The man entered a cavern. The walls, stone and grey, were rough and jagged and almost gave off an eerie feel. The ground was also stone, and seemed dangerous to navigate on, as if it were entirely unstable. The entire cavern had no light shining in whatsoever, only a small beam coming from the man's flashlight.
He was around eighteen years old, with short black hair and hazel eyes. Though not wearing a helmet, his body was covered in the average Rank Three Sentinel Knight armor. He had a bold expression, as if he knew exactly what he needed to accomplish and would do it as fast as possible.
As he proceeded through the cavern, he couldn't help but notice that the strange feeling coming off of the walls of the cave had grown. Something wasn't right, and he knew that, but he shelved the thought and pulled out a message recorder as he continued to explore.
"Day Three", he spoke into it. "No sign of the Amplifier's original home, though I'm getting close. There's a psychic radiation field that keeps coming from cave to cave. It's been giving off a strange emission, like it's supposed to be warning travellers to turn back and run.
The cavern had switched from a choppy path to a steady incline, but the man continued to walk slowly.
"There's something following me", he continued. "I can feel the presence of something, but when I turn back, there's only stone."
The incline had been sharply cut off, replaced by an entrance to another cavern. Surprisingly, instead of being another tunnel, it was an enormous room. The ceiling was at least fifty feet up, and the ground and walls were slightly smoother than in the previous area. In the center of the room was a pedestal, made of a smoother, lighter grey stone.
Pulling out the recording device as he ran up to the pedestal, the man said,
"I knew it! Day Three's a success. I've found the placeholder of the Amplifier. As suspected, the object itself has already been taken. Everyone should have realized that by now, ever since the Maelstrom... Well, you know."
The top of the pedestal curved in like a bowl, to hold something similar to that of a sphere. The man knew it - this was the place where the Dark Amplifier had been held.
Interrupting his train of thoughts, an unpleasant sensation filled the man. Whatever had been following him was at it again, and this time the man feared. If the room was a dead end, then surely he needed to face whatever had been stalking him.
Turning on the recorder shakily, the man said,
"Upload sound files to firstname.lastname@example.org."
"Sending recording files to Contact - Doctor Overbuild.", the machine replied.
Slowly, and nervously, the man turned to meet his match.
A scream of pure terror echoed through the room as the man came head-to-head with a sinister face and a hand grasping him, hard as stone.
Chapter 0.1 Edit
A silver-blue sword shattered through what had appeared to be a mannequin replica of a Stromling Pirate. Blake, seventeen years of age, flipped his blond bangs out of his eyes. The next training dummy, a Dark Ronin on a pole, zapped in front of him. Knocking it over it with his Sentinel shield and slicing off its head, he prepared for the next challenge.
Unfortunately, he didn't strike so lucky for the next one. A red statue, one of the trick timebomb dummies, appeared in front of him. Not realizing his mistake quickly enough, Blake threw his sword upon the dummy, and was blown out of the Nexus Tower's Training Simulator.
That was always his error, he could never see those traps coming. Sure, it was all meant to help improve his tactics and coordination, but Blake always got too into the fighting to see the reds coming.
Blake was seventeen, with shaggy blond hair and bright blue eyes. He was as Sentinel as he could ever possibly be - bold, daring, brave, and charming at times. Even more obsessively, he was a Rank Three in each Sentinel Class, both Knight and Samurai, along with with the new addition of Space Ranger.
As he exited the Simulation Chamber and entered the Sentinel Headquarters, Blake noticed a helmeted Venture League Daredevil, Rank Three, staring in his general direction. A smirk appeared on his face as he walked up to them, getting up to a distance of only a few feet.
"Jenna!" he said casually. "What's up?"
The masked Daredevil pulled off their helmet. Underneath, the face of a girl emerged. About sixteen, she had piercing green eyes and a fair amount of red lipstick on. Long, brown hair tumbled down over her shoulders as her helmet was removed. Like Blake, she had a confident grin on her face.
"How was Crux?" Blake asked her.
"Tiring, and I missed you!" Jenna responded impatiently.
They hugged for a moment. The two had met while fending off the Maelstrom on Crux Prime, both barely escaping the intense battleground and heat at Caldera Mar. For about two months they, both loving the adventure and thrill of danger, had been in a relationship.
"So, has your training been improving?" she asked sarcastically.
"Ha", Blake replied. "Same old, same old, those stupid trick ones always fool me."
"Well, that's what they're there for."
"Heh, bet you can't do any better."
"Want to put that theory to the test?"
"Knock yourself out."
Sure enough, Jenna proved to make a good match for the rigged dummies. The second they popped out, she immediately stoped firing her flareguns and waited for the reds to diffuse. Finishing up and coming out of the Simulate with a score thirty points higher than Blake's, she burst out laughing.
"Wel- Well done", Blake forced himself today.
"Here", Jenna said in between laughs. "Want to pop down to each of our Vendors and get some Faction Drinks?"
The two of them turned and walked towards the Sentinel Vendor, not noticing the violet sparks emerging from the Simulator's screen.
Chapter 0.2 Edit
Blake and Jenna sat on a bech together, sipping their Faction Drinks. A strange silence had crept over them, as if they both knew something wasn't right but they both wanted to keep it to themselves. Blake thought it was Jenna. She had been so happy to see him, but now she was silent.
"So", he said, attempting to start a conversation, "Get any good smashes on Crux?"
She smiled, then replied, "Yeah, I teamed up with a bunch of people and took down Butterscorch. Got some nice things from her."
"Nice. You sold them?"
"Yeah." She nudged him. "I always sell 'em."
"Well, anyways, I'm finished with this drink."
Blake got up and threw the drink out. Jenna did the same, and they started walking. The part of Nexus tower they were in was surprisingly empty. There were absolutely no people there, besides themselves and the vendors. It was strange, and Blake knew it. The tower was always full of people in every room.
"Where is everyone?" Jenna asked, seeming to notice, too.
They ran through the Assembly corridors and into the Nexus Core. Doctor Overbuild was standing at his computer screens, frowning. Besides him, the room was totally empty.
The same happened with the Paradox rooms. This time, though, Vanda Darkflame wasn't even there. Even more strangely, the vendors had abandoned their posts.
They sprinted to the Venture League Room. Everyone was gone. Hael Storm's telescope was reeled back in and the wall had been shut, which had never happened.
Blake and Jenna continued to search the corridors of the Tower. Even at the entrance, not even Nexus Naomi's hologram was on her pedestal.
As they tried one last corridor, they heard the faint distinction of voices. They entered the Nexus Vault, and the level of noise became higher. Blake opened his mouth to say something, but Jenna glared at him as they slowly walked into the Sentinel Room.
About a hundred people filled the room, screaming out what seemed to be insults. Members of each faction circled the center of the room, where three of the four Faction Leaders stood, looking at the crowd. Luckily, there wasn't enough people to cramp the space in the room, so it was easy to maneuver through. Tapping a random Paradox Space Marauder on the shoulder, Blake asked.
"Excuse me, but, um... What exactly is going on?"
"Well, where have you been?" the Space Marauder rudely replied. "Some idiot Assembly Inventor was testing his gear on the Simulator, and one of the dummies turned into a real Maelstrom creature! Ugh, he didn't even analize it to see where it came from, he just smashed it to bits. I hate it when-"
Blake walked away as the Marauder continued to rant about his dislikes, Jenna following closely behind. They continued through the crowd of arguing and complaining people, finally reaching the front. The three Faction Leaders stood, looking nervous. Obviously, they were waiting for their fourth member.
"Vanda!" Blake shouted to the Paradox leader, who was closest to them.
Surprisingly, she actually turned towards him. Her short black hair had purple streaks in it, and her read dress was slightly torn.
Blake continued, "You need to get their attention!"
Vanda turned away, and whispered into the ear of Hael Storm, the Venture League's leader. Immediately, the pirate nooded, took out his pistol, and fired into the ceiling.
Everyone screamed, and went silent.
"Ay, 'ye all!" Hael said angrily. "Shut 'yer mouths an' let the Duke talk!"
Duke Exeter, leader of the Sentinels, stepped forward. He looked similar to Blake, besides his different armor and the fact that he was noticeably older.
"Everyone", he said, "calm down. Sure, a genuine Stromling Pirate came out of the Simulator, but it was just a malfunction. I can assure you there's no Maelstrom in the Tower-"
Everyone started shouting again at his remark. Hael fired another shot into the top of the room, quickly silencing everyone.
"As I was saying..." started Duke.
"Oh, what?" interrupted an Assembly Engineer. "This is since the Dark Amplifier was stolen, isn't it?"
Infuriated, Duke Exeter said, "There is no Dark Amplifier, and even if there was, it wouldn't be stolen!"
"Actually", said the calming voice of Doctor Overbuild as he entered the room, "I beg to differ."
Chapter 0.3 Edit
As Doctor Overbuild pushed his way up to the center of the room, anyone who was still talking became silent. His armor was scratched, and his extra two robotic arms were deactivated. Though his goggles shined with a friendly blue glow, his expression was a combination of stress and tiredness.
"Overbuild", asked Duke Exeter, "what's this all about?"
The doctor replied, "This must be discussed in private, Duke."
"No, none of that. These people came to know what the Crux is going on, and I think it would be wise to tell them right her, right now."
Overbuild paused for a moment, probably wondering how he was going to tell what he had to say to the entire crowd. Eventually looking back up, he said,
"Okay, fine. Well, to begin with, let's start with the Dark Amplifier. Let's face it. The object is real. When the original Imagination Nexus blew up and took Planet Crux with it, two pieces survived. What we found was the Last Shard of Pure Imagination, which could bring any wonderful idea to life. That was the positive side."
He paused for a moment to take a breath.
"Of course", he continued, "the Maelstrom was forged in the heart of the Nexus. Just think - the positive side and the negative side of creation, being meshed together for a moment. They click, then boom. Extreme explosion. Now, if a positive chunk was released, so was a negative. That's what we call the Dark Amplifier. Instead of creating wonderful creations, it turns anyone's horrible, evil objects to life. And yes, to clarify it, the Maelstrom does have possession of this horrible device."
"Ay", Hael chimed in. "But wha' abou' the Stromlin' Pirate in here? Nexus Tower is completely Maelstrom-free, so how di' one of 'em get in here?"
"That's the thing!" Overbuild replied. "The Amplifier's power can let the Maelstrom generate beasts anywhere and anytime they want to, even if it's extremely secured."
"Then why don't they just destroy us on the spot?" asked Vanda.
"That's the question. They have an unlimited source of dark energy, so why are they only making their attacks in slow, minimal, and choppy waves?"
That made Blake wonder about it himself. What were the Maelstrom planning? And what did sending out a Stromling Pirate to Nexus Tower do any good for them? Perhaps there was a pattern...
"Um, excuse me", Blake said, "but Doctor Overbuild, are the 'choppy' attacks related at all? Are there any links between them?"
Overbuild looked puzzled for a moment, and then he shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. All of the attacks are completely random. There was the point where the Maelstrom took the small island of Starbridge Valley, the strange purple explosions in Avant Gardens, and the disapp- Oops, never mind."
He had stopped himself. And, for the first time in a few minutes, Duke Exeter had noticed.
"Never mind what?" he asked.
"It's nothing", said Overbuild. "I'll tell you another time."
"No, you'll tell me now."
"Fine, then. There was the disappearance at Rivendark Canyon.'
Duke looked up nervously, as if he'd recognized something in Overbuild's sentence.
"The disappearance at where?" he asked slowly.
"Duke", said Overbuild, "Bullet Mullet has been completely wiped off of the face of the universe."
Chapter 0.4 Edit
Although most of the Faction members had left to go about with their days, Blake and Jenna stayed to hear the final bits of the Faction Leaders' debate. The news that Doctor Overbuild had brought both terrified and excited Blake. Something sinister and possibly not even Maelstrom was out there, and had wiped someone off from the face of the universe. As he and Jenna continued to listen to the conversation, Duke said,
"You mean he's dead? As in, he's missing and his tracker chip's gone?"
"No", replied Doctor Overbuild. "This is possibly the most unusual thing I've ever seen. It's not that something disabled the tracker. Whenever I try locating him, I get a message saying that there was never such a device. Then, the system goes haywire and shortcircuits itslef. It broke three of my five computer, and I still haven't deciphered what it means. It's as if the computers dont- err, can't accept the information, like they don't want to believe that this is genuine."
"This is most odd", Vanda said softly. "Through all of my years of research, I've seen that no Maelstrom creature is intelligent enough to disable a device from existence itself. Even so, I'm sure nothing has the ability to do so."
"What are we going to do about it?" asked the doctor. "That's the real question. The tracker's gone completely missing, we have no evidence this is even a Maelstrom attack itself, and what in the name of sanity could do such a thing? We can't exactly wait for it to show itself, if there even is an it."
"Ay!" exclaimed Hael, stroking his trimmed beard. "Why don' we launch some miss'ls down 'ta Rivendark Canyon? We destroy whatever's down 'der and prevent more diss'er'pearances!"
"No, no", intervened Vanda. "That's unwise. For all we know, this... thing, if you will, may have an entire population, and may be something new. We need to research it."
"As much as I hate to agree with a Paradox..." Duke began as Vanda jokingly gave him a push. "...we need to analize what we're dealing with, and see what we can do with it."
Everyone paused for a moment, probably thinking of what to do. Blake and Jenna stood away from the Faction Leaders. Although a bit confused himself, Blake maintained an easy understanding of what was going on. He wanted to help, but didn't see how he could do so.
"Oh!" said Doctor Overbuild. "Duke, send your scout team! They're highly trained, quick, and do the work cleaner than anyone else I know of."
"Yeah", replied Duke, "that would be nice, except for the fact that we're one member short because one has completely vanished!"
"Gah, where's a good Sentinel Knight when you need one?"
Immediately, Blake's heart lit up. His mind electrified itself at the sound of Duke's words. He knew he could help with it. Overjoyed and completely confident, he jumped right into their conversation, cutting Vanda off from her theory on what to do.
"Um..." she said, dumbfounded.
"Hi", Blake said, immediately becoming embarrassed for storming up. "Sorry to interrupt, but Duke Exeter, I think you've found the Sentinel Knight you need."
Chapter 0.5 Edit
Blake tried to hide the humiliation from his face as the four Faction Leaders eyed him suspiciously. Sure, he truly, desperately wanted to help out in the Nexus Force... just not the way he'd done so. As the Faction Leaders continued to awkwardly stare at him, he looked back at Jenna. She was trying to force herself not to laugh.
"Well, then!" Duke Exeter exclaimed in a strange tone. "You want to join something you've probably never heard of, you are what seems to be an average Sentinel, and you approach this in a very unorderly manner."
Blake knew he had begun to blush. Still, though, he replied,
"W-well, er- I mean, is there anything I can do to join?"
"No, not really", said Exeter. "You've already made enough of an impression on us. Guys, let's finish our discussion... this time, in private."
The Faction Leaders turned to leave, but an anxious Blake shouted,
Duke Exeter looked back, who was noticeably irritated. As much as Blake wanted to run away out of embarrassment, Blake held his stance. He'd wanted to help out. Ever since he'd join the Sentinels, he wanted to become a major part of the Nexus Force. A chance like this wasn't going to slip, him being humiliated or not.
"I- err, I have a Training Simulator of ten thousand...?" he lied.
He regretted saying it. It was near impossible to score that high on the Training Simulator. The highest ever achieved was a nine thousand, five hundred. Even so, it was by one of the best Nexus Force members. There was no way that he could actually come close to it, as his highest score was slightly above two thousand. An average score.
"Okay, right", said Duke Exeter with a surprisingly unamused face. "Can you show us?"
"Ab- absolutely!" Blake responded with a fake smile, which he regretted instantly.
Once again, he looked behind himself. Jenna's expression had gone from amused to mortified. She, too, obviously didn't find Blake's response as amusing as his embarrassment.
"Leave us", said Duke to the other Faction Leaders. They turned and walked towards their own Faction rooms.
Duke, looking serious about the Simulator, led Blake to the room. Jenna followed close behind, with a solemn look on her face. Blake knew that if Jenna was acting like that, the training wasn't going to go well.
"So", Duke said, "show me your fantastic score."
Blake stepped into one of the Simulators. He turned on the machine, and tightened his grip on both his sword and shield as the Maelstrom dummies emerged.
He smack down the first several. The points kept rising... ten, twenty, fifty, two hundred... Within about ten seconds, he was at a solid score of one thousand. Stromlings, Pirates, Dark Ronin, Horsemen, and Spiderling statues continued to pop into the system. Blake smashed them all. Something was coming... It was Blake's high score, two thousand, one hundred.
As he neared it, he noticed something.
His sword had stopped.
The current dummy was a Red Mine, and he'd instinctively stopped his sword before hitting it.