Chapter I: Rebirth
I remember it all so well… I remember how everything began…
It was so cold… and so dark. I shivered uncontrollably, trembling on the freezing ground. I felt the extraordinary sensation of death… an indescribable sense of the passing of mortality. When I finally opened my eyes, I was witness to an endless expanse of darkness. I slowly pulled myself upright, momentarily stumbling as I clumsily got to my feet. As I looked around, all I could see was overwhelming darkness, yet it seemed as if a very faint source of light made the dust below appear vibrant.
I felt a little light-headed as I stood there, my body slowly swaying around and my eyes rolling about the world in which I stood. I raised my hands, rubbing my eyes as I slowly recovered. I felt a strong wave of iciness wash through my body, troubling my limbs and making me feel physically weak. I was unsure of where I was or what I was doing. I could feel my senses slowly returning to reality, the frozen air lingering around my skin as all of my body came to be. I opened my eyes to as wide a size they could reach, scanning the nearby area for any clues or signs of life.
I stood upon a plain of gray, almost lunar, dust, surrounded by an overture of eternal darkness. Glancing around in search of more, I found my assumption of isolation to be incorrect. Behind me, there lay a tall mound of the monotonous dust; just behind it, I could barely make out a clean and dim reflection of light, almost like glass. Both curious and intrigued, I began to move towards the small hill.
My initial movement was quite slow. My body, though improved from moments before, still ached with a lingering presence of fatigue. It was obvious that I must have been unconscious for a significant amount of time. In this condition, my feet seemed to drag against the strange soil below. As I stumbled towards the nearby hill, I could feel segments of my body casually returning to normal. The strong sting in my muscles began to weaken as it scampered away and I began to feel more confident in my movement, safely believing that I was not in danger of toppling over. I took a few steps up the steep incline of the hill, almost slipping back down as I pushed against the soft, slippery surface. I finally managed to climb over the hill to catch a view of something incredible.
Directly ahead, there was a tall black structure; it was mesmerizing. The view was quite astounding, almost as if it had been pulled straight out of a strange dream. It appeared to be an endless tower that extended upwards into the darkness. I could not see the top from where I stood. Still shocked, I made my way down the hill and onto the flat path that led towards the structure. The ground became more stable as I encountered the beginnings of a concrete path. After taking just a few steps forward, a bright light turned on a few feet to my right; its appearance made me stop in my tracks. I narrowed my eyes, watching as the light began to dim to a tolerable level, enough to illuminate a small area around it. I was taken by surprise as a subsequent light was activated to my left, then another up ahead. The series of small lamps faded into view and created a straight path towards the entrance of the mysterious structure. Unaware of any danger, I strolled forward, interested in exploring this strange world.
I continued onward, feeling a little more capable but still fighting weariness in my limbs. My eyes drifted to the hard ground below as I closed in on the structure. I felt very tired; though my condition slowly improved, I was physically drained of energy. The thin pain was not difficult to endure but I knew that for the safety of my body, I would have to take a quick rest soon.
In the midst of my thoughts, it took me several moments to realize that I was no longer moving. I had encountered a curious obstacle. Having walked with my head hanging low, I finally raised my head and focused my sight. There was a wooden stick floating across the way just before me. It remained in front of my chest and hindered my already slowed movements. Upon further observation, I discovered that the stick was a cane and at the end of the cane just beside me, stood a mysterious man. When I finally stopped pushing forward and turned towards this peculiar figure, he lowered his cane and turned to face me directly. He had my attention, at least what remained of my state of consciousness. I gawked at him for a moment, observing his features. The man seemed relatively young, likely in his mid-twenties. His height was not extreme but it was greater than my own. For a reason I could not understand, he was dressed in a suit reminiscent of the typical wardrobe during years long past, from the early twentieth century. His eyes, colored in an unusual and compelling aura of gray, seemed to gaze around with such fluidity, as if the scene was natural to him. He slowly pulled back his cane and looked at me intently. We stood as statues for some time, attempting to read one another, but it was he who had more knowledge and experience of the extraordinary world around; his expression spoke of familiarity. His focus now turned to me and it was clear that he was searching for something. With a stern yet open look, he continued to stare right into my eyes until finally he spoke.
“I know what you are thinking…”
His clean voice cut through the lingering darkness.
“…but this is not a dream, and you will come to face the truth, whether you desire to… or not. When you do… I’ll be waiting for you as well.”
With a focused expression he calmly strolled by me, placing a strong hand upon my shoulder as I stood in thought. His grip seemed to vanish as he passed me. I quickly turned around to talk to this intriguing man, extending an arm in the direction he had left, but I was surprised to find nobody was there. I glanced around, my eyes nervous as they looked for a sign of the figure but they only met the empty darkness. Already his words rang through me…
I crouched down, knees above the ground as I slid the palm of my hand into the soft dust below, as if slicing with a sharp object. With a gentle grasp, I lifted up a small amount of the material and shifted it around with my hand. Confident, I dropped the sand-like dust back to the ground. All that I was seeing and feeling had to be real. It did not feel like a dream; all of my senses worked together to assure me of the presence of reality. Yet much of what I did see appeared out of place. Surely, I needed to move forward before making my decision on the matter. I looked towards the great structure that stood before me, the endless spire in the darkness, quiet and secret. With no knowledge of the journey I was about to undergo, I stepped forward, soaked in dangerous curiosity.
I slowly made my way towards an entrance up ahead. My approach triggered a response as two doors slid apart to reveal the way inside. I stood for a moment, paralyzing anxiety forcing me to feel rushed as I peered inside. The doors had only revealed another world of darkness inside; I could not make out a single object within the structure. Willfully, I made my way through the passage; the dark and empty opening contained no light. As I completed my entry and stood in the light-barren room, the doors shut silently behind me, leaving me enclosed within. The air was very cold, as it had been outside. As I took note of the temperature, I suddenly began to feel a warm flow of air. The room was being heated and I could feel the cold sensation flicker from my body.
Still blanketed in otherworldly darkness, I awaited any kind of continuation of events, but it seemed that nothing was happening. As the warm air continued to glide throughout the room, I stretched my arms and shook. The vivid warmth was filling my body with life; it was as if I had been resurrected from a world beyond. It took several seconds of observing my outstretched forearm before I realized that the lights had finally turned on to reveal the area around me. I found that I stood in a small and cozy room with the walls, a glossy white, surrounding me. The tiled ceiling held many tiny bulbs embedded in the material. Together, these bulbs created a great light that covered the small area in which I stood. Looking down below, I could see the floor that appeared to be similar to marble in composition. The room was colorless, only bathed in shades of gray, white, and black but in a matter of seconds that changed.
The lights on the ceiling filtered to a strong shade of red and the relaxing hum of electronics began to emit from all directions. I glanced around in anticipation, awaiting the opening of another door in front of me, or maybe a sign. A small hatch jumped open on the wall, just beside the door. Out of the opening came a long metal rod with a strange amber light attached to the end. Once it was within a few feet of me, it stopped its movement and simply lay still. After what seemed like an eternal wait, I finally decided that I should place my hand upon it. As I leaned my arm forward and reached out to the device, it began to spread out long beams of colorful light in every direction. I quickly yanked my hand back out of surprise, but I became calm once more when a soothing artificial voice played through the air.
“You are currently being scanned as a system wide precaution. Please remain stationary…”
I tried to hold as still as I could, but I was greatly intrigued as waves of light flashed all around me, scrolling up and down my body. For a short moment, I felt a weak yet nagging sting on the back of my neck. As quickly as it had made itself known, the pain seemed to fade away. I placed a palm on the back of my head, as well as my neck. I tried to find any kind of cut or wound that may have caused the sudden sting. I could find nothing. Fortunately, the machine completed the scan, as it indicated politely.
“The full scan has been completed. No anomalies were detected. Thank you for your patience. You may enter…”
The lights above returned to their standard hue, fading out of the red filter and back to a bright white. The metal scanning device shifted back into the hatch. The electric hum faded and I could hear a series of metal vibrations as the door in front of me began to open up. The automatic door slid apart in two segments, immediately revealing the next area. I stepped forward into a great lobby.
It was a spacious room with a design very similar to the scanning room I had just left. The noticeable difference was that the lights above were now normal ceiling lights. Other than that, the room shared the same glossy walls and shiny floor as I had seen just moments before. There were several cozy looking sofas against the walls but for the moment being, I had to contain a temptation to sit and rest. Looking around the room, I finally found a moment with which to observe myself. By quick study of my skin, I concluded that I was healthy; inside, I maintained a weak physical state, though it was greatly improving over time.
Regardless of the fact that I had just awoken in literally the middle of nowhere, the attire that accompanied me was clean and smooth. A thin and comfortable ash gray jacket, contrary to its looks, actually gave me some warmth. In a couple of places, red was used as a trim color. The trousers that I wore were a much darker gray and felt heavier than my top. High upon my chest, I discovered a metal label pinned to my jacket with the text “Miraxis”. I knew not what this meant, if anything. I returned my eyes to the room around me.
Directly ahead of me, opposite of the entrance, there stood a large glass desk covered in papers and folders. Behind the desk sat a man that I could not examine, for he had a book open across his face and appeared to be sleeping. I moved forward to the desk, wary of the dozing figure. Eventually I stood just in front of him, still as I waited on the other side of the desk. I could not help but look around at all of the papers lying about. They seemed to be reports of some kind, with bulleted lists and large numerical dates, but I was unable to make out specifics since they were upside down from my view, particularly because my attention shifted between objects so rapidly. I spotted a small sign beside me as I glanced around. The sign was a taped piece of notebook paper and it read, in hasty handwriting, “Ring bell for service.” Unsurprisingly, a small bell trigger sat below the sign. I placed my hand over the small button as I watched the man, afraid that I would scare him with the sound. I slowly lowered my index finger onto the button as gently as I could.
The noise that blurted out was ridiculously loud and annoying. Thankfully, it only rang out for a very short moment. The man jumped up out of surprise and began to turn nervously in every direction, looking for a threat. When he finally noticed my presence, he slouched back down into his chair and placed a hand on his chest as he exhaled deeply.
“Oh, it’s just you. Wow, you really got me there.”
His nervous chuckle put me at ease. It seemed that he had been working hard for some time, a conclusion I came to only by seeing his workspace. He grabbed his book, which had somehow launched off his face to travel a short distance away, and placed it neatly on the desk. He stretched his arms for a moment as he relaxed, giving me enough time to observe him. Though adult in appearance, some aspects of this man led me to believe that he could not have been much older than I was. He had black hair that curled about his head, slithering around his ears and all over his forehead. He wore a slick tuxedo with a red tie, his clothing perfectly smooth and spotless. His rolled up sleeves were detrimental to the image portrayed by the rest of his outfit, and it almost felt like he did not fit with the world around him at all.
He snatched some papers from a small folder nearby and shuffled them a little, looking for one in particular. It was clear that he had found it when he suddenly grinned and turned towards me. He lay back in his chair as he looked closely at the document.
“Hmm… so you could be…”
He looked at the sheet in his hand and glanced back to me several times, attempting to make a connection. He frowned as he looked at the paper.
“Eh, it’s pointless to check, who else are you going to be?”
He crinkled up the paper and tossed it into a recycling bin nearby. Hastily, he then grabbed another document from a small stack. Once again, he lay back in his seat and glared at the paper in his grasp.
“Okay, I have an important question for you…”
His eyes scrolled through the paper he held, until he quickly jerked his head to face me.
“Can you tell me… your name?”
I nodded to him as I prepared to speak out but something was wrong. I could not remember my own name. It was unusual. It had just occurred to me, out of nowhere, that my name was not the only lost value. Where were all my memories? Where was I? What had happened? I thought deeply for a moment until the man bopped his head while watching my inner conflict.
“You can’t remember, right? That is perfectly reasonable considering what happened. You are supposed to be here.”
I must have looked very confused as the man checked a few other pages and returned to me eagerly.
“Well, while you are here, you shall be known by the name, Xathoven. Xathoven is the name we have assigned for you.”
There was a short pause as I acknowledged the information and he looked at the paper for a few more seconds.
“Okay then Xathoven, you probably want to know why you are here, right?”
I nodded my head softly, waiting for the answer I had been hoping for since my awakening in this strange place.
“Well, I’m not sure how to put this. You are here because, well… you are… dead.”
My eyes widened as I heard those words. Dead. I was dead. But how? I abruptly shot back to the man.
“Dead? What do you mean? How can I be dead if I am standing right here? How is this possible?”
I attempted to remain calm but my reply came out in a quick and anxious burst. My mind raced with theories and excuses, there was absolutely no way I was dead... Was it true? I felt a strange sensation as I found an important clue, a glimpse, a flash, a memory...
What was this? I could see something strange… like a vision. There was a road, a long road. It stretched far and wide, high above the ground. A bridge? In a flash, the road disappeared. There was water all around, like an eternal sea, and people, so many people struggling beneath the waves. Nobody had a chance. I was drowning and with no way to hold my breath any longer…
I could only conclude that this strange memory was my death. Had I drowned in the sea? Much was a blur… I felt ill after reliving the vision. The man was prepared for this kind of reaction as he nodded and tried to calm me down.
“I understand that this news is very sudden but you must know this in order to understand what is going on here. This isn’t a joke; you really are dead, as am I. We’re both in a form after life. We are in The Miraxis Index, a facility capable of sustaining life after death. We need your help here.”
As he spoke, I could not help but dive into my thoughts once more. It made sense to me that I would not remember the exact event of my death as it was just that, my death. The loss of my memories and mindset, even my personality, was reasonable. I was now a different person. This reality was difficult to grasp, it contradicted everything I had believed and everything I expected, the thin presence of a human I had developed just from waking up and entering this structure. What I needed to know was my purpose in this afterlife, what exactly I needed to do. Clearly, I had been chosen for a reason… or maybe I was not chosen at all.
Once again, the man witnessed my reactions as he relaxed in his chair, allowing me to explore my thoughts on the matter. I looked at him and nodded in understanding. I had to grasp the reality and live with it; yet it was strange to see how casually this man had accepted his own death. It was clear he had overcome that obstacle long ago. I stood for a moment and finally accepted the situation.
“I understand... Please, tell me what I need to do.”
The man leaned a little towards me. He was carefully examining me, clearly looking for something. I remained stationary, sure that his observations had some clear reasoning behind them, but then he silently relaxed and nodded.
“Well, Welcome to The Miraxis Index. You are expected up on the twenty-seventh floor. You will need to speak with Sir Dusk; he will explain everything you need to know. Just take this elevator here and you will arrive in no time. The elevators will be taking you everywhere you need to go while you’re here.”
He pointed over to a distant doorway along the wall behind him. It was the fourth and final elevator in a row. I nodded and expressed gratitude.
“Thank you for your help. Goodbye.”
The man chuckled for a moment. It seemed a little offensive, however, something about the soft expression upon his face made me think otherwise.
“I don’t think we’ll meet again so… good luck Xathoven. Be careful.”
Before I could make any response, he turned around on his chair to avoid my direction. I respected his desire to leave the conversation like that, but remained confused by the comment. His tone was almost like a final goodbye, but I had just met him. It was possible that I would never return to this floor but that seemed unlikely. To me it all appeared strange, but I believed that there was much that I did not know about this unusual new world, much that I did not understand.
I walked into the elevator farthest right, where the man had pointed. I slowly entered the small machine and turned back towards the lobby. The doors closed and a small panel indicated that the elevator was automatically sending me to the twenty-seventh floor. The dim lights above lit the room in a thin, almost eerie light. Contradictory to the design of the lobby, the elevator’s color theme had a touch of royalty. The walls, ceiling, and floor were a dark shade of violet. Along the sides of the elevator, there were multiple small and golden ribbons of silk interlaced with handles on the wall. The smooth material of the floor felt like a soft rug under my feet.
My eyes continued to wander about the elevator as it drifted upwards. There was no indication of the elevator’s progress; I was unaware of which floor I was on. I knew when the rumble of machinery began to quiet down that I had arrived at my destination. The doors slowly slid apart, revealing a sight I did not expect.
The room was a large lobby, very similar to the first floor’s lobby but at least twice as long. I saw many people, from fresh teenagers to young adults; none appeared outside of that particular range. Each one wore an outfit similar to mine, only their color trims differed from the glimpses of red upon mine. They were all active around the lobby, many of them talking and chatting away. Some were playing around and having fun with each other. I was very surprised to see so many other people involved; I had to accept the idea that they must have all been dead as well.
I slowly walked into the room, heading towards a reception desk I spotted ahead of me. I could not help but investigate the scene, watching the interactions of the people as I moved forward. They all seemed happy, as if they had not a care in the world. Was I to join them? Was I to accept death and work towards a common goal with these people? The concept of death and life once again was difficult to grasp for me. I needed to find a reason, a purpose in this existence. I returned my view to the occupied desk, the receptionist awaiting my arrival. I focused my eyes as I moved forward, I was confident and ready, ready for anything.