Chapter XIV: Revelation

The darkness faded from me… I was able to contain the new presence; I felt it settle within my body and I pushed it back. How could I have failed to realize it? Gina had been suffering from this… thing for a long time; she probably was unaware it even resided within her. What would come of having such a vile sense of evil thriving within the body? It meant little to me, I only wanted to save her from the torment, and I was confident that she would no longer be an instrument for the Shadowborne woman to use as she saw fit.

Her eyes still shut, Gina gradually lifted herself from the floor into a sitting position. Upon perceiving her consciousness, I walked over to aid her to her feet. I clutched her hand and heaved her up to a standing position. She still had yet to reveal her eyes to the light.

“Marlin?”

“It’s me Gina, are you okay?”

“I feel… pretty good actually.”

With a hand shielding her eyes from the intense lights, she finally opened them up to her surroundings. As they adjusted, it seemed for a moment that those great blue eyes were livelier than they had ever been before.

“What happened?”

I was unaware of how much Gina did or did not recollect. All that I found myself pondering was one thing; it would be best to keep her from the knowledge of the transferal that had just occurred. If she had no reminiscence of what happened, then it was safe for me to set it aside. We had to focus on escaping and I felt that Gina was better off unaware of what the woman had done to her, and now me.

“… I just got up too, it looks like the room lost power while we were out, but I’m not sure for how long.”

I hesitated a bit; I did not want to be dishonest with her. The Shadowborne woman seemed to have a problem with me, and though Gina knew of her existence, she was oblivious to my encounter with her. I was the woman’s target; Gina would only be safe if she was not involved.

“Sorry, I know we need to get moving… these things keep happening to us.”

“Gina, don’t worry. We seem to be out of the… worst…“

I seemed to misplace my entire thought process; I became fully enclosed within what I saw. At the moment, Gina had been adjusting her upper garment, tugging downward as she stretched it out. However, when she turned to me and peered straight into my eyes, I felt something… tremendous. The hue of her eyes was so vivid… but it was more than that, I felt uplifted; it was almost startling. There was no doubt those eyes were much more lively, but why? Gina ended up answering my thoughts.

“Marlin… something’s wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

We shared a glance and coincidentally, we were also sharing inspections.

“What happened to you?”

Gina approached hastily; I was unable to discern what she was doing.

“Just hold still for a second…”

I kept myself unmoving as she placed a palm to my cheek. Now I determined what she was so engrossed with, and the pieces began to merge in my mind.

“Your eyes… they look… strange. Are you feeling sick?”

I shook my head briefly, but I knew what really arose beneath my skin. This was it, the presence shifted to me by that Shadowborne woman. It was why Gina’s eyes now seemed so compelling; that twisted presence no longer hindered her. Now it was mine to carry. Gina had no idea what had unfolded just before, and I intended to keep it that way. Still, I felt some guilt as she began to build concern while scrutinizing my eyes.

“That’s unusual… why are they so much… darker?”

“I don’t know. But I feel…”

For an instant, I felt as if I would just say it, as if I would just let her grasp that I knew I was in a troublesome state. However, the dangers of my condition began to show, and they dismayed me from ever describing what happened just before.

As I contemplated my next words, I suddenly felt drained, some paranormal power stirring me to look to Gina. Then, I heard the familiar voice of the Shadowborne woman, whispering in my mind.

“She cannot know what you now hold, if she ever does, I’ll have you kill her…”

Was this the cost of that dark presence? The woman was nowhere nearby, and I dared not search, for I knew she was speaking through that very essence within me. I caught a glimpse of my hand twitching… a shadowy, violet flash jumping between my fingers, if only for a second. That cursed woman… she would actually have me slay Gina on her command. I needed to heed all signs to stay on the secure side. I felt the presence lighten as she left me to my affairs… It seemed that the shadow was gone, for now.

“You feel what Marlin? Please, tell me.”

“…fine. I feel fine; I was just a little tired. I’m good now.”

“Are you really?”

Gina’s eyes tried to read me, but the attempt was unsuccessful. She could never perceive what I now felt… but she did not hide that she saw something. To her last inquiry, I nodded promptly. I needed to look more active, this would hide any wandering that I appeared to take, any sudden change caused by the shadow affliction I now held. Seeing my movements become more fluid and dynamic, Gina accepted my words.

“Okay…”

It was hard to keep myself confined, but I knew that Gina’s safety was now dependent upon obeying the Shadowborne woman, at least for now. While we were still idle, a loud thud shocked us to attention. We both turned back to the other side of the room, back to where we had entered from the elevator before. The row of ceiling lights furthest from us had turned off, and it was not alone in the shutdown process. The next row was disabled as well, making the same daunting sound.

“We should go now.”

I turned towards the side of the room we had not yet reached, Gina just a little behind me as we began to sprint over. The lights continued to turn off, the obscurity rolling over to us faster every time. Fortunately, we were no longer subdued to one side of the room; we were free to rush to that single, isolated door that remained. When we made the majority of the journey, I glanced back to witness the process quicken; the disconcerting darkness was now fast approaching. I looked to Gina, and made my move.

“What are you- whoa!”

My body was in tune with my mind, for my arm ignited in that red beam of strength as I clasped Gina’s hand firmly. She was caught unaware; I swung her around me once to build up speed, and when I let go, I had sent her soaring towards the door at an incredible speed. I accelerated my run and watched as she safely arrived at the next door, landing mildly just before it. Now I could center myself on a frantic dash.

“Marlin!”

Gina called to me, and I tried as hard as I could to beat the approaching shadow behind me. As she signaled for me to draw closer, she abruptly fell backwards; the door had unsealed as she leaned on it. It was another elevator. I arrived as she was on the ground, down from the sudden tumble. I rushed into the machine and looked for a switch of some sort; catching a glimpse of the last remaining lights outside the elevator.

“Here!”

I felt an amiable touch on my hand. Gina was still down, but was able to pass me the cryptic key once more. I immediately snatched it and turned back to the elevator’s walls. There it was, another perplexing panel on the side. I held the key to it, hoping that it would work speedily. The Endis framed panel turned black, and the key was bathed in that perilous chemical once more, just as the lights all went out. As everything turned dark, the elevator’s lights flashed on, and the doors slowly closed. Outside of that perimeter, there was only callous darkness. Finally, the doors shut, and the lift headed upwards once more.

“Please… no more elevators…”

Though she had been trying to get up before, Gina remained sat on the elevator’s floor, taking slow breaths as she did so. I found that I was also out of air; we had made an intense escape from that floor. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the ground just alongside Gina.

“The elevators are getting a little tiresome…”

I looked upwards as I spoke, shaking my head at the lack of progress. Where were we now? It was a premature question, for I rapidly spotted the digital panel above the elevator’s doors. Right there, I saw the numbers changing as we ascended. All I could do was briskly shake my head further.

“That… must be lying…”

While reading the panel, Gina’s outstretched hand appeared in my peripheral vision, a finger pointed straight at the numbers I was reading. She had been looking at it as well, so I made an unpleasant remark.

“That’s impossible.”

It may not have been reassuring, but I spoke the truth. I could not believe my eyes, for we were clearly moving straight up, and the floor number was going down, having commenced at a hundred. It was now on eighty and quickly contracting. Gina let out a great sigh, and frankly, that was exactly what I wanted to do too. She put her hands upon her face and leaned back against the wall.

“You’ve got to be kidding me-“

She was radically cut off; the lights of the elevator suddenly skipped away. Everything became silent, yet we still moved upwards. Neither of us dared to speak… Then, as swiftly as they had gone, the lights were back on, but not all was the same as before.

“Huh?”

I jumped to my feet; my blade was gone. So was the Miraxis container that dangled from my shoulder. I turned to Gina and saw the same thing. We were both back to our standard Miraxis uniforms, apparel we had not worn in some time. That meant that our Miraxis Forms were no longer active, but why had we lost our belongings as well.

“We’re out of our forms; we’ve lost our weapons…”

As she sat against the wall, her knees bent towards her, she folded her arms around her face.

“We can’t put up with much more Marlin… we just can’t.”

Her muffled speech was a direct response to the elevator’s changed movement. It was slowing down, preparing to arrive at another unknown destination. What could possibly await us this time? No matter what it could have been, we were not ready to deal with it. I could not believe just how precise I was.

The approach slowed, the panel’s display of the current floor was crawling as it slowed to the value of zero. Though I was now standing again, it was brief. I just felt fatigued and I gently slid down to sit beside Gina once more. We had endured enough for the day, enough for our time in the facility. We fought hard, clawed our way to where we were now, but this time, it just seemed as if enough was enough. We both remained dormant, like a couple of fools, the elevator just seconds from its destination. Then it finally opened its doors.

I felt unprepared but nonetheless, I gazed intently to the open passageway of the elevator, wary of what could have waited for us, staring out to what existed beyond those steel doors. All of my energy returned to my body as I looked at the strangest sight I had seen yet. A curious fluttering noise seemed to emanate from outside the elevator.

“What in the world?”

Intrigued, I raised myself and stepped out of the elevator. I stood in a small and homely area. The floor was a rough patch of stone, but it had thin particles of dust upon it. The walls were a dusty green shade, and they were bent downwards above, as if the room we stood in was some sort of pyramid shape. They lightly shook in unison with the noise. Only a single, hanging oil lamp kept the room dimly bathed in an orange glow.

“Where are we?”

Emerging from behind, Gina’s voice resonated with interest; she also seemed to have lost her exhaustion to the curiosity. In response to her query, I shook my head.

“I have no idea…”

I viewed the objects around us; there were wooden crates stacked all around, with strange tags that I could not understand. I reached for one and situated my hand upon it. As I did, I felt a jolt. I shook my hand in momentary shock, but I quickly realized this was not an effect of the crate. I touched it again and was astounded. It was just what it was, a crate, but something felt so surreal about it. I found myself repeatedly tapping it, running my hand along it, and even knocking on it. Why did it feel so strange, so otherworldly? It was not the crate… it was my sense of touch.

“Marlin, look at this!”

In whispered exhilaration, Gina summoned me from across the small room. I moved over to her, but I could not help but notice that just beside her, there appeared to be an exit of some sort.

“It’s him…”

In her hand, Gina held a small envelope. It was marked with the text, “Miraxis Corporation” in the upper left hand corner, but that was not the lettering that caught our attention.

“To X-19 and K-17… from Sir Dusk.”

She read the handwriting aloud. It was indeed an envelope from the illustrious man himself. An earnest feeling stirred inside me when I heard it, as if an old friend had called out to us. A familiar name was comforting.

“Should I open it?”

Gina held the envelope tightly, looking to me in request.

“Go ahead. Let’s see what he has to say.”

With a bright nod, she turned back to reveal the message, sensibly opening the envelope. All the while, I found myself monitoring the structural build around us. With the fluttering noise and waving fabric walls, it almost seemed like wind.

“Here… I’ll read it.”

Gina slipped a small paper out, gently placing the envelope aside as she focused on what it held.

“’I hope that this message finds you well, by now I shall be long gone from this place. I have taken the liberty in laying out that which you may need. I pray your paths fare well…’”

Gina paused for a moment; her reading seemed to slow. She had seen something among the lettering that caught her attention, and she finished reading his words.

“’Xathoven and Kaiyandra, or should I say… Marlin and… Gina…’”

She broke off again, and I seemed to hold my every breath outside of my own control. He stated our names once again… but that was just a pin drop compared to the words that followed.

“’Welcome back to… reality. You are free…’”

Gina rushed a hand to her mouth… dropping the letter in shock. I felt my heart stop; I felt every sense of my body completely halt.

“Oh my…”

Had he just…

It could not be…

Was this… true?

My mind ran rampant, and I was not alone.

“Marlin… I…”

Her trembling fingers upon her lips, Gina’s eyes peered dead ahead as she stuttered. I felt the same wicked revelation within my blood as my voice crumbled out.

“There’s… no way.”

It was inconceivable. We still did not fully apprehend what Sir Dusk was telling us… but we soon confirmed the impossible.

“Does this mean…”

I gazed over to that exit, a simple zipper upon the textile wall connecting the two sides.

“Marlin…”

A shaky voice wavered among the air; Gina called to me, but there was something I needed to see at that moment. She followed closely as I approached the waving fabric wall. Still unsteady, I bent down to reach the zipper, and grasped it tightly. I stayed still for a moment, wondering what stood just outside this room. Then, I finally rushed it open in one swift pull.

My jaw dropped…

I took a few steps outside…

I promptly fell to my knees …

I positioned my hand above the surface below. I dug into the ground and scooped up the sand. I twiddled my fingers as I let the particles filter from my hold. Yes… this time, it was real.

It was the dead of night; all that there was to see were endless dunes of sand everywhere. A great, reddened moon drifted just above the distant horizon. That serene breeze was all that I needed to feel… until I sensed the touch of Gina. She stood beside me, placing her hand on my shoulder. When I looked at her, she was gazing up to the eternal sea of stars above. Her head seemed to quiver a little, followed by her hand lightly wiping aside fresh tears. She turned to look down to me… and I could see all of the surprise in those watery eyes.

“We’re not dead… Marlin… we were never dead…”

She closed her eyes soaked in the earth. I felt just as she did, and I bordered on a breakdown as everything rushed to me. She was right… we were not dead. Sir Dusk had just told us; ‘Welcome back to reality’, those were his very words, his written words. This was Earth, this was life… but what did it all mean?

I stood to join Gina; leaning against her to join her watch of the infinity above. We made it… There was no way to describe that feeling… except that it was so clear. There was no doubt in my mind; this was real life, and we were alive. In The Miraxis Index, I could not tell more than what I sensed, but here, outside of it… it all finally… irrevocably… felt so right.

I was stuck with a smile of relief and wonder; Gina shared the amazement. We had made it together; worked as one in The Miraxis Index, and escaped through great trials. With the crossing links of our pasts, and the time we expended together in the facility, I was eternally grateful to stand there with her as we returned to the real world.

“Marlin…”

Gina moved back slightly and placed her palms upon the side of my face. Amidst the beautiful and astounding scene around us, she looked straight into my very eyes. She gave me a smile as wonderful as she had ever done before and casually chuckled as she softly spoke those candid words.

“You and I, we’re alive!”

“It’s incredible… absolutely incredible…”

We shared the same stunned disbelief, together too staggered to think of anything else, together much more than we thought. Since I had first encountered Gina, I knew that there was more in play than simply coincidence. We both were reminded of our pasts constantly, our entwined history triggering visions between one another. There was much more to Gina than our close friendship revealed. It was clear to me that irrespective of our pasts, what I knew of her now was more than enough for me to adore her. Without Gina, I doubt that I ever would have escaped from that accursed facility. I felt like the luckiest person in the world with a friend like her.

After we shared that moment, we glanced around once again, bristling with pleasant feelings of this great discovery. We became absorbed within our surroundings, in awe at the sights and sounds all around us. Gina walked over to me, thus opening the book of our future.

“Where do we begin Marlin? What’s next?”

“The possibilities are endless-“

I was interrupted by a repetitive digital tone. Gina and I turned to the audible source; it was coming from inside the structure we had just left, inside that cozy desert tent. We both headed over to find out what it could have been.

I pushed the tent’s fabric opening aside as I entered, looking around for any sign of the digital noise. It was Gina who rushed in beside me and quickly found the source. Her hearing had been much more acute.

“It’s coming from over here…”

She slipped to a crouch near one of the tent’s many stacks of crates. I assisted as she realigned and assorted various containers around, searching for the tone that continued to resound. Moving the boxes about, she discovered a larger box within the collection. When it was no longer hindered by any crate above it, and it was clear that the sound emerged from within, Gina positioned her hand upon the crate and momentarily glanced to me.

“I think it’s coming from this one…”

As she prepared to lift the crate’s top panel, I helped her grasp the end so that we may raise it together. It was no small feat, for it seemed to be made of a much thicker, heavier material than the rest of the boxes. With great effort, we lifted the cover in unison, and we found that the digital tone entirely faded just as the cover no longer was in place. Surely, we had found the source.

The first thing that caught our attention was the unsettling black folder that sat atop a ruffled blanket below; the soft cover hiding all that sat beneath it. The folder had a bright red ribbon tied around it and slipped into that ribbon’s grasp there was another envelope. In the rush to see what lay within that folder, Gina reached for it intently.

She studied the folder’s exterior as I looked to the remaining content of the crate. I left Gina to her curiosity and observed the thin blanket that lay atop of the crate’s items. What lied beneath that sheet?

“Marlin, this envelope is from Sir Dusk too, I’ll read it to you…”

I listened as she opened up the envelope and removed another letter from the… late Sir Dusk. She looked to me for approval and I nodded my head.

“Dear friends, the paths that you may take are yours to decide. Unfortunately, you are now fugitives of The Miraxis Index, owned by The Miraxis Corporation. This means that though you are free, it is important that you first do as I say…”

The words Gina read sounded of the upmost importance, so I decided to hold back my exploration of the crate until she finished reading. I slowly sat down on the rough tent floor, just as she already had.

“…This container holds two items that will protect you, two that will keep you warm, and one very dangerous item. The others are clear, but I will let you know now, the confidential folder has the potential to destroy you both. Inside, you will find the great secrets of The Miraxis Index, the Shadowborne, and yourselves. I felt that for all that has occurred it was only fair to supply you with two definitive choices…”

Gina paused for a moment, unfolding the letter from Sir Dusk, for there was more to say. Just as she did so, a sudden rumbling sound erupted, but before we could catch the cause, it slowly faded. We both glanced around anxiously.

“It’s probably the wind, look at the ceiling.”

I pointed upwards so that Gina could see what I noted. The fabric above us fluttered wildly as a desert wind rolled in.

“It scared me for a second there…”

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing.”

She lightly smiled as I reassured her, but something in her expression seemed off. She sensed more than just the wind. Though she did not say anything, I raised my awareness of our surroundings. Gina promptly continued reading.

“If you intend on joining me to learn more about the world you have returned to and the crisis it faces, then you absolutely must take the route on the Cartographix. Things will become clear as you follow that road. If you do wish to read the contents of the folder, you will unlock the secrets of your past and that of this world. I warn you that what you will find will be chilling and difficult to grasp. It is possible that what you discover will destroy you. If you insist on opening the folder, I suggest you delete the Cartographix’s current destination and find the safest, most beneficial route to any destination of your wishes, the device will help you find a new direction…”

I peeked back to the crate, now aware that the device that Sir Dusk spoke of, this “Cartographix”, must have been the same one we encountered during our time in The Miraxis Index. It was probably somewhere beneath the cover within the crate. I looked back to Gina aware that she was not yet finished.

“There are only a couple of lines left, here…”

Her eyes scrolling around the paper, she lost her place for a moment. Then, with a finger, she locked back on to the remaining words of Sir Dusk.

“Regardless of your choice, I wish you both the best. You must find, within yourselves, whether you wish to disappear, or become involved the uncertain future of the world and join my cause. Farewell…”

Gina shook her head gently as she folded up the paper.

“That’s it…”

She concluded her reading, but we both drifted deeply within our thoughts. It turned out that it would not be as simple as parting with this place. There was more to escaping than just getting out. Gina reached out to the crate and grasped the siding, preparing to look inside. Before she did, I made a request.

“Gina, could you please pass me the folder?”

She appeared to pause for a moment, looking to me for a few seconds before turning back to where she had placed the sealed folder.

“…Yeah, just a second.”

She extended her hand and placed her palm upon that folder, but as she prepared to lift it up, she unexpectedly stopped.

“Marlin… I don’t think we should open it-“

“I… I agree.”

Looking away, she lifted her hand from the folder and held up her palm. She was deep in meditation, but I knew not what she wondered. When she turned back to me, I noted something sorrowful in her expression.

“…I have a bad feeling about it; like we’re going to find something… we don’t want to know.”

“Whatever is in that folder… we are who we are Gina. I am happy with what I know now, happy to be back in this world.”

I expected her to show agreement with my words. She did not want to open the folder, but she did not seem to share my changed stance, my sudden neglect for a past I no longer found relevant. There was a sad look in her eyes… what was she thinking about? She would not dare look to me, and instead chose to gaze to the floor. There was something in that folder… something she was afraid of.

“I just…”

Finally, she looked straight towards me. Yet she could only share that look for a second before she glanced away once more.

“I don’t want to know what’s in there. I don’t want to know our past anymore. We are right here, right now, and that’s all that matters.”

I very much agreed.

“We spent so much time trying to piece together broken clues, but I realized that all that mattered to me was the Gina I ventured with… you.”

Gina concurred, sliding the folder away with a free hand.

“I’d rather our past haunts us… much more than it changes us. That’s what you feel too, right?”

Those eyes were tracing me, following my every move. There was more to what she said. She behaved as if she knew something, a mystery I could not conceive.

“I do not know what it is you want to leave behind… but I trust your judgement. The past is the past.”

“Thank you Marlin.”

After a short time fidgeting, she finally was at peace; we would not open the folder. Though we battled our way out of The Miraxis Index thriving on the pasts we may have held together, it was not those memories that pushed us forward. Our efforts were driven by our friendship. I did not move on in search of what I knew of Gina, but rather in search of a better future for her. She felt the same for me.

Relieved, she looked to the crate for our next step and I joined her in looking ahead. I moved from my position so that I could bend over the crate beside her. Now that I knew it was the work of Sir Dusk, I no longer feared a hasty approach to discovering what rested inside. Casually, I pulled aside the thin blanket. At first, my movement was leisurely, keeping a pace that would let us recognize any objects we could as I revealed the hidden layer. Eventually, I whisked the whole cover off to expose all that there was. We were surprised, to say the least.

The left half of the crate had a thick long sleeve jacket. It was a dark red tone with gray accents, an inversion of my current Miraxis Agent top. What then caught the attention of both Gina and I was what sat upon that jacket. A detailed sword lay there, sheathed within a tight carbon fiber holding. It had an authoritative look, and I found that upon its casing, there was a label for “The Miraxis Corporation”, the entity Sir Dusk had mentioned previously.

From the looks of it, The Miraxis Corporation appeared to be a combat oriented firm of some sort. Obviously, they were the force that operated the facility we had escaped, and it appeared that they manufactured weaponry as well. The blade was black and smooth, but its appearance mattered not, for we both then turned our attention to the opposing side of the crate to see what awaited Gina.

Her side held a long sleeve jacket that was similar to mine. In her case, it was bathed in a deep blue hue with black accents. As was the case with my side, we were not so much examining the apparel, as we were looking to the object on top. A magnum sat within a smooth holster, surrounded by loose strips with which to rig the holster to the body. Gina took no time in picking up the weapon and gently removing it from the container. I caught sight of text engraved on the weapon but I could not read it before Gina’s fingers covered it in their study of her new firearm.

“Why would he give us these?”

Gina inquired aloud as she held the magnum away, carefully observing the mechanics and build of the weapon.

“He expects that we’ll encounter a fight…”

I clutched the blade Sir Dusk had supplied, confident that I could use it as I had used my own weapon within The Miraxis Index. Regardless of the fact that we were back in to the world that was Earth, we were now well versed in the combat arts of our particular weapon styles. Through our experience in The Miraxis Index, we had grown accustomed to the use of weapons; we were proficient, we were former Miraxis Agents.

As I concluded my observation of the weapon, I spotted Gina removing her jacket from the crate. She held it on her arm and gently grasped the magnum before turning to me momentarily.

“I’m going to put these on… okay?”

As had been the case for the last few minutes, Gina would not look directly to me; her eyes would not meet mine. She appeared timid as she slowly got up to her feet.

“Yes, I will do the same.”

I nodded to her and as swiftly as that, she moved a short distance away. As I put on the jacket that Sir Dusk provided, guilt ran across my conscience once again. That man had prepared all of these effects for our escape; the clothes, the weapons, and the letters were all set up by Sir Dusk. I realized that I never really aligned myself to him; I let my suspicion constantly leave me wary of his actions. So there, in the end, he held all of his trust in Gina and yet still had faith in my judgement as well. I no longer doubted that he had been there for us, and I regretted how I had treated him on occasion.

I could only hope that Sir Dusk, wherever he may have gone, forgave me for my actions. Now I knew where he stood, beside the Miraxis Agents such as Gina and me. It was too late for me to acknowledge that. Though grateful of his assistance, I felt that it was better to push those thoughts aside. For now, we needed to let his words guide us in beginning a new journey, life outside of The Miraxis Index, back in the real world.

With the red jacket zipped up and my sword buckled to my side, I stepped back into the main area of the tent. I bent into the crate to see if anything else awaited and I spotted the last pair of objects within the container. The Cartographix was visible just at the other end of the crate, but more interestingly, there was a bronze key beside it. Aware of what the Cartographix was, as well as its purpose, I found myself intrigued by the key.

“Did you find something Marlin?”

I glanced back to see Gina in the slick blue jacket, zipped up to just below her chin and with sleeves that reached her knuckles. Underneath, she still wore her Miraxis Agent outfit, only visible by her black skirt which was almost hidden by the long jacket. It pleased me to hear her voice as soothing as always, her inquiry melodic and curious. She seemed much more relaxed now, and she kneeled down just beside me, for I found myself suddenly sitting, the key upon my open hand.

“You know how Sir Dusk mentioned the Cartographix device? It’s right in there, and this was beside it.”

I held my hand out to Gina, allowing her to grasp the key from my palm. Gently, she placed her hand above mine, but as she went to pick up the key, there was more than just physical contact. The moment her fingers touched my hand, we both felt an immediate shockwave run through our bodies. Gina’s hand ignited in a great yellow light, for only a second, but we both knew exactly what it was. After the momentary shock, we both recovered; Gina grasped the inside of her hand tightly.

“What? Marlin-“

We had both jumped back, but the event was not as stunning as the discovery it led to.

“Do we still have our abilities?”

Gina asked with some anxiety. The occurrence was completely unexpected, but as nature always seemed, it was a convenient and telling. That golden aura that shot from Gina’s palm was undoubtedly the presence of her healing ability. Whatever the reason for its appearance was irrelevant; the mystery was how she was using the ability outside of the facility, and whether we even had the abilities to start with.

“It’s possible… Yet we are no longer in The Miraxis Index.”

“But, what does this mean?”

What Gina questioned was unknown to us; if we were no longer in the realm of The Miraxis Index, how was it possible that any of our talents were still intact. In fact, we had been so distracted by our exit to the Earth’s surface, we failed to recall the many things that remained unanswered.

“I don’t know… I honestly don’t know…”

Suddenly, I found myself remembering things that still teased me; things we had encountered within that facility. So, was there no afterlife? Was it all a setup? What of the Shadowborne?

“Gina, there’s still so much to learn about everything that’s happened to us. In time we will find more, Sir Dusk’s directions should help us get started on the right path.”

She nodded in agreement, and finally, we were able to touch once more as she sensibly lifted the key from my hand and observed it. I removed the Cartographix from the crate and prepared to study it when Gina spoke up again.

“So… we will go with Sir Dusk, right?”

I remembered how Sir Dusk’s note mentioned that we could either ignore the black folder and follow the Cartographix’s path to him, or read up on our past selves and use the device to instead find a new life. Though I felt a temptation to open that folder, I too had the unsettling feeling that my past was not a good story to read. I knew that the paths Sir Dusk laid out were essentially for and against his cause. He wanted us to follow the Cartographix’s route he mentioned, otherwise, he would have just left us to our own fate. In his faith, I intended to travel the road he held for us.

“It is for us to decide together, but in my opinion, I think we should go with Sir Dusk; we should follow the path he has given us.”

“Then we think alike Marlin.”

“So, it’s decided then?”

Handing the key back to me, Gina nodded in concurrence.

“Yes, let’s follow his word. If he did all this for us, it’s the best we can do in return.”

I knew that Gina was much more accepting of Sir Dusk during those last days of our time in The Miraxis Index. It was ironic, for it was she who seemed the greater antagonist to that man, at least in the beginning. As the end approached, Sir Dusk turned to Gina instead of me, and he found her more trustful of his help. Either way, it turned out best for the two of us, but for Sir Dusk…

“All right then-“

A drastic rumble beside us hindered my speech. We both turned to find that the broadening sound was emitting from the elevator we had left from, the closed doors muffling the clear sound of an approaching lift. Nervous, we jumped to our feet.

“They’re coming?! Marlin, the officers from The Miraxis Index, could that be them?”

“They know we’re here…”

Swiftly, I slipped the Cartographix into a free pocket of my jacket. I grasped the key in great hope that something awaited outside for our use. I nodded to myself before patting Gina’s arm.

“We need to move, now!”

Unaware of how close that elevator may have been, we dared not wait to see what would arrive within it. Together, we dashed out of the tent and ahead to the endless desert outside. We knew there was nothing where we had exited previously, but this time, we rushed around the tent’s proximity in search of anything that would help. Briskly, I glanced back and forth in search of a clue.

“There, that’s it!”

Pointing with enthusiasm, Gina led my eyes to a canopy behind the tent. Just underneath that cover sat what appeared to be a desert buggy. It stood high off the sand below with big wheels and a long body.

“Let’s go!”

In a rush to leave before we encountered others, we split to the opposing sides of the vehicle. I noted that the buggy was unmarked and bathed in sand; I felt the rough surface below my feet as I stepped into the driver’s seat and kicked chunks of sand away. As I got comfortable, Gina slipped into the seat beside me and looked around the inside for anything worthy of attention.

The key still in my tight grasp, I finally pushed it into the ignition and turned. The vehicle fired up instantly. Though it showed signs of age, it was in good condition. Though our memories were loopholes of lost senses, some things were just fundamental, and luckily, I knew just what to do as I turned the wheel and tested the pedals. As I was about to shoot off, Gina halted me.

“Wait!”

Hastily, she reached across me and grabbed the seat belt, pulling it back to click it into the buckle beside me. She then put her own on.

“Safety first…”

Before I could respond, I decided it was time to go. I pushed the throttle, and sent us departing straight from the isolated tent. At first, the sandy buggy sputtered a couple of times, hinting that maybe it was moments from giving up. Eventually, the noises and the ride smoothed out. I adjusted the side mirror to see the tent, and in a short time, we were already long gone. We eased ourselves once we believed we were far from being spotted, turning around a nearby dune to fade from view. Gina let out a great sigh of relief.

“We got away… Hopefully they didn’t see us.”

“Even if they did, there’s no way they can catch up now.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right…”

The sand was level as we cleared the largest dune near the tent. This meant that for now, I could afford to look around. I took advantage and glanced to Gina while keeping the vehicle on a constant path straight ahead. With her hands between her legs, she leaned forward, her eyes glowing at the sight around.

“We could be driving for some time. There’s nothing out here.”

The horizon only showed signs of more and more desert. One would think a strange place such as The Miraxis Index would be kept a secret far away from others. Leaning back to her seat, Gina glanced up to the endless sea of stars above.

“That’s okay, I’m just so relieved… It’s good to be back.”

For a moment she closed her eyes tightly in bliss, eventually returning her sight to the endless plains of sand, and then finally up to the starry night sky.

“It’s so relaxing… I could just sleep forever, right here.”

“Why not? I’ll wake you up if I find anything.”

There was a brief pause as I turned back ahead to the endless vista, awaiting her reply as I drove.

“Okay…”

She settled down within the sandy seat, laying her head back against the chair. I heard her exhale greatly. She was going to rest, and there was no better time. She stretched her arms before laying them down beside her body.

“Thanks Marlin.”

She spoke those words tenderly before she dozed off, her eyes shut tightly as she relaxed. Our unusual operating times in The Miraxis Index left us in poor shape. Now, having returned to the surface, the days would dial back up to twenty-four hours; we were used to the facility’s short days. I was not as exhausted as Gina was, but I was surely fatigued myself.

For now, I moderately held the throttle and pushed on, racing away from that cozy tent, hoping to outrun whatever rode that elevator up from the facility we escaped. That small fabric structure was but a speck in the desert, and I now entered a region where the sand no longer lay still and flat. As the surface became more variable in height, I slowed the drive to compensate.

After some time behind the wheel, I decided I had travelled enough of a distance to pause and make that final decision. Deliberately, I let the jeep roll to a stop on the flat end of one of the many small sandbanks around us. I kept myself silent as ever, reaching to the space between Gina and I, where we had placed the few possessions we had. Before I grasped the Cartographix, I noticed something I had thought so little of.

The desert night, though beautiful beneath the looming moon, was surprisingly cold. With the jacket Sir Dusk left for me, I was able to ignore the presence of the surprisingly cold air; this was not the case for Gina. Her legs were fully exposed. I could tell by her intermittent shivering that she must have been cold; she held herself tightly cuddled upon the seat. Fortunately, I had a temporary solution.

Quietly, I stepped out of the seat and walked around the vehicle to her side. I unzipped my jacket and slid it off, hoping that it would be a sufficient cover from the ice-cold air. I still had my standard Miraxis Agent top just beneath the jacket, and I found it both comfortable and warm enough. Gently, I placed the jacket around Gina’s curled up body, careful not to awake her. I hoped that it was sufficient.

The engine still running, I found it a suitable moment to observe the vehicle; in departing from the tent, we had to skip any time in which we could have taken a look at the condition of what we drove away. Now was as good as ever to take care of that study. I simply made quick checks; the tires were in good condition, as were the lights and the chassis, though everything was bathed in sand that appeared to be there long before we even spotted the vehicle. When I got to the back of the buggy, I found a very convenient feature.

I shook my head to myself as I looked to the folded mechanism attached to the back of the vehicle. It was a full body cover, designed to be easily adjusted. I immediately took to setting it up. Slowly, I climbed up the rear passenger area of the vehicle. All I needed to do was pull the chain that the fabric cover clung to, and as I did, the tight cloth fit perfectly around the top of the vehicle. The mechanism was smooth, for it was connected to stands on the outer sides of the buggy.

I made the final connection as it snapped into the top of the front windshield. That was it; the buggy was fully now enclosed, just like a van. The thick fabric protected even the driver and passenger windows; now only the windshield revealed the sights outside. Satisfied, I sat back into the driver’s seat just beside where I stood. I could instantly feel the air settle, for the thin desert winds no longer brushed against my skin.

Now I returned to my original focus, grabbing the Cartographix and holding it parallel to the floor. It functioned just as it had in The Miraxis Index, showing signs of activation as it remained still in relation to the ground below. After a few flickers, it lit up brightly.

Before I even dared to look at the path Sir Dusk had provided, I noted the text that ran across the bright map in which the Cartographix had zoomed. We were in Morocco, the African nation in the Northwestern region of the continent, where remnants of the nearby Sahara lingered with its endless deserts. I was taken aback; though I had no previous knowledge of where we were and any location would have been a surprise, it was shocking to learn precisely where we were. The device showed a large area of coverage, as if displaying a sliced, three-dimensional segment of the planet.

I spotted the blinking dot that indicated the Cartographix’s current position. It was almost alongside the preprogrammed path. Fortunately, I had driven just beside it, and only needed a small alteration to follow the directions. Sir Dusk’s recommended route headed in a straight line North, with a small turn West. There, the line ended with a blinking dot at a coastal destination, just beside the Mediterranean Sea. This was the path we would take.

I placed the Cartographix on a flat space upon the dashboard. This way, I could observe it as I drove, keeping us exactly where we needed to be. Without a scale, I did not even have a vague estimate of how long or how far away that destination was, but it mattered not. Sir Dusk had already shown enough proof that he was with us. He helped us through and through, even if, sometimes, it had not seemed like such. So, I made sure now to finally heed his words, and take them for the face value he had always meant to show.

There was no sign in the horizon, but it was not necessary. With the Cartographix in front of me, I knew just where to aim. I gently pushed the throttle once more, rolling the vehicle forward before accelerating on the sandy surface. I glanced to the gauges and found that the gas tank was mostly full, another gift from Sir Dusk. For a moment, it made me smile to myself. I thought of that man, in his sharp suit, and with his polished manner. When we last saw him, it seemed like it was all over. Would we ever find out what happened to Sir Dusk? Would we meet him at the end of this path?

All that I hoped was that wherever he was, he could accept my apologies. Sir Dusk changed the fate of both Gina and I, and when I looked back to things, I noticed the veiled signs he gave that there was more than just what met our eyes. From the first day, he had more intentions than just playing his role in that facility. It was because of him that we were now free. How I wished he could hear my words…