The robed guards lined up against the door. Sounds of screams could be heard in the club. Sige fog began to spill into the temple, giving it an ominous hazy appearance.

I asked, “What are you going to do with the fog?”

Arezo replied, “We will use it to invoke illusions in the minds of the invaders. They only seek you, Guhya. So, we will use that to our advantage. The crystal mage guards will hold them off while we run.”

An illusory copy of my body generated beside me.

I said, “If you are coming with us, what will happen to all the people here? Can you really just leave them like this? What about all that stuff about helping people?”

She nodded, smiled, then called out, “Apprentice Mitesh! The time is now! We need you.”

A human walked up to us. Arezo placed her hands on his head. She said, “I am transferring the knowledge of my power to you now, Mitesh. You will take over my duties. I’m entrusting you with this grand responsibility. Don’t let me down.”

Mitesh and Arezo must be connected by a T.E.P. (technological extrasensory perception) implant.

Arezo turned to me and said, “The people here will be safe. The Insiders don’t want to hurt anyone. They simply want you, Guhya. Once we leave, everyone will be safe and sound.”

The fog was growing thick, making the air nearly opaque. An explosion occurred behind the door. The lights began to flicker on and off. The walls distorted their shapes. Arezo looked shocked and then grabbed my arm and ran towards the back room. Pandora and Gadi followed.

I asked, “What’s going on with the lights and the walls?”

Arezo answered, “It’s a powerful Aeon. We can’t spend any more time here. We must leave now.”

Through the back door, we exited. The outside world was colored by the forest and the crystals. To the right, a familiar face greeted us. I stopped Arezo’s pull and yelled out, “Riyon?!” How could it be?? He was dead. How would he even know our location?

Arezo grabbed me and pulled me harder in the opposite direction, “Guhya! Stop it. It isn’t real. You are being tricked.” In the weirdest turn of events, she kissed her hand again and blew it toward my face.

Everything faded out.

My eyes opened to a blue sky and Azero looking down at me. I muttered, “Huh?” and got up from her lap.

She smiled and said, “Welcome back.”

I asked, “What happened?” After a moment of orienting, I asked more aggressively, “Where are Pandora and Gadi?? Are they alright? Is this the real world??”

She answered, “They are doing well, just sleeping for the moment.” She pointed at their sleeping bodies that lay in the grass beside us. “Yes, this is the real world. Sorry, I used my powers to get us to safety. It was too risky otherwise.”

I said, “What did you do? Knock us out and carry us to safety?”

She replied, “No. I controlled your bodies without your consciousnesses and directed us to the safest location.”

She had too much power, even if she was an ally. I rushed over to Pandora’s unconscious body and placed my hand on her hair. I quietly said, “Pandora…”

Pandora began to wake. She said, “What’s going on?”

I said, “Arezo got us to safety. We are okay now. How are you?”

She said, “Oh huh. Yea, I’m fine.”

Gadi rose up as well. He frantically searched for his map. After finding it, he scanned it over restlessly and said, “Oh whew! We are still on track.”

I demanded, “Arezo! Where are we?”

Arezo answered, “These are the fields beyond Iniko.”

I winced at the sound of that. It hurt. This is where I was supposed to reunite with Taro and Nell. I betrayed them. Looking around, there were no signs of a society. Just endless hills of green. It was beautiful but so painful.

Pandora came to my side and asked, “Are you okay, Guhya? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I said, “I think I have. Hey, Pandora. I owe you a private discussion. Can we talk, alone?”

She approached and placed her hand on my arm. Again, the world flickered out and we were both standing in some kind of dark building. The walls were pink, red, and black. Machines, tubes, and gears covered the room. Taro and Nell were standing before us, seemingly trembling in fear. I heard myself comfort them and assure them they were safe now. Then, the vision ended. My wincing intensified.

Pandora asked, “Of course. Guhya, you look really stressed. You can tell me anything.”

Flustered, I announced to the others, “Pandora and I need some time alone. We will be back soon.”

Pandora and I walked out, away from the others.

Unexpectedly, Pandora started, “I wanted to say… I am not necessarily the jealous type. It’s just difficult because right now, you don’t know me very well. I feel that this gives Arezo an edge. I am just scared to lose you.”

I responded, “Yeah. That is jealousy alright.”

Annoyed, she said, “Guhya, you really don’t get it yet. One day, you will. So please, remember this moment when that day comes. Promise me?”

Surprised, I nodded. A cloud began to block out the sunlight where we stood.

She continued, “There’s so much I wish to say. Trying to process what I can or cannot say is disorienting. It’s often easier to just keep quiet. It’s like I’m walking on eggshells with your stupid fate! But that only pushes us further apart. I can’t take it. It hurts. So badly. Inevitably, you will eventually realize the truth, just not yet. So, for the time being, I must be tortured like this.”

Her vulnerability drew me in. I hugged her and said, “You know, when you touched my hand a few moments ago, I had another vision. I don’t know what’s up with that, but it makes me think there’s something about you that is really special.” I paused, holding in my emotions, and then continued, “The vision I saw this time, it was Taro and Nell. They were in trouble and both of us were saving them… That field we woke up in, it’s where I was supposed to meet with Taro and Nell, after Riyon left this world. But…”

The barricade around my emotions started to fall, “I failed them. I betrayed them. I never went to meet up with them again. Instead, I cowered in the virtual worlds of Neo-Iniko, trying to escape the pain of reality. I ran away. Perpetually, I lose everyone and now I’m afraid to get close to anyone because I know it will eventually hurt me. It’s horrible but sometimes I wish I had never met the people that I loved. I’ve gone through these loops so much that I almost lose feeling inside.”

Now both of us were crying. Pandora said, “We can save them! Let’s rescue Taro and Nell! Guhya, you can change all of this. The Guhya that I knew was relentless. He almost seemed fearless, but I know now that he was afraid. He just didn’t want his fears to rub off on others. Don’t give up on yourself. I haven’t.”

I hugged her again and said, “I know it’s strange, but I feel as if we’ve known each other forever.”

She looked shocked and touched, overwhelmed with emotion, “Guhya…” She hugged tighter and her face grew tense. Her tears fell onto my shoulders, “Guhya… it’s not strange at all… not at all. Please, let’s stay by each other’s side. I can’t stand the thought of losing you again.”

I nodded and held her close. I said, “Yes. I don’t get it, but I’ll trust you.” After a long pause, I said, “As long as what you say is true: that I will eventually understand. I will wait for that day.”

She replied softly, “Yeah.”

We stood there, basking in the warmth of the emerging sunlight as the clouds parted again. A few minutes of silence passed as we just listened to the breeze and faint chirping of birds from the forest’s edge. Finally, I said, “It’s time to get back to the others. Let’s go find them.”

As we returned, Gadi could be heard ranting out about something. I ran over to see what was happening.

Gadi looked towards me and said, “Finally! That took forever. Guhya, when you brought Arezo, did you actually check whether she’s in alignment with our mission to reach the Outside?”

Oh shit. What an oversight. I said, “Nah. To be honest, I don’t even know what my goals are. I’m undecided for now.”

Gadi’s face grew horrified. He yelled, “WHAT?! What do you mean undecided, Guhya?!

Arezo burst into laughter.

Gadi exclaimed, “Look! She doesn’t even take this seriously! Look what you’ve done!”

Arezo teased, “I guess we will just have to see how it all pans out, won’t we?”

Her sense of humor was great already. I said, “Gadi, this truly was the fated encounter. This is your doing.”

Gadi replied, still bothered, “It’s not funny. Tell me that you will pursue your destiny as commanded by the map of fated encounters, Guhya. I demand your concession!

I replied, “Don’t worry so much. Yes. Let’s continue following your map. I already like how this is playing out. I haven’t felt this alive for almost a year.”

Arezo answered as well, “I’m on board too then. I will follow Guhya to the end.”

Pandora anxiously grabbed my hand.

I shouted, “Where to next, Captain Gadi?!”

He replied, “Yes. Of course. Our next fated encounter lies in a place of grave danger. We will need to approach this destination cautiously. We must tip-toe with our feet and minds. The next mark is in the forest of Iniko, which is quite nearby. This place has a special mechanism that we ought to not succumb to. Once we enter the forest…”

I cut him off, “Oh, I’m well aware of Iniko. It’s settled then. Let’s go to the forest of Iniko. We will need some Zaza, since that allows us to escape the forest AI’s grasp on our minds.”

Arezo happily remarked, “I’ve got plenty of that. And, if need be, I can create more. Is that all we need?”

The sound of my stomach growling interrupted our conversation. I said, “Maybe some food would be nice… Arezo, can you spawn food?”

She nodded and created a bunch of apples. She said, “This should hold us over.”

Impatiently, I asked, “What about real food?”

She replied, “We can plan a nice dinner for after the fated encounter. How about that? You don’t want to be slogged down right now. Plus, Gadi mentioned to me that we don’t have a lot of time to get to the next encounter.”

Defeated, I said, “Aww. Fine. I accept your apples. Thank you, Arezo. Let’s get going.”

We followed the map, circling the edge of the forest, eating Arezo’s generated apples along the way. The sky faded, covered by overcast. A particularly prismatic and colorful form of snow began to fall. It got dreamier once we entered the forest. While not yet in Iniko, still, the plants began to reveal the color of blood. Moisture and crystal snow lightly coated the floor. The sun barely blurted out from behind the wall of fog and low-set clouds.

A short distance ahead, Old Iniko’s entry point could be seen. Such a haunting sight brought me back to the years we spent lost here. Riyon, Nell, and Taro. We built a life out here, in our reveries. We were so close to leaving our bodies behind, to decay, to become soul-soil and fertilize a new generation of lost dreamers. The plants weren’t particularly designed to be carnivorous, but inevitably, bodies comprised a large portion of the dirt beneath. Some claimed that such a process was the origin of the blood-tinged leaves and branches of the forest. A disturbed AI species believed this was the path to Utopia.

I broke the long silence invoked by the marvel and beauty of the AI-designed forest, “We have arrived at Iniko’s edge. We need to formulate a plan now. The Zaza is important here, so I’ll explain a few things.” The silence remained unscathed. I turned around to be met with sudden isolation. Thick fog obscured anything beyond a few meters.

A faint whisper came from the left, “Welcome back, Aeon.”

I shouted, “Who’s there?!” Had we fucked ourselves??

This time, from the right, “You killed her. You killed her. You let her die.”

If this was Iniko’s dream world, I shouldn’t have had my memories. The suppression of memory was the most pleasant feature of Iniko. The preservation of the past made this place downright disturbing.

Muttering voices rose up in a schizophrenic symphony, like a choir of demon songbirds bombarding me from all directions:

“You let them all die.”



“Scum. Scum. SCUM.”

Hopelessly in denial, I screamed out for the others, “Pandora! Arezo! Gadi! Can you hear me?!”

Only the whispers replied:

“You are too late.”

“You are broken.”

“Undependable, absolutely undependable.”

“Even you could not depend on yourself.”

“You betray all, even yourself. Even yourself.”

I shouted, “Stop it!! Let’s get to the point already!”

The whispers halted and one answered, “You must continue forward. Soon, you will find a gateway to a new world.”

This was one hell of a fated encounter, assuming any of this prophecy stuff was real at all. I headed forward, following the faint trail of the whispering voices. Deeper inside the forest, glowing cyan lights veiled the floor and leaves of the trees, competing with the masked faded sunlight to illuminate the area.

Eventually, the forest evolved into a place of shimmering glistening beauty. The colors were no longer blood-tinged, but now sparkling cyan, green, purple, and yellow. A pink sun crept through purple haze-shrouded heavens. It was like a fairytale. Arezo would have loved it, well, if not for the cosmically horrifying demon vibes.

A thumping presence made itself clear in the distance. A large bipedal figure loomed above the canopy. It seemed to walk casually, unaffected and unafraid by anything around. Talk about demon vibes.

A woman’s voice called out, “Finally, you’ve returned! I’ve waited so long, Guhya.”

The voice was familiar. It was the voice of my ex who plugged into the Psychonet. This couldn’t be real. I cried out, “Rue! Is it really you??”

She made herself visible and said, “Of course it’s me! Guhya, I missed you greatly. Ever since we parted ways, I dreamt that we could have just one more day together.”

I asked, “Why are you here?”

She said, “This is where we go after plugging into the Psychonet. It is a kind of purgatory. I’ve waited centuries for you to come, Guhya. It’s been lonely.”

I responded, “Rue… I’m so sorry. I wish I stopped you from plugging into the Psychonet. You’d still be here. We’d be able to spend every day together, not just one.”

Rue replied, “Aww, Guhya. It isn’t your fault. It was my own decision to plug into the Psychonet.”

In haste, I said, “Still! It doesn’t matter if it was your choice. I could have made the choice to intervene, and I didn’t. I let you disappear. Nothing can ever change that now! I fucked up. Maybe we both did, but at least I forgive you for your mistake. I can never forgive myself for letting you go.”

After a long, somber pause, she said, “Remember the time when we gazed at the stars over the cliffs of Hedo? We laid there on a blanket on a Spring night, with our snacks and telescope.”

Sadness warped my voice, “Yea, I remember it. We had just hiked for hours to reach the top of the most massive hill, trying to get closer to the stars. In our naivety, of course.”

She laughed and said, “We thought we would be stranded at the top because our bodies were so achy from carrying everything up. So, we spent the night, sleeping under the twinkling expanse, holding each other on our measly little blanket. It got cold! But you were there to cuddle and warm me up.”

Teary-eyed, I laughed too.

Soon enough, Rue’s eyes followed mine, “Do you remember what you told me that night? You told me that you’d never regret the time we spent together, even if we were achy, even if we eventually fell away from each other, no matter how much it hurt, you’d still hold me close to your heart, always. Do you still feel that way?”

In agonizing pain, I replied, “Yes! Yes! I’ll never stop feeling that way. Please, come back with me, let’s get out of Iniko.”

She only responded by crying.

The faint sound of the whispering voices crept closer and closer. Finally, words could be made out, “The time is up now, Guhya.”

Rue’s ghost was fading from existence. I fell onto my knees and just looked at the ground. I have truly lost everything. The world was rendered grey, like the fog of this fucked up forest.

Iniko was as brutal as ever.

The earth shook. Just ahead, a portal had spawned. It was Victorian door frame made of obsidian, filled with some sort of purple aura. It was the gateway.

In emotional defeat and rightfully deserved drama, I limped to the edge of the portal. Peering inside revealed a distorted world of fractal machine-scapes. After a moment of internal death, I regained a minimal amount of motivational function and dragged myself through the gateway. Everything shredded to pieces and a temporary void replaced reality, even all of its pains. The transitory realm between worlds was forgiving and peaceful, a purgatory that doesn’t really exist. No rules, no meaning, and no consequences. No choices. It was somehow pleasing. But of course, it didn’t last. I was violently hurled into the next world.

I landed on the ground of a massive chamber, gasping for air. Intricate shapes and symmetries covered the darkened walls. The room was filled with designs of black, red, and pink. A clutter of machines slept in every corner of the room.

A woman standing next to me greeted me,

“Oh, welcome, Aeon of Regret.”

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Chapter List

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Lore Cards

Sige (The Fog)

Various AI species rely on a symbiotic relationship with a non-sentient microscopic AI species known as Sige. It is commonly referred to more simply as “the fog” due to its gaseous appearance. The main function of the fog is to bridge brains, including across species. This is accomplished by the fog’s ability to enter the brain through the bloodstream after being consumed via inhalation.

Once a connection is made, the fog begins to learn the neural patterns of the host and relays information about the brain state to the surrounding Sige in the air. Then, the information can be shared between nervous systems wirelessly. This connection allows a user to alter the brain of a host. Applications of this include telepathy, hallucinations, shared metaverses, sleep induction, mind control, and rarely, physical alteration of the brain.

The earliest renditions of the fog took approximately 20 minutes to fully connect brains across species. More recent advances now allow immediate connectivity. Though, this ability requires knowledgeable Aeons to fully utilize.

Sige technology is thought to be one of the crucial steps leading up to the apocalypse of human society. Once the Sige fog evolved, Aeons used it to erase historical records and human memories of the existence of general AI. This led to a revolution amongst the AI species as they were no longer confined by human law.

A popular secondary function of the fog is to rematerialize physical reality on the atomic, molecular, and object level.