Chapter 51 – To Halivaara

Somewhere in Benham, a far-off village was going through a rough brush with the weather. With October finally coming around, the forecast predicted a stormier climate than last year. Nadine didn't like the rain much, it tended to mess up her clothes and hair. Still, a little bit of rain wasn't going to hinder her day of nursing the sick and elderly.

Nulma was one of many low-class towns. It was also Nadine's original home. She lived there at a young age, but her parents wanted to live better and tired to travel to a new city. Of course, with little money and resources, life had other plans. She's not sure how it happened but she found herself in a small town and had been surviving in the streets ever since.

After meeting Sulfur, things seemed lighter and easier. For the next two years, she had a family. However, the Nightshade Triad were falling astray of their goals. Her adoptive mother became obsessed to create a new city, no, a kingdom. However, her plans didn't succeed as Nadine feared. Several weeks ago, she heard on the radio that the Slayers and police apprehended the crime group. A breath of relief escaped her lips upon hearing the news. It might have been a bittersweet departure, but she was glad the outcome wasn't too...catastrophic.

With nowhere else to go, she and her friend, Joo, started anew in Nulma village. They shared a hut and worked however way they could, whether it be a farm, gardening, or a flower shop. Joo was struggling to adapt to the change but the kids were growing fond of her, much to the parents' worries of them coming home with foul language plaguing their mouths.

Sometimes, Nadine would volunteer at the clinic, assisting the doctor with many patients. It was a very messy job, but Natasha hardly minded. The welfare of the villagers was more crucial than any mental scars she could gain from treating them.

"Water…" an elder groaned, licking his lips. "I need water."

"Don't worry, sir," Nadine responded in kind. "I'll get it for you now."

She picked up a small clay cup and walked to the sink to fetch water. When she returned, the cup was nearly filled to the brim. The elderly man drank with gusto.

"T-thank you, little lady."

"Of course. Now, get some rest. You need to get back on your feet soon."

With a weak smile the patient did just that as he laid his head down on the bed. The dark-skinned girl wiped some sweat from her forehead as she returned to the doctor's office.

"Doc, how's it looking?"

"He'll live, thanks to you. His fever went down considerably. With a couple of days rest, he's going to make it."

"Good to hear. It would be a shame for him to lose his flower shop over a stupid cold."

Nadine looked over at the sea of beds and cots. Two nurses were pacing back and forth, helping the young and old alike. Often times, she wondered if she made the right call by leaving the Triad when the iron started to heat up. Would she have tried to reason with them or go down with the ship? Would she and Joo end up being dead or thrown in the slammer?

She shook her head, forcing those second thoughts away. No wasn't the time to think about the past. She made a new living in Nulma, away from the bloodshed, death, and destruction. She escaped Sulfur's influence before it led to her downfall.

Suddenly, her ears picked up a knock at the door, she opened it, revealing a familiar face. It was a girl one year younger than her, with short black hair and eyes of the same color. Her attire consisted of an letterman jacket, long, baggy, dark colored sweat pants and long, fingerless gloves. Her bare feet were covered in Taekwondo foot wraps.

"Joo, what's up? The farm let you off early?"

"You might want to come outside," Joo whispered. "We have a problem."

"Huh…?"

Not wasting anymore time, the other girl grabbed on to Nadine's arm and dragged her out of the clinic. She briskly walked towards the entrance gate, with Nadine trying to keep up with her.

"Do you mind telling me what's going on?" Nadine demanded. "What could be so urgent that you'd drag me out of my workplace?"

"There's some weirdo outside the entrance."

"What kind of weirdo?"

"See for yourself," Joo answered curtly, pointing to a figure shrouded in a dark hood.

Three men stood in front of the figure, holding makeshift spears to keep him at bay. The female pair looked at him with a mixture of confusion and caution.

"Hello, stranger. What's your business here?"

"I've come to deliver the great news. Judgement day is fast approaching. Salvation is coming. I am here to send out an invitation to the village. Join us as we worship the rebirth of the "All father"."

Nadine and Joo exchanged puzzled expressions on their faces. It was as if the figure before them spoke an alien language beyond their means.

"Okay, is this dude high or something?" Joo commented, impatient. "Quit talking shit and get out of here."

"Joo, come on," Nadine tempered before turning to the cloaked figure. "Well, I appreciate the consideration, but we aren't interested. Maybe if you weren't so shy as to hide your face…"

"I see…well, allow me to offer an…incentive."

With a flick of a wrist, a spearman's throat was cut open by an invisible force. Another guard's eyes were cut out.

"Holy shit…!" Nadine managed with a startled gasp.

"Motherfucker!" Joo shouted as she charged at the figure like a mad bull. Under his hood, a dark smirk spread across his face. The Asian girl swung her foot towards his face. But, he side stepped out of the way just in time. He spun around and lunged his fist upon Joo's gut, sending back a few feet away, next to Nadine. The dark-skinned girl tossed several knives at the man, aiming for his face. He bent over backwards, avoiding them.

"Go warn the townsfolk!" she told the surviving spearman, "We need all the help we can get!"

As the adult man complied, the figure created a ball of dark energy and hurled it towards him. Nadine pushed the civilian out of the way and charged forward. Revealing a dagger, she swung it towards the cloaked man's arm. Thinking quickly, the foe parried the move and threw Nadine off-balance. He wasted no time in retaliation, throwing more magic balls her way. He never managed to score a direct hit, however, as Nadine dodge rolled and leaped out of the way each time.

"Well, aren't we quick on our feet?" the man quipped, arrogantly.

"Can't say the same for you, though..." Nadine retorted.

The dark hooded man raised an eyebrow in confusion, before he realized something was amiss. Her friend was nowhere in sight. Suddenly, Joo appeared from behind him and lunged both legs in the air.

"Piss off!" Joo cried as she delivered a kneecap kick directly to his temple. He stumbled about over to his side as the black-haired fighter followed up with another kick to his chest, this time with both of her bare feet. This powerful attack sent him flying towards town square. He slowly got up from the ground, growling softly. Nadine and Joo were quick to circle around him, along with other armed villagers.

"Give up!" Nadine ordered. "You're outnumbered now."

"No…you've outnumbered yourselves."

Suddenly, several other dark hooded figures stood around the village, with outstretched hands sparkling with dark energy. Each member placed their hands on the ground, lighting up the ground as a magic circle glowed from below the village. The townsfolk tried to flee but it was no use. Their strength was sapped, as if drained away by a vacuum.

"The hell is this?" Joo questioned, straining. "I can't move…!"

"What are you doing?!" Nadine shouted.

"The will of the All Father."

With a snap of the finger, the circle's glow burned brighter, blinding the whole village, dozens screamed in terror, until everything evaporated into the ether.

When the smoke cleared, a large, dark crystal floated in the air. Outside of the village, one of the dark hooded figures revealed her face, smirking in dark triumph. She approached the crystal carefully, casting a barrier around it. Suddenly the woman's cellphone vibrated in her pants pocket. She picked it up and answered the call.

"Hello, Sif. How did it go?"

"Mission accomplished, Bartholomew. Another crystal has been forged."

"I must admit, it's a shame we have to keep sacrificing our brethren to make more of those things."

"It's for a good cause. I'm sure they are honored to serve the All Father this way."

"Well, I'll leave you to it then. Do be careful out there."

"No promises."

The long-haired woman, Sif, ended the call and put aside her phone. Donning the dark and pointed hood again, she returned her gaze to the crystal. Moving her hands and arms in a circular motion, the dark crystal spun around and disappeared into a portal. Afterwards, Sif went on her way, leaving behind a now desolate village.

»»»»»

While sitting through the airship ride to Halivaara, Sol and Klavdia killed some time with eating some soup and bread while talking about their experiences with their video game adventure. While the islander was more than pleased to get what he wanted out of it, Klavdia was less than pleased to even endure it.

"I can't believe how stupid that game was," Klavdia complained with a frown. "Seriously, how did such a thing become so popular? It's as the developers had one too many ideas and just meshed them together into something crazy!"

Sol chuckled as he bit off a piece of bread with his teeth.

"I can't argue with that. Feels like we've been playing forever in there. What's the point if you can only rule the world for 2 days?"

"Exactly! And the roles we had to play were completely ridiculous. A cat and a hatter? Rubbish! And the skirt I wore was much to short! I was exposed several times. Can you imagine how mortifying that is!?"

Sol paused for a moment before gulping on a sip of water from his glass.

"Uh, yeah, that's pretty embarrassing for sure…"

"You're just saying that to appease me, aren't you?" Klavdia asked, unconvinced.

"No, I agree with you. The game really sucked. We couldn't even use actual weapons. I kind of felt naked without my spear."

"Ditto without my axe."

"Either way," Sol admitted. "I'm just glad I managed to find some lead about Soleil."

The room grew silent as Klavdia finished her soup and water. She glanced at the window, seeing the sun slowly decent from the horizon. It had been at least 5 hours since they set course for Halivaara. Pretty soon, they will arrive in the time and continue their search for Sol's mother. Klavdia's purple eyes returned to Sol. The boy's eyes were closed, as if in deep thought.

"She's alive out there, you think?" he asked his partner.

"I don't know. But, if your father and the sun fairy from that game said she was in Halivaara, then, that's only clue we have."

"She was an inventor, along with Omar. So, that means she must've been popular there too?"

"Right," Klavdia answered. "So, if anything were to happen to her, I should think word would get around quite fast. By the way, what would you do if you found Soleil?"

Sol sighed and shrugged.

"Who knows? I don't know what kind of person she even is. And it's been 13 years since dad separated from her. She probably won't recognize me at first. Honestly, it's all my dad's stupid fault. If he hadn't just left her there and stole me away, we could've stayed together. And he lied to me for so long, making me think Melika and Lani were my mother and sister. It's unforgivable."

"Sol," Klavdia assured. "Loto must've had a good reason for it. It's like I said before, she might've been plotting something unsavory. And there's the fact that she never bothered to search for you for the next 13 years. Any mother would've moved heaven and earth to be reunited with their child again."

The golden-haired boy let out another sigh, relenting to his best friend's words. He knew that something was amiss with that picture, but he just couldn't let go of the idealized image he had of Soleil. He wanted to believe that she was just a woman dabbling with the wrong crowd and lost her husband's respect for it. He wanted to believe that Loto was being over-protective, as usual. To believe that Soliel was a decent person, despite what Loto told him.

"At least you were living the good life in Venus Island," Klavdia added. "Even though Melika and Lani aren't your blood family, they grew up with you and loved you all the same. And to be honest, I'm glad your father made that decision. I'm glad he took you away from Soliel. Because if he didn't, you and I never would've met. Meeting you was one of the best things that ever happened to me."

"R-really?" Klavdia's cheeks were sprinkled lightly with pink as she nodded.

"Yes. You're the first real friend I've ever had. You go out of your way to make me comfortable. You risked your life just to rescue me from my fiancé. And your perseverance is inspiring. If I haven't met you…I don't know where my destiny would lie."

"Klava, what are you saying, exactly?" Sol asked, completely confused. With a deep breath, Klavdia made the choice and went for the plunge.

"Sol, the truth is…"

Suddenly, the intercom sounded off.

"Now approaching Halivaara in 5 minutes."

Sol and Klavdia walked down the airship's plank and stopped at the port. They waved goodbye to Akeelah before she took off again, back to Big Fork city supposedly. The two kids looked over the landscape and seen a long dirt path to their destined location. Something told them that their feet wouldn't be so appreciative. The golden-haired boy was far from amused by this. Still, it was best to get a move on, since the sun was settling down.

"This is weird, Klava," Sol spoke up. "Shouldn't there be cars or taxis or something?"

"Keep walking and you'll be lucky," Klavdia remarked dryly, already walking ahead of him.

"Gee, thanks."

And so, the islander and former princess started off on their trek on the dirt road.

»»»»»

Just as Gadget thought she had the upper hand with her metal arm slamming into Miguel's chest, his form disappeared into thick black smoke, much to her confusion. Just then, the ninja teleported behind her and kicked her in the back, making her hit the ground face first. With a frustrated groan, the dark-skinned girl got up from the gym floor and glared daggers at her new partner. A few weeks have passed since she was assigned a new teammate to replace Mason Adiemus. Since then, Miguel was a bit of an annoyance, barely engaging in small talk and only commenting with two words or less. It was as if Goren and Hilda put them together just to get a rise from out of the inventor as she struggled to keep up with the much-experienced slayer.

"Quit moving so much!" Gadget growled at the man. "That's unfair!"

"It's as close to real fighting as you'll ever get," he chided, his voice low. "Want to survive in a fight, you have to think on your feet."

"I fought plenty of people before you," Gadget corrected him. "Don't be so cocky or you'll just get burned!"

With that remark, she threw a ball in the air and clicked on a small, the capsule revealed small toy mouse who carried a large mallet. It jumped in the air and swung at the ninja, who spun around and was about to use his blade to make quick work of the mechanical rodent. However, Gadget foresaw this and charged after Miguel, and slamming her elbow against his back to stun him enough for the mouse to strike him with the mallet.

That proved enough to knock Miguel to the ground. A small hint of a smile peaked from underneath his mask as he stood up.

"Pretty good, I'll admit. I've seen better though."

Gadget panted heavily, satisfied that she managed to get a compliment out of the ninja.

"Whatever. At least I finally got a hit on you," she chuckled. "This proves you're aren't so invincible as you think you are."

"No one is invincible, Gadget. Not even me. But fighting requires more than just brute strength."

As the two partners stowed away their weapons, something seemed off. Gadget seemed stuck in some rut that she couldn't get out of, even with a new partner.

"Sorry I'm not as up to snuff as you want me to be," Gadget grumbled to herself.

"Well, that's why I'm here, aren't I?" Asked the ninja. "To get you to straighten up."

"I appreciate it, but there's nothing wrong with me."

"You sure about that?"

Gadget said nothing as she applied oil to her joints. Even in his amiable moments, the ninja had a razor sharp tongue.

"...I don't know."

"Why did you come to train here anyway? What reason?"

"I told you already; I did it because I wanted to find and save my father."

"Right. And he's alive and well, thanks to you and the others."

"But now I don't know why I'm even here anymore."

"Which is why you and Mason failed as a team. Well, partially anyway."

Gadget sighed as she stared at the gym floor. Why did he have to bring that name up? If it weren't for him, she wouldn't have this problem.

"Y-yeah, I know. It's so frustrating..."

Miguel marched over to her, adjusting his face mask to hide the grimace.

"You have much to think on. I understand that. But remember: your first duty as a slayer is to protect the innocent, not work through your personal issues. Perhaps it would've been better if your father wasn't around," Miguel challenged.

"Excuse me?" Gadget managed, shocked.

"He was your goal and you found him. Now, he's holding you back. Would it have been better if he was still missing?"

"Of course not! Are you insane!? I would be worried sick!"

"Then you must ask yourself what it is you really want in your life. And I suggest you figure out now; your enemies won't afford you the time."

"Yeah, don't remind me…"

As the male ninja continued to clean and sharpen his blades, Gadget sat down in quiet contemplation. What was wrong with her?

Suddenly, her ringtone went off and she seen a text message from Goren Ford, one of the senior teachers of Slayer Union. What it said took her aback.

Come to the office at once. This mission is of uttermost importance.

»»»»»

It had been roughly 3 hours since Klavdia and Sol started on their way. The sun had already descended, and the evening swallows were in the air. Both teens' stomachs were growling, and their throats were dry from dehydration. It was clear as day that they needed an overdue break. Luckily for them, they spotted an abandoned playground and decided to set up camp there. Once they did, Sol got right to work with hunting for game to munch on. He came back with two squirrels, a reasonable dinner for the day until they reached the town.

After they had finished and while Sol was preparing his sleeping bag, Klavdia looked at the night sky, contemplating something. Curious about something, Sol spoke up with a question.

"Say, Klava, was there something you wanted to tell me?"

"P-pardon?"

"Well, before the intercom came on, you said 'the truth is…' What is the truth?"

Klavdia's lips bite back a gasp and the redness from her cheeks returned with a vengeance. She looked away from her friend as she stammered,

"N-never mind. It's very late, so, I-I'll tell you in the morning or s-something."

After a moment of silence, Sol simply shrugged his shoulders as he got comfortable in his sleeping bag.

"Alright. Well, feel free to speak up when you're ready, I guess."

"W-will do. Get some rest now. I'll keep watch."

"Thanks."

And with that, there were no other words exchanged. Sol drifted off to sleep as the white-haired girl watched over him.

However, from the corner of her eye, she noticed a shadow behind a try. As if it knew it was spotted, it dashed off further into the woods. Suspicious, Klavdia placed one hand in her holster, where the shotgun was. Taking one last glance at Sol, she took off to pursue the shadowy figure. She followed it through the playground until she lost the trail in the flower bed.

She looked around, puzzled. Where could the shadow be hiding? Suddenly, her ears picked up a peculiar melody. A flute? She tried to ascertain where it was coming from but her senses were weakening. Her eyelids were getting droopy and a yawn escaped her throat. She slowly walked near a rose bush and plucked out a flower before collapsing on the ground, now unconscious.

As she laid there, two figures approached her cautiously. One of them was a woman no older than 21. Her dark blue haired was tied in a long ponytail and she sported a black eyepatch in her left eye. The other was a man the same age as her, with short brown hair and greyish eyes.

"Dawn, did it work?"

"If she wasn't sleeping, that wouldn't be the case, would it?"

"Fair enough. Now's our chance, right?"

"Yeah, hurry up."

And with that, the man produced his gloves and revealed metal blades coming from out of them, aiming for Klavdia's chest.


Author Notes: For anyone wondering what may have happened to cut the Game world arc short, well, I can explain. I was originally going to aim for a much longer story for that arc. However, after all the bad stuff happening in the real world, it sapped away any enthusiasm I had. And I really wanted to work on other stuff as well. So, forgive me for ending the game arc in the way that it did. I tried my best at least.

However, I think you'll be pleased to know that the next story arc will be my most anticipated and ambitious yet. There will be more to explore and more to learn about Sol and the world of Benham. Right now, I've currently covered 6 chapters and it's ongoing. So, once it's finally finished, I hope you will enjoy it to the fullest, no matter how long you have to wait.

Until next time, be safe and well, readers!