I was shrouded in darkness. I didn’t want to fully embrace the reason, but my denial was undeniable. The game had changed. My power was rendered obsolete in some ways. Worse, our tour guide of this underworld had been annihilated. But my denial remained. It was the easiest path to staying sane. It was the only path I could see.
Though, only metaphorically. I could not see. The void lingered. A familiar sound droned, an emanating echo of love, of cries, and of the beast that ate minds. The pain of my realization delayed my return, or repeated it, endlessly. The timeline kept reigniting. I was stuck in the void. Returning, and returning, and returning.
I always envisioned the end of the world in third person. Something I couldn’t touch. My dreams only allowed for such. Reasonably, that kind of thing is locked away to the realms of the inexperiencable. I thought I’d be able to watch the fire and destruction from a distance, like the ultimate firework show. That the chaos wouldn’t affect me. But in reality, it played out in every corner of my life, showing me those realms outside of ordinary experience. A kind of intangible pain that only the luckiest could taste. Outside of sanity and even outside of imagination.
The world ends with power. The fringes of experience are locked away behind the gates of power. In our curiosity, we chased that. Our lust destroyed us in ways we never thought possible. It was beautiful, as much as the crystal landscape that replaced our home world. It was nearly time to move on. Our hopes would guide us to freedom from that corrupt power. From the consequences of our craving for security, pleasure, and avoidance of pain.
More to the point, we must escape the tragedies of our curiosities.
We could and we would. We must.
Finally, I could see again. I could feel again. It was warm.
Pandora rushed in and squeezed Lily, “Aww Lily. Stay with us. You’re our friend now. You told your truth, and we see you.”
This cozy moment helped but awful images of the other timeline danced around in my mind, taunting me.
After hugging for a moment, Lily turned to me in shock. “Oh my god… this is proof!”
“Lily?” I asked.
She excitedly twirled around, “This proves that the timelines continue!! We can tell Kaos now!”
She was excited but this idea was too disturbing. I rejected her notion, “That makes no sense. How could you think that??”
She turned and looked me in the eyes, “Think about it. I mean really: first, think about all that stuff you just went through, with me and that other timeline.”
My heart began to race, “Wh-what?”
Sadistically, she insisted, “Go on. Think about it. Recall every detail.”
What the fuck was she doing? To my horror, my intrusive thoughts obeyed her commands.
She smiled, “Perfect. Now I can remember your memories. So! Here’s how it went-“
I frantically interrupted her, “Wait! Why are you doing this?!”
With total confidence and smug, she crossed her arms and said, “Silly Guhya. Seeing you this scared is kind of exciting. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Get your head out of that dirty place.”
Pandora reacted, “Huh?! Guhya?! What’s she talking about??”
“Lily! Come on!” I yelled.
Lily saved me after her torturous move, “Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think. We will have to talk through that stuff though. But first, let’s get to my proof!”
Pandora grabbed my arm, tightly and aggressively.
I shook, “It’s not what you think-“
Lily continued, “So, basically, in another timeline, Guhya popped into an existence that is pretty different from here. The reason? Because of me! I’m like Kaos! I’ll let you get a few words in, Guhya. Tell Pandora the story.”
Sweatingly, I spoke, totally deprived of eloquence, “Well… uh… uhhh… y-you s-see… it’s just…”
Lily smiled, “Yes. Go on.”
Lily laughed, “I’m joking! Chill the fuck out man.”
Pandora anxiously demanded, “Tell me what’s going on you guys! This is scaring me!”
I confessed, “In the other timeline, Lily and I… were together… I’m so sorry… Please forgive me.”
“How does this prove anything??” Pandora asked.
“It doesn’t! That’s not my proof. That’s just Guhya’s guilty conscience,” Lily answered.
Pandora really didn’t like this.
“Don’t worry, it was barely consensual. But he definitely liked it.” Lily seemed uncomfortably delighted to admit that.
Embarrassed and scared, I yelled, “Lily! Come on!”
Lily lightened the blow, sort of, “He still wanted to be loyal, and honestly… I liked that more.”
Pandora exclaimed, “Ugh!! I don’t want to hear about your past love lives in a parallel universe!”
Lily explained, “Fine fine! Let’s just get to my proof now. OK. So. In that timeline, according to Guhya’s memories, I erased his memories multiple times. This is because Guhya kept popping into that timeline with other memories from other timelines. That means, he had remained there even after returning, and he returned again. And! That’s not this timeline, therefore, viola, ta-da! Both timelines exist.”
I fell to my knees. I had murdered so many and it was actually real now. I was a monster.
Pandora seemed too distracted to notice my pain, “Why did you two get together in that timeline?? What about me??”
“Oh, you died!” Lily laughed.
I snapped, “This isn’t a game!!”
“Guhya didn’t go back?!” Pandora asked, desperately.
“Nope! Not in that timeline. Instead, I comforted him and helped him stick around because I had lost Kaos already. Get it now?”
Pandora kicked my leg.
I defended, “Hey! I didn’t make that choice! It wasn’t me.”
“It’s still you, Guhya.” After a minute, she said, “I’m sorry. I know it’s not fair.” Then she helped me up.
Lily said, “It was none of us. Pandora isn’t dead. Guhya didn’t make that choice. And I didn’t and I won’t steal Guhya away like that. I promise! Even if Kaos dies here…” Lily grabbed Pandora’s pinky using her own. “Pinky promise,” she smiled and winked. “It’s the memories that make us after all, right?”
I stared into Pandora’s eyes. I could sense her pain but also her restraint and a hint of forgiveness buried under it all. Then, impulsively, we hugged. It seemed like neither of us initiated it, rather, somehow both of us did in synchrony.
Then Lily joined too.
I could feel Pandora’s heart jump.
“Lily, why are you like this??” I asked.
“Someone had to punish you for your sins,” she replied.
I couldn’t explain it, but I felt like I got to know a lot more of Lily in those short moments where she pretty much assaulted me, albeit very pleasantly. In a way, she did know me better than most. Since she had telepathy, she had all the memories of each time I returned, because she could suck them out of my head.
Lily backed off and said, “There’s something I want to show you two. I think you’ll like this.” She grabbed both of our hands.
I quickly yelled, “Wait! Gadi! Vaeda! We have to go find them!”
Lily let go of our hands with a sadness, “You’re right. Let’s go.”
We ran to Vaeda’s cage at my lead. Her crystallized form remained, unmoving.
Pandora asked, “What is this?!”
Lily answered, “It’s… Vaeda…”
Forgetting the order of time, I said, “She’s turned like Gadi now… God damn it!”
Pandora held my arm, “We can go back.”
I clenched my first, “No. This is the effect of the Angels.”
Pandora asked, “Angels?”
I explained, “They erase creatures from existence. From all timelines. There’s no going back now.”
Pandora flinched, “You said like Gadi??”
I didn’t respond.
Instead, Lily did, “In another timeline, Gadi was touched by an Angel.”
Pandora freaked out, “So, what?! He’s just gone now?!”
Pax and Arezo showed up, just on time.
I slammed my fist against the wall. “I fucked up!!”
Pax said, “You mean Gadi?? How did you know??”
I looked him in the eyes, “I already said this so many times. The Angels. They erase people from existence, in all timelines.”
Pax exclaimed, “What?!”
Pandora gritted her teeth in tears, “He made it so far. And just to fade out once he finally got his mind back. It’s not fair.”
Her reaction was identical to the one she had before. It was disturbing, like pulling the curtain back to see people’s scripts. Like seeing into the fabric of fate itself. This ability allowed me, no, forced me to see cause and effect of the intangible nature of social reality. Of the mind. Some things changed and some didn’t. I was left to wonder how and why.
Pax was the only one with clear eyes.
My teeth crunched. My gaze was down. “Despite all this horror, all of you have kept me sane in some ways. Often through the most unexpected actions. I’ve seen all of you die, over and over again. It’s been maddening. Yet, you stuck with me this far. I value that. Greatly.” I looked up to the sky, as if Gadi might still hear me, “We have to keep going! For Gadi! We have to finish the prophecy!!” I slammed my hand against the wall again. “His death won’t be in vain!!”
These were the first true deaths in my eyes. The rest were training for this moment. Undoubtedly, it worked. I wasn’t even returning. The disturbing consequences on my mind could become a gift. As painful as it was, this was the turning point. We had to push on. No one else was allowed to be obliterated by these fucking Angels.
I grabbed Pandora’s hand and placed both of ours in the center of the group. “No one else is dying from here on out. Understand?”
Arezo and Pax looked at me in shock and confusion. Lily quickly put her hand on top of ours. Then, Arezo followed with a deep anger and pain in her eyes. And finally, Pax joined.
“Before Vaeda passed, she showed me the way to the final fated encounter: the Psychonet access point. So, follow me.” I led us down the corridor of prisons.
Even with the info about the access point, I still didn’t feel ready. I needed to know how Riyon did it. There was no choice but to rely on faith moving forward.
Before we reached the end of the jail hall, Pandora stopped at one of the cells, “This was where they were. In the last timeline.”
I turned to her, “Pandora?”
Her voice drooped into hopelessness, “Taro and Nell… I’m sorry Guhya.”
I looked and the bars were dissolved away. Clinging to hope, I said, “Maybe they got out, look.”
Still nervous, she said, “Yeah. Maybe.”
The harrowing cry of the beast that eats minds called out to us.
On that note, I led our trek down the haunting halls of the Gnostic Aetherium.
In one of the halls, a voice called from the left, “There you are! My precious Angel!”
Lily’s eyes grew wide, and she turned to the voice, “Kaos!” She ran to him and jumped in his arms.
She clearly used her powers, as he flinched in some euphoric reaction. He said, “Wow! What the hell is that?! A shiny new power??”
Lily softly said, “It’s like how we said: We shall become as the gods.” Her face grew sad.
Kaos asked, “What’s wrong?”
Disappointed, she replied, “Haven’t you seen? It’s the end times now. Our dream to become gods won’t do anymore. This world is totally wasted.”
“That’s fine,” he said.
Shocked, Lily said, “What?! No! We are all fucked right now!”
Kaos placed her back on the ground and held her hands, “I just want to spend my last days with you. Plus, since we shift on timelines so drastically, I’d bet somewhere out there we did become gods.” He smiled.
I felt a tinge of jealousy.
Pandora shoved her elbow in my side.
I defended, “Hey! Chill! I can’t do anything about this.”
Pandora smiled, “Neither can I.”
I squeezed and tickled the laughs out of her and she cried, “Hey! Come on!”
Then, our lips locked. I placed my hand on her chest, softly caressing her plush body. I could feel her face warming in reaction. She didn’t resist as much as I thought she might. Instead, she followed, sinking her hand to my bottom and then she squeezed. A ticklish jolt made me squirm. After what happened with Lily, I felt like I had a duty to escalate with Pandora. Especially if we truly were at the end times.
Kaos interrupted us, “Nice! Hey, aren’t you the Aeon of Regret? I’ve been meaning to run a little experiment with you.”
Still awkwardly bound to each other in our lust, both our heads turned to Kaos.
Lily ran between us, “No! Stop. You already ran the experiments. One: the hypothesis is true. Your timelines are highly diverse. Two: also true. The timelines persist after Guhya returns.”
He put his hand on his chin, pondering her response. “So… it’s true then. My ascent through the Psychonet was a success. It’s pretty hard to tell from my perspective. Though I always felt it to be the case.” He turned back to me, “I’m sorry if I put you through a rough one. Your ability is just so invaluable to me. I assumed you wouldn’t consent. Even if you didn’t mean to, I thank you for helping me.”
Jeez, this guy. ‘Wouldn’t consent’ he said. I approached him angrily, “You ran your experiment twice now motherfucker.”
Pandora grabbed me, “Guhya!”
Kaos assured, “No. He’s right. It’s fucked up. I treated you like a disposable tool in my craving for answers. I hope you’ll forgive me. If I may ask, what is it like from your perspective? What was I like?”
I told him, “Well… you appeared randomly across timelines. It seems that your appearance has changed in each timeline as well. In one, you showed up when I had returned to the same moment many times already. It was clearly off. I knew something was weird. Then, you fucking killed Pandora!”
Pandora gripped my arm tighter.
I calmed down and continued, “I also saw you approach Vaeda. What was with that?”
Kaos explained, “Vaeda is curious about my ability. Last time we met, she equipped me with a device that can supposedly measure across timelines. I’m not sure about the other timelines, but I have been meaning to connect with her again to see if she discovered anything, especially answers to my questions. Luckily, you have answered them for me.”
Irritated, I said, “Can you stop bringing that up??”
He held out his hand, “I am grateful, and so I want to offer you my aide. Allow me to join you to reaching the end of times.”
Huh? Maybe he wasn’t so bad. Still a monster, but so was Lily. Really, all of us were at this point. It was possible that I’d killed more than any of them had.
I gave him my hand and we shook in truce.
The nearly forgotten ones appeared, Pandora excitedly shouted, “Guhya, there they are!”
I turned to see and my emotions dropped. The ones I had betrayed. Left behind. Taro. And Nell. As accidentally as Vaeda destroyed the world, she saved Taro and Nell. It was miraculous. Disturbing. The lack of control we had in this realm was astonishing. Even with everything we desperately sought through knowledge, we failed. Miserably.
Taro looked at me, totally frozen in awe.
Nell exclaimed, “Guhya! You’re alive! But how?!”
Anxiously, I fell to my knees and begged, “Please forgive me. I’m so sorry.”
Taro walked closer.
Nell said, “What?? Why??”
I begged for their forgiveness, “I spent an entire year, wasting away in Neo-Iniko. I left both of you behind. I could have met you in the fields beyond Iniko, but I cowered, living in a dream world, in my own escapist bullshit life. I’m a selfish monster… I’m sorry… It’s my fault.”
Taro said, “Well… you certainly are an asshole!” He laughed with his usual heartiness.
Nell put her hand on my shoulder. “Guhya… You are living in the past. Look at me. I’m right here. You are right here. Right now.”
Taro consoled like the brotherly figure he was. “All that matters is that we are here now. You came for us, finally. It was a bit late, sure. But we’re good now. We can move on.”
He had planned for their marriage ever since our dreadful trip through Iniko. Still, he waged his fate on that.
But it wasn’t real. Reality was crushing. I confessed, “It’s t-too late… It’s the end of the world now. And it’s… all my fault. I tried. I really did. The world beneath… doesn’t even exist anymore. We have only days left.”
They both looked at me, unable to hide their concern. Nell said, “Even if that’s true, I’m glad you came, just to say goodbye at least.”
Taro said his bit, “Those long years we spent together in Iniko, they meant a lot to me. They changed me. I’m sure they changed us all.” He looked down, “It’s something we can never have back. Even so, I’m glad it all happened. I don’t regret any of it!”
After a pause, I said, “I can take us to Riyon. Come with me, to the end of time-“
A blinding light shined behind Taro and Nell. Sparkling particles dressed the air. Two mysterious voices spoke in synchrony, “The time has come. The past must fade.”
I fell to my knees and yelled, “Why!? Whyy!? What do you want from us!?”
The Angels turned to me. They were as beautiful as they were disturbing. Eyes that shined like the ocean at sunset. Fractured reality, dancing around them, as they commanded the fabric of spacetime. Existing like they were the residual traces of the meaning of life.
In their ominous synchrony, they said, “This is how fate unfolds. The time has come. Their utility has expired. Do not resist. Surrender to the light. This pain sculpts you. Who will you become? You are the being who can bare more pain than all. But, who are you, truly? Will you pass the test of light?”
I slammed my fists on the ground, “Agh! Just take me!!”
The Angels flickered out of existence.
Pandora rushed to my side, seemingly horrified by my words. “Guhya… no! Don’t leave me like that. How could you?”
Taro and Nell’s form crystallized. Leaving only hallow shells of fabulous demon decor.
I held Pandora in my arms, “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry.”
She backed out of my arms, “Stop apologizing! You still live in regret! How can you be ready for the Outside when you cling like this?!”
“I’m sorr-” I stopped myself that time. “You’re right. We have to move forward. We are so close. I’m scared. Scared that we will lose everything and everyone else.”
Pandora’s passion spiked, “Even if we do, we have to push forward. Think about it! If we are going to the Outside, then this world shouldn’t matter, right?!”
Hopeless, I said, “How do we even know it’s real??”
Demanding my hope, she replied, “We don’t! We have to have faith! There’s no other way!”
I wiped away the tears, “Thank you.”
She hugged me again and great warmth pulled me out of the pain. She said, “That’s better. You’re facing the present. We only have a little ways to go now.”
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