3 WEEKS BEFORE D-DAY
He had taken down more phantom beings than he could possibly noticed. In the darkness the whole district would have been better off completely blown away in a freaking storm. He could smell the vicinity as though it was wiped clean, as if all the green life was gone. His feet were almost bare, that's the only reason he knew the ground was still there. Everything else had dissolved like it was never there at all, like the universe never even begun, or perhaps it never was.
In those first few moments after the accident, Armani had all the emotion of hard concrete...emotionless as ever, his facial muscles just as loose. There was no anger, no sadness, no joy or resentment. The emotionless state remained. That's how he's been right from time, kill or be killed. He found himself in a different home...abandoned...dilapidated. The only thing left was for the building to crumble off it's foundation. He gained entrance into the building but was greeted by a sticky strands of spiderwebs that coiled up in his face. Still barely capable of sight but eventually, his left palm found it's way to his face and thus discarding the white threads. Furniture of different categories were laid off at several sections of the house. Judging from the interior setup, it was evident that someone had lived there...perhaps a very long time ago. His calculations were cut short when a blade was pointed at him from behind. Frozen in motion, his gaze coursed slightly to the left only to find a stranger he never expected. Amy, a feminine with long, almost waist-length light red hair and golden eyes. She wasn't further than that of an average height, being slightly shorter than him. Clad in a slightly worn out sleeveless black uniform with a high collar, gold trim, and some sort of badge on the left side of her chest. The lower end of the uniform divided off into four long pieces as though it was torn with brute force that nearly extend to the floor. He completely turned in 180° only to find an adorned black sash worn around her waist.
She voiced in a dominant tone while her 5" blade was still pointed at him. Armani had a habit of staring almost mechanically. He poured out his cold gaze as they both retained direct eye and contact. In a motion as quick as the blink of an eye, she redirected her stare to his torso only to find marks all over his chest. Armani's view caught sight of a red bandana tied to her upper left arm and underneath her outfit was a cropped sleeveless white turtle-neck and white boyshorts.
“Looks like we have another visitor, Amy.”
From within the building, a voice spoke from the staircase before a man revealed himself. Clad in an outfit nigh similar to Amy, but had his red bandana tied to his forehead and black shorts that ran from his waist down to the ankles.
“You kind of look upbeat but we want no troubles. We're barely survivors.”
The man said in a masculine tone. They had been in the ruins for almost a week planning and strategizing on how to escape the ruptured dimension.
“You should have strike when you had the chance.”
Armani's response was vivid while he ascended the stairs at the far end of the house where he found himself in a spacecious room. In the light that flowed water-like through the windows of the old house, he stripped off his topmost layer. On each arm there are great purple welts that was visible like a birthmark. Against his pale-white skin they are grotesque, but he knew he was fortunate not to have any lethal wound that would ring any bell. He paused before he reached for a long sleeved top in an abandoned closet. Nigh-tattered was the long sleeve and he still looked as beat up as he did in his early days of training, sparring as an adjuchas with legionaries over twice his mass. He threw himself unto a soft, wide and flat piece of furniture where his gaze was then fixed to the ceilings. The air-conditioner mounted north-east was far more damaged than the shattered windows of the room. For the bed had minor holes like it was eaten by a mice, dissatisfaction never swayed his inner peace while he relieved himself.
Then came sunrise. He rose from the bed like a body would rise from the dead. He retraced his steps back to the ground floor only to find the strangers he earlier stomped onto. It was as though they never left the spot through out the night.
“I was never asleep in the first place.”
“You can call me Amy and this is my partner, Baragan. We have plans that could aid us escape, or at very least survive this dimension if you're willing to cope with us.”
“Tell me something I don't know.”
She untied the scarf on her left arm to reveal a deep scar. “In appearance, the mark looks similar to that on your chest. I figured you must have come across them. Phantoms...call them phantoms. They attack individually or in packs. However they remain invincible to the sense of sight but they usually make a queer groaning noise before striking on their prey.”
“I said tell me something I don't know.”
“Aside these phantoms, there are souls in search of physical forms. They copy your every data upon sight and could be lethal when impersonating.”
“Not only did you prove yourself unhelpful, you'll also be a liability. Keep this in mind. Just as I do not consider you a foe, so I do not consider you a friend.”
Armani voiced as his earnest stare coursed towards Baragan who sat comfortably on a wooden chair. Tall and slightly muscular was Baragan — his most notable feature was the double edged sword placed horizontally on his laps. Baragan rose to his feet only to slam his head against the long chandelier suspending from the ceilings. He fastened his double sided weapon diagonally on his rear as he took a deep breath and released colorless gas from his mouth.
The trio stormed out in pursuit of the quest. Amy had high hopes for survival. Baragan was loyal and hoped to see her achieve her dreams...so anyway she goes, he follows. And lastly, Armani. Peace was likely to reign if he never existed in the first place.
Can you ride, stranger?
Amy was mockery as she got on a mountain bike. Baragan threw his left leg across another monstrous piece of machinery. The wheels were too big for it to be called a motorbike. They kick started their engines and disappeared in limelight. Armani preferred to do things traditionally, but he was tempted to ride with the modern world. He hot wired an abandoned motorcycle and gave a hard throttle to the engine. Smokey fumes filled the air as he drifted in 360° and zoomed off.
Though the street hadn't heard laughter for a while, there were still street-lamps stubbornly standing tall as though they would glow later at night. It was as if they simply wanted to share that amber glow, regardless of if anyone admired it. The road itself still had that well-loved appearance, the traffic of decades having passed over it. It was a street where real life might have been, the turning of skipping ropes and shrieks of children. Armani let his right hand make physical contact with the ground surface, perhaps its abandonment was a temporary thing in a negative way, that the universe wasn't bringing the joy back this place but calamity. The markings on the floor looked fresh as though it was recently scared. It was similar with the same mark on his chest and that on Amy's arm.
“Hold on. You hear that?!”
Baragan voiced out of curiosity or probably based on a hunch. However, his sense of hearing was sharper than the rest of the team. In spite of his failed curiosity, his assumption wasn't wrong. A group of paranormal beings were actually lurking in the shadows and not close enough to land an assault. The ghosts voices were like iron nails dragged over rock. It rose and fell, never once making the words audible.
In the broad daylight, daytime was the swirl of pollution in the hazy sunlight. The air was barely fit to breathe and the streets were utterly deserted, only the litter moved over the grime. Armani's journey continued along with the strangers he encountered earlier. They had traveled more than nine hours and not a single paranormal being had engaged them. Armani wasn't much of a loquacious being. He kept to himself and unlike Amy, he never had anyone's interest at heart.
Sunset was upon them like any other day. The bright yellow being once again vanished from the sky as the moon gradually took it's place. The air had thickened, temperature dropped. The night was icy than usual and nowhere was there a comforting sound. If it wasn't for the moonlight, the night would have brought an unrelenting darkness that would wrap their eyes and mouths, burying them beneath a starless sky. They stopped to observe the vicinity.
Amy ran, bare feet gliding through the solid grounds. A swift wind blew her long, red hair out behind her like a cape. The eerie glow of the full moon glanced off the silver necklace that adorned her neck as she jumped onto the roof a rusty old vehicle. She glanced up, her feet never missing a step as she gazed at the night sky. The light of the stars was hidden by the shadows of the clouds. Adrenaline pushed its way into her veins filling her with the thrill of a beautiful adventure.
Suddenly, to her left, something tangible but invincible clawed it's way through the very fabric of space as a phantom swooped down to fly beside her. Phantom beings usually make queer ill sounds before they attack a prey but before she could react to the sound of death, her left thigh was already bleeding. Baragan rushed to her aid as she screamed. Insanity stole into her mind like a deranged thief, taking what was important to her— her focus.
Armani remained calm and prestigious. Cold grey eyes coursed left, right, left once again, and the only pitch to his ear was the sound of the wind. “What a drag!”
Armani turned backwards punching out his fist horizontally to the air. His fist made contact with nothing but thin air, but he did so out of impulse. Punching his fist into thin air made him release a single bolt of red condensed energy. Said to be 20x faster than a usual cero, the destructive energy cut through space and while in mid-air there was a blinding flash before an explosion as though the red energy made impact with a tangible object. The red energy met with a dozen of phantom beings who were slow to react. When he has learned, it's difficult for him to be astonished. From the sideline, Baragan and Amy's attention were stolen by the loud sound. They looked up to the smokescreen where Armani stood and they realized that the vicinity was safe no longer.
Armani couldn't sense what he was up against but judging from what he had observed; Amy been attacked by surprise, his bala reacting to invincible forces, it's vivid they had all been surrounded.
It all started when Armani felt a blow to the left side of his chest. The blow had a pinch as though he was about to be pierced. Any action wasted in time could be lethal. Be it adrenaline, Armani's left arm grabbed unto the tangible being like it had a mind of it's own. Regardless of that, his arm left behind an afterimage in it's wake as though it never moved in the first place. Grabbing hold on the tangible object that felt like a claws. He spread forward his right arm only to discover he grabbed hold of another set of claws. “Humanoid?!”
Overpowered by the incredible strength of the phantom which pushed him backwards, his eyes glowed bright grey. It wasn't rage, neither was he possessed or consumed by any emotion. He only channelled a little amount of cero energy to his eyes which made them glow different and brighter than usual. Unlike bala, his cero was more fine-tuned and had a different composition to it. Pale whitish grey was the color to his cero. Like a cyclopes, he emitted the grey energy in form of a beam from his eyes. Disappointed when his beam relentlessly traveled horizontally over a distance without dealing damage to any other tangible part of the phantom being, he redirected the beam downwards in an inclined manner and suddenly the air was filled by the sound of shattering glass. And the phantom being immediately let go of it's grip. “So the life core is based at the center of the chest.”
Armani had gasped the whole essence of what he was up against. Few moments ago, the moment he heard the shattering sound, he had already estimated the creature's arm length.
Soon Armani was greeted by another sorrowful groaning sound from northeast. The creature's were indeed slow. He released a basic novice cero from his right index finger that was almost never charged; saving him more reaction time. With the short beam pointed at the essence of it's existence, the phantom was silenced. From the blackness came noises no living thing could ever make. He was surrounded by multiple paranormal.
“El Ultimo Aliento De Los Hueco!”
Though he was fast stead enough to attempt reacting against one after the other, but he preferred omnidirectional attack.
There was a calm in the storm. They took shelter several yards away. Barangan had little medical skills. He tended to Amy's wounds and used a worn out cloth to avoid exposing the wound to open air. For it took more than a week before she was able to recover, a scar has been marked on her physic.
THINGS FALL APART
Days passed, weeks passed, they found themselves in a strange land. The path ahead was a graveyard. Spiked, black fences surrounded the entire graveyard almost like it was a prison. They stormed in and the surrounding area was full of gravestones covered in some kind of slime. Rows of gravestones stood erect in silence to the left and right, in front and behind, like a sea of the dead. Mould covered the engravings dedicated to the dead, trees leaning towards the stones, branches reaching out to each other. The smell of old stone filled the dry air, weeds covering the graves of the dead. Some were crumbled with the weathering of centuries, some were smooth marble with new black writing and some were laid with floral tributes...if not vines. Most though, were overgrown and unkept, and ran up the walls of several gravestones. For now even the mourners of these tombstones had probably joined them under the clay soil. And at the far end North-northwest, a new grave had been dug to await it's new occupant. The black framework of wood placed over the tombstone slowly wended it's way down the central lane followed by a procession of black limousines.
The graveyard was spooky. Armani walked over a tombstone, roughly inscribed with the name, “Mavis L. Vermillion”. Truly this land might have once been habited by annoying humans. Gravel paths weave through the maze of graves, assumed to allow bypassers to pay their respects to the people lined up in the afterlife embrace.
There was a terrible rumble from deep in the belly of the ruined world that could struck emotion into every living being. Then the solid ground began to move as if it were a wave on the sea and tall buildings from afar that had perhaps stood for centuries crumbled into their own foundations, trapping their occupants to a grisly ruins by crushing.
There was a continuous whisper of an eerie sound of a horn, but then, the graves started to bulge and several tombstones sank into the soil. Armani stood firm until the moment he frenetically dashed backwards. A rotten skeletal arm surfaced from the dirt where he stood initially, and thus revealed half it's body as it struggled to rise from the underworld. Skeletons started to rise out of graves that have been dormant for years. Even strange bodies rose from graves only dormant for days or weeks not giving the corpses enough time to rot. They ran at the foriegners. Armani needed not to waste so much time at such a crucial time. “Artillery!”
He summoned a gateway in the battle field. It wasn't a gateway to escape the land, neither was it a gateway to help the others flee. It was a gateway summoned to aid him more fire power. Like bullets shot from a machine gun, the gate released multiple hollow organisms which had the ability to stick to whatever they come in contact with. The organisms were more powerful in numbers. They stock on several sections of the battle field and most especially on the skeletons that came alive. Like a bomb set to detonate in a few seconds, the walking deads were greeted by several massive explosions. The organisms had the ability to explode after a set time.
Baragan on the other hand was noted to be good at the physical. He rushed deep into the graveyard to take down more skeleton beings. Whiteness gradually swooped into the atmosphere, freezing fog then wrapped itself around the entire graveyard like a blanket. The trees were veiled in the lightness of mist. In the blinding mist, Baragan's motion was hindered. His left foot got to something tangible. It wasn't natural, neither did he strike his feet against a rock. A skeletal being grabbed hold of his feet, dragging him down into the soil. Baragan screamed as several skeletal arms pulled him down against his own will until he completed vanished out of sight.
The mist came to a slight calm. The whispering queer sound that could be heard. Armani followed the sound, and traveled deep along with Amy but Baragan was nowhere to be found. The wind rose, undulating waves splashed perpetually within the vast space of the entire vicinity.
Armani believed he was alone with the girl, but that was short lived when they were both was greeted by another creature that rained from the night sky. Green skinned but muscularly built, Armani could only picture the images of the goblin creatures he faced previously. Despite the beast human size, it's roar released a great wind pressure which brought down weak pillars within range to the ground. The scroll never lied. Armani knew he was close to the star prize. All that was left was to overcome the obstacles.
“Stay back while I handle this. You might be a liability.”
Armani made himself clear to the girl and she never insisted. His arms reached behind his waist, pulled out a strange book and a dark ring from a buckled mini-bag.
“You must be Akama. I had practice with these, but I never thought I'd be revealing some of the cards so soon.”
Armani uttered as he wore the black ring on his right index finger while closing the distance between him and the green beast. Before he closed the distance to draw himself closer to the green reptile, the strange book he held radiated an enormous dark energy. Glowing in the reverse-light, the book transformed into pure black energy and fused with Armani. Just as Armani absorbed the dark energy, some sort of demonic markings appeared on his forehead signifying a mode of new dominance. With Akama's mouth watering brute appearance, Armani presumed the creature should fall under the same category as Zyrode; ruler of Astras.
It was the sound of an enormous explosion from a nearby crumbled building that triggered the start of the duel. Armani dashed towards Akama, and Akama advanced from the opposite direction. However, they were not of the same class in terms of speed, velocity, and reaction time. With a brute force and strength that could easily destroy a mountain, Akama threw his fist in a critical aim for Armani's head. The Arrancar slightly docked in response as he saw Akama's fist coming in slow motion. Dodging the blow wasn't all that he did. Just as he ducked to evade the punch, he drove his left fist like a blade into beast's heart. However, Armani lacked the potential to scratch the beast or even deal any real physical damage so the aim all along was to take the green beast from the inside out. The power of the dark ring granted Armani the limited ability to phrase only a single part of his body through solid obstacles. This gave him the limited advantage to bypass Akama's virtue of hard steel skin. He didn't stop there. From the vivid markings on his forehead came the ability to release dark energy. He discharged an intensive bolt of pure black energy that did not only numb the sensory system, but also rendered the beast internals useless. The heart, the lungs, all impaired in the fatal blow. Armani withdrew from the green beast in a single dash. He watched in despair as the green fellow fell to it's knees. The eyes bled green vital liquid from the inside out and the beast breathed it's last.
She, Amy, had her eyes full in the whole scene. She wasn't surprised. While the district continued to crumble gradually, she managed to step forward with her right palm to her abdomen, covering up little bruises she sustained from the skeletons attack.
At that moment Armani slayed the beast, the grounds shook even more and a gigantic gate emerged from deep underground. In size, the gate was half the dome of Las Noches and a monstrous voice spoke from nowhere,
“Thy has defeated the guardian, Akama. Thy has one challenge left to complete. To easily get passed this gate, thy must offer a sacrifice.”
“Offer a sacrifice? There's no time to be fooling around.”
Armani looked around the surroundings but there was nothing but graves. Breaking down the gate that somewhat seem resistant to the land's disintegration would be futile. What could possibly be offered, and at that moment, he figured it out.
Be it sonido, Armani suddenly appeared behind Amy. An assassination from behind, Armani twisted her head in a single attempt that rendered a dislocation on her neck. He quickly held her with both arms as she lost consciousness.
“Sorry! If I don't sacrifice for what I want, what I want will be the sacrifice.”
A horizontal large stone tablet emerged from the underground. Armani laid down her body on it and it sunk back to the underworld. The offer was made. It was in Armani's nature to sacrifice even an ally to achieve his goal. The gate opened on both sides, so wide anything could pass. So despite their tallness and the strength of the metal, it was a simple stroll to the other side.