"S-Seriously, his head is just so goddamn shiny! I mean, it looks like it can reflect even Way Big's superlaser! Heck, probably Ultimate Way Big's too!"
Finishing his rant, Ben resumed shoveling and slurping his fix, the combination of chili fries and smoothies mixing into a 'flavorful' soup behind his over-puffed cheeks.
"Whoa, slow down, Ben. I know how much you like smoothies and chili fries, but come on. Shouldn't there be good food on your side?" Gwen giggled upon seeing Ben look more like a squirrel barreling food upon food as if preparing for hibernation.
After a few seconds of rapid chewing, Ben forcefully gulped the goop of gnashed foodstuffs, downing it through his tightening esophagus before he answered.
"Mmmmff, gulp, I tried! I really did! Yeah, sure this world has some tasty things, but it's just not the same without Mr. Smoothies!"
"And chili fries?" Gwen playfully added.
"Yes, and chili fries. Oh man, was I saved!" Ben then resumed shoveling his fix, leaving Gwen in amused silence as she calmly watched.
A feeling of nostalgia washed over her, the sight of Ben chowing down to his heart's content arousing many memories when they were still together. Barely more than a month passed since he left, and many had changed after his departure — too many changes to count.
"...when are you coming back?"
Her question struck a chord within Ben, enough to interrupt his feasting as he looked up from his food to his cousin.
"..." With a silent gulp, he answered.
"...what's it like back there?"
Ben had yet to finish talking about his new companions or reached the point of talking about monsters, however. Right now, he must be informed of the galaxy's status, especially that of Earth, following the days after his exile.
"It is…" Gwen looked away, furtively averting her gaze.
"How bad are we talking?" Ben almost forgot about the villains. Now that he was no longer there to maintain the peace, who knew what kind of chaos perforce took place in his absence.
For some reason, Ben had the distinct notion Gwen was putting her words 'gently.'
"It is anarchy."
The voice of Ersi interjected nearby their table.
"Do you wish a glimpse?" He offered.
Ben and Gwen turned to the Crimson Celestialsapien, seeing him levitating with the same crystal orb lifted in hand.
Staring at the orb, Ben pursed his lips in uncertainty, unsure if he wishes to learn the true extent of the damage.
With those two words, Ersi casually lobbed the sphere towards the duo's table. Before it landed on their food, the orb froze in mid-air, levitating several inches above - reflecting each of the cousin's faces in their gaze.
Amidst the looking glass as Ersi dubbed it, the glass unraveled from omnipresent grey to infinite cosmic night. Then it zoomed towards one star, enlarged enough to reveal itself as a universe. Closing in, it focused on a specific lumen galaxy, countless solar systems the size of twinkling dust surrounding a lumen nucleus that was the supermassive black hole holding the star clusters together, of which was the Milky Way's center. Enlarging the image of a particular solar system, pushing out the galaxy from the scene, the familiar blue planet Ben called home entered their view.
However, once it zoomed in on the continent of North America, closing into the city of Bellwood as its target, Ben widened his eyes upon seeing true chaos unfold.
It was, like Ersi said, anarchy.
Heavy weaponized vehicles and equally heavily armored Plumbers armed with heavy laser rifles cordoning unknown insectoid life forms while civilians fled from the scene, the fierce battle could be described as a war more than a simple campaign against the unruly elements.
Shifting to another location, Bellwood city's Undertown, the criminals, ran amok causing mayhem, robbed cashiers while others bullied the unfortunate victims of their pocket cash.
Even Argit was ganged up by various bounty hunters, each one stomping him bruised silly. Ben found this one funny amidst the chaos.
"Intriguing, no? So much chaos in your absence, yes. 'Twixt the span between now and your first arrival, most of your enemies celebrated your absence with personal zeal. The scene on the glass is LIVE in real time," Ersi chuckled, finding the scene more amusing than depressing.
"What? Intrigu-that's my hometown!" Ben flabbergasted at Ersi.
"True, but don't look a gift horse in the mouth, as you humans say. I recently reviewed your realm's history and uncovered this is not the worse your planet experienced. Compared to earlier days, this is simply the calm."
Waving a hand, Ersi switched the focus from Bellwood to the Earth's orbit, outside the blue shell and into the starlight night that surrounds it.
Looking back, Ben squinted his eyes at the sight of a fleet of cruiser size surrounding Earth. Upon inspecting the design, Ben widened his eyes upon distinguishing the origins of the space cruisers.
"Is that the…"
The dark steel colored hull, the planar wings, and metal fin under the rear, the gestalt design similar to a kite welded to a bowl with cylindrical tubes underneath acting as landing supporters could only belong to one race.
"Yes. The Highbreed Armada. Your kind deeds have been repaid in full."
Flicking his wrist, Ersi swapped from to scenery, showing Ben and Gwen a slideshow of Earth's progressing status, starting with the current residents of the Plumber Base.
The crystal orb revealed quite a cast, a few magisters stationed on Earth's Plumber Command Center in Bellwood, Azimuth consulting his fellow Galvans on Earth in the science lab, the Amalgams attempting to quell the anarchy in Undertown, Verdona aiding the campaign against the giant mutant insects, even the Rooters that Ben once defeated fighting against more giant mutant insects, the same as those of Earth, within the Null Void.
"No matter how many times I see it, I still found your existence confounding. How could a clueless boy that did not undergo a proper monomyth could even get this far?" Ersi commented.
His words caught the duo's attention once again.
"What'd you say?" Ben had no idea what he just said as the word 'monomyth' derailed his train of thought, but for some reason, he could tell Ersi was demeaning him again.
"Do you know what's a monomyth?" Ersi asked.
An uncomfortable silence was Ben's response. Although, Ben swore Ersi was wryly smirking at him, almost as if to mock Ben's intelligence.
"Is… is he making fun of you?" Even Gwen received the notion of Ersi's mocking of Ben.
"...you too?" Ben sighed. Well, at least he can tolerate this aspect of Ersi's endearing qualities.
"...alright, moving on, what other bad news you got for me? Did Vilgax almost conquer the Earth? Galvan Prime II?" Not wanting to play Ersi's games, Ben returned the topic to the matter of Earth.
"...no. We had help from the Highbreed after your banishment, and, with great effort, managed to capture and imprison Vilgax when he did attempt to conquer the Earth."
Ben's frown slowly widened into a smile at the mention of Reiny.
"Even Grandma Verdona came to help contain the situation, but it's still a work in progress with the usual bad guys that appear almost daily.
"The only good news is we managed to weather the worst, but that doesn't count for Darkstar, Charmcaster, Albedo, Khyber… you get what I mean. In short, it is getting hectic here without you." Gwen sighed as she elbowed the table, resting her hand on her palm while slurping her smoothie through the straw.
"Oh… well, at least it's good to know that the world is still in one piece when I'm gone haha."
Ben sighed in relief, glad that Gwen and the others could manage without him.
"...so, how long until my banishment ends?" Ben asked.
"Well… we don't know." Gwen stopped slurping.
"What do you mean?" Ben assumed that Starbeard assigned a time limit to Ben's banishment. Hopefully, a reasonable one.
"Celestialsapien laws are… tricky," Gwen gently put, "We even asked Chadzmuth for help again after some bribing, but even he doesn't know anything about Celestialsapien laws, as they keep to themselves almost all the time."
"Really? Even that guy can't help?" Ben was utterly surprised. Chadzmuth may be intolerable secular scum, but at least he was professional in his line of work.
"There are some safeguards meant to uphold the dimensional stability of our existence recorded in the Galactic Court's Index of Laws, but further than that, we don't know anything about their culture beyond what we witnessed in the Forge of Creation. We tried contacting Paradox, but he was, well, indisposed at the moment."
"Cannot help because of time things?" Ben jokingly conjectured from experience.
"Yeah, cannot help because of time things. They tied even Paradox's hands," Gwen admitted with pursed lips, "We were hoping to ask a Celestialsapien for insider's info with his help."
Her words sparking his mental light bulb to life, Ben turned to Ersi, the guy still hovering in his lotus position. Why bother asking for a ride to a realm unreachable by conventional means when a person of interest was right beside you?
Gwen followed Ben's line of sight, slowly attuning herself to Ben's wavelength, her eyes gradually widening in realization.
"Alright, so, smart guy, care to tell me about your people's 'law'?" Ben asked with a hint of sarcasm.
"And why would I do that?" Ersi asked back with equal sarcasm.
"Well, you seem bored here so…" Ben twirled his finger around, cutting himself off to emphasize Ersi's solitude in an attempt to play it his way.
"A rude hypothesis, but close nonetheless. I merely find your presence… interesting, despite you being so undeserving of your fame since you are just a useless kid whose only good points is the watch on his wrist."
"Hey," Ben objected to that remark, despite his words hitting home where it hurts.
"But very well. The concept of time is nonexistent to us. We are immortal, can live forever, and are omnipotent. However, on the rare case of banishment, the outcast must reflect to return home, specifically their wrongs," Ersi cryptically explained in summary.
"W-What do you mean, 'wrongs?'" Ben blinked, unable to understand the word, a feeling shared by Gwen as well.
"In your case, absolve what led to your crime. The cause of your banishment, which -in this case- what lead to the blunder that resulted in the erasure of your universe, and subsequently recreating it," Ersi explained.
"..." Ben remained silent, unable to find the right words to respond. Guilt swelled in his heart at the mention of the Anihilaarg.
"Do you know what's a monomyth?" Ersi repeated his question, this time with an imperative purpose.
No, no, Ben did not.
"It means a 'Hero's Journey,' Ben," Gwen dutifully updated.
"What? A Hero's Journey?"
"It is the process that an individual undertakes to become a hero of legend, according to your world's terminology," Ersi nodded.
"What does that have to do with this?" Ben cannot understand the point.
"Truthfully, it is my conjecture, but a well-educated one. In short, everything," Ersi answered.
"I will not tell. It is best you earn that understanding yourself, or else the monomyth will fail in the end," Ersi explained.
"I… don't follow."
"You will in time. Or not. It depends entirely on you," Ersi pointed his index finger at Ben after ending his sentence.
His cryptic words only left Ben mired more buried in the mud of confusion.
"...so, in short, Ben must… become a hero?" Gwen summarized the clues.
"...tch, you ruined it. But yes, Ben must learn to become a hero. A genuine one." Ersi clicked his non-existent tongue. Almost as if he wanted to have fun seeing Ben struggle.
"What?! I've saved the universe more time than I can count! And you said I'm not a hero?!" Ben shouted in outrage, now completely insulted for not taking his achievements into account.
Unfazed by Ben's outburst, Ersi greeted his discontent with stoic truth. One far more deadly than facing an enraged Celestialsapien.
"Yet, you failed. But instead of accepting your failure, you made it seem as if it never happened in the first place. Something even more shameful touching a realm that should not be touched by mortal hands. The worst crime anyone can commit."
Ersi's tone was cold, even more so than ice, his words stabbing Ben back with verbal hoarfrost that chilled his outrage into cooled uncertainty.
"...which is?" Ben hesitantly asked, still awaiting an answer from the red deity.
His robust, unchallengeable response robbed Ben of the voice to retort. Two simple words were more than enough to sunder Ben's self-esteem in one, swift strike.
"Alright, you got me there. I admit it. But that's a one time deal, I swear," Ben admitted defeat this time. He cannot deny his failure, and Ersi's words reminded Ben of the subtle dangers power can bring if left unchecked.
"..." This time, Ben had no answer.
"Regardless, I believe your time is up," Ersi notified of their time.
"The waking world beckons you, Ben. You have a big day ahead of you."
Before either of the cousins could respond, a wave of exhaustion struck Ben and Gwen, their eyelids now as heavy as lead. Their vision blurs as the abyssal black consumed their sight and their consciousness in their return to the waking world once again.
With a long, drawn gasp, Ben shot up from his bed panting for breath, sweat cascading his temples and his throat parched dry.
"...hah," Ben merely sighed.
"...what the heck does Ersi want from me?" He mumbled to himself.
Ben started to think Ersi did not hold him in high respect for some reason. The second time, Ersi questioned his occupation as a Hero, albeit with significant effect.
"Food for thought for another day-"
Suddenly, a burp escaped his throat. Followed by the scent of chili fries and smoothies.
"..." Ben quickly breathed into his hand, sniffing his breath once again, and confirmed that his breath indeed possessed the familiar stench of smoothies and fries. The food he ate there was real to his shock.
Ignoring Ersi's attitude, Ben hoped to return to that realm once again, the possibilities swimming his mind. He wondered if he could convince Ersi to give him the original-flavored smoothie he failed to recreate.
"So, how's Ben doing on the other side?"
Back in Universe 10, within the secret basement of Friedkin University's Library, Kevin leaned back against his cherished heavily armored car, watching Gwen slowly pick herself up while groaning from post-awakening disorientation.
"Ughh, he seems… well."
"Really? He can actually survive without his precious smoothies?" Kevin joked, earning a weak laugh and smile from Gwen.
"He even made some friends." Gwen rubbed her temples as the fatigue slowly bled away her while trotting towards Kevin in her grogginess.
"Friends, huh? What they look like?" Kevin chuckled, wondering what Ben's friends look like on the other side.
"Well… according to Ben? A caped baldy and a pretty boy cyborg."
Kevin had an inexplicably difficult time processing the words coming out her mouth, or picturing the words 'caped baldy' and 'cyborg.'
"Heehee. Yeah, you heard me. A caped baldy and a cyborg. One with a gleaming head." Gwen giggled upon remembering Ben's rants about the guy called Saitama.
"Hah! Really? He knows how to meet interesting folks, doesn't he?" Kevin spurted a laugh upon hearing Gwen's confirmation. Ben's first friend there a Caped Baldy? Kevin can't wait to meet him.
"Yeah, I know…" Gwen's smile slowly curled downwards upon remembering Ersi.
"Hey, Kevin. Are there any records of a Red Celestialsapien?" Gwen asked, unable to switch focus from Ersi. The way he spoke and his manner of speech, it seemed… too human.
"Hm? No? I mean, as far as I know, only black ones exist. Never seen one even in the Forge of Creation. Why?"
"I… was brought into a realm that looked just like Bellwood. Ben said he brought me here, which I am more than inclined to believe."
"What?" Kevin leaned forward, giving Gwen his full attention.
"Ben made a Celestialsapien friend?"
"I don't think 'friend' is the correct term. I mean, he seems more like… hmmm, I don't think there's a word for him." Gwen tapped her chin in thought, trying to find a good metaphor to describe him.
"...you said he is red?" Kevin asked, to make sure.
"Yeah, blood crimson in fact."
"The real question is, can we trust him?"
Was the Celestialsapien friend or foe? A question that truly mattered regarding Celestialsapiens. Kevin shifted his arms, crossing his arms before his chest.
"Well, he is generous enough to let me talk with Ben. Though he does seem a bit… odd."
"Odd how?" Kevin quirked a brow.
"I don't know how to put it, but… hmmm, anyway, he is quirky. Got a unique personality of his own somewhat."
"What kinda personality?"
"The… teasing kind, sometimes. Others, I don't know," Gwen shrugged.
"Huh, now I want to meet him once I get there."
Gwen pursed her lips upon remembering that debacle, the one with the giant insect mutants. Those were the consequence of Servantis attempting to reach Ben in an attempt to get terminate him under the nose of the Plumbers. What resulted was a disaster made flesh, literally in the forms of giant flying insects.
"Did you tell Ben about our little problem?" Kevin asked.
"Truthfully, I didn't have the chance. Everything happened too fast; I didn't have time to collect myself before the Celestialsapien sent me back," Gwen shook her head in denial.
There was another reason why they sought out Ben. To inform him of Kevin's arrival to the world he currently resides. The Plumbers did not know how Servantis managed to get ahold of Ben's location, especially into another universe, but Servantis did it in the end within the same lab in the Null Void.
When Servantis sent in his bio-mechanical spy drones to locate Ben in the new world, they underwent an unexpected change. When Servantis brought it back for study, mostly to see if he can weaponize it against the accursed wielder of the Omnitrix, it evolved, metamorphosized, and escaped into the Null Void with somehow impossible biology that should not be possible for a simple spy drone.
Not only that, it multiplied in the Null Void, and with Servantis' further carelessness managed to allow somehow the abominations to ream free on Earth. The Magisters caught wind of his actions, and they punished him severely for his crimes, his current penance was to recreate the portal that the creature destroyed during its escape and scout the other realm for any weaknesses against the infestation.
By accident, Kevin caught the scent of something familiar from her breath once she got close to him.
"...why does your breath smell like Chili Fries and smoothies?" Kevin asked.
They did not have any of the sorts for dinner as far as he knew. And they brushed their teeth afterward, so he found it odd.
Confused, Gwen breathed into her raised hand and sniffed the air.
"So, yeah. I made a bet with a little girl, and I sort of included you without asking. So, care to fight a green brat that can move things with her mind?"
Saitama could not understand a lick of sense from his question.
"Yeah, long story short, I got dragged to the Hero Association and joined it. They even gave me S Rank from my feats or something… anyways, there's this S-Class Hero that wants to fight me, but I made a bet that you can beat her in one punch along the way to get back at her. So, will you help me?"
Saitama denied. He was in search of a good fight, not petty squabbles.
"Oh come on, Saitama, dude. Tell you what, let's make a bet. If I beat you best two out of three in Ultrabeat Fighters Four, you go fight Tatsumaki whether you like it or not."
"...okay…" Saitama blandly stared back at Ben in response.
"And I owe you like one or two favors since I dragged you into this. But if you beat me, I will buy all the expensive things you want in the marketplace. Literally anything. Along with three favors."
Ben added the favors since he knew how bad Saitama's gaming skills were in comparison to his professional skills in his hero duty. The sight of a defeated Baldy was both hilariously amusing and comically refreshing since it adds a more human feel in Saitama.
Saitama's face grew serious, now fired up and ready to fight.
The two entered the living room and prepared their duel to the virtual death in the screen.
After what felt like one hour later, Ben and Saitama tied each one, a victory for each. However, Ben was winning this time, his health bar in the green while Saitama's stood in the red.
"Seriously? You did what to the ninja?" Ben asked Saitama, amidst in a conversation about Sataiman's random encounter with an actual modern ninja while owning the baldy hard in the game.
"I didn't start it, remember? He just landed on my fist at the end," Saitama protested, shuddering from the feel of… he forgot his name. He quickly dismissed Sonic's existence from his memory a second later.
Even Ben couldn't imagine the level of pain that poor guy endured. Saitama punching one's sacred treasure was one thing, but on a crash course towards the fists of death… he barely suppressed a shiver as he shuffled his seating position a little in defense of his groin in phantom pain.
"So, you're entering the Hero Registry today, huh? Heard from Genos you want to be recognized, but I never took you for the guy that cares about what others think of you."
Ben started another conversation regarding Saitama's enrollment.
"Meh, I want just others to notice me at least, you know? Do you have any idea how long I've fought monsters as a Hero? I fought countless monsters, terrorist organizations, and other things yet people still didn't recognize my feats. It's weird, don't you think?"
"Yeah… It is weird."
Even if Saitama didn't publicly declare his feats, someone should recognize his contributions to society at least. Strange, considering the Hero Association recognized Ben and not Saitama at all. Genos excluded since he preferred to not participate in a group for the entertainment of the masses, or so Genos said when they talked.
"Yes! Got a combo!" Ben smirked his pearly whites upon reversing his dilemma, finally escaping Saitama's ultra-cheap one-move combo and landed a direct, high aerial hit.
"What?! No! No!"
Ben continued mashing buttons on his controller, pummeling Saitama's avatar, an oversized man-dragon, with his character, a young prodigious blonde hero in a white costume and depleted Saitama's remaining health to zero.
"Hah! Ben Tennyson, Two! Caped Baldy, One!"
"Aggggghhhhh!" Saitama raged, throwing his controller down in a fit of outrage.
"Damnnnnn iiiit!" The baldy roared to the ceiling before dramatically dropping to his knees.
"Now you gotta fight the girl, dude! No take-backs!"
Ben jubilantly gloated in his inevitable victory.
"I will make you eat your face one day!" Saitama declared with indignity before stomping towards his room in rage quit, only causing Ben to widen his sheepish grin.
Through his time here as the baldy's neighbor, Ben found that, no matter how many times he beat the overpowered baldy, he'll never tire of defeating Saitama in the games. His reactions when defeated were beyond priceless. He wondered what else he could bet against Saitama later on. Another time, perhaps.
The author here, sorry it took a while. Was busy cleaning chapter one again, and chapter six. Chapter five as well. Will clean the other three when I have the time. I am still in need of an editor hahaha. It's a complete chore cleaning up all of the chapters, you know?
Also, on another note, just bought a book for me to read. Darksiders... yeah. I am currently also leveling my skills even further as a writer.