Chapter 21:

Brightstar Arc 4 (Chapter 5)

Brightstar: The Rising Superhero

A blinding light encompassed the entire dock. I pressed the pedal and the van roared across the dock. My eyes caught seven black vehicles in the rearview mirror. All were chasing after me and that was what I was hoping for. I took a sharp turn and saw another car headed toward me, so I took another sharp turn into the gap of two containers.Bookmark here

I drove through the gap and tore off the side-view mirrors. It was a tight fight, but the van barely made it through, not without severe scratches on the side. Metal sparks flew from the side of the van and stopped when I left the gap.Bookmark here

Two pickup trucks showed up on my left, so I took another sharp turn. The van almost flipped over at how aggressive I was driving. I noticed how they appeared at certain corners. It was a trap and I could smell it from a mile away. They were leading me toward somewhere.Bookmark here

So, let’s give them something to chase, suddenly, I took a sharp right through a chain-link fence. That abrupt turn was going to cause a bit of stir in their plan. A smile appeared on my face. My pursuers began to pick up speed and tried to catch me.Bookmark here

However, my hope of escape was dissolved when a disfigured man in a suit appeared at the end of the road. A blue fire sprouted from his right hand, and before I could take a turn to take another route, he sent a blue fiery slash that cut the van in half.Bookmark here

The van flipped forward with me inside. I grabbed the seatbelt as if my life depended on it. Glass shattered and scattered, I landed on a few of them, and it embedded into my flesh. The van rolled viciously and flung my body against every surface of the van, sharp or smooth. Every pain, bruise, and sprain got worse until the van finally stopped.Bookmark here

I took a heavy breath in, but accidentally, coughed out blood instead. My hand reached into my pocket and took out the painkiller. I swallowed as much as I could and crunched down the pills into dust. Severe friction burns can be seen on my right hand after I released the seatbelt.Bookmark here

After climbing out of the van, I fell back on the ground, disoriented beyond belief. Half my sight was covered in crimson red.Bookmark here

A pair of combat boots appeared at my side. “That was quite the show. Where are the others?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know what you are talking about.” I need to play dumb, it’s the only way I can buy Ria more time to escape.Bookmark here

“Ah, playing dumb?” The man shook his head disappointedly. “You know, you reminded me of Arthur. He gave me quite the fight.”Bookmark here

“Arthur... what did you do to him?”Bookmark here

“Oh, I get it now. He was talking about you. You’re the first.”Bookmark here

“What did you do to him?!” I yelled with short furious breaths.Bookmark here

“You didn’t know?” He started laughing. “Wait, I know you… You’re the one who knocked me out.”Bookmark here

I turned my head and was surprised to find it was the same man I fought to save Ria. “You? Ironhide’s goon.”Bookmark here

“Well, I prefer the name, Salamander, now.” He grabbed my hair and tossed me back against the van.Bookmark here

“What did you do to Arthur?” A cough escaped me.Bookmark here

“You’re still rambling on about him?” He leaned closer to my bloody face. “He’s a dead man. I burned him alive from toe to head. He’s nothing but charred remains.”Bookmark here

My heart dropped, lower than any moment of my life. Arthur is dead… I promised him. This was all my fault. If I tried to find him instead of going to the hospital, there might still be a chance. How much of a failure am I if I can’t even keep my promise?Bookmark here

Kehehehe.Bookmark here

“Haha, haha…” Suddenly, I laughed. It was funny to me. Everything I did. Every choice I made. All that hard work, and I failed. Collin, Stripes, Arthur, and Sister. It happened to them because I was weak. Never again...Bookmark here

My hands had a subtle glow around them, it was supposed to be a beautiful and hopeful light, but something darker rose from inside me. Darkness erupted from my hand, the absolute, no more light, no more hope, and no more restraint. Bookmark here

Suddenly, I tore Salamander's hand with a single punch at the speed of light.Bookmark here

Blood squirted everywhere from his stump as he stumbled back. Some of it dripped on my cold face. He stared blankly at his missing hand, still haven’t comprehended what had happened. Bookmark here

I stood up and turned to him with a calm sigh. Only then, panic finally set in his eyes.Bookmark here

Salamander reached into his pocket and pulled out a tranquillizer gun. He shot a dart into my neck, then he shot some more, but that doesn’t seem to slow me down. Fear rose within him. Bookmark here

I saw my reflection in his eyes. There was nothing but the abyss in my eyes, no pupils and no sign of humanity.Bookmark here

I reached for my katana, but it rejected me by searing my palm. It doesn’t recognize who I was, and I don’t blame it. The more I tried to pull on it, the harder it struggled until it finally gave up and flew away from me. No matter. I summoned a blade made of pure darkness that the definition of light never existed.Bookmark here

He took off into a flight using his power, but after he landed where he thought it was a safe distance, I was already there, behind him, without him even realizing it. He put a finger against his ear, he kept his eyes forward and tried to find me. “I need backup now!”Bookmark here

A single clean-cut and both of his feet detached themselves from his legs. He fell to the ground with shock in his eyes, when he looked down at his leg. It hit him, his feet were gone, and he screamed in terror. His dilated eyes darted at me, standing above him.Bookmark here

“W-What? How?”Bookmark here

Thirteen vehicles from cars to armoured trucks drove toward where I am. With a sigh, I turned my attention to them and headed their way. I stopped when I was in the middle of the road. With calm and precise movement, I took an ‘Air’ stance with a blade hidden behind me.Bookmark here

“Tashikawa Style: Calm Wind.”Bookmark here

With a single swing of my blade, a black slash too dark to see flew toward them without noise and as calm as the night breeze. It started with a light pole that suddenly fell, then a container that was cut in half from out of nowhere, then as it passed through the vehicles. Each one of them slowed down and the upper half slid out. Even the warehouse behind it was cut in half and collapsed on itself.Bookmark here

Three more darts planted into my neck and arms. I took it out and stumbled a bit. The knock-out agent this time was stronger than before. It worked its way into my veins. Every glance I took was to find the sniper, but it was too dark to see. Still, I believed the sniper was on top of the stacks' container from my left.Bookmark here

“Tashikawa Style: Tornado.” Bookmark here

A powerful swing caused a dark tornado to ravage the stacks of containers. Then I saw someone running from one end to another. Whoever he was, he shot five more, and it all planted on my chest. I swiped it all off and leapt at light speed toward him.Bookmark here

When I found him, it was someone I didn’t expect. My heart dropped, and black tar dripped from my eyes. “J-Juliet?”Bookmark here

“Kenn, you need to calm down.” Bookmark here

It was her voice, no doubt about it. “You worked for Ironhide?”Bookmark here

“No, Kenn. I don't work for him.”Bookmark here

My fingers dug into my palm. “Then why are you doing this?”Bookmark here

“Please, Kenn, you need to calm down. Bradford can help you.”Bookmark here

“Bradford, he is a part of this?!” I slammed my fist against the container and sent it flying into the ocean.Bookmark here

“Kenn… You’re the light, remember?”Bookmark here

As if I wasn’t in pain enough, hearing those words from her lips was heartbreaking. “Was it a lie?” I tried to reach for her, but she instantly took a step back. I saw terror in her eyes, pure and unfiltered. Out of nowhere, I started laughing, then I turned my gaze to her. “I fell for you…”Bookmark here

“Kenn…” She embraced me with her arms. It was the same familiar scent and warmth. “My feeling for you wasn’t a lie.”Bookmark here

A painful prick on my neck sent my mind into darkness. Everything blurred, and my strength left my body. The last thing I saw was Juliet’s saddened face and felt a single warm drip of tear on my cheek. Everything went dark, and the darkness welcomed me.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Ria slammed her fist against the shutters and caused it to ring loudly. A groan from inside calmed Ria’s nerves. The shutters raised and revealed a half-naked bunny woman with eyes barely opened. Kusagi yawned at first, then after taking a second look, her eyes became wide. “I was having a nap, but what happened to you?”Bookmark here

“We need help.” Ria took quick breaths to calm herself. She had been flying for an hour while staying away from the open, so nobody could track her here. “Kenn. Kenn. He’s in trouble.”Bookmark here

Kusagi turned to the unconscious woman who sat on the crate. A whiff from the woman sent a shiver down her spine. She knew what kind of scent it was: trouble and E-HAD. “Tell me everything you know.”Bookmark here

Ria told her from A to B, explaining everything she heard and knew. With worried eyes, she turned to Kusagi. “What should we do now?”Bookmark here

“It would be useless if we go there now. They must have cleared all the evidence. Judging from what I heard from you, they need him alive. If they wanted him dead, then you both wouldn't make it out in the first place.” Kusagi sat on the barrel then rested her chin on her hands. “Ironhide… we can’t act without a plan.”Bookmark here

“We should do something? We need to save Kenn!”Bookmark here

“We are! But we are useless if we are both dead trying to get to him. I need to make a call.” Kusagi rushed inside and left Ria behind. Bookmark here

With nothing else to do, Ria brought Sister inside the workshop and closed the shutter.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The Next Morning.Bookmark here

Catty woke up from her bed, panting and sweating furiously. She glanced around her in panic and realized she was in her bedroom. It was a nightmare beyond anything she had experienced that plagued her sleep last night. She didn’t remember the content of her nightmare, but it got to do something with Bradford and Kenn. She reached into her drawer and pulled out a picture of her husband. It’s the only thing that could calm her down after a rough night.Bookmark here

After she calmed down, Catty made her bed and went into the bathroom to get ready for her job. Prepared for her job, Catty walked out of her room and found it odd that the kitchen was clean. Usually, Kenn would make his breakfast and forget to clean afterwards.Bookmark here

Good for him, Catty thought.Bookmark here

However, before she could even make it out the front door, her phone dinged. She took it out and swiped the screen open. It was surprising to see Bradford's name on the messenger.Bookmark here

[I got bad news to tell you, but not through here. Come to the park, I will be waiting.]Bookmark here

Concern flashed in her eyes. This could be about her son. She hoped not, but what is this feeling in her gut? As if something awful had happened to her son. Worrying about it now won't help her. She needed to meet Bradford as soon as possible.Bookmark here

Catty left her home in haste and drove her car to the park.Bookmark here

Despite the early morning, the park already has a dozen visitors. Catty glanced around and saw Bradford on a bench in the middle of the park. There was something different about him, a particular cloud of grief hovered above him while he stared at nothing. She took a seat beside him and waited for Bradford to talk.Bookmark here

It took a few seconds before he realized Catty was beside him. “It has been a while since I’ve been here.” His gaze rested on a bouquet under the tree across from him. “Was that you?”Bookmark here

-What is going on? Why are we here?-Bookmark here

“You took everything away from me. I warned you of the consequence of abusing your power, but you didn’t listen. You had to bring your husband back. And now where is he?” Bradford chuckled. “In the grave with my family.”Bookmark here

Catty shrunk and trembled at Bradford’s words.Bookmark here

“I was always there to support you no matter what, I saved your son once when he was a baby. How could you? After everything, we’ve been through. I thought we were closer than friends. It’s funny, you were my daughter’s godmother. She would beam with happiness wherever you came.” A crack in Bradford’s voice as tears welled up. “Melissa would always tell me to invite you for dinner. You were like a sister to her…”Bookmark here

-I know. It was my fault. Hate me. I deserved it.-Bookmark here

Bradford swatted Catty’s hands, preventing her from talking. “Don’t. I want you to feel how much I hated you.” Bradford placed a finger on the earbud. “Juliet, is everything ready? Good.”Bookmark here

-I know that look. Whatever you are doing, please stop. Hurt me if you want, but don’t involve others.-Bookmark here

A grin appeared on his face. “If only it was that easy. I know you better than yourself. A bullet won’t make a difference, but a hundred Stoalium bombs? Now, we are onto something.” Bradford took out a trigger and clenched the trigger. “Imagine the bombs buried in this park. Imagine the lives it will take, all because of your fault.”Bookmark here

He grabbed Catty by the hair and forced her to kneel. “Judging by the shock on your face, you still can't unwrap that I could do an act so heinous that it felt like a betrayal. That was what I felt when you took them away.”Bookmark here

“Now onto the sweetest part of my plan.” Bradford kicked Catty in the face, she fell against the concrete path. When she got up, a trickle of blood dripped from the cut on her face. “Do you know what happened to your son?”Bookmark here

Catty turned to him with a furious gaze, but she stopped when Bradford wiggled the trigger in front of her. -He’s not part of this.-Bookmark here

“I’m afraid it’s too late. He’s on his way to one of Ironhide’s labs and will probably be experimented on until the end of his day. He will break, and I will make sure he felt what you and I felt.” A smile appeared as Bradford imagined the look on her son’s face.Bookmark here

Her heart sank as her hands trembled. This was her fault. She caused all of this and now her son was going to pay for it. If only she had listened back in the days.Bookmark here

“It was all your fault. I told you bringing back the dead is going to come with a price. I am your price!” Bradford squatted down. “Do you hate me now?”Bookmark here

Catty stood up, raised her gaze to meet him, and shook her head. It was neither hatred nor disdain, she made it clear by answering his question with a shake of her head. The emotion in her eyes was complex. It was a mix of sympathy, understanding, pain, sadness, and… love.Bookmark here

Bradford took a step back, confused by the woman that drove him to this madness. “W-What are you doing…?”Bookmark here

Catty wrapped her arms around Bradford and embraced him. It was warm. A feeling that was lost to him. He couldn’t understand what she was doing, and he hated it. “Do you even understand what I did?!” The vile facade he had was shattered in a matter of seconds. The only thing left was a broken and sad man.Bookmark here

Despite Catty's inability to speak, she tried her best to convey the words that Bradford needed to hear. “Arg-I’m argh-so argg-rryBookmark here

“Shut up! Shut up!” He let go of the trigger, then a flash of blinding light enveloped the park.Bookmark here

Bradford along with the residents of the city suddenly found themselves in a large crater. He glanced around him, Catty was gone. He did it. Bradford had killed her, but the explosion was supposed to take his life or at least, that is what was supposed to happen. If he is here, then Catty saved him too.Bookmark here

He slammed his fist against the ground, then began to tremble. “Damn her…” Bookmark here

Out of nowhere, Bradford started to laugh maniacally. It doesn’t matter, his plan worked. He finally did it… but why were there tears running down his face?Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The Abyss.Bookmark here

A crimson sky stretched out without any end. No clouds. Only the colour red. A tall and dark throne stood on a hill made out entirely of human skulls. A massive porcelain woman with an hourglass figure sat on the throne. She was dressed in a tight-fitting gown that was bathed in blood. Her legs crossed each other as she tipped her thin smoking pipe at her unexpected guest.Bookmark here

“How delightful, my daughter finally brought her highly praised pet for me to meet.”Bookmark here

“Greetings, Mother.” Aeterna nodded slightly.Bookmark here

“Hey, hey, I finally see where Aeterna gets her to look. Can I be blunt for a second? I thought you were her sister.” Haru felt relief to see the smile on her face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, my name is Haru Tashikawa.”Bookmark here

“Charm, I have many names, but you call me Death.”Bookmark here

“Death? Like the actual Death?”Bookmark here

“Yes, is there a problem?”Bookmark here

“No, it’s a badass name.”Bookmark here

Aeterna coughed to interrupt the small chit-chat. “Dear Mother, I came here to beseech you for a favour. I wish to send Haru back to the living world.”Bookmark here

“Reviving a soul back to the living without erasing its core will have a tremendous price to pay. I advise you to think it over. Asking me for favour also came with a price. Ten highly-priced wishes, if all ten are granted, the end shall come.”Bookmark here

“What does she mean by ten highly-priced wishes?” asked Haru.Bookmark here

“To put it simply, even a god such as my daughter and I have certain restrictions in our unlimited powers. For example, reviving a soul back to the living is one of those restrictions. However, I, on the other hand, have the power to do so in the form of ten wishes. Each wish can grant a god anything, but if all ten are used, then the end will come. Not just for the human realm, so does our realm. I shall devour everything and return us to the true darkness.”Bookmark here

“How many do you have left?”Bookmark here

“I still have ten. You see, only a god can use these wishes. It’s one of the conditions.” She tapped the smoking pipe against the throne armrest and took another whiff.Bookmark here

“What’s the price of bringing me back to life?”Bookmark here

Aeterna stepped in. “Two souls, but in this case, my life.”Bookmark here

“What, no, Aeterna… Is there any other choice?”Bookmark here

A grin appeared on Death’s face. “Your essence.”Bookmark here

“Mother, don’t you dare.” Aeterna raised her voice.Bookmark here

“You know how I see his existence, an abomination. Unnatural. It’s against the rules of the world. Because of you, my daughter’s power has been cut off. She can’t keep you here anymore, it’s draining her.”Bookmark here

“Is that true, Aeterna?”Bookmark here

She averted her gaze while balling her hand into a fist. “I do not wish to answer.”Bookmark here

Haru’s eyebrows furrowed before he turned to Death. “What do you mean by essence?”Bookmark here

“If you chose this deal, upon your death, your memories, your personality, everything about you will be erased, and since you can’t be reincarnated anymore from your last deal with my daughter. Then it will truly be your end. There will be no future for you.”Bookmark here

Haru took a step closer to Aeterna, she kept her gaze away. He kneeled and took her bony hand with all the love and care he had for her. Then he placed a kiss on her hand. “We have always known that our years together would always come to an end. For each reincarnation, you have always been there for me, from birth to death. My time with you was like a dream come true, and I hope you feel the same way.”Bookmark here

“I do…”Bookmark here

“You have always been enough for me, and I never asked for more, but for this one instance, I wish for you to let me save my daughter.”Bookmark here

“You're asking me to end your existence. I will have no one left if I accept that. Let me sacrifice my life, so I can be with you. We can be reincarnated together.”Bookmark here

“Such a heart-wrenching moment, but you cannot sacrifice your life. Each one of us has a purpose, a gear in a large machine. If you remove her from her true purpose then all the souls that come here will have no guide. It will only be chaos,” warned Death.Bookmark here

"Please Aeterna, I beg you to let me go."Bookmark here

Though it was only for a second, the stare Haru and Aeterna shared felt like an eternity. It was time for her to let him go, and he felt the same as she does. They knew that their time together would come to an end. It has always been like this for every reincarnation Haru had, but this time it’s different. It will be his last.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Unknown.Bookmark here

I slowly came to, an obnoxious bright light shone directly at my eyes and blinded me of my sight. When I regained my vision, I saw an unfamiliar white room and a dozen strange individuals in lab coats and tactical uniforms. The soldiers were armed to the teeth with an assault rifle while the doctors donned a surgical mask that hid their faces.Bookmark here

My arms and legs shook violently against steel restraints. Even my mouth was gagged and muzzled like an animal. I cursed every profanity available, but what came out was mostly grunts and groans. I focused all my power on my arms and legs.Bookmark here

However, extreme fatigue washed over as if I was being drained, I glanced at the reflection in my restraint and saw the suppressor collar around my neck.Bookmark here

I’ll kill you all.Bookmark here

Good.Bookmark here

I’ll kill you all...Bookmark here

The doctors and soldiers parted ways for Juliet. My heart sank once more, it wasn’t a nightmare after all. She betrayed me. I struggled again as her hand tried to reach me. She stopped herself while her eyes showed pain.Bookmark here

“I wish… things would be different.”Bookmark here

She glanced away and placed her hand on her chest. “Bradford ordered me to tell you, your mother passed away. He killed her.”Bookmark here

What…? But, no. NO! NO! NO!Bookmark here

I screamed against the gag, but as expected only a muffled groan could be heard. Tears ran down my cheeks as I struggled violently against the restraint. I wanted to kill them all. Every last one of them. I swear on my mother’s grave. I will not stop until each one of you dies in my hands.Bookmark here

They left despite my burst of rage and left me to my broken mind. It was my fault if only I listened to mom, she warned me that it was dangerous to be a hero, but I was a fool and stubborn to realize it. Everyone is paying for my selfishness. I hope Aunty and the rest of the gang forget about me.Bookmark here

I wanted to die.Bookmark here

Wanted it to end.Bookmark here

My solitude was suddenly disturbed by a single touch against my cheek. “Boop. What’s up?” A young girl in an orange shirt and slacks popped into my view with a grin. Her olive skin was covered in scars while her head was shaved clean.Bookmark here

“The name is Zanny. I’m one of the lab rats here. There are others here, but they all aren’t exactly the welcoming sort.”Bookmark here

I wasn’t in the mood to talk with some random girl. Ignoring her is a better option. Either she couldn’t take the hint or, dumb as heck, she still tried to start a conversation with me despite the gag visible around my mouth. “So, why are you here? What did you do? What’s up with the heavy restraint? Are you dangerous? Should I be scared? By the way, what is your favourite colour?”Bookmark here

I want to die.Bookmark here

She flipped me on the forehead. I went wide-eyed at her and was surprised to find she donned a furious expression. “I thought you were different from the others.” She placed a hand on her waist while using the other one to point at me. “Listen up! The only way they can win is for you to lose hope. Do you want them to win?”Bookmark here

This girl doesn’t understand, I wanted to be left alone.Bookmark here

I screamed like an animal against my gag and shook violently against the restraint as she tried to reach me. Zanny looked at me with disappointment, she had expected a different answer from me. She finally understood that I wanted to be left alone and left my sight.Bookmark here

I swear I’ll kill them all.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.