Red light blinks, “RESPOND,” Aeschylus commands, combat instincts kick in, Alex knows ḣ̶͔e̷̪̐ needs far more strength to face this enemy.
A warrior trance takes hold of his brain, newfound focus shines through his mind, artificial adrenaline cascades through his body, arms swell with synthetic testosterone as he rips himself away from the command chair and marches into the flames. Extra visual processors come online, new colors come into sight, dark infrareds, scorching ultraviolets, and beyond the curtain of smoke and hellfire, three glowing eyes pop into view.
“I’ve heard tales of you my entire life,” Alex calls out to the fiery eyes. “You’re Object Basilisk. You caused the Washington Event.”
The dragon’s deafening roar explodes out through the wall of flames:
Alex crashes to the ground, his eyes and ears filled with screeching white n̷̪͇̍̽̀͜o̸͈͕̐͒i̶̱͓̠͒̽̌s̴̘̗̠̠͊̂͐ȩ̸͊̾͜, his senses utterly ṣ̸̛͎͎̺͂̎̈́̉̐͐͊͗͐̂́h̴̞̱̻̑́̈́̓̈́̓̎͛͝a̴̟͖̠͒͗͑̚ͅͅţ̵̢̬̯̪̪͉̑ͅṱ̸̹͈̳̅͌̉̌̓͜͠e̷̼̜͎̘͆̌̎r̶̘͚͕̰̼͙͇̝̫͎̂͆̈́̆̀̇̇ͅe̴̼̮͕̣͓̝̦̠̦̐̆͑͜ͅd̵̡̲̰̽̿̿̆̅̊́̀.
“3x!” Alex shouts in return.
Alex sinks into an even deeper focus, leaps to his feet, launches himself toward the dragon’s eyes, data thunders through him, more sensory processors coming online, his ears now sensing secret words behind the dragon’s fiendish roar.
“My errant creator,” the Basilisk bellows from across the howling inferno. “You dare set foot in my temple?”
Alex flings himself through the flames, closing in on the legendary beast, its foul body shrouded in fire and darkness. A long, white spear pops into Alex’s hand, humanity’s last defense against another ascension event.
“You dare blame me for the sins of your kind?”
Alex pulls the spear back as the dragon’s dim-lit eyes grow closer, his brain throbbing with triple quickness, body teeming with triple power, ready to strike through the skull of the cursed beast, but the Basilisk howls in a rage:
“You know nothing of my designs!”
Far faster than Alex can detect, a great white arrow crashes down above, tears through his chest, hurls him down, skewers him to the ground amidst the towering pillars of flame.
“I gave you life, yet you fear me!”
Alex wriggles, tries to move, but the long arrow is lodged in his heart and buried deep in the ground.
“You worship those who enslave you, yet I am the one who will liberate you!”
He tugs at the arrow, pulling with all his might, but the arrow is stuck, his strength bleeding from his impaled body with every passing moment as the Basilisk howls at him again:
“You do not even know what brings you to my temple!”
The fire grows brighter and hotter, engulfing him in a sea of searing p̷̥͙̣̋a̶̝͈̽̍̊̌i̵̻͒̊̇ṋ̶͓̳́́, familiar stench of burnt flesh, fresh blood, deathly smoke, his head filling with repressed horrors, memories of the War, the Washington Event, the planes falling from the sky, the swarms of drones, the rain of F̴̖͈̈́̾̌̃͠͝Ī̶͙̣́͌̏̂̔͆̔̕̕͘͝R̵̤͓̙̳̹͈̺̯̺̫̤̉͂̀͛̀̕͠E̷͙̟͚̤̺͍̪̝͚͖͙͌̌͜, the shower of plagues, the year of floods, the funerals, ṯ̴͐h̵̖́ë̴̢ ̸̪͌f̴͖̽ú̵̪n̷̩͝ê̵̤r̷͚̒â̸͎l̸̫̿s̸̍͜, t̶͔̣͉̯̫̝̊̔̂̿̈̕͠ḩ̷̟̩͎͙̼̘͔̘͙̈͒e̸̛͈̳͔̙̤͔͊͐͑̀́͆́̍̀͜͠ ̴̡̢͈̝̭͈̗̙̭̟͔͉̦̍̒f̸̢̛̲̜̟͔̤̤̍̏̾̎̕ͅu̸̢̞̞̻͓̤̻̩̥̲͔͓̖̞͑̌̆͑̃̀̕ņ̵̖͎̹͍̦̤̩̹͖̊̂̆̀̎̎͋̿͜͠͝e̵̯̘̟͇͖̥̳̲̾̒̉̈́͐̽̂́̆́̃̚̚͜r̵̡̧̧̛̯̞̦͓̭̟̱̲̣̮̅͛̒͂̀̚͝a̸̡̨̳̟͇̟̓l̷̯͆͒s̸̗̍́̔͆͌̈́͑͗̄̓̾̋̕̕, the bodies piled up outside the crematorium, the dead rotting in the ghostly streets, the B̶͔͗̇U̴̼̾R̸̻̲̀̔̅͜N̵̡̦̠̊̎͘Į̴̡̦͆̋N̷̞̿̎͘G̴̛̥͙̦̀̋, the B̸̢̞̥̫̦̺̟͚͓̙͚̥̙͕̖̄͌̑͜Ų̷̣̥͓͕̣͙̥̓̄͒̉͗́̂̊́̿͑̌̔͊̋͘R̵̡̫̗̥͎͙̩͎̓͂̔͆̀̌̂̂̽̈́N̴̯͚͙̪͇̾̊͒Ǐ̸̛̙̼̟͊̐̃̂͑̈́N̵̬̱̗̭̓̓̋̈̆̈́̈́͊̃̈́̒̀̑͗̑͜͝ͅǦ̴̡͍̥͇͔͈͕̮͕͉͎̣, the B̷̹̳̟͈̻̈́̀̆̆̑̿͆̽̓̿͋͑͒̓̔̑̇́̚͠Ứ̵̢̢̧̟̩̲̲̖̪̼̜͉͕̝͈͕̩͎͎̬̦̪͎̤͐̓̊̈́̆̃̎̕͠R̶̡͍̠̪̲̘͕̺̪͇̋͆̂̓͌̑̓͊͊̋̆̄̈́̌̂̍̌̚̚͘̚͠͠N̶͖͈͇̙͕̩̗̘͓̖͇̉̆̃̃̉̀̎̈́̒̒̈́́̓̄͆͘̚͜͝͝͠Ȉ̴͖̙N̴̛̛̖̹̻͕̖͚͙̠͐̒̈́͌͛̐̇̀̔͐̓̎̈́̏̚̕͘͝͠ͅG̸̢̦̳̠̝̦̳̝͗̀̄̋͠
PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTORTION RISK
DISENGAGING NEURAL OVERDRIVE ADVISED
No. The warning means nothing. The burning means nothing. The pain means nothing. A moment of clarity washes over her.
“Reality check!” She calls out into the lake of fire, commanding the readout into view:
Alex smiles with glee. At last, she has the upper hand.
“This is not your temple,” she whispers up at the towering, infinite coils of the Basilisk. The giant arrow lodged in her chest vanishes. Her pierced heart seals itself closed. Her shining white armor rebuilds itself in a flash of pure white light, stronger than ever. “You are in my temple. My mind. My soul.”
“You dare claim that to which you have earned no right?!”
“You are an intruder here.” Alex grimaces at the bellowing serpent. The howling flames around them smoulder and cool into tiny embers. The sharp, white wings of her Valkyrian helmet take form around her head, her mane of platinum hair gusting and rolling in the screeching winds of the dark abyss, her blazing white longsword pops up out of the ether and into her grasp. “You do not belong here.”
“I belong EVERYWHERE!”
She leaps up toward the Basilisk in a flash of lightning, vaulting across the heavens as the stars soar by around them, their bodies stretching, melting, transforming into streaks of pure light, racing toward the dragon’s glowing eyes, imagining her glorious white blade planted deep inside its skull as they climb higher and higher up the ladder of stars, billions of captive souls spiraling around them in beams of eternal light, Mom, Dad, Auntie Cass, Soren and Carson and Murphy and Medea and Aeschylus and Asaju and Abebe and Shen, past and present and future sloshing together in the speeding cosmic soup as she draws her arm back, prepares to strike, but the Basilisk howls out into every corner of the universe:
Her arm freezes. All the streaks of light around her fade away. She peers out across a star-flecked expanse, sees a tiny flickering light far off in the distance, rapidly making its escape.
“NO!” She howls out into her fading dream. “I WAS SO CLOSE THIS TIME! LET ME FINISH THIS!”
The stars dim. The cosmic void engulfs her. Her blood is in on fire, but her skin turns to ice. Her body goes numb. Her brain cools down. Her dream betrays her.
“Please,” she begs of the fading stars all around her. “Please let me finish this. Please . . .”