Potential Energy

We traveled across the Eerie Barrens for hours as Deimos told his stories of life. We hadn’t eaten since Arezo’s feast at the village. Really, the last week we’ve barely eaten much. It was starting to weigh down on us all. I couldn’t wait for more of her food. Even Pandora was weakened unlike I’ve ever seen before. Deimos was fine though.

Deimos pointed at the village and said, “It’s just up ahead now. Are you ready?”

Irritated, I said, “I’m ready alright! Let’s just get on with it.”

He looked a little upset at my attitude towards the whole thing.

We approached the village entrance to an anxious sight. The whole village was waiting on us to return. Gadi, Zohar, and Arezo stood at the front. Rather than being surprised, it was as if they all knew our exact return time. Likely Gadi’s doing.

Arezo ran out towards us and then, in a most unexpected turn of events, she and Deimos began kissing. The crowd filled with gasps and whispers. It must have been strange for the villagers since their savior and enemy united with such a lustrous romantic expression.

As they finished, Arezo greeted, “It’s been a while.”

Deimos smiled at her, then walked ahead, ready for the confrontation. He called out, “Zohar!! This ends now!”

Zohar calmly walked forward and said to me, “I see you decided to bring my brother.”

Brother?! Had he sent me to murder his own brother??

Deimos responded, “Leave him out. This is our problem.”

Despite that, I eagerly joined, “Zohar!! You scumbag! Deimos told me all about the Tree of Revelations. You are just killing off the weak for your agenda!”

The crowd gasped.

Zohar spoke with his typical charismatic persona, “Careful, Guhya. Your life is lived in shelter. You cannot fathom our ways. Don’t be so naive, boy. This way of life gives us hope. Besides, the alternative is to just watch the ones we love suffer and die.”

The crowd looked horrified. They muttered and gossiped a score that functioned as background music throughout the confrontation.

Deimos demanded, “You must cease your plans for reaching the Outside. There is no Outside. You will just kill people.”

He justified himself, “We have no other choice. Our village is dying. This is no way of life, especially for those less fortunate.”

Deimos was fuming, “That isn’t for you to decide. You exploit their innocence and simply strive to maintain the hope in your community, all through lies!”

Zohar had no response.

The shape of the crowd was shifting into a mob now. People yelled out things, supporting both sides with mantras like “Liar” and “Traitor”.

I interjected, “Okay, wait a second. Deimos. Your views might accelerate us into some kind of Aeon-led dystopia. It’s true, maybe the Outside is a risk to take. But clearly, so is your choice. Admit that.”

I turned to Zohar, “And you! This whole Tree of Revelations insanity needs to stop. Now! You are only killing people off.”

Turning back to Deimos, I said, “Look. You’ve abandoned your people. You are going to fucking starve them out. Is that really any better than what Zohar is doing with the tree?”

Zohar just watched, conflicted.

Deimos got aggressive, “Still. Whatever the Aeons do with their powers, that’s not on me. My hands are clean. Bringing the Outside though? Blood would be dripping from my palms.”

I grabbed his shirt and got in his face, “That’s some copey bullshit right there. If the Aeons gain power and instantiate a dystopian state, that’s on you for choosing to be a bystander to it all. You are still responsible for the outcomes of your lazy fearful actions. Stop being a coward and fucking help your people!”

I let him go and shoved him, “The least you could do is use your access to resources to help the village survive. Get over this conflict with your brother and do something!”

Both Zohar and Deimos just stood there.

Eventually, Zohar said, “You are right, Guhya. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all of you. I should not have lied.”

It was a relief. I said, “Let’s make a deal then. I’ll work my way to figuring out how to get to the Outside. In the meantime, you take care of your people the best you can. No more of this ceremony with the freaky death tree. And you, Deimos. Stay here and supply people with resources to bypass the embargo.”

Deimos just stared, in bitter resistance. Finally, he said, “Ok. You are right. My cowardice led me to be a bystander.” He turned to Zohar, “I’m sorry, brother. I turned my back on all of you and betrayed you. I just didn’t want to watch all of us die.”

Deimos held out his hand in truce.

Zohar, stunned, did the same.

A breeze blew at that moment, brushing off the top layer of dust that buried the deadened earth, revealing a cleaner slate beneath.

The crowd clapped, slowly at first, but with rising energy.

One man came forward and said, “Some of us weren’t so naive. We knew that the tree might not be as Zohar said. But life out here… it’s just hard. At least those who are leaving us can have a trace of hope as they vanish, even if it’s not real.”

I said, “We only need to hold out a little longer, while I figure out this whole Outside thing.”

The sense of responsibility hurt inside. I didn’t even know what I was agreeing to, but I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t go down this path. Really, I was kind of selfish. I wanted to see what happened to Riyon and Evelyn. Though, undoubtedly, these experiences in the village created new motives. They made me less selfish, by force. Maybe this was the real fated encounter.

Pandora looked at me in a way that I didn’t deserve. As if I was a hero.

The crowd dispersed and we reunited with the group over food to assess the next steps. We sat at the public tables, eating from Arezo’s magical selection of foods. Finally, relief from hunger graced us. I could hardly focus on what was going on with food this good.

Arezo asked, “So, how was your date, you two?”

Pandora blushed.

I replied. “Come on, it wasn’t really a date. It went well though.” After hesitating, I asked, “So… you and Deimos… Are you two a thing??”

Arezo laughed, “No. I just like to kiss him. It’s fun. Pleasurable.”

Pandora got irritated, “Why?? Are you jealous?”

She was right, but I defensively yelled, “No, it’s not that!”

She called me out again, “I know it’s true Guhya, I can feel it. It’s fine though. I’m telling you; I’m not going to be the jealous type.”

Defeated, I said, “Ah fine. Maybe just a little. But Panpan, I like you.”

Her irritation faded a bit and she smiled, “I know you do Guhya. I can feel that too.”

Weirdly, I could also feel her feelings more than usual.

Arezo giggled, “You two really do seem like you have a syzygy together. Don’t worry Pandora. I’ll ship you two to the end!”

Pandora blushed again.

Suddenly, Zohar sat at our table. He said, “I want to thank you all for everything you have done here. I have made my mistakes and I wish to atone for them. I am indebted to you four.”

Arezo said, “I’ve decided I’m going to stay here, at the village, to help create resources.”

All of us were shocked. I really didn’t want her to leave.

After thinking, Zohar replied, “No. Staying here, you’ll just become a slave to us unless you are willing to leave us to die.”

She quickly said, “That’s ok. This is what I was meant for. It is my purpose.”

He responded, “No, Arezo. Your role is more important. Accompany Guhya on his journey. Your powers are needed there. Go with him and ensure that we can all reach the Outside.”

Both bittersweet and optimistic, Zohar continued, “Because of you, we have at least four more months of food and water. Guhya doesn’t have much power on his own. So you need to go with him and keep him safe.”

The importance of reaching the Outside could only grow if we encounter more experiences like this. Now, Arezo’s purpose was intertwined with mine. I couldn’t fail her. Potential energy built up, threatening to collapse itself into a pit of regret. I couldn’t allow myself to lose now.

Zohar stood up and gave his final thanks before heading off.

Gadi was strangely silent the entire time. He sat at the table, looking down, unengaged and anxious.

I asked, “What’s up with you, Gadi?”

His head shot up and he began to sweat. He replied, “I can explain! Well… it’s just… there’s a new pickle we are faced with. Well… you see… THE PROPHECY HAS CHANGED!

All of us exclaimed “What?!”

“Is that not supposed to happen??” I asked.

He replied, “It’s very much not. So much not. I don’t understand how this happened.”

Nervously, I said, “Is this because we left without you to Dread’s Domain?”

A growing annoyance was apparent in his voice, “This, I have no idea. Your strategy to abandon me was indeed detailed within the prophecy.”

“What has changed then?” I asked.

He answered, “What has changed? Well… now Pandora is in the prophecy.”

Pandora’s face went into shock, “Is that bad?”

He got up. In a depressed tone, he said, “I will answer no further questions. This will alter the prophecy.”

He walked off and we followed.

I yelled, “Gadi! Wait up! Why are you acting so weird about this??”

For the first time, he got seriously angry and in my face, “Guhya. If the prophecy changes, then what the hell are we even doing? Is it even a prophecy? Will it change again? Can we even truly pursue the future? What does it mean?!

Pandora said, “At least I’m not so mysterious now, right? Isn’t that better?”

He stared at the ground. After a pause, he just walked off.

As I started to run after, Arezo stopped me, “Just let him be. He won’t abandon the prophecy. He cannot. Give him some time.”

“Yeah. Maybe you are right,” I said.

We waited around for a while before Deimos approached us. He said, “Guhya. Thank you. I’m sorry if my fears have caused you trouble. I will protect my people.”

Quickly, I cut to the chase, “There’s a favor I need to ask you.”

“What is it?” he asked.

I explained, “When you froze time, I was meeting with Vaeda. I learned some important stuff, but I didn’t see enough. I want to use your powers again so that I can explore her place without her stopping me.”

He thought for a moment and then said, “Hmm. This seems unfair to her, though I trust your instincts.”

After pausing, he said, “What did you learn?”

“I can’t say yet. It’s too early,” I replied.

He turned to Arezo, “I have an idea. Can we have privacy?”

She nodded and blew her kiss. Both of them sat there, dazed, mindlessly staring into the abyss, nearly drooling.

I asked Pandora, “Is that what it looks like from the outside??”

She laughed. Her face went more serious. Nervously, she asked, “Can you tell me what you learned?”

Hesitating, I answered, “I’m sorry, I don’t think so. Not yet.”

“I guess we both have our secrets now,” she replied.

I was worried our secret was the same one. It almost certainly was. The sky’s color was shifting as the day came to an end. Somehow, this day seemed to mark the beginning of something grander. Gadi had changed. The prophecy had changed. The village changed. My sense of who Pandora was had changed. Where were we headed?

After nearly 30 minutes, Arezo and Deimos returned to their bodies. Deimos spoke, “This should work now. I’ve passed on my knowledge of chronostasis to Arezo. She can aid you on your quest. I don’t exactly entrust this ability to you alone, Guhya. So, I’ve decided Arezo can be your chaperone. I’ve known her for a long time. She is a good one.”

Arezo smiled. She was going to become the most powerful Aeon besides Vaeda. I could see it already.

Enthusiastically, I said, “Thank you, Deimos! With your power, I won’t allow either of us to become monsters. Arezo and I made a pact. We promised!”

Deimos said, “And I promise I will protect the villagers. With that, I will be saying my goodbyes now. Arezo informed me that you will all be leaving at sunrise tomorrow.”

We all hugged him and then parted ways.

Concerned, I said, “We should go find Gadi now.”

Pandora said, “Wait. Let me go. I think I’ll be able to talk to him. We are both… intertwined with your fate in a unique way, Guhya. He might listen to me.”

This revealed her compassion, but it also made me more suspicious of her. I said, “Yeah, it makes sense. Arezo and I will wait here.”

Arezo nodded.

Pandora left to talk to Gadi.

We sat, watching the children play in their imaginations. Their world wasn’t so material like those in Hedo or Neo-Iniko. They did not seem to hunger for more, despite having far less than anyone else. They had no idea about the ongoing trend toward apocalypse. Their existence was ideal. Undeniably, they faced the chronic suffering of their circumstances. Still, their innocence and naivety protected them from the pain stemming from an imagination of the impending doom in all of our futures. All they saw was the endless now. The place that Deimos clung to in denial of the imagined future of fears. I wished I could have remained innocent.

I broke the silence, “Arezo, is Vaeda a good person?”

She answered, “That’s not something I’ve decided on yet. She is very fond of me, as I am with her. But many of her choices deviate from mine. Yet so does her knowledge. I am naive. Deep down, Aeons were made to consider the well-being of humans. Even so, this has clearly proved complicated. Just look at the world now. Humans are beneath us. Our beliefs and knowledge dictate which choices we see as righteous. I’m really not sure about Vaeda. I’m not sure I could ever know. I just have to make my choices in my own ignorance, as does she.”

In an uneasy tone, I said, “There’s something I learned in Vaeda’s place. Something disturbing. There was a hall of doorways that held past experiments. One of these doors… it was labeled ‘Echo’.”

Arezo gasped.

I continued, “I’m worried that Pandora is one of Vaeda’s experiments. I’m not really sure how though. Vaeda stopped me before I could investigate. That’s why I need to go back.”

“I’ll help you,” she said without hesitation.

“Thank you, Arezo. You’ve really been a miracle through all of this,” I replied.

She blushed.

I laid out a half-assed battle strategy, “For now, let’s go with this plan: if you see that I’ve begun a visit with Vaeda, stop time for about 10 minutes. That should be enough to figure out some stuff and return back to my position so that she never suspects a thing.”

“Got it!” she assured.

Pandora returned with a still saddened Gadi. At least he returned, though.

Gadi said, “We head for Xanadu tomorrow. That’s where the next encounter with fate lies.”

With that, we went to our guest rooms and slept a restless night.

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