Chapter VIII: Signs

“-Day two of the current liberation campaign. Please prepare for today’s mission, day two of the current liberation campaign…”

Just like that, it was the morning again. To my own surprise, I felt both physically and mentally healthy. Maybe I just needed a good night’s rest. The usual morning announcement no longer made me spring to action as I knew that there was some leniency in the commands. Yet, I had my own reasons to rush.

I sprang out of my bed and quickly cleaned up the clutter of sheets. I picked up my Miraxis pack, now aware that it contained the ability to spawn important equipment for missions as well as my Miraxis Agent card. With everything set, I bid farewell to my room as I left into the barren hallways of the dormitory floor. As I predicted, there were no other agents aside from myself. Truly, this image continued to haunt my thoughts; with every instance, I became further tolerable of the desolate halls. I managed to cast aside the sight as I headed to the elevator in great haste.

Once I stood inside the machine, I awaited the completion of its descent through the facility as it dropped tens of floors to an unknown destination. Although an appreciated convenience, the spontaneous programming of the elevators did take the control of its destination out of its user’s hands. I had no idea where it was going yet somehow, it always went where I wanted it to go. The technology was out of my era, as was much of the facility, and I would never be able to understand the concepts of these great advances. Countering all of my previous thoughts, the elevator arrived at a location I had not intended to visit.

“Xathoven!”

I recognized the figure that approached from the previous night, the young and anxious Sorin. He approached from beside the entrance as I stepped out into the Defense Department lobby on floor 27, not where I had hoped to arrive.

“Hey Sorin, is Sir Dusk here?”

“He was here a moment ago, he just went inside his office but he’s coming back.”

Low and behold, none other than Sir Dusk himself strolled out of his office, appearing as polished as ever with his expression hidden by some documents he held in his hands. He managed to stroll over to us before lowering the papers and offering his cheerful greetings.

“It’s very good to see you, Xathoven. First things first, I’m sure you would like an update on your partner…”

I waited patiently as Sir Dusk resumed observing the documents he held; clearly, they were related to the situation of Kaiyandra and of Sorin’s partner, Allyia. I could only assume so since he was searching for answers there, but who really knew?

“There is no need for worry, but I’m afraid to inform you that she will be out for the rest of the day. For her sake, we would like to give her the time she needs to rest as she finishes recovering. She is already safe; we are just not willing to put her back on duty until we are sure that she is fully healed. Rest assured she is in good hands… I am sure you find this reasonable-“

“Yes, of course Sir Dusk.”

He let out a slight smile as I replied, for he could tell by our communication that we no longer misunderstood each other. Sorin, on the other hand, threw his hands up and turned around upon hearing Sir Dusk’s words. He must have also been speaking of Sorin’s partner.

“That’s just great… What am I going to do without Allyia?”

Upon hearing Sorin’s disappointment, I felt a little of it leak into myself. I really did wish that I could have continued the campaign missions with Kaiyandra but I understood that the situation did not allow such. Her condition was top priority; seeing her in a healthy and fully recovered state would be well worth the wait. Regardless of these thoughts, I could easily see Sorin’s despair.

“As I said, there is no need to worry. She will be well by the end of the day. She needs sufficient rest to recover…“

“Yeah… I know…”

Sorin remained stationary in his own world and as an extended pause occurred, I broke the silence with an inquiry of my own.

“Sir Dusk, may I see Kaiyandra?”

The question was hopeful and as the sharp man placed his hand upon my shoulder, I knew the answer I would receive.

“I’m afraid that’s not possible Xathoven. She has been asleep all night and we intend to allow her to continue resting until we can conclude that she is in perfect condition.”

“I understand. Thank you.”

“It is no problem at all Xathoven. You may relax your mind, she is well.”

Content, I nodded to Sir Dusk and awaited any continuation of speech but nobody spoke. This was now the second unusual pause in the three-way conversation but it was less awkward the second time around. Sir Dusk identified the break and made a curious proposal.

“Today is the second day of our latest counter-Shadowborne operations and much of the facility has already sent their respective Miraxis Agents into the void. Since unfortunately your partner is unavailable, it is not necessary at all to conduct a mission but you may join the offensive if you wish to.”

The offer was unexpected but I found that it was an ideal chance to exercise my abilities. There was surely no chance of working with Kaiyandra on this day, as well as the fact that I had nothing to do in the facility other than wait for her return. This was enough for me to hold the will to fight in the void, to combat the Shadowborne, and possibly learn more of how our enemy functions. All that I needed was an approval by Sorin. Sir Dusk and I awaited his reply, aware that he must have heard our words, even as he looked away.

“Umm…”

The boy turned to us and expressed great confusion. He scratched his head and avoided eye contact as he finally replied.

“I know you guys were saying something but I totally wasn’t paying attention…”

I was silent and withheld, understanding of the boy’s bewilderment for I saw his disappointment in lacking his partner for the day. Still gazing to me, Sir Dusk nodded softly before he left.

“It is all up to you… I must tend to other business, farewell. “

The wise man approached the elevator and turned back as he stepped inside. He still looked to me, but now he sent a sudden and unusual gaze. During the entire exchange, he never made eye contact with Sorin and by my scarce knowledge of the great man; I assumed that he and Sorin must have had a poor relationship.

“Hey Xathoven, let’s get this party started!”

Sorin’s disappointment had all but washed away and with some enlightenment, he strolled over to the main desk of the lobby. I followed shortly.

“Good morning. You have been temporarily assigned outside of your Miraxis Pair if you wish to do a mission. You may proceed down the corridor to your left and use your card to access your assigned mission. Good luck.”

The figure behind that hidden glass remained unknown and we accepted her request to begin our mission. I followed Sorin down that familiar corridor to the thick door that stood intimidatingly at the end. Upon reaching the door, Sorin turned back to me to request my card yet I already held it out for him. He snatched it from my hand and grinned slyly.

“Are you ready to get down to business?”

I appreciated Sorin’s enthusiasm but I did hold some anxiety over how he would behave in the mission. I was admittedly afraid that he was the reckless type. I would have to wait and see.

“Yes.”

It seemed my answer was not satisfactory and Sorin, visually distraught, inserted our Miraxis cards and opened up the door. As we both entered naturally, he continued speaking.

“You know Xathoven, there were like… a hundred awesome things you could have said there and you just said yes.”

The cold door slammed shut behind us as we fully entered the pitch-black room, awaiting our transportation. We continued to converse in the eerie darkness.

“What would you have preferred I said?”

“I don’t know… maybe like, ‘Let’s rock this!’, or, ‘Hell yeah!’ But no, you just said ‘Yes’. I need some inspiration Xath; we’re not going to go anywhere if we’re not inspired.”

“Did you just call me Xath?”

Following that brief exchange of words, there was a pause. In the darkness, I had no indication of Sorin’s location but every time he spoke, I could find a general direction where he may have stood.

“Yeah, I called you Xath. Do you expect me to use Xathoven when we’re fighting? By the time you spew out that name you’ve got six Shadowborne gnawing on your limbs. I can’t afford to say something so long that it’s a risk to my health.”

“I guess you have a point there…”

I answered such and it pleased him. I assumed he was just trying to loosen me up and honestly, that was just what I needed.

The darkness quickly grew into that abyss of infinite light, a massive white blanket all around us. This meant that soon, we would arrive at the mission location. Just seconds later, the light around us began to be bathed in strange shades. Dark brown streaks and strange yellow orbs rushed by. I could not recognize what kind of scenery would show up by the surrounding colors shooting by. When everything finally slowed to a calming halt, I was once more in a totally different and intriguing environment.

“What do we have here?”

Sorin could not contain his surprise as he gazed around, mesmerized by the sight. I was not so hypnotized yet I understood what he had felt.

We stood in a wide hall, each side lined with small, circular windows and tranquil lights. The walls were curved, as if we stood in a great cylinder. The ceiling, floor, and essentially the entire surrounding area were washed with beautiful shades of exquisite browns. It appeared as if we stood in some luxurious structure of polished wood yet one look outside proved that it was something else entirely.

“Xathoven, you’d better take a look at this…”

Beckoning to me, Sorin made me rush over to his side as he stared out of a nearby window. His reaction carried over to me when I took just one glance. Out of the window, there was no floor, no nearby objects or surrounding features of any kind. All that was visible was the almost endless drop into the ocean thousands of meters below us. We were onboard something which was drifting in the air. A quick look around revealed a massive wing farther ahead, indicating that we were in fact inside of a large aircraft of some type. Outside, the sky was dark and gloomy; it filled the scene with a dull gray palette. The clouded sky could not be differentiated from the foggy distant horizon. Upon returning our attention to the aircraft’s interior, much of our surprise had worn out.

“Guess it’s time to get to work.”

In the surprising fashion I had witnessed just the day before, I entered my Miraxis Form. My mind knew it was what I wanted, and my body performed its duty; Sorin experienced the same event. We effortlessly became our enhanced selves, our attire becoming sleek armor sets and our weapons developing themselves before us. Observing Sorin’s form, I could see that the Miraxis outfit he obtained from this form was similar to mine, yet instead of the red trim that mine displayed, Sorin’s used the color green.

“Whoa, nice sword Xathoven.”

As had been the case with Kaiyandra, my observation had initiated a counter-observation and Sorin studied my equipment from a distance. His words prompted me to wield my blade and give him a quick look.

“In the training simulator, this is what I was given to fight with…”

My words faded when I realized that Sorin was too preoccupied with the weapon to listen.

“That’s pretty cool Xath.”

He returned the blade to me after a quick observation and proceeded to display his own equipment. After some fiddling among his gear, he held out both of his palms, each containing a different weapon. In one hand, he held a handgun of black steel. Along its short barrel, the presence of the mysterious chemical of Endis was displayed as it was on Kaiyandra’s rifle. In the other hand, he held a similarly designed dagger, once more with a composition of dark metals and Endis.

“I can go double duty with these…”

Sorin was gleeful of these weapons and he turned away to give a humorous demonstration.

“See look at this… I can shoot, and slash…. Shoot, and slash… Shoot-“

He repeatedly drew his handgun, and then sliced through the air with his dagger, switching back and forth with precision as he did so. It seemed that instead of one primary weapon specialization, Sorin had the lesser of both sides, ranged and melee. It would take some time to prove if this was for the better.

“Twice the skill, half the power…”

Sorin’s words reinforced my thought that using two weaker weapons would be a different battle style then the norm. It sounded as if he spoke from experience with the equipment, likely from a recent mission into the illusive Shadowborne nests. I stood waiting as he put away his weapons and looked once more into his Miraxis pack.

“Hey now, what’s this?”

The boy was digging into his pack, clearly focused on something enthralling. I gave him a few moments to pull the object out and show it. When said object emerged, I knew what was to be done.

“Another explosive?”

Although a feeling of surprise jolted me for a moment, I questioned my own reaction. Why would I have thought anything other than a bomb would have appeared?

“Yep, Allyia and I just used one of these yesterday.”

The explosive was an exact duplicate of what Kaiyandra and I had used on our mission as well. It was simply a standard issue Endis-Core explosive from The Miraxis Index; yet maybe there was nothing standard about that.

“I can carry that, Sorin; I’ve been modified to take heavy damage.”

Sorin displayed a mischievous smile and shook his head softly.

“I’ve got it covered Xathoven… Hidden from all eyes…”

Unexpectedly, Sorin disappeared entirely from my sight. Instinctively moving to action, I took out my blade and stood prepared for anything. I used all of my senses to search for Sorin around the aircraft’s wide hall; there was no sign of him anywhere.

“Sorin, where are you?”

I glanced around in search of the boy but he had left no trail of his path. He had simply disappeared. His location was given away when I felt a subtle collision at the end of my blade.

“Xath! Watch where you’re holding that thing.”

In the blink of an eye, Sorin’s physical form reappeared just a little less than a meter from where I stood. With his face scrunched up in minor pain, he rubbed his left shoulder where my sword had made light but sharp contact.

“You can turn invisible?”

Unintentionally ignoring his pain, I inquired of his grand ability. He responded in detail as he continued to exaggerate the collision.

“Not necessarily… You see, the way it works is…”

With a blank pause, Sorin’s deep thoughts had him gazing upwards as he considered ways to explain his ability. He pondered for a short moment before extending an apt answer.

“Yes, I can turn invisible.”

“That’s quite cool. That could prove to be a very effective utility.”

“Utility? I was thinking more along the lines of… chick magnet.”

Sorin raised a brow and nodded his head concurrently. I appreciated Sorin’; he added much life where there quite literally was none. In fact, I had not realized how much time we had wasted in that one hall until I spotted a small group of approaching Shadowborne far behind Sorin.

“That chick magnet’s going to have to wait; we’ve got the attention of something else.”

I took out my blade and pointed towards the band of Shadowborne stragglers traveling towards us. Sorin secured his pack containing the bomb and swiftly wielded both of his weapons. He took a quick look towards the Shadowborne group and turned back to me scoffing.

“Xathoven, you can’t do that. You made it seem like something dangerous was coming.”

Sorin rolled his dagger in one hand and in an abrupt movement, turned back to the Shadowborne creatures. In the usual manner, the horrific demons approached, with a dark aura that lent a tremendous amount of cold air into the area. Their glowing eyes locked onto Sorin as he was the closer target. Instantaneously he drew his handgun; rapid shots rang out and echoed among the rounded walls. As he blasted the Shadowborne with the invincible rounds of Endis, he threw his dagger to a particularly distant foe behind the group, striking the opponent right in between the eyes. The Shadowborne figures all faded into nothingness and as quickly as it had begun, the fight was over. I never even moved an inch.

“…I see you know what you’re doing.”

Sorin rolled his handgun back into his belt and upon snapping his fingers, teleported the thrown dagger back into his hand. He grinned in deserved pride. Had he known it would go that well or was luck on his side?

“Don’t worry about me Xath; I’ve got myself pretty well covered.”

“We still need to work together; it would be silly to risk unnecessary danger to ourselves.”

“Oh, I think the Shadowborne are the ones that need to worry here…”

Sorin’s confidence was welcome but the dangers of the Shadowborne were frequently underestimated, as was their tendency to fight in large numbers.

“Is it okay with you if I hold the bomb?”

Sorin’s question took me a little by surprise for I had already thought he was just going to take the bomb regardless of what I said.

“…Yes, of course. That is as long as you’re comfortable with it.”

Upon hearing my answer, Sorin chuckled and secured his Miraxis pack containing the explosive. Just a moment later, he indicated that he was ready to go.

“It would be best to head in the direction the Shadowborne came from…”

A quick glance towards that direction revealed that the Shadowborne must have come from a particular narrow hall, one of several which led to the open room in which we stood. I was ready to take care of the mission and be done; although Sorin and I had only just arrived, I could not keep my mind clear. Against my will, the ill thoughts of Kaiyandra’s condition continued to flush my willpower. I had felt all right only moments before, why was I plagued by those feelings again?

“Xath… you all right buddy?”

My abrupt lack of focus was becoming dangerous, how long had we been walking down that thin hall? Little did I notice that we had even entered it.

“… I’m fine, thank you.”

I looked around in bewilderment of what had just occurred. It was as if I had lost all sense of time and space, if only for a moment. I had placed much effort in attempts to waver my thoughts; it worked so well when Sorin and I first entered the nest. Now was the time to battle my mind and keep my focus straight. Complete the mission…

Seeing that I was a little out of shape, Sorin lightly tapped me and nodded.

“I’ll take point Xath, just follow me.”

In a normal situation, I would never have given up the front position, for I was the one capable of sustaining brutal impacts. I made an exception here simply because of the factors involved; I was a little distracted and Sorin’s abilities excelled for staying hidden and avoiding danger. It seemed reasonable for him to take my place, at least temporarily.

Sorin headed with quick pace down the length of the long hall; I followed with wary eyes. After the sudden battle where we had first arrived, it was a bit unorthodox that there had been no sign of the Shadowborne since. My thoughts were ill timed.

An eerie and elongated screeching noise caught us both by surprise. Preparing for combat, we backed against one side of the hall and readied our weapons. At first it had sounded as if some wretched demon were approaching but after several seconds of the noise, it began to seem more like collapsing metal than the cries of a creature.

“What the hell is that?”

Sorin’s outspoken curiosity made the two of us let up our guard in search of the source. A great rumble began to shake the entire aircraft and it became difficult to stand our ground. Now with my thoughts in the present, I took over once more.

“We need to get out of this hall, come on Sorin!”

After traversing most of the path, the exit seemed so close, yet the growing trembling of everything around us made our escape that much more complicated. At the fastest possible pace, I sprinted towards the exit; the walls were quaking back and forth and the floor shifted as well.

“Yikes!”

Sorin’s yelp shortly followed the quick squeak that I heard behind me. In the midst of the intensity, I turned and spotted him rolling over as he slipped off his feet and fell. Immediately I ran back to him and tried to help him up.

“That was kind of fun, can I do it again?”

“Now’s not the time Sorin!”

The shaking of the aircraft had now reached its peak; the massive rumbling was making everything sway violently. As I helped Sorin up, I realized just how close the hall’s exit was and made a quick albeit risky decision.

“Hey, what are you- ahh!”

Before Sorin could make a run for the exit, I grasped his forearm. In one swift throw, I prepared to use all of my power to launch him to the exit as quickly as I could. As I carried out the movement, a strange red aura began to flow around my right arm. Just as I was only a moment from letting go of Sorin, a sudden rush ran through me. It felt as if a wave of magma had spread throughout my body and a sudden stinging force within my right arm let me know what was happening. Throwing Sorin should have been a difficult and slow process, yet the condition I had entered changed all of that.

The next thing I saw was Sorin flailing as his body was catapulted out of the hall, being thrown far more distant then I had expected, and yet with such ease. I had no time to analyze what had occurred. It was my turn to escape. I made another strong dash forward but the building tilt of the hallway’s flooring greatly impeded my progress. One glance back revealed that the aircraft was collapsing behind me, its destruction heading my way. If I did not get out now, it would be game over.

I pushed as hard as I could, throwing myself towards the exit in a last ditch attempt. I landed just before the end but my momentum allowed me to slide the last meter. I rolled into the hallway where Sorin now stood and tried to get back up as soon as I could.

“Duck!”

I fell back to the floor upon hearing Sorin as a great and blinding light filled the area. Everything became strangely silent for a very short moment. Then a large explosion occurred within the hall. The rumbling slowly subsided and I stood up to see what had occurred. The structuring above us had somehow given way and the entire upper floors had collapsed, piling on top of each other and causing devastating damage as they fell. We watched as the entire hall that we had stood in just moments before ceased to exist, joining a widespread clutter of decimated construction that proceeded to fall out of the sky.

It was an unbelievable sight as we watched the entire other half of the aircraft descend into the ocean thousands of meters below, leaving an empty, bleak horizon in front. In a clever automated process, a metal plate suddenly closed up the opening that we looked out of.

“Calibrating stability...”

A synthetic voice echoed all around and after at least ten seconds of dramatic tilting throughout the aircraft, everything became dead still. I myself stood in a loose stance, trying to recover from that frantic event, my heart beating wildly as I fell to a knee to catch my breath. I needed a moment to recover, and although Sorin clearly did as well, he was able to speak.

“Okay… I’m not gonna lie, I almost crapped my pants.”

Sorin bent down as he panted heavily, trying to regain his breath. The scenario was surely unexpected; I understood that the Shadowborne dwelled in their own developed nests, but a flying fortress was a bit much. It was a completely new world of danger introduced to Miraxis Agents and surely a preview as to how complicated sabotaging the nests would become. With a frown and a soft shake of my head, I slowly stood back up and checked that all of my gear was intact.

“It looks like this mission just became much more difficult. Are you ready to move ahead?”

As I saw Sorin return to normal, I assumed all was well and I briskly moved forward, yet I had forgotten about a very important factor.

“Hey now, wait just a second mister, aren’t you missing something here?”

Unaware of what Sorin spoke of, I headed back to him to inquire.

“What are you referring to?”

Sorin scoffed and threw his hand in disbelief.

“Are you telling me you don’t remember shooting me out of that hallway like I was a baseball, and then your arm was glowing red. Obviously you have one of those special abilities…”

I had put little thought into what had occurred in the hall but then it finally hit me; that was not part of my Miraxis Form, it was something else entirely. It felt different, it looked different, and surely, its effect was different as well. Falling deeper into my thoughts, I found something even more intriguing. Just the day before, when Kaiyandra had somehow healed me through her touch… was this also an ability disconnected from her Miraxis Form? It was a much more distinct ability and it was also accompanied by a similar vivid aura.

“Interesting…”

I observed my right arm with careful attention to details, but there was no feeling as I had felt before, no red glow of otherworldly magic.

“You won’t find it now; it only works in moments of desperation.”

“Desperation…”

“Yeah, desperation. Are you even on the same planet as me Xathoven? Hello?”

Per usual, I had found a way to drift into my thoughts, unintentionally neglecting Sorin’s words. I quickly returned to reality and replied.

“Sorry. I was just thinking… Kaiyandra did something similar yesterday and-“

Oh, that’s just great, am I the only one?”

Sorin threw his hands up in frustration, a clear sign that he had not obtained a special ability himself, or at least he had not yet encountered it.

“Sorin, if these abilities are triggered by desperation, then it’s only logical you haven’t found yours yet. You are much more calm in intense situations, maybe a bit careless, but assuredly relaxed.”

“So what are you saying, I’ll never find a special ability?”

“No, I’m saying you’ll find yours when you finally get desperate.”

Sorin tilted his head in a gesture of disbelief. He then cracked his knuckles as he prepared for us to continue moving.

“Well, let me tell you, I’m pretty desperate right now, and nothing’s happening-“

Cutting short our chat, a familiar ring caught us both by surprise. Sorin immediately traced it to his Miraxis pack and quickly pulled out the mapping device which Kaiyandra and I had encountered the previous day.

“Kind of late…”

Sorin mumbled as he tried to hold the device straight, for it needed to be parallel to the ground below to function properly. Moments later, the holographic map appeared. The white dot that indicated our location sat right at the end of the rear side of the craft, at least the rear side of the half that remained. Searching carefully, I spotted the destination marker, a flashing red dot. It appeared a couple of floors below us near the front of the craft.

“The room we need to head to looks pretty big, it’s probably a cargo bay or something. It would make sense you know, I’m sure the Shadowborne are having a party or something down there.”

“Yes, and it looks like the stairs are split between the front and the rear of the aircraft. Every time we move between levels, we have to traverse the entire floor to continue…”

It appeared to be a lengthy journey, one trip to the front of the aircraft on the current floor, down a staircase and then across that level, down another set of stairs, and then along that floor to the destination. Thankfully, there was no time limit, yet it was in the nature of Miraxis Agents to rush anyway. Sorin returned the device to his pack and took his weapons in hand.

“I’ve got your back, move out.”

At his word, I readied my blade and moved forward, turning a nearby corner to see the expanse of the floor, an intricate maze of doors and walls. We had entered the living quarters of the plane and there was no doubt that a bountiful mass of Shadowborne awaited within the rooms and hidden abound. The area would prove dangerous, for when the Shadowborne enter certain proximity with a human, they slowly begin to devour their spirit through a cold, stinging darkness.

The path that led to the stairs was intricately placed, a series of turns amongst various rooms that loomed with eerie silence. Although the aircraft had seemed like such an unusual choice at first, I was beginning to see why the Shadowborne had decided to enclose themselves there; they always had the advantage. The Shadowborne were playing a defensive game now, unlike the encounter the previous day, in which they were scattered about the jungle with a clever trap set. They were well aware that for us to cause any threat to the aircraft’s vital systems and in turn their nest, we would have to travel a path now dictated by the Shadowborne themselves. Approaching the first door on our way to the destination, I kept all of these factors in mind.

“Sorin…”

Keeping the volume of my voice to a minimum, I beckoned Sorin to me so that my words could become whispers and still find ears.

“Keep your eyes behind us, each one of these doors is a potential ambush point and the last thing we want is to be surrounded by Shadowborne.”

Heeding my words, Sorin turned back to face our trail with both weapons ready. I knew that the path to the stairs could be reached just by moving through the narrow corridor between the rooms, what I did not know was which rooms were empty and which ones held threats. The way to the stairs was complex and it seemed like there were doors everywhere. The way that the corridor was designed to weave between the rooms was a clear sign that danger was near and it would not be easily averted.

I took the first steps onward, keeping a slow pace as my eyes anxiously watched each door we passed in search of peril. One, two, three… It appeared that I had exaggerated the dangers of the hall as we moved on, rounding corners with no signs of danger. Our only company was the hollow silence. After what must have been a minute of controlled breathing and snail paced sneaking, the dim descent of a rounded staircase caught my eye just up ahead.

“We’re almost there...”

I kept my whisper at such a minimum that I mostly mumbled those words. Expectedly, Sorin remained silent and our approach to the stairs suddenly came to an end. A great sigh escaped me, as I stood at the top of the stairs, relieved that we had made the trip without worry. As I stood, hunched over a little, I began to notice that my sigh had become a heavy heave. My panting grew wild as the thin lighting around began to dim even more.

“What’s happening?”

I exclaimed my anxiety yet when I turned to see Sorin; it was not the young man I would find listening. A short distance from my body stood a dark and wispy Shadowborne figure, gleaming over with its twisted essence and twilight flames, all the while its unearthly eyes drifting towards me. As I had felt just the day before, the creature was consuming my very existence. With my energy drained and my body swaying as if dangling from strings, I was barely able to slide my blade across the demon, the effects of the wondrous Endis undoing the foe.

In the typical fashion of these unyielding opponents, it disappeared among a black cloud of darkness, assumed defeated yet its true condition unknown. I fell to a crouch to avoid falling over as my natural human essence returned to me, overtaking the now lost Shadowborne influence. I gave myself some time to recover yet I threw away the process when I was forced to action by sounds. I heard gunshots ring out from down the stairs, among the dark audible rumblings of a Shadowborne presence.

“Sorin!”

In response to the realization, I dashed down the stairs to discover a floor entirely void of obstacles, simply a long hall that led to the next staircase, once more with doors lining the sides. Other than this floor having been the source of the sounds, I had no sign as to where Sorin may have been. Clearly, he was engaged with the Shadowborne yet the floor was now empty and silent. I awaited a sound from one of the doors on either side… Nothing was heard. I decided to take action and rushed to the door just to my right, slamming it open in hope of finding Sorin inside. Instead, I found another hall, an exact replica of the hall I had just left.

I felt a rush as I spotted a doorway open at the opposite end of the hall and in a mad dash, I sprinted over to check it out. Inside I did not find Sorin; I did not even find a room. The door led to another hall. The series of halls was complicating the search, and as I stood mid doorway, I looked between the two halls in search of a sign. Scanning the area, something astounding caught my eye.

“How is this possible?”

Leaning a little to see more clearly down the hall, I spotted part of a figure standing within the entrance of a door. It took little time to realize that I was seeing myself down the hall I stood in. This was no row of halls, no connection of segments. Every hallway was the same one, each door simply opening another door in the same path. Stunned, I was then thrown off when I spotted abrupt flashes and heard loud shots originating from the next downward stairs ahead. I was still one floor higher than Sorin. Once again, I rushed to the end of the hall to reach the stairs, now ready for the final descent. On my way to the stairs, my run became a slow walk, and eventually, I stood still again in confusion.

Just a moment before, I had been facing the stairs that headed down; now I was somehow looking to the stairs that I had just taken down before. It seemed that I had made my way to the wrong stairs; looking back confirmed this as I spotted the correct destination behind me. Hastily, I turned back and headed to the stairs. Unfortunately, the approach to that staircase proved otherwise. It was also an ascent. Now irritated by the illusive floor, I headed back up the stairs without reason and as expected, it returned me to the floor Sorin and I had traversed recently. Ignoring the looming danger, I ran backwards through our path until I discovered the culprit. One of the doors we had passed was wide open. That room must have contained the access point to head down the aircraft’s levels, for the floor just down the stairs was clearly an illusion.

Ready for anything, I dived into the room in a hectic rush, finding nothing but a dark and bland area and another door that I immediately suspected. I wasted no time in entering the door, finding a dark and narrow spiral staircase awaiting me. This was the true path to move down the floors. I remained in an uneasy state of mind as I skipped down the steps, for what had started as a confident offensive on the Shadowborne nest was now beginning to crumble into a volatile mess. I needed to find Sorin, plant the explosive, and escape as soon as possible. Now deep into the second mission, I could see an underlying factor of conflicts with the Shadowborne; the longer it takes to defeat the opponent, the more difficult it becomes to survive.

With a foot at the bottom and the other still standing on the final step of the stairs, I halted abruptly and held my breath still. The exit was a door swung wide open, the key to leaving the uncomfortably small stairwell, but the floor in which I now stood was unlike the others I had traveled. A single dim light bathed the bottom of the stairs in an ominous glow. My eyes tried to recognize shapes outside of the open door but found nothing. From what I could see, there would be no more lights, just darkness. It was overwhelming; I could feel my pupils attempting to readjust and my mind trying to read things in the blackness. Worst of all, I could hear what enveloped the dark nothingness. Dead silence.

Was it safe to assume that I would find Sorin here? How would I traverse the dark halls? Could I encounter more Shadowborne? My thoughts questioned one another, but my movements did not. The intimidating darkness did not stop me from moving forward, step by step as I became enclosed within the pitch-black darkness that haunted me so. I forced my mind to blank, moving my full focus to the task at hand. I needed to find Sorin and to complete the objective. I finally left the soft light of the stairwell and when my entire, physical form was in the dark hall, no longer near the door, it slammed itself shut. I was not alone. I took a deep breath and gently took out my blade, trying to maintain complete silence. I was relieved to discover that the bright colors of Endis which ran through my weapon was enough to light a thin perimeter around myself in which I would know not where I had been, but at least where I was.

A glance in both directions revealed that the hall in which I stood had little to point me the right way, yet I found that I was more distracted by the contents of my surroundings than the eternal darkness just inches away. The soft aura created by my sword allowed me to take note of the black mist that seemed to float about the walls, the floor, and even the ceiling of the area. It was surely a sign of the Shadowborne presence, yet one that I did not see just the day before in my mission with Kaiyandra. A quick wave of my foot scattered the smog around it for only a moment, just before it realigned itself and terminated any trace of my movement. I looked back up and finally moved on, picking the general direction in which I faced as my destination and using the close walls for guidance.

Several minutes passed and there was not a sound, not a feeling, and not a sign. I kept myself wary of the environment yet even my strict focus yielded no notice of anything. Though my pace was slow and careful, it was steady. Surely, I must have traveled quite the distance down this single hall. Because of this, I was caught by surprise by the sudden appearance of a door ending my movements. I almost collided with it, seeing how my short visual perimeter left me with little warning of the path’s sudden stop. As it was the only choice of direction, I did not hesitate to nudge the door open and see what stood behind it. I checked every now and then to make sure that I was not being followed and upon entering the room, I shut the door for safety before even looking ahead. It was still pitch-black in this new area but the little light I had let me know exactly where I had arrived.

The two distinct seats were bathed in darkness, as well as the panels and gauges around them. Everything was powered off and as I tapped one of the flight controllers, I could see that everything was also immovable and stiff. Raising my sight, I realized that above the dashboard of the cockpit was a grand window, yet to my grave reaction, there was nothing outside. It was also a void of complete darkness. Although none of this was new to me, the situation began to influence my feelings. For reasons unknown to me, a strange glimmer of helplessness began to grow inside of me.

Why was I losing control of my senses? I felt that same cold sting that I dreaded, and it began to rush through me. My breathing began to thin and I was no longer able to stand straight as I clumsily trembled in my step. I needed to get out of there immediately; there was an evil presence nearby...

Quickly losing my grip, I managed to put my blade away but the effort made me take an unintentional step to the side. I felt my left foot run through something strange and soft. With my weapon’s dim glow still lighting a short area around me, I looked down to see what I had moved with my shoes. My heart stopped… I had moved my foot into a long flow of indescribable blackness that lay on the floor, with neither end of it in sight. Still physically weak, I followed the path of the substance with my eyes, turning as it appeared to move along the floor. Then it began to rise…

My vision blurred a little, but it was once again my heart that jumped with fear when following the thick darkness revealed the presence of a figure standing just beside me. Now with my body on the brink of failure, I made the final movements to turn my head and see what stood beside me, or who. In the darkness, I was able to make out the face just centimeters from mine, the smooth features of a woman yet with a frightening pair of eyes. Strangely, I was disturbed to find that the colors of her eyes were not the horrendous yellow orbs of the Shadowborne; they shared that golden hue but they appeared partly human. Her body was in darkness as she was bathed in an impossibly black shroud. I took an instinctive step back, but then I found that I was no longer in control of my movements.

“You cannot hide from the shadow…”

Her echoing voice seemed distorted. As she finished, she followed her words with actions. The figure threw her arm towards me and harshly pointed downwards, causing me to fall to a knee. She was controlling my every move.

“…and there is no place the shadow cannot reach.”

Still containing me with one hand, she used the other to make me take out my own blade. I could see her movements influencing mine, she had absolute control and I had no escape. With a gentle movement, her possession made me smoothly place the blade against my neck. My fate was now in her hands.

“So… you are still mine…”

Out of the twisted face came a wicked grin. In the swift wave of her arm, I tightly slid the sword across my own throat… I drifted into the darkness…

“Come on, come on!”

The hurried voice slowly became clear and as my vision also recovered, I spotted Sorin standing above me in a crazed rush.

“Xathoven! Finally, let’s go. This place is about to blow!”

“Sorin, what-“

“No time to talk, come on!”

With Sorin’s assistance, I was standing once more. It only took a few seconds for all of my body to return to normal, but in my mind, there was no stability. I could not grasp the events I had just witnessed. Sorin yanked me out of the brightly lit cockpit and we stumbled into the hall. He took direct shots down one direction at a couple of approaching Shadowborne, instantly terminating them. He then ran down the other way and as I followed hastily, I recognized where we stood. It was the mysterious floor from before, with its illusive doors and stairs that no longer played mind games. To my bewildered reaction, I noted that the cockpit Sorin had just pulled me from had been one of those doors. Sorin headed to the descending stairs and I followed, rushing down the steps to find another floor with just one exit.

“There! Go! Go! Go!”

Sorin’s hectic sprint made me nervous and I followed him to that door, the craft’s structure beginning to rupture and crumble around us. A segment of the floor above collapsed to one side and left a cloud of dust in front. I followed Sorin through the mess to find him slamming the door open and rushing through. A massive explosion erupted from behind and without looking back, I dashed to the exit and made it out just in time, joining Sorin in a silent abyss of darkness. Slamming the door shut launched us out of the Shadowborne nest. My breath was heavy, and I was admittedly tired of the Shadowborne conflict. I found great relief as the darkness became the infinite white glow of The Miraxis Index system and we were returned to the facility. There again was the door that would put us right back into the facility, right back to the floor of Sir Dusk. It had all ended so quickly… Sorin winked to me and began to make his way out but I was not going to let him go that easily.

“Stop!”

He stopped in his tracks and turned around briskly.

“What?”

The tone in his voice showed strange aggravation.

“What do you mean what? What happened in there Sorin? Where did you go? I need to know what just happened!”

“We did the mission, that’s what happened Xathoven.”

He turned back around and began to walk away once more.

“Sorin, what’s your problem! Come back here!”

Unexpectedly, the boy stopped in his tracks. Facing away from me, he let out a great heave. I remained stationary, tense with the situation. Sorin was acting very strangely. After a moment of silence, I spoke once more.

“Look Sorin… I appreciate what you’ve done. You saved me, I… I don’t know what happened. But… I owe you. I just want to know if you can explain to me what happened back there…”

There was no movement between us; both of us dwelled deep in thought. I patiently awaited his reply...

The sudden emergence of a deafening tone unsettled me and I moved a little towards the exit, Sorin still standing away from me. The tone grew louder, forcing me to cover my ears and rush towards the exit, approaching the unmoving Sorin as I did so. I felt myself jump as the tone halted, and the possessed boy turned towards me. A jolt of fear paralyzed me… The great and peaceful blanket of white lighting all around faded back to black and Sorin finally faced me, his face no longer his own. The face of the woman I had encountered before floated in the darkness, just where Sorin had stood. Now her eyes were lit in a familiar shade of yellow, the eerie signs of the Shadowborne presence giving away her true form. In the nest, she showed signs of being human, now, outside of the Shadowborne nest, she was part human no more.

Aware of the general area of the door, I quickly rushed towards it, but I ran into a silky barrier that impeded my escape. Once again, I encountered the lengthy sea, the endless wave of eerie blackness that ran from this strange woman. Turning to her again revealed the demonic grin that lay upon her face, just a sign of things to come.

Thankfully, the darkness returned to the arctic white surroundings and the woman seemed to disappear into a dark and misty cloud, taking her dark powers with her as she vanished from the scene. Who was she?

With the door standing before me, I moved out of the mission room, returning into the short corridor that branched from the Defense Department floor of The Miraxis Index. Upon closing the door, my Miraxis card returned from the slot by the door, yet there was just one card now. Had I gone alone? I took wary steps back into the agency floor and found it to be just as I had left it…

Sorin… The one I interacted with today… He was not real; he had never been real. The scary figure I encountered in the cockpit and now as I left the mission, she was Sorin. There was no other explanation for his behavior at the end; also the fact that she revealed herself as being in his form. Yet how long had she hidden in that form? How did she get past Sir Dusk so easily?

“Xathoven! It’s good to see you are well-“

“Sir Dusk…”

My voice held him in a standstill, his sudden approach from his office entirely frozen. He could read my tone; he knew something was wrong.

“May I speak with you? It’s important.”

Hearing my words, Sir Dusk’s expression became blank. He kindly nodded but something about the way I spoke made him particularly uneasy. He turned back and beckoned me to that room, the one I had first entered upon meeting the man. It was as I remembered it, a small room for some kind of meeting, though I was unsure of who used it. As we both entered, he turned back to safely shut the door. With a soft click, I knew he had locked the exit. I thought suspiciously for a moment, wary that though Sir Dusk was inclined to help me, there was a chance I had chosen the wrong source of assistance. I decided to place full confidence in him, for part of Sir Dusk made me believe that he was truly good and that he had nothing against me. As he turned back to me, I began to speak with haste.

“Sir Dusk, it’s about Sorin-“

“Sorin?”

I was abruptly cut off by Sir Dusk but I could see him shift through his thoughts. After a short pause, I continued.

“Yes, Sorin. He’s-“

“Forgive me Xathoven but…”

The wise man interrupted once more, the soft movements of his brow revealing some unusual confusion. Then he inadvertently told me everything I needed to know.

“Who is this Sorin you speak of?”

A part of me froze… a cold shiver ran about when it came to my realization. Sir Dusk never really looked to Sorin when I spoke with him earlier, just before the mission. In fact, he never even noted Sorin’s existence, and he only spoke of Kaiyandra, not of Sorin’s partner, Allyia. The woman who had taken Sorin’s form had somehow hidden from the eyes of Sir Dusk. Why did she want only me to see her?

“…I am not sure how to explain this Sir Dusk, but when I spoke with you before the mission, I was not alone.”

Sir Dusk became a little unnerved and after several seconds of thought, he calmly placed a hand to his chin and inquired.

“Whatever do you mean Xathoven; I did not see anyone else in the lobby.”

“I have reason to believe that only I could see him. It was a boy only a little younger than me. He said his name was Sorin and he joined me on my mission for the Defense Department.”

“How could that be? Earlier I viewed the data for Miraxis Agents in the field of combat and it showed that you were alone… This is very suspicious indeed.”

Now moving his palm to rest worryingly upon his forehead, Sir Dusk let out a soft sigh as he thought deeply. We both stood tranquil for a moment but Sir Dusk eventually approached the door and effectively ended the discussion.

“This is an unusual development… I appreciate that you spoke with me Xathoven. I will investigate this matter overnight. Kaiyandra should be ready to leave the medical floor and you may escort her to the dormitories if you wish. Also, I would like you to relax and get some rest. We need much of it here.”

In swiftly opening the door, Sir Dusk led me back to the lobby of his respective floor just before saying goodbye. I passed him on the way to the elevator and he threw a gentle and concerned wave to me. I waved back but as I entered the opening doors of the elevator, he called out to me.

“Xathoven… what you have told me, please keep it between us.”

Hesitantly I nodded and as the doors of the lift slammed shut, I knew that I had made a false agreement. Everything that had occurred during that mission would meet Kaiyandra’s ears, for the realm of The Miraxis Index was beginning to grow more and more unpredictable, and Kaiyandra was all that I had to trust in. Something about Sir Dusk’s reaction to our discussion left me with a bad taste. I could tell that he knew more than he revealed. His mind did not harbor new thoughts when I spoke to him; it connected them. Regardless of this conviction, I still felt that he may have been trying to help out, yet disguising information was getting him on the wrong side of the issue.

Now several days in to life in The Miraxis Index, I could see that everything was slowly tilting unfavorably, the entire situation approaching a downward spiral, and I was beginning to believe that it would be best to look into the vague possibilities of the impossible…

Escape…