The Astral Force
“…Jaden…Jaden…Wake up, Jaden!” The sound of Astra’s desperate cries had awoken him. He opened his eyes to see her kneeling over him, on the brink of tears.
` Jaden was lying in the middle of what looked like a Divine Temple. Everyone was gathered around him in solemn relief. His body was as stiff as a rock and his head felt like it was split in half. He barely had any memory about what happened beforehand.
“What were you thinking?! That was so dangerous! You idiot!”
Astra wrapped her arms around Jaden and held him tight. He was surprised by her sudden embrace, which released a sharp pain shot through his body.
“Owww! Careful! You’re crushing me!” Even though her hug was relatively soft, his body was so wrenched up, it felt like he was caught in a vise.
“Oh God,what just happened?” he asked.
“We won,” Kaylah answered. “You defeated the demon. How do you feel?”
“Well, I can’t move anything below my neck, so that can’t be good.” he said humorously.
“Here, drink this.” Kaylah took out a healing potion, which she them brought up to his lips. Jaden shrunk from the medicine’s tart flavor as she poured it into his mouth. He could feel the potion slowly work its magic inside his body. It would be a few minutes before he would fully recover.
“How long was I out?”
“About ten minutes. While you were under, we all found our way to the temple. The surviving soldiers are tied up over there,” Jesse explained.
Jaden saw the three Centurions wrapped up together in hookshot cables, sitting silently with their helmets off. He was surprised to see that they all looked the same age as him, maybe even younger.
“Halldor just dragged them all here to die,” Jesse added angrily. “None of us should even be here! What’s the point of all this fighting if nobody wins?!”
At that point, Jesse was just as fed up with this war as Jaden. They had been fighting for so long, they sometimes forgot what they were fighting over. All the anger and hatred both sides had for each other seemed to be the only thing driving them.
“At least we’re all safe now,” Jaden assured.
“No thanks to you!” Revan shouted. “What were you thinking, running headfirst into battle like that?! You almost got us all killed!”
“Are you kidding me?! That was amazing!” Jesse exclaimed, shutting the Prince’s argument down. “That power, I’ve never seen anything like it! What the hell was that?!”
“It’s a little hard to explain,” Jaden responded. “It’s called the Astral Force, and it’s the Ark Knight’s greatest weapon.” Everyone was stunned by this revelation, unable to comprehend the kind of technique it was.
“Basically, it’s an energy multiplier. I focus all the energy inside my body until it gets released all at once, enhancing my strength, speed, senses, everything that I use in a fight.”
Even though Ark Knights can already enhance their strength and speed in short bursts, this power was in a class by itself. It required a remarkable amount of focus and an innate control of one’s energy. One false move and it could cause severe bodily damage, even death. But if executed perfectly, the rise in energy can be astounding. In fact, the enhancement Jaden used was only a fraction of the technique’s true potential.
“Wait a minute! You had access to all this power this whole time?!” Revan asked. “Why didn’t you use this technique before?!”
“I wish it were that simple. While it does enhance my strength, it also causes a lot of strain on my body. Eventually, it drains me of my energy to the point that I could even die. It was only meant to be used as a last resort.”
This was true. Using the Astral Force in battle was very risky. Only the most skilled Ark Knights have been able to master this technique. He himself has had very little practice using it.
“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” Kaylah asked.
Jaden looked down to the floor, remembering how this power once cost more than just his life.
“I didn’t even think I would use it. Whenever I power up like that, the Empire can detect the energy spike anywhere on the planet, and they always come after me. And when they do, someone gets hurt…or worse.”
They all stood silently and saw how distraught he was. Even Revan couldn’t come back after that. He knew all too well what the Empire was capable of. They had eyes everywhere, and they were all on Jaden.
“I’m sorry I dragged you guys into that.” he said despondently.
“Don’t be sorry!”Jesse stated. “You saved us all!”
“Yeah, we all would’ve died if it wasn’t for you!” Darek added.
“He’s right!” Kaylah asserted happily. “Jaden, you’re a hero!”
He was surprised to see how grateful everyone was for what he did, and he couldn’t help but raise a smile. “Thanks guys.”
“Well, we’re gonna open the vault now. You wanna do the honors?” Jesse asked.
“Nah, I need to lay back here for now. You guys go ahead.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll leave you two kids alone.”
Everyone else made their way towards the door to the temple vault, where the spirit of Iblis was waiting for them. However, Jaden called out to Jesse before he got too far away.
“Oh wait! Here, you need this!” Jaden took his Keystone out of his pocket and handed it to Jesse.
“Hey, you got your necklace back!” Jesse exclaimed.
“I was never gonna let the Empire take anything else from me!”
Though Jesse made his way towards the vault, he turned back around and spoke one more time.
“Listen, J. What you did back there, for those soldiers…that was really incredible. You never cease to amaze me. Don’t ever stop.”
Jesse finally walked towards the door with the key in hand. Meanwhile, Astra continued holding Jaden in her arms, her tears starting to dry out. She hadn’t spoken for so long, and he couldn’t help but say something.
“Astra…are you okay?”
“I was so worried. I couldn’t live with myself if I lost you,” she whimpered. After nearly witnessing one of her closest companions die on the battlefield, the Princess had realized just how powerless she really was.
“I’m sorry, Astra. But don’t worry. I’m fine now.”
Though Jaden tried to reassure her, this did not make her feel better. After another moment of silence from her, Astra finally uttered something into Jaden’s ear.
“I think I need some time away from the field.”
“Don’t you get it? I’m supposed to protect you.”
Jaden was taken aback by her sorrow. Whenever he risked his life in battle, he rarely thought about how his death would affect those he was leaving behind. Realizing that just now only made him feel selfish, like he deserved to be alone.
The Ark Knight always thought he had to be on his own to protect those around him. He couldn’t risk losing someone dear to him. He knew everyone close to him gets hurt, and he himself couldn’t bear that kind of pain. Not again.
But sitting there with Astra holding him in her arms, he couldn’t help but welcome her warm embrace. He had been alone for so long, he had forgotten what it was like to feel close to someone, to feel loved.
Jaden watched as Jesse inserted the key into the door, whose star-shaped sigil lit up blue just like the others before opening. Light poured out of the vault like the rising sun, filling Jaden with hope. From it, they all bore witness to a strong, stoic spirt with a crown of gold and burning flames. And as the light faded, they saw the red Star shining at the far end of the room.
* * *
The next day, Kaiser was speaking to Lok via video transmission in his quarters. Under his mask, the Dark Lord was irritated by this more recent failure.
“Status update, Lok,” Kaiser ordered.
“We’ve searched the entire mines and found the bodies of General Halldor and much of his brigade.”
“How unfortunate,” he said almost apathetically. “And the crystal?”
“We found the Divine Temple but the crystal wasn’t there. The key that Halldor had with him was also missing. The Princess most likely has them both.”
“Then everything is going as planned.”
“My lord?” Lok inquired.
“Halldor may have been an arrogant fool, but he was prepared. He planted a tracking device on the necklace in case it was ever lost. If either the Princess or the Ark Knight has gotten a hold of it, it should lead us right to them.”
Kaiser pressed a button on his computer panel, revealing a window on the screen that he shared with his right-hand man. It was showing a map of Astrelm. The entirety of the country was painted blue, except for a small red dot in the western region, pinging crimson waves across the continent.
“Notify Emperor Alderic. Tell him it’s time we deploy our new army on Argos.”
Kaiser ended his transmission and continued staring at the holographic map. As he did, the marker on Argos repeatedly washed over the kingdom in a sea of red light.