Without hesitation, I bolt towards Lukkas with swords in my hands.
― I need to deal with this quickly…
“Anya! Wait for me!”
As Momioka runs after me, I turn around for a split second, constructing a chamber to box her in.
“Hey! What are you doing, Anya?!”
― Sorry, Momioka… I can’t have you fighting in this.
“This isn’t what we agreed upon! Anya!”
I ignore Momioka and continue running at Lukkas while still paying attention to Momioka’s lifeline.
“I would suggest trusting in your teammate.”
Once Lukkas completely mitigated the barrage of swords I rained down on him, his horse stomps its front hooves on the ground, creating a miniature earthquake. While trying to keep my balance on the cracking floor, the horse charges forward at full speed, but when they are close, Lukkas jumps off the horse as it continues charging at me.
After his horse mysteriously vanishes before me, a beam of dark energy appears behind it. With only seconds to react, I quickly form a barrier. The laser shortly dissipates, and Lukkas fires a stream of dark projectiles at me. As soon as I raise my shield to counter it, I am suddenly hit by something across my stomach, sending me backwards towards the chamber, destroying it and taking Momioka with me.
Suddenly, the same invisible object seems to have caught us and broke the blunt impact of the knockback.
I find Momioka on top of my back after falling from the mysterious cushion. We slowly got back up to our feet and prepare for another round of attack.
“Let me help, Anya.”
“You’re not strong enough to take him.”
“We might be if we do it together.”
“No! I’ll do this alone. You stay out of this; you’ll only make things worse.”
― I shouldn’t have said that… But…
“… Sorry, Momioka. I can’t risk losing this already impossible battle.”
I charge at Lukkas again, only for Momioka to trap me in the same prison I had confined her to.
“Why can’t you just trust me?”
With a bit of anger coming from her voice, Momioka summons the colossal war-hammer from our training before and casts it at Lukkas. But neither of us expects the result as the same hammer comes flying back at Momioka after disappearing in front of Lukkas.
When Momioka tries to form a shield to stop her own hammer, the semi-transparent cage I’m in breaks apart. I immediately launch myself at Momioka, pushing her out of harm’s way, and the hammer instead collides with my arm, propelling me away. Without a second thought, Momioka rushes to my side.
“Anya. Sorry… Are you okay?”
“That’s why I asked you to stay back, Momioka.”
“But yeah, I’m okay.”
After getting back up with the help of Momioka, we stare at Lukkas who’s drifting closer to us.
“So, what should we do, Anya.”
“I’ve got something in mind. Charge forward with me… I go left, you go right. We overwhelm him, don’t give him a chance to think.”
“Are you sure…”
I draw my sword out as Momioka summons her hammer again.
“Okay, Anya… Let’s do this.”
― I’m sorry, Momioka… But this will work… It has to…
We charge forward simultaneously, but as I approach Lukkas, I project a clone of myself forward as I render myself invisible and quickly run behind him. As somewhat expected, Lukkas stops Momioka and my clone’s weaponry with his bare hands. But once I witness everything unfold how I’ve envisioned, I ready my blade and thrust it into Lukkas’s back.
“I expected more of you, Anya…”
Before the sword could even graze him slightly, the sword vanishes from my hand. And at that moment, something grabs onto my hands and rams me into Momioka, flinging us away from Lukkas.
“Are you alright, Momioka?”
“Did you… Just use me as bait…”
“It looks like the two of you still haven’t figured out what my powers are…”
I draw my blade out again after helping Momioka up.
“I was hoping you could assess your enemies before throwing everything at your disposal… And Anya, you shouldn’t charge in blindly. Did either your mother or your father not teach you that?”
“I said shut up!”
I instantly cast the sword at Lukkas with full force, but again, it ceases its movement in front of Lukkas’s face as if something grabs hold of the hilt and then it throws it to the floor after.
“You don’t learn, do you, Anya…? Let’s make this easier for you. It’s time you meet Jackal.”
Without a second to spare, a thin black shadowy hand similar to Lukkas’s skeletal hands reveal itself floating in the air. The hand bends each of its long sharp fingers into a fist and then opens it back up as if it is saying hello.
“Momioka, throw your hammer at me again.”
Momioka hesitates, but she still launches her hammer at Lukkas anyway. Similar to previous events, the weapon comes to a complete halt in front of Lukkas as the shadowy hand grabs onto it. Soon, the hand absorbs the light-hammer, causing Lukkas’s own hands to glow purple. He then fires a burst of dark energy bolts right between Momioka and I. When they hit the tree behind us, the orbs explode into many smaller projectiles outwards which they then dart back to what’s left of the tree for their final strikes, completely obliterating the area.
“Going all out won’t always be the best option, Anya. Especially when you don’t know what you’re up against. Since, well, you might be helping your enemies instead…”
Suddenly, Jackal picks up a bench generated from thin air and lobs it at us. I quickly form a wall to shield us from it.
“Momioka, I… I need your help with something again… I’m sorry I lied to you before… I-”
“It’s… it’s fine, Anya… Just… let me know… So, what are you thinking?”
“I think he is only protected in one direction. So, if we hit him from every direction at the same time. We might hurt him.”
“And you want me to be the battery, right?”
“Got it. Let’s hope this works.”
Like we attempted previously, Momioka lets loose her powers and causes her body to return to her light form. Even without a face, Lukkas seems to be shocked by the turn of events. When Momioka’s set, she slams her hand onto my shoulder, allowing me to siphon off her seemingly unlimited amount of energy stored in her.
Together with Momioka and the light sources around me, I created all too many copies of myself which completely encircle Lukkas. With all my clones charging up their lasers, I summon an immeasurable quantity of swords all around. Once everything is primed, I command everything to blast off at Lukkas, burning everything around him. And to end the strafe, I initiate a final laser strike from above, rupturing the sky and disintegrating everything it touches.
Completely drained, I fall forward onto the floor, trying to catch my breath while Momioka returns to her “human” state. Soon, Momioka puts my arm over her shoulders and slowly lifts me up as we stare at the fading light pillar.
“That seems like overkill, Anya. I think you took quite a lot out of me…”
“Better safe than sorry… Come on, let’s go before-”
Before we turn away from the aftermath of my storm. There appears to be something glimmering within the settling dust that cause my attention.
Within the hollow pit I’ve created, Lukkas is afloat on top of the unscathed floor as he was before. The only difference is that there wasn’t only one hand protecting him now. Jackal seemed to have duplicated himself around and caught everything I had just thrown at them. Soon the swords which had halted on the palms of Jackal all disappear, absorbed into Lukkas’s well of energy.
“Thanks for the charge.”
Like his eyes, Lukkas’s shadowy form now takes on a purplish glow. Hovering as gracefully as he is, his arms start to shine brighter as he raises his arms up to his chest.
Unable to fight back or even anything either than shuffling away, I try my best to drag Momioka out of harm’s way and outrun whatever Lukkas is planning. Until suddenly, Momioka drops me onto the floor and steps in front of me. Summoning a kite-shaped shield and piercing its end into the floor.
“Svalinn. He who stands before the sun. A blessing from the Masked Odin, Grimnir. I summon thee again. Lend me thy strength for the shining goddess.”
The kite shield instantly projects a massive semi-circular barrier out from the sides, blocking the constant waves of dark projectiles from Lukkas’s self-detonation. Unharmed from his own explosion, he lowers towards the new floor which had regenerated back to its former intact state. With all the strength I can muster, I dash towards Momioka.
“Momioka, we need to go now. We can’t win this.”
Momioka snaps out of her concentrated state and nods. She then wraps my arm over her shoulders again and assists me in walking out of this simulated world.
“You can run away. But believe me, escaping your problems will only make things worst…”
Lukkas appears to remain stationary, allowing us to escape. We run towards where Momioka first found the barrier, hoping to find the exit there.
“We’re almost there…”
The “almost” is a lie since we have been running continuously without any result.
“Momioka… Are you sure you know where you are going?”
“… Yeah, we should have been out of the barrier by now. What is going on…?”
Momioka studies the area before turning around to Lukkas and discovering that the distance between us has not changed either.
― Have we been running in the same place… How…?”
“Anya, what now? Do we try again, or-”
“So, you finally noticed the altering terrain? It took longer than I expected…”
“Another one of your abilities?”
“No. Unlike the pocket dimension where I dispense and draw my energy from, we are still where we were. On Earth, that is. The system in place though, allows the user to control and redesign the current layout. Or as the creator would call it – map editing.”
Suddenly the sky darkens as a storm approaches. The harsh winds combined with heavy rain start to shred the environment around us.
“The environment plays a crucial role in each battle. Are you able to adapt to them easily?”
As Lukkas hovers effortless unaffected by the changing weather, the storm intensifies, turning the new grassland into a marsh. As Momioka and I try to defend ourselves from the projectiles sent by Lukkas, I feel my boots completely soaked in muddy rainwater.
When the new battlefield is abruptly interrupted by a lightning strike and its thunder’s echoing, the floor beneath us disappears and I find myself plummeting into the depth of the water until Momioka yanks me out. Now swimming in the stormy waters of a new sea, I struggle to keep myself from drowning as Momioka tries her best to remain standing on the ocean’s surface, keeping me afloat.
The rain soon fades away, but a blizzard follows, freezing the sea. Once the water around us begins turning into ice, Momioka instantly hoists me onto the icy surface. But with the ongoing blizzard, everything shortly becomes a snow-covered plain which later turns into a tundra. Even with the heat from my personal light-armour, I feel my body temperature severely dropping. Until suddenly, gusts of warm wind develop and gently warms me up.
A savannah unveils itself once the snow melts away, but that isn’t the end when a sandstorm emerges behind Lukkas, transforming the region into a desert. Together with Momioka, we create a dome to shield us from the sand, but the sudden shift in temperatures causes even my body to ache.
― Aargh… Momioka isn’t affected like I am… That’s good…
When the dome unravels itself, the scorching sun glares at us, burning everything in its sight. Until Lukkas unexpectedly fires a dark energy beam at the sun, somehow causing it to shatter and radiate a familiar cyan colour, painting everything in the greenish-blue tone before it comes crashing onto the surface. After the dust settles, another familiar sight reveals itself.
Kneeling on the floor, I look up at the recreation of the war-torn wasteland of Paranormia. An identical gothic castle floats behind Lukkas in the same crater-like hole with bits and pieces of the burnished sun littered everywhere on the rough terrain.
“You know of it?”
“Yes. Styx has my sister there…”
I stare at Lukkas, then at Momioka and finally at my newly-formed katana in my palm. Uncertain about what I should do next, I slump to the floor, dropping my blade and dispelling it away.
― What am I even doing…? Hah… This is hopeless… I can’t even win against one of them…
“Anya, what are you doing? Let’s go. Come on!”
“… No… Not this time…”
― One for two doesn’t sound too bad.
“Take me to my sister. I’ll trade my life for hers.”
“What? Anya, what are you-”
“And spare her … She is of no use to you.”
I drown out Momioka’s shouting and ignore her constant attempts to drag me away. Knowing that I am entirely lost and anchored to where I am, she turns to Lukkas and tries her best to stop him in his tracks. Even as I’m staring at the floor, I can tell that the battle between Lukkas and Momioka only lasted briefly as Jackal walls her off.
― This is for the best, Momioka.
It isn’t long until a pair of shoes appear in front of me, and I look up to see Lukkas return to his human form. Though unlike the younger version I saw at school, he currently has longer, messy hair, which strangely reminds me of my father but with a spikier cut, a short beard, and a more muscular body.
“Come on, stand up.”
I follow his instruction robotically while avoiding eye contact.
“Are you certain? Your life for your sister… and hers too.”
“Anya! Stop! Anya! Don’t!”
I look at Momioka and let out a weak smile before turning back to Lukkas and nods mechanically.
Lukkas grabs onto my shoulder and lets out a deep sigh. But the next thing he does is what staggers me.
“I know you’re desperate, Anya. But there’s no reason in hell for you to be throwing your life away.”
He then suddenly pulled me in for a warm, almost parental embrace.
Snapping out of my daze, I hop away from Lukkas.
“It’s been a while, Nastya. It’s wonderful to see you all grown up.”
― What… How…
“How do you know that name…? Only my parents should know.”
“Well, because I was there when they named you Anastasia. And I was also there when they decided your name is better as Anna because your wee self thinks Anya’s better.”
Unable to wrap my head around what he’s saying, I end up just staring at him.
“I am… was close friends of your parents, and we fought battles side by side. I’m sorry if I hurt you. But I need to know how strong you are. Since well, it’s your turn to go up against Styx.”
Jackal suddenly appears with a tablet and passes it to Lukkas.
“Here. I know you don’t believe me but here.”
I look at the tablet with a video on display. It seems to be taken from an old camera with the date January 2006 marked on the screen. When I press play, there is a pleasant surprise.
“Hey, Lukkas… Sorry for us to disappear on you like this. But by now, we have gone to a safer location. I need to keep all the portals secured, and also, I must keep Anya hidden. So I can’t risk anyone knowing where we are, including you.”
“If you want to, you’re very much welcome to continue living in my husband’s house, and we’ll be glad if you could also protect it for if we ever decide to come back. I’m sure Luci will come by to check up on you.”
Suddenly my mother changed for a sadder expression.
“And one more thing I want to ask of you, dear friend. If my daughter ever returns here by herself. Styx is back, and we’re dead… Please, take care of my daughter for us, okay?”
“Hey, Zarya. I got everything important packed. Are you ready to leave?”
Suddenly my father appears, carrying a younger me who’s asleep in his arms.
I can feel myself tearing up after seeing my parents once again. Without me realising it, Momioka manages to throw herself at me once she’s freed from Jackal.
“Idiot! Why did you offer to sacrifice yourself?! Why…”
Momioka squeezes onto me tightly as if I’m her only family who has almost met their end. With too many emotions to bear, I drop to the floor, tears streaming onto my clothes.
“Your mother had left something for you too, but that’s for another time. You two should rest first.”
“And Anya. You must keep this safe. You truly do not want these relics to fall into the wrong hands.”
Jackal emerges next to Lukkas again, holding onto something I am most delighted to see.