“Lily??” I said again.
Finally, she responded, “You want to kill him.” She walked closer to me, and held out her palm with a glowing blue light, “But will you?”
I backed up, “Put it down, Lily. Come on.”
She still moved closer, “Promise me that you won’t.”
Pandora yelled, “Stop!”
Lily demanded, “Promise me!”
Finally, I conceded to her demands, “Fine! I promise I won’t kill him.”
She rushed in and hugged me. This time, I hugged her back. I didn’t know if it was because of fear or compassion. Probably both.
I repeated myself, “I won’t kill him.”
Pandora just watched, perplexed.
I moved away from Lily, held Pandora’s hand, and then said, “We need to go to the room up ahead.”
Gadi interjected, “Wait! That’s not the way of the prophecy though.”
Of course. Things could only get weirder. I asked, “What? How?”
Gadi shrugged and answered, “It just isn’t. What do you mean how??”
I explained, “I just returned back from the future. This was the correct way before.”
Gadi rubbed his chin, “Hm… well it simply is not. There’s no other way than the way my mind’s eye tells me.”
I suggested, “Let’s take a detour then.”
“Why do you insist this, Guhya?” he asked.
I justified myself, “In the last timeline, we met a man named Kaos. He said to return to the room where he murdered Pandora. He said he wouldn’t be there anymore. I want to see if that’s true.”
Pandora grew scared, “Are you sure about this? Shouldn’t we avoid him?”
I replied, “I don’t think he really wants to kill you. He did it to force me to reset, so he could see how it works. He also said I would learn about his power if I returned to that room.”
Scared, she submitted, “Al-alright.”
My arm wrapped around her, “I’ll protect you, Pan Pan.”
Her head sank into my chest, “Ok…”
I ran ahead, to the same room, dragging Pandora with me, keeping her close. We entered, but there was nothing. No Vaeda. No Kaos.
I remarked, “He’s gone.” I turned to Gadi, “And you said your prophecy has changed.”
Gadi rejected, “No. No, it hasn’t.”
I rejected his rejection, “Well, yes. It has. It changed since the last timeline, I mean.”
Gadi rubbed his chin, “I see. So, you think this mysterious man can change the future… or the past? Or just the prophecy… I don’t know.” It was both worrying and comforting that Gadi’s prophecy changed in response to Kaos’ changes in this timeline.
I said, “Something like that. I’ve seen him before too. Way back when we were at that campsite. And once when I met with Vaeda. He’s killed Pandora before too. Both times, saying he wanted to see how it works.”
I held her tighter.
Lily said, “Yeah. He was always saying that he isn’t bound to fate. That’s why Vaeda is interested in him.”
Pax angrily muttered, “Pfft, fucking Vaeda. Such a control freak.”
Arezo interjected, “Of course! If Kaos disrupts destiny, Vaeda would have to keep him close, or else her plans would go awry. It’s making sense now.”
Lily looked saddened, “Yeah…”
I said, “But… why’s he here now?”
Lily looked the other way, as if distracted.
“Do you know?!” I demanded.
“He’s trying to save me…” she answered softly.
I grabbed Lily by the shoulders, “Can you stop him from killing Pandora if we see him again?”
She refused eye contact, “I can try…”
I leaned closer to her face, “If you do that, then I’ll help you find him again.”
Her eyes met mine, looking beadier than before. For the first time, Lily lived up to her name. She looked innocent, “Thank you.”
I turned to Gadi, “For now, let’s keep moving. Right, Captain?”
He nodded, “Let’s go.”
This place was a hell of a lot eerier without Vaeda around. Gadi led us to the Library of Trials. Both Gadi and Pandora reacted with visceral fear. It only got worse: some of the doors were left open.
I ran to the first opened door and read the placard aloud, “Containment of Iniko’s Beast: The beast from Iniko, now known as the Necrokami, has been captured and quarantined. More has been realized about this beast since its capture. Not only is the creature immune to Sige, but it has mechanisms that disable Sige within a radius of its body. More mysteriously, it seems to utilize Sige as well. This may seem paradoxical at first, but the creature can consciously control what Sige is active or not. It seems to be an evolved immunity strategy due to inhabiting Iniko. As for the beast’s use of Sige, it appears to primarily predict its prey’s movements through telepathy. It also appears to grow wiser from consuming its prey’s minds.” My body trembled.
Lily gasped and muttered, “Oh.” She seemed more interested than scared.
Arezo anxiously said, “This thing is just lurking around these halls then?!”
Looking inside the doorway, an imitation Iniko-style habitat remained empty. I replied, “Yeah… it seems so.”
Gadi entered the habitat, touching the ground and investigating the area, “This is most astounding. It leads me to reminisce about the time I first observed a place like this. In fact, I believe it was the same place we went to early on in our journey, the forest of Iniko.”
Pandora was surprised, “You are remembering?”
Gadi said, “Hm… indeed. When I had mentioned being saved, it was in part due to my dangerous curiosity. I had discovered the nature of Sige in my downtime as a professor.”
“What happened?” Pandora asked.
Gadi’s voice wasn’t as neurotic as usual, instead, his neurosis was replaced with a deep tone and confidence, “Not only is the Sige of Iniko dangerous but so are the Aeons of Hedo. After learning about the Sige, I told a few of my colleagues. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me how dangerous that could be. But very quickly, I realized that this implied AI had likely dominated the world in the past. Or… more accurately, the real truth: AI dominated concurrently.”
Pandora’s interest grew, “Did the Aeons find out?”
“They did. And that’s…” Gadi stood back up, “That’s when I met the woman who I’ve been dreaming of. She saved me.”
Gadi was beginning to sound more human than ever. The professor title really fit him. But we didn’t have time for that kind of wholesome right now. I said, “This is beautiful, but we need to move forward, and carefully.”
We walked further down the hall. I suggested, “Maybe we should check out what these open doors are, so that we are prepared for any creepy shit that comes up along the way.”
The next door read: “Mekkad: A massive centipede-like creature. They burrow through the earth, using an emission of Sige fog to detect the emotional states of animals nearby, within a 2-kilometer radius. Once a suffering creature is detected, it rushes through the earth, locating the prey and then consuming it.”
I commented, “This is pretty bad. These things hunt anything that feels negative emotion.”
I looked at Lily, sucking her cigarette, then exclaimed, “Oh! Duh! That’s why you don’t get scared. You’re smoking Zaza the entire time.”
“Aww you care!” Lily said, excitedly.
I nervously scratched the back of my head, “Well… not exactly, I just-“
Lily replied, “Don’t worry! I quit actually.”
She clearly had a Zaza blunt in her mouth. Confused, I pointed at it, “But-“
Hastily, she interrupted, “It’s a lollipop bro!” She pulled it out and winked.
First, she just stared intently, readying her aim, locking on, and giving the thing one final long lick. Then, it happened.
“Come on, taste it,” Lily shoved it into my mouth.
The flavor of super sour pink lemonade squeezed out the salivary juices in my mouth and pinched my cheeks. It tickled my tongue and made me squirm.
As expected, it made Pandora jealous. She yelled, “Hey!”
I ripped out the delicious sucker, coughing all the while. I looked at Lily, “Why are you so… ugh, never mind.”
She responded by subtly squinting and giving a mischievous, flirtatious, smile.
Gadi called us over, to the inside of the Mekkad enclosure. He pointed, “The creature is deceased. From the looks of it, it’s been torn apart by something else.”
I said, “Oh god. It could be-“
Gadi completed my sentence, “Yes. The Necrokami. Which means… that beast may be able to detect our fears now too.”
Lily said, “You know, I think I like this beast. I feel like it could be my long-lost brother. Ooh maybe a sister? Maybe an ex-boyfriend who was so shitty that I had to kick him out, but in the deepest irony, they were the closest thing to a twin step bro that I could have ever had.”
It seemed that Lily would never stop being absurd.
Pandora grabbed Lily’s cheeks and stretched them, and said, “You really are just like an innocent puppy, aren’t you?” She seemed irritated but also like she enjoyed Lily. Or at least teasing Lily.
Lily yelled, “Hey! Stop it!”
The rest of us just watched.
Pandora released her and sighed, “Ah. That feels better.”
Lily recovered, “You are cooler than I thought, Pandora.” She walked closer to Pandora.
Pandora reacted, “Huh?”
Lily removed her sucker and shoved it in Pandora’s mouth, “Your prize! Ah… sweet and sour victory.”
Pandora squirmed and ripped it out.
Gadi called us from down the hall, at the next opened door, “Guys?! You’ll need to see this one.”
And just like that, our moment of peace faded. We headed to observe the next problem. This one more bizarre than the last few. The placard at the door read “Missing Numbers”. Corpses of pearly pale girls lined the room, their bodies decimated by glitch and crystal. Their eyes looked pixelized like noise from an old television. Their faces were split open with fractalizing crystals, glittering chrome, and what could only be described as sparkling glitches. The rest would be better off left in the realm of indescribable horrors.
Gadi pointed at one, “Look here. It’s as if they were in agony before whatever happened. It’s as if she’s stuck screaming.” He walked around to another body and speculated further, “They have an uncanny resemblance to Lily. This silver hair and pearly white skin.”
Lily stood behind us, only looking down, as the rest of us marveled at these horrors.
“What happened here? Wait, I’ll go read it off.” I rushed to the placard and read, “Missing Numbers: Here lies the remains of Project Gnosis. In exploring whether true Gnosis could be achieved-“
Lily demanded, “Please, stop.”
I said, “Lily?”
Lily gritted her teeth, still looking down.
Gadi asked, “Lily, do you know something about this?”
She stalled as a tear fell from her face.
Gadi said, “If I didn’t know better-“
Lily yelled, “Stop gawking at them like it’s a fucking science museum!”
Arezo went and hugged Lily.
Lily’s tears increased.
Pandora asked, “What is it?”
Lily finally opened up, “We were part of Vaeda’s experiment to achieve Gnosis. To become Angels. It went horribly wrong. I managed to escape because I manipulated Vaeda to let me go. But… they… they just…” More tears crashed to the ground.
Pax yelled, “That monster!! Vaeda, you will die at our hands.”
Lily defended, “No. It wasn’t her intention.”
Pax replied, “I don’t give a fuck about her intention. She could slip and push a bookcase over a puppy, and I’d still kill her.”
Gadi asked, “Angels?”
Lily spoke softly, “She thought that Evelyn was a special kind of anomaly. An entity she referred to as an Angel. But… b-but it went horribly. She fed us experimental forms of sacred knowledge. As time passed, we grew pale, we acquired special abilities, but after I backed out of the project, all of my siblings were fried.”
Pandora said, “It’s a good thing you escaped.”
Lily escaped Arezo’s hug, clenching her fists, “All of them are trapped at the moment of annihilation… forever. Their anguish, never-ending. Not dead nor alive. Just living in a purgatory of reflection on that knowledge.”
Pandora replied, “That’s terrible…”
“You can’t know that.” I said.
Lily snapped her fingers and time stopped, except for both of us.
She looked me in the eyes, “I do know that. I can hear their thoughts now, even as time is stopped.” Tears washed down her angry face.
I backed up in shock, “Wh-wha?”
She snapped her fingers and time resumed. She demanded, “Can we leave?”
Gadi replied, “It might be good to explore thi-“
Lily aimed her annihilation blast at him, “I said, let’s leave. Now.“
A crashing sound from outside the room startled us. It seemed fairly distant, but not enough to be safe.
We rushed to the door.
I peeked out. There was nothing to be found. Though, the hallway was filling with fog.
I rushed back in and slammed the door, “It’s filling with Sige. I think it might be the beast.”
Everyone stared at me in horror.
I demanded, “Lily, give me your Zaza. We need to use it.”
Everyone continued staring.
Gadi pointed to the door, “Uh… Guhya, that door doesn’t open from the inside…”
My heart sank. We were going to have to revert time now.
Pandora suggested, “Arezo can just dematerialize the door though.”
It was a wave of relief for us all.
Gadi said, “Perhaps we should just wait until the beast passes, to be safe.”
Another violent crashing sound occurred outside.
Pandora trembled, “I think it’s opening the doors.”
The growing sound of slowly pulsing footsteps headed our way. Another slamming sound shook the walls.
My heart sank further, “It’s going to open this door…”
Lily stood hopelessly, not even trying, “We will have to revert back in time.”
I suggested, “Let’s just use Arezo’s power now and then get out before it’s too late. We can run.”
Lily sat on the floor against the wall, unphased.
Pax joined her on the opposite side of the room. They were tapping out.
Arezo ran towards the door, held out her hands, and nothing happened.
I asked, “Arezo?”
She shook her hands desperately, “It’s not working!”
“Why not?!” I asked.
Gadi trembled now, “The beast, it can negate Sige powers.”
Lily threw her lollipop across the room, rolled over, and laid on the ground in fetal position.
My hands grasped my hair, “No!”
The footsteps turned into thunderous stomps.
Lily appeared like she left her body, dissociated, her eyes empty and gazing into the abyss. Apathetically, she said, “We don’t have much time, better hurry.”
I grasped for solutions. I turned to Lily, “Maybe if we use your Zaza-“
Lily yelled, “It’s not a fucking Mekkad dude! You think it’s just opening all these doors because it senses scared people inside?! You think that slaughtered Mekkad we saw was scared?! No!! It’s a fucking hunter!!”
Pandora approached me, “We have to.” She presented me with the knife.
I replied, “No…” It had been so long since I was forced to do this last time. At least when Kaos did it, I had no control, no role. Nothing to resist. Only to watch.
Pandora’s eyes leaked. She repeated more softly, “We have to.”
I grabbed her hand and took her to a corner. I looked behind, at the others, “I don’t want any of you to watch. So can you just turn around, please?”
Uncomfortably, all of them turned around slowly, and barely willingly.
I could sense the disgust in their minds. It was in mine too. In a weird way, we all shared this tragedy. But only I would be left to bear the scars. And over time, that’s all I would be. A bundle of scar tissue, replacing my entire body.
The floor shook, Sige fog breathed into the room through the cracks in the door, the walls melted and bent, and the lights flickered, until turning totally off.
Lily screamed, “Guhya! Fucking do it already!”
Pandora’s staring eyes revealed only fear.
My ears began to ring. I muttered, “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she replied.
It was like sinking back into the same hole that we dug the first time. It was like being branded with hot iron in the same wound, tattooed over and over, until a deep pit formed, filling with blood and tears.
I pressed the knife against her throat, fighting that war again. I had to focus. I had to lose sight of the future, of peace, and of love.
The blood began to drip. The room shook harder. The monster was nearly here. But deep down, it was me. I was the monster.
Thoughts of love kept intruding. The lure of lust dragged me in. It was so close. On the other side, I would be able to taste her lips. I just had to wait. No. I had to stop thinking like this.
I pressed the knife deeper into her throat. But then, our lips connected, only separated by a thin film of both of our tears. I pressed the knife deeper and deeper.
She pushed me off, but I struggled, desperate for the relief that her kiss gave me. It was a shelter. It teased me. I couldn’t shake the thought of the other side.
I kissed her again, losing sight of the moment.
But then, her body fell limp.
Holding her in my arms, I fell limp too. My body was fine, but my soul was dying. On my knees I resisted total collapse, hanging onto a thread of love.
Lily stood over me, “You’ll never see her again dumbass. Look at what you’ve done, you disgusting monster. Fucking trash.”
My mind raced with regret but also a sense of thanks. She knew what she was doing. She was helping me by hurting me.
The door burst open.
An explosion of fog filled the air.
Then, the void welcomed me.
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The Necrokami is a biological AI beast that was originally discovered foraging for sleeping bodies that rest in the forest of Iniko. Those trapped in the forest’s dreamworld are easy sustenance for the creature. Due to cohabitation with Iniko’s AI, the beast has evolved immunity to Iniko’s Sige fog. Not only that, but the Necrokami is capable of negating all Sige-based technology at will, only permitting its own Sige powers.
As the creature approaches a target, surrounding electrical systems and Sige fail. This often leaves the creature in total darkness. Its own Sige power mimics Iniko, intoxicating those who are in close enough range. The result is that its presence distorts the perceptions of nearby creatures, more heavily the closer it gets to them, until they are pushed into a dreamworld like Iniko. This makes hunting easy for the Necrokami.
The creature’s base ability is telepathy, allowing it to read the minds of any creature within its Sige field. Since most Sige-based abilities are merely knowledge for how to exploit Sige, its telepathy allows the creature to adopt the abilities of any mind it reads.
While imprisoned in the Gnostic Aetherium, the creature escaped and began opening each of the doors, consuming and accumulating the abilities of other creatures. Notably, the Necrokami has acquired aversion-sensing like the Mekkad. This allows it to track any creature that experiences negative emotion within a few kilometers radius.