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CHAPTER 7: FLAMES AND DARKNESS


In a deep cavern placed in the state of Oregon, three people sat around a table, talking to one another. One was the mortal enemy of Joey, Marcus, and Stacy, Lance Johnson, while the other two were sat next to each other on the opposite side of the table, listening to what Lance was saying.

“Welcome, boys, I’m glad you heeded my message and came,” Lance said to the two of them happily.

“Yeah, well, what’s this all about?” one of them asked, while the other sat in silence.

“I need a favor, and I believe the two of you are more than up to the job,” Lance answered.

“And what might this favor be?” the other one asked.

“You see, like the rest of us, I have certain goals I want to accomplish, but like most, these goals come with obstacles,” Lance explained.

He grabbed a remote off the table and pointed it at a screen mounted on the wall, and pressed a button. Three photos popped up, of each Joey, Marcus, and Stacy.

“These children continue to get in my way every time I make a move,” Lance explained, and he pulled up his shirt to reveal a huge gash, two inches wide, going across his entire stomach.

“Dude!” the first stranger said, cringing at the sight of the gash. Meanwhile, Lance flashed back to his fight with Joey and Marcus, where Marcus fired the final basketball-sized shot, which followed Lance and hit him, causing that very gash, that still hadn’t healed.

Lance finally put his shirt down, making the first stranger sigh in relief, and Lance said, “I need you two to draw out and eradicate these three vermin, so that they are no longer in my way.”

“Yeah, and what’s in it for us?” the first stranger asked.

Lance smiled and said, “I thought you’d never ask.” He reached down under the table and pulled up two silver briefcases, which he set down on the table. He opened up both briefcases, inside which laid hundred-dollar-bills. Each case held hundreds of them, and Lance smiled as he watched the faces of both strangers light up.

“Twenty-five thousand for each of you,” Lance said. “In exchange, beat these three children to just short of death, and then bring them to me. That is all I ask. Think you can handle it?”

The second stranger stood up with the first, who slammed the tip of a giant sword down onto the table.

“We’ll be back in a flash, just tell us where they are and we’ll blow ’em away!” the sword owner said gleefully.

Lance smiled at the prospect of his wishes of the death of the three on his screen, and said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. Just go out on a rampage, destroy any old town you like, and they’ll come straight to you.”

“Alright, sounds good!” the first stranger said happily, mirroring Lance’s smile.

Marcus came out of Felix’s portal in Pleasantville, Pennsylvania, in search of a child Host to bring back to Spirit Village. He looked around and quickly found him, lurking behind a trash can from when Marcus appeared out of the portal.

He was about eight years old and seemed to have the same demeanor as Max, scared and nervous by everything that moved.

“It’s okay, kid, I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m here to help,” Marcus said to him, which less than convinced him. In fact, the Host seemed even more scared by Marcus. Marcus became irritated by the Host trying to hide from him, and began to wish Stacy was here to help convince him. Finally, he said, “What’s your name, kid?”

“Jacob Chester,” the kid answered timidly.

“Look, Jacob, I’m guessing you’ve been alone from the start, having to fend for yourself without help from anyone, am I right?” The kid nodded nervously, and Marcus continued; “Yeah, I was in the same boat as well, but then this guy Felix found me, and my life has gone uphill ever since then. Trust me, coming along will be the best move you’ve ever made.”

The kid considered it for a moment, and then stood up and walked over. Marcus silently thanked the Lord as a portal opened up and they walked through to Spirit Mountain.

They came out in the control room, and Stacy took it from there, while Felix watched them both go with a smile.

“Well, that’s another soul saved from the cruelty of the world. And hopefully there will be many more to come. But in the meantime, I have a job for you two. I would wait for Stacy to return, but…” he seemed to not want to finish his sentence.

“But…what?” Marcus said, gesturing for Felix to spit it out.

“Well, to be honest, this is far too dangerous for the likes of her to get involved.”

Joey’s and Marcus’s eyes widened, Joey’s in surprise, and a little fear, Marcus’s in anticipation.

“There are two Hosts attacking Cambridge, Idaho, and they’ve already brought the town to its knees. You need to go there and stop these Hosts. However, you’re going to need to use absolutely every ounce of power each of you have in order to defeat them. I wish you both the best of luck.”

A portal opened, and Marcus and Joey walked through it, the latter wondering if he was going to come out of this.

Several balls of fire rained down across an elementary school, sending rubble caving into the building, and igniting the school. Waves of black energy collided into several houses and blew them all apart, making the owners duck in cover.

The portal opened up on a rooftop and Marcus and Joey walked through it, the both of them preparing for battle. They both looked around at the destruction, and saw that only about a third of the buildings were left standing, and smoke rose up over the remaining rooftops, with people running in every direction. A squad of police cars raced across the street, but a wave of black energy flew across the ground and hit them, making them all explode and send parts raining across the ground.

Marcus and Joey both looked over and saw a guy in his early twenties, smiling up at them as if he had been expecting them. He wore a black sleeveless shirt and ripped up cargo pants, but what really caught their eye was the sword slung over his shoulder. It was about three feet long, and foot-long spikes came off each side, about three inches apart from each other.

“Okay, that’s one,” Marcus said, “now where’s the other?”

Just as the words left his mouth, a stream of flame rose up behind the two of them, and they both jumped out of the way as it came down and smashed into the building, bringing it to the ground. They both landed on the ground, and flame erupted right behind Marcus, out of which a stream of it shot, blasting Marcus in the back and putting him on the ground.

This Host was African-American, and had an old maroon tank-top with baggy jeans. Joey tried to go help Marcus, but he heard running footsteps from behind him and saw the other Host coming at him, his sword raised. Joey barely had time to react as he conjured up a shield to block the blade, but the sword busted right through it, sending him dropping back onto his butt. The Host raised his sword above his head and prepared to finish Joey, but he blasted him with black fire. The Host was sent flying back several feet, but he got to a kneeling position with his sword tip in the ground to support him. Joey looked over at Marcus to see him flying through the air as a wave of flame crashed into the ground, sending rubble flying into the air.

Marcus landed on all fours and fired three blasts at the Host, who raised his arms to defend himself, and his torso became engulfed in smoke as the blasts hit. The smoke dispersed as the Host conjured balls of regular fire in each hand, and prepared to shoot them at Marcus. Joey fired a wave of black fire at him, hitting him head-on with it, and engulfing him in smoke. Joey then jumped forward as the other Host landed on the ground with his sword pointed forward from swinging it, and Joey landed near Marcus, who fired five blasts at the sword owner. The sword owner charged out of the smoke with his sword ready to swing, and the other Host fired waves of flame from his arms at Joey and Marcus. The sword owner stopped cold and swung his sword, sending a wave of pure black energy at them as well.

Marcus and Joey both jumped out of the way and the waves hit each other and caused an explosion that blasted a ten-foot crater into the ground and sent a huge dust cloud above the town. Joey and Marcus both landed, Marcus on all fours, but he hesitated to charge, as he had realized by now that these guys were no one to take lightly. The Host with the sword charged out of the smoke, coming straight at them with a maniacal smile. The other Host fired a wave of fire at them to cover his partner, and Joey let out a huge wave of black fire that formed a shield around the two of them to block the fire. The shield burst apart as the sword owner cleaved into it with his sword, and continued charging with his sword raised.

Joey fired a wave of black fire at him, but he blocked it with his sword and walked at a steady pace towards him. Marcus fired three blasts at him, making him lose his concentration and let Joey’s fire consume him in an explosion that blasted another crater in the ground. A burst of flame erupted behind them and exploded into a wave that blasted them both off their feet and sent them crashing to the ground. The other Host stood there with fireballs in each hand, which he pointed at both of them and prepared to fire. Joey fired a single fireball at him, and Marcus fired a single blast, but the Host intercepted them with his fireballs, and they both exploded harmlessly in midair.

Joey prepared to charge the Host when Marcus yelled, “Joey, look out!” Joey didn’t even have time to react before a sword blade ran across his back, sending blood spattering across the ground and pinning him with pain. Joey rolled around and looked up at the other Host, who raised his sword up with a triumphant smile, knowing he had him. About a dozen of Marcus’s blasts hit the Host, making him stumble back, and Joey breathed through the pain and got to his feet, running over to Marcus. They were both panting with exhaustion, both unbelieving of how strong these Hosts were. Marcus jumped out of the way as the other Host came crashing down, engulfed in an aura of fire, and Joey jumped back as well as the Host shot a wave of fire at him.

Joey landed on the ground and ducked a slash from the sword owner, and he then fired a wave of fire from a single hand at him, which wasn’t very strong, and barely made him stumble back. Marcus took the initiative to blast him several times, knocking him to the ground. The other Host took Marcus from behind, blasting him with a wave of flame that sent him flying through the air and crashing to the ground twenty feet away. Joey charged up a wave of black fire in his hands and let it out at the Host, who intercepted it with a wave of his own fire. They were both caught in a beam fight, trying to outdo the other, until finally, the point where their flames met exploded, sending the Host flying back while Joey was sent skidding across the ground.

Joey turned around and saw the sword owner meet his sword with Marcus’s claws, which were just barely sufficient to hold out. “H-Hey, kid! A little help!?” Marcus called. Joey surrounded his fist with black fire and charged to the Host’s blindside, then attacked him. He swung his sword around, leaving a trail of black energy to keep Marcus occupied, and he swung his sword in a full circle, leaving a trail of energy along the way.

The energy grew and spun around, then erupted into a pitch-black tornado that sent both Marcus and Joey flying back in opposite directions, and slamming into the ground. Joey tried to go see if Marcus was okay, but the sword owner stood in his path with a triumphant smile, his sword bared. Joey looked past him and saw that Marcus was on all fours, staring at the other Host, who was standing between Marcus and the sword owner.

CHAPTER 8: JOEY AND MARCUS SEPARATED


“Okay, spill it; who are you guys?” Joey asked, not taking his eyes off the sword owner.

“I am Craig Myles, and this is my brother Pierce,” the sword owner answered.

“Wait, you two are brothers?” Marcus asked, noticing the skin difference.

“Yeah, it’s called a black mother and white father,” Craig said irritably.

“Okay, and why are you doing this?” Joey asked. “Why are you attacking this town?”

Craig’s smile grew at this, and he answered, “I guess because we just love blowing stuff up is all.”

“That’s…just sick,” Marcus said to Pierce, who remained silent.

“Oh, yeah, don’t mind him. Pierce isn’t much of a talker, that’s what I’m here for,” Craig said, eyeing his brother with a smile.

“Well, regardless, we’re going to stop you, right here, right now,” Joey said, charging up black fire in his hands.

The sword owner watched him power up with a peculiar look on his face, and said, “You know, you remind me a lot of that guy Anthony, Anthony Claden.”

Joey’s eyes widened at this, which the sword owner didn’t fail to notice.

“Heard of him?” he asked, eyeing Joey suspiciously.

“No, I haven’t,” he said, but desperately wanting to rectify that situation.

“Yeah, he was one of the stronger Hosts I’ve fought, granted he and I have virtually the same powers,” the sword owner reminisced with a nostalgic look and tone. “Only difference being, I have this baby!” He raised his sword proudly, and Joey could tell he was waiting for the chance to skewer him alive with it.

“Yeah, speaking of which, where’d you get that thing” Joey asked, voicing what had been on his mind since this fight began.

“It’s a Spirit Weapon,” Craig answered, which told Joey nothing.

“A Spirit Weapon is a manifestation of the energy emanating from a Host’s Spirit Beast, known as Beast Energy,” Marcus explained. “Very few Hosts possess Spirit Weapons, but they’re extremely useful. And they’re not just swords, either; they can be anything. Knives, archery bows, probably even guns and blasters.”

“That’s right. In fact you’ve actually rather impressed me. Someone’s obviously doing their homework,” Craig said as he eyed Marcus.

“Alright, enough talk, it’s time to end this,” Pierce said irritably as he formed some fireballs in his hands.

“Alright, fine, Bro, let’s do it,” Craig said, raising his sword and pointing it at Joey.

Joey charged up some black fire in his hands and prepared to fire it, but Craig completely disregarded him and charged with his sword. Marcus dodged a wave of fire shot by Pierce and ran on all fours around him. Joey formed a shield to block Craig’s sword, and just barely managed to hold out while Craig was forced to stumble back. Joey took the time to hit him with a wave of fire that blasted him back, but instead of fazing him, Craig was smiling with excitement.

Marcus bounded across the ground, trying to avoid Pierce’s fire. He fired a few blasts at him to try to knock him off guard, but Pierce intercepted them with his fire and continued. Marcus finally leaped clear over Pierce to try and get him off track, and landed behind him and charged in with his claws. He tried to gouge him, but Pierce erupted in a burst of flame and disappeared, making Marcus fly through the remaining fire, which burnt his body in several places. He hit the ground rolling, breathing through the pain of the burn marks. Pierce reappeared fifteen feet away, glaring down at Marcus with a nonchalant look in his eye. Marcus immediately got back to his fours and fired several blasts at Pierce.

Pierce formed a shield of fire to block Marcus’s blasts, then fired the shield in a wave at him. Marcus rolled out of the way, then leaped at Pierce with his claws out. Pierce sent a wave of fire across the ground at him while Marcus was still in the air, and when it got directly under him, it exploded upwards, blasting Marcus ten feet into the air. Marcus hit the ground rolling, and when he stopped, he was barely able to move with pain. Pierce waited for him to attack again, but Marcus was much more hesitant now, having had himself thrown around more than enough to realize this guy was going to be a problem.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Pierce said, conjuring fire in his hands.

“Not a thing,” Marcus said, getting back to his fours and preparing to charge again.

Joey jumped one wave from Craig’s sword, then formed a shield while he was still in the air to block his second wave. Joey landed on the ground and charged up black fire in his hands, then charged Craig head-on, trying his best to overpower him. Craig swung his sword at him, but Joey managed to duck his slash, then closed in on him with his fire aimed at Craig’s stomach. Craig jumped back from him, and Joey stopped cold and fired a wave of fire at him that he blocked with his sword. When the fire ceased, Craig swung his sword and fired a black wave at Joey that hit him in the chest and sent him flying back.

Joey went rolling across the ground, and when he managed to regain his balance, he noticed the wave had cut a huge gash across his entire chest, which was staining his shirt with blood. Craig swung his sword straight upwards, sending a vertical wave with the bottom tip in the ground at Joey that he just barely managed to conjure a shield to block. Joey was sent skidding backwards by the wave’s impact into his shield, and Craig leaped up into the air and dived down on top of him with his sword raised. Joey barrel-rolled out of the way, and Craig smashed into the ground where Joey had been standing, then swung his sword. He hit Joey with another wave that sent him flying back and tumbling across the ground.

There was a huge gash going across Joey’s upper arm and the side of his chest, which, along with the first gash, hurt very badly. Craig charged him, and Joey ducked his slash and got behind him, but Craig swung his sword through the air and down on top of him, making Joey jump past him, however, Craig still managed to graze his stomach. While Joey was still in the air, Craig swung his sword and landed a wave right in his stomach, sending Joey flying through the air and smashing through a wall into the second story of a building. Marcus watched out of the corner of his eye as this happened, not daring to take his eyes off of Pierce. Pierce charged him with his fire-enhanced fists raised, and Marcus ducked and backed around him, making Pierce spin around and blast him with a wave of fire that sent him flying back with more burns across his body.

Marcus kneeled to the ground, waiting for Pierce’s attack, but he just stood there with fire streaming from his hands, waiting for Marcus to attack. Marcus enlarged his claws and charged Pierce on his feet, both hands raised. When he got to him, Marcus swung his claws, making Pierce duck, and then leap back behind Marcus. Marcus spun around and charged after him, but Pierce fired a wave of flame into his stomach, sending him flying back and slamming into a building. Marcus dropped out of the wall he was in and slammed into the ground, blood dripping down from the back of his head. He slowly got back to his feet, but Pierce blasted him with a wave of fire that sent him flying back and smacking into the wall again.

Marcus slid down into a sitting position against the wall, blood trickling out of his mouth, wondering how he planned on beating this guy. Pierce was by far one of the strongest Hosts Marcus had ever faced; maybe even stronger than Lance. Marcus finally fired five blasts at Pierce, who jumped out of the way, and barreled down on top of Marcus with his fists engulfed in fire. Marcus rolled out of the way, and Pierce smashed into the building, sending embers and rubble flying. Marcus fired several blasts into the dust, causing an even bigger dust cloud, but a wave of fire shot out of it, blasting Marcus back and sending him rolling across the ground. He got back to his feet just in time to leap out of the way of another wave of flame, and he hit the ground on all fours and bounded towards Pierce, who held his fists out to defend himself.

As he ran, Marcus fired a continuous burst of blasts at Pierce that he conjured a shield to block, and Marcus leaped over him and landed behind him, then charged in with his claws poised. Marcus leaped at him, but Pierce spun around like a top, and a tornado of fire erupted, sending Marcus flying back and rolling across the ground. He got back to his fours and waited for Pierce to come, but he just waited for Marcus to get to him.

Joey flew down the hallway of the building he had smashed into earlier, quickly followed by Craig, his sword ready. Joey hit the ground and ducked Craig’s slash, but when he tried to get behind him, Craig sent his foot back and landed it into Joey’s stomach. Joey was sent skidding back with his arms wrapped around the spot where Craig had hit. Craig straightened himself back up and swung his sword across the ground, sending a vertical wave at Joey that blasted him clear out of the building. He somehow managed to land on both feet, and when he looked back up, Craig was standing in the hole he had caused in the wall, looking down at him with a smile.

Joey fired a wave of black fire up at Craig and it hit head-on, causing a cloud of smoke and dust, but when it cleared, Craig was gone. Joey looked straight up in the air and saw him, diving down on top of him with his sword raised. Joey conjured a shield to defend himself, although he knew it wasn’t going to do any good. A barrage of tiny yellow blasts flew over and hit Craig head-on, blasted him out of the air, and sent him flying down and slamming into the ground. Joey fired a wave of flame at Craig that smashed into him, blasting smoke and dust into the air. Joey waited to see if he had gotten him, but a black wave shot out of the smoke and hit him in the stomach, sending him flying back and rolling across the ground.

By now, most of his torso was stained in blood, and his shirt was in shreds. Craig charged with his sword, and Joey fired a wave of fire at him, but he swung his sword, firing a wave of black energy that cleaved right through the fire. Joey just barely managed to dive out of the way as the wave flew by, grazing his shoulder and sending blood spattering back. Joey landed on the ground and fired another wave of black fire at Craig, who stopped cold and swung his sword across the ground, sending a vertical wave at him that dispersed the black fire and crashed into him. He was sent flying through the air, and then tumbling across the ground, and when he finally came to a stop, he could barely move.

Marcus backed up slowly, panting in exhaustion and pain from the burns all over his body. Blood trickled down from his forehead right next to his right eye, to join the trickle coming out of his mouth. Pierce stepped forward with his hands engulfed in flame, and Marcus enlarged his claws in order to try and counter him. Marcus charged him on his feet as opposed to his fours, but Pierce sidestepped him, sustaining a slash to the side, and immediately followed up with a wave of fire landing in Marcus’s back which put him on the ground.

He got to his fours, and Pierce fired a wave of flame right under him, sending him flying back, and rolling across the ground. When he came to, he was right next to Joey, who was kneeling to the ground, just like him, facing the opposite direction. They were both in similar states of pain and exhaustion, and Marcus wondered just how much more either of them could take. Craig swung his sword around proudly, preparing to finish Joey, while Pierce conjured up a wave of flame to finish Marcus.

CHAPTER 9: TEAMWORK

Joey got back-to-back to Marcus and stretched his arms out into the air, where a wall of black fire formed. The wall stretched all the way around them in a dome that blocked both Craig’s and Pierce’s attacks, and remained in tact.

“You’re getting better,” Marcus said to him, to which Joey smiled.

The wall dispersed, and Joey faced Craig, while Marcus faced Pierce.

“Look, I think it’s pretty obvious we can’t take either of them on our own, so why don’t we try taking them together?” Joey suggested, conjuring balls of black fire in either hand.

“As much as I hate to admit it…you’re right. Okay, then, kid, let’s do it your way,” Marcus agreed, and he got down on all fours. He lowered his voice, and said, “So what’s the plan?”

Joey thought for a moment, then said, “Lure them both to one spot, then hit them on all sides as hard as we can.”

“Sounds good to me,” Marcus said, and he immediately charged Pierce on all fours.

Joey only hoped Marcus intended to go along with the plan as he charged up fire in both hands. Craig waved his sword around nonchalantly, seeming as if he couldn’t have cared less. Joey fired a wave of fire at him, but he blocked it with his sword, and immediately followed through by shooting a wave through the flames at Joey. Joey ducked it and fired another wave of fire at Craig, but he leaped out of the way and dived down on top of Joey with his sword raised. Joey conjured a shield to block him, but he burst right through it, nearly cutting both Joey’s arms off in the process, but he jumped back to avoid that happening, sustaining cuts to both of them.

Craig swung his sword again and fired another wave at Joey, but he put all his power into a shield, and just barely managed to block it. Joey then converted the shield into a ball about three inches in diameter, and fired it at Craig. “Not good enough, kid!” he said as he raised his sword to block it. The ball hit the blade and exploded, obscuring Craig in dust, and sending rubble flying. Craig skidded out of the other side of the dust cloud and said, “Okay, maybe that was pretty good, but it’s still gonna take a lot more than that to beat me!”

Several blasts rained on Pierce, and when the smoke and dust cleared, he had a shield of fire going to defend himself. Marcus dived down on top of him with his claws out, and Pierce fired a wave of fire at him, but Marcus fired a huge wave of blasts, dozens of them, that managed to get rid of the fire and hailstorm Pierce. The combined explosion from all the blasts sent Marcus flying away from him, and then rolling across the ground. When he straightened up, Pierce was on the ground, his face in the dirt. Marcus couldn’t help but smile to himself at the prospect of finally managing to do some damage to him. It took a few seconds, but Pierce finally rose to his feet, and when he did, Marcus saw his shirt was ripped up from the blasts, and he was panting in exhaustion.

“Alright, I’m goin’ all out now, so I suggest you watch your step,” Marcus said confidently as he got on all fours and prepared to charge.

Pierce conjured some more fire in his hands, and Marcus immediately charged. Pierce fired the wave of fire at him, but Marcus jumped to the side and continued towards Pierce, revealing his claws and pincers. Marcus leaped at him, and Pierce leaped out of the way, making Marcus land on the side of the building that had been behind him. Marcus turned his head to look at Pierce and fired a barrage of blasts, but Pierce conjured a shield to block them, and did so successfully. Marcus leaped off the building and bounded after Pierce, firing a continuous wave of blasts at him at the same time. Pierce conjured another shield to block them, which worked at first, but he was eventually forced to jump out of the way, making about twenty blasts tear up the ground on and behind where he stood. Pierce back-flipped through the air, dodging the remaining blasts that homed in on him, and landed on the ground, the blasts smashing against a building at the same time.

Joey fired a huge wave of black flame at Craig, who tried to block it with his sword, but was eventually forced to jump out of the way. While he was still in the air, Joey conjured a fireball in each hand, and threw them both up at Craig, who swung his sword when they arrived, making them both disappear. Joey took this moment to look and see how Marcus was doing, and was pleased to see his part of the job was done. Now, it was up to Joey. Craig landed on the ground, and Joey charged him with a ball of condensed fire in his hand. He rammed the ball of fire against the flat of Craig’s sword blade, which was amped up with his special Spirit Beast energy, and was managing to hold out against Joey’s attack. Joey looked closely and saw Craig was focused solely on keeping his primary attack at bay, which meant Joey had an opening.

Joey fired a wave of fire from his other hand under Craig’s sword, and landed it in his stomach, making him lose control of his blade, which was sent flying by Joey’s fire. The first wave then hit him head-on, blowing a crater into the ground, and sending smoke and dust rising into the air. Joey fired a wave of fire into the smoke, knowing that if Craig was still in there, he had him. The wave hit the smoke, but judging by the sounds of it, didn’t hit him, and Craig flew out of the dust cloud, heading for his sword, and Joey said, “Gotcha!”

Joey waved his hand through the air, sending five tiny fireballs shooting at Craig, leaving him with no way out. Craig saw the fireballs coming, and smiled confidently, making Joey silently curse him. Craig crossed his arms and a shield of black energy formed around them, blocking all of the fireballs and leaving him completely unharmed.

He landed and skidded across the ground, then charged Joey, and picked up his sword off the ground. “Come on, kid, did you really think this sword was my only source of power!?” he yelled as he ran. “How do you think I protected myself before I had it, huh!?”

With the last word, he was on top of Joey, and he swung his sword, packed with energy, and collided it with the shield Joey had conjured to defend himself. A huge explosion made Joey feel like his limbs were being ripped off, and caused a dust cloud fifteen feet wide, and sixty feet high. About twenty seconds later, the dust cleared, and they both stood there, Craig with his mouth slightly opened, Joey with a smile.

Blood dripped to the ground from Joey’s arm, which had been run cleanly through by one of the blades protruding out from the main blade, right next to a vital spot. Craig wrenched his blade out of Joey’s arm, making more blood spatter to the ground, and the wounded arm fell to Joey’s side, completely useless. Craig swung his sword again, but Joey managed to back out of the way of it, making Craig smash the blade into the ground. Joey used his single working arm to fire a wave of fire at Craig, and since the tip of his sword was buried in the ground, Craig was forced to jump out of the way. Joey fired another wave of fire at him while he was still in the air, which Craig formed a shield across his arms to block. Craig deactivated his shield, and Joey spun around just as four blasts flew past him, and he fired a third wave of flame at Pierce, who hadn’t seen it coming. Marcus’s blasts all made direct hits against Craig, and Pierce was just barely able to bring up a shield to defend himself. Marcus bounded past Joey, headed straight for Craig, while Joey conjured some fire and waited for Pierce to attack.

Marcus went straight for Craig’s sword, knowing that if he had it, he would cut Craig’s power in half. He was about five feet away from it when a beam of black energy blasted him in the stomach and sent him flying back. He went rolling across the ground, and when he managed to get back on balance, Craig pulled his sword out of the ground and slung it over his shoulder. Marcus sincerely hoped he was more of a match for this guy than he was for Pierce. Otherwise, he was in trouble. Marcus charged Craig head-on, making him swing his sword, but Marcus ducked the wave of energy that shot from it, and kept going. Marcus leaped at him, and Craig met Marcus’s claws with his sword, then pushed him back. Craig then landed a wave in his stomach, sending him flying back with blood all over him.

When Marcus looked, Craig had sent a vertical wave at him that crashed into him, and sent him flying through the air once more. He bounced across the ground, and Craig charged him with his sword raised, making Marcus get back to his feet, and reveal his claws. They both swung at each other, but Craig knocked Marcus’s arm back, then fired another wave into his stomach, sending him flying back and rolling across the ground. “Nope…definitely not a match for this guy,” Marcus said to himself, struggling to keep conscious.

Joey was trapped in a beam fight with Pierce, but since he only had one working arm, he was quickly being overpowered. Finally, he waved his arms and sent a pulse of fire at Pierce that got past his flame and blasted him back, smashing him into a building. Joey raised his hand up, then brought it straight down, sending a wave of black fire at Pierce that hit him and the building he was in, collapsing it and sending it crashing down on top of him. Joey spun around and saw Craig with his foot on Marcus’s chest, pinning him to the ground while he had his sword raised to finish him. Joey fired a wave of fire at Craig, who blocked it with his sword, then sent a wave of black energy at Joey. He ducked it and charged Craig, making him take his foot off of Marcus and plant it on the ground to better brace himself.

Just as he prepared to swing his sword, he stopped cold and his eyes widened, and he began to make several grunting sounds, almost like gagging. He looked down at Marcus, on his feet, with the claws on his right hand in Craig’s stomach.

“Shouldn’t have taken your foot off me, huh?” he said with in a deadly tone, with a smile to match. Joey came around behind Craig, so as not to catch Marcus in his attack. Before Joey could hit him, Craig became surrounded in black energy, which then erupted into a huge wave that blasted both Joey and Marcus back. When they finally looked up from the ground, Craig was hunched over, the tip of his sword buried in the dirt, his hand wrapped around his wound. A burst of fire rose up behind him from under a pile of rubble, and Pierce stumbled out, coming next to his brother.

“Well, I gotta say, you two proved to be a lot stronger than we imagined,” Craig said, straightening up.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s finish this,” Marcus said, getting back to his feet.

Craig looked at Marcus with a smile on his face, and at that moment, waves of fire and black energy sprung up around them both.

“Hey!” Marcus said, realizing what they were doing.

“Some other time,” Craig said, as they both disappeared. Marcus dropped to his knees, his eyes glazed over, and Joey realized he was struggling to keep conscious.

After a few gasps of breath, Joey said, “Who were those guys?”

Lance sat at the table in his lair, waiting for the return of his hired mercenaries. A roar of flame rose up, black energy mixed in, and Craig and Pierce hobbled out, both massaging their wounds.

“Well?” Lance asked, looking at them both.

“We did exactly as you asked,” Craig answered with a smile, which Lance then mirrored.

Craig flashed back to the time just before he and his brother headed out to hunt down Joey, Marcus, and Stacy.

“Hold on a minute, gentlemen.” Craig and Pierce turned around to look at Lance, wondering why he had called them back. “I change my mind,” he decided, “I don’t want you to bring them here. In fact, I don’t even want you to beat them. I am instead asking you to intentionally lose, and in the process, test their power for me.”

“What!?” Craig said, outraged at this new request. Lance rested his hands on the briefcases containing their rewards, which revived Craig’s motivation. “Alright, you want us to test their power? Will do.”

“Perfect,” Lance said, getting up and handing each brother their reward of twenty-five-thousand dollars. “You both did your job excellently, and for that, I am one step closer to my goal,” Lance said happily as he turned around and looked down. Lying against the wall was the corpse of Max Prior, the boy Joey, Marcus, and Stacy had rescued.





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