Message from the Author

You've read the Prologue, Chapters I - IV and their Intermissions, and now you're ready to delve further into the darkness. Prepare yourself for the appearance of the Shadowborne and other sinister events as we approach the halfway point of Volume I: The Miraxis Index.

As always, I hope you enjoy the show!

- Rospo Briccone

Chapter V: Shadowborne

The cold air… the steady hum… the scent of metal… I slowly sat up and took in the scene once more. Yes, I was still there, still inside of that impossible facility. Still full of the same emptiness I had felt just days before when I had arrived for the first time. Therefore, it was not a dream, at least, not a short one. As I looked around with a veiled look of despair, day four of my confinement in The Miraxis Index began. It would be another day of having very little knowledge of my past and some unnerving knowledge of the future. I knew that today, the first mission would begin for Miraxis Agents. Little did I know that my concerns about the mission would all be very well placed.

“All Agents please report to your designated floor to be briefed on your first mission and sent into the void. Listen carefully for the name of your instructor and the corresponding floor: Sir Jent, floor 29. Sir Venge, 22. Lady Genevieve, 26…”

The public announcement system continued to drone the names of instructors I had never encountered, and the floor in which they awaited the arrival of their respective Agents. Kaiyandra and I belonged to none other than Sir Dusk and as the list went on, there was sufficient time for me to awaken myself and to encounter Kaiyandra.

“Hey!”

A rushing Kaiyandra tumbled off the bed and ran around to me, falling on her knees to meet my level. I already knew what she was so hectic about.

“Why are you on the floor? I thought, well I was sure that…“

I shook my head lightly as she stuttered.

“Kaiyandra, I wanted you to rest well. I wasn’t going to send you to the floor.”

“…I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”

Kaiyandra was extremely apologetic. This was nothing; there was nothing to apologize for and nothing to forgive.

“Listen to me. This was my choice; maybe I like the floor better. I wanted you to stay on the bed; I wanted you to stay warm…”

I felt my voice weaken as I spoke to Kaiyandra; a strange sensation ran through me, as if there was something I really needed to say. Suddenly, I blurted out a name.

“Gina…”

I felt completely out of control; something was making me say that name.

“…Am I… Gina?”

Time was frozen as Kaiyandra remained on her knees beside me, and I held a hand upon my mouth in a gesture rarely seen of myself. That name, it ran straight through my thoughts and flowed out of my mouth, yet I had not chosen to say it. The name just… came. Was this connected to the past?

“Gina…“

I repeated the name as I dwelled in my thoughts.

“Gina, Gina, Gina…”

Hearing me repeat that distant name, Kaiyandra placed a palm on my shoulder and looked directly into my eyes. She held her stance and stared to me as if she were in a deep trance. Softly she spoke my true name.

“Marlin.”

“Oh my… I’m sorry…”

Another vision…

A young woman had dropped her purse as she had come to sit beside me, the contents spilled out and I rushed over to help.

“Thank you so much. Sorry about that…”

She continued to apologize and as I replied, I noticed that the words that I released were once again part of the vision. I was not responsible for them at the moment of seeing the image, but they must have been words that I had said once upon a time.

“It’s no problem at all, really.”

She smiled to my response and seemed pleasantly surprised at my help. Now with the contents of her purse intact, she was able to continue a normal approach to conversing.

“May I sit here?”

She indicated to the single vacant seat beside me, one of the many two seat splits that the train had on each side…

“Yes, please do.”

This young woman sat beside me in the vision, I still could not control my actions but I comfortably watched, all the while picking up all of the information I could get. So far, I was sure I knew who this girl was.

“Thank you Sir. My name is Gina, may I ask yours?”

The kind-hearted girl extended a hand but I did not give mine back. What was wrong with the memory? There was a considerable pause in my actions but the scene continued as I realized that the wait was part of the vision.

“Gina?!”

Yes, it was true. This young, vivid eyed girl was the one I continued to see. Kaiyandra was beginning to become a frequent subject in these visions, these broken memories. So many had passed yet she always appeared within in them. She was deeply connected to me… Somehow…

“Marlin, is that you?”

We both appeared in a state of shock as the train began to rumble forward. All the movement around us was no longer in attention. A stare-down had begun, two wandering souls attempting to confirm if they had just met again, a fateful reunion many years later…

“I…”

The girl looked down for a moment. I witnessed a tragic teardrop and although this vision was unknown to me, I felt a strong pain in my chest, a strong anxiety as if I had just met a long lost friend.

“Gina, it’s been so long. Too long…”

She looked back up to me but her expression appeared a little different. There was nothing particularly wrong, but I could not quite spot what was bothering me about it.

“Xathoven-”

The name may have differed but its target was the same. Her calling was much louder, as if it had occurred outside of the memory… In one swift movement, the girl rushed to hold me but as she swung her arms around me on that mysterious train…

The vision had left me with the same taste it always left. Stinging and nagging pains were still felt all over my body, but when I reopened my eyes, I realized that part of the vision had not gone. Kaiyandra held her arms tightly around me, the hug that had ended my vision continued in reality. Tightly holding on, I could feel her soft sob; she was crying. She had experienced the same vision I had; it must have been a clear memory. There was no mistaking that what we had seen had occurred long ago in the past, but the significance of the event was what made it so powerful. Not only had Kaiyandra and I met several times in our past life, as Gina and Marlin respectfully, but also we had a meaningful relationship. We had met one time, and had remembered each other forever from then on. Could all this be assumed from what we had experienced through our rough memories? I could only believe so…

“…Sir Dusk, 27…”

The announcement of the destination caught my attention but I allowed us a moment to think. We had now hit a point in which our memories were so interlocked that it appeared almost too coincidental. Maybe fate let us have our way, maybe it was meant to be that we had ended up here in this strange facility together. It was a tease that we met each other in life between great lengths of time, and now we were together after our deaths. Regardless of the situation, the memory had given me a much greater incentive to be with this distant friend. I felt like I believed in her now; she was real.

“We knew each other… from so long ago…”

Kaiyandra let go as she spoke, her voice trembling with emotion and her face red with the blaze of tears. I could see that these were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. It may have taken days, but we had finally discovered a short yet infinitely meaningful segment of our past.

“I’m sorry, it’s just-”

“Gina, we need to feel this way. With every moment we feel connected, our history reveals itself furthermore. Our memories are clearer than ever before.”

She nodded to my words and as her tears subsided, I could not help but smile at her. This really was the girl I continued to see in my encoded past. I could not contain my own amazement. Kaiyandra, or should I say Gina, was truly the recurring figure that I saw within my memories. She was the girl that I saw on the train, the girl in the airport, and now she was the girl that sat with me pouring tears for our past. We may have been long past the death marker, but our feelings remained intact, particularly now that we had discovered just one of many truths of our lives before. Looking to her, I smiled and pulled her up as I stood myself.

“Gina and Marlin, our names… We must keep them between us; we cannot use them here. If you recall, we were told that we would not remember anything from our lives, but we have seen so much of the past in our time here. I think we are discovering more than we should reveal.”

“Yes… I’m with you… Xathoven.”

Her answer was quick, but it was the full confirmation that I needed to be sure we were on the same page. I felt just as she did. I wanted to share more time for us to connect, but I knew we had a task at hand.

“Okay, let’s head over to Sir Dusk’s floor and begin today’s work.”

Kaiyandra followed as I grabbed my pack and headed to the door of my room to leave. Although we made so many links so quickly, the fate of our pasts would have to wait until we had the time to relax. The first mission was to begin that day, the first true test of our newfound abilities and our endurance. Summoned to Sir Dusk’s floor, we left the room to find an eerily familiar sight.

“Nobody?”

The total silence of the halls rendered Kaiyandra’s words louder than they truly were. It was always a little eerie to stroll into the corridors when they were lifeless and hollow. Fortunately, we had a destination and there was no time to be distracted by such an unnerving yet frequent sight.

Seemingly unaffected, we made our way to the facility’s premier elevator which lined the lobby’s entrance. Per usual, the elevator knew exactly where to take us. In using it once again, it had lost its novelty and was no longer as impressive. Kaiyandra stood confident beside me and without words; I could tell that she was ready for this first mission as an Agent of The Miraxis Index. We had to balance discovering our pasts and performing our duties as combatants for the mystical facility. We knew not what awaited us in this first call of duty, but we were aware that any misleading thoughts or unknown ideas about the Shadowborne would be quickly resolved by personally encountering them on the battlefield.

On the elevator’s final halt, Kaiyandra and I stepped off to find the typical, desolate Agency lobby. Since the Miraxis Agents had been spread amongst many floors, each of which belonged to a particular staff member, there were very few Agents per floor. Kaiyandra and I only spotted a single other Miraxis Pair on the 27th floor. In a corner away from the elevator’s exit stood two distinct figures, something about them much more animated and lively than the other Miraxis Agents we had already seen. They appeared to be engaged in a conversation and they were too far from us for their words to be heard. When I found that Kaiyandra also appeared particularly distracted by the duo, I was comfortable observing them with her.

“Xathoven, why do they seem so… different?”

Kaiyandra’s expression showed true absorption and the reaction was mutual. While all the Miraxis Agents appeared to be dull and flat, other than Kaiyandra and me, these two were more like us. They were a little younger than we were but I refused to let age decide what I would expect of them. I knew that The Miraxis Index and its burden fell heavily on all shoulders. Visually it was clear; these were not like the others. Unaware of our total distraction, we continued to watch as they spoke to each other, inspired by the sudden life in our sight.

“She’s beautiful.”

Looking to the pair, I knew Kaiyandra spoke of the figure to the right. This girl held no familiar feelings to me, no connections in my mind as Kaiyandra had lain upon me from the first day. This was not enough to hide the fact that she was different from the other agents. Speaking softly and immersed with gestures as she faced the boy beside her, she was clearly into whatever words she sent to his ears. Taking notes as we looked, I studied the girl. She had long, vivid auburn hair. From the few twists of her direction as she spoke, I spotted her light green eyes. Her casual outfit was identical to Kaiyandra’s, save for minute green details rather than blue. Her expressions and body movements made her seem so alive; Kaiyandra and I were used to the droning movements and silence of the other Agents.

“Look at me for a second…”

Kaiyandra’s request caught me off-guard but I turned to her and nodded.

“Okay…”

There was a short pause; her visual observations focused upon my face.

“Her eyes are like yours.”

“My eyes are green?”

For a moment, Kaiyandra chuckled out loud.

“What’s so funny?”

“You don’t know what color your eyes are?”

Her expression of surprise left me feeling bewildered for a moment. I searched my thoughts and came up with nothing. It was a clear fact I had not taken with me, across the border of death, a fundamental piece of personal information that somehow I had overseen. My eyes were green, and I had never known this until now.

“Strange… I had no idea.”

“Well, in that case-“

Kaiyandra leaned in towards me with her hands behind her back. I stood still as she focused upon my eyes. In a search that was deeper than intended, she scanned my pupils with hers.

“I’ll give you the details…”

After a few seconds, she let out a thin sigh and returned to her previous stance.

“I was wrong; I thought she had eyes just like yours. Hers are green but yours… I don’t know how to describe them. They’re much darker, much more… serious than the word green.”

“More serious?”

“Yes… a cool dark shade.”

While Kaiyandra turned her attention back to the conversing couple, I took a note in my already saturated thoughts. Our eyes were not necessarily impossible colors, but the strength of their hues was unfamiliar to me. As I dwelled on this thought, I came to conclude that maybe I just forgot how most eyes looked. Regardless, I joined Kaiyandra in an attentive observation of the duo once more.

I inconspicuously pointed to the male of the pair, a young man on the left who appeared a little shorter, if not a little younger, than the girl he spoke to. As a Miraxis Agent, he also donned the outfit of a member of the facility, his clothes being an exact replica of mine, but with traces of blue. He had shaggy, light brown hair and some distractingly pale eyes. They were a shade of light gray that gave him an unpredictable image. He spoke back to the girl with similar gestures to hers; obviously, they were describing something as they spoke.

“Xathoven, maybe we should go talk to them. They must be like us; there aren’t many chances like this.”

Kaiyandra seemed excited about it. She was intrigued by the thought of meeting this pair. It was evident that, as she stated, they must have been more like us. I could feel that they would be friendlier than the non-interactive Agents we had always passed. Preparing to accept Kaiyandra’s suggestion, I was unfortunately cut off by the expected and timely approach of Sir Dusk.

“Kaiyandra, Xathoven, it’s very good to see you two this fine morning. I assume you both slept well?”

The kind yet suppressed tone of Sir Dusk held the power to either create calm or incite revolution, thankfully this day, he appeared easy and comfortable, if only for a moment. Kaiyandra noted that Sir Dusk spoke but was continually distracted by the couple in the corner. I took over in speaking with waiting figure.

“Yes, we both had a good night’s rest.”

“That’s good to hear, I admit, I was worried that something was amiss when Kaiyandra slept in your room, I was afraid she had fallen ill.”

Upon Sir Dusk’s statement, I felt a cold shiver run through me.

Had he been watching us? Fortunately, Kaiyandra had not been listening to his words, but to make a statement as he had, Sir Dusk was blatantly looking to let me know that he had been keeping an eye on our activity. Was it a warning?

“…You don’t need to worry about her Sir Dusk. I let her sleep over because she asked, not because anything was wrong.”

I spoke with a darker tone now; my voice became stern as I allowed my annoyance to leak out. I was now aware that Sir Dusk was keeping a lookout; to come over and verbally prove such did not help my already conflicting thoughts about him, yet my tone seemed to upset him at a greater level than I had anticipated. Had I misunderstood something?

“I… I see Xathoven, I do apologize, I did not mean to…”

He shuffled anxiously for a moment; I had not expected such a reaction. Without a word, he turned away and briskly returned to his office, softly closing the door behind him. Had I offended him? It appeared to me that he had attempted to attack me first so I had only countered his words.

“Miraxis Pair X-19 and K-17 please approach the desk for your mission materials.”

The announcement interrupted my thoughts and allowed me to put the minor ordeal aside. There was no time to think of Sir Dusk’s words. Kaiyandra, now having returned her attention to me, seemed unaware of the moment with Sir Dusk and with a heart-felt smile, simply awaited my confirmation to head to the reception desk. With a nod, I let her know that I was heading there now.

“Welcome to the Defense Department lobby, please await your instructions.”

After a few seconds, I was tempted to turn back to the couple in the corner, but the hidden receptionist continued speaking.

“Thank you for your patience. To initialize your first mission for the Defense Department of The Miraxis Index, please head down the extended corridor to your left. At the end, you will encounter a door with a dual-card slot on the side. Simply insert both of your official Miraxis Agent cards and enter the door, the facility will send you to the designated Shadowborne target location along with any necessary materials. Thank you and good luck.”

Following those words, I made my way down the lengthy corridor with Kaiyandra just behind me. As had been said, the door at the end had a panel beside it with insertion points for two Miraxis Agent cards. I quickly removed my card from the pack I was holding and turned to Kaiyandra awaiting hers.

“Oh, here you go.”

With a slight pause, Kaiyandra burrowed through her purse to find her Agent card; I kept a close watch since I recalled Avlis having possession of her bag. After a moment, she pulled the card out and gently handed it to me. I inserted both cards into the slots and gave the mechanism a few seconds. Curiously, the door’s handle appeared to fold together and enter the door, as if returning to the other side. After a couple of seconds, another, slightly different handle popped out of the socket and unfolded itself. The panel containing the cards then closed the slots, locking our cards in. Finally, a small indicator light on the panel let us know that by whatever process had just occurred, we could now enter the door.

“Some of the technology here is amazing…”

I acknowledged Kaiyandra’s words and shared the thought as I reached ahead.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes… Let’s go.”

With that, we were ready to leave. I wrapped my hand firmly around the door handle and felt a freezing sensation from the immense cold that enveloped it. Ignoring this, I turned the device and pushed forward into the darkness...

A few steps into the abyss, the door slammed itself shut. I was shocked for a moment, and although I could not see Kaiyandra easily, her voice let me know where she was and how she felt.

“… That just scared me half to death.”

With those soft-spoken words, I was able to determine the general direction in which Kaiyandra stood and extend a hand to try to find her. As I lifted my arm to search, my actions were halted by the abrupt change around us. The darkness suddenly scattered into a great light. Everything was white with intense brightness and I could now see Kaiyandra only a short distance ahead. Looking around, we were both mesmerized; the depths of light began to flash with lush shades of green and an eerie mist. It was as if we were being rushed through a tunnel of vivid colors, speeding by faster than the eye could see. Then, it all stopped with a complete halt, from what appeared to be hundreds of meters per second, to a velocity of zero.

“Wow…”

With a single word, Kaiyandra shared my full amazement. We both stood in a beautiful jungle. Surrounded by natural hues amidst the dense foliage, it was a remarkable sight. A deep fog impeded the view into the distance. By the lighting around and the intense mist, the local time was difficult to decipher but it appeared to be late in the day, possibly before sunset.

“How long has it been…?”

As Kaiyandra spoke, she strolled over to one of many towering trees beside us and ran her palm along a leaf. I crouched down as I observed the thick soil, its composition entirely natural and fully detailed.

“It has been quite some time. Our last encounter with nature or worldly life of any kind… was surely long before our arrival in The Miraxis Index facility.”

We continued to study the life around us; the insects, the lush plants, and the echoing animal calls. Eventually I remembered the truth behind the image and as I prepared to state my thoughts, I decided against it. Perhaps Kaiyandra, like me, just wanted to enjoy the worldly scene around us. In the end, she herself voiced the sad truth. Her voice fell as she spoke.

“As wonderful as it is… I guess it’s not even real.”

Proving her own words, Kaiyandra slowly tore a small segment of the leaf she had been observing; the ripped piece drifted to the floor. Upon contact with the soil, the leaf flattened out and began to glow a soft cobalt color. A digital grid ran across it, slowly deconstructing it and removing it from the system. Seconds later, the leaf on the tree systematically regenerated the part Kaiyandra had removed. The scene was no longer disguised, this entire setting was an illusion belonging to the enemy we faced.

“So this is how the Shadowborne live, in their own homes designed to look like real environments from Earth, an imitation of life.”

Kaiyandra threw a tragic expression as she kicked some soil around with her feet. She then gave an uncharacteristic response to my words.

“There is no life here, everything is dead.”

I could not find anything to say as I stood back up from wandering about the soil. She was right. Everything was dead; even we were. Almost apologetically, Kaiyandra turned to me and gestured towards the trees.

“Still, it’s much better than being stuck inside that facility. Here, at least the air is fresh. It will be nice to be away from that place, even if it’s only for a little while.”

I agreed. The air around felt so filling, so lively. There was no effort in breathing, no strange cold burden. Moreover, though it was a little cool, the air was warmer than it felt inside of The Miraxis Index facility.

“Xathoven, look.”

Quite suddenly, Kaiyandra pointed behind me; upon turning, I spotted the Miraxis agent pack I usually bore now sitting upon a random, compact table, Kaiyandra’s purse sat just beside it. Promptly, we made our way to the set. Once there, we both picked up our respective containers and explored them briefly. It took me only a brief moment to learn what we were meant to do in this Shadowborne nest.

“Kaiyandra…”

She approached as I hauled the heavy object from my bag. It was quickly recognizable.

“Wait… are we supposed to…”

Hesitation rang through her voice; she referred to the device that I had just removed. It was clearly an explosive of some sort. The loose wiring, the blank countdown indicator, and need not I mention the label, “Miraxis Endis-Core Device”; all ensured that those who received it knew well of its purpose. As Miraxis Agents, it was our objective to carry this explosive to the heart of the Shadowborne nest and activate the timer. This was one of just many nests in existence but it would be the first real test of our abilities.

“I’ll just carry it along in the bag.”

“Xathoven, is that safe?”

I nodded to her inquiry, slowly loading the device back into my bag, only to find that her hand would stop me.

“Gina-”

My protest was ended abruptly; once again, I had called her Gina. Her true name kept drifting through my mind and I subconsciously merged it into my voice. I would need to be extremely careful not to state those names near others; it felt like a burden for us to hold those names and yet avoid them. Our instinctive suspicion of those around us led to an almost paranoid control of our verbal exchanges.

“I appreciate your concern Kaiyandra, but I can handle it.”

Reluctantly, she took back her hand, her head hanging low as she thought to herself. I slipped the device into my pack and was able to wrap the container’s latch over my shoulder. In all truth, it was quite heavy. I kept the weight’s impression to myself.

Kaiyandra finished observing her purse and locked it onto her waist belt, letting it hang from the side. She made sure it was held well and then turned back to me. Seeing that I awaited her completion, she nodded and held her palms together.

“I’m ready when you are Xathoven.”

“Okay, let’s move out-”

The sudden illumination of the scene gave way to what was occurring. The flash and subsequent electronic sound was unmistakable. As I had just looked away from Kaiyandra, I doubled back and found that she had entered her Miraxis Form, her altered state of enhanced gear and abilities. Momentarily stunned, she looked down to herself to see what had been done. It was just as in training except here, outside of The Miraxis Index facility, the change was immediate.

“How did you do that?”

“I… didn’t. It just happened.”

No longer observing the event, Kaiyandra looked to me; her face told the story. She was as confused as I was. As we stood for only a short moment, we were caught off-guard once again as I entered my Miraxis Form. It was a brief yet intense feeling of cold that rushed through my entire body. After just a moment’s notice, I stood in my combat attire as well, with my blade and abilities at the ready.

“Xathoven, how can we control this? If we want to be safe, we have to learn how to control it for ourselves.”

“It seems to me that it’s not up to us to decide whether we want to enter our Miraxis Forms… or not.”

Pondering the words I had spoken, Kaiyandra took a few steps towards me and inquired.

“What do you mean?”

I thought of the timing of the event; our Miraxis Forms were activated as we prepared to embark on our mission. Was it as simple as that? Did our minds know when it was time to switch, or was it the work of the facility against our consciousness?

“I’m not sure. Maybe we’ll figure it out in time.”

“I guess so…”

She was not content with my explanation and rightfully so, for neither was I. It was beyond our current understanding, beyond our grasp. I expected the reason to come to us in time. Satisfied with the presence of our new forms, we returned our focus to the mission ahead.

We set off to explore the intricate jungle for a viable location to plant the explosive. Little had we thought of the resistance we would encounter, for our first conflict with the Shadowborne would be memorable.

Spotting a natural path through foliage, we moved along at a slow and steady pace. Trying to maintain silence, we progressed carefully as I crawled forward with blade in hand. I kept a watch behind as I looked to Kaiyandra; she stood with her lethal rifle at arms while continuously scanning the proximity of our path. Between us stood only centimeters, allowing us to continue ahead in a secure and tight formation.

“Up ahead there’s a clearing, be careful.”

I heeded Kaiyandra’s words as I spotted the terse split, the sudden spread of plants that created a well-sized, flattened area. Plants were thinned and the soil was loose, a likely indication of recent movement in the vicinity. Kaiyandra and I stood on covered sides at the natural entrance to this opening.

“This could be risky…”

Kaiyandra spoke in a soft whisper and I had to tune my hearing to pick up her words. I leaned to the entrance to get a quick look but the fog did not allow any sight beyond the first couple of meters. All that could be spotted was the clear scramble of foliage that indicated that it must have been a clearing.

“Well, it may not look safe but it must lead somewhere-“

“It looks like the perfect ambush point; do you really want to go?”

Kaiyandra was nervous. Looking to the path we had come from, I concluded that there were few options.

“I don’t think we have a choice Kaiyandra.”

With a sigh of anxiety, Kaiyandra looked down to her rifle and held it tightly, preparing for inevitable combat. When she looked back to me, I could see in her eyes that she doubted the chances of our safety during the operation.

“We’re going to be fine. This first mission will be the toughest one; we learn everything now. Don’t lose hope, we can do this.”

I had intended that my words would help, though I felt that I lacked any power to enlighten. Fortunately, I was placed with a partner who was close enough to trust my feelings.

“I’m with you Xathoven…”

Kaiyandra lifted her rifle and aimed out to the clearing we faced. She looked to me and nodded as I did the same back. It was time to see what we were up against. I kept my Miraxis Form abilities in mind; I needed to harness my almost impenetrable trait to keep Kaiyandra, as well as myself, safe.

Leading the way, I slowly stepped into the clearing, keeping my powerful blade in a position to strike. Kaiyandra covered my every step with her rifle, repeatedly glancing around in search of any movement as we moved on…

A minute of tense silence passed and there was still no sign of trouble. The scene was suspenseful, and just as we began to let down our guard, we found ourselves in the first sign of danger.

“You two…”

The fog slowly revealed the mysterious silhouette of a man just ahead; he slowly approached us with his hands behind him and a pompous stance. Upon spotting the attire, bearing the Miraxis brand, Kaiyandra and I loosened up, recognizing him as a member on our side.

“Who are you?”

This strange man appeared to stare at my request; it was many seconds before he finally responded in a stern voice.

“I’m a Miraxis Officer that has been sent to deliver a message to both of you. The Defense Department of The Miraxis Index has released a command to return to the facility, this is in full effect for all Miraxis personnel on duty.”

The man did not move an inch as he spoke. He stood tall and strong, awaiting our leave. Something seemed wrong; Kaiyandra read my thoughts.

“Why would we be called back? We just arrived, is there an emergency or something?”

“Your orders are to leave. Now!”

The dark twist in this man’s words was enough to unsettle me and as I prepared to yell back, my friend vowed to find the hidden truth.

“You said you were an Officer, why don’t you go back too?”

Upon Kaiyandra’s response, the man shot back immediately.

“Don’t toy with me girl! Go!”

Unsure of what to do, I stood looking to this man for some kind of answer. We did not trust him, as he did not show any signs of truth. Why was he playing with us?

I quickly found out what was really going on when I noticed some strange signs. This man was looking in our direction, not at us. It was as if his eyes stared beyond us to some distant target. In addition, he kept his hands hidden behind him, as if he was trying to keep something away from our sight. I took a step to the side in order to observe his hands and see what he attempted to disclose. Upon rotating around him, he turned to my direction to keep his secret safe. This would have been reasonable if he had done so normally, but he rotated without moving his feet, he simply turned as if disconnected from the ground. He knew what I had just discovered and he threw a menacing expression towards us.

“Kaiyandra, stay behind me…”

Uneasy, she slipped behind me, holding her rifle in the direction of the figure. She assumed as I did; I entered a defensive stance with my blade in hand. I attempted the final communication with this man.

“What are you?”

The face of this man began to shift, his angry frown became a frightening grin and his eyes appeared to fade to an ill color. A thin black smoke began to develop around his skin.

“We… are the remnants of hell…”

The figure vanished into a cloud of dark fog. I glanced around anxiously but there was no sign of this strange figure. Kaiyandra looked to the fog in anticipation.

“Stay close.”

I pulled her towards me as I spotted the approaching shadows from all directions. Eerie humanoid figures approached, like dark and infected creatures. They were just like humans but where soulful eyes usually lay, they held dark orbs of hate and suffering. They moved like broken skeletons, with limbs bent in horrifying positions, if not entirely missing. I had never thought that such a sight could exist; I was afraid of them.

“Xathoven…”

Kaiyandra stutteringly spoke my name aloud in discomfort. She was afraid as well but she was also more vulnerable than I was, leading me to make a quick decision.

“Take my hand.”

In quick response, Kaiyandra grasped my palm tightly. Using a combination of my increased strength abilities and her incredible lightweight form, I threw her upwards with all of my strength; as I launched her into the foggy skies, I gave her the instruction.

“Stay out of sight-“

Before my words were completed, the figures ahead of me began to rush forward. Seeing no other option, I engaged in combat. The deranged creatures rushed and I met their approach with a long swing of my blade. The effect of the Endis was instantaneous to their molecular structure, tearing right through them and causing them to dissipate into dark shadows of nothingness. As I took a small group out with that single swing, my peripheral vision witnessed Kaiyandra’s shots racing from the sky and pulverizing the creatures beside me. I knew I could depend on her to have me covered from weak sides.

I faced another group of the scary beings and swung away; once again they proved worthless against the capabilities of my Miraxis Form as well as the unique chemical compound within my blade. Once again Kaiyandra’s agility and precision displayed total dominance against these opponents.

A minute of intense combat passed and I spotted Kaiyandra hopping among the great, outlying trees as she shot from the perimeter of the clearing, eliminating the foes that most endangered me. I continued to combat the creatures that stood nearby in order to end their threat. Their numbers rapidly dwindled and eventually, only one such creature remained. I prepared to slash this figure with a mighty blow but my attack was interrupted by a crackling shot from Kaiyandra’s rifle. I witnessed the vivid muzzle flash to my right and in a moment’s notice, the foe’s skull was fractured and it disappeared into an ominous shadow of smoke.

“The Shadowborne…”

I returned my blade to its dematerializing sheath upon confirming that there were no more opponents. I bent down searching for any signs of remains on the floor below.

“How terrifying; the way they look and they move…”

Kaiyandra moved beside me and bent down as she spoke, trying to stay as close as she could. Putting her rifle away, she continued to glance around nervously. I countered with my own thoughts.

“It’s not a matter of difficulty; they did not seem hard to beat. It’s their manner of attack… large groups of nightmarish creatures.”

I dwelled on the fight we had just completed. I never expected the Shadowborne to be such physically intimidating creatures. It was foolish of me to underestimate them. With her concerns prior to the attack, it was clear that Kaiyandra had feared that the Shadowborne would be something like this. Fortunately, the small skirmish we had just completed was mostly effortless, but we still needed to be extremely careful.

“Kaiyandra, are you okay?”

There stood my friend, a bit shaky after what she had just seen. I admit that the feeling was mutual but I fought to disguise my uneasiness. She was looking a little delirious after seeing the Shadowborne. She… seemed to be out of breath. Something was wrong.

“I’m okay; I’m just… fine-”

Her words were unconvincing to me; I decided to approach her. She now stood bent with her palms on her knees, as if desperately trying to grasp every breath she could take, yet she had seemed unfazed just moments before.

“Maybe we should take a break or-“

“I’m fine!”

She returned to standing straight as she faced me again, but I instinctively stepped back when I noticed a change in her eyes. The soothing shade of blue that usually flooded her eyes had become a sinister and dark hue of purple. It was at that moment that I also realized that the colorful pulsations along her rifle had become the same twisted hue.

“Kaiyandra… what’s wrong?”

I tried to communicate as she simply stood still but there was no response. With little to lose, I decided to try something else as I called to her.

“Gina!”

Contrary to my expectations, Kaiyandra was immediately thrown out of the strange possession. Moving the back of her palm to her forehead, she swirled around a little as she recovered from the strange condition. I ran over to her when she started to tumble off of her feet.

“Say something…”

I caught her before she fell over and tried to keep her still in front of me. Her eyes were closed, but as she slowly opened them up, I could see that all had returned to normal.

“…What happened?”

She placed a hand upon her face as she spoke quietly. She seemed to have recovered, but I quickly had to sit her down on her own. My attention was shifted as I spotted the lone Shadowborne figure just behind her. Unsheathing my blade, I jumped to my feet, ran over, and led a swing of the weapon straight across the dark creature. In the single hit, it was neutralized, but for how long had it been standing there? It made no attempt to resist my attack. Returning to Kaiyandra I knew that I could connect his presence and her experience.

“I think one of the Shadowborne was trying to control you …”

Speaking to her, I could see that she was in much better condition. She slowly stood up and checked herself all over.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know how that happened.”

“These Shadowborne are likely to have more abilities than we can see upon combat. It will be a matter of time before we can fight them knowledgably but as I said before, today will be tough because of just that.”

“You’re right, thank you.”

“We should continue now Kaiyandra, stay close.”

I was sure that what she had suffered was an attempted takeover by a Shadowborne presence. What I just witnessed concerned me and I needed to keep a keen eye our new foes as we fought. With this new Shadowborne capability in mind, I kept Kaiyandra closer than ever as we moved out of the dangerous clearing into another continuous path of the jungle.

I walked forward at a moderate pace with my blade clutched tightly in my grasp and Kaiyandra close by. We continued down a narrowing path where the trees and plants became denser on each side, slowly squeezing us into a very narrow path forward. All was well and quiet until a monstrous thunderclap shredded through the entire jungle. The noise caused momentary chaos as birds all around us scrambled out of the trees and a brilliant flash of white light illuminated the entire jungle.

“It looks like a storm is brewing above us.”

I pointed upward with a finger as I spoke. Maybe I was stating the obvious but even a Shadowborne illusion of a natural event, after all the time in the unnatural Miraxis Index Facility, could only be exciting to us. Kaiyandra looked up to a sky blocked by deep fog and then returned here eyes to me with a soft smile.

“I would love a storm, so long as it doesn’t rain on us too soon.”

“Hopefully we will be out of here before any rainfall arrives.”

The dark pathway between the condensed trees finally began to widen up a bit after what felt like a lifetime of squeezing between foliage. The strange path we followed continued to grow darker as the time of day in the jungle ran late. We needed to find an ideal place to plant the explosive as soon as possible but it seemed as if we would never find any suitable location.

Nevertheless, we continued since the path appeared to be changing, opening up as it approached a destination we could not see through the fog. The storm continued to ravage high above us but as is always the case, the one thing we wanted to avoid made itself known. The abrupt rush of hundreds of raindrops caught us both by surprise. Triggered by the onslaught, we quickened our steps. We both knew that we had no way to stay dry without any shelter so we moved on, hastened by the downpour. It was quite some time before we found any sign of continuation.

“Take a look straight ahead. What is it Xathoven?”

I looked ahead to see the vague shape of a grand structure amidst the green shade. The fog thinned out as we approached the building to discover what it truly was. There in the middle of the trees stood a wondrous temple, an ancient testament to construction and culture. As quickly as we had discovered the structure, we assumed what needed to be done. The open passage on one of its sides backed up my conclusion.

“We need to get inside, that’s where we need to plant the bomb.”

Kaiyandra threw me a concerned expression as she spoke.

“But… this must be the nest’s center, there must be a hundred Shadowborne inside. Can we do this?”

As the rain flooded our senses, I took every possibility into consideration. Observing the structure, I knew that we needed to enter the enemy’s hive in order to complete our true mission. I turned to Kaiyandra who, at the moment, was seemingly unaffected by the liquid scattering about from above, and searched her eyes for her perspective.

“We have to, it’s the only way. Using the explosive out here is not going to do anything. The Shadowborne are our enemies, and if they are inside that building, we must destroy it from within.”

With the drops falling upon her face, Kaiyandra returned my gaze before looking to the structure in her own thoughts. Bothered by the danger we faced, she replied with a hollow tone.

“I see… okay then.”

Together we headed to the open passageway and we slipped into the temple. Escaping the pouring rain, we stood for a moment just inside the opening. I shook a bit as I tried to dry myself off. My hair was all wet and I wiggled my arms and legs in an evidently ineffective technique to remove the water I had accumulated. Helpless, I looked to Kaiyandra. Leaning against the wall, she had her arms crossed.

“Sometimes it’s better not to do anything about it…”

I heeded her wise words as she stood completely soaked; her hair wet and drooped, her attire as if she had just climbed out of a pool. When I looked to myself, I realized that my efforts had been in vain.

“I see what you mean.”

Kaiyandra slowly fell to a sitting position as she took a small break from our advancements. We had finally found our destination for this mission, and we had a plan. We needed to move deep into the temple, plant the Miraxis commissioned explosive in an ideal area, and escape the Shadowborne nest as quickly as possible. Thankfully, we had an opportunity to relax, but only right then and there. A calming torch light upon the wall made me feel a little tiresome as I sat beside Kaiyandra.

“We’re almost there Kaiyandra, just a little bit more.”

“Yeah…”

Her voice droned off as she sat hugging her knees, hanging her head upon herself. Fatigued, she almost slumped over as she gave herself some time to rest. The rain was still pouring and distant flashes of lightning filled the sky. It was quickly becoming dark but we had time to kill. This was simply a creation of the Shadowborne, an imitation of a beautiful environment from the real world we used to live in. Regardless, it was perfectly crafted in every way. It was the work of master artisans; it was the work of the enemy. These Shadowborne, what was their purpose? From what we had seen during this mission, it was clear to me that any conflicting thoughts that Kaiyandra and I may have had on the Shadowborne were no longer mixed. They appeared evil and their intentions seemed malicious, but what was their greater purpose?

Sir Dusk’s explanation of the Shadowborne was all that we knew; their existence stood between us and Paradise. Seeing the Shadowborne in person left little doubt in my mind of their corruption and darkness. I had held a strong hope that this mission would reveal more as to what the Shadowborne truly were and what they actually threatened, but so far, it had only been a matter of nerves and combat. What was the motivation of the Shadowborne, what were they looking to accomplish? I allowed myself another hope, this time that we would know the true Shadowborne intent before we left this illusive jungle. For now, it was time to lay back and relax for a bit. I wanted Kaiyandra to take a break and I wanted to think about the battle to come. What awaited us further inside the temple?