The Gathering

The fading of the room led me down a rabbit hole of transitionary images and hypnagogia. Suddenly, I found myself lying on the forest floor. An eerie blanket of fog coated the air with a special density near the ground. Whispers called me to follow deeper into the wooded mazes. On a hazy pathway, a woman in a formal military suit rode passed me on a horse, glancing over with only a slight smirk. Suddenly, there was a presence of a crowd behind me. Bells and chimes rang a dissonant tone as the horsewoman rode further away from me. The woman whipped her horse, it shrieked and rose up on its back legs, smashing down again to land on a small creature. The bells and chimes immediately ceased and the crowd began talking.

I was pulled back into the tangible realm in emotional shock and the sound of an object slamming against the floor. Upon inspecting for any fallen object, nothing was found. These dreams keep happening and I still didn’t know what they meant. I wasn’t even sure that they really meant anything at all.

The fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil has been on my mind an increasing amount over the last few years. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something to this story after realizing the impact that the Basilisk story has had on society. It seemed like society was devastated by the mere thought of the Basilisk, rather than by the Basilisk itself. Beyond this, there was something notable about the way the animal liberationist subculture remains highly depressive, often ruminating over the unethicality of the world they were bound to. Their world was ‘Vystopia’. The newfound awareness of how one’s choice results in painful consequences for others forces us to make a choice: change or try to close our eyes.

Many nights I dwelled on whether ethical theories were actually dangerous to our well-being, simply by making us aware that our behaviors were linked to suffering. After one eats the fruit, one can either choose to remain addicted to their ways or abandon their coping strategies to live a more wholesome life.

Much like with the story of the Basilisk, those with such newfound ethical knowledge were presented with a choice that forces them to make life-changing decisions. They have the choice to either commit to a new lifestyle that was updated for congruency with their ethical beliefs or confront the dissonance of contradicting those beliefs. In the case of those who acquire the knowledge of the Basilisk, they can either help to build or prevent the building of the Basilisk. It was absolutely sickening.

After drifting back to sleep for a few more hours, I was awakened by the communal alarm. The big day was here. After our daily Soylent soup and Soylent pancakes, we rushed to the meeting hall. Everyone was always so hurried on this day of the gathering. During the gathering, we introduce new members and get the latest news from above ground.

My attention faded in and out of reality as the announcements were being made. I needed to get my sleep under control. There has been an apparent split in the overworld government. My guess was that the new members were somehow related to the breakage in the government. Suddenly the tone shifted to an unnerving one. The speaker seemed more aggressive and paused for a moment.

“Riyon, please come forth and provide your audience”, said the speaker woman.

A sensation went down my spine. This wasn’t good. There was no conceivable reason for my name to be called. A soft, tickling, trickle of sweat started to drip down my forehead.  I walked onto the stage and managed to conceal my anxiety as if it mattered at this point.

Riyon, anxiously trying to keep his cool.

“We have evidence of your treason against the Akiva clan. An unnamed person has provided us with information suggesting that your goals no longer align with ours,” she said.

My mind was racing. I needed to find a way out of this now.

“Could this be a mistake?” I asked nervously.

She pulled out a book and presented it to me. As I resisted the shivering that overtook me, I realized what was going on. That was my diary. Someone must have snuck in and taken it last night. How could anyone have known?? That sound last night must’ve been someone sneaking into my room. My vision developed a pulsing vignette in sync with the rhythm of my heart.

There was no other option: I bolted. Gunshots were fired, screams filled the concrete dungeon, the color of blood tinged my visual field, and my fear climbed higher and higher. Each corridor felt like another arm of a maze. The anxiety disoriented me so much that I couldn’t even recognize the familiar place I’d lived the last many years. My senses remained pristine and hyperreal, even more than usual.

As I tried to lose them through the chaotic mess of hallways, I was suddenly and harshly grabbed and pulled to the floor. Someone captured me.

It was over.

The dizziness set in and I yelled, “Stop! Get off of me!”.

She placed a finger on my mouth, “shhh,” she whispered.

Shhh-ut the f-up Riyon!

After a moment of hyperventilating, I noticed she was one of the new members, a woman with long, faint-lavender hair that flowed like water as she moved. It almost felt like some kind of bizarre dream. Her eyes appeared to be deep red pearls, though it was too dim to see much else.

“Be quiet for just 3 minutes”, she said to me as she closed the door.

We were in some kind of closet that I’d never seen before. There were broken computers that appeared to be ancient. Strange copper pipes covered the ceiling. The only light in the room came through a vent near the bottom of the door.

“I’m on your side. You are right in your mission. We must escape and fulfill your destiny,” she said in a confident and almost hypnotic tone.

“My… destiny?” I asked with concern.

She stared into my eyes for an uneasy 3 seconds and then said “I know the way out. All we have to do is wait 2 more minutes.”

Time passed in slow motion. There was no other option but to trust her and I couldn’t imagine that this was a trap, otherwise, she would have just taken me in. A swarm of pounding footsteps passed by the door. I looked into her eyes and she stared back. I almost felt pulled in, when suddenly she grabbed my hand. My heart jumped a bit more.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

She pulled me up and exclaimed, “Now! Now it’s time to go!”.

She took my arm and pulled me through another maze of corridors until we reached a room I’d never had permission to enter. I wondered where the guards were. I suppose they were looking for me, though it seemed somehow off. At the top of this room was some kind of vaulted door. The woman placed her hands on some sort of operating panel and closed her eyes. The vaulted door suddenly burst open, which caused water to flood the area from above.

“This will keep them distracted,” she said.

“They’re here!” A nearby mob shouted.

We climbed a ladder positioned at the flooding exit and suddenly we pushed through the waterfall and found ourselves in the ocean abyss. The entrance spun us around in a rush. The blurry distorted image of the mob could be seen through the portal we escaped from. I oriented myself upward and began desperately clawing my way through the thick, slow-moving water, trying to reach the top. It felt like one of those nightmares where you struggle in slow-motion to run away from danger, except, you know, it was actually happening.

Everything was fading to black.

Consciousness ceased.

A rush of vibrant, holographic, blue encompassed my vision. What was this? A sense of breathlessness and hunger for oxygen burst through my whole body. I started coughing uncontrollably, gasping for air in between every few coughs. The picture came into clarity. It was the overworld sky. The woman who rescued me made her presence clear and stood in front of me, smiling down upon me. I hadn’t realized how beautiful she was until this moment. Everything felt serene, the warmth of the sun, the contrasting cool breeze, the caws of seagulls, but simultaneously I felt deadened and drained. Everything faded again as I collapsed into the sand and passed out yet a second time.

Evelyn, standing happily due to her new status as hero

This time, I woke up to the sound of her voice: “Riyon! We have to start our journey! It’s time to wake up!” she said.

Who are you?!” I asked, more aggressively than I meant to.

“I’m Evelyn. We need to move. I know a part of the beach that isn’t under watch by them but we need to go now”. She held out her hand and demanded “come on!”.

I got up, stumbling and nearly falling again, as she helped me regain my senses.

Our hike began.

There was so much about this world that I only remembered reading about. Green fractal structures we call plants covered our right and an endless sea of glistening water waved like a hypnotic pendulum to our left. The feeling of the sand was much different than the concrete from underground. Strange creatures watched us curiously from the forested side.

We reached an area of the beach that was out of bounds and hidden away from government tracking, at least that was what she insists to be true.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Well, before I entered the Akiva clan, I was working in the government. My position was fairly high in the power hierarchy. You know, that split in the government is related to me” she answered.

The sky began to look very different. The colors morphed and evolved over time. It was an alien scene. Since I’ve lived the majority of my life underground, it was all unfamiliar to me. This new world inspired an urge to explore, but it was clear that the darkness loomed over us. The sky melted yellows, reds, blues, and greens together in a psychedelic wash that faded over the course of 30 minutes.

“Why did you save me?” I questioned her suspiciously.

It didn’t make any sense. Why would she join the Akivas and then immediately betray them to help me? She was clearly one of the newest members who was just announced at the gathering.

After a pause, she responded, “I think you are right about stopping the Basilisk,” she said.

“Then why did you just join the Akiva clan so recently??” I demanded to know.

“I infiltrated the Akiva clan to see if I could find a way to stop them,” she replied. She paused again, “You are special. I noticed something about you immediately. That is why I helped you”.

It still didn’t seem to make sense. Though, if she saved me, then she probably isn’t out to harm me.

“So your name is Evelyn? Thank you for saving me Evelyn,” I said as casually as possible, to conceal the paranoia in the back of my mind.

We sat and watched the colors drift away on the sky’s canvas, giving way to a deep purple night sky and ominous tone. Then something marvelous occurred: points of light began to glitter the expanse above. I asked if she knew what those were.

“They are called asters or stars. They exist further than one could imagine. They are like our sun, just much further out. Their bodies are like perpetual explosions due to fusion that arises from the immense gravity of their bodies,” she explained.

The outside world was incredible. I glanced over at her nervously as she gazed into the starlit void of space. She looked at me gently and smiled, giving me a rush of emotions. Throughout the night she showed me the constellations and taught me about stars.

In such a short time above ground, a moment so magical as this led me to crave more, I was so curious, yet, I was so deeply satisfied with the present that I had forgotten about everything that led up to this. I wanted this to last forever. To forget the woes of existence and just bask in the infinite glory of the skies above. A supreme euphoria tamed any sense of desire, leaving me with only the urge to observe further. I watched the stars rotate around the world, with only the sounds of the ocean waves crashing beside us.

The beautiful moment was interrupted as we came across something that looked like a corpse in the rippling sand, but one with bones made of metal and veins, of both wires and blood. It was the first time I’d ever seen something dead. It was horrible. My sheltered life kept these horrors away from me. It was as if my nightmares had become real for a second. We silently moved along, trying to shut it out.

The disruption of peace that this image caused led me back to the realization that all of my clients may suffer without my presence, which bothered me. The sinking feeling that we may not survive set in. I knew this wouldn’t last but I also knew that more magical moments were to come if we spend our days in the overworld.

“I had clients back there, you know”, I mentioned as we lay there looking up at the sky. Many of them were transferred over to me because my previous mentor, teacher Lalu, had abandoned the clan. It was rough on them. It was even rough on me. I had grown up underground under the teachings of Lalu. Now I was putting them through the same thing.

She sat up and turned to me and insisted, “It’s going to be okay. We are going to save humanity. Your attachment to these people is meaningful now but soon it will fade and the grander sense of your destiny will set in. This is the only way. It is inevitable. You will feel pain initially, but if we don’t go on this journey together, a worse fate awaits humankind. Trust in yourself. Trust in the future.”

Her reassurance was somehow ineffective and disconcerting. She sounded insane to some degree. Though she was right and I will take on this newfound role. We may as well try, since these may be our final days. We have nowhere left to turn. “You are right,” I replied.

She smiled lightly.

The exhaustion set in and I began to drift away, as the stars formed patterns and geometries, and the constellations came to life.

Early next morning

“Get up!” a strange voice called. “Who are you? How did you find this place? What is your intent?” he asked in quick succession.

He was of medium height, about 5’6″. His hair was chaotic, black, and curly with a silver streak going across the side. His shirt revealed a hairy chest, which amplified his masculine douchey energy. A skinny androgynous-looking character accompanied him at his side. The individual of unspecified gender had thick glasses, a mopey submissive stature, and wore a lacey pink shirt with short shorts.

Taro and Nell, dominantly interrogating Riyon and Evelyn

“There shouldn’t be people here,” Evelyn whispered to me. She looked more shocked than I’ve seen her, which was strange since our journey here was quite an astonishing one so far. You’d think that this was the least surprising thing we discovered yet. Throughout the chaos of our escape scene, she remained almost unnervingly calm and optimistic. It seemed unlike her to be so offset by these people.

“My name is Riyon and this is Evelyn. We come in peace!” I said with my hands up. It was probably stupid to reveal our names, although these people were clearly not with the government. In fact, they appeared to be wearing attire unlike I’ve ever seen, so they may not have even been from the world I came from.

The man gazed at us with a scrutinizing expression. He began to walk closer. I impulsively screeched, “Wait!! Don’t hurt us!”

He laughed and reassured us in a fairly deep cheery voice, “Don’t worry nutcase, we aren’t here to rob you. We just needed to scope you out. You know how it is around here, unless.. perhaps you aren’t from around here? What’s with those weird clothes anyway.” He relaxed and put his guard down.

I couldn’t tell him the truth, no way. I needed to think up a story fast, or else this could be bad.

Then, suddenly Evelyn spoke, “We are nomads from the outer colonies. We came here to salvage ancient technology. Do you know a place we could stay for the night?”

I turned to her with a face of shock. What was she talking about?? Salvaging technology? The outer colonies? I wanted to ask what she meant, but obviously, I couldn’t do so without blowing our cover so I’d just have to wait.

The man said, “The names Taro. I’m also a salvager. This is my friend, Nell. He is my partner. We come out to this area sometimes because rare things wash up on the shore during this time of the year.”

Nell waved with a shyness. “Hey,” he greeted in a voice that sounds female.

Taro invitingly said, “Come along with us. We will take you to a place where you can rest up and get some food.”

We followed Taro and Nell.

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