly grabbed them and held him down. Kyle struggled, but they wouldn't let go. “Lemme go!”
Jamie shook his head. “No can do, bub. You need to take a chill pill.”
Chet walked up to him. Kyle looked up and the last thing he saw was Chet's face as he knocked him out.
Later on that day, the team searched out an inn. Kyle had been taken into custody and the merchant's goods were cleaned up. The town went back to their regular business. They were told that the nearest rest house was in the center of town. As they approached the inn, a man in white hair walked up to them. Chet frowned and put down the box, folding his arms.
“Jonah.” he said simply. Josh smiled excitedly and put out a hand to shake. Jonah embraced him in a hug instead. He was taller than them and slender. He looked to be in his late twenties, but was ten years older. He wore a long navy robe that covered his feet. His hair was done up like Chet's, but longer, and he, like Chet wore a headband. Chet frowned.
“Didn't think you'd be here.”
“Why the face, young brother?” Jonah placed his hands on his hips.
“Came to tell me I'm still inadequate?”
“What, now?” Jonah was surprised.
“So you know him?” Josh felt this would confirm his beliefs from back in the forest. It looked like Chet knew something...
“Yeah, he's my older brother.”
Diana, Jamie, and Josh each had their own ways of expressing their utter disbelief. “What?” Jamie's eyes were wide in shock. Chet nodded.
“Yeah. My older brother. This is the guy who Kenji said my relationship was 'subpar' with.”
Jonah blinked. “Subpar? Well this is odd. Come inside; tell me what's on your mind. Clearly we need to talk.”
Inside the inn, the team sat in the lobby on couches provided for people waiting to register rooms. Chet explained to the team how years back he planned to come into the elemental Warriors and take it by storm, but he couldn't muster the courage. Jonah told him that he could never prove to be the best unless he defeated him. Jonah was well known around the world as the most powerful elemental caster alive, so much so that he can manipulate the four primary elements of fire, water, earth, and air, and even open and close a person's hidden potential. Beating him was...nigh impossible as it seemed. Chet shrugged the idea off, but Jonah continued to place it in his mind that nothing he could do would ever match him, and as such he would never be the best, and should give up his dream.
Diana frowned. “Why would you do that?”
Jonah smiled. “I see, so to this day you haven't made any progress in attaining your goal?”
Chet pounded his leg. “What goal? My only goal is taking you down and proving to you that I am a powerful warrior. And if it takes me years, I swear to you I will not rest until I crush you.”
Josh looked back and forth between the brothers, and then shrugged. “Well, why don't we just see?”
Chet looked at him. “See what?”
“If you're any stronger. I mean, you wouldn't take on a challenge you thought you'd lose, would you?”
Jamie smiled. “Yeah, actually that isn't all bad of an idea. I mean, if you beat hi-”
“Stop.” Jonah rose. He placed a hand on Chet's head and closed his eyes. “You're not ready. You will lose.”
The team fell silent. Diana was now appalled at the behavior of Jonah. “Why you...”
“Look, it's my job to train students. I work them from the ground up. Since you refused my training, you will never know how to fight.”
“I don't need your help to know how to beat somebody in a fight!”
“Then prove it. If you can defeat me with my hands tied behind my back, I will accept your way as progress and stop driving you down. However, should I manage to defeat you; you must accept my training in the future the next time I request it, no questions asked.”
Josh and Jamie raised an eyebrow. Chet stood up and put out a hand. “Deal.”
Jonah sighed and shook it.
In the town square that evening, Chet and Jonah faced each other. Jonah put his hands behind his back and Chet pounded his fists together. Josh sat at the side and Jamie behind him. Diana walked up and Josh gently grabbed her hand, nudging for her to sit with him. Diana blushed and smiled, agreeing to do so. Jamie told Chet not to hold back. Chet shook his head, saying nothing would please him more. Jamie wished him luck and sat with Diana and Josh. Jonah gave Chet the first move.
And thus the battle began. Chet pulled two large stones from the ground and dropped one, launching the other at Jonah. Jonah effortlessly side stepped.
“Barbaric.” he simply said.
Chet huffed and pushed the other stone, rolling it toward him. Jonah raised an eyebrow, seeing this as...a bit too simple. Jonah stopped it with his foot and Chet rushed at the first stone, launching it along with himself into the air and smashing it with a fist. Rocks rained on Jonah, who widened his eyes in surprise. He blew wind to stop the rocks and push them back, and Chet smashed the second stone as he landed on it, bit of it blasting Jonah back.
“Barbaric, eh?” Jonah blew wind to catch himself. Jonah was seen as the most powerful elemental caster in existence, seeing as he controlled each of the primary elements of fire, water, earth, and air. As such, he was able to manipulate anything to his situation quite easily. But even Chet caught him off guard. Jonah blew fire at Chet, who used the remaining stones to block it. The stone wall shattered with Jonah behind it, tackling it with his body covered in flames. Chet stepped back but the ground froze beneath him, forcing him to slip and fall. Diana gasped as Jonah leaped into the air and spun, covering himself in a whirling ball of air and slamming into him.
Chet sat up and rubbed his head, then pounded the ground. Rocks came up and slam around him. Jonah covered one with water and clashed it into a rock Chet put up to block. Chet took the remains and made them into a club, which Jonah burst apart with air. Jonah chuckled and walked slowly to Chet, flicking him and pushing him back with air. Chet moved, but his hand was blasted back by air. His other hand was set ablaze, then, as Chet cried in pain, his feet were frozen, preventing further movement.
“That's hardly fair!” Jamie called out, clenching her delicately rugged fists in retaliation. “You have so much power and he has...just one...”
“This is my challenge!” Chet said between grunts of pain as he was pushed into a fountain, providing Jonah with all the water anyone would've needed to finish him off. Jonah stood in front of him, expecting retaliation.
“If it's your challenge, why then are you failing to commit to succeeding?”
“I...won't fail...Jo...” Chet laid his head in the water of the fountain. Jonah fished him up and dried him off with warm gusts of air.
Jonah sat in front of Chet's bed in the inn the next morning. Jonah paid for the team to stay, as he originally promised. After the battle, he carried Chet to his bed and lay him down.
“Ugh,” Chet muttered as he rubbed his head. “What happened?”
“You will be trained by me the minute I ask for it.”
Chet was surprised to see Jamie. She fell asleep in his lap, waiting for him to wake up. She rubbed her eyes and yawned. Jonah explained to Chet that deep down he knew Chet knew there was no chance, and asked why he keeps trying to push against him.
“Look, it's a pride thing.” Chet said. “Everyone knows you. They know of your strength, your attributes, your goals, accomplishments, aspirations, and your dreams. You know what they say to me? They call me your brother. I've never had my own name.”
Jonah opened his mouth, but no words could escape the dry grasp of his tongue. He closed it and looked down, not having realized how much he shadowed his younger brother. He thought he was only being stubborn, as Chet is well known to be. Chet has always been laid back. He's always loved to be behind the scenes. Whenever somebody stepped in his zone, he instinctively hunted them and shoved them back out. Walls have always been his best friends, in and out of the battlefield. So when Jonah would constantly see him resist, as an older brother, he felt he had to do what was necessary to show him why he was wrong about the way he was going about life, even if it harmed him in the process...
“Jamie, are you alright?” Chet asked.
She let out a cute moan groggily and muttered, “Are you?”
Chet looked at Jonah, who sighed and stood up. “Look, I need to talk to the other boy.”
“I know his name.” Jonah left the room.
Josh and Diana sat in the lobby, asleep, with Diana leaning on his shoulder. Jonah came down and sat in front of them, his chin buried in his fists. He didn't need to talk to anybody. He needed to think. Seeing Josh and Diana so calmly asleep together made him feel...isolated from the rest of the group. Something tugged at him now. It wasn't his brother...it...it was something else.
Josh stirred in his sleep before yawning to wake up. He looked at Jonah, and then Diana. She stayed asleep. Jonah smiled.
“Remember when we used to go through life like this? Every day?”
Josh looked up, and then smiled. When Jonah used to mentor Josh, they would stay in random places all the time. Usually an inn or someone’s house.
“What are you going to do about Chet?” Josh asked quietly.
“I’m going to allow him the opportunity to continue making decisions on his own. I believe I’ve attempted to influence him too much.”
“Huh. Well, you haven’t influenced me that much.”
To this, Jonah chuckled. “I think I’ve influenced you just enough, Joshua.”
Chet stood in the doorway of the lobby, listening to their conversation. He smiled, hoping to gain respect from his brother after all. Jamie walked out from behind him and woke up Diana with her loud voice.
“Oye, we have to do something about that guy.”
Diana stretched and looked at Josh groggily, then shrieked and scooted quickly away. Josh chuckled. “What do you mean?”
“Dios mio.” Jamie pointed at the door. “The guy we beat. We need to find out where he came from and why he wanted the gems. I mean, I know they’re valuable, but not so much that he’d make a public scene. There has to be something on these things.”
Chet gasped, almost forgetting them. Jonah, having heard the gasp, pointed at the front desk, saying they were with the lady up front. Chet sighed and got the box from her. Josh stood up and dusted himself off. “You’re right, actually. You don’t think that was a distraction, do you?”
Diana looked down in thought. “How…did he know…”
“What’s up?” Josh said.
“How did he know they sold merchants in the town square? I mean, we had intel, but what did he have? Also, he was really close to us when he asked. It was as if this was planned from the start.”
Chet shook his head. “Yo, you’re thinkin’ a bit too much Diana.”
Jonah raised a hand calmly. “Wait, but if there is a hunch, what reason is there not to investigate it?”
Josh nodded. “Alright then, we ought to go check this guy out.”
Squad Z headed for the town jail; at least, where they held criminals. They asked to see somebody, and despite the consistent rejection, finally found a way in. They walked up towards his cell and checked him out. Jamie was the first to get there, and was shocked at what she found.
“Guys,” she muttered. “He’s gone…”
Back at the tower, they reported the results to Kenji, who was shocked beyond comparison.
“So, you met a young man who asked you to get the legendary orbs before the Eclipse of the Phoenix, and you accepted?”
“Yes,” Josh replied.
“Then, you fought a large man who threatened to take these shards of elemental jewels with which you believe give you powers beyond your very own?”
“When you finally got to him in jail, he broke free?”
“That, we aren’t collectively surprised about,” Diana explained. “Seeing as he began with amazing earth powers.”
“That was a mistake on our part, sir.” Josh bowed. “We should’ve kept a better eye on him.”
“Are you kidding?” Kenji almost stood. “Your discoveries were amazing! Nobody found as many crystal shards at one time as you have, let alone expected this find to be right under our noses this entire time. And whatever that guy you fought does next, he can be wary of your strength as a group now. I say you seek out these orbs before the allotted time and bring them to the tower.”
Josh was shocked. “Wait, seriously?”
Kenji nodded. “What use do we have of you here? None. I say take this opportunity to go out and explore the world. Report to me whenever you have one of the orbs, and you ought to be fine. I believe in you.”
Diana was speechless. Jamie raised her finger in question. “You really trust us to go alone?”
“You act like it’s my job to babysit every member of this tower. I love the days when members go out on missions. I would normally send another team, preferably one with more experience, on this wild goose chase, but seeing your reputable success on your first task, even with the obstacles at hand, along with your mind-boggling discoveries, I strongly believe you guys can accomplish this task. This will be a great way for you guys to achieve success as warriors.”
Chet and Josh pounded fists. This was fantastic. They never expected this response. Kenji sat back in his seat and gave the gems back to the team, requesting they take them to Gyrome, who could make great use of them. Chet took the box, and they walked down to his office. Gyrome was seen tweaking a piece of technology as he loved to do. He nodded at the team as they came in.
“Welcome back. I’ve completed your order. You’ll love it.”
He called for Harley to come down with the weapons he asked for. Harley brought down a large cart with finely shaped weapons on it.
“I hope you guys have shards. These weapons cannot be enchanted without them.”
Josh and Jamie smiled at each other. “Like these?” They asked in unison as they pulled out their respective shards. Gyrome nodded with a smile of approval. Harley read a sheet of paper.
“Joshua Nikolay?” he muttered. Josh walked up and was handed a sword in a sheath. The blade was long and slender, with a small curve up in a hook. Gyrome explained.
“This is a hooked katana. A unique design by yours truly. It offers maneuverability with its weight displacement, being heavier on the blade than the unusually light hilt. The hook allows for a number of utilities. If you enchant it, a concentration of air will glide along the blade to project in a blast. Try it out. The whole room is titanium.”
Josh looked at the team, who gave couldn’t wait to see. Diana backed up, not wanting to get hit. Josh made a few awkward movements, not having used a sword before. He looked at his peridot and clenched it tightly. Then, he felt a gust behind him as he made a slash and saw a white pulse fire from the end of the blade and collide with the wall with an explosive poof. The team dropped jaws. Harley read Jamie’s name next. She ran up and grabbed a pair of blades shaped in D’s.
“Those are the appropriately named ‘D-Blades’. These nifty weapons function like a pair of bronze knuckles and a pair of butterfly knives. Their unique curves allow them to return to where they were thrown if it ever happened, and their handle, along with the black portion under the blade, is made of a special charcoal, allowing them to be combusted in flame when enchanted. Give it a whirl.”
Jamie danced in a boxing fashion, and then spun, throwing a few enflamed kicks and punches. They felt natural to her. She threw one and it flew in a direct left before coming back to her, engulfed in flames. She shrieked in surprise.
“You two may need gloves for this.” Gyrome pulled out two pairs of black gloves with unique insignias on them. He explained that they were the symbols of the elements air and flame. They took their respective gloves and looked at Chet, who was still holding the box of shards.
“Oh, wait!” Jamie skipped to Chet and gave the box to Gyrome, who was elated.
“Marvelous! I can complete the enchantments!” He took the gem shards and put them on the cart. Diana shrugged.
“And the gloves?” she asked, needing him to complete his explanations to eliminate any possible problem.
“Ah, yes. These gloves are also made to your liking. Joshua, yours holds air pockets, allowing you to blast air out along with preventing callous. Jamie, yours are able to be set ablaze through the charcoal previously mentioned, and will be put out by the slightly flame retardant covering. I suggest wearing these gloves at any time while wielding the weapon for optimal fighting results.”
Diana huffed. This was all too convenient. She was partially envious at their offensive fighting styles, wanting very much to be able to go into battle with more than support. She widened her eyes when Harley called her name and walked up slowly. She was given a bow and a staff. Josh groaned.
“Why does the princess get two?”
Diana huffed and looked at her staff. It was long, with a blue orb at its base and a Saturn-like ring above it. The top was like a ball; with an indentation that was…empty. Her bow came with a quiver carrying but a few arrows.
“What’s this? Why is it my weapons have so little interesting features?”
Gyrome raised an eyebrow. “You carry a material element. Making a weapon for you, as well as Chet, will be much more difficult. In fact, the bow is only for emergencies when you cannot carry water.”
“Material?” Jamie asked. “Que es eso?”
“If you’re asking what it is, then listen up. Remember there are eight known elements. Half of these are material, half energy-based. Energy-based elements, being fire, wind, thunder, and psychic, all have the common traits of being able to be used just about anywhere it’s allowed, so long as the user can muster the energy to do so. Material elements, on the other hand, do not require any willpower from the user to be used, and can be abused to no limit, but only as long as the element exists. No water in a desert, for example.”
Diana loved this learning experience. “Then why is my staff special?”
“The large ball at the top of the staff is for you to insert your gem of choice and enchant it. It will fill itself with whatever element the wielder wishes. I actually didn’t have Harley make this. It was here all this time. If you put a sapphire in, it will collect all of the moisture in the air and fill the ball with it, allowing you to carry water no matter where you go.”
“Just my style. No flashiness, just practicality.” Diana walked off, pleased. Chet went up last, and was given a long metal bar. Chet frowned and Josh chuckled.
“What’s wrong, bro? Compensating for something?”
“Shut up!” Chet pounded the bar on the cart. “What is this?”
Gyrome looked as though he expected this. “Chet, you and I both know your element makes everything your weapon. This bar is just a handle for whatever piece of rock you shove it into to make a weapon out of it.”
Chet blinked. “Oh.” He turned red and walked away, remembering Gyrome saying him having
“Wait, what the heck is so special about these gems?”
“The gem shards? Oh, but of course. Gems react differently depending on the person who wields them. There are eight main shard types, each with a different elemental reactor. It is said when all of one type of shard are collected, they will lead to the ultimate means of controlling the element the gem represented.”
“What are they?” Josh asked.
“They are the Flame Ruby, the Aquatic Sapphire, the Mineral Obsidian, the Air Peridot, the Electric Topaz, the Natural Emerald, the Mental Amethyst, and the Titanium Diamond.”
“Wait, but we just grabbed our favorite gems.” Diana said.
“Ha! You think that was a mere coincidence? Think of what I listed and what you grabbed. The gems only reacted to whichever element was in your combination.”
“Whoa!” Josh caught the word at the end of his sentence, as did Jamie. “Combination?”
“Why yes. If you wield a gem from another element, chances are you are able to use both the element you have and the element from the shard. I mean, Harley and I manipulate metal, but I also use grass gems to grow plants to extract the nutrients necessary for my potions, and Harley here uses flame gems to weld his weaponry.”
“So, is that the only way to get a second element?” Diana asked.
“As far as we know. It is said that you cannot wield a gem if your nature doesn’t allow you to control that element. And if you have one long enough, you can use it without the gem. I mean we’ve used gems for months since we discovered them, and we still can’t use elements without them.”
Diana and Josh exchanged glances. Josh stepped up. “So…these gems, when combined, make the ultimate elemental force?”
“Only the ones from the same gem. And yes, according to legend.”
Josh snapped his fingers. “That’s why he wanted the gems so badly.”
“If it was the gems he was after, at least.” Diana was still skeptical towards the idea that he only wanted them.
“One more thing.” Gyrome went to his desk and typed their names into his computer. He then handed them communicators with the E.W. insignia inscribed in it. “These handy little things will allow you to contact the tower at any given time, or any other warrior implemented into its system. It will be like…”
“Collecting someone’s contacts?” Jamie asked.
“Yes.” Gyrome said. “Like a contact page. Each one is linked into your respective names. As such, your name will come up if we are contacted. My contact is there for any questions, along with Jenny’s if you need missions for wherever you are, and Kenji’s because…it’s Kenji.”
“Well, now what?” Diana asked.
“Kenji will know.” Josh assured her. “We have to have a place to start our journey.”
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