Message from the Author

The plot escalates with haste, yet the downward spiral continues.

Prepare for the finale as you edge closer to the end with Chapters XI, XII, and their Intermissions. The grand conclusion will be released on September 14, 2018, including the final three Chapters, their Intermissions, and the Epilogue.

Thank you for taking the time to dive into this world.

- Rospo Briccone

Chapter XI: The Key

“Xathoven…”

My name was called… I lifted myself up into a sitting position. Rubbing my eyes whilst releasing an embarrassing yawn, I found myself still within Sorin’s room. Gina lay asleep in the bed just beside me, and to my other side, standing by as I awoke, was none other than Avlis.

“I’m afraid I had to wake you, there are some things I must speak of before you finish your time in this facility.”

Quietly, I lifted myself from the bed. Avlis’s typically sharp voice was withheld as he wished not to awake Gina. I spoke just as softly as he did.

“I’m ready when you are…”

Though I had emerged from a deep slumber, I found it easy to enter a state of alertness. I was aware of my surroundings and fully awake within seconds.

“I’ve been unable to contact Sir Dusk. As such, I can only hope that he has given you the key. Is this so?”

“The key?”

I replayed the scene with Sir Dusk once again, noting everything I heard and saw as we escaped from his office. I was quick to note that Gina had received a small object from Sir Dusk just before we escaped, though I never saw it clearly.

“I’m not entirely sure, but it’s possible that Kaiyandra may have it. Sir Dusk gave her something before we… left him.”

After the events of the previous day, I had only now received a feeling of guilt over leaving Sir Dusk behind. The full extent of our blatant rush to escape his demise had just hit me. How had the man seen our actions?

“You are probably correct. He held Kaiyandra in high esteem-“

“It sure looked like they both had a plan; I was left in the dark…”

As I spoke, Avlis made a short walk towards Gina’s purse. He crouched down and gently picked it up.

“Whoa, wait a second.”

“Relax Xathoven…”

For a moment, I was wary as he picked up the purse and looked within it. Then, I felt something suppress my suspicion, a moment of acceptance. Avlis had been a guiding figure for much of my time in The Miraxis Index. He was in fact the first person I met since I awoke in this new world. I finally let my cautious thoughts back down and simply observed Avlis as he casually helped out once more.

“I see this worked as I intended…”

Avlis pulled out the Miraxis Agent card of Sorin, flashing it towards me before gently putting it aside.

“What do you mean?”

He paused his searching and looked towards me, his open jacket swaying as he twisted towards me.

“Do you not remember when I used this very purse to get you to come to me? At that moment, I placed Sorin’s card inside. I was already aware of what would happen with Sir Dusk, I merely planned ahead.”

“How could she have not noticed the card, and how could you have known exactly what would happen with Sir Dusk?”

My response was quick, possibly with a hint of stubbornness. It simply did not fit in my mind. There were too many variables in that plan, if it even was true.

“Sir Dusk gave signs of a downfall long before you came, and as for Kaiyandra, maybe she did notice the card and decided not to tell you-”

“I find that very unlikely…”

Now with his focus removed from searching within Gina’s purse, a much sterner Avlis stood beside me and looked me straight in the eyes, his gray pupils slicing into me.

“Do not underestimate the mind of your friend. It may well be many times more complex than yours. There are things you have decided to withhold from her; she may have decided to do the same in return. Be careful how you judge her.”

He went back to excavating through the purse and I remained there a bit appalled. I really did not know what to think. Had I given Gina less credit than she deserved? Was I wrong to trust that she would tell me about the key and this whole plan? Avoiding Avlis for the time being, I turned back to Gina and observed her while she slept peacefully. Was it possible I did not know her as well as I had thought?

“Xathoven, my words were not meant to be studied, they are not as deep as you see them to be. I only wish to fill you in to the fact that Kaiyandra is not as simple as she may portray herself to be.”

“… I know.”

Casting the exchange aside, I returned to Avlis and waited as he finally slowed his search.

“Here it is…”

Very slowly, Avlis removed his hand from Kaiyandra’s purse. With one hand enclosing the object of his focus, his other hand returned Kaiyandra’s purse to its previous condition. Once complete, he stood back up beside me and finally revealed the object.

“This is the key.”

When he opened his palm, I found that the supposed key was less spectacular than expected. It appeared to be a small, rectangular prism, just about the size of a thumb. All that made it interesting was its exterior material. The object was coated in a liquid design, yet it was solid to the touch. Ripples moved around it as Avlis shifted it back and forth, yet its form never changed, all sides remained flat. It was likely that the liquid was encased within a thin layer of glass.

“You may be wondering what it is that you see before your eyes…”

“That’s exactly what I’m wondering.”

Avlis handed the object to me, to which I proceeded to observe it and note all that I had seen when Avlis held it.

“Simply put, it is the key to exit the facility, though of course, the key is within the chemical you see around it, Endis.”

To that final word, I became uncomfortable holding the apparent key.

“Endis? I thought Endis was a colorful substance, at least it is such on our weaponry.”

Allowing me time to continue observing the key, Avlis began a slow walk around the dim room, still maintaining an effective yet quiet tone. He spoke as he moved.

“There are two forms of Endis, charged and discharged. Charged Endis, as you know, is the artificial chemical in a fully active, very dangerous state. Charged Endis is capable of tearing through every single known material, so long as it is manifested unto a physical object. It has internal reactions at such a fast rate that it generates impossible temperatures and thus, heated colors, though Miraxis personnel have managed to form it into a more controlled state. That is the pulsation you see on Miraxis weaponry.”

“So our weapons have a stabilized version of charged Endis?”

“Yes, that is exactly it.”

Avlis displayed his cane from a distance, turning it so that I could see the Endis pulsations upon it, just as the ones on my blade and Gina’s rifle.

“Discharged Endis is the other end of the spectrum. It is absolutely harmless to all living beings and cannot penetrate any material, no matter the mass used. However, it itself cannot be penetrated by anything known to modern civilization. It is an entirely dormant chemical with no activity of any sort, leaving it in a chromatic state, entirely colorless. The key that you hold now is enclosed within a protective layer of discharged Endis separated by glass.”

I looked closely at the key, all the while; Avlis’s explanation rang through my mind. It made perfect sense, charged Endis was the ultimate destructive compound, and discharged Endis was the ultimate defensive compound. It was the same complex chemical, yet with two different results. These thoughts left me with the obvious pending question.

“What happens if charged and discharged Endis meet?”

“That is the real question, and it has no answer, for it has never been done. When one subject has the skill and potential to destroy everything in its path, and the other subject is capable of stopping any incoming force, they can never meet, surely not under any circumstances ever.”

Endis… the power to kill, and the power to save. No wonder The Miraxis Index took it upon itself to engage in combat against the Shadowborne. With Endis, any sort of tactic was possible. All of this talk on the subject reminded me of a high priority inquiry which lay in the back of my mind.

“Avlis, I’ve got a question for you.”

“Pray tell.”

“Yesterday, inside of this very facility, I entered my Miraxis Form. I made no gesture or movement to trigger it, I just seemed to… transform instantly. I was not in a mission or outside of the facility in any way. Moments later, I left the form and returned to my original form. How is that possible?”

Avlis had completed a circuit of the room, he was now beside me once more and as such, he lowered his spoken volume to a more appropriate level. I was very interested in hearing his explanation and I instinctively leaned in.

“It’s much simpler than it seems Xathoven. This facility unlocked a biological barrier within your DNA. As such, new abilities became a part of your very body. As you have accessed and used those abilities, they have become natural. The problem is that this facility imposes a control that requires you to change to a special form to use those abilities. Because of this, that transformational shift has become natural too. You only experienced those activation mechanisms in the simulator in order to jump-start your Miraxis Forms. By now, your body should know when it needs to enter that form, and when it may avoid it.”

“I see…”

I had all but forgotten that the origin of the Miraxis Form was the biological modification. As such, it only made sense that the body would adapt to it. Though I could only wonder what the result would have been if a person’s body refused to accept the abilities.

“Any abilities you gained from the biological enhancement are with you forever on. You cannot unlearn them. It is also important to remember that because your abilities were unlocked by The Miraxis Index facility, you will also have the Miraxis Form forever. They programmed their own system into the unlock event, including the armor and weaponry, when you use your abilities, their gear loads up.”

“So I would never be able to use my new skills outside of the Miraxis Form.”

“Correct, unless you found a way to disconnect the Miraxis protocols from their link to your DNA, they will always recognize when you use your abilities and essentially insert themselves into the activation sequence. They place their own control policies and limitations upon you. You cannot have one feature without the other.”

I understood the concept. The Miraxis Index had refined their agents into extremely efficient combatants. With impossible abilities and Endis powered weapons, we were unstoppable opponents to the Shadowborne. However, the future of Gina and I clearly fell out of The Miraxis Index’s agenda. We were intent on escaping, and with our Miraxis Forms, the help of Avlis, and Sir Dusk’s key, the grand escape looked more and more likely. The only unknown factor that hung over was what waited once we escaped.

“Avlis, to get back to the original topic, what must we do with the key?”

He turned just after I finished, taking a couple steps away from me and sliding his cane into a firm grip. I knew what he was doing, though I had hoped he had more time to explain.

“I have already told you more than you should know Xathoven. This is all up to you two …”

With the sudden tap of the ground, I knew what the man had done. Using his own abilities, Avlis disappeared into nothingness, leaving me in the dim surroundings of Sorin’s room. Maybe I could have asked different questions, but I believed that right now, I had extracted all the information I could out of Avlis. He knew far, far more than he ever revealed. With his support and assistance in the escape plan, he inadvertently confirmed, as Sir Dusk had, that there was definitely a world outside of The Miraxis Index facility. Only they knew what lay out there.

The last moments with Sir Dusk were genuine; his last wish was for us to escape. What I now held in my hand was the defining object, a key that Sir Dusk had handed to Gina. He was giving us a way out, maybe the only way out. With his actions, as well as his words, the world outside seemed only brighter. It was an empty void, an endless abyss, but there had to be something waiting for us.

I took one last glance at the key, the ever-shifting exterior ceaselessly appealing to the eyes. There were no openings, no marks or indicators of any sort. The key was designed so that only the owner knew what it could possibly open; it was clear that Sir Dusk had been greatly confident that Gina and I would find our way. I could only trust in his hope. I gently placed the key back into Gina’s purse, making sure to avoid making a mess. Once the key was in, I gave myself another moment to wonder.

Sorin’s room had no clock as mine did, though admittedly, I never found myself looking at the time. In The Miraxis Index, events were the measurement of time, and it was always clear what time it was. With the dim light awaiting my return to the bed, and Avlis’s late appearance, I guessed that it must have been early in the morning. The search for Gina and I had slowed, possibly even halted. It was a tease, as if someone intentionally gave us time to rest before the grand plan took place. Truthfully, was there even a clear plan?

I froze in silence while a quiet groan emitted from Gina; she turned over in her sleep. I found that she was no longer within the comfort of the bed’s sheets. I took it upon myself to gently pull the thin blankets and cover her up. She never came close to waking up, yet as I softly let go of the sheets I had covered her with, the grasp on my hand made my heart leap within me.

I was in an awkward position, my palm firmly against the mattress where I had placed the cover, Gina’s hand upon mine in a drifting movement. At first, I had assumed she woke up, but further study revealed that she was still asleep. I tried to pry my hand out from her grip slowly, but the effort required would have surely woken her from mid-slumber. I bit my lip, wondering what I could do to get myself out of that unexpected trap and return to my side of the bed to relax.

Luckily, I escaped as her grasp weakened; her hand loosening up as she subconsciously moved it aside. I inadvertently smiled at the amusement of the moment, for I could only wonder what she dreamed of. I made a short trip around the bed once more, maintaining silence as I halted across from Gina. With a quick scan of the mattress, the bed suddenly did not appear comfortable any more. After speaking with Avlis, my instincts began to waver on the subject of sleep. He had awoken me to inform me of the key, yet I felt that there was more to his visit. There must have been some importance to his timing, why would he appear now, in the dead of night?

Suddenly, I felt awake; my body anticipated the unpredictability of our escape. I was energized with the notion of finishing our time in The Miraxis Index, for once and for all. As such, my movements hastened and I looked around. I began to search for a way out.

The door was to be avoided at all costs; walking in the halls of The Miraxis Index would be an instant giveaway of our location. It must have been obvious we were there. Whoever was the culprit… the one who rushed to Sir Dusk… the one Avlis was wary of… the one who searched for us… it was clear that they were waiting for our move. I did not intend to give them the privilege of waiting until the morning.

In my observation of the room, I noted something that made me double take, something I had not noticed anywhere in the facility before, though surely there must have been many. Upon the far wall, away from the door and the bed, was a grated panel. I could only assume it was a ventilation system, though what it truly was would be revealed in moments. I lifted my hands to the panel, searching for screws or nails of any sort. What I conveniently found instead was that the panel was held by a thin vertical lining; it could simply slide on and off. Pulling it up and out of the way, I found a large opening that lead into the wall. These were the massive ventilation pipes for the facility, hopefully a way out.

This was it; I could sense that the tunneled pipes would help us move out. Our intention was to escape The Miraxis Index facility, using our limited time to search for what Sir Dusk’s key would open. We would have to think carefully as we moved on, making our decisions on the moments at hand.

Though my desire was to allow Gina a longer rest, I knew that doing such would make us fall into the hands of the enemy. I made the mistake myself, only having awoken due to Avlis’s visit. Now we had the element of surprise, for our pursuer believed we were resting and they decided to await our leave in the dawn of this world.

“Gina.”

Gently, I nudged her arm, attempting to awake her calmly. After several attempts, she final opened her eyes. Her pupils glanced around the room, adjusting to the dim light and sensing the world around her. She finally looked into my eyes, and then looked to a location behind me, the entrance into the vent pipes. This immediately jumped her from the edge of slumber.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep. How long have I been out?”

Now sitting up, she extended her arms and awaited my response.

“That doesn’t matter; whatever pursues us… it believes we are resting. We can take advantage and look for our exit. If you agree, I think it’s time for us to leave…”

Her eyes widened, Gina now appeared to be awake with the suddenness I had experienced before. To my statements, she raised herself to her feet and froze in a deep gaze to the ventilation pipe. I gave her some time and decided to pick up our belongings, grabbing my Miraxis Pack, and her purse. When I returned to her, I held out her purse towards her. In a rare state of tranquility, she averted her gaze and looked to me. Nodding, she confirmed her decision.

“We can do this Marlin. We’ll get out of here, no matter what happens.”

Her words were very calm and I admired her optimism. It was needed now; we had no information on our enemy, no hint on where to go, and no idea what we would find if we escaped.

Taking the purse from my hold, Gina latched it back onto her waist. I placed my pack over my shoulder and took one last look around the room; it would be the last dormitory we would see.

“Ready to go?”

I inquired to Gina, though it was also a question I asked myself.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

I turned back to the opening on the wall and immediately began to feel its outer rim for support. It felt thick and sturdy, making me confident that it was built firmly within the structure of the facility. Nodding to myself, I placed my hands on the side and forced myself in. The space was large enough to crouch in, though that would have been quite uncomfortable. I decided to remain in a crawling position. I had some maneuvering space to turn around and view Gina. Though she could have climbed herself, I extended a hand and aided her ascent. When she was ready to follow, I turned once more and began to move ahead in the pitch-black tunnel. The pipe had zero visibility.

I knew not where the pipe led, but so long as it was not a hallway on the current floor, we would be safe from our unknown opponent. I inched forward into the darkness, entering an envelope of complete blackness. We had no illuminating source of any sort; we knew we would remain in darkness until we found an exit to the path.

Confident, I moved ahead. This was the beginning of the end. I could not even begin to predict the events that were approaching, but as I moved slowly through the ventilation system, with the soft taps of Gina’s movements just behind me, everything felt as it should be. We were finally in the midst of our escape, one supported by the sacrifice of Sir Dusk, and the guidance of Avlis. I felt anxious thinking about leaving the facility, our brief home in the void. Yet, regardless of the feelings which ran through me, I was in no way prepared for the relentless proceedings that were about to take place.