Message from the Author

As the pieces begin to fall into place, something continues to drag them apart. Will the puzzle ever be clear?

Don't miss a word and read along with Chapters IX, X, and their Intermissions.

- Rospo Briccone

Chapter IX: Second Theory

The elevator could not have moved at a slower pace…

Such was instilling aggravation within me, for I solely wanted to reunite with Kaiyandra and return to the dorms. She needed to know all the things I had seen during my mission with Sorin, as well as the truth of Sorin himself. The elevator crawled on, its groaning movement haunting my anxiety. After a grueling while, the machine arrived at the medical floor of The Miraxis Index.

I stepped out into the floor, aware that though few, the number of trips I had already made to this particular floor were unwarranted. I placed much hope that this would be my last arrival.

“Sir…”

From the open door of Kaiyandra’s room emerged the gentle nurse I had encountered several times before, her hurried steps showing a state of haste. I held no fear, for her expression conveyed that it was a rush of bliss more than perilous urgency.

“Sir, your friend has safely recovered. She may leave at your will.”

She kindly gestured towards the open door behind her and then promptly moved on towards another room nearby. Though she was leaving, I spoke to show my appreciation.

“Thank you…”

I was unaware as to whether she heard those words, yet I was unmoved either way. I swiftly made my way to the room where I had left Kaiyandra just a day before. Upon passing through the door, I felt a sudden anxiety as I immediately encountered her.

After the events of the day involving Sorin and other mysterious elements, seeing this girl once again was relieving to me. Having suffered the deception of Sorin, I now recognized more than ever my fortune in meeting Kaiyandra.

She stood quietly in the small room, avoiding attention as she gently grasped her styled Miraxis Purse that lay upon a table beside her recovery bed. She had been recuperating there for about a day. I waited unnoticed as she gathered herself and headed to the exit. It was only when she was close to colliding with me that my presence was realized.

“Xathoven!”

She jumped back momentarily, for I had taken her by surprise. Upon recognizing me, she returned to her stance. With that eternal smile, her expression alone was a warm greeting. I was infinitely relieved to see Kaiyandra again, fully restored from the strange symptoms she displayed just the night before. Her words told me she felt the same.

“It’s so good to see you again.”

“And you, I’ve missed you Kaiyandra.”

We enjoyed the reunion and we found time to speak before we left the medical floor.

“How are you feeling?”

She lifted a palm to her cheek and gently nodded.

“Perfect… I feel just perfect thank you.”

For an elongated pause, we stood still again… There were no words to say, just a mutual feeling of relief and the warmth of a deep friendship.

“Since you are free to leave, may I take you to the dormitory floor?”

“Sure, please do.”

Upon hearing her response, I walked out of the medical room towards the elevator, ready to head back up to the dorms with Kaiyandra close behind me. There were no others in sight as we casually boarded the open elevator. I had hoped that I would have a chance to thank the nurse for her service once more, yet she was nowhere to be seen. Kaiyandra stood beside me as we both settled in, and following a silent timer, the elevator swiftly shut its doors and headed upwards.

The warm hum of the elevator continued to flow. If we were not tired already, the calming noise was sure to put us to sleep. Standing in silence was not helping much either, and before I could say anything, Kaiyandra spoke aloud.

“Xathoven…”

With a short turn of my head, I faced Kaiyandra as she spoke ever so softly.

“I just wanted to say thank you… thank you for taking care of me. I know it sounds silly but… it’s so good to know there’s someone there for you…”

Her words were sweet, for she said them in such a wavering and melancholy tone. She turned her head a little, looking down and avoiding eye contact as she dwelled on her thoughts. I was unsure of what she was feeling at the moment.

“That’s what friends are for, right? Just as you told me before.”

She remained silent for a moment and I did not interfere. I was unsure as to why she had suddenly become so emotional, yet I had to believe that she was simply relieving herself of her thoughts.

“…I know I’ve met you in my past life, and now I’ve met you here…”

I kept my silence as she spoke, listening to her every word, as if deciphering a code. It was the sudden unexpected grasp of my hand by Kaiyandra that made me leap for a moment.

“I can’t believe that it’s just a coincidence… Xathoven… or should I call you Marlin?”

As if suddenly inspired, Kaiyandra emerged from her state of tranquility and looked to me, her eyes wide with suspicion. Calmly, I replied.

“We shouldn’t use our real names, we’re not even entirely sure that they are our real names-“

“That’s not the point, don’t you see? What are the odds that we met in our past, and now we’ve met again?”

As she looked to me, I was able to read the sudden enlightenment in her eyes. Something about the way that her voice lifted in such anticipation inspired me to feel the same way. Maybe there was more to our connection than just knowing one another.

“Kaiyandra-“

“Call me Gina; that’s my name isn’t it?”

“Yes but-“

“No Marlin, no! We can’t keep ourselves hidden; we can’t just throw away who we really are.”

In an instant, Kaiyandra grasped my other hand so that we now shared our hands tightly. I did not fight her hold, as she looked straight into my eyes with wild intent. What had lit her up with such passion? What was she looking for? I allowed her to continue and paid careful attention.

“My name is Gina, and you are Marlin. Gina, and Marlin, Gina…”

With our sights locked upon each other, we stood perfectly still. Her voice began to fade, as if becoming a faint whisper. Looking closely, I began to see her eyes close very slowly. She then began to waver, almost unnoticeably, back and forth. It took little time for me to notice that I was doing the same. This was it, we were bound to see another image of our past…

Our eyes shared a gaze once more…

I began to feel a little light-headed…

Everything faded into a deep and wandering darkness…

Black to white…

The scene emerged…

I opened up my eyes… Everything was blurred…

Where was I?

I quic, I gave up and tried to look around. There was no clarity to my vision, and the quality was not improving. I lay still for almost a minute when I suddenly began to realize that nothing was happening…

A sense of panic began to wash over me…

Uncontrollably, my breathing began to speed up greatly; I was hyperventilating. In coordination with my conditional breakdown, I tried to move my limbs. I knew I was restrained but I felt that I needed to try to get out. My rapid breathing was taking its toll as I felt my body become light with a lack of oxygen. A loud and sudden range of tones emitting from nearby frightened me. It sounded like an electronic machine was beginning to take alert of my panic. Was this a hospital?

I just wanted the vision to end; I no longer cared of what it meant…

Just as my anxiety peaked, I began to feel a great cold wash over me. The tones slowed down and eventually halted. I was no longer flailing in my hold. My breathing slowed to a crawl. Whatever was happening was calming me down, restoring me to normal.

I felt tired…

I lowered my head…

Everything faded for the last time…

kly found that I was unable to move any parts of my body. At first, I assumed that I was not in control of my vision, but upon discovering that I was perfectly able to move my head around, I knew something else was the culprit. Though my vision was weak, I could sense that I was in some kind of container; my arms and legs buckled upon some hard bed. After a moment of fighting the restraints

“Marlin…”

I felt an unnerving feeling in my eyes as they rolled forward and I returned to the present. Was I out of the vision?

“Please wake up Marlin…”

Gina’s voice squeaked with unknown fear. I had never heard her sound as such before, and it made me feel considerably uneasy. It was enough to jump me back to full awareness. I forced myself to sit up from my fallen position, Gina helping me raise myself. From her trembling touch, I could sense that something was very, very wrong.

“What is it?”

My voice was weak as I recovered from the strange vision. As usual, emerging from the vision was like regaining consciousness; and it still took me a good thirty seconds to find my way back to reality. When I felt that I had returned to normal, I finally observed my surroundings.

The elevator had arrived at, assumedly, the dormitory floor, yet there was nothing outside the door… All that could be seen was an abyss of eerie darkness. It appeared as if the floor had lost all power, and the minimal light from the elevator was only enough to light a few meters into the darkness. Outside of that unnervingly short perimeter, nothing was visible. I turned to Gina but her expression did little to explain what was happening, needless to say, it also did little to make me any more comfortable of the situation. She glanced nervously outside of the elevator and though it was difficult to tell visibly, I could feel her softly shaking. She was sitting down just behind me, holding on to me with a hand.

“Gina, what is it? What do you see?

It was frightening to believe so, but she looked as if she had seen a ghost. Ironically, we were already dead, so for something to be so frightful to her made it difficult for me to feel well at all. Still clinging on, she lifted a hand and pointed out towards the darkness.

“…Just before… you woke up…”

The way her words broke up indicated just how scared she was, and there was a short pause before she continued.

“…The elevator arrived and… There was somebody standing at the end of one of the halls… Then suddenly, the lights all went out and… There was a strange noise, like a long beep…”

I was worried, for Gina was filled with such fear of what she had seen. I looked back to the eternal darkness, looking for a sign. Who was it that Gina spoke of? Who waited amidst that lifeless void… or what?

I slowly got to my feet as I stood up, but Gina did not follow. She never let go but her hold loosened and I kept her close behind me. I glared ahead, and I found nothing. I heard nothing.

However, I sensed… something…

It was one remarkably long and ominous pause. I awaited some kind of event or sign but nothing would happen. It appeared that there was just no power on the entire floor, yet the elevator was fully functional. Both Gina and I could sense that there was more than darkness ahead, and that is why we were so still, and so anxious. I gave myself another minute and then finally decided to take action. I turned to Gina and helped her up to her feet, as she still stared into the abyss.

“Let’s go Gina, there’s nothing-“

A contained cry from Gina coincided with a strange thump that echoed from the end of one of the halls. I quickly darted my eyes back to the darkness. Someone was there. Now beginning to fall to frustration, I angrily yelled out.

“Show yourself!”

Nothing…

Or so I thought.

As they faded in, I heard the slow footsteps of an approaching figure up ahead. I tightly held Gina’s hand behind me and kept her there; focusing my gaze to whomever was heading towards us. The steps continued, each one a couple of seconds apart. We were not alone.

“Such a predictable weakness…”

My heart skipped a beat… That voice, it was her, the woman I encountered in the Shadowborne nest. She appeared neither human nor shadow. She remained unseen while approaching from the darkness. Upon hearing her words, I knew what she was looking for. I turned to Gina and nudged her towards the elevator’s far wall. Once she was in position, I turned back to the dreaded darkness.

“Don’t move Gina, stay there.”

“O-Okay…”

There was a tremble in her voice but it seemed attributed to more than just fear. I let down my guard and turned back towards her. Her expression was distraught. She was curiously observing her hands and her body.

“Marlin… There’s something wrong with me.”

“What? What is it?”

“I don’t know!”

Hastily, she placed her palms to her face; she was reacting strangely to something.

“Gina!”

Unsure of what plagued her, I rushed to check, ignoring the peril that may have stood just outside of that elevator. Yet when I reached for Gina, she was my dear friend no more.

“You fool…”

Gina’s hands slowly left her face, but what they revealed was a pair of shadowed pupils and the presence of the Shadowborne.

“No… It can’t be…”

“Oh, yes it can…”

The grim nod and glowing eyes was all I needed as evidence that Gina was no longer herself. Had she been an illusion as well? Was Gina like Sorin? I felt a shock run through my very essence but it was one short moment that rushed me back to reality.

“Marlin!”

A scream echoed among the dark halls behind me. That girl was no hallucination, but the shadow woman had switched her presence with that of Gina. She was now within the darkness. The grin on the disguised figure gave me all the proof that I needed; I had to get Gina back.

“I will find her-”

“Of course you will…”

The figure dissipated into a mystical cloud of darkness, just as many Shadowborne had done before, her true being still undecipherable, but clearly more shadow ran through her than the essence of a human. Her location was no longer relevant to me as I marched into the darkness in search of Gina.

“Gina!”

There was no answer.

“Where are you Gina?”

Still no answer. Unfortunately, it was not long before the elevator’s dim light was no longer in sight and the tension of the pitch-black environment unnerved me greatly, as it had in the Shadowborne mission before. I would not leave that darkness until I found my friend.

“Marlin!”

My hearing was attentive and I found a general direction in which to search for Gina. Before I had time to respond to her yell, I suddenly encountered her in the dark.

“Gina, is that you? Are you okay?

Carefully searching with my palm, I found Gina’s shoulder below; she was upright on the floor. I slowly dropped to a knee to meet her level. She was facing towards me and we noted each other’s presence, though the darkness was too powerful for any interaction.

“I’m okay, I’m okay.”

Just moments after she replied, the darkness fled. The dormitory floor’s lamps relit and all had returned to normal. Before looking around, I pulled Gina up to her feet. We were standing in the corridor of our rooms and before I even noted the full restoration of power, I was already heading for my room.

“Come quickly Gina, let’s leave these halls.”

Thankful that I had not lost my Miraxis Pack during the chaos, I reached inside to find my Agent card. I swiftly swiped it and in great haste, rushed Gina and then myself into the room. I turned back, closed the door and manually locked it. I hoped that it would be a sufficient defense, though I knew myself that our new opponent needed not use doors to travel places.

“What’s happening? Who is she?”

“I don’t know Gina… I’m afraid I just don’t know.”

It took many days, many troubles, and many encounters, but this was finally it. I felt helpless. This was something that I was not ready to deal with. I may have gained much experience in the strange realm of death, I may have even become a little comfortable with it, but I surely had not a clue as to what to do with that strange woman. She was already on a hunt of some sort, and she must have been following me all day.

“Sir Dusk must know something right?”

Gina’s face lit with some glimmer of hope, but an expression I must have made faded that light.

“This is out of his league, he’s not aware of this woman’s presence. I’ve seen her before, I’ve seen her where he has not.”

With sudden awareness, Gina glanced around the room. I halted my words as she looked back. She expressed a slight smile after briefly observing me. It appeared sudden and without motivation…

“Marlin, you look so tired. You should sit down for a while.”

“I don’t feel so tired… Well… Maybe you’re right.”

Quite suddenly, I felt light… My head was weak as I stood and a small swing had made its way into my stance. I felt unable to control myself.

“Just sit here. Keep going, I’m listening.”

Gina led me to the end of the bed. We both sat comfortably, it felt as if we had been standing for so long. The quickened fatigue of this realm was making us feel tired much faster than usual, or was it something more?

“I’ll just put it briefly; do you remember the other Miraxis Pair we saw yesterday, the two… that seemed so much like ourselves?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, I encountered the boy shortly after you were unconscious, right there on the elevator. We only spoke for a short moment and then went our ways. All I learned was that his name is Sorin. Today, since you were unavailable, Sir Dusk suggested that I do a mission anyway, just for experience. Sorin joined me and we entered a Shadowborne nest.”

“How did it go?”

Gina was vividly following my retelling of the day, though before I continued; a momentary flicker of the room’s light unsettled us both. I found myself reaching for a blade I did not have and Gina’s hand upon mine. Hastily, she pulled her grasp back and smiled dimly.

“I’m just a little jumpy, sorry.”

“We must stay aware at all times, from now on. Things here are slowly deteriorating out of our control; we have to be ready for anything. Do you understand?”

My sudden change of tone upset her slightly, but there was nothing I could do. She had to know that the future did not appear bright. Deep inside, I could feel that she knew what I spoke of.

“Yes, I understand… Please, continue.”

Feeling a need to finish quickly, I continued with greater speed.

“Simply put, I was separated from Sorin. I went looking for him but I could not find him. Instead, I found an area entirely bathed in the darkness of the Shadowborne. Far inside, I encountered the woman we just heard before, but she was able to influence my actions, as if… taking control of my body.”

Telling the story made me look around as well. There was nothing near, but I felt… eyes.

“After that, I appeared to awake, as if from a dream. Sorin was there and he quickly led me out of the nest, though when we returned to the transportation chamber, he revealed his real identity. The woman had been Sorin the whole time; she was pretending to be another Miraxis Agent, even when we were speaking with Sir Dusk prior to the mission-“

“How can that be? Wouldn’t Sir Dusk have recognized him? Wouldn’t he have said something?”

“The thing is… I spoke to him after the mission. He told me he never saw anyone with me.”

Gina’s face turned white. I only filled myself with some more dread as I stated the abnormal facts. Whatever or whoever that woman was, she was looking for me, just for me. She knew she could disguise herself as another Agent to get to me. Suddenly, I found myself observing Gina.

“Marlin, what does she want? Where is she even from?”

“I have absolutely no idea, no idea at all.”

We both sat still. The scene was ominous, the light was fading and all was silent. What were we getting into?

“We should just rest; it would be good for both of us.”

Gina noted the light continuing to dim, hinting us to sleep.

“I’m not sure I can Gina. What if she-“

“Nothing will happen Marlin. Come and rest for the night.”

“But…”

“We’ll take care of this tomorrow; we’re just not physically ready to do anything. You need to rest, please?”

She beckoned me to join her for a good night’s sleep, though I held much doubt I would sleep well, if at all. With no more hesitation, I gave in and looked for a place to rest.

“Marlin, come to the bed, I won’t let you sleep anywhere else.”

For a moment, I paused. I did not believe I even had the energy to resist. I accepted and headed over just as she lay within the sheets.

“Well…”

Gina turned to face me as I hesitated once more.

“Don’t worry… I don’t bite.”

She turned back away from me. Gently, I opened the bed’s sheets and placed myself within. The light had almost gone out and I was feeling quite tired. It felt nice to relax and lie down, though I was still unsettled and aware of my surroundings. I took a deep sigh and loosened my body. My mind shifted and I began to think of other things. I became more relaxed yet… more vulnerable.

“Marlin, Marlin, Marlin…”

Gina softly whispered my name.

I turned to her and was shocked by her sudden turn towards me. She reached out with her arm and placed it upon my face, stroking me softly. I continued to slip into my fatigue; it became my undoing.

“Marlin.”

She nudged towards me, inching closer by the second. The light continued to darken and was just seconds from fully shutting down. Gina began to fade into an outline my eyes could barely recognize.

“You know how I said I don’t bite?”

She smiled sweetly as she moved closer; her face close to mine, I felt another arm around me.

“Yes…”

The tired feeling washed over in layers. Every second it became more difficult to stay awake. However, my body appeared to have just enough strength to last that one more moment, the moment that told me everything.

“You see… I lied.”

The light left the scene… The darkness blanketed everything… and all I saw was the pair of glowing yellow eyes inches from my face. I felt my life force drain from my body…

This was no longer Gina…

“Huh?”

I suddenly raised myself from my sleep. I slowed my movement when I noticed that the weight upon me was not my own. Gina slept soundly, her head upon my chest. Somehow, I had not awakened her with my drastic lift. I lowered myself slowly… then I paused as I remembered something.

Had it been a dream? What had happened? Was this Gina? I observed her carefully before fully lowering myself back. She seemed normal, though admittedly, I knew not how I could tell. Only the eyes of a person gave away their true form. She was in a deep sleep and as such, I really could not find out easily. I assumed it was Gina as I felt a warmth I had not sensed in some time. There were no cold sensations from her touch.

I finally lay back down, placing a hand upon her as I prepared to return to sleep. She seemed so young, so delicate. Gina was a very sweet girl and I knew that underneath her rather gentle presence, she had a powerful soul. Sometimes, her nature would show, as it had upon our most recent elevator ride. There was great passion within her. She followed what she believed, what she wished. Was that the right way to go about life?

Yes… I believe it was.

Without that, we would not have become friends. Without that, we would not have discovered remnants of our past. Without that, I would have been a lesser being.

A sleeping groan emerged from Gina. She stretched for a moment and I held still as she did. Then she let out a deep sigh and was silenced once more. It was a deep sleep indeed. How I wished to have been in such.

I closed my eyes and relaxed. My mind was clear and I felt well; I just wanted to return to my rest, back to sleep…

“What now?”

I whispered as I lifted myself up. I was awake once more and it was still the same night. Gina was unmoved and I tried, with difficulty, to avoid awaking her. I soon found out why I had awakened myself.

I could hear a tone of some sort. A long, stretched out sound. It was like a never-ending beep. It slowly increased in volume by the second. I wondered deeply of its origin, reflecting on a sense of vague familiarity. I had heard it before, but where?

“Wait a second…”

Other than a strange tendency of whispering to myself, I finally realized where I had previously heard the tone. It was that noise, that same dreaded one I had heard in the mission of the previous day, that one which emerged when I encountered… her.

Now, I was fully awake. My mind had returned to a somewhat paranoid state. I could not just sit there, I had to find the true source of the tone, yet I dared not leave with Gina upon me. Unexpectedly, that became an issue no more.

I was disturbed to see a strange effect occurring around my room’s door. I watched as it appeared to twitch, shaking paranormally in place yet making no sound. It was a sight of horror, the door appearing possessed as it wildly shook in impossible positions. Then, it tore off its hinges and flew across the hall, smashing into the opposing wall. The loud collision jumped me to my feet as I leapt from the mattress; it also shocked Gina into a frightened stance.

“What’s happening, what is it? Marlin?”

The lights were all off yet a dim ambient luminance displayed the contour of things around. I headed to Gina to stay by her.

“The door, it just… freaked out.”

“What do you mean ‘freaked out’?”

The tone from before grew louder as it resonated from the hall. Before I answered Gina, she continued to inquire.

“What is that noise?”

“Shh… Stay quiet, and stay close.”

Aware of the potential that this may have been a twisted dream, I kept my wits about me. Regardless of the state of reality, I needed to remain ready for anything.

I approached the hall with great caution, the tone continuing to grow in both level and annoyance. Gina kept a close proximity and looked around anxiously. Though this was an opportunity for me to take a strong lead, I found myself glancing around in a similar manner as well. Upon entering the hall, I found little more light than that of my room. It was not completely impossible to see in the darkness, but it was very hard to make out more than outlines. I would find that my friend had greater vision in the black environment.

“Marlin, the other doors… they’re gone.”

I looked across the hall and found Gina’s mysterious claim to be correct. Other than the entrance to my room as well as hers, every other door on the floor was missing. There were just blank walls. Upon noting this, the tone appeared to rise again.

“This doesn’t look good…”

Through her words, I saw that Gina shared my thoughts. I just wanted this whole situation to end. I was comfortable going back to the first few days of being a Miraxis Agent, now things were getting out of hand. We were dwelling in affairs outside of our world, and we were all alone. With a glance down each of the two directions of the hall, I determined that the tone was surely coming from the corridor straight ahead.

“This way…”

“Wait!”

I halted my movement and turned back to Gina. She stood still, having not moved for the last few moments.

“Marlin, this is out of our control. I don’t think we should keep going…”

“We can’t just sit back Gina; we can’t just wait for danger to come to us.”

I kept a wary watch around the halls as I took a couple of steps to Gina. Unmoving, she glanced around nervously, a sad look upon her face.

“I’m less afraid of what could happen if we stay in that room… than what could happen if we keep going.”

I understood her fear, but I was compelled to move on. I was stuck in a risky situation, Gina wanted to stay behind, and I wanted to move on… To fulfill both wishes would have been impossible.

“Gina-“

“Please Marlin… Please…”

As she begged, I could hear the strange tone louden once again. I needed to act fast.

“We have to fight this Gina; I don’t want anything bad to happen, if we just wait, we’ll be defenseless.”

“I know you think we can handle this, but what if we can’t? This is something you don’t understand Marlin. There’s a thin line between bravery, and foolishness…”

“Gina, I’m not going to sit still while this sort of thing happens. We have to find out what’s going on around here…”

My hurried tone silenced her. I felt guilty, but then I thought of the situation. I admired Gina’s concern, but this was no time to stay back and wait for the worst. We had a chance to confront the darkness that haunted us.

I slowly moved ahead, only continuing at a speed equal to how much I could see, trying to recognize my environment before I stepped too far forward. It was a pace almost nonexistent, but a safe one nonetheless. I found that my guess had been accurate as the deafening tone continued to grow louder, we were heading the right way.

“There’s a split up ahead…”

Gina truly could see significantly farther ahead than I could, she noted the intersection a good three seconds before I even sensed it. Even with that extra time, I had not made a decision as to which way would lead us to the source of the sound. I stopped at the split and awaited a clue.

To my left, another hall continued. Its end, if it had one, was far out of our sight. Regardless of the observation, I knew that the sound was not coming from the left corridor, but in fact, it was coming from the right, very close to us. There was no hall there, no door, not even a dead end. In the place of a logical object or route, there, in arms reach, was literally nothing. I looked towards it in astonishment.

“What in the world…”

Nothingness… Complete nothingness. It was not an area of pitch-black darkness and surely not even a presence of shadow itself. Something about the way that it looked gave it away. We were looking at some sort of anomaly, a pocket of nonexistence. The tone was blasting from within it, as if announcing the presence of the impossible. Curious, I slowly inched my palm forward to collide with the strange force.

“No, wait!”

I felt my arm yanked back as Gina forced her way in front of me. She glared at me in disbelief.

“Marlin, you can’t do that! We don’t know what it is, what if it’s dangerous? It seems so… unnatural. Let’s just go back; this is outside of our understanding.”

“This world is full of things outside of our understanding. We need to find out everything we can. Every day we find something new-“

“I don’t want to find out what it is. It’s clear as day; this is not normal, not even for this world. We can’t afford to mess with this kind of stuff, I won’t let you Marlin-”

I continued to observe the force. It was just… there. It was like a clean cut in the hall, as if someone had sliced off the rest of the way, and in its place stood a void so empty that it appeared not even air existed within it. Yet, my instincts called to it. I felt like there was something there, something I needed to see. I felt helpless to the call.

“Marlin, don’t.”

Though I had not moved, Gina kept her guard up. I was staring into the abyss, the tone growing ever louder and the tension mounting. My mind rushed with thousands of images and thoughts. Why did I feel this way? The closer I stood to the emptiness, the more alive I felt. My breathing slowly sped up. My eyes glanced about wildly. Then I relaxed myself.

“What’s wrong with you Marlin? I thought you were better than this? Can’t you feel what I feel?”

Strangely, I felt indifferent to her words. There were too many signs, what if this was a way out? I looked into the void… I was going in… Part of me could not control itself.

“No!”

I leapt ahead, straight into the emptiness, into the tear of nonexistence, into an instance that was not of this dimension.

From that leap, I landed upon my feet, slanted downward.

Light…

There were lights along the ceiling. I knew not where I was for I could not recognize it. I appeared to be in a large room. There were no markings, no signs, and no clear directions. The room just seemed to run infinitely in every direction.

“Hello?”

I called out, but there was no answer. The only response was the elongated echo of my voice, running down all lengths of the area.

“Where am I?”

I softly whispered to myself. No ears picked up my inquiry, other than my own. I was all alone, with no guide for any of my senses.

Panic began to take form. I shifted my sight around nervously, as if expecting phantoms from any direction, but I was all alone. Then I sprinted aimlessly, where was I going? It was as if I was running from someone, but I was all alone. Once again, I felt a necessity to call out to the infinity.

“Is anyone there?”

However, I was all alone.

Alone…

Lone…

One…

My mind felt twisted. What was happening to me? I heard a rumble. My eyes caught the sight of a thin black line in the distance, covering every direction. The line rapidly grew in size and it did not take long for me to realize what it was. That same black emptiness was taking over the area. It only took seconds to reach me; when it did; my body entered a free fall. That tone blared out once more, in a form much louder than it had ever been. I let myself go as I plummeted, unaware of my destination…

I rushed from the ground and stood up. I took the most shocking and immediate breath I had ever felt, as if I had not taken in air for days. Having risen too quickly, I began to waver around and hastily leaned against the wall nearby. My breathing, though still heaving, slowed to normal over a short time. I covered my eyes, trying to readjust to the light while avoiding harm. Seconds later, I looked around anxiously.

I was back in the dormitory floor of The Miraxis Index. The hallway lights were on and I noted the presence of the Agents’ doors. It must have still been nighttime, though the event I had experienced felt far too long for the same night to still have been the present. I stayed against that wall, recovering from that mysterious event. I remained calm and stood still… at least until I remembered.

“Gina!”

I jumped off the wall and looked around. Which hall was I in? I needed to find my room immediately. I found the hall’s exit and it led me to the intersection containing all entrances and the elevator. It only took a moment to spot the hall where my room stood. In a mad rush, I headed to my door; it still was open just a little bit. I ran inside to find Gina.

There was no trace of her within my room. A sudden shock ran through me. What had I done? I left Gina behind; I left her behind in the darkness. I stopped before I made any assumptions of her fate. I dashed back out of my room and found immediate relief. Fortunately, I caught sight of the light beneath Gina’s dormitory door; she must have been back in her room.

I let loose a sigh of relief. Worried, I headed over to her door. I stood outside for a moment and gave myself a couple of seconds before entering. The door was locked.

“Gina. Gina, are you there?”

I kept my voice low and awaited a response. After a few seconds, I tried another tactic. Gently, I knocked upon her door to get her attention. Finally, I heard footsteps, dull and slow footsteps. Moments later, the door was opened.

“Gina…”

I found the girl I had been waiting to see, but something had happened. She stood dead still, holding a blanket tightly around herself. She had been trying to sleep, how much time had passed? Her eyes, and the skin around it, showed the clear signs of recent crying. Tears were still fresh upon her cheeks. The look upon her face told me everything.

“Marlin…”

I reached out to her, hearing her weakened voice. With a swift shake of her arm, she threw my hand away.

“No, I’m sorry. It can’t be like this.”

We stood still, staring at one another, yet a gaze of disappointment countered my gaze of concern.

“What’s wrong-“

“You know what’s wrong Marlin. You didn’t listen to me. I asked you to stop and you didn’t listen. Then you left me there…”

She turned away, avoiding any sort of eye contact as she thought. Then her eyes scanned the area within her room before turning back to the hall, back to me.

“What did you want me to do Marlin? This place isn’t normal, the things that happen here aren’t normal.”

As she spoke, her tears riled up once more. She kept a disheartened look as she faced me in disbelief.

“I’m not like you. I was all alone in the darkness, scared of everything, stuck wondering why you threw yourself away. After what you said, I finally found the difference between us.”

With a quick movement of her hand, she tenderly laid a palm upon my shirt.

“Marlin, I know that you’re not just here, you’re looking for more, you want to know everything about this place, but I… I just want to go. I don’t care about anything anymore; I don’t want to find out about anything else… other than us.”

“But-“

“Because of that Marlin, you’ll take the risks I never would. You want to find out more, and I understand that, but I just can’t do that, not with any chance of losing something close to me… Dead… I thought you were really dead Marlin…”

Her grip tightened as she grasped my shirt.

“Gina-“

“I’m sorry…”

Abruptly, the door slammed shut; the door to her room, the door to her friendship. There was nothing to say, she was right. I stood in disgrace. Why did I lose it? What she said, it all made sense. I had not thought of the consequences of my actions, the consequences outside of those that affected me. Now that I knew how much Gina cared for me, I had thrown it all away.

In a final attempt, I reached over to knock once more, but when I saw the light fade beneath the door, I knew it was best to leave. I heard only silence behind that door. She had gone back to bed. It was time for me to do so as well.

Disturbed, I walked back to my room. I was drained, both mentally and physically. Looking to Gina’s room once more, I knew it was best to leave her be, maybe for the night, maybe for a day, maybe for eternity. I held a gaze to her room just entering my own. I sighed deeply, turning around in agonizing shame. What I had done was so simple, but the choice that I made rang heavy in Gina’s heart. I went against her word. I had made the decision that revealed a rift between us, one that had not shown itself before.

I closed my door and hesitated before turning the lock mechanism.

“This realm is not quite what you make of it Xathoven.”

Those words had come from a corner of my room. The voice was familiar and I instantly recognized the clean figure that leaned against the wall. The old suit and the cane…

“Avlis…”

He removed himself from the wall and strolled over, observing various objects as he approached me. A sudden stop in his tracks caught my attention. He stared to me momentarily. Now, with the way things were going, I felt that this man could have been a way out of things. Now for the first time, I realized that his existence proved one significant thing, that there was more to this world than The Miraxis Index and its affairs. Maybe he knew a way out.

“Avlis, what’s happening?”

By his movements and his speech, I could tell that on this particular occasion, he had time to spare. That was fortunate, for I had hoped that I could extract much information from him. I needed to know everything, and I needed to know it right now.

“The Miraxis Index is failing. It cannot sustain itself. Only days remain before everything here ends.”

He continued his movement once more, but this time he passed me and walked to the locked door. He stood still, unlocked the door, and casually studied the hall outside. I waited just behind him and he eventually continued.

“This facility’s defense system has failed. The shadow is already within.”

“The shadow? You mean like the Shadowborne?”

Abruptly, Avlis turned back towards me, his expression, though rough as ever, seemed a little less sturdy.

“She’s here, isn’t she?”

“If you mean the otherworldly woman, the one that seems to be one of the Shadowborne, then yes, she is here.”

Upon hearing my words, Avlis turned back to the hall shaking his head. How did he know that strange woman? My understanding was still minimal; this was a conflict greater than me… Just as Gina had said.

“I can feel her presence…”

He ran his eyes up and down the corridor before halting where I had hoped he would not. He lifted his signature cane and pointed straight to Gina’s room.

“In there, with your friend.”

Discomfort rang through me. The woman was in Gina’s room, what could she possible have been doing? It was at this moment that I spotted the ominous shadowed mist flowing outward from beneath Gina’s door. I went to move forward but Avlis stopped me with his cane.

“I will handle this from here Xathoven. Do not worry, for she has done nothing yet. What I am afraid of is not what happens now, but what happens next.”

“Huh?”

“Xathoven, get some rest. There is no mission tomorrow. You will join Kaiyandra, speak with Sir Dusk, and make no contact with anyone else, is that clear?”

“… Yes.”

Avlis took a step towards Gina’s room, finally exiting mine and leaving me alone in my doorway.

“It will be some time before we meet again.”

I nodded to him as he stood before me, ready to leave.

“Thank you… Avlis-”

“You need remember just one thing Xathoven…”

Avlis lifted his cane and held it before me; he turned it so that I could see one particular side, one I had not seen before. Along the length of the cane, a spectrum of colors ran back and forth, pulsating in a uniform pattern. It was the undeniable presence of Endis.

“The only thing that can penetrate a shadow is the shadow itself.”

Without warning, he tapped the ground with his cane, as he had done several times before. I noticed a flicker of the lights as he disappeared, porting to a location outside of my knowledge. As he did so, I became aware that the dark mist beneath Gina’s door faded and all returned to normal.

I followed Avlis’s directions; I turned back and headed to my bed, closing the door behind me. His words still rang through me, their meaning finally becoming clear. Avlis was telling me that there was more to this world than The Miraxis Index. Even more, it appeared that Gina and I were being followed by that Shadowborne woman. Avlis clearly knew her, and some of his physical clues told me that he was surprised to learn of her presence. Lastly, I was now sure that he and Sir Dusk had spoken to one another. That time that the nurse had routed to me a message from Avlis… It was too coincidental that Sir Dusk had sent me straight to that medical floor. Now Avlis told me to that I would speak to Sir Dusk, as if the man had made an appointment himself.

I opened up the sheets and crawled into my bed. This was now the third time I would try to get some sleep. What an eventful night it had been. It would be difficult to close the pain I had caused to Gina, but now with Avlis, the Shadowborne woman, and The Miraxis Index itself showing signs of an end to all things, I knew it was not the time to stay apart. Tomorrow, I would have to make amends, and hope that through a meeting with Sir Dusk himself, we could find out what the future held in store.