The last day and a half were spent preparing or procrastinating for the Psychonet. We found the room of the access point, but I wasn’t ready. Neither was Pandora. We sat at the entrance of the room, scanning over Riyon’s notes. The last time I plugged in, I got this return ability. A symbol of my obsession with the past. Somehow, I had to figure out what train of thought leads us to the Outside.
I asked Pandora, “What happened the first time I plugged into the Psychonet? In your timeline I mean.”
She was looking at Riyon’s notes, unresponsive to what I said.
“Pan Pan?” I pressured.
Still looking at the book, she said, “I don’t want to talk about that. Please.”
Still, further mystery surrounded her.
Arezo and Lily were conversing on the other side of the hall. Pax and Kaos were debating whether Vaeda was evil.
Arezo looked sad. Usually, she covered her pain as a way to serve others. That told me that she’s really not ok.
I quietly told Pandora, “I’m going to see what’s up with Arezo. I feel like I haven’t talked much with her for a while now.”
Pandora nodded, “Mm. I’ll try to see if I can figure out Riyon’s notes.”
I got up. Then, the strangest thing happened. Arezo and Lily’s position altered. I suspected chronostasis. Somehow, Arezo was even sadder. Lily simply looked serious.
“Hey, are you alright?” I asked Arezo.
She looked up at me, “Guhya… yeah.”
“Can we walk for a minute?”
“Oh. Yeah, sure!” Arezo smiled, fakely.
I helped her off the floor.
She prepared to blow her kiss.
I stopped her, “Wait. Let’s just walk this time. Ever since that time we got stuck in there, I get anxious thinking about that place.”
She laughed nervously, “Yeah… sorry about that.”
I shook my hands, “It’s not your fault.”
We walked outside the hall into a larger room.
She asked, “So, what did you want to talk about?”
After a moment of thought, I decided to be straightforward, “To be honest, I kind of miss you. I miss the conversations we used to have.”
She smiled, more genuinely this time.
I asked, “Hey, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want, but… are you doing alright? I noticed you seemed sad back there.”
Unexpectedly, she hugged me. Softly, she said, “It’s just… we are at the end now. Mitesh, the temple, it’s all gone. And… Archie too…”
I gently rubbed her back. “I might not express it much, but you are really important to me, Arezo. You are the main reason I continued down this path. Early on, Pandora and Gadi really freaked me out. I don’t know how long I would have lasted. Then you came along, and I was honestly drawn in.”
I continued, “You were so mysterious, yet you laid out the truth honestly at the very beginning. You had these amazing powers, and you were helping people with them.”
She replied, “When I first left the temple, it worried me a bit. But a lot of my life involved those kinds of choices. Pursuing some grand adventure, some escape, chasing a new future and leaving behind something close to my heart. It was exciting to see more of the world with you. A lot of fun. Yet, scary as well.”
I said, “Chasing a new future… that’s sort of what we are hoping for here. I think Riyon had that mentality. It makes me wonder why I’m the supposed chosen one. You seem like a better fit. You and Riyon both had troubling starts in life and eventually escaped.”
My curiosity overwhelmed me, “I know it’s not really my business, but did you talk with Lily in chronostasis back there?”
Hesitating, she answered, “She made me promise not to tell anyone.”
The lights dimmed and the walls flowed like liquid. Arezo’s face exposed her skull. The lights flickered harder.
Arezo pulled me by the arm and ran.
We reached an area that was better lit.
Arezo said, “I think I know how to deal with the Necrokami.”
She ordered, “Let’s get the others. I have a plan.”
We ran back and gathered everyone else.
Arezo explained, “I think we can trap the Necrokami. There was an intersection of halls near the jails. I think if we seal it off, we won’t have to deal with it anymore.”
Lily commented excitedly, “Genius!! I love it! Poor creature though. I kinda liked the guy.”
Pax said, “Like hell you did! That thing only wants to kill us.”
Pandora said, “We’ll have to do the Zaza to avoid the beast’s effects.” She seemed excited about this part.
Arezo replied, “Yes. All of us will have to do Zaza.” She began passing out generated Zaza to each of us.
Once she got to me, I said, “It will be hard to control the beast’s movements though. So… I’ll be the bait.”
Pandora jolted in horror, “No!”
I justified my decision, “I’m the only one who can go back if things get really bad. And… I don’t want to have to kill you again, Pandora… It’s better this way. I’ll regret failing our mission to reach the Outside and I’ll regret abandoning you, Pandora, and so I’ll return. Then I won’t have to go through… killing you again.”
Everyone just stared for a minute. Then, Arezo insisted, “Alright. Still. Take this Zaza with you.”
I took it. “I’ll hold onto it, just in case. But I’m not using it unless it becomes absolutely necessary. I need to lure the beast and the Zaza messes that up.”
Pandora grabbed my hand, “I’m going with you then.”
Quickly, I rejected, “Go with Arezo.”
She justified her decision, “No! I’m going with you. If you get put to sleep, I’ll need to give you Zaza to snap you out of it.”
She was right. I said, “Ok. Fine. But you’ll stay by my side and listen to me.”
Arezo explained phase 1, using her materialization powers to create a visual battle plan on the floor, “Pax, you come with me. Lily, go with Kaos and you will seal the other corridors. First, Guhya will lure the beast to the north corridor. Then, we will seal the East and West corridors. Lily, you take the east, and I’ll take the west. We have to make these walls thick. Reinforced steel should do. If you can manage, diamond is even better.”
Lily exclaimed, “Got it! You can count on me!”
Arezo continued on to phase 2, “Guhya, after you lead the beast to the north, you’ll have to bring it back down to the south side. Meanwhile, Team Lily and Team Arezo will meet at the north side. Our combined powers should make it go faster.”
Arezo drew up phase 3, “Finally, you’ll make one more round north, again. By the time you get there, it should already be sealed off. All of us will head to the south entrance and close the last hallway. That part might get tight! We will make sure to leave an opening for you two to escape.”
Arezo turned to me, “Guhya, since you’ll get in close proximity to the beast, you need to make sure you dose Zaza with the right timing. And, Pandora, don’t stop using the Zaza. You gotta stay awake in case Guhya falls unconscious.”
I knew Arezo was a cult leader, but she really went next level with taking command here. It was impressive.
We all met at the south corridor entrance.
Arezo asked, “Are all of you ready?”
Lily took a hit off of her Zaza, walked up to me, and grabbed my hands, “Hey, Guhya.” She gave a flirtatious smile.
Butterflies filled my stomach.
Pandora was quickly agitated.
Then, a rush of immense fear blasted my mind. Shaken, I yelled, “What the hell is that?!?!?”
The Aetherium trembled and resonated with the call of the Necrokami.
Kaos clapped commented, “Truly amazing performance, Lily!”
Lily put her cigarette in Pandora’s mouth and said, “Hope you’re ready. Now, inhale.”
Lily hugged Pandora, “Stay safe now. Don’t go dying on us.”
Arezo commanded, “Lily, Kaos, go east now.” She turned to Pax, “You, follow me.” Lastly, she turned to Pandora and me, “I love you both, so make sure you don’t do anything stupid.”
She had never been so authoritative with me before. It was effective. I replied, “Got it! You as well.”
Pandora grabbed us both and hugged us. Then she said, “Let’s hurry! Those lights back there are flickering!”
Arezo announced, “Phase 1: Commence! Let’s go!”
I turned and the glowing red marks on the beast were surrounded in darkness. The halls closer to us began their flickering.
Everyone headed out. It was just Pandora and me now.
I grabbed Pandora’s hand. My heart was already racing. I just needed to get my legs into gear.
We ran through, towards the North. We paused in the middle room. It was huge and full of strange mechanical features. The beast was surprisingly slow. But it made sense since it was mostly a scavenger.
I handed Pandora the Zaza that Arezo gave me, “Here. In case I lose consciousness, you’re in charge of this.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Pandora took more hits off the Zaza. My fear was peaking, but somehow, her Zaza-induced ecstasy was arousing me. She kept moving her hands across my arms and nuzzling me. She was nearing bliss. Her attitude appeared playful, despite the imminent danger. Concerning, yet hot.
Her eyes glowed at me, “It’s kind of fun isn’t it?” Her voice felt slightly sloppy, drifting in the scrambling winds of her mind.
My eyes locked onto the terrifying beast, “Not quite. Not yet at least.”
In a superficially disappointed tone, she replied, “That’s right, I forgot you aren’t able to do Zaza. I’m sorry.” She cuddled around my arm.
The stomps of the Necrokami intensified, alongside my anxiety.
Pandora pointed east, “Look! It’s so beautiful!.”
Lily’s half-built diamond wall sparkled in the distance.
I grabbed Pandora, “We have to focus now. Let’s move to the north entrance.”
“Yes, daddy!” She giggled.
What the fuck was she on about??
I pulled her along, through the massive corridor. Finally, we hit the north entrance. It was time to turn around. The beast was still lagging behind us, luckily. But we only had a minute or so before the spreading darkness crossed into our world. My heart pounded in my ears, even in my eyes, almost as intensely as the beast’s footsteps.
Pandora rubbed her head on my chest, “I seriously love you.” She grabbed my face and just started kissing me.
I desperately wanted to, but it wasn’t the time. I pulled away, “Not yet. Soon. We have to stay focused. Look at the beast. It’s coming.”
She turned and said, “Oh wow… that thing.” Then, most concerningly, she giggled.
I turned to her, unabashedly concerned.
She inhaled more Zaza and then asked, “Do you remember when we first saw that thing?”
With my eyes fixed on the beast’s approach, I said, “In the other halls?”
She said, “No, way back. Nevermind, I’m mixing it up.”
I explained the plan, “We have to run passed it. Are you ready? I’m gonna have to take the Zaza now.”
Unnveringly excited, she replied, “The Zaza?? It’s gone!”
The lights began to flicker, and the walls started flowing and glowing with a faint red, blue and green, cycling between the three.
I freaked out, “Are you serious?! You did it all??”
Nearly unphased by the danger, she presented me the hardly existent end of the Zaza blunt. A mere centimeter thick.
I froze up.
The flickering intensified. An immense scream filled the hall, vibrating even our bodies.
“Wait! Arezo gave me more!” Pandora excitedly exclaimed as she pulled Zaza out of her pocket.
Trypophobic patterns and geometry covered the walls, replacing reality with something else. Then, the lights were killed.
I inhaled the Zaza quickly and grabbed Pandora’s hand. After a couple rapid hits, I ran towards the beast and towards the light on the other side. The view was grainy, moving around like some confusing soup of colors and lights.
The hallway stretched out for what seemed like forever. At the end, a mysterious wooden door awaited. Above, no ceiling, only a blue sky. It wasn’t an ordinary day. The blue was tinged with green.
“What are you waiting for, meow?” a voice called out.
Scratching my head, I asked, “Hey, who are you again? Or… where are you?”
The calico cat from the Temple of Wishes emerged from a door on the wall. She answered, “Hey! Why are you always forgetting like this?! My name is Rue! Get it right!”
I flinched, “Huh what?!”
I made a run for it and headed towards the door at the end of the hallway. Looking back, the calico creep was on the pursuit. After reaching the door, I twisted the handle to no avail. Instead, the handle merely gave up and fell to the floor. I started pushing, slamming, and tackling the door, desperately trying to reach the other side.
Then, that calico creep tackled me, and the door finally gave way, opening a portal to a new world. One filled with a carpet of fluffy black clouds and nothing else in sight. Just darkness.
I was going to be late, again. Pandora wouldn’t like this.
The calico thing had me pinned to the floor. It dove in for a kiss.
I screamed, “No!! Stop!! I’m going to be late!!”
Then, Pandora’s face materialized before my eyes. What a relief. She looked down at me, gracing me with her smile. “Guhya! I love you!” She dove in for another kiss.
But then, the relief faded as the image of death appeared. Looming over our romantic moment was the face of the Necrokami, drooling and preparing to consume us. The walls danced and swirled around us.
I squirmed out of her loving bond. Quickly, I got up and grabbed her hand, stumbling and nearly falling. We ran back to the middle room.
“Wow! Guhya!” she exclaimed.
Phase 2 commenced.
I looked around and asked, “Which way is south?”
Pandora pointed east, “Look! The diamond walls they built are so pretty!”
Perfect. We found south.
I yanked her and we ran all the way back down to the south side. In the distance, Arezo and Lily could be seen, starting their build at the north corridor.
The Zaza relieved a lot of the fear.
The lights began to flicker again as the beast neared us. But then, suddenly it changed course and headed north.
I turned to Pandora, “Oh god. The Zaza is working too well!”
Tearing up in ecstasy, she agreed, “It’s wonderful.”
I said, “We have to find a way to lure the Necrokami back here.”
Pandora grabbed my wrists and pinned me to the wall.
“Pandora! We have no time!”
“Trust me,” she whispered, sensually.
Our lips met and she mushed them into mine, then her tongue entered my mouth. I loved it but I was losing sight of the real problem. Worse, I wasn’t worried enough about it to stop. My hands were drawn lower. They moved down her back. I pressed her harder into me, squeezing her tush.
“It’s so good…” I whispered back, breathing heavily.
Again, we returned to space, the rippling cosmos consumed all. Every motion waved out, distorting this strange realm. Euphoria buzzed through my skull and every inch of my body. I didn’t care anymore.
Pandora spoke softly into my ear, “I want you to kill me. I want it so bad.”
Then, it happened again. The bliss halted to a screeching stop. Blood filled the space and I was hurled back into reality, gasping for air. I fell to the ground.
The Necrokami shrieked its horrifying sound, shaking the walls and our souls. Like magic, it turned around and faced me again.
“You’re fucking amazing, Pandora…” I muttered, crippled on the floor.
She curled up on the ground with me, as I laid to recover. Her tongue tasted my neck and she playfully bit into it.
“Ow!” I yelled.
She giggled and justified, “It will help get the beast’s attention.”
The first dimming of the lights began.
She began huffing the Zaza and feeding it to me from her lungs with kisses, in little trickles at a time.
After ten or so feeding sessions, I said, “That’s enough! Not too much.”
The lights finally turned out.
I picked myself back up and prepared for round 3.
“Ready?” I asked her.
She smiled and held my hand.
Phase 3 commenced.
We bolted past the Necrokami again. This time she pulled me through. Our closest moment to the creature led to reality fizzling out for a blink. If we got too close, it would even overpower the Zaza. We had to make a lap back to the south after this. Without stopping too.
We reached the middle room.
I hoped that the anxiety of the situation would override the Zaza. But I felt too fine. Panting, I asked, “What are we going to do?? I still feel high.”
“Just like before.” She was smiling but my mind saw her as subtly menacing.
I protested, “Oh, come on. It’s fucked up, Pandora.”
We kept running, as fast as we could.
She assured me, “Yeah. That’s why we have to do it.”
We reached the end of the north hall.
She pinned me against the wall again. Her teeth were clamped, almost like an expression of aggression. “You have to kill me!”
Fear trickled through my mind, “Wait. It’s freaking me out.”
Her body pressed against mine. She directed my hand towards her chest.
Then, she pulled my hand upward, towards her neck. “Kill me already.”
A rush of adrenaline came over me. “Pandora…”
I went to kiss her, then she pushed me off. A wave of dysphoria washed through my body.
Her eyes were like a puppy’s, “Why do you have to kill me?”
“Stop!” I yelled, my hands on my head and my body writhing.
The Necrokami roared and began approaching us.
She grabbed my face and locked lips.
A tear crept between our kiss.
She stopped, “I’m sorry.”
I replied, “No. You did the right thing… Still. It kinda stings.”
“Yeah. It had to.” After another kiss, she nervously asked, “Do you ever get turned on when you’re killing me?”
I hesitated, “One time, I lost control and started making out with you as I killed you.”
She didn’t say anything.
I kept explaining to fill the silence, “It was an accident. I think it’s because each time I killed you, I woke up kissing you on the other side. Since we used the kisses as a way to set reset points, I mean.”
Still, she was silent.
Only the pounding footsteps of the beast returned. The lights began to flicker.
Guilt flooded my heart. “Seriously, I’m sorry. I promise, I won’t do that again. It’s fucking me up.”
Unexpectedly, she kissed me passionately, and then whispered in my ear, “I think… it turns me on.”
It gave me chills.
The lights turned off.
“Get the Zaza!” I yelled.
She lit another blunt, quickly took hits, and passed it to me. As she held it out, half her face exposed her skull. It rippled and distorted, in slow motion. I started frantically hyperventilating the Zaza.
The beast stood before us. Its skin strobed in the flickering light of the distant halls. It was the first time I had gotten a really good glimpse of the thing. Its form morphed, as if it were constantly transforming, unwilling to anneal to any particular shape. A defiance of structure itself.
Racing glimpses of alternate worlds flashed through my mind.
Pandora tugged me along, as fast as she could.
The Zaza kicked in harder than before, warming my feet and zapping my body and brain with euphoria. Pandora was a hero. I loved her.
As we ran back to the south hall entrance, I slurred, “They still aren’t there yet.”
Even without our fears present, the beast was intelligent. It pursued us regardless, though it seemed to favor the afraid.
We made it to the entrance. The beast was nearing the middle room. The others hadn’t arrived yet.
Then, finally, they arrived. But the timing was pretty bad.
Arezo, scared, said, “There was an incident, so we are late. Sorry about that.”
I said, “Look! That thing is almost here. What do we do? Hurry up please?!”
The lights dimmed and buzzed.
Arezo said, “We failed. There’s not enough time now. Maybe we should just leave.”
Kaos pointed towards the hall, “There’s a button over there. It walls off the area.”
“Great. Why didn’t we start there?” I asked.
Lily looked strangely worried and avoidant.
Kaos said, “Well, the thing is, the area gets walled off pretty quickly. It’s for containment purposes.”
The flickering began.
Arezo said, “I’ll do it.”
I demanded, “Do what exactly?”
Kaos explained, “Whoever hits that button isn’t getting out.”
Arezo refused to make eye contact, “There’s not much left to this world. Especially for me. We will probably all die soon anyways.”
Still in denial, I resisted, “What are you saying?? You aren’t going to die for this.”
Arezo yelled, “We don’t have time to think! I’m going!”
I couldn’t lose her. I realized: she was my best friend. Besides Pandora, I didn’t know anyone else very well. She couldn’t leave me like this! It’s not fair! I yelled, “No! Let’s just go back again-“
Pax interrupted, staring at the beast, “No. If anyone’s going, it’s me. I’m the one with the least left in this world. Sure, I met you cool folks but let’s be real. Everyone I cared about is gone and my brain is broken as fuck. My existence is torture.”
“Pax…” Arezo said sadly.
Pax turned his head back to us, “Besides, if that thing gets Arezo’s power, it can just plow through matter like it’s sand.”
The lights buzzed and nearly shut off.
“You better not go back, Guhya.” Pax smiled, then charged into the hallway, screaming, and slammed the button.
The walls rapidly shut.
Faint hysterical laughter could be heard behind the wall.
The lights turned off.
Everything was silent.
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