Isaac McCray, a celebrated Victorian-era investigator, possessed a reputation that echoed through the narrow, cobblestone corridors of his quaint hamlet. His name lingered in the hazy corners of smoke-filled taverns, whispered in reverent tones. The complex tapestry of mysteries he’d unravelled with his sharp intellect was the stuff of legends.
When the innocent Hermine Read disappeared, consumed by the ancient, unforgiving forest that bordered their homes, the townsfolk pleaded with Isaac. They called upon his storied wisdom, his unrivalled acumen, to guide Hermine back to the warmth of her hearth, the sanctuary of her dwelling.
“Off she went, into the thicket,” an elderly man rasped, his face a web of wrinkles concealed under the brim of his weathered hat. “To gather herbs, she said.”
With this shred of information as his only guide, Isaac embarked on his quest into the forest’s emerald labyrinth. The dying glow of the setting sun cast eerie shadows, turning the familiar into the foreboding. He read the language of the forest — the crushed foliage underfoot, the panicked snap of twigs — each sign leading him to a glade throbbing with the vibrant pulse of nature.
Beneath the fading embrace of sunlight, he found Hermine. Her eyes held a secret that shimmered as profoundly as the stars that would soon adorn the night sky. “Miss Read,” he addressed her, his voice a comforting blend of stern authority and gentle reassurance. “The town is on tenterhooks. We need to return.”
Yet Hermine, with an enigmatic smile gracing her lips, enticed him deeper into the woodland’s heart. “You need to witness it, Mr. McCray,” she urged, her voice a soft murmur blending into the forest’s symphony. “The celebration awaits.”
They reached a riverside clearing, the site of a harvest festival in its joyful zenith. The townsfolk, intoxicated by the fervour, welcomed Isaac and Hermine into the heart of their celebrations. Isaac, surrendering his reservations, allowed the festive warmth to envelop him.
As the moon ascended her celestial throne, chalices brimming with a fragrant brew were shared. Isaac found himself cradling one such vessel. “To the harvest, and to our unity!” rang out a voice, inspiring a chorus of affirmation. Raising his chalice, Isaac joined the toast and drank. A sensation both chilling and comforting seeped into his being, pulling him into a fathomless abyss of unconsciousness.
Isaac woke to find himself in an otherworldly realm, divorced from his corporeal existence. His physical form lay inert on the ground, while his spirit, now a spectral echo, ascended into the ethereal expanse. The revelers around him had shed their earthly guise, their spectral figures engaged in a ghostly ballet. They moved towards a spectral boat moored at the riverbank, a spectral helmsman standing guard.
Every spectral entity offered the ferryman two coins — a time-honoured toll for passage to the afterlife. When Isaac’s turn came, his spectral hands were disconcertingly empty. Charon, the ferryman of ancient lore, regarded him with eyes as cold as the river’s depths. “Then you shall be left to Mothalig… who ever approaches, seeking to consume what is his due,” he declared, his voice a mournful hymn resonating in the spectral silence.
Isaac’s protestation, “No! There must be another way!” echoed fruitlessly in the spectral landscape. Ignoring his plea, Charon nudged the spectral vessel away. Hermine, now a passenger on the departing boat, offered Isaac a farewell salute, laden with sorrow. Her regretful eyes were the final memory he clung to before she disappeared into the spectral fog. Bereft and alone, Isaac was left on the spectral riverbank, his only companion the mournful howl of the wind.
Isaac’s spectral heart pounded in his chest as the landscape around him began to warp grotesquely. The once jovial festival grounds morphed into a terrifying parody of the mortal realm. Trees contorted in unseen torment, their leaves rustling with dissonant whispers. The wind carried the anguished wails of countless lost souls, their cries echoing in the frigid air.
From the distance, a formless entity began its approach — Mothalig. Its spectral form pulsed with a forbidding light, its shape shifting with each step. The spectral whispers grew into a deafening cacophony, each voice heralding imminent doom.
Despite his desperation, Isaac found himself rooted to the spot as if shackled by unseen chains. Terror gripped him as Mothalig drew nearer, its form becoming horrifyingly distinct — a monstrous beast of the spectral realm, its eyes ablaze with insatiable hunger. The reality of his predicament washed over him; he was stranded in this spectral realm, on the precipice of a fate more terrifying than death itself.
The path Charles traversed daily, past the weary antiquarian’s dwelling, was as predictable as the sunrise. One dreary afternoon, an ancient oil canvas ensnared his gaze. A woman of bygone centuries, her beauty a timeless enigma. Her eyes, seductive yet disturbing, beckoned him. Compelled, he procured the portrait, hanging it as his new living room centerpiece.
At first, the woman’s allure captivated him. The illusion of her gaze tracking his every move was but a parlor trick that intrigued him. But as the moon waxed and waned, a sense of dread crept into his heart. Her eyes, once mesmerizing, began to gnaw at his sanity, their gaze piercing through the veil of comfort.
One night, whispers from the abyss roused Charles from his restless slumber. The house, shrouded in an oppressive darkness, was broken only by the spectral glow of the lunar light. The susurrus drew him towards the living room. His heart pounded the drumbeat of impending doom.
The portrait was void. The woman had vanished.
Then, the whispers slithered from behind, cold as the grave. He turned, each movement a requiem for his dwindling courage. The woman from the canvas stood before him. Her once enchanting eyes were now hollow orbs, and her lips curled into a malevolent grin.
Reaching out, her hand was a grotesque fusion of flesh and art. As her icy touch connected with his chest, Charles felt his reality distort. His form began to warp, blending into the oil and canvas of the painting.
The final image Charles beheld before his existence was flattened into a cruel artistic facsimile was the woman, retreating back into the portrait, her hollow eyes and wicked smile a testament to her victory. The whispers were silenced, replaced by the chilling echoes of her laughter.
The following dawn, rays of sunlight bathed the room, casting a foreboding spotlight on the painting. Alongside the woman, there was a man, forever frozen in a tableau of terror. His eyes followed every observer, a grim reminder of his eternal torment.
I couldn’t see two feet in front of me as I wrestled against the roar that had suddenly appeared out of thin air. The gale was whistling so hard that my face felt like sandpaper. The ferocity of the storm clung to me as I howled to Vanity, “I can’t go on this way.”
In the face of nature’s wrath, Vanity hollered, “We shall not stop.” The buildings that once stood here are now decayed and rounded bodies. The dead, many with expressions of immediate dread, a few animal carcases remained out of the ground. It was a graveyard that had melted to the ground. At the tail end of its fury, a simple kiss of nuclear power fluttered through this city in its blatant embrace. In the street there are an array of tank-like war machines serving as obstacles, limits, and things to avoid. These machines, too, were nothing more than dead to remind someone of a vicious battle that was terminated with a single shot.
My face was barraged with sand as I yelled, “I cannot open my eyes.” The retched sand was so awful that I could not stop it from stinging. It was impossible for me to mitigate its blow. Vanity’s wings were boney and large, and when a shadow settled over me, I could see their large boney timbers. I peeked at them and said, “Thank you.” I felt moved by this gesture.
In all, we continued to fight for an hour and the surface storm didn’t show any signs of letting up. “Prina, up ahead, I think there is some shelter. I am picking up readings of several biological life forms that appear to be humans.”
“Biological readings?” I asked myself, hoping for a clear answer. “Is it safe?” I inquired.
“The storm is going to rip us apart if we do not escape. We must accept the risk. This is our only chance to find shelter.” she was right. As much as I loathed the idea of placing myself in danger once again, if I did not do so, we might have to die together.
“It’s worth a shot, but the idea of going through another nightmare doesn’t sit well with me.”
We continued marching forward through the turbulent earth. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” she assured me as she protected me from the sandstorm.
As the fangs of the aged continued to gnaw at me, the sand became increasingly painful as it split my skin in two. It clattered and thrashed against me. “Up ahead!” Velora shouted to me as she yelled. I tried my best to see what was up ahead, but I could only see shadowed objects; perhaps a wall? As we approached, however, it was apparent. It was enormous, like an aircraft carrier, but not. Although it was motionless, its enormous wheels appeared to move despite being very slowly.
The twirls of the grand warship were adorned with tank treads, and a border of shiny silver stripes covered its rich blue enamel, where there was paint. Its timeworn paint had been scraped off and rust had developed on the alloy, which was sure to not be made of nanomechanical components.
A sputter of “Wo.” could be heard from me. The thing dwarfed us. “What is it?”
“An Almighter, maskers drive them.”
Despite feeling foolish, she went on to say, “Maskers hide themselves from outsiders.” She gestured with her hand peeking through her fingers. Then she continued, “It should be fine for us to approach them.” I spotted a few people after that. They were completely covered in cloth from head to toe, aside from the hood covering their masks. They carried something that looked like spears. The “Maskers” would raise their weapons as we approached, indicating that they were in a combat situation.
As I snuggled up next to Velora’s femur, I had to keep an eye on her steps or, more specifically, I had to take care of her steps, as she did not seem bothered by me adhering to her like a child. I concealed myself behind the ram’s scalp. “Velora, they look violent.” I said, she caressed me on the head as if to assure me.
“They aren’t; they are pilgrims. Those masks are used to disguise their deformities among themselves, and the weapons are used as intimidation methods to deter would be attackers.”
It was evident that Velora was dead in her eyes. Confident, yet dead too. She knew better than I did, but these were the first “people” we had seen; or at least anything remotely human. They pointed those large, makeshift spears at us as we approached, and when we were a few yards away, one of them yelled, “We don’t want any trouble. Go on your way.”
The moment I saw Velora, I froze in place. My body was clenched against hers. “We are not here to cause trouble.” she said.
Upon starting to converse among themselves, I assumed that the two masked men were men. They did not appear to distinguish themselves as individuals, but I also observed those who gazed down from the deck without any signs of identification. Despite the lack of sound, one masked man dressed in brown rags greets us as soon as they have concluded their work, “Then why are you here?”
I feel Velora pushing on my back, pricking me to speak, “Shelter.”
The masker bowed down to my height. His body was gaunt with the spear resting on his shoulder. He was also steep. His mask looked like that of a carved tribesman, but I could tell they made it from scrap iron, and it was stained with rust. “Ah’ replica human, that is a strange thing to have.”
I am not a replica.” The masked men laughed at my dismay. “I am not a replica.”
It was immediately apparent that his laughter had ceased and he stood up straight. “I don’t know what you are trying to accomplish. We will not fall for your trickery, devil. You must go before I become angry.”
In response, Velora stamps her hooove on the ground. “We have food and water. But the dust storm is unavoidable. She will die as a result.”
“Alright, let’s assume you are a human. What are you doing traveling with a devil from below?” One of the maskers goes up and pulls him aside. One of them whispers to the other. Again, it is impossible to hear them.
‘Velora, they’re not going to let us in are they?’ I remarked to her.
It does not seem as though she missed a beat and never diverted her gaze away from the maskers as she replied “We will walk in their wake until the storm has passed.”
Two men are still chatting. Several of them have gathered at the ship’s gates. The Masker from before returns this time with four others. “Ha ha, so you want to come on the ship.” An intimidating Masker says.
As I timidly chirped, “I would… just until the storm ends. It has been extremely harsh on me.”
Masker gave me a simple glance. He then gathers in a deep breath and lets it out gently. “You are very convincing, even got some errosion on you, thin thin layers of skin too.” He twisted his head and nodded.
“Alright, wait here a minute. Let’s check something.” One of the other Maskers said. They wandered away from us, leaving us alone with the first Masker.
My words were veiled under the cloak of Velora’s insurance policy, as I confided, “I am not happy about this.”
As Velora glances down at me, she takes a deep breath. “Where are they going?” she asked the lone Masker that was left to guard.
“They are going to get a bio-scanner.” The Masker said leaning on his spear. “If you two are lying and wasting our time, you will pay with your lives.” Velora stamped forward at the assertion, her face expressed her clear distan for such words as her face transformed into something more animal like. “But if you want to leave with your lives, you can. Just do it before he comes back.” The man croaked.
Not wanting to watch the man be slaughtered, I walked between them. “It is fine, we can wait.” I said.
I saw the Masker tighten his grip on the large pike, looking down at me he said, “You’re serious about being human,” locking each joint of his body.
I softly uttered, “I am human.” I could tell by the way the Maskers held onto his spear and moved it from side to side that he was nervous, but why? I had no idea if it was me, or if it was Velora.
In the wake of the torn out wall of the Almighter, the other Maskers collapsed back into a huge hole in the wall. Observing in silence for what seemed like an eternity, one of them finally returns, while the others remain in the foyer. The man was carrying a strange device that reminded me of a camcorder. He casually strolled over, giving us the opportunity to give up. Velora, however, was certain that this was true. I slipped into her arms, though what if it is defective? They would surely come upon us with their spears, a troop of them stabbing at us as they approached.
“This is old tech, but I will see if you’re telling the truth.” He said before pointing the thing at me. He corrects some nobs on the side of the camera-like machine. I listen to an exclamation through the other end of the machine. He looks at the instrument. The other man jumps over to him almost knocking his fellow over. He stares down at the apparatus and glances up. “No way. Get a load of this guys! She is clean, like, completely clean.” He looks at the instrument again as the other Maskers rush over to see it.
A layer of orange red corrosion covered the surfaces inside the Almighter. Three Maskers guided me through the creaking giant, the narrow halls resembling a maze of metallic intestines. A broth emanating from the leaky pipes along the walls reminded me of mucus. Velora followed behind closely, squeezing her body through the narrow passageways with difficulty. I could not make out the color of the iron pivots and boilers, which were coated in a dense coat of green patina and the floor had nothing better than scaffolding and cables under the scaffolding. “Watch your step.” one masker instructed me as he looked at me with that considerable iron mask.
Keeping in the wake of his rags, I reply, “I will, thank you.” As we reached an enormous staircase, it opened to a strange room at the top. In addition to the large size of the chamber, several more Maskers are working on shifts and crowbars in the chamber. A large glass window provides a view of the surrounding areas for the inhabitants.
A masker shouted, “Captain.” He turned toward him in a broad, torn coat. It was clear that his face was also masked, but he wore a cloak that suggested nobility declined. It was damaged and tethered. The gold on the hems was tarnished, and a palm of dirt with mud, and mold blemished his wardrobe. Large stretches of bloodstains also sprayed the clothing.
“My lord!” The man shouts startled as he stares straight at Velora. “What in the world are you thinking allowing that horrible thing in here?” I peered back to see her straighten up.
One guard explained, “She is the girl’s guardian, and she requested that this… thing be kept with her.”
I could see he was scanning Velora as he came closer to me. “How did you survive out there?” he whined, disregarding her. He took several steps towards me to get a better look at me.
A blue eye regarded me in the fissures of his mask, a sleek white complexion. One eye was shadowed while the other eye was white. I lied to the captain, stating that I was from a colony of scientists with a strict no contact policy. The captain rubbed his mask in delight. Despite the fact that people have changed significantly, one thing has remained the same. It is those subtle human ticks. It is the ways in which we communicate through the most primitive vocabularies. Why do such things? Even so, the stroking of the chin spoke to me. He spoke even without intending to do so.
“What are you doing outside of your colony? I would assume that you do not leave it very often.”
I froze, fear encroaching on my mind. Velora says, “The systems are failing. We are collecting supplies.” Thank goodness she saved me from lying, though I would do so plenty before we had finished. “We require rations and water as well.”
“I am delighted to discover that you are standing before me. Of course, we have plenty, and hey, we mostly use water for cleaning anyway. I will exchange for it.” the captain replied. “I am glad to help.”
“How?” Velora asks. He stabilizes his footing and begins walking towards us.
“She needs to eat?”, said the captain to me not even giving Velora any creedance at all. He placed his hand on my shoulder. I glanced over to Velora, who did not appear concerned. I looked at an inscrutable mask, tribal in nature, with gold accents, which reminded me of some ancient kin of some jungle tribe. “Isn’t that why you need the rations?” he asked.
As Velora said with satisfying precision, I really believed she was telling the truth. “Everyone in the colony is 100% biologically pure, with no nanomachine systems.” I could not see past the mask that hides his every detail.
The captain exclaimed, “Impossible!”
“It’s true. We have a disease, it is caustic to nanomachines.” I impressed myself with my jargon. Would the rouse remain, however, I was not certain, and with no way of seeing their expression, it was impossible to tell. Though I must concede, it was entertaining. These people put on masks, and I enjoyed one of my own. Somehow in that I found that my anonymity gave me something more, a power I carried, and in it I developed a secret vulnerability. The truth.
In light of this additional knowledge, the maskers all shifted towards me. One could practically see the bewilderment on their faces. Though it persisted well sheltered, the absence of stillness suggests they were astounded. “How? How can this be?” they asked.
In response to Velora’s question, she replied, “We keep them well.”.
A masker blurts out, “But, but, how are they alive?”
As she lightly placed his hand on my back, Velora continued to speak. “There is reproduction within the colony. They live and die. This one is young but she is almost ready to reproduce as well.”
The captain stared at them and back at me as he said, “We must know where the colony is. I must see the people.”
My gaze returned quickly to Velora’s face. Her pompous grin stretched across her lips. “I am afraid we cannot tell you. We must keep such things secret.” The captain’s shoulders slumped, his expectations shattered instantly. “They hired me as a guard for this reason. However, I am surprised that you have rations. I do not understand the reason for carrying such useless items around.”
“Hoping to find a living human.” the captain gruffly states. “You give us hope. If there is one colony, then there is bound to be more. We have searched the earth for a living human, collecting what we can to make them stronger.” The captain turns away from us. “I should hope my disappointment is understandable, however. Such treasures must remain secret. We will need to discuss your home in great detail. I am envious of you.” I could hear saliva dripping down his mask as he spoke. “I never thought anyone survived. It is good to know that somewhere in the world, something is being done to restore the situation.”
“You must be tired. Rest assured, you are safe within these walls. As for food, we have plenty. You are welcome to consume as much as you like.” In the last moment, I wished I could discuss with him so much more. I wanted to let him know about my true mission to destroy Asergile.
My gaze drew to a desolate landscape as I gazed out from the balcony of the incomprehensible machine. The horizon was filled with destroyed buildings. There were many decaying and dark areas throughout the scenery. Large sections had that fleshy glaze. From a distance, you could see the great nerves pumping blood from the massive arteries. There was a crimson haze accompanied by occasional flashes of lightning.
Velora was chatting with a few of the maskers downstairs about weapons. She seemed to be at home in a place like this, as if Velora were acquainted with a place like this. Made me wonder, where did she come from. Who was she exactly? I shifted turning from the balcony and found a bleak stare. I jumped! Masker! A woman in a threadbare gown, sullen and grim. I seized my chest as I faced her with alarm. “I am sorry deary, I did not mean to frighten you.” I took a moment to catch my breath as words would not crawl from my throat. “I had to see you for myself. I do apologize.”
After a moment of confusion, I gathered my thoughts and replied, “It’s no problem.” The alien woman made me feel different, yet I must admit, it made me feel special. “I am wondering. Is there really no one like me?” I asked.
She slowly goes over to the porch, dragging the hem of her dress as her feet suggest it stashed away horrors under those rags. “It has been so long since I have a seen a someone with so few blemishes, I almost forgot what someone looked like without them.” She replied as she got closer. “Can I, can I touch your skin with my hand?” It was an odd request, though one I was happy to grant. I nodded my head to her. She took off a patchwork leather glove from her hand as she reached. Three claw-like things with steel cables traveling up the arm, veiled by her cloths. Her hand was wilted and felt like sandpaper across my skin. “Your so smooth. I had forgotten. So this is what we had.” She hastily stuck her glove back on.
“May I ask something of you,” the masker slowly bowed. “I want to see you without your mask?”
She swings the expressionless mask towards me. “I could not bear it. This mask is my face now. The abomination that I have become. I was once human, whether you believe it or not, at least that’s what they say. Memory is a funny thing. It comes and goes as it pleases. Now I can hardly consider myself human at all.” It was there with her canvased between the bankrupts and the red sky, that I realized it. There was no hope in her. “I know you lied darling.” It disturbed me, I curled my hand inward hiding my palms. “I know you are not part of any colony that has others like you. You would not ask if there was any other like you if it was true.”
With a heavy throat I quipped, “I didn’t lie.”
“That is a dream too perfect to be true.” the masker replied, looking at me with that expressionless mask.
“Then what do you think I am?”
“A haunted memory from a past long ago. A past where there were cities, and flowers, and all the things you remember.” She angled herself to stare off the balcony. “But now, you’re a ghost. My eyes have lied to me, yet you stand. You are an unfortunate soul. Forced to walk and toil with death. You walk in a land that hates you. Your very existence insults this world. You are not supposed to touch the ground here. You walk where fear treads. I feel sorry for you.” There was a silence we shared. The futility of my plight was becoming heavy on my heart… yet I planted my life in Velora’s arms. She was my guardian angel sent by God, at least I believed that was true.
“I hate to be a bother but I am getting tired.” She slowly bends her neck. I realize she did not expect to be cruel with her words, but they cut deep all the same.
She shifts to regard me. “Yes, that’s right. I forgot what it was like to slumber. As I said, a dream too perfect.” A long sigh exits the woman’s nostrils. “Tomorrow, before you leave, come to my room below. I have a gift for you.”
“Of course.” I nodded and she disappeared, as I trudged over to the makeshift bed of cartons and boxes and lay down my head against the lumber and closed my eyes.
I awoke to fear creeping between the sodden sheets as I laid slumber. Startled, it forced me out of my bed. The covers rolled off my body, now sitting up in the dim chamber. My left hand trembled and floundered. The flesh raised up and coiled as something was rolling under Vanity’s arm. I flipped the borrowed hand over to look at a crack in my palm exposing a cavity. The teeth spread wide and delivered a wail I quickly joined. My fingers disjointed, rupturing the meat from my bone as rods of metal coil out of them. My forearm also gives way, turning into razor wire. It latches onto the rear of my head cutting deep, leaving me shrieking.
I opened my eyes to be lying quietly in my makeshift bed. I was sweating and my heart was pounding. I knew I would not be having any more sleep that night.
I rose from my rusty bed and drove the whole slathered rag off me. Sitting up I noticed Velora standing in the room brooding over me. “Have you been watching me all night?”
“I don’t sleep. You know that.” she reminds me. I delivered a long sigh in this humid heat. The sky was still thick with red clouds, but they were brighter. The sun must be out. Turning my legs over the bed, I stood up.
“I must go do something.”
Traveling through the network of iron tunnels; narrow arteries, channels in which the machine breathed, was difficult. The maze became more complex as the trail narrowed from moaning cogs and pumps. I showed up at the terrace soon after. The masker was waiting for me; hunched over the rusty railing. She reminded me of an injured bird hunched over like that. The room was not unlike the one I settled into. There were no decorations at all. Nothing… aside from a few trunks to hold her things. The cabin was soulless. She gestured to me and that impassive mask stared back at me. “Oh good you came. I was starting to worry you would not show up.” I continued my walk over to her along the withered plating. She reached under her cloak and drew out a mask. “Here take this with you, it will protect you from the elements.”
It looked akin to a face guard with goggles. It was all one piece with a ventilator around the mouth. It strapped on from the back and allowed my hair forehead and hair to lay over the covering. “That is mighty kind of you.” I managed before she held my speech with the flap of her hand. The lady then moves over to a box. She leans in and captures a hard piece of metal. Yanking it from the box, she reveals itself to be a complete set of armor. It is sturdy and the metal portions are kept together by cloth. The elegant structure had my eyes looking all over the thing. The fibers of the cloth looked curious but remarkably durable. It looked untarnished, like it was factory produced. “I.. I can’t!” “Don’t be silly my dear, of course you can, and you will!” the masker sternly says. “You are not traveling to get food for your colony now are you?” She was right. “Don’t worry my dear. I won’t out you. I don’t know what your true mission is, but you are going to need some help. That demon you have out there bruting around for you, can’t always keep you safe.”
I hesitantly reach towards the costume. “Are you sure?” the woman softly nods. I stick my arm in the suit. Then my other arm and step into the legs. The trunk of the armor folds over mine. It dips at first, but suddenly the armor springs to life and fits snuggly against my chest. I grab the mask put it on my face and fasten the back. The suit automatically adapts to my size binding itself against my skin thoroughly. The large cloak would be plenty sufficient to stop the desert sand. The mask fit well too. It was more like a gas mask. It covered my eyes perfectly and ended at my forehead. “There, don’t you look the part of a wanderer now.”
The full assembly fit very finely. Almost as if I was not wearing any of it. Only the extra weight, I noticed. “I cannot thank you enough for this.” I said to her. “There is one last thing I want to give you.” She turns around and combs through the trunk. “Ah, here.” with her outstretched hand she displays a narrow cylinder to me. I reach out and pick it up. Studying the thing, I cannot figure out what it is. “I dont ’t understand.”
“Hmmm, strange.” She made for the cylinder in my palm. “It’s a beam sword.” the masker lifts it from me and presses a small switch on the side. Instantly out of the edge of it a spark reached out. It displaced a faint light gleaming from it and the circling area. “Wo.” is all I could muster. She renounced the laser sword and then handed it back to me. A slithering sound from the hall directs my attention. I swiftly turn to look at a bunch of slithering cables and body parts coming from the hall. “What is that?” the masked woman steps in front of me, as if to guard me.
However, as the body parts and cables came into the room I could make out Velora’s face. The confusion of tangled parts reform her body as she is growing together she peers at me. “Prina! What are you doing!?”
“What the hell Velora?” I say shocked and a little frightened if I am to be honest.
“You are a devil are you not?” the masker says to Velora.
She regards her for a moment, stern faced and almost, almost haunting. “Maybe.”
“Take care of her.”
“I wouldn’t harm her.” Velora growls quietly, clearly offended by the maskers bias. “Did she give you that armor?” I nodded my head sheepishly. “Thank you, it is very kind of you.”
“I dont know why? She reminds me of my daughter. It was the least I could do.”
“Your daughter?” I ask.
For a moment the masker paused to look at me. She swiftly turns away lowering her head. “You take care of that girl. You don’t want the blood child on your vile hands.” She continues into the hall without even looking back.
“Come Prina.” Velora says as she makes her way down the staircase to the desert below. I turned to look back at the woman as she walked away. Into the shadows far from my sight she left and I too walked my own path following after Velora, gripping the beam sword in hand.
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Wherever she was taking me, it was going to be a long journey. All I knew was that I could be led to the slaughter, but why should I be lulled into a false sense of security if that is what she was going to do? Then again, there were a lot of weird things going on as well. “Velora,” I asked.
“Mmm.” she hummed.
“Where are you taking me?”
“We cannot stop moving.” She stops and looks up. “You see the skies.” I glanced up at the usual red, orange sky. There were a few dark clouds and when I say dark, I mean raven black clouds. Though being honest most everything looked harmful. “That is a sign of caustic rain. We need to find shelter. Understand?” she gazed down at me. It was odd, it almost felt like… Vanity eyes were looking at me.
“Yeah, I understand.”
An abandoned diner became our shelter. The building’s interior had long since collapsed. Over our heads hung a rusted metal canopy. It had been abandoned for a long time. The shadows of several people huddled near the building’s entrance testified to a blast that vaporized them, reducing their existence to burned marks on the wall. Just before they died, I wondered what they saw. In line, waiting to be seated. Caught up in a wall of fire. Probably talking about work or something trivial. There was no way they could have even known. The blast gave them enough time to huddle together. Saying the last I love you’s they would ever say. Gone. Only a whisper of ash is left to be carried away by the wind. There was some flesh sprouting on the side of the building, but I guess it’s normal now.
I grabbed a toppled over metal chair as I walked across the ruined lot. Although some parts of the chair were melted, I was able to lift it up. As I pushed on the seat and legs with my hands, I determined that it could support my weight. In the middle of the parking lot, Velora lay on smooth pavement. Almost like a horse lying down, she bent her legs. My feet scrape on the concrete as I drag the chair to where she sat. After that, I seated myself in front of her.
She was really something. Her torso looks as if it would hurt. In light of the mechanical device covering her body, it is possible to see exposed muscle and insides of her body against the metallic armor covering her. She appears to have been cut off up to her stomach but not removed. If not for the horns and ears, her face looked normal. “Why are you staring at me like that?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware.” I said though in all truth it hurt me to look at her.
“Am I that horrible to look upon that you would recoil at my sight?” she asked curiously. In truth, it was indeed unsettling because the metal rods that extended her withered and stitched hands, the visible spine fused with metal plates like a serpent, and the anthropomorphic legs clearly misshaped by some sick torture device that was supposed to resemble a canine’s hind leg, made me feel uneasy.Although whoever did this to her felt the need to preserve her porcelain smooth face. A stamp of normalcy upon something entirely hideous.
“No… it’s not any of that. But I mean… does it hurt?” Her lips curled into a small smile as she wiped the corners of her mouth. “I mean the exposed muscle.”
She calmly replies, “No.”
“I’ll be honest with you.” I muttered. “You scare me.”
There is no doubt that Velora found this amusing. As she laughed, she held her upper body up with both arms. “You have every right to be afraid. When things first went south, I used to be a war machine. My mere presence must have made you feel dreadful.” She said, which brought no comfort to me. In the past, I burned entire cities to the ground by myself. In the eyes of the world, I was a scourge.” As she stretched her arms and let out a little yawn, she said, “sadly, there is no world left for me to destroy.”
My mind kept wandering to the wars of my youth. Bullets and bombs killed people during times of terror. Would they have fought for it if they had known this is what the world would become? Despite my suspicions, I was not surprised. My life has not been taken by her. In the absence of meaning, do machines or demons still pursue their cause? “What are you anyway?”
“I don’t know.” She replied in a quiet tone.
“Are you an android?”
Velora shook her head at the notion. “I am something else.”
In the distance, I saw a drop of the blackest rain I’ve ever seen. A sizzle accompanied the little black drops. It was certainly capable of boring holes in just about anything it came into contact with. “Even the rain can harm you here.” I huddle with my legs on the chair. “What makes this place so untouched?”
“Special metal was used for the roof here.” Velora replied causally. “It will hold up for a while.” With her mechanical blade she tapped her chin, then pointed at me, even though I didn’t feel threatened by it. “What was something like you doing out here in the first place?”
Panicking, I said the first thing that came to mind. “I can’t tell you.” An honest reply, but one lacking in tact. It wasn’t clear to me whether I could trust her. There was silence from Velora. Perhaps I was a little harsh in shutting her down.
The two of us sat in silence for a while. There was something odd about it. My mind was occupied by the sound of sizzling, but I’m not sure how long it has been since I heard it.
“You know Prina, we enjoy your company.” There was a slight tug on one of her arms as she held on to the other arm. “It gets boring with no one to talk to, you know. It breaks up the monotony of it all.”
It really was a secret… at least Vanity said it was. Then again, if she was… Vanity in some form, she would know this already, to some brief context at least. “So, when you assimilate people, what happens to them?”
“They become a part of me. They do exist, but they do not exist in the same way. I am a collection of their thoughts. The more people that I assimilate, the more I hear them, so to speak. I find it rather annoying, to be honest.” Maybe she wasn’t so horrid.
My heart pounded. “If Vanity, is… do you know her thoughts?”
Velora shook her head. “We could, or perhaps we do, but some thoughts have not been easy to grasp. There are many secrets she keeps from us. I wish she would tell me. During this entire time, I have been arguing with her about what possessions she has kept, but she is so tired. She does not trust us. Sadly, she thinks we will harm you.”
“Why don’t you just… force her too, I mean you could do that right.” I asked even though the expected answer terrified me.
Vanity smirked. “You would not understand… we could lie to you. You would not know. So really, does it matter what we say to you?”
“I am trying to destroy Azergile.” I relaxed completely with her. Telling her everything that had happened to me up until that point. I broke down crying and Velora actually hugged me. “Velora I was so scared.” I wrapped my arms around her and held on. I felt cradled in her arms as if I was a child held by a mother.
Velora said apologetically, “Your plan is impossible.”
I pull away from Velora. “What? Why?”
“Azergile is across the ocean. You would never make it. You would probably die just from the struggle of the journey.” She looked at me strangely. “So that is what she meant.” Velora let me down onto the chair. My face was to my feet and I felt a deep sense of sorrow welling inside me. “There are only two ways to get there?” I looked up at Velora playing with her horns. “One way. Which is what I would choose: an airship? Seeing as how neither of us has one, it’s going to be very difficult to get over there.”
“What’s the other?”
Velora raised her eyebrow. “Under the ocean, through the Amala.” She said it with such disdain, as though she was spitting the words from her mouth. “It’s an evil place. Dangerous is an understatement. They are controlled by the families. They made things even worse than me. Devils dwell down there. Those that get caught in that demonic underworld are trapped in darkness. Constantly in torment. Starved and thirsty. They devour any hope they can find to be left empty of it. There entire life is nothing more than to be torn to pieces screaming and wailing for all eternity.”
I shivered at the horrific description of that place. “So we have to get an airship. Alright.” I said with hope.
Velora rose to her feet. “If you insist on pursuing Azergile, I will be by your side. However, I suggest we hear the word from an AI.”
I thought to myself, “A robot.”. That’s a strange statement. A puzzled look crosses my face as I look at her.
“I see you are not familiar. He is not just any AI. He is very old. In fact he might be older than Azergile. But that is a very, very long way away. We will have to travel by foot there but it will be worth your while,” she said. “It will be shorter if we find a caravan along the way. We can travel with them for a while.” I nodded my head in agreement. “You seem eager.”
“I am.” Looking at the rubble of the city I can’t help but wonder what happened to everyone. “Velora, I don’t understand one thing. Where have all the people gone? You said if we can catch a caravan, that means there are others.”
Velora stretched. “What do you mean?”
“I have seen no one since I was around. I have searched all over this city and I have found no one.” I said.
Velora scrunched her nose. “You found lots of people.”
“No, I don’t mean the monsters. I mean human beings.” I stared at the broken and dead city in front of me filled with wicked nightmares and wondered where they were.
“I am confused. I saved you from several human’s already.”
What Velora said buzzed around in my head. She saved me from humans. What those things were not human. That’s when it hit me. The rules. “No.” I hissed. “It can’t be.” Those things were, were people. I couldn’t help it. My stomach retched, gagging as though a thick brick had struck my throat. The sour taste of vomit filled my mouth as I let it fall to the floor.
As a hand touched my back, I felt a sense of calm. “Are you ok?”
“No.” Screamed Velora as I turned my face towards her. “This isn’t the world, this is a nightmare.”
Velora regarded me for several moments. I can tell she does not know what to do. “I am confused. Did you not know those were people?”
I throw my arms to the side. “Of course I did not know they were people. A dog! What made a man into a dog?”
“The nano machines do it. Azergile changes their shapes out of curiosity.”
“No… this is all wrong. What happened to all the cars and the people walking the streets? The sky, the sky isn’t blue and everything is in ruins.”
Slack jawed, the girl with many arms seemed stunned, “You’re from before the AI empires.”
“I don’t know!”
“What is the last thing you remember from before? Before, you were frozen.”
“I don’t know. I was a kid. I remember them telling me they were planning to freeze me because I had a disease that was going to kill me.”
Velora squinted and cocked her head, “So, you remember the old world?” I nodded my head. “Then I truly feel sorry for you.”
We had been in the suburban wastelands for hours since leaving the city. Into the rubble-strewn wasteland. Almost everything was covered in dust. Whatever was once here has been reduced to the earth. In the gnawing teeth of time, the buildings remained nothing more than stumps, hollowed bones of a land long forgotten. Everywhere you walked, precious materials littered the streets like junk. People’s pictures, alive or dead, did it matter anymore?
My legs were aching, so I stopped to rub them. While strong, my ability to walk was not endless. There was a feeling that Velora had an endless supply of stamina. “Velora,” I said. She turned toward me with that proud expression on her face. Even though her armor was dull, it seemed to shine. “I have to rest.”
“Why are you refusing to walk? Come on.” She seemed annoyed by my human qualities. She kept her pace with little regard. It made me wonder if what we were doing was safe. It seemed like she was in a hurry, so I decided to follow after her.
As I continued up the path, I huffed. Within a short period of time, I felt weaker than I had ever felt before. My knees buckled, and I fell onto a soft blanket of dust. As soon as I landed, a plum of dust rose up. Gasping for breath, I rolled onto my back. When Velora stomped her hooves, the ground vibrated, causing the ground to be disturbed. As she stands over me, her form blocks out the sun. As I gazed up at her goat-like legs, I noticed her red hair and the skulls staring down at me. I wheezed, “It hurts too much. I need water.”
“Why do you need water?” Velora asked with such confusion.
“I am thirsty.”
“I don’t understand.”
Eh, she wouldn’t. Does she really know as much as she says she does? I mean, it’s a human trait to need water. “I need water to survive.”
For a moment, her eyes are fixed on me. While I could see annoyance with them, I knew there was more to it. In a bending motion, Velora lowers her forelegs and scoops me into her arms. “I heard humans are fragile and require maintenance multiple times a day. I guess the rumors are true.” She lifted me off the ground and held me in her arms. Her limbs are not complete. They seemed to show breaks in the bone. My legs dangled from her enormous arms as my head rested on her other arm. As she rose to her full height, I could not help but be impressed. As she carried me, she looked much larger than me. Looking over from this vantage point, I could see a considerable distance. It’s amazing how much a few feet can change things.
“Velora,” I said.
“Yes.” She replied in her usual unenthusiastic voice.
“Thank you for carrying me.” She did not reply to me, but I could see a slight glimmer in her eyes and her cheeks raise.
Ghosts drifted from the dusty ruins to the sky as the wind blew across them. The toppled building gave me a clear view of everything. Nothing remained but the powder that had camouflaged the buildings sticking out of the ground. Hard looking spikes, and of course the endless bodies reaching out of the sands. Their homes were filled with things spilling out. We have reached the end of the world. Everything is dead, and nothing can die further. I rested atop a piece of plywood, no doubt discarded from one of these structures, as I surveyed the desolate land. With my hand, I brushed it off, watching it fly away like pollen. “Here, drink this.” Velora held out a bottle of water to me. “Thanks.” Screwing off the cap of the bottle, I brought the lukewarm liquid to my mouth. It was a precious liquid and I sucked down quite a bit of it. “Refreshing.”
Velora poked at things as she toddled around. As I sat up and walked toward her, I didn’t exactly know what she was doing. “Hey, what’s with all the poking around?”
As we looked over the ocean of debris around us, she said, “Shelter.” But there’s nothing to be found here.
“No, I don’t believe you’ll have any luck finding one here. Let’s go to the next place since it’s getting late.” I replied.
Velora turned her head toward me and stopped. This intimidated me at first as she towered over me. “Your hurt.”
“Nah, I am not. I can walk.” I said.
Clearly, she wasn’t happy about something, but hid it… like Vanity did. Let’s not get into that. With an open palm, I rubbed the side of the house as I ran along the dusty old road. As I turn back to Velora, I shout. “Well, are you coming?” She nodded and followed me.
It was unbearably hot. My face was drenched with sweat as I floated in a sea of sand. Beyond the swirling haze of sweltering heat, I could see a mountain. “Velora, look at that.” A large iron building. From a distance, the building looked like a military installation or laboratory built into the side of a mountain. At least, it appeared that way from a distance. In spite of this, the walls of the building were scarred. In the past, there must have been a battle there. The place seemed vacant now however, so they must have failed in their defense.
She replied, “That’ll work.”
Our path crossed a large field that was open and sand-filled, remnants of painted lines visible in the sand. There was no doubt that this was a parking lot. My attention was drawn to the massive armored front door of the building. “I think they locked the doors.” I replied, banging my fist against the metal.
“That is not a problem.” She smirked and struck the metal with her scorpion’s stinger, ripping through the interior of the door. Silicon circuits and wires spilled out as she yanked her tail from the shadowy hole. The door opened with a thump and a loud creak.
Wide eyed I shouted, “Wow, I didn’t know you could do that.”
After she had retracted the blade, she slipped past me, razor spikes and all. “Just my tail, young lady.” I looked at the deep gash in the inch thick iron plating. It amazed me at the strength of her tail, but also at how strong she was.
“Well I think it’s cool.” A toothy grin crossed her face as she led the way into the dark building with an air of confidence that suggested she has a good understanding of the place. Upon entering the dark lobby of the building, there was a gigantic crystallized tree which was quite striking.
I was deep in awe of the tree when Velora’s voice broke my trance. “I will search this building out. You wait here.” she said.
My heart sank as I cried, “What? I want to come with you, this place is beautiful!”
Shaking her head, she stated, “I am not comfortable with that.”.
As horrific as the things I have witnessed thus far, there are likely to be many nightmarish evils that I have yet to encounter. The truth was, Velora was right. Shame. “Fine.” I huffed and folded my arms. Perhaps she would allow me to explore this place once she had been through it herself. Then again, I never really knew how large this complex was. As with the colony I came from, the interior of this building was impressive and I could tell it once was alive. Now the ravines were dry and dead.
It seemed as if she had spent a long time in the poorly lit corridor. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. The thought that Velora had grown tired of my presence filled me with a certain amount of worry. My voice echoed in vain as I called out, “Velora, you didn’t leave me, did you?” From the black bench I was sitting on, I slowly rose. Standing in the foyer, I looked down the dark corridor.
There was something about this feeling that I could not shake. My heart racing, I decided to brave the darkness and venture into the shadowed hall where Velora had entered. It was mighty dark. As I cowered down, alone in that shadowy place, I decided I would venture into it myself.
As the hallway continued, I was drawn to a dull glow at the end. I decided I would begin my search there. I followed the glow as I moved down the hall, to a room whose walls were lit by a bright light. Before entering the room, I held my breath as I approached the threshold. The polished floors seemed like they were made of water, and the ceiling projected a sky like the one in my colony. The room was lined with crystallized white trees.
A bench stands in front of me and I sit on it. It was amazing, it really was amazing. These producers knew what elegance was, yet they seemed lost in their own world. Who designed these structures? Who created the nightmare outside? As if these buildings were shrines to what was right in the world, and the outside was all that was left.
This room was furnished with polished white metal that was trimmed in gold and silver. It was surrounded by crystalized plants and floating lights suspended in mid-air. These floating lights seemed to exist out of thin air. Although shadowed, it was evident that the walls were also windows for a larger complex. Tube lights surrounded by gold metal shed a bright white light as they travelled downwards. I could barely see the electricity trapped within the blue glowing circular objects. There were rivers of water flowing; connected to an elaborate network of tunnels. Like the room, it had crystallized wildlife as well.
Turning my head, I noticed something moving in a dark hall. “Velora?” I questioned the dark. My body stiffened as the creature began walking towards me. Despite my best efforts, I did not receive a response; and as I was ready to call again, I realized that it was not large enough to be Velora. The creature, a quadruped, walked out of the darkness into the light to reveal something that appeared to be a massive bear without fur, but not quite like one.
A mask of nothing was covering its face, except for a giant nostril and a row of razor teeth. A large portion of sharp bone protruded from where it should have had paws or something else. Hyperventilating, the creature sneezes into the room, sniffing the air with its massive hole in its head. After getting up from the bench, “Velora!” I scream out in panic. I amble behind a tree. The creature moved with an unnatural speed as if it was in stop motion, sniffing the bench where I had just been.
Continuing to scream, I back away from the tree and enter the dark hall. I looked up to the end of the hall and saw another dark figure blocking my way. I shrieked “Velora!” as my voice cracked. A dull weeze escaped my lungs as I huddled up. A hand glided over my head to gently rest on the top of it. My stomach sank as I looked up at the figure in the hall. I realize it’s Velora. It was almost impossible to see her face past the armor and skulls but I knew that was her for sure. Her boney fingers left my hair while she stood guard. She had come to save me.
With all four of her arms, Veleva seized the creature and speared the creature’s leg with her blade arm. The two pieces she created spasmed on the ground, making silent gasps for air. Then she tore it as though it were nothing more than a piece of paper. The blood was everywhere.
The quiet voice that emanated from Velora scolded loudly, “Silence. Follow.”
“I told you to wait in the lobby.” Velora said.
She was silent the entire way back to the lobby, even when she was preparing our meal. She now hurled heavy words at me. “I… I got scared.”.
As she explained, “This colony was compromised. All the humans were twisted. It was indeed a Biogenetic lab, which essentially served as a laboratory for the creation of monstrosities, which were then released on the world to destroy and kill all they liked.”
My lips quivered with the very words that I uttered. “Why would they do that?” I asked.
As Velora sat up and stretched her limbs, she commented, “I am not sure why humans are obsessed with killing each other, but otherwise, it appears that their experiment has resulted in people being messed up.”
My eyes were drawn to the rations that Velora brought back. “Well, at least we got food and water from this.” Brown containers sealed in clear plastic. My guess was that the nanomachines maintain a constant temperature and get rid of any mold in the colony. “Hey Velora, I think I am getting sleepy.” I said to her.
“Although it’s quite primitive, I know you need sleep. I’ve spoken with the others about it. They didn’t forget, so we filled me in. That’s fine with me, I’ll wait by your side.” Velora said.
“You don’t sleep?” I asked.
“No.” she simply stated. I found myself comfortable with the thought of being guarded when I slept. Even though she appeared to be something out of a horror movie, Velora was quite charming. I snuggled up close to Velora and closed my eyes, enjoying the strange but welcome sensation as she glided her fingers through my hair. The feeling was strange but welcoming as I drifted off to sleep.
My eyes opened to find Velora standing behind me. I stretched my arms out and yawned. I blinked my eyes a few times and stretched as I gave my self some time to wake up. “Thanks, Velora, for everything.” I said groggily.
“That’s only because I find you curious.”
As I picked up a ration and tore off the top, I asked, “In what way?”
Velora adjusted herself as I rested my back on her leg. “It just comes naturally to me.”
“So, is it night or is it day?” I asked.
“Not sure. The dark haze and the lights in the sky reveal nothing. Just that haze.”
My mouth started to water. “Nothing in this world is as it used to be. Hmmm, I wonder what God thinks of all this.” I began sipping at the mush pack in my hand.
“The creation of Azergile has now come into being and the God of men has ceased to speak.”
I ponder that thought, had God gone silent. “I don’t think he has. Perhaps they just weren’t listening to him. While I can’t remember their faces I remember my Father saying that we had abandoned God. He prayed still though. My Mother did too.”
Looking down at me, Velora said, “Did he heal your illness?”
There was no way for me to determine what my illness was. I contemplated that thought and replied, “Well, my sickness could perhaps save the world.” It is true that if they were to cure me, there would be no type of remedy, no hope for humanity.
“This was caused by the science of man, not your God. Your God may have watched the horrific events, but he did not intervene. Foolish, you trust in such a God.”
I drank the ration while saying, “You can look at it that way or you can see it another way. God brought me this far and he will see me through. After all, he brought me you.” Velora was silent, unable to express herself in that silence. Nevertheless, her head pat would follow.
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Dance macabre, flesh and bones, lay silent as I have. Despite being dead to the world, she was alive, sleeping in peace. Here, in this gap, I hide from this misery, for there is no shelter from such indignity. It is only in my mute dream that I can lay sheltered from the shadows that haunt these grounds from the darkness of the world. In this place, there was no one who could harm me. Wistfully, I knew I needed to wake up once again to the crumbling dawn. Inhaling a deeply fetid aroma, I rise up to the surface of the real world. My eyes slowly opened as I looked around the dumpsters where I had settled. The surroundings are filled with filth and trash. It was this dull reddish purple sky I fell asleep under that I gazed up to meet this morning.
After rubbing off the deep slumber that had covered me, I let out a yawn and spread myself like a cat. As I curl into it, I feel my back’s strain release and become considerably more comfortable. In exhalation, I released the tension in my muscles that had been held in for so long.
“You have something that belongs to me.” I froze as I heard the statement. There was a noticeable youthful quality to her voice, in a way that was unsettling. While my instincts didn’t want me to look, I couldn’t trust the voice at the same time. As far as I’m concerned, it sounded human enough, but if experience has taught me anything, it wasn’t. My head twists as I consider an amalgamation of components. As my eyes swelled with repulsion, I felt my stomach turn. Despite having a human head, an adolescent’s head to be precise, all conventions ended there. In addition to that enamel face, ram horns, and long ears are also present. In spite of its primitive nature, her collar had a fur shawl that I suspected had been torn from something else. Her long hair was braided in the front and rolled like embers in the back, like the blaze from a midnight fire.
Her presence causes me to cower down. In the wake of her neck, the thing evolved into something even more grotesque. “I… I… I don’t swear.” She has four arms that come off her like braches. In each case, they were distinct from one another. They resembled human arms, except for one which had a blade sticking out of it. The trim on her body was bone-like with open sores, and her arms were covered with armor.
As for her other two arms, they resembled bones mixed with mechanical parts. The fingers on each of them were adorned with razor claws. An array of bandages and harnesses encircled her breasts.
Pins were fastened to her torso, and mechanical parts were attached to her abdomen. Her exhale seemed to move them in sections. Walking up along the pavement with her four cloven hooves, the monster was a sight to see. Her torso seemed to be riding another beast. It was impossible to miss the massive skull at her crotch, which was attached to her body with muscles clearly visible. In addition to the ram’s jaw being absent and its fleshy tethers forming the legs, the skull sits between another skull divided down the middle.
Several polished rings of alloy surround her waist. The metallic piece was encrusted with onate patterns. There were fleshy tethers moving down to each of her goat’s four limbs, as well as shields. In addition, she had two enormous bone-like wings without feathers, like an owl. Several trinkets were attached to her tail. As far as height goes, she stood about ten feet tall. Strange pumps and devices covered her body, and bones protruded from them.
The vibrations she produces dwarf me in stature and make me wince every time she treads. “Please. I don’t want any problems.” The gaze of her rosewood eyes turned towards me. Watching as her elegant lips spread into a grin, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of fear. “Just let me go. Please.” She grips my shirt with her human hand. As the boney fingers push me against the wall, they lift me off the ground. Frightened, I kick my legs to get away from the monster.
It seems that something is amiss about you,” she proclaims with her eyes fixed on mine. Until I can no longer fight, the clutch strangles any fight I have left in me. My hopelessness drove me to give up. It wouldn’t have mattered how hard I fought since my efforts would not have measured up to her. She pressed my cheek into the wall. Having been entertained by her analysis, she helps me get back on my feet. The farther I slip away from it, the more I stumble as I give up and force myself into the nearest wall. “Tell me, what are you?”
It was as if she stole my tongue in her presence. Although I had every intention of responding, my speech was shaken by my struggle. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should answer. As far as I could tell, she seemed rational. On the other hand, she was uncomfortable to look at. I squeaked, “Human.”
“Interesting. I will have to assimilate you.” she released veined cables that stretched out from her frame. The creatures looked like long worms with cavities at the ends. Like vermin, the tethers move slowly toward me. I kick at the six leeches and corner myself against the wall to avoid getting bitten. In response, I simply receive a slight smile from the thing in front of me. As a result, I was stranded with nowhere to run.
My fear overwhelmed me and I collapsed to the ground in fear. “Please don’t do that. My blood,” She squinted her eyes at me as she reared up one thing with its snarling mouth to my face, “It will kill you.” From the crumpled hold, I could see the girl retract the cords back into her torso. As I spoke to her, she listened to me. There is a possibility that I can persuade her. “You, your, not going to kill me, are you?”
“Should I? I was not planning on it but hey you know how those things go.” Looking around me, I see a mangled piece of glass on the ground. As I leapt over my shoulders, I snatched the glass, throwing myself to the ground on my knees. With the glass at my fingertips, I press it against my skin. The pride that filled me bubbled up as I held down, providing a sprinkle of blood.
“Get away from me!” I screamed, using the wall to create distance between us. In the machine’s hellfire eyes, there is nothing but a blank stare. As a result, it stepped away from me, making me feel much more comfortable. “I am warning you. If I bleed on you, you’ll melt.”
An amicable snicker escapes the girl’s lips. “Aren’t you an imaginative one? Where in the world would you get an idea like that?”
There was no way I could bring myself to mention the name Hellibore. There was truth in his statement. “I have seen it.” I whimpered.“He injected himself with it. I… it killed him. He died in front of me.”
Her response seemed to elicit a moment’s pause. “What a fascinating discovery, isn’t it? You are empty.”
“Empty? What’s that mean?”
“It means you have no machines,” she explained to me. “Only the ones you stole from me.” As she stares down at me, she carries an expression of indignation in her eyes.
“I didn’t steal anything. I don’t know what you mean.”
“We have decided not to assimilate you.” Hearing this made me shiver a bit. Even so, it brought me some relief as well. “You should drop the glass, it would not save you, anyway.” It is clear that she is looking directly into my eyes. “You do not pose an actual threat to us and I am curious how did you survive this long outside of stasis.”
My fingers just went limp as I tried to grasp the glass. “How did you know?” My face was filled with shock.
“Stasis. You are young, you could not have gotten here without being in stasis.” the creature told me.
“I… I… there was a colony. It’s dead now.” I replied. In releasing myself from my guard, I find my fear slowly slipping away. “Do… do… you have a name?”
“We have many names, my name is Velora, my name is Erianthe, my name is Livius, my name is Ravener, my name is Bree, my name is Marionette, my name is Novella, my name is Vanity, my name,”
“Stop!” I shout. “You are not Vanity.”
“I am not, Vanity is us though. I assimilated her. So her arm which you possess is mine by right.” She said without hesitation or emotion. Holding Vanity’s arm tightly, I rear up with tears streaming down my face. Taking a step closer, that hideous creature extends its goat-like limb toward me. “Don’t cry.” she towers over me but gentles herself down to the ground. As she presses her hand against my cheek, I feel the warmth of her boney fingers. My face is pressed against the razor as I stare up into her eyes. In spite of this, I did not perceive any malice. It was gentle, and with a squeeze, my scalp could be stabbed effortlessly.
“I understand. Please… don’t take it.”
The demon says, “Parina, I know you.” I shake my head at her. The horror I am witnessing is not Vanity! That’s impossible. Clearly, she is trying to fool me. She is deceiving, she is a swindler. It is not okay for her to do that, she is evil, she is wicked!
“You killed her!” When I push against her arm, it flies away, allowing me to escape.
Her gaze is disheartened as she peered at me. “Vanity is not dead, she lives in me. To you, I am Velora, a human name.” That is the last thing I want to see in her sick and twisted mind. Ricocheting down the alleyway to get away from that thing, that thing took her away. Stole her… it’s a monster. It’s a devil that is far wickeder than any other.
As I scurry through the streets like a mouse in a maze, I find myself inside the remains of this old city that had once been vibrant; now it’s all about terror. No matter where I ended up, as long as my feet weren’t here, it didn’t matter. Staying didn’t come with any prizes. There is nothing more to this gruesome place except its propositions. The more I wandered, the more I saw my humanity peeling off of me, metaphorically discarded on the ground.
She killed Vanity; what a horrible thing to do. Here, leniency wasn’t an option. As things stand, that’s the way they are. I was never even considered in terms of whether or not I would be okay with what she was saying. To whatever was out there, I was just another sack of flesh waiting to be eaten. In the end, I finished my tour outside of a grocery store. It was obvious from the hologram of a woman driving a shopping cart. At least, I think that’s what it’s supposed to be. On the building’s side, there are pieces of flesh sticking out. This landscape of sinew gave me a feeling of insecurity, as you might imagine. In spite of this, I continue through the parking lot, despite its derelict state.
As this decay progressed, automobiles were left to decompose and rust. Nodules of tissue even swallowed some of them. A number of those human-like creatures were wandering around. It was unclear whether they had spotted me yet, but if they did, they would certainly tear me apart. Looking around, I seek out a place where I can go without drawing attention to myself.
My feet shuffle back behind the building as I walk around. Compared to everything else in this old grim town, it isn’t very different. The echo of my footprints was the only thing keeping me company. There was a hound-like creature plunging from the roof of the food mart. As it landed on all fours, it turned to look at me. With metal on its body and a shifting face, it looked like an alien. I was beyond my comfort zone when I saw the dog’s long, stretched-out neck. The animal swings its head to reveal man’s face. My heart sank as I screamed.
My little scream must have shocked the creature. In response to the dog-like creature’s gaze, I withdrew slowly. There was a thick coat of saliva dripping from his jaw and he showed signs of being battered. No noise is made, no sound is heard; it just peers at me; it doesn’t move, doesn’t say anything. At first, I thought I could walk away, foolish me. “Aaaaahhhheeee.” The dog man said softly.
As I look behind me, I see the doorway to the grocery store. Hopefully, I will be able to barricade myself in there if I can just get there. With its guttural growl, the thing prowled closer to me, revealing its vicious nature. Every tooth was exposed as drool pooled and gushed out at its mouth’s sides. Metal formed the gums of his mouth. It was also possible to make out cables enclosed in metal around his mouth. There was a sense that his muscles were strung together and he was a machine. The movements of his body were broken, as if he had once been a well-oiled engine, but is now decaying.
My back was against the wall so I just had to open the door. However, the dog thing was extremely close. My hands were gripping the knob of the door. Bracing myself, I took a long deep breath. After jolting the door open, I hurled it as hard as possible behind me as I plunged into the chamber. My stomach was churning, “That was a close one.” Drooping against the floor, I look up. It must have been the office door that I took.
The relief was short-lived, however, as I heard the dog man gnaw at the door, scrape the door with its claws, and ravage the door. Before I even got to my feet and began jumping back, light from the outside had already come pouring in. There wasn’t much time left before the dog came inside.
There was a rumble coming from the room down the hall that made my skin crawl. In response to the crash, I spun my head. There was nothing I could say other than “No.”. I heard something getting closer as it thudded and thumped. It wasn’t long before I realized they’d pinned me. “Aoooaaahhhh.” a high pitch wail rang from the room. A limb pokes its head out of the doorway. In the front there is this thing with a body like a busted up torso that keeps limping out. My first thought was that it reminded me of a chicken, without the feathers, but human. Several low moans were delivered by the head that popped out of a cavity in its body. I watched the living thing begin its journey down the hallway while hunched over and menacing. Between the two, I am almost in full panic, pushing my back into the door, hoping to keep the dog from breaching it.
An exit gap had formed as the hound ripped at the exit. My leg was grazed when its tongue came out. There was something disgusting about it. It was difficult to get away from his slimy lick as I toiled to the side. “Stay away!” I screamed. My gaze is drawn down as I watch the dog rip through the doorway with its claws. An instant later, its head appears and nips at my leg. As I struggle to keep the dog’s head from biting me, I whack its head away. In the hall, there was a roar coming from the other creature.
My focus shifts to the organ thing that resembles a chicken as I recede around the corner. As the creature sluggishly moved, pus and slime filled its veins. This is not the way I want to die. As the dog man carries a piece of me, I imagine the strange creature chewing on my arm. “Ban!!! ” Outside, an enormous figure moves. As quickly as it happened, the dog was ripped from the doorway. Outside the door, something far grander and fiercer awaits.
In terror, it howls “Ahlahw.”. It then vanishes. I’m suddenly considerably less scared of the strange monster in the suite. As it took off, the monster was obviously in agreement with me. A feeling of anxiety overtook me as I contemplated what was about to happen.
A number of arms could be seen grasping it through the holes in the doorway. Their ripping of it to pieces sent my jaw crashing to the ground. A red glare obscured my vision at such speed; it captured me as if I had been nothing at all. My throat convulsed with a yelp of fear as I was tossed into the air. My attempts to escape its grasp are desperate, but I only succeed in making it worse. It is only when I pull my eyes away from the creature that I can make out the familiar red eyes of Velora’s bitter face. In the midst of feeling the blood drain from my face, I become white like a ghost. Nonetheless, she sets me on the ground next to her and walks off without saying anything. It took me a while to get over my shock when I first saw her.
“T-hanks for sa-ving me.” Besides the fact that she didn’t want me hurt, I wasn’t sure what to make of that. There’s no doubt about it. When I looked over to the wall, I found the dog person spattered against it. As soon as the juice from the puddle hit the ground, the tentacles were already thriving. As the tentacles grabbed at meat and the rest of the body, they pulled it back together.
The words “Follow me” snapped me out of my trance. I nodded. “Understand.” I shook my head. “Good, now, follow me.”
As a result, I pursued Velora and followed her in whatever paradise or purgatory she might have waited for me.
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While crawling through the vent, I heard the creatures screaming behind me. Like a worm, I made my way through the open system with bated breath. There was something frightening about that place. Against the wall of the duct, I grimaced and held my palms over my face as I retched.
Suddenly, everything fell silent. There was a tear that slipped from my cheek and hit the ground. I looked back at tens of thousands of faces; the ghost of pain was etched in their expressions. When the screaming started again, I couldn’t even hang on to my tears for a second. My only option was to flee from those horrors.
Despite the air conditioning vent being open, it was very dark inside. As time passed, however, the surface became fibrous. Taking a slide over the flesh of this alien floor, I feel my smooth muscle quiver.
Every step I take is accompanied by soggy half-dried blood adhering to my arms and legs. It tries greedily to stop me from venturing as if warning me, “Don’t venture this way,” but I refuse to heed its warnings. I can feel the harsh smell of iron and bile filling my lungs. In fact, the odor could be tasted on my tongue. The flesh vent eventually opens up to a place that seems to be inside some kind of body; maybe the best description is that it is similar to being inside a meat bag. Although the cave’s composition was rectangular, I had never seen an animal with a square body, so I felt this was incorrect.
Throughout the ceiling, blood pools gathered in spots before bursting through the tension and spilling to the ground. The moist floor became further saturated as streams of fluid splashed down. While in shock, I try to walk where no man should step, instead moving where devils are allowed to move. The abomination mesmerizes me as I wander through the halls of breathing tissue, mired in mystery.
Towards the distance, I could see something, a machine. As it turned out, it was working on something. The machine’s purpose was not entirely clear to me. Although it stood no higher than me, it didn’t look particularly welcoming either. One arm of the machine sliced at the floor, wounding the flesh. As the gash began to heal between slashes, the other three arms sparked, soldering whatever it was working on. Since I did not wish to run away from another thing, I decided it was best to leave through the passageway ahead.
My attention is instead drawn to another hall. There was a sign on this one, and I could read it.
“This way for the exit. Look out for Mr. King-Lazy-Bones…”
“Huh, that’s weird,” I said to no one in particular. As I glanced down the organ’s path, I noticed it was moving. I could see the shadows extending into a large room. Despite my reluctance, I felt compelled to go in that direction, although it wasn’t comfortable for me. With a heave, I braced myself for the events that followed down this passage. As soon as I entered the chamber, several doors led to dark passageways. It was in the midst of this room that a man with long arms, encircled by a grimy tethered coat, stood. Staring at the colossus, I cannot help but be amazed. Having turned toward me, its head revealed a malicious expression similar to that of a skull. The walls of this place were as blood-red as its head. An instance of a fleshy subway tunnel prompted me to imagine a heart chamber on the other side of the room. It was only the hulking thing between me and the channel that was the problem.
Taking a large stride, the creature let out a loud snort. Suddenly, the hellion shakes its jaws at me and turns its head in my direction. Keeping my mouth shut and feeling my bladder give way, I stayed silent. It was like a flood of warm urine flowing down my leg. The thing bends down like a ferocious demon seeking flesh, rendering me powerless. In that most terrifying of moments, there is no way to convey the dread I felt. I was bound and gagged, cemented in place. The closer it leaned, the louder it became.
Those glassy white eyes look straight at me while salivating jaws and chattering teeth rain slobber down onto the floor. While “Mr. King Lazy Bones” breathed rancid humid breath over me, I was surrounded by rotted beef and putrid sulfur; three inches were separating me from its face.
It wouldn’t take long for me to be bitten in half. Roaring with torment. Although I am not certain which half would be me. The silence stretched around me as I stood there gripping my palms in preparation for my death.
“Raaaaa!!!” The roar echoed through the large room. I watched the man turn his gaze in another direction, still held firmly by fear. “Raaaa!!!” The creature let out another shriek as it spun. Observing everything in sight, the creature stared in all directions. “Raaaaaaaaaaaa!” I proceeded to make another step. My tread caused the dried blood on my boot to rise. I heard the tethered flesh snap. The living thing returned to my side and gnashed his teeth with all the humor of a mad bull.
Although it did not daunt me this time, I suspected it was blind and couldn’t see me. A bottle had been molded into the ground, so I kneeled down and grabbed it. With ribbons of flesh snapping out of the bottle, the bottle ripped free. Upon rising to my feet, I could see the monster in front of me inches from my face. As soon as I smelled that horrible scent, I recoiled. A hole was visible where his nose should have been in the center of the face. Despite the fact that his eyes seemed strained, his facial tendons seemed to be grieved.
The form of its lumbering body overtook me as it rose. The fetid breath it exhaled was the worst part. There is no way that a sewer could ever do it justice. With the bottle in hand, I hurled it across the room. In a flash, the creature flew to where the bottle landed, enveloping the bottle in a black veil.
In its frenzied pursuit of the splintered bottle, it picked up the shattered glass. My view was blocked by the thing, which was standing upright and screaming red bloody murder. Taking small steps towards the exit, I slowly made my way out. At that point, the thing flung itself at the broken bottle in an effort to smash it to pieces. There were pieces all over the room after his blind rage was exposed. It caught my attention immediately. My mind filled with images of myself being torn limb from limb by bloody limb. I am horrified at this thing’s brutality. It smashes and crushes my lungs when they meet the open air. My departure would not be so gentle, and I certainly wouldn’t stay for the thing to pound me around. Trying to reach the gate as fast as my feet could carry me, I sprint.
My steps were quiet and small as the wicked thing continued its outburst. When I ran over the bloody floor, it popped and sputtered as if I was slipping on dough. When I noticed it had ended, I was standing at the gate. Instinctively, I twisted my head away from the view, unwilling to look. A deep, intense gaze pierced my abdomen. The head of the creature swiveled to match mine, and its eyes were filled with violence.
A stagnant gaze is directed towards me by its head as it lifts in an agitated fashion. My ears ring with a loud hiss as it keeps me in its horrible sight as if it could see me now. No moment passes without the gaze remaining unwavering.
As if it would never end, the deadlock stretched on and on. It was like looking into the trawling maw of a hound moments before it lunged. That’s exactly what it did. For a moment, I felt as if I had blacked out. I noticed that the metal and flesh appeared to be graduating in color as I ran down the hallway. A few moments later, I glanced back to see the creature getting closer and closer, getting ready to bite my head off.
Eventually, I reach the doorway, but the devil was close behind and stopped suddenly. It snarls at me as it looks up at me from the verge, before turning and entering the seclusion once again. “Oh my gosh. Holy shit,” I exclaimed, catching my breath. “That’s King-Lazy-Bone, right?”
It was evident that there was light in the ceiling when I glanced up. Tumors were still in the ground, and they were creeping up the hall, but the ceilings had concrete, which brought some normality to this bizarre place. A staircase awaited me as I strolled a little further. There was access to another part of the city from there. Upon seeing the old collapsed bridge, my sight is met with a wasteland, a road, and many ruined structures.
Once I got out of the tunnel, I decided it would be best to find a place to sleep. My walkout was interrupted by some mutant beings who didn’t seem interested in me or had not noticed me at all. My relief came from not having to contend with their chase in any case.
A narrow alleyway eventually caught my attention, and I decided to lie down there. In the shape of an L, it coiled up. This is the kind of place I could lie down for a while. As I hid in the covert little spot, I ensured no one was following me.
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Throngs of pulpy red blood rise from my boots. There is something unique about the ground here. It lay awake, flayed open, a body in pain. A vast expanse that stretched as far as the eye could see. Like blades of grass, tentacles wiggle, and flagella run out. The feeling of wandering in this land of misery was particularly uncomfortable. Nothing else was left to do but go through. Having deserted the colony, I allowed a latent horror to be revealed to some future explorer. There was just me. It is just me and the world around me. Certainly, no one will listen to my laments anymore. A few pieces of asphalt hinted that this was a road before whatever this fleshy thing was occupied it. On the site of a metropolis, glass towers rose in the distance. A web of fleshy features, fragmented, and all collectively dead.
From the drudgery drove out broken slabs; bones from the remnants of houses past. It became clear that if this is a road, it must have been part of a township at one point. Initially, I would pass the dust-covered pieces by, but as I walked by I noticed something scrawled on the collapsed walls. I wandered over to the hunks so that I could see the inscriptions. Along the walls, something had scratched deep slashes, but there were no scrapes. It’s full of odd scribbles. These were made by someone, and if they were nearby, maybe they could help me. As I explored the maze of fallen walls, I noticed that there were many more remains than I had anticipated.
As I stared at the hall of concrete ruins, I felt troubled. I felt something twisting in the pit of my stomach. Previously, there were multiple floors in these buildings. Now, they existed only as hollowed-out corpses. What could have caused this? A question arose. Some of the roofless buildings had a second story, but most had crumbled over time. As I worked my way through this labyrinth, I concluded that I would never encounter anyone. As a consequence, I had to give up on finding anyone in these ruins. My first impression was that I would be much closer to the city than I actually was. Despite walking for what felt like an eternity, I felt no closer to my goal than when I first began.
“You!!! There was a voice behind me saying. As I turned my head, I saw a man whose body looked awful. There was nothing to cover his crumbling bones except rags. The open wounds in his chest were readily visible, exposing his ribs. A swollen face of a young man was encircled by cables spreading from one end to the other like a rigid canvas tethered to a metallic machine. The right arm of this man looked like a long needle, and the left arm looked like a claw. As if a predator had nibbled at his legs, they looked like they were gnawed. Yet, parts of the limb were sewn onto rods of metal peg legs like pirates. “Why do you mock me!” He wailed. My eyes were fixed on him as I stood there gawking in fear. A howl of indignation emanated from him as he pointed the huge needle blade at me. “Why do you mock me?”
“I am human.” The statement came as a spontaneous response.
A wagging line of veins could be seen in his eyes as they labored. “Liar!” Normally I’d be resentful, but I was filled with dread, breathing slowly as I endured his strange words. “You bastards have stolen everything from us.” Yes, even our appearance was taken from us. As if to say you were one of us.”
“I don’t understand what you want, sir. I swear I’m human.” He stared at me for a while, trying to think of something to say. “I need your help, sir. Can you help me, please?” As his blood pushed through the cables, gaps appeared. Obviously, this was all wrong, because a stop in the flow is not possible without spasms or, worse, death.
A distorted smile spread across his face as he added, “Yeah, yeah.” with a smile that was far too broad. “I will help you.” His footsteps began to drive toward me as I took my own steps away from him. It’s like a waltz of trepidation. “What’s the matter?” He sank his skull as he approached me. “Your afraid, machine?” he said.
He picked up the pace as my steps twisted into a trot. “I am not a machine.”
“Why don’t I rip open that little stomach of yours so I can see the cables?” he screams, breaking into a sprint. After turning my heel from the crazy man, I yelped. In my haste to escape, I did not look behind me. A ledge had formed where the ground had ruptured, much to my surprise. The cliff was too steep to contemplate, so I plunged off without any reflection. As I soar through the air, I fly past several rods sticking out of the ground. My head landed on the ground as I rolled over and was forced to get up in a matter of seconds. It was too late to recover since he was right behind me. However, I couldn’t ignore the thorns that emerged from the ground like jagged bayonets.
“There is no escape for you. It’s just you and me, and a whole lot of murder!” The man screamed behind me. An outburst of groaning was heard as he landed on the ground. Immediately after, the earth split again, which meant another drop. There was a burning sensation in my heart, but to stop now would mean death. In the event I was to meet my end, I would make sure I did it on my terms, not being chopped up by some lunatic. “Don’t worry cute robot, I am just getting ready to rip all those bits and pieces out!”
With tears streaming from my eyes, I made the next leap of faith. Like the last one, this one too turned out to be similar, and like a cat, I was able to stand up this time as well. As I listened to the thrash, I heard someone screaming. The moment I turned around to look, my jaw dropped. On the mast, the man was impaled and hung. There was a look of pain in his expression that I’ve only ever seen in movies when his lips swung open. He slumped down the spike as I faced him. Taking one step at a time, I approached him. Because I was too fearful to reach for him, I stayed at a safe distance. “Sir,” I responded. “Sir.” His feet stopped slipping once they touched the ground. I moaned, “I’m so sorry.”.
The man jabbed his needle at me in a flash. My eye was just inches away from it when it stopped. As I jumped back, I let out a shriek. For lack of a better word, it startled me. “Impostor!!! ” he hissed as he reached for another stab. From the strain on his muscles, his eyes looked like they might fall out of his head. “Impostor!” A nail-like set of teeth appeared as he separated his lips.
There was something deranged about this man. It is likely that anyone I meet would be just as mad. Breaking down, I felt the snot building deep in my nostrils. I was all alone out here. My wounds ached from watching him attempt to skewer me for a few moments, so I wound and began trudging away from him. “Impostor! Impostor!!! His condition had deteriorated to the point that there was nothing I could do. An unsettling chopping noise struck me out of nowhere. “Impostor!!! “I glanced over my shoulder and saw slobber coming out of the man’s mouth, similar to bloody dog froth. That wasn’t the sound, though. With a focused stab into his ribs, he raises his needle in the air and then lowers it again. The exposed entrails of his body tore and tore as his torso ripped and tore. “Impostor!!! The man was clenching his teeth. Spit filled my mouth as bile filled my throat. The surge of vomit was too strong to hold back. I covered my mouth with my hand, but it was futile. Taking a deep breath, I fled from the grotesque sight. Without wasting any time, I began my journey to the city.
I walked to the city over a long distance. All of the surfaces were covered with tumorous growths. There were thick, slimy pustules of fungus covering the modern metal of buildings; it was as if some slowly spreading creature was devouring the world. My search led me to the same cryptic towers. Hundreds of tall spires with hives atop and threads like webs stretching between the human structures. Low moans emanated from my stomach. It goes without saying that I was hungry. I questioned, where can I find food in a place like this?
For a time, I wandered the streets, passing by wads of things best left undiscovered, but my curiosity overtook me. When I approached the wad, I was able to make out the leg. My eyes were frozen in place as I stared at the thing. The meaty flesh was crumpled together, with pinkish ooze coming out of it. As soon as I realized what was going on, the whole thing made sense to me. In the midst of the grime, there was a curled-up body. Upon turning my head in the opposite direction, I spotted another. As I looked around myself, I discovered bodies scattered everywhere. As I walked along the empty roads, I began to gag, swallowed and continued on.
I noticed one old building that was covered in grime down the road. The smooth muscle that lined everything had yet to arrive at the store. Nevertheless, it snaked along the ground, twitching as I stepped over the last of it. All that remained of it were the hallowed-out gas pumps, torn to pieces and rusted beyond recognition. Essentially, it was a convenience store.
Upon entering the archaic ruins, I see shelves thrown about, products left on the ground, and magazines being used as burial papers. Observing the floor, I looked down. A thick rotten smell filled the air, along with a dried-up puddle of gray brown sludge. My hands filled with soiled magazines, I pawed through the broken and disheveled items. Since most of them were not preservable goods, the smell was coming from them. As the air became dusty with dried mold, thick layers of it broke apart. The vapors I was producing choked me. However, I did manage to get my hands on some cans. Although I couldn’t make out what they were, cans last forever, so it didn’t matter what I ate. At this point, some cat food would be enough.
When I finally reached a clear spot in the back of the store, I slumped to the ground. Taking the little pull tab from the first can, I open it. A foul odor immediately assaulted me. The smell is pungent and sloppy, like rotten eggs and something else. As I threw the can across the room, the disgusting contents spilled all over the wall. After hearing that distinctive can sound a few times, I wept, moving my hand to my face. What chance did I have of surviving? I will starve to death if I do not eat. Helibore was right. What the hell is this place?
As I rubbed my tears away with the sleeve of my shirt, I glanced up across the sea of garbage to the large shattered shop window and saw someone. Suddenly, my heart began to flutter. There is someone like me. As I burst from the tile floor, I ran to the glass window, or at least what remained of it. My heart swelled with joy. Calling out loudly, I ran outside without much thought
“Hey!” The person stopped as I was running up to them. “I am so happy. I thought there was no one around here anymore.” It turned and looked at me. It was like looking at an insect when I looked back at it. The eyes were small, and the number of tongues it had was mind-boggling. Suddenly, a terrible scream erupted from its mouth.
I turned around to run, screaming to myself. When its legs opened, another pair emerged, and it chased after me. As I ran through the dusty street, I came to a dead end. Trying to sprint back, I saw more humanoid things around the corner. As soon as they see me, they charge at me as well. My path is blocked by them as if they were sentient. In spite of this, I wasn’t about to be cornered like that. In response to one creature’s attempt to grab me, I punched it in the face. While it staggered, I did not wait to find out what it would do to me. Dodging their wild flying arms, I darted past the insectoid creatures.
My race through the city took so many miles that I ended up deep in the city after running for who knows how long. As far as I was concerned, at least I was alone at that point. There is a haze of rusted clouds in the sky. It takes me a moment to catch my breath. The distance I ran was unknown to me, I just ran. “This city. It’s alive, isn’t it?” I wondered. As I listened, I heard the blood pumping in the veins. Besides being bizarre enough, if this place was alive somehow, that would bring it even closer to being unreal. There was no doubt that I was not in the time that I had come from.
Rather than human beings ruling over this world, monstrosities ruled it. In the alleyway I had stopped in front of, there was a hole in the concrete. My eyes were captivated by the hole as I walked towards it. It was dark, but there was a light on. To what does the hole lead? The question was whether a random hole was safe. When I heard the creatures coming down the road, I knew they were coming. As a matter of fact, I had no choice. No matter what hell it led to, I was going down that hole.
Sitting inside the fleshy hole, I placed both my legs inside. “Here we go.” I said as I plunged into the hole. Landing on my feet is no problem for me. It was about a ten-foot drop. The worst part is over. Upon entering, I see what seems to be a regular building. After taking a good look around, I find myself in a hall next to a wall. It seems to be the end of a hallway. There were a lot of doors as I looked down.
Curiosity got the best of me so I walked down the hallway and opened a random door. As a result, dust appeared. The room was used as a storage space. Like many other strange rooms, this one is also unsettling. The corner of the room has a twisted body that is mangled. It must have been there a long time. The muscles were mostly dried up to the bone. Not to mention the skin. There was a sense that it had weathered so thinly that it was brittle. It’s sad. There must have been something terrible and sudden that happened to the world.
The sound of “Pundunk” came from behind me. This unsettling experience causes me to glance out the doorway. “WAAAAAA!!! ” screamed a human-like creature. As I rush out of the room, I go the other way down the hall. My progress is quickly halted, however. There are several other things that resemble humans at the other end of the wall. In their faces were a mixture of animals, fish, and creatures. Unlike an insect’s carapace, their bodies are strange, scaley, hairy, and hard. A trap has been set for me. As soon as I reach the nearest door, I grab it and hide myself inside. It was a struggle for me to hold the door closed as the creatures smashed against it.
“Go away!” I cried.
My skin crawled as I heard a low groan. This wasn’t something outside of the room, but rather something inside. Upon turning my head, I saw a four-legged creature with a stubby arm and skin covering its body. A low guttural grunt emitted from its canine-like head as it limped towards me. Screams erupted in my ears as I faced the door, back against it. The old dusty shelf near me caught my eye as I looked around the room. My hand grabbed it and I threw it in front of the door.
As I searched for an exit, the strange creature got closer. The door was then pushed open. My escape attempt was impeded by many arms grabbing from the door. At the same time, the four-legged creature snarled at me. My eyes spotted it. There is a vent. That would be my escape route. As I ran around the dog monster, I crawled inside. I’m glad I did too. Those things were screaming, I could hear them. It was unreal.
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Suddenly, I felt a palm touching my wrists as I awoke from my sleep. A wail of terror erupted from my timbrels. A quick hand covered my cry as I gazed up at Vanity’s tense face that suggested trouble. Her iron grip on her face loosened, and she settled upon my lap. “We have to get out now,” she whispered with a stern look.
I groggily sat up, letting the silver blankets slide off me. “What, why?”
“I’ll explain as we go.” I looked down to see that she had thrown a clean change of clothes onto my lap. They were not my usual style, but they were much tougher. Military dregs, or at least I assumed they were. “Put these on fast.”
Fright filled my mind as I placed my legs through the holes of my knickers. “Did something happen?”
Vanity moved to the door. She looked through it as if she was awaiting someone to come through at any moment. She then shifted back to me. “I don’t know Prina, baby. I know one thing, though. We need to get you out of here.” She returned to her watch. In the gloom, I put my head through the shirt, the light from the wide door setting upon me. “I owe you this, Prina. I owe you this.”
“I don’t understand. What is going on?” I said.
Seeing that I was dressed, Vanity walked over and grabbed my arm, lifting me from my bed. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
Her response was stranger than I had expected. She practically forced me down the hall into the darkness. Only a few lights remained on. The place looked decayed, like a hollowed-out corpse. Vanity kept pace as she marched up the stairs in the vestibule with me being towed behind her. She hurried to the medical bays without saying much of anything at all. “You said you would explain.” I moaned as we ventured deeper.
In such a flat manner, she replied, “I don’t expect you to understand much of this. There is, however, an entity known as Azergile. It has enslaved the entire world. You need to find Azergile and kill it.”
“What!?” I couldn’t help but burst out.
It sounds crazy, but you’re the only person who can do it. There’s a disease in your blood. There is a possibility that it will deactivate it. It’s just a matter of getting to it and deactivating it.” I shook my head. “Do you understand?” There wasn’t much else I could do, but then an unnerving thought occurred to me. Might this be the imposter Hellibor warned me about? Is this the Vanity I knew, or is it something else altogether? “We need to get you out of here. There is no way out through the normal exit, so we need to use the subterranean gate. Before I can begin, however, I need to do something. Trust me, Prina. Prina, you trust me, right?” she asked, standing in front of the door to her station. I nodded as the door opened up. I had little choice in the matter.
“I trust you.” When I looked into Vanity’s eyes, they were watery. Her gaze drifted away as she made her way into the room. Although I was uncertain whether to follow, I did. Suddenly, I had no freedom to run.
“Get on the couch.” Vanity said. The cold steel examination table awaits me, and as I climb over it, I slide onto the metal. Vanity opened a white overhead cabinet and looked inside for something. “Doctor Winters knows the colony will soon shut down. It is more convenient for him to trap you down here. His selfish desire is to keep you a secret.” Vanity picked up a glass of clear-looking liquid and an object-like metal ring from the cabinet. “We can’t let that happen, Prina. There is a way to make this nightmare end!” She exclaimed with all the vigor of a deranged lunatic. “I am sorry.” She places the metal ring next to me. Next, she removes the plastic wrap around the bottle’s cap. “It’s the only way I can think of making it work,” she said, making a sniffling sound.
My eyes are fixed on the object she holds in her hand. That metal circle concerned me. “I don’t understand.” It looked ominous, as though it had sinister secrets hidden inside.
“I know, honey. I know.” She pops off the metal crown and drops the clear liquid on a white rag next to me. “Prina honey, you need to unbutton your… shirt and give me your left arm.”
The only reply I could muster was “Ok.” With every unsnapping silver button, I grew apprehensive. Still, I did as I was told. Eventually, it got to where I had to take my shirt off over my head. As I bent inside the shirt, I half expected Vanity to attack me. She pulled the garment off me. “Ok, Vanity. You scaring me.”
A frozen look crossed her face as she glanced at me. Her eyes welled up with tears. In the next instant, she lunged at me and covered my mouth with a white rag. My weakness returned as I tried to fight her as much as I could. Her fingers clutched hard against my cheeks. As I wailed, I kicked and punched both arms.
“I’m so sorry it has to be this way! It’ll be alright. I promise it’ll be fine. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Vanity begs. That grasp brought back memories. The beach. This had happened before…
Sedation crept its way into my veins, its weighty effect multiplying by the minute. I fell limp, and Vanity cradled me like a child against her. She softly laid me on the table. “Why?” I wearily asked.
“I am so sorry.” Taking no time at all, Vanity slides the chilly metal ring up my left arm. The device released a loud hiss at that moment, and I experienced the most intense pain of my life. I felt a burning sensation over my arm. While gazing down, I saw blood dripping from my left arm, which was lying on the table next to me. The corners of my mouth were agape. As I looked at Vanity, she was crying. My silent scream escapes my lips before the world falls back into that icy night.
The cold made me feel like I was freezing. Upon waking, my left arm was throbbing with burning pain. As I lift my limp body up, I place the injured limb in my arms. The room seemed as if it was enveloped in gray and nothing else could be seen. My mouth snapped open as a long dreadful cry lashed my lungs. My eyes are drawn to the circle around the arm as I let go of my limb. My eyes caught sight of it at that moment. The color of my skin on one side of the ring was different from the color on the other. Faced with a hand that wasn’t mine, I raised the limb to my face in shock. There were long, painted, crimson fingernails, and the hand was mature, but not the one I knew. This hand, this hand was different.
“A mighty peculiar exchange, to be honest.” I glance at Helibore, perched across from me on a chair, with both legs crossed over each other. He gripped his mouth with one hand while his other lay lazily nearby. A physician’s coat adorned his body, which was nothing special. On the other hand, the extensive slash of blood on his jacket was a concern.
It wasn’t easy to summon the courage to ask him, “What happened?”
Having uncrossed his legs, he sat up straight. “Well, I suppose you deserve an explanation about what’s been going on.” The doctor got up and casually approached me. As he inspected the arm I was offered, his hand rested on my shoulder. Blue glazed eyes swept over me; I sensed their soft intent. By slipping his hand into his pocket, he retrieved the needle gun. “For the last time, I will draw blood from you, Primina.” It was at that moment that I understood him. The blood. All of this is because of my blood. He needs it for something. “Do I have your permission?”
What more could I have said? “Yeah,” I replied. “Go ahead.” Again, the familiar sting fell over my arm as Helibore stuck me with the needle. There was almost a feeling of it sucking the blood out of my veins, sucking out my precious rubies. Like the arteries of the world, and like the gold that men mine from dangerous vaults. In other words, that was my blood. “So, are you finally willing to explain things to me? Vanity tried to tell me, but she wasn’t making sense.”
“She panicked. I told her the truth of the situation earlier.” Hellibor admitted, biting his lower lip after. This piece of information wasn’t something he was looking forward to. “She left. She ran away. It’s just you and me now.”
Suddenly I became disoriented, swinging my feet off the table and kicking imaginary ghosts away. “So,” I replied. A moment of silence passes between the two of us. “What did she do to me?” Doctor Winters took a step away from me. “I ah,” he replied after a long pause while contemplating what to say. “That arm. I could tell you recognized it. It turns my stomach.”
It isn’t. That could not possibly be. “What do you mean?”
“It’s her arm. As I raised my arm again, I heard him say, “She gave you her arm.” As I stared at it, I began to cry. It, it could not be. My admission would come from the paint on my nails, no matter what. So let me explain. You are suffering from a disease, as you know. In the wake of the emergence of nanomachines, we started using them to treat illnesses. The structure of your disease, however, is strange. By deactivating nanomachines, it prevents their operation. Due to the fact that drugs cannot treat the underlying cause of your disease, treatment is impossible. This will ultimately lead to your death. You carry the disease within your blood.” He explained, securing my attention. “Primina I am over five hundred years old. The entire colony is over four hundred years old. As for you, well, you have existed in stasis for longer than any of us know.”
My mouth opens slightly and I let out a slight gasp. This was beyond my comprehension. Clearly, this is a lie. There is no doubt about it. When I heard that I further inquired, “How is that possible?”
“We perfected machines in order to maintain our existence. Our blemishes would be repaired. In other words, we are trapped in our own bodies.” Immortality. In our minds, we thought we were so clever. Our battle against death was successful. Our foolishness was so obvious. It would take us years to discover that nano machines would restructure our bodies and minds if we suffered anything even slightly dangerous. In the case of a scratch, our bodies would be twisted and distorted. Consequently, it would lead to insanity by disrupting our neural networks. We did not overcome our mental struggles with insanity, though. That would have been too kind. Pain is the first sensation we experience. All the twists and turns of our organs and everything that made us. But blemishes and changes lead to that. In general, as long as we maintained our human form, we were okay.”
“So what do I have to do with this?” I asked, dreading the answer.
Hellibor removes the needle from my arm and smiles at me, “You are the transmigration of our original sin. Originally, we could die. We played god… and we lost. Our godchild, however, deemed us unworthy. The paradise we once had in perfect bodies turned out to be our eternal cage in hell.”
When Hellibor inserted the needle into his arm, he grinned as the blood drained into him. “What are you doing!” I yell at him. I tried to wrestle the gun, but alas I was not strong enough. A snap of his arm sent me plunging into another bed.
“Sacred blood, untainted by the soul of man’s iniquities. It is through you that we cross over to the afterlife. That veritable paradise of eternal slumber that was stolen from us. Through you, the world shall die and be given everlasting peace, whatever that may be. At least I will have peace.” My only choice was to watch Hellibor fail. I stared up at him with tears streaming down my cheeks. “It has finally arrived. My angel of death, Primina. You are not suited for suffering. My heart longs for a different outcome. It would have been better if you had stayed in bed. Nevertheless, I was convinced. My emotions overrode my logic.”
Jumping to my feet, I embraced him with a hug, and he folded his arms around me. “Hellibor, please do not abandon me.” I pleaded with him.
It’s okay. As he reached for a surgical knife, he said, “You need not fear.” I felt my stomach sink as I observed his hands clasping around the blade. I wanted that moment to last. Embraced in the warmth of his caring arms. I truly did.
In a split second, I shoved him onto a bed. Out of my mouth like fire, “Get away from me!” I shouted.
Hellibor twisted back towards me with his knife in hand and declared, “Allow me to clip your wings to give you this precious gift of death you have given me.” I kept watching him as he walked toward me like a mad man. “You don’t comprehend how bad it has become. You would be better off dying now and never knowing what happened to the world. Please don’t mistake me Primina. As an act of love, this is what I am doing. Vanity begged me to release you to the world. Apparently, she believes you can deactivate the central computer. The hell you’d have to endure is unimaginable. You would die an awful death, if not worse. Please don’t resist.”
With a shake of my head, I said, “You’re insane.”
“I can feel the blood pumping through my body. It burns, and it feels so good to know. Just knowing your blood is killing these horrible machines; it will pump through my body soon, and I will be able to leave this wretched world. Don’t be afraid, Primina. I will make sure it does not hurt for long.” He stepped toward me.
In an impressive display of strength, I thrust the metal table covered in medical tools at him. Hellibor lifts his arm to shield himself from the sharp objects and diverse metal parts that fly into the air. In an effort to take advantage of this opportunity, I swiftly leave the room through the hall. “You can’t run Primina. Everything is shutting down.” He screeched out the door.
There were flickers and flashes of light in the building as they coughed up their last packets of power. When I glanced at Vanity’s arm, I wondered why she would do such a thing. My eyes widened as I realized what she wanted. The black door was her request for me to leave. She wanted me to go through it.
My eyes were fixed on the stairwell leading up to my liberation. I would slip out of this ghastly hospital and leave this hell and these crazy people behind. Approaching the large black door, I climbed the steps. Peering into my reflection once I had reached the top, I caught a glimpse of myself. As I stared at it, I could not find anything right. My clothing was torn and I was bloodied. There was a terrible look about the whole thing. The scene was bizarre. I felt as if someone else was looking back at me, not me. My left-hand touches the slate with a crisp touch. It split into two slabs, allowing me to enter, and leaving behind a bloodied hand print.
“Why?” All I could do was sob when the weight of my situation became clear. My vision was sparked by the sight of enormous vats filled with floating people in the shadowy room. Every one of them was at a distinctive developmental stage. Many of them are young, and some of them are older. Each of them had black hair and was a female. In the rear of the room, the situation was even uglier. As I witnessed lasers zapping body parts as they swung from meat hooks my stomach turned. As if they were vegetation, they regrew themselves rapidly on the hangers. I entered this room of horrors, this market of slaughter, where I saw an array of organs curtailed to the walls. With life, it squirmed.
“Adrenochrome.” I heard that voice and spun around. Hellibor was standing behind me, but it wasn’t him. In violent turmoil, his face teetered on the edge of collapse. “To think that we made everything here from you. You’ve been cloned many times. As I said earlier, it didn’t work. Your blood never came back the same, so we had no choice but to wake you up and use you. You’re older than me, Primina, did you know that? Let me put you to rest.”
A scream escaped his lips as he slashed with a tremendous amount of force. In the midst of his attack, I managed to escape while he grabbed the organs with a bone saw. An abundance of brown fluid surges around the area. My back was cooled by the balmy glass vat as I sprung against it. He rushed at me again, shedding bits of skin as he charged me. By sidestepping the raking invasion, I was able to get around the vat. As splintered glass clashes with chemical fluids, Hellibor is engulfed. When Hellibor was captured in the flood, he was face to face with my reproduction, whooping as it breathed its last and last gasp. “Primina don’t run! I was only joking! It’s a game!” Doctor Winters shrieks as he was forcing the body off of him. His mind had also begun to deteriorate. The old Hellibor I knew would never fall into such behavior.
It’s madness. I have no choice but to run. All I can think about is running. Bypassing the many experiments, I go deeper into the corridor. I slipped through another set of double gates and vanished. Although I regret walking through there, I wish I hadn’t. Throughout the hallway, tumors were growing everywhere and meaty muscles developed on the walls. Staring at the hideous sight, I paused. As I was leaving, I heard Hellibor behind me saying, “Primina, don’t step in there. There is no chance of you surviving.”
I didn’t even glance back. I flew through the foyer so quickly, I must not have even touched the ground. Fate has a funny way of ridiculing people, though. The exit gate had rusted shut; stained with juice and alien fluids. “Open!” I screamed.
Using both my fists to rattle it, I yelped as I caught an off-side switch. My hands pressed the hydraulic switch, and the doors grumbled ajar. By turning my head, I only confirmed the dire nature of my situation. In his limping manner, Hellibor approached me like a cripple. It was taking too long for the door to open as it slowly lifted. Then I pressed against it, hitting it in vain. His legs were covered with boils and his arms looked like a bloodied corpse, and his face was all but missing. “Primina. Don’t be afraid. Just give up and die, die, die!” Hellibor said as he lurched toward me.
“Get away from me!” With my back against the opening doorway, I screamed. A bone poking out of his leg snapped. The wound oozed red, and he sank to the ground on his face. When his body struck the ground, it shattered into pieces. My hands trembled and I turned away from the gory scene.
By this time, the passage had opened, but the mass of flesh moved to my utter horror. From the pulpy wad grew two arms or legs… or something else. As I hustled through the doors, I was met with thick webs of muscle. As I peered backward, I discovered the thing was crawling after me. The tissue got thicker as I ran through that nightmare, forcing me to crawl on my belly. Despite this, Hellibor marched on nubs still on my track.
As I wriggled through the flesh, it pulsated and turned about, shifting and spasming and squeezing my frame. Trying to move my head was impossible; it was like passing through some carcass like a maggot. My ankle was clasped by the Doctor’s skeletal hand, and I shrieked in pain. “Riaoh riah gowah!” Hellibor yelled as his mind slowly decayed into nothing. Thunder erupted as I pushed through the rigid muscle. Although I cannot see anything, I kicked anyway. As hard as I could, I kicked. As I battled against the flesh, I squealed as the flesh went into another seizure. Instead of being crushed, I force myself to move forward.
The blood that had gotten on my clothes was brushed off and I relaxed by the flesh wall. As I gazed at the home they provided me, the sky was lavender and gleaming. My vision was dominated by ruins for as far as the eye could see. The few rocks I sat upon and the all-encompassing flesh I sat upon that enclosed my home, that was dead as well.
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A sense of timelessness had settled over the hospital’s halls. Corridors that used to be crowded now appeared like hollow arteries; formerly walked places. The facility was strange to say the least. Medical laboratory and small town are part of the same picture. Rooms in the hospital were designed more like homes. Halls served as streets that connected places, and foliage distracted from the fact that one was inside a building.
It has been becoming increasingly difficult to find people in the past few days. Hellibor never took me searching for that man by the river or the commissary lady. In a ghostly, empty park, I sat on the rim of a fountain, losing hours. The worst thing about it, no one seemed at all concerned, except me. Staring up at the lonesome sky was a favorite pastime of mine. In this lengthy period of mindless watching the sky, I noticed one of the window panels washed out, a dull wave rolling over the glass. My attention was drawn to subtle flickers and bursts of static washing over all the windows. As my mouth fell open in a gasp, I realized the ceilings appeared to project a blue sky that fooled even the most discerning eye.
“If the sky isn’t real here, what else is?” I wondered to myself. My surroundings creaked with a weathered whimper as the fountain moaned. Like a cancerous tumor eating away at this building’s body, the walls of this place felt decaying. The “sun’s” rays shimmered as dust particles descended like sand grains as they were blown in the wind.
As weeks passed, things inside the hospital collapsed into rusted ruins; it was a once-perfect world falling apart. Azamoth never came back, and Cody also turned up missing shortly after. A thousand ghosts walked through the halls of my mind’s palace. My memories were occasionally visited by these familiar spirits.
Following my morning treatments, I walked through the empty halls of the building. As the park grew desolate, my interest faded. As a result of having no one with whom to talk, the whole hospital had become a bit boring. Vanity herself had become scarce as well, but I believe Hellibor had something to do with it. As I re-enter my room, I am greeted by walls plastered with several hundred crudely drawn pictures. This room became a gallery of fantastic things and people living inside the hospital; a gallery of memories and even some of the worst nightmares from my childhood. As I sat at my desk, I stared at a white sheet of paper. Taking out my pen, I began to draw Azamoth. As one of the faces among the many, his memory deserved a place.
In my lonesome state, several hours passed. I couldn’t help but smile at the picture, looking at the work I’d done. I tried to convince myself that it looked like him. Using a roll of tape, I removed a small band. After folding the sticky strip into a tidy loop, I applied the tape to the back of the picture. Between the fountain picture and Hellibore’s office, there is an empty space on the wall. Between the two, I planted it snugly.
My eyes widened as I saw all the faces of the people I used to know. The smile on my face drooped further as the faces brought back so many memories. Angry like a fire swelled in my chest as I closed my fists. “Why won’t anyone tell me anything!” I roared to the walls that enclosed me. My hands touched my face, and I released a pained yelp, dropping to my knees. In place of being suspended in nothingness, entrapped in eternal slumber, I was granted eternal solitude. Watching everyone slowly be sucked away from me… and then watching it all decay.
While wiping away the salty rivers in my eyes, I turned my gaze upward. No, no. Clearly, something else was going on. There was no doubt in my mind. I just, I had to talk to Vanity. If I begged, maybe she would tell me. For hours, I sat on my bed staring at the door. Sitting on my bed and gazing at my door. Too afraid to ask for answers. There were too many nagging suggestions to choose from, but I knew I could not delay any longer. There was no way I could ignore it. After rising to my feet, I marched to hear my fate.
Leaving my room, I walked into the large empty foyer, crossing the polished black onyx floors to a standing staircase that led to the medical floor where Vanity’s office was located. A steady stream of decorative water flows around the staircase as it feeds the fauna and supports their growth. A spiral of ivy had coiled itself along the channel that ran around the black iron hand rails.
Several colored lines led in different directions at the junction in front of the stairs. Residential homes were located on the blue ones. Food courts and restaurants were on the green ones. The yellow color represents finance. The red line led to the medical wards, which I followed. Not that I needed it any longer. With my eyes closed, I could walk from my room to Vanity’s office. The uneven ground along the dirty pathway was familiar to me. White walls with inlay patterns. In some spots, the tiles reflected the glassy sky above. I thought they looked like little puddles. It no longer inspired belief after the illusion was broken. Instead, I could see the flaw, the scan lines washing over the screens above like a tide.
My way through the long halls leads me past areas where there are small gardens. There was a sense that they were a model of nature. The tree was planted with a rock and maybe a small patch of flowers or a small pond, painted with patches of colorful moss, and Vanity’s office was at the end of the line.
When the white doors part, a room defined by tabula rasa is revealed. With the exception of a few invasive objects, everything inside the room looked like white plastic. Vanity herself sat in front of a screen looking at a file. Her desk is cluttered with paperwork. In any case, she continued reading over the file with intent, either because she didn’t notice I was in her room or because she was too engrossed in her work to acknowledge me. My intention was not to break her consecrations, so I sat on the medical bed in her office. I made myself known after waiting for several minutes. “Vanity.”
As she turned her hips to face me, she grinned. “I didn’t even hear you come in.” Vanity said. “Are you just stopping by?”
As I shook my head, I sighed. Vanity’s expression turned from expressive to frozen as I replied, “No, actually. What is this place?”
She laughed in a high-pitched voice. “What do you mean? You are in my office. Are you feeling alright honey?”
Without thinking about it, I replied, “I think so.” That proposition surprised me a little. “Well, I think I am.” I sighed. “I know the sky isn’t real.” Vanity didn’t respond immediately to my confession. Her only response was to rub her fingernails together and look at me with a static smile. “The central park screen broke. I sort of put two and two together,” I explained my comment further.
It was as if Vanity’s head was floating sideways against a series of waves. Despite her best efforts, she was met with another wave by her inner reflection. Despite my best efforts, I could not quite decipher what it meant. “They are for the patients. The purpose is simply to make people feel more comfortable. When people feel they have been indoors for months on end, it affects their mental health. We are trying to create the illusion of being outdoors. It is a service, honest. It was a lie, but a noble one.” Her face did not change. Her expression didn’t change. There was an air of machine-like precision about her. In her hollowed form, she looked like a porcelain doll made of gears. “You understand, right Prina?” My head nodded, a lie, but in truth, I had no idea what to think anymore. “Is that all that is bothering you?”
I couldn’t help myself, I needed answers, so I shook my head sheepishly. “The people are missing. Where is everyone? Where is Cody?”
“Cody is in his office, hard at work. Why do you ask?”
“Are you even listening to me?” I whimper, fearing that she too is nothing more than an artificial sky.
A sigh escapes Vanity’s lips. “I have work to do honey. Later, I can take you to see Cody.”
“I want to see him now,” I demanded.
What happened to the girl I knew? “He is busy right now, Prina. Now, stop all this nonsense talk.”
The one that tickled me in the park. Prior to Hellibore scaring her away. This Vanity was not my Vanity. “Nonsense?” I could not believe what I was hearing. In an instant, I leapt from the medical bed and marched up to Vanity. “Why are you being like this?” I cried.
“I am not being like anything.” the mechanical doll coldly replied. Her charcoal eyes captured my attention for a moment, leaving me speechless. As soon as I turned around, I left the room without saying another word. Like scraping metal, the door closed behind me.
Afterward, after blowing off some steam, I heard loud crackling coming down the hall from the food court. As my eyes shifted toward the wall, I noticed the source of the sound. The surface was engulfed in a heavy glare. The material of the wall itself bowed and burst, forming some sort of bulbous shape. It evolves into a human shape poorly crafted like a clay figure from a child’s hands as a pair of arms reach out from the shape. Lines of plastic extend out from the blob in the shape of arms. From its body, tethers of plastic string reach the floor as the creature breaches through the wall. A snap is heard as it rises to its feet.
My mind is left stunned and frozen in place by a mixture of trepidation and horror. After repairing itself, the white plastic body replaced the soft plastic sheen with flesh-like material. Looking over itself, the thing stands straight up. As it lifts, its knobby arms in front of where its face should be the knobs spread open forming fingers that rip through the solid material. As the plastic cacoon falls away, something that looked kind of human emerges from the remains of plastic pieces.
“Eh eh eh eh eh!” the alarms yelled as the warning lights on the wall danced in a deep red haze. As a matter of fact, I barely noticed them. As a result of what I had witnessed, I was too shocked to even respond. From its nude body, its flesh rapidly expanded into clothing. Nevertheless, the person is dressed entirely inappropriately. The outfit consists of a t-shirt and jeans. It was once common clothing I remembered from before I slipped into stasis; now it is foreign and forgotten.
The odd wall person says, “Hello,” in a deep male voice. My eyes grew wide as I backed away from the impossible situation. “Are you afraid of me?” It asked, walking wet, stringy forward.
“What are you?” I screamed.
“Human.” It lied. “You want to get out of here, don’t you?”
I felt my heart skip a beat. It knew that but how? My body wanted to run. I had to know whether it knew. Despite my fear, I swallowed my words. “Do you know how!?”
“I know a way out. I certainly do. I do, I do, I wouldn’t lie to you. For sure, I certainly would. Down down below, you must go further down than you ever been. Below in the arteries of the world and once you have found yourself deep in the squirming world, you must crawl out the throat of that place. Only then you will reach the surface.” He finished with an ominous cackle. As the door opens, loud servos ring out from down the hall. “We have company.” That line was sung in such an unpleasant tone.
As I turned my attention away from the wall man, the sound of boots approached from behind me. “Get away from that thing.” Hellibor shouted. As he dives in front of me, he shields me from harm. “Stay behind me girl.” This is the closest thing to affection Hellibor has ever shown me. I was never harmed by him. That’s true, of course. Nevertheless, he scared me. At the moment, however, he held my trust.
My skin crawled as another loud crow escaped the wall man. “You people are like little mice hiding inside your shelter. Thought you could hide forever? Your ICE has failed you.”
Raising his hand aloft, Hellibor revealed a blue laser-light ring much like an interface on a computer. Each digit of his fingers split open, releasing three tiny metal stamps like typewriters. The holographic kiosk received data as they typed rapidly. “Aren’t you funny?” It groaned. “I guess I will have to mess you up!” The thing screamed, charging towards Hellibor. In the form of an axe, its right arm was transformed into a long, sharp blade ready to chop.
A quick hand pushed into my chest, forcing me against a hard wall, knocking me completely out of breath. All the while, Hellibor slipped past the attacker and entered new data into the system. “You’re fast or maybe I’m playing with you.” the wall man growled. Holding me behind him, Hellibor furrowed his brow. Despite the danger posed to his life, he is still shielding me from harm. It was as if half the man’s face was melting like a candle on fire as he turned to me. My goodbyes will have to be short. I look forward to playing with you again, girl. I’ll be waiting… outside.”
“Doubt it.” Hellibore answered, as the blue hologram beams disappeared. Upon falling to the ground, the wall man’s body burst into dust like a demolished building. “Are you ok.” Hellibore asks, his gaze still fixed on the disappearing phantom.
“Yeah,” I reply quietly. In a way, it seemed routine, so casual. The truth is, I think something broke inside of me. In an instant, my entire worldview was shattered into a million sharp fragments. “What was that thing?”
“That was a rogue AI, an artificial intelligence. In a way, they are like ghosts. In most cases, ICE, intrusion countermeasures electronics, keeps them out. This is a disturbing development,” Hellibor commented. His fact blast was followed by a dull mumble to himself. The message was clear enough for me to understand “We don’t have enough staff to maintain the systems. The wards are already breaking.”
“There are missing people,” my voice trailed off under my breath.
Despite his hesitation, Hellibor nodded. “Indeed, I am aware. Primina.” Openly admitting it was bitter sweet. My instincts told me that I was not crazy, but the affirmation scared me. In any event, if people were missing, then they obviously had to be somewhere else. Down; a place which I must find for truth’s sake alone. As Hellibor kneeled down to my level, he turned toward me and looked into my eyes. “Don’t trust anyone anymore. Not even me.” The words sounded deep and weighty. His fingers snuggly grasped onto my shoulder, rubbing it gently, very gently. “If they are asking you to do something funny, they might be an imposter.” My eyes grew wide as the sensation of his touch became clear. He touched me. In an instant, Hellibor withdrew his hand. Looking at his hand, he was too surprised at what he had done.
As we shared silence, it became awkward, “An imposter?” I asked.
Hellibore shrugged off the moment at once. “An AI may want to hurt you. Before they can be materialized, they must be hacked into the nanomachine network. However, they can choose to look like anyone once they manifest. Even me. Be careful.”
”What’s a nanomachine?”
“It’s what this building is made out of.”
It was so refreshing to hear him be so candid with me. Nanomachines? This is not the first time I have heard of them. When I was a kid, they were all over the news. They said they’d change everything. “Doctor Winters, what happened to the world?”
Hellibor smirked. “If I have it my way, you will never find out, but it looks like you will observe it for yourself.” With that, he closed again.
Through the maze of the garden, I descended further down, following the spiraling halls obscured by artificial hills. Although the hills continually wound lower, their peaks and folly had not ceased. In plain sight, but so hidden. There would be no problem with mistaking the depths they were traveling to, as if the geometry had been designed incorrectly. The walls were surrounded by rivers of water, flowing in strange paths around them. The waterways were traversed by wooden bridges. There was something curious about this place. This was the deepest I had ever gone in all the years I had been living in this hospital. The corkscrew tower within which I lived was beyond my comprehension. My guess is that this building was at least ten floors deep; I wondered how deep it actually was. As I turned another corner, I encountered a white staircase leading to a large black mirror door.
Looking at the monolith caused me to envision the gates of hell. “Is this where everything is revealed?” I asked myself. The pure white marble stairs led me up to the door. As I climbed the sacred steps, the stairs seemed to grow longer. When I looked back, I saw that I had climbed much higher than the stairs appeared to be on the ground. From the top of the staircase, I could see my own reflection looking back at me. In my youth, I was merely a young girl. In spite of pushing against the icy stone, the door did not budge. “Huh.” I shoved against the door with my other hand, but when that did not work I used the rest of my body, but even then the door would not move. My muscles tensed up and I pushed with all my power as I screamed.
“That door won’t open for you.” My eyes caught sight of Vanity at the bottom of the steps.
“How does it open?”
As she held up her hand, Vanity smirked and twinkled her fingers. “You just have to have the right touch.”
Freedom is mine. A smile spread across my face. “Come up here and open it then.”
“I can’t do that for you, Prina.” As I realize how stupid it was of me to think Vanity could help me, my face falls. After all, she is the one holding me here. Hospitals aren’t like this. There is something else at play here. We are nearing the end of a prison play, a stage production, and a play at the theatre. “You should not be down here.”
“How did you know I was here? No one comes down here.”
Like a cat getting up from a long nap, Vanity stretched. “Well, I was going for a walk and saw you sneaking. Figured you were up to something. Come down here and we can talk about this.” Sighing, I descend the stairs.
It was impossible to persuade Vanity to help me. “What is this door for anyway?” I inquired.
She told me without hesitation. “It leads to the Amala, it’s a tunnel system that runs throughout the entire world. However, there is a laboratory inside there too. It is a terrible place.” Vanity said to me. On my way down the staircase, I take my last step.
In front of Vanity, I was consumed with wicked thoughts. I might have stolen her hand if I had a knife. “What kind of terrible place?”
After turning around, Vanity began walking away from me. “We call it the body room. You don’t want to see it.”
“I want to go through the door, Vanity,” I told her. “Show me.” Without saying a word, Vanity continued walking, and I followed.
Laying back in the chair for the millionth time, I examined the tubes sucking blood from my arm like a mechanical vampire. Helibore was pacing the floor today, totally consumed by his own thoughts and not even speaking to me. My minor complaint was, “How many more times do I have to do this?”
I was surprised when he answered. “Three.” I straightened up in my chair. “After this one makes two.” He didn’t even glance at me. The subject of his contemplation was still a focus for him. “Happy?”
Happy, yeah. “Yes sir,” I replied.
I was happy, but I was terrified about what the end of my treatments meant. When they stop sucking my blood, what happens?
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Darkness; deep, deep slumber. Sound, and sound again. “I am seeing stimulation in the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus. It appears that she is waking up again. It is time to administer more sedatives.” There was a sharp pain, a heavy feeling, and darkness again.
An icy shiver was followed by the light. “What a shame. It does not seem to be working.” A man roared in the distant distance. “Administer another dose.”
“I can’t do that sir, she will die of an overdose.” A young woman replied, her voice near the edge of slumber.
“Looks like this one is a failure, too.” Remarked a woman whose voice sounded like a timeworn, withered flower. As the shadows grasped hold of my nerves, I was dragged below the eternal nocturne again.
“We don’t have time to wait. The cells are already dying.” He grunted, and once again his voice tugged me towards the surface. But as if I were separated by a thick piece of glass, I was unable to breach it. I was nothing in that abyss.
“We could try cloning again.” the younger woman said.
“No, we already know cloning does not work,” he murmured. “This time it has to work. We have no other options. Get me a dose of epinephrine and adrenochrome. We have to stabilize her.”
I felt it, warmth, traveling down the channels of my veins, pumped along the organ’s path. It expanded upon every corner and a flutter came over me, like wings lifting me out of the maw of this hell; drifting me over past the gates of the arctic black. Suddenly, the entire world trembled as I plunged into the bright light.
The cool, sleek wall of the enclosure had my fingers clawing against it. I felt the chill run into my arm as my body spasmed. Yet, even so, my eyes are blind in the umbra. I tried to let out any noise I could muster, but I seemed to have lost my voice, and she had run far away, hiding deep in my throat. My skin crawled as the world spiraled. Darkness returned and my sense of locality melted into an open space, as I was left suspended in the endless void.
“It’s a failure, just like the last ones. Why waste our efforts? Didn’t the past weeks prove my point? Hellibor, it is time to give up on this dream. This is no way to treat a person.” That woman. Who was she? And now the older man had a name, Hellibor.
“Stop! Remove your hands from her!” Hellibor roared, full of command. “We will not abandon this one. My method will work! We need to extract the needed parts. That is all. I will not waste this donor because of the board’s refusal to use extreme measures.” I had no idea who they were discussing, but I assumed it was me. They wanted my parts. My parts alone. What would that mean? I wondered.
“Sir, I disagree.” the young woman from earlier shouted in opposition.
I heard some rustling before he said, “Why so?”
“If she dies during the process, she will be ruined.” Dies? Ruined? “Let’s allow her to wake up. Treat her well. She doesn’t have to know.” I didn’t have to know what?
“We cannot sustain her here. She would die of starvation. It is better to put her to rest.” a somberly aged woman retorted.
“No, we continue the process regardless of the board’s decision. I purchased it with my own seed reserves. I will decide what to do with it.” Hellibor said.
The passage of time… … … was unknown.
“Damn it!” exclaimed the older man, waking me up from my deep sleep. “The board is terminating her life support! We can’t keep her in stasis much longer. We only have supplies for…”
“Please, I will take care of her myself.” the younger girl begged. “I have started a garden. I even synthesized food for her. Please, Hellibor, please don’t do this.”
There was a long pause. “If you are so insistent on this, then we will make this attempt. She will be entrusted to you and I will be responsible for handling the situation with the board. It is not going to be popular with them at all,” Hellibor explained. “It’s not necessary to wake her from her coma yet, but we need to prepare a place for her first. We will ask the board for permission after everything has been put into motion. We will do this in secret. No one can know until she is awoken.”
I tried so hard to scream, “Wake me up now!” but sadly, either, I never did, or they ignored me.
“Thank you, Doctor Winters. You won’t regret it.”
“I should hope not, dear Vanity. Though the twisting in my stomach suggests this is not the right path. We just need her to pump blood. It should not be too difficult to manage. Sustaining her is going to be the real problem, Vanity.” Hellibor; Doctor Winters grunted. I heard Doctor Winters clearing his throat. “Vanity,” he said. “You’ll lose her trust when she discovers what we’ve done.”
Sometimes Vanity’s voice would reach out to me. In her words, “… your parents loved you very much.” And many other things about my past. “Your name is Primina.” She told me I had a younger brother and two sisters. Interestingly, I don’t recall being Primina. But perhaps I was, but all I could remember was the blackness and the tide. Thus, I deemed it mine. Whatever truth existed in it did not matter to me. There was nothing else to know about me other than I was Primina. From time to time, Vanity even read me stories. I learned of my sickness and disease from her. “A sickness? Is this all a dream?” I thought to myself.
“It is impossible for her to hear you. I don’t know why you bother.” Hellibor had returned; it seemed as if I hadn’t heard him in a while.
“You don’t know that. I remember stories about people in comas being able to hear things.” Vanity retorted. So, I am comatose. They did mention it before.
It was not clear if I managed to move my lips while mouthing the words, “I can hear you.” Nonetheless, I hoped that they did. Even so, I have no idea who Vanity was on the other side. I was just glad that she was close to me. Whoever this Vanity was.
“Leave her be. She needs to rest,” He said before a door slammed shut, sending me back to that eternal night.
“I won’t feel a thing?” I chirped to a woman dressed in white scrubs. A man stood next to her dressed in a matching pair, although his were burgundy. They might as well have been shadows, as I could not see the features of their faces. Maybe it was that I could not remember then. The room was foggy. At least I remember it that way. I felt like the capsule’s wall contoured to my spine. On the platform, my dainty, uncovered toes rested. Despite the fact that days had passed, a few traces of nail polish remained on my nails. My eyes met the pair’s smile as they nodded. My cheeks were flushed from the white form-fitting bodysuit, which clung tightly to my skin. It felt as if I was wearing nothing at all, and I didn’t like it. The man spoke, but no words left his mouth. “All right, like this?” I said to him, folding my arms to rest on my chest.
In the blink of an eye, the glass shielding of the chamber closed, locking me inside. “No! Let me out!” I yelped with every ounce of energy I had left. Immediately, the temperature dropped. Then wetness covered my feet. I looked down to see clear, fluid-like water rising past my ankles. “No!” I screamed again as the two people just stood there with waving palms, flashing those sinister, uncaring smiles.
It was all routine to them by this point. “What are you doing?” As the water reached my hips, I shrieked. Thrashing for all I could, I finally reached the point where my body could no longer move. As the chamber leveled itself, it forced me into a lying position. My face came into contact with the fluids. Pressing my lips against the glass in vain, I watched the surface rise beyond my cheeks and spill into my mouth. I sucked in a last breath before the liquid completely submerged me. Icy fluid surrounded my body as I struggled. As my lungs burned and every muscle in my body roared for breath, I realized I’d have to take in the fluid. As soon as I did, the worst feeling in the world overtook me. I could feel fluids flooding down my throat, filling my lungs like molten metal. In my agony, I saw the ceiling retreating as the capsule returned to the wall, locking me into darkness. My body tried to cry, “Please help me!”. As a result, I am confronted with a foul smell in my mouth, which caused me to cough bubbles. It wasn’t long before the coughing gave way to a numbing sensation as everything slowed. I gasped to push the fluids out of my lungs before falling into a deep slumber.
“Your family loved you very much. You will be awake soon. Everything will be alright. You can trust me.” Although Vanity’s familiar voice soothed me, I couldn’t shake my unquenchable desire to awaken and soon I would. But not soon enough.
“The brain is becoming active again. Hopefully, she’ll wake up any minute now.” The voice of the young man heralded the fading of the darkness. I saw the dull orange-red glow of light shielded by my eyelids. From my parting lips, a deep breath entered me, my chest rising as the sweet air filled my lungs. Squinting, I slowly lifted the curtains from my eyes. There was a sterile, padded roof hanging above me and a soft pillow rested beneath my head.
Grabbing my attention with a grunt, Hellibor commented, “Good. She’s moving.” Everything else in the room appeared to be made of white plastic. On the wall were some monitors and switchboards that are managed by a young blond man. Looking around the room, I saw two people standing in the middle of the office, just across from where I was sleeping. I focused my gaze on the gray-blue eyes of an elderly man. His pocket held a pen as he reached towards me, calling out, “Hello.” Upon clicking the pen, bright light illuminated my vision. He glanced briefly at me before turning off the light from behind the encompassing fog. “Fantastic. Her eyes are responsive.”
“Where am I?” I murmured.
“At hospital,” Hellibor said. “In a medical bay.” Standing upright, he stared at a flat chart of neon blue light, a hologram that seemingly emanates from thin air. “This will be your new home, well, until your treatment is finished, that is. There will be a time for questions, but not right now.”
“Hellibor!” My sight snapped to the source of that voice, the voice in my dreams. “You are welcome to ask any questions, honey. We will be happy to answer them.” So that is Vanity.
From my understanding of Hellibor, despite the multitude of questions I had, he wouldn’t appreciate all of them. “Hello, Primina.” She knelt beside me with a warm, bright smile on her face. Her night sky-colored hair was pulled into a long ponytail. “My name is Vanity, and this,” added Vanity, pointing at Hellibor. “Is Doctor Winters.” Her gaze glanced over her shoulder, directing my attention to the man managing the switchboards. “And that man over there is Cody.”
In the next few minutes, Doctor Winters returned to my side and placed a hand-held device against my stomach. As the doctor stared off into space, cold metal sent shivers down my spine. “What is this for?” I asked.
Doctor Winters snapped, “Shhhh, quiet.” With a heavy breath, he manually moved the device against my stomach. As soon as he removes the device, he exhales a long, deep sigh. He stood up without saying a word, moved to the wall, and placed the device in a white plastic compartment.
“He was just checking your vitals, dear. You’ve been asleep for a long time. It is important to make sure that your body is adjusting well. You had woken up several times during the process, and that is very dangerous.” Vanity explained.
Turning away from the computer station, Cody swung his legs around the white bench. “Honestly, I did not have much hope.”
“That’s why the old woman called me a failure?” I asked. My little inquiry ended up turning everyone’s attention in my direction. Their measured glances and slack jaws caused me to pause. “Did I say something wrong?”
Doctor Winters shook his head. “No.” He replied flatly, holding a gun in his hand. Towards the end, a large needle protruded. “This might sting a little.”
“You are going to do it now?” Cody’s down-turned expression gave me concern. As Doctor Winters approached the bedside, Vanity shook her head with the same animosity. Again, he crouched by my bedside, holding the needle’s tip in the air.
His soft fingers gripped my wrist and stretched my arm. “Could you sit up for me?”
A subtle nod signaled my progression past the chamber’s lip. As he turned my wrist toward his face, Doctor Winter’s grip tightened. “Hold still.” Having now placed the gun onto my skin, a stinging pain erupted in the anterior of my left arm. Despite my instinctive jerking, I could not escape from Doctor Winters’ grip. “I said hold still.” Under my skin, you could see the thick needle draining me. My ruby red fluid was filling the glass tube at the end of the gun. “Well done, girl.” With a single click, he released the trigger and the metal rod retreated into the device.
“That hurt!” I groaned, looking down at my arm. A small plastic seal covers the entry point. While Hellibor examined my blood, a slow, deliberate smile crept across his lips. His gaze returns to me with a nod of approval.
“Pain,” Vanity whispered under her breath. “That is the look I am seeing, isn’t it?” She locked her gaze on me with an expression of fascination. “It’s been a while since I heard that. Do you mind describing it?”
“What a weird question.” I thought to myself. My face was covered in a frown as I looked at the small dot left by the gun. “It stings like Doctor Winters said it would.” Something so simple, but telling me everything has changed since I was in slumber.
Vanity retained, or at least recovered, her smile. “It would. That is such a silly question.”
“So, she is the real deal.” Cody straightened his posture. In response to Doctor Winters’ stare, he began to smile. “You were right. Infectio Nervosa is the gift we have all been looking for.”
“We shall see,” Hellibor grumbled as he lifted the vial of blood from the gun. “I have a meeting with the board. I am expected to present a demonstration to decide how things should go forward.” He moved towards the threshold of the room. But before leaving, he turned to Vanity for a final word. “You agreed, make her comfortable and show Primina to her quarters. I will be back later.”
It was easier to feel at ease after the scary man left. Still, I found myself left with so many questions to ask Hellibor. “Vanity, why am I here?”
She has dark brown milk chocolate eyes that are illuminated by the light. In some ways, her manner became quite unwelcoming. “Well, as I said. For a long time, you’ve been sleeping. There have been many changes since you went to sleep. It was necessary for us to move you from one facility to this one.”
“Why did I have to be moved?”
She bit her lip in frustration. I saw it just for that moment, but she did. An uncomfortably odd look came out of her eyes as she glanced over at Cody, who responded with a gentle nod. Putting her hand on top of mine, she reached out toward me. Despite being new, the sensation felt comfortable.
“No physical contact.” Cody barked. “You know the rules.”
Vanity let out a long sigh before letting in. “I know Cody.” She chastised. “It’s just,” she pauses as she removes her hand. “You are right. I don’t want to encourage inappropriate behavior.” As she stared directly at me, she continued. “Your treatment was failing you in the other facility. We have more advanced tools at our disposal here.”
“Oh, alright, I understand.” My stomach drooped as a lump grew inside my stomach. A response so vague only led me to think that something was amiss. “What about my Mom and Dad, and my brother and sisters? Where are they?”
“They are alright, however, this hospital is a bit of a distance away.” With a sigh, Vanity stood up and walked away from me. “We plan on getting you better and back home as soon as possible.”
“Won’t they visit me?” I asked.
“I suppose they might. Though we highly frown upon visitors at this facility. Your treatment is specialized. We don’t want anyone to interfere with it.” Vanity explained. She failed utterly to comfort me if she was trying to do so.
“Ok, but I remember things from when I woke up… strange things.”
Cody slashed his arms to the sides, then said, “Enough!”.
I didn’t listen. “I remember monsters,” I replied, looking down at my feet. “I remember a lot of things. I never thought I would get out of the darkness.”
Neither of them spoke. My suspicion was confirmed when Cody shook his head, assured the fact that they were hiding something from me. “I think it is time we ended this conversation. Vanity, take Primina to her room.” As Vanity stood frozen, nothing seemed to register with her. Her attention was focused on the wall beyond my sight. As she walked to the side of the wall nearest the door, she stopped at a metal box. In the center of the box, she pressed a button that unlocked a box of folded clothes.
An array of military-style clothing was unfolded, including blue pants with a white stripe down the right leg, a white undershirt, and a blue jacket with a high collar that buttons to the far left side of her body. Likewise, the jacket had a white stripe running up the left side, which extended to the collar. Black boots and white clip-on socks with a pair of brief underwear. “Are these mine?” I asked.
It was Vanity’s turn to smile as she placed the clothes beside me. “I know they aren’t very fashionable, but they will do for now.” My body moved back into the capsule. I pulled out the pinned zipper from the white form-fitting suit I wore before I went to sleep. My skin had begun to attach to the inner lining of the suit. Upon pulling the flaps apart, I could feel the fabric pulling away from my skin like removing an adhesive bandage. As it clung to my skin in patches, I noticed pink rips on the edges. It hurt to finish peeling the thing from my body. Once I was released from the cacoon, I changed into my new clothes.
“I think you will like it here, Primina. There are so many things to see. There is even a beautiful garden park here. The whole facility was designed to resemble nature. We feel it makes the patients feel more comfortable.” Vanity chirped, as if I was concerned about that. I appreciated wearing my new clothes despite their ill-fittingness. “All changed? Well then, come with me Primina.” Extending my legs from the capsule, I placed my feet on the floor for the first time in ages. The moment I lifted myself forward, I felt heavy in my chest, already winded. As I struggled to maintain balance, my body burned. My lips twitched with a groan as I took my first step. “Are you all right?”
A furrow formed between my brows as my face fell. As I looked at Vanity hunched over on the floor, I reached out to touch her. “It hurts.”
Her grimace was pleading as she gazed at Cody. A sigh escaped his throat as he shook his head. “Help her, just don’t let the others see you.” Getting up, he stood a bit higher than Vanity. A minimum of six and a half feet tall. Instead of helping, he stood at arm’s distance from me and studied me intently. “It is to be expected. Your muscles were pretty much dormant for,” he said before continuing. “A long time. It would make sense, you would experience a little fatigue. That will pass with time. I would imagine moving around will be a little difficult for the next few weeks.”
“This will be awful if it lasts for weeks,” I thought, struggling to stand. It is doubtful that I could have made it to the other end of the room without Vanity tucking herself next to my waist. She also wrapped her arms behind my back. “Why can’t you touch me?”
“It’s not just you, honey. The hospital does not allow us to touch each other to prevent the spread of germs. If we get a scratch, we have to leave the grounds for the safety of others. To minimize the risk, we have a no contact policy at all times.” Vanity’s help was a godsend. A large wall of ivy hung along the walls, and my legs felt like they were encased in concrete. Outside the room, dirt-covered the floor. I could see grass lining the walls, as well as ivy and some other flowers. It was truly beautiful.
Through the hall, there was a large parkway. The path is made of polished stones, trees line the route, and a blue sky floats above. Luminous clouds passed over the open room, casting shadows on its surface. An expansive fountain is positioned in the middle of the nexus ring. It seemed that several people wore clothes that looked like the ones given to me. Is everyone one of them a patient? To cover up the thoughts running through my mind, I comment aloud, “This is pretty.”
“I imagine the people who designed it worked very hard trying to make it feel like being outside. I don’t remember it myself.” Vanity said.
“Why can’t you remember?”
Vanity chuckled nervously between her teeth. “Working too many hours. I mean, I mostly treat patients and when I am off duty I sleep in my room here.”
The artificial expression I used to hide my concern was as good as I could do. As Vanity used the same trick I employed to see through her rouse, she could do the same with mine. There was something strange about the whole place.
Our path led to a white wall with an electronic door, where Vanity stopped us. With a touch of her hand on the screen, the door unfastens and opens automatically. “This will be your room.”
Despite its size, the room looked cramped. Approximately a quarter of the space was taken up by a wall-mounted screen. Black tripod stools with a desk inset into the wall. On the opposite end of the desk, there was a bed with white blankets and sheets. An upright refrigerator and microwave were placed at the foot of the bed. Over that was a shelf with a coffeemaker and something tall I don’t recognize. The floor was made up of metal tiles, but it was smooth as glass. A glass-enclosed shower was located next to the fridge. An adjacent hand sink and toilet are located beside the shower. The space was just right for moving around. “Everything you need should be here. Be careful not to eat too often. The fridge has a few snacks but they will be rare, so ration them.”
After entering the apartment, I nodded. Rations are for times of scarcity, I thought to myself. Is there a war going on? “So, this is all mine? Like I can do what I want in here?” Vanity replied with a gentle bow. “Then, can I have paper and some pencils? I want to draw, and make posters. Liven up the place.”
“Yeah, sure, I will see if I can find something for you like that.” When she had surveyed my room and determined that I had been comfortable, Vanity headed for the door. “If you need anything, come see me. I work in the medical bay, so you will always know where to find me.”
As I took in the surroundings, I commented, “Will do.” I honestly didn’t notice that Vanity shut the door. Having jumped onto my bed, I lay down for quite some time. There was an ache in my bones and a burning sensation in my muscles. However, I was free of all the darkness that covered me. As I thought to myself, I realized that I had been given a new chance at life. I wouldn’t let an opportunity like this pass me by. As the troubled thoughts weighed on my mind, my lids still became heavy, and I went back to sleep.
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