We each had our own tiny guest room. The rooms were nearly empty, only containing a bed and a drawer. I couldn’t sleep. Not after that. They were out here killing off their most vulnerable and desperate. I’d like to think that at least he was naive, but it didn’t settle right. He knew he was ignorant and yet he risked at least 21 people’s souls like that. He was a monster.
In my restlessness, I went next door to see Arezo. I knocked and she opened the door. She greeted me with a weak smile, seemingly still fragile from earlier or at least sensitive to my fragility. I asked, “Can we talk, please?”
She invited me in. We laid on her bed and she asked, “Are you ready?”
I said, “Yea.”
She blew her kiss and the world spun, twisted, and we landed in her field of dreams. The sun was down. Somehow the scene seemed greyer than usual. It may have been missing a few plants as well. We sat side by side like before.
She asked, “What is it, Guhya? Are you feeling any better yet?”
I responded, “It definitely hurts. When Riyon died, it was just like that… That isn’t what I wanted to ask though.” I hesitated, “Pandora and I shared a vision together. I’ve had visions like that before. They always seem to involve her. I noticed that after this vision, you had a look of epiphany. Did you realize something?”
She looked pleased, “Your eyes are as keen as ever. I have some thoughts, but I don’t really understand what is happening. The look you both had reminded me a lot of a syzygy between human and Aeon. Have you made such connection with Pandora?”
How was this possible? I answered, “No. We have never connected with an implant. We have no syzygy.”
Confused, she said, “Hm… perplexing. This is very interesting. Sadly, I do not have answers for this. Have you tried asking her about this?”
I replied, “Sort of. She can’t really give me much in the way of answers though. She worries it will somehow disrupt my destiny. I don’t understand that part either. She’s so cautious. With Gadi, it makes sense at least, because he’s got the map of fated encounters which I probably shouldn’t see.”
She said, “I see…”
Nervously, I asked, “Is it alright if I stay here a little longer? I can’t sleep and I think I’m still freaked out about earlier. Being alone hurts.”
She smiled and nodded. Her arms went around me, gently petting my head.
We both just stared out into the ethereal distance. I said, “You really know how to calm me down.”
She said, “I know. It is my purpose. I am the Aeon of Desires. I make people happy and give them what they wish.”
My eyes opened and light shone through the unclosing windows of the village guest house. I rolled over to see the shocking image of Arezo. Had I slept in her bed the whole night?? I shrieked.
She awoke and said, “Guhya… is everything alright?”
Worried, I said, “We slept in the same bed all night.”
She smiled and said, “Yeah… it was cozy.”
I said, “Ugh… Pandora is going to freak about this though.”
Still half asleep, she said, “You are so loyal to a stranger that possesses you. It’s kind of romantic. Though, if you are really so worried, I could erase any memory that she has of our slumber party, assuming she even finds out about it.”
I sat up. Displeased, I said, “What?! You can do that?!”
Smiling and giggling she said, “Yeah. Shall we?”
I quickly responded, “Of course not! That’s horrible! W-wait, have you ever done that to me?? Have we ever done anything intimate? Did you erase my memory?”
She laughed, “No, don’t be silly. I’m not going to use it like that.”
I rushed up out of bed, “It’s not funny, Arezo. Well… maybe a little bit… but this is some seriously fucked up stuff. Remember what we said? Let’s not become monsters!”
Smugly, she said, “Right. So, you are going to tell Pandora about this then?”
Anxiously, I replied, “Maybe she doesn’t need to know.”
She sat up. In a playful tone, she said, “Is that really any different from erasing her memory, Guhya? Are you the monster now?”
Defeated, I said, “Fine. I’ll tell her.”
Before I left her room, I turned to her and said, “Thank you, Arezo. Seriously.”
She smiled and said, “You know it.”
As I closed her door, Pandora’s voice startled me from behind, “Guhya? Is everything alright? I heard you scream.”
Nervously trying to play it cool, I said, “Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you about it later. Let’s figure out today’s plan first.”
Realizing the situation, she said, “Huh, isn’t your guest house over there?”
Sweating, I replied, “I’ll explain later. Just give me some time.”
Gadi abruptly arrived to save the day, “Hey chums! Captain Gadi is here to direct our way to fate!”
Relieved, I said, “Perfect timing, Captain Gadi! Let’s discuss the details on how we will reach Dread’s Domain!”
After Gadi laid out the plot and directions, we all gathered at the town center to look for Zohar. Luckily, he just stood there, waiting, as if he knew his duty was to wait on us.
Zohar said, “I apologize if yesterday was painful. It was not my intention to stress anyone out. I misread you, Guhya.”
Still bitter, I said, “It’s fine, whatever. Let’s just move on and figure out our plan. We are about to leave for Dread’s Domain. Gadi said we may be able to reach the place by evening.”
Arezo said, “I think I’m going to stay here until you guys return. I want to help build up the village’s resources to hold them off, at least for a little while.”
Zohar, impressed, said, “You are too kind, Aeon.”
I suggested, “We should be fine, maybe just spawn me in some sort of weapon for defense?”
She nodded, created a sword, and handed it to me, “This should help.”
I said, “Also, I want to talk with Pandora, alone. Perhaps Gadi could stay here with you, this time?”
Pandora looked surprised.
On the other hand, Gadi looked pissed, “Wait! Guhya?! Oh no. I thought something weird like this was coming. We can do no such thing. That’s far too dahhngerfoiuhdmfiopaisuy…” His words slurred out as he fell into Arezo’s arms. She had used her powers.
Arezo said, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep him safe. You two go along on your date.” She smiled.
Pandora, concerned, asked, “Guhya, are you really sure about this?”
I answered, “If fate is truly real, I don’t think Gadi’s map is necessary. But I guess we will see.”
Pandora said, “Playing with fire. That’s just like you. It did seem that Gadi was anticipating this or something.”
I shouted, “We will be just fine! Thanks, Arezo! Let’s begin our travels. No time to waste! I will be the captain now!”
After saying our goodbyes, we parted, and our journey began.
Luckily, the desert wasn’t hot. It was even a bit cold. Walking through it felt endless and surreal. In the distance, our destination could be seen. I memorized what Gadi said about Dread’s Domain. He laid it all out, probably because the prophecy said to. He seemed to be aware that he wouldn’t be joining us.
Finally, Pandora and I could be alone for a longer period of time. Now I just needed to work up the nerve to talk to her about sensitive topics. I decided to start easy, “Hey, Panpan. This may sound really weird, but each day, a feeling that we’ve known each other forever grows inside of me.”
She definitely liked that, “It’s not weird at all. I feel similarly. I felt like that even when we first encountered in Neo-Iniko.”
I replied, “To be honest, you scared me back then. Even thinking about it now, it’s sort of weird how we got to this point. Not a whole lot has changed even, yet, it’s like I’ve felt your thoughts and emotions somehow.”
After a pause, I asked, “Do you know what a syzygy is? It’s like a physiological bond between Aeons and humans. It’s possible for Aeons to implant technology in the brains of a hu-“
She cut me off, seemingly annoyed, “Yes, I know what it is.”
I asked, “Have you ever formed such a relationship with someone?”
She stopped walking and looked down, “I’m not going to talk about that right now.” She walked ahead without me.
In a weird way, she reminded me of Rue. I caught up with her and said, “I’m sorry.”
She gave no response.
I said, “There’s another sensitive thing I wanted to ask about… Yesterday, we… had some sort of shared experience… It looked like we were watching… me… getting annihilated… as if I had connected to the Psychonet.”
A tear fell down from her face, “Yea.”
My curiosity dragged me in, “What do you think that was about?”
She was both sad and defensive, “This is bringing up too many thoughts. It’s hurting. And you won’t be able to console me. Let’s just talk about something else, okay?”
I rushed in to hug her, “Pandora. I know. I’m sorry. I want to know so badly. Even if I don’t know your past, I will still be here to hold you. I believe your feelings are genuine. You aren’t crazy. I can feel it now. I think we have a deep connection. Maybe it’s not a syzygy, but there is something to this, there must be.”
Softly and in tears, she said, “Guhya, I love you.”
I couldn’t return her love yet. I still didn’t know her. Guilt creeped into my mind.
In her own guilt, she said, “I’m sorry. It must be stressful, lugging around a mysterious girl like me. Yet, you have been so kind to me. Or at least tolerant. Maybe even faithful and loyal.”
I winced at that.
She continued, “The way you are with me, despite that I am a stranger to you, it makes me like you more. But… it also makes me insecure because now it seems like you aren’t doing it for me but because that’s just how you are. One day you will see the truth and I hope you’ll love me then. We just need to get through a few more of these fated encounters.”
I didn’t know how to respond.
She switched subjects, “Gadi is so worried that I’m not supposed to be here. I’m worried too. But… I have to save you, Guhya. I’m so scared that you are fated to die… and what if I am powerless to stop that?”
In concern, I asked, “Fated to die?? What are saying?? Why would you think that??”
She didn’t answer.
I said, “Is my death mentioned in the prophecy??”
She answered, “No. It’s just a fear I have.”
I got in her face, “I won’t let either of us die, Pandora. I promise.”
She replied, “I won’t let you die either. We can do this.”
The mountains around us were sharpened, jagged, and weathered. They weren’t as bare as in Azazeli, but still fairly dead. The earth was soggier, and the occasional tree sprouted with green. Some areas were even lush, but most were curvy and rocky.
Nervously, I gulped and said, “There’s something I was meaning to tell you.”
She said, “What is it?”
I said, “Well…”
She asked, “Yes?”
I asked, “You know this morning, that awkward moment where you noticed I had screamed?”
She stated, “Yes.”
I stated, “It’s just that… I was having major restlessness and anxiety last night…”
A sound came from her mouth, “Uh huh.”
More quietly, I said, “So… I went to Arezo’s dorm to ask her some stuff and then…”
Eagerly, she looked me in the eyes, “Yes? Go on.”
Sweatingly, I said, “I… uh… it’s just I fell asleep on her bed last night.”
She stopped walking.
I rambled and rambled and rambled, hoping to fill the void of her nonreaction, “Pandora? It didn’t mean anything. She’s just really good at calming me down. Seriously, it isn’t like we made love or anything. Pandora? Why are you just standing there? Pandora? It’s starting to freak me out.”
To my dismay, there was still no response. Only the faint echoes of my voice shattering against the canyon walls and the crashing tip taps of droplets of my sweat merging with the puddles on the ground. Her motionlessness gave the impression that time had stopped. Reality was so lucid that I could distinguish notes of music in the tip tapping. An ominous song played in A minor, quickly devolving into augmented and then atonal music.
Slowly and eerily, she turned around and then said, “Guhya, you won’t survive this.”
In horror, I ran away as fast as possible. This wasn’t like her at all.
She pursued at full force, nearly ripping her body apart. Worse, somehow, she wielded my sword. I hid away in a forest of rocky spikes. Running through each pillar, trying to lose her.
I turned back and she was gone. Night had already fallen. Darkness obscured anything beyond a few meters. The pounding of my chest twisted both my vision and hearing in pulses.
I cried out, “Pandora! Can we just talk about this?!”
The darkness amplified and glowing red points of light could be seen like eyes gazing from the shrouded abyss of the stone forest. In fear, I dashed away, looking for Pandora.
In the distance, something large loomed over the land, moving slowly and ominously. The titan monster’s eyes glowed red too. I couldn’t possibly call out for Pandora with all of these creatures around. They must come out at night. Were they AI? Strange animals?
I waited near a lake, away from everything, sitting, rocking back and forth in fetal position, just hoping that Pandora would find me. My hands were trembling. The whole world pulsated, fading into darkness, in and out of existence, as shadow creatures reached out to grab me. The glowing lights crept closer but now I was too petrified to move. Their increasing presence froze my mind, slowed it down, as if I still had a chance to escape, if only I could simply have the time to think it through. As if I could procrastinate my doom.
Then, an unexpected warmth flowed into the soles of my feet. Was this the process of death? Relief? The warmth spread across my body. A hug encased me in a protective bubble, a womb. It must be reincarnation. The trembling stopped. This was it. I was already dead.
Then, I felt the pleasing sensation of skin pressed against mine. A soft voice said, “Guhya, you are almost there. Just hold on a little longer.”
My new mother?
I pressed against this skin and held tighter. Fear drained from my body. Dysphoria was replaced with euphoria. I looked up to see that it was Pandora.
She presented a pink flower and said, “Arezo told me to take this when things got weird.”
Still dazed, I muttered, “Zaza…”
I continued holding her, rubbing my cheeks against her soft skin. I said, “Pandora, thank you so much. You saved us both.”
The illusions of monsters faded. Only the residual Zaza-induced distortions remained.
She held my head and pushed me deeper into her skin.
I ended the moment, “Okay, hold on. Wait. Maybe we should stay focused. We are on a mission still.”
She replied, “Yeah. You are right.”
I said, “Before all that happened, I was telling you about last night. Did you hear all that? Did you chase after me?”
She came closer to my face, then went in for a kiss. Our lips joined, our eyes closed, the outside world faded away, leaving only our comfortable bodies, pressed up against each other. It was halted as she pulled away and then gently said, “Yes. I heard you. Don’t worry. I’m not afraid of losing you as much now. I told you, I’m not a jealous type. It’s just that we were still strangers back then, much more than now. You’ve shown that you care simply by telling me this.”
We both got up. I said, “Pandora, that was so hot.”
I went in closer to kiss her again.
She put her finger on my lips and said, “Not right now, Guhya. You were right, we need to focus. We have a deadline.”
To our right, a massive cave doorway invited us in. I said, “This must be Dread’s Domain then.”
The mist in the air glowed cyan. Black- and stone-colored stalactites hung like chandeliers, threatening to kamikaze us at any moment. Despite being a natural cave, technology imbued the walls with power, the source of the cyan lighting. The Aeon of Dread lived in better conditions than the village. His choice to be a traitor paid off.
A creature stood before us, to the left. It towered over us, 7 meters high. Black fluff cloaked its body. It even appeared to have a hood like a genuine magic cultist robe. Its face had dense needle-like teeth and a solid gemstone plate that replaced its eyes. The creature’s head lit up with electricity, palpitating with teal light like a heartbeat.
Shaking, I said, “Wh-what the hell is that??”
The more my fear rose, the more it paid attention to me.
Pandora said, “We must remain fearless. We must keep moving forward. It is Dread’s guard.”
As we continued, the creature stalked us slowly, escorting us deeper into the caverns. An occasional sound would result in a jump scare, to which the creature reacted by hastening its approach towards us. Its approach escalated the closer it got.
Pandora nervously grabbed the Zaza and ate some, then shoved it in my face. I chewed the sweet bitter petals and the creature’s pursuit declined. As the drug calmed us, the creature followed suit.
Pandora said, “Don’t falter. We are almost there.”
The walls were decorated with carvings of alien beasts. In the distance, a massive monster made of clay held its mouth open, as if frozen in time. The creature had no eyes. Spikes jetted out from its back.
Anxiously, I asked, “Pandora, do you really think it’s safe to continue? Do you see that thing?”
There was no response.
Desperately, I said, “Pandora?“
I turned around and she was frozen in mid step.
A mysterious voice said, “I see you came armed. You have come to kill me then?”
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