Insanity by xiaoyounan


									A bead of sweat dripped from the corner of my brow as the passion of the heat grew to an
unbearable level. The salty water was a cool blessing in this intensity and I prayed this fight
would end soon. My chest heaved from exhaustion, but my fingers were firmly gripped around
the bat.
The dog was large and loomed over us, its hide, made of flames, roaring in sync with its piercing
howl. Gazing to the right, I saw Paula wheezing from exhaustion as she cried in pain in the fetal
position. Tears dripped from her cheeks to the charcoal floor, but as soon as one made contact, it
fizzled into steam. Her face had been badly wounded with a burn that would surely scar.
To the left, Jeff loaded another rocket into his apparatus, but his hands were unsteady as he
panicked. Poo was sprawled out beside him, unresponsive. Soot fell from the sky, enveloping
him in a toxic blanket.
Overcome by rage, I charged at the hound with the ambition of casualty. The bat swung at full
force toward the beast and smashed into its skull. An excruciating jolt shot through my body
from the recoil and the bat dropped to the ground. I gritted my back teeth to cope with the pain,
but it faded as I saw the dog fall to its side with a soft whimper; it appeared to be beaten.

“Is, is it over?” Paula whispered as she tried to look at the remains, but instead yelped from her
injuries. Joined with her tears, blood dripped over the side of her lip.

“I think so…” Jeff cautiously responded, adjusting his glasses. Lowering his weapon, he let out a
nervous laugh. “He was a tough one, but we beat him!”

My eyes were still focused toward the creature, for I was doubtful about this victory. Dropping to
the floor, I swiftly snatched my bat and rolled away as I heard the beast grunt. A blinding light
shot from its blazing fur and I hid my eyes behind my arm. Its flaming coat glossed over and
became an incandescent crystalline body.

“Jeff, fire now!” I screamed as a low growl escaped the creature’s lips as it rose to its feet.

“Huh?” he asked, puzzled, but it was too late. As he turned around, he was greeted with the fangs
of the monster. Its teeth sunk deeply into his right shoulder and in response, Jeff wailed. The
jowls locked as it bit into his flesh deeper, but loosened as it flung Jeff several feet back. His
body rolled and he hit the scorching rocks. Blood poured from his wound and stained the ground.
Sneering, I swung the bat as I sprang at the canine. The hit landed on its side, but another jolt hit
through me, more intense than before. It felt like lightning struck my every nerve and pulsed like
blood in my veins.

I bit my lip, “He feels as though he’s made of diamond…”
Rising back to her feet, Paula concentrated and focused all of her energy to her hands. She raised
it toward the canine and unleashed sharp shards of ice. The beast was showered in the storm,
each piece sharper than glass. They pierced into its hide, but it did not appear to be effective. It
snarled, bearing its sharp bloodstained teeth. Our eyes locked as it targeted me as its next prey.
Lunging for my torso, it snapped its monstrous canines in the air as I quickly dodged. Swinging
at its feet, I managed to trip the hound to its knees and it was furious. With a long earsplitting
bay, a dazzling light shot from its mane and made direct contact with my exposed flesh. It was
alluring and every color was visible in a magnificent array, but it was blinding. Groaning, I
rubbed my eyes and glanced at Paula. She appeared to be frozen in a different status of time and
space; she was as stiff as the beast’s own outer layer.

An unsettling sound escaped my throat as I witnessed her state and I lashed by bat blindly,
encased in wrath. A glossy crimson glazed over my eyes as rage acted as a visor to my senses.
The foe leapt for me, its fangs aimed for the pulsing artery in my neck. Tackling me, it had me
pinned to the ashy floor, our eyes locking. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for it to rip me to
shreds. However, with a tremendous boom, the ground trembled viciously and the beast fell to its
side, shattering into millions of glittering shards.
My eyes widened, stunned by the sudden action. Craning my neck around, I viewed Jeff
lowering his rocket as he covered his wound with the other. Rasping for air, he adjusted his
glasses, slightly cracked on the left side. He fell to his knees and rested his weapon on his lap.
Standing up, I walked over to Paula, still immobile. I felt her head with the back of my hand; it
was ice cold. Lowering my hand to her chest, I began to concentrate. Able to see the energy
through my blood, I focused it all into my fingers, the tips hot to the touch. Within a few
seconds, she gasped for breath, thawed from the clutches of nothingness. As life returned to her
eyes, she gazed and smiled warmly at me, but I ignored her and instead made my way over to

“What’s the big idea?” I questioned, glaring at him. “You almost let that freak kill me!”

“Ness, I’m sorry! It wasn’t intentional!” he cried, backing away. “I swear!”

“You wanted him to kill me, didn’t you?” I accused, baring my teeth. “You wish that rocket hit
us both, don’t you? That’s some nerve you have there!”

“Ness, please! You have it all wrong!” he pleaded, cowering.

“You Four-Eyed Bastard! I should have put you in your place a long time ago!” I yelled,
swinging my bat full force into his ribs. He uttered out a cry and collapsed to the floor. “You
always talk out of place, nerd! I never want to see your ugly face around me again!” I kicked him
hard on the other side.

“Ness, stop! Please just stop!” Paula screamed, grabbing my arm and trying to pull me away.

“Please, stop this!”

I faced her and smiled, walking toward her. Frightened like a little puppy, she backed away into
the wall. Tears formed in her eyes and slowly slid down her face. She was absolutely terrified.

“Paula, why don’t you shut up while you’re still standing? I don’t need any sass from a wench
like you.”
She pressed against the wall and moved her face to the side as I leaned closer to her. The tears
were streaming now and her lip slightly quivered. With a swift motion, I slapped her clean across
her face with a great force. She cried out in both pain and surprise while holding her bright red
I walked back over to Jeff and kicked him hard a few more times until I saw blood spill from his
mouth. I smirked and glanced back over at Paula.

“Learn your place or you’ll end up like him,” I spat, shifting my eyes toward the lifeless bodies
and with that, I walked forward, leaving them behind. I could still hear her faint sobs as I left.
The further I walked, the more intense the heat became. My exposed flesh felt as though it was
sizzling like a slab of meat on a smoldering grill. An intense veil of steam swept toward me, but I
pushed on and grabbed for the Sound Stone in my bag. A gaping cavity with molten magma was
bubbling before my eyes, almost threateningly. Yet, this spot was mine for the taking.
I saw the stone glow in my hand and as I reached the crater, a soft melodic noise played gently in
my ears. It was my melody…
I closed my eyes and waited for a vision to form in my mind as the tune played on, but it
remained dark and the melody faded into silence. I opened them only to see a thick cloud of
smoke was heading my way. It engulfed me and I hacked desperately, struggling to breathe. A
horrible shriek echoed throughout the room, forcing me to hold my hands to my ears. It felt as
though blood was trickling down my palms, creeping its way to my elbows. A heavy pressure
built in my chest and everything became quiet. I only saw a never-ending darkness.

                                          * * *

My eyes sprang open almost instantly. Sweat seeped from my pores and made my clothing cling
to me like a wet nap. Glimpsing down, I realized I was in my striped pajamas. I blinked a few
more times and looked about my surroundings, which appeared to be in a large field made up of
peculiar plants and various colors. The grass was a lime green; certain patches were much longer
than others. Thin darker emerald bushes were also scattered around the land as well as oddly
shaped trees; they were a jade color as well as an anomalous cone structure. I glanced to the side
and noticed a bright red round bolder. Upon closer inspection, it looked to be an enlarged
tomato. In fact, these were present numerous times, as well as carrot-type figures.

I was a bit dumbfounded at this point as I rose to my feet. A new wave of energy built inside my
chest and jolted throughout my body; I felt better than I ever had before. When I was about to
adjust my hat, I realized it was not in its proper place as my fingers ran only through a heap of
messy hair. I looked at my feet, but it was nowhere to be found. Miffed, I let out an exaggerated
sigh and began to explore this strange place.
I walked until I saw what looked to be a ledge. Carefully, I observed a deep sea, darker than any
I had ever laid eyes on.

“Wow,” I murmured under my breath, somewhat mesmerized by the sight. It felt as though it
was pulling me into its black waters with an unseen grip.

“It’s quite something, isn’t it?” A voice said from behind. Suddenly taken off guard, I
immediately whipped my body around, nearly losing my balance and falling off the edge. I saw
an elderly man looking at me with a gentle smile, holding himself up with an old antique cane
carved from an old cedar wood. Wrinkles tightly indented his face, each telling every decade’s
“Careful now,” he warned, taking his eyes off me and staring into the blackness. “If you fall
down, you will surely descend forever.”

“Fall forever?” I questioned, peering back. “Can’t I just swim?”

He chuckled and shook his head, “I’m afraid not. Do not let your eyes deceive you, child. There
is no water, rather, the empty space of time. Take a closer look.”
I did so and saw he was right. Bright stars twinkled from a distance and even the sight of it made
me feel slightly empty; it was a new feeling I had never experienced before.

“Where am I, old man?” I asked, taking a step back from the edge.

He peered at me again and responded, “Why, this is Magicant!”


“Yes, this is Magicant, Ness.”

“How do you know my name?” I questioned, his presence becoming an annoyance. “What the
hell is Magicant?”

He smiled as he saw I was starting to get frustrated, “After you collected all eight of the
melodies, your mind brought you here. Magicant is a part of you, Ness. It is your subconscious
and the center of your mind. Magicant is life and death. Magicant is you in your entirety. Do you

“Not exactly,” I confessed. I had no idea what this old geezer was talking about. He looked to be
familiar though.

“You will soon enough,” he assured. “Take time to explore Magicant, Ness. Explore your mind
and find the memories suppressed through your struggles.”

“I don’t understand what you mean!” I yelled, flaring my nostrils. “This place is messed up!
How do I get out of this crazy world?”

“If you wish for an exit, perhaps you will find what you seek in the Sea of Eden,” he replied,
pointing toward the darkness. “Just beyond here is where it lies; it is said to hold all the truths in
the center.”

“How do I get there?” I asked, staring uneasily at the edge.

“There is a path to the west,” he answered. “Be wary though, the Sea of Eden is said to be too
overbearing for anyone to withstand.”

“I can manage,” I answered smugly. “Nothing can beat me. I am stronger than any foe.”
He smiled and nodded his head, “If you are sure of your power, go and pursue. Along the way,
you will find figments of your memories appearing in flesh. I myself am nothing more than one
of those memories.”

Then it hit me, “Oh, you’re the old guy who was with Poo, aren’t you?”

He shook his head, “No, but I took his form for my outer appearance. Be cautious and do not be
tricked. Your heart will be tested. Your true colors will show.” I raised an eyebrow; I had no idea
what he was talking about. “Go and explore your mind, Ness,” he ordered. “Let us see if you can
maintain your sanity.”
With that, he closed his eyes and then a large wind blew from all directions. I squinted and tried
to stay on my feet as the cyclone-like wind attempted to sweep me up into its confines.

“Wait!” I cried, but it was too late; he was already gone without a trace.

I decided there was nothing more for me to do but find the Sea of Eden. The numerous colors
caused me to become a bit disoriented, but I continued onward. These splashes of different
colors caused my ease to slowly dissipate and rush any existent urge to stay in this place for any
amount of time at all. The old man’s story sounded a bit too far-fetched for my liking and my
trust was locked away.
As I walked, I noticed large boulders, similar to the ones I would climb as a small child. I noticed
tall lanky trees as well as tiny planets in the deep sea of space. The air in this world was thin, but
it flowed with ease throughout the chambers of my lungs. I questioned whether I was actually
breathing. Nothing in this place made sense.

I noticed a dark figure lurking behind a cluster of bushes, appearing to be hiding. His bright
orange shirt gave him away.

“Everdread?” I called out, peeking behind the shrubs. He turned around with a grin on his face,
his sunglasses flashing as he looked at me.

“My, if it isn’t Ness! I knew it was you, kid!”

“What are you doing here? I thought you were still at Fourside!”

As I said that, his smile faded, “So, you don’t remember the truth, do you?”

I cocked my head in confusion, “The truth?” Much to my surprise, I heard a soft laugh. It
progressively began to grow into a loud booming uproar; his face turned from red to purple from
the uncontrollable laughter. Tears streamed down from his glasses.

“Ness, how do you not remember?” he cried while giggling, holding his chest. “You are the one
who killed me after all!” My eyes widened as he continued to laugh and I took a small step back.

“How could that be?” I questioned, a bead of sweat rolling down my face.
“I had followed you to Fourside,” he explained as he calmed down, wiping a tear from his eye. “I
thought I could still help you and your kiddy friends out. Little did I know how much you had
changed.” He paused and his face turned grave. The red faded to a pale white. “I had brought
with me this special statue that I thought you would be interested in, but when I showed you...”
he paused for a minute, a strong tension arising. “You murdered me in the alley.”

“No...” I muttered, shaking my head. “I didn’t! I wouldn’t!”

“You did,” he accused. “You were separated from your friends and I saw you. Right when I was
about to tell you of my greatest find, you bashed my skull in. It was cracked every which way. I
was never even able to tell you, Ness.”

“No...” I murmured. “That can’t be! It was Monotolli!”

He gave a slight chuckle, “That was only a figment of your imagination. You covered up every
truth with a false lie, Ness. I had previously thought you were much like myself when I was
younger,” he paused, a smirk forming on his face, “But you are a wicked soul. Magicant will
only be the truth that was hidden behind so many lies. Here, you shall face yourself with what
you truly are; a monster.”
He began to laugh once more, “I’m dead! I’m dead! We’re all dead!”
He began to chant it over and over, his laughter resounding like thunder. The tears that were
strolling down his face began to turn a light crimson and his skin started to get darker and darker.
I noticed his teeth becoming black and decaying in front of me. The odor was unbearable so I
held my mouth, trying not to gag. He began to putrefy before me and all he did was laugh.
“I’m dead! I’m dead! We’re dead!”
I looked away from his eyes and tried my best not to get sick. My mind sputtered out of control
and my insides took a turn as I saw a piece of his flesh peel and drop to the ground. Suddenly,
the chaos stopped. “There’s nothing more I can do for you, Ness,” he spoke gently. The stench
was overwhelming as he crept closer to me. He started to fall apart as he walked. I tried to back
away, but I only fell in the process.
“There’s nothing more I can do...”
He leaned over me and gave me a rotten smile. I saw a small maggot wiggling through a hole in
his front tooth. A chunk of flesh fell on my face and I lost my grip. I gagged and threw up on the
ground, coughing from the smell.
“There’s nothing I can do, because you killed me, Ness!” He bellowed and with that, he
disappeared in front of my eyes. I looked and there was no trace of him. The blood and flesh had
vanished as well.

Horrified, I managed to rise to my feet and slowly staggered away. I had no idea what he was
talking about. Was I in fact a monster?
I closed my eyes and ran like a speeding bullet. I was shaken quite a bit and I surely wanted to
escape him. I needed help.

As I saw a path that drove deeper into Magicant, I skidded to a stop. A dark ominous figure
sluggishly took long strides deep within the shadows. I gripped my hands, but shock struck me as
I was unarmed. I tensed my muscles and withheld my ready position. With clenched fists, I was
ready to fight off the foe.
I recognized the enemy right away. I took a long whiff and held my breath. It was a repulsive
scent, but it could not compare to the decaying raw flesh I had previously beheld.
This creature had risen from the deepest of the lonesome graves after living its life. Though its
body still carried a disgusting smell that continued to linger after years of decay, it was mostly
bones with a thin layer of rotten blue skin. A few pieces of dirt fell off of the little hair it still had
and as its feet scuffed along the tall grass, leaving a long trail of mud behind its soles.
I did not feel too threatened by it considering I was significantly stronger than before. With
confidence, I charged full force at the monster. A long war cry escaped my lips as my fists
swung rapidly. I heard the splitting of the bones and felt the flaky thin skin brush across my
knuckles. I smiled as continued to land hit after hit, directly. The snapping of the bones only
boosted my confidence more. Finally, it fell to the ground, followed by a long mournful moan.

“You’re too weak,” I accused, pursing my lips. “You stood no chance against me.”

With another long moan, I saw its body twitch and it slowly rose back to its worn feet, flashing
me a buck-toothed grin. I took a step back, taken off by its resurrection; it should have been
down for the count. With every bone I had broken in its body, there should not have been any
way possible for it to rise again.
It stood in place, slightly leaning to the right due to a bone poking out from its knee. I made the
mistake and peered directly into its empty eye sockets and suddenly, I became paralyzed in fear.
The hollow holes seemed to go on forever and ever and it felt as though it pierced straight into
my soul. Suddenly, I could not grasp any oxygen and felt faint. The world began to spin rapidly
as I choked on the thin air.
I collapsed onto the ground, clawing at my throat. I felt trickles of blood slowly slide down, but I
only longed for the sweet sensation of air. At once, I gasped and was greeted with the taste of
fresh oxygen. My chest heaved and my lungs burned like wildfire, yet, I could not move an inch.
The monster took a long stride closer to me as I lie helplessly among the tall grass. Drops of
black drool fell from its crooked jaw and slid down its decayed chin like thick mud. As it stood
over me, a long strand of slobber fell onto my cheek and trickled down to my lip. I pressed them
together, caring not to sample such a substance.
I saw glimpse of its long tongue that slid over its teeth and rested on its chin. With another long
moan, it crouched down. The snapping of its bones caused me to flinch and cringe away.
It leaned toward me and came up to my face. It breathed heavily and the smell was more than
putrid as its warm breath suffocated me once more. Its tongue scraped roughly against my skin
like sandpaper. I tried to move, but my body was held down by a force much greater than my
own. It heard a long hiss escape through its dried lips and the hair on my arms stood up.

“You kicked my butt badly,” it growled, its long nails digging into my flesh. “I’ll never forget...”

It retreated a few paces back, but its grin did not fade. I began to feel quite feverish, yet, cold at
the same time. As my arm began to tingle, I looked down and gasped. It started to dry
substantially and crinkle. The skin peeled back and began to turn a moldy blue. It proceeded to
spread like a disease and it shifted up into my entire arm. What was happening?
“Those exposed to the flesh of the dead will be cursed and will suffer as long as they shall walk
the world of the living,” it whispered, retracting its tongue.
I then realized I had never actually touched its skin before, rather, only made contact with my
bat. Horrified, my jaw hung open and my eyes widened. Much to my dismay, the dark goo slid
from my lips and a drop landed on my tongue. It burned like fire and tasted of the dead
themselves. My teeth started to chatter and my body shook violently.

“No....” I moaned, heaving in pain and disgust. The decay had already spread to my upper chest.
I looked toward my foe and saw a piercing red light coming from deep in its sockets. Another
jolt caused me to heave black sludge from my own throat.

“You attempted to murder me when I was just trying to survive,” it muttered, licking its cracked
lips. “You failed to realize you cannot kill what is already dead!” It gave a dry laugh and
growled. “The temptation to feast on flesh of the living is far too great to refuse. Just as the
temptation to kill for sheer fun!”
The black tar boiled in my throat and I sputtered, drowning in the waste.
“You allow your own desires to cloud the truth in front of your eyes. You have deceived yourself
and you are the only one to blame. Lift the veil and see who the real monster is!”

Though the crimson blood had shot through my eyes, I could make out a new figure right in front
of me. I squinted and tried to make out the scene. I could clearly make out a figure hunched over
another. It was far too hazy to clearly see, but I did hear a loud smacking sound. Was this person
My vision slowly started to restore to its prior self. My eyes widened in disgust as I saw a
familiar face. Almost as if looking through a mirror, I saw myself with hands full of blood and
meat. He ate straight from my palms, slurping the crimson like a thick soup. He was eating from
a corpse far too mutilated to make out the identity. His flesh looked decayed in every region and
it smelled fierce. My stomach emptied its contents as I saw blood ooze down to his chin.

He looked over at me and smiled warmly, “Hey, want a bite?”

“No....” I moaned, squeezing my eyes tightly shut. This could not be happening! This was too
much! My teeth began to chatter from the fear of this reality. I could not handle this in the
When I found the courage to open my eyes, everything had disappeared. I saw not a mirrored
image of myself or anyone of the deceased. The blood and black goo had disappeared. I quickly
inspected my own flesh, but that too had turned back to its normal pale shade. I did notice the
grass looked darker than it once had. The shade of green not only darkened, but the tips of the
blades had begun to wither and die. What was odd was it applied to every piece of green. The
trees began to fade into a near black and the produce looked as if they were decomposing as
I staggered to my feet and my legs moved without thought. I knew I needed to get out of here. I
did not think I would be able to handle another encounter.

With the darkened sky, it was difficult to make out any definite trail. With a grunt, I pushed
myself forward, unaware of the greater horrors awaiting me. A stench most foul intruded my
nostril, nearly causing me to lose my balance and fall into the emptiness beneath me. Gritting my
teeth, I managed to catch myself before the fall and struggled to push onward. Though each
whiff caused vast anguish, my legs pressed on. Tears began to well, but this was the only path to
the end of this Hell. With each step, the smell grew more unbearable; finally, I found the source.
My eyes were locked with his beady black pupils. This had not been our first encounter or even
our second, but I was going to make sure it would be our last.

“I knew I smelled something ripe,” I snorted, baring my teeth.

“Ah, Ness. You’re as feisty as ever, aren’t you?” he growled, an obnoxious belch following.

“What do you go by these days? Belch or Barf?” I questioned, protecting my nose from his
continued odor.

“You could say I no longer go by either,” he burped. “After the beating you gave me, I only exist
in your mind as a troubled memory.”

“Shut up with all this poetic garbage!” I demanded, snarling loudly. “Why do I have to beat you
guys all over again when I won fair and square? Why do you bad guys have to be so persistent?”

His body bubbled, “Do you not realize who is truly the antagonist in this plot?” he asked.
“Unlock the memories of your journey and see who you really are, Ness. Witness the pain you
not only put me through, but your allies as well.”
The smell grew and became overpowering. My knees fell to the ground once more, the smell
planting me down. Bright colors flashed through my head as constant as a strobe light. That
horrid odor seemed so familiar…
With one last bright flash, a scene straight from the deepest confines of my memory played
before my eyes...
My eyes widened as I heard the sloshing of the thick murky water. My muscles tensed, but all
was silent. I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. There it was again; something was in the
I gritted my teeth and scanned my surroundings. My grip on the bat became tighter. A smile
grew on my face and I lunged. Just at that second, a large crocodile arose from the water, its
sharp teeth attempting to sink into my flesh. I swung the bat as hard as I could and I heard the
snap of his jaw as it fell back into the swamp. The corpse sank into the brown sludge, its pride
along with it; I smiled in response.

The harder they are, the louder their bones snap.

“Ness! Are you alright?” I heard a girl ask from a few feet away. I turned around to see Paula
and Jeff trek through the murky waters to get to me. “We hadn’t realized you went ahead! Are
you okay?”

“Yeah, fine.” I replied, moving my eyes ahead.

“You shouldn’t run off like that, Ness. We need to stick together as a team,” Jeff insisted,
stepping forward.

I narrowed my eyes toward him and snarled, “I don’t need you, Four-Eyes. You just hold us
back!” I pushed him down into the swamp. He got up and coughed the water out from his mouth.
He grabbed his glasses that knocked back a bit and adjusted them.

“Ness, stop! Please stop fighting!” Paula pleaded, helping Jeff.

“Fine, whatever. Come on then. This place reeks.”

This swamp was called the Deep Darkness. When we first arrived, the odor took us off guard. It
smelled of decay in its every form. It reminded me of a body that had been rotting in the same
room for months. This was much worse though, as the smell surrounded us. We had previously
trekked through raw sewage, but nothing could compare to the ripe scent that invaded our
nostrils now.
The worst part was the darkness that surrounded us, hence, the name. Even when the Hawk Eye
was used, a large shadow cast upon us, leaving the battles solely to our other senses. While we
walked, at times, the ground would sink in and we fell deep into the water. The taste was horrific
and it burned like fire in my eyes. Gnats flew above, making thick black clouds, blinding us.

The more we waded through the swamp, the more the stench grew. We continued to press on, our
breaths becoming scarcer. I stopped as I noticed small waves approaching us. Something was
coming towards us and it was big. I readied my bat and kept my eyes forward. Out from the
darkness swept a gruesome odor that brought tears to my eyes. Through the thick mist of tears
and with the god-awful stench, there was no mistaking who it was. A tremendous noise shook the
ground, another horrible stench blowing our way.
It was that disgusting, huge pile of mush with an odor strong enough to poison small infants. I
looked behind me and saw Jeff struggling to breath and Paula was throwing up a bloody lunch. I
braced myself for his unbearable smelling heap as I lunged in for an attack.
As the bat clouted into his runny flesh, a loud smacking sound echoed through the swamp. The
blue flesh bubbled and tried to suck my weapon into his body. Resisting his pull, I heaved the bat
out of glob. A gurgle-like laugh escaped his throat, his bottom fangs gleaming. Locking my jaw, I
took a step back and braced myself.

“Jeff, quit being a weakling and help me!” I growled, taking another swing. He coughed into his
fist and tried to aim his gun. His hand wobbled as though it had become jelly and he swayed
from side to side. As he pressed the trigger, his aim was far from the enemy target.
“Jeff! I swear, man, I will kill you myself, you worthless wimp!” I screamed, trying to retrieve
my instrument from his pulsing flesh. Sweat rolled off his slimy body in large beads and the rank
odor became poison to my lungs. My insides were on fire and I was in this battle alone. Cursing
the gods under my breath, I focused my energy and felt the hot currents radiating throughout my
being. Raising my hand toward the foe, the gathered energy was released in a spectrum of
flashing lights galore. With a final bang, the display of the attack was over, leaving a thick
curtain of smoke. Lowering my hand, I bent over to catch my breath. A sinister grin spread
across my face as I was absolutely confident he was finished.

“Yeah! We did it, guys,” Jeff cheered with a weak smile. He adjusted his glasses and wheezed as
he tried to catch a breath.

Hearing his voice, I violently snapped my head toward him and sneered, “We did it? I don’t
think so...” I walked up to him and slugged him straight in the face. He dropped down into the
swamp with a moan and fell beneath the murky waters. Reaching in, I grabbed his shirt and
yanked him out so I could see him face to face.
“You have done nothing to help. I did it all! You are a useless member to this team and it would
probably do the world better if you died,” I spat as he held his bloody nose. “I should kill you
now, sap! You are a weak loser, Jeff! You couldn’t beat a stray dog if you wanted to!”
Kneeing him directly in the chest, he fell back into the thick water. I planted my foot down on top
of his head and held it as he put up a weak struggle. A belch then shook the ground, so I released
my foot and faced the fading smoke. An ominous figure was before me, a new height reached. My
mouth became as dry as the Dusty Dunes and the smell was so rancid, blood began to drip from
my nose. There was no chance in winning a brawl with a creature like this alone. However, the
burning desire to win and rip my foe apart gave me ambition. I flew at him with what little
strength I possessed, but only to fall deeply ill to his repulsive smell.

We’re going to die…

As the world began to darken, a small bit of light was above my head. It grew ever so brightly as
my eyes yearned to shut one last time. Was this the infamous god? Was this really how it would
all end?

“PK Starstorm!” a masculine voice bellowed. I witnessed the sky change to the pitch black of
night with the many lights of Heaven shining brightly. It began to crumble from its summit and
fall like a plague to the Earth. As it grew closer and brighter, I simply gave a slight smile and
closed my eyes. We had been damned to Hell. I was perfectly fine with this, just as long as I
could close my eyes and sleep, one last time…

I heard a long moan of insufferable pain and felt the warm water engulf my body. It felt so
welcoming as I sunk to the bed of mud; I never wanted to wake up. If I close my eyes, no one will
bother me again. I let myself drift into a boundless slumber, my desires floating to the surface I
wished never to face again.
If I awaken, all my ambitions, goals, struggles, memories, everything will return to me. As long
as I stay here, beneath the wickedness of this world, I can stay pure. All evil is above the
With closed eyes, I let my body be cleansed in the soiled water, wishing to never rouse.

“Ness, can you hear me? Please, I request you to awaken,” a voice called from the distance. The
voice sounded a bit worried, but it was gentle.

“Please, Ness! You can make it! Please pull through!” another called. This voice was filled with
panic and was followed by tears.

“We need to pull him out of the water and carry him to land,” another instructed. This voice was
weaker than the others, but firm.
Suddenly, I felt as though my body had been lifted of its burdens and was floating to the clouds.
Even through closed eyes, I could see the brilliant light as I drifted higher, my body becoming
lighter. Was I in Heaven?

“I pulled him out. We must seek land and tend to his wounds.”

“There’s a strip not far from here. Let’s go!”

“It’s alright, Ness. You’ll be safe soon, I promise.” Someone breathed on my face. Their breath
was warm against my wet skin.
The light was awfully bright; I just wanted to sleep. What could possibly be so crucial to wake

“We’re here!”

“It does not appear he is breathing. Please, stand back for a minute.”

The light was intolerable now; it was an annoyance. How dare they stir me from such a peaceful
slumber? A shiver darted throughout my body as an icy glaze swathed over my pulsing heart.
Hidden in the bitter shadows, it only beat for reprisal against all who wronged me. I longed
desperately for bedlam and agonizing turmoil. I was only a mere host of malevolent sin.
A dazzling ray of sun shone in my eyes as they opened from the obscurity. As I strained to see, I
made out three figures huddled over me, gawking at me as if I were a lab rat.
A newfound rage produced in my core and I was infuriated by their stare.

“What are you looking at?” I snapped, struggling to catch my breath. Pain jolted through my
entire body and my muscles throbbed viciously. I looked at the faces and saw Paula with teary
eyes, Poo with a look of relief, and Jeff stood back at a distance, eyeing my revival. Disregarding
the pain, I made the effort to rise to my feet, paying no mind to their pleas to relax.

“We need to go,” I said. “We need to keep moving.”
Paula and Poo exchanged looks, but they reluctantly nodded in approval. Jeff had turned his
back, keeping a safe distance from my gaze.

“It is just a relief to see you are well,” Poo sighed, bowing slightly. “We were all quite worried
about your safety, Ness.”

I snorted, “I was fine. I didn’t need you in that battle. You’re just an attention stealer.”

“I apologize, Ness,” he spoke modestly, his face filled with disappointment.

“Next time you decide to leave and dillydally, Poo, don’t ever show your face near me again,” I
threatened, turning my back. “Let’s go.”
I desperately gasped for air as I regained consciousness. A trace of Belch’s horrific scent caught
my attention, but its intensity had greatly decreased. Rising back to my feet, I stood before him
once again.

“Do you now see the barbaric being you have become?” he asked. “Your heart has become
twisted and manipulated in the sins of the world. It shall be lost in the black sea of nothingness if
it is not soon acknowledged.”

“You talk smart for a pile of barf,” I laughed, mocking him.

“Ness, you shall never make it through the Sea of Eden or even to its shore! Realize what you
have become and repent! You have let the power swell in your head.”

“No, I haven’t,” I lashed in response. “I’m as strong as they come!”

“You could not even defeat me in lone combat. You required aid from your allies.”

“Shut up!” I screeched, summoning the energy of my rage toward the fiend. A wicked smile had
sprawled across my face and my eye slightly twitched. “Look who is strong now, Belch!” I
laughed hysterically.

“You cannot kill what is not real,” a voice came from the distance. He remained there,
unharmed. “Ness, I am only a figment representing your conscience. You cannot damage me in
this state.”

My body ached as I became infuriated. With a bewildered scream, I charged straight for his
pulsing flesh. However, as soon as I made contact, he vanished, the odor along with him. I
stumbled and tripped over my feet, resulting in skidding along the ground. Placing my hands on
my head, I let out a long mournful scream, pulling at my hair. Tears streamed down my face, but
I just could not stop.

They will all die…

Eventually, I managed to collect myself and wearily moved on. The Sea of Eden could not be
much further; that would be cruel. My body had maintained a perfectly healthy condition, but I
was ultimately unaware of the physiological effects this screwy world had on me.
Up ahead, a tall figure held its place in the dim shadows of a withering tree. A cold shiver ran
down my spine followed by the invasion of goose bumps. The air had become stiff and heavy,
almost as if the gravity had substantially increased. A new pressure weighed down upon my
body and I struggled to stay on my feet. The air had begun to compress around me and as I felt
my bones snap in two, I let out a long shriek. My insides burst from the pressure as I was being
crushed alive. It pushed me down and forced me to the cold soil; the more I resisted, the further
my body took damage.

This cannot be real… It has to be another hallucination.
As I struggled to stand, my leg snapped, crippling me. Still I tried, disregarding the vast pain I
endured. I only strived to beat this world at its own game. However, each attempt resulted in
failure and soon enough, I could no longer move. The intolerance of my actions had pinned me
so I could foil its plots no more. With each snap I had heard, I felt as though I should have been
dead, but the string of fate maintained my existence only so I could suffer further. With the
resentment I felt, I could not give up so easily.
The little strength I possessed was used to pull myself toward the figure. My throbbing arms
begged for a break, but I refused to fall victim to this place. I pushed past the pain only to have
seen a snowman. Though I was overcome with relief, it was also a feeling of irritation.
I let out a long sigh and winced from the extensive tenderness my body felt from having
undergone what Magicant threw at me. I was uncertain where I should go at this point. A wave
of lethargy enveloped around me and I longed for nothing but a quick nap.

I’ll be fine if I rest my eyes… Just for a minute…

“I remember when you would fall asleep in the snow, Ness.”

My eyes sprang open and I managed to turn my neck, “Who said that?” The fields were empty
with the exception of the greenery and the snowman.

“It was me that you heard, the snowman.”

Shifting my neck straight, I scanned the soft lifeless snow.

“What are you?” I questioned, reluctantly resting my cheek on the dirt.

“I am as you see, a simple snowman. Truly, I am only a mere memory you had when you were
only a sprout. I have remained as a positive memory in storage for all of these years.”
Though I wanted to respond, I was too worn to physically speak. There I lay, only to listen.
“You were like this before, you know,” it laughed. “When you were a child, you had made me
after a storm that left the snow plentiful; even school had been canceled.” Smiling at the thought,
I continued to listen.
“Though I was an inanimate object, you spoke to me as though we had been lifelong friends.
You even told me the name of the girl you liked,” it recalled, then paused for a minute. “You
were a misunderstood child, Ness. You were unaware of the abilities you possessed until just
recently, but it was hard, wasn’t it? You were always different from the others. You were
destined for something much greater in life, but they could never understand what you felt.” It
spoke softly, but a warm tear slid down my numb face as I too recalled these feelings from the
“Unfortunately, this journey has left you scarred, Ness. The bitter thoughts and feelings you
received as a child mixed with the hardships of your destiny has corrupted your once peaceful
mind. Now, you thirst for bloodshed and seek a false vengeance. Although it was not originally
your intent, evil has made a host of your heart and soul. I am sad to say you are too far gone to
be saved from the ultimate demise.”
I was speechless; I had no idea what to say or what to believe. Was this truly how the wheels of
fate had turned?
“I am the last of the innocence you now have. Every memory has been destroyed with influence
of iniquity. Though a sun no longer shines in this world, I know I will soon melt. It is a pity to
see how your cards were played, Ness.”

“You’re a liar!” I yelled, rage offering me strength. “I am the good guy! I have made this world
better for everyone by wiping out the scum! I only seek to rid this world of those who are not
worthy of breathing. You are wrong!” I heaved as I struggled to breathe. Plopping my head back
down, I felt a cold trickle of water land above my eye, then another. Hoisting my head back up, I
saw the snowman melting like butter in a warm skillet. The ground flooded with cold water of its

“Thank you for remembering me, Ness…”

With that, all the snow had thawed and dissolved into a small puddle. Its carrot nose decomposed
the instant it hit the tainted soil.
Perhaps it was true; whatever living being that crossed the threshold of this maddening world
would be doomed to die. Even so, I would be the exception.
Forcing my hands to pull, I dragged my body forward, deeper into Magicant. I knew I could not
rest here, for if I did, I would surely never escape from this hellhole. Setting my eyes forward, I
started to tear at my muscles for their strength. Determination was my only safehold.
Pushing onward, the land seemed to be deserted of all lifeforms. Perhaps the poisonous
atmosphere had exterminated every creature that dwelled here, but I knew that was only a distant

Time passed like a flowing river, endlessly. It could have been hours, years, or perhaps just a few
minutes had passed. The sky had turned dark as night and there was no visible source of light.
Sun did not shine in a place as dead as this. Only Death opened its doors to this world, reaping
what he sowed, havoc. It had become so silent; the drops of blood splashing against the ground
were louder than my heavy breathing and my body dragging against the floor. Grunting, I pushed
further. In the distance, I made out a light surrounded by the shadows. My hands dragged my
stiff body to the clearing like a moth to a lantern, unaware of the hazardous flames.
The pain faded as hope invaded my dim thoughts. My arms longed to reach into the warm light,
hoping to find a shelter from the cool darkness. The greater amount of effort I put in, the further
the light escaped from my grasp. The desire I so strongly felt reserved my strength and I slowly
pressed on. With each second, I progressively became slower, but the determination exerted me
toward death. The broken bones and burst organs begged me to retire, but I was too stubborn to
worry about my health; I longed for revenge.

Just as I could bear no more, my hand reached out and grasped the light in my palm. With one
last push, I pulled myself into the clearing, puffing. Resting my body, I lie there almost lifelessly.
Truly, I knew not what would come next or if I would be able to endure it. I had been positive
my body would have snapped out of this hallucination by this point, but the pain only enhanced.
Was this all just a terrible nightmare? I could not be certain. I could not even recall the past
events before I had entered this maddening world.

Resting my eyes, my mind wandered back in time, but the past was only a fuzzy image. There
was no use in looking at a distant past, because the present determined the end.
As I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by luminous figures. Shadowed faces with wicked smiles
loomed over me like a child drooling at his Halloween stash. These were all faces I recognized,
but they were different, lifeless. My head started to throb with such excruciating pain and my
eyes bulged from their sockets. The faces began to flash with an incandescent glow. Threatening
laughter began to stir from the bevy, a cool shiver then sweeping throughout my body.
Trepidation hoarded my thoughts as the laughter amplified.
A single figure stepped out from the back of the mob, a lone girl. She wore a faded yellow dress
that matched with her dirty blonde hair. Her eyes were hidden behind the tresses and the facial
expression was grim. Though the answer was on the tip of my tongue, she remained anonymous.
I felt her intently staring at me though her eyes were concealed.

“Fresh!” she screeched, a flippant grin forming that stretched to literal ear-to-ear. “I prefer them
fresh, but you will just have to do!” Her teeth began to expand as well as her jaw, stretching
down until it rested on her chest. With teeth filed sharp, each was easily bigger than the length of
my entire fist. Apprehension wrapped around me as she dropped to the floor, crawling to me at a
snail's pace. With chops drawn open, she reached for my tender body. A long tongue spilled
from the giant daggers and plopped on my chest, drenching my shirt. I winced as the fangs
chomped down, but there was a lack of pain. Relief struck as I saw she bit on her twisted tongue
instead of my flesh. Blood leaked from the edges of her jaw, the whites staining red. Bitten in
two, the remaining pink muscle plunked onto my face. She stood lifeless as blood continued to
pour through the slits, even with a locked jaw. The tongue flopped as if it had a will of its own,
coiling like a snake. It meandered with a damp touch and made its way to my gaping mouth.

Too stunned to counter, it invaded my mouth, squirming in my throat. It flicked against my
cheeks as it passed, but it forced its way down. Completely blocking my esophagus, I gagged as I
began to suffocate. It squirmed vigorously against my internal tract, swishing back and forth in
my belly. Stomach acid bubbled aggressively as it rose into my throat from the tongue triggering
my gag reflex by pushing against my uvula. It poured through the openings and leaked out of my
mouth, burning my tender lips in the process. My eyes rolled to the back of my head, my body
convulsing. Long strides were left behind by my fingernails in the soft soil. The acid began to
break down the foreign muscle and it steadily dissolved. The squirming tongue progressed
deeper into my body, pace quickening as it turned into mush. It liquefied and seeped onto my
tongue, an overwhelmingly sour flavor stung my taste buds. The tang was brutally horrid and I
purged as much as I could out before I gasped for air and the rest dropped into my gut, no longer
in motion. As my vision recovered, the girl had vanished, but the figures were still grouped
around me.

Fear had become my sole emotion as I was washed up in a wave of panic. Lost in the state of
distilled shock, I had become overly disturbed and could not stop the frequent twitches of my
limbs. Whispers echoed through the crowd, distinct laughter becoming a swelling disease.
Unlike the heavy grief, the gravity’s immense pressure lifted like a witch’s curse. I nearly
overlooked this, sanity slipping through my fingers. The pain ceased and the busted parts of the
body were repaired, almost as if they were never wounded. Wearily, I rose to my feet, woozily
trying to catch a steady step. The faces remained hidden away, but their spiteful exchange made
me lightheaded, my legs wobbly.
It was impossible to make out what my current emotion was; I just knew I was tired…

I faced the crowd with a sneer, challenging the next act. Perhaps I was losing my mind. Maybe I
had gone off the deep end to beckon this insanity, but I saw no other escape route. I could only
face these fears and fight on.
The rambling grew silent as a long sorrow-filled weep amplified through the land. A small girl
walked up to me, her fists shielding her eyes as she bawled. Her hair was a beautiful ginger red,
worn in a high ponytail. Her dress was a washed sapphire pink. I kneeled before her and gently
placed my hand on her small shoulder. All other distractions seemed to fade and the only thing I
was capable of seeing was this little girl.
Letting out a few more sobs, she lowered her hands and peered at me with her giant tear-filled
eyes. It brought a deep pain to my stomach.

“What’s wrong?” I asked with a pleasant tone, as she wiped the snot from her nose.

“I’m sad…” she whispered, lowering her gaze to the rotten grasses.

“Why is that, hon?” She looked awfully familiar, but I could not place a name to the face. As I
pondered, she gripped onto my shirt and gave a slight tug.

“It’s because you forgot about me.”

I was thrown back in surprise, “Huh? What do you mean?” I knew I had forgotten who she was,
but could it really be that important?

“Ness, why don’t you like me?” she asked, cocking her head as she looked into my eyes. “Why
don’t you want to be my boyfriend?”
My face turned bright red and my eyes grew wider. I tried to back away, but she continued to
grip my shirt.

“I’m sorry, but you’re too young for me, Sweetheart. You’re just a little girl!” I explained,
lowering my eyes away from her. I felt her hand release my shirt, but I did not want to witness
her tears anymore. I was unsure what to do until I felt another tug on my shirt. I reluctantly
peered up, but I fell back in shock. A tall woman stood before me, wearing a revealing skin-tight
red dress. Long glossy auburn hair hung over her shoulder and she slid her tongue over her white
pearly teeth. My heart began to beat at such a rapid pace, I was worried it would burst. She
leaned down to me with an extended hand, fully-filled out breasts bobbing inches away from my
face. My cheeks burned bright red and I held my breath. Accepting her gesture, I allowed her to
help me to my feet, exhaling deeply.
Quickly taking a step back, I tightened my fists and looked down. She softly giggled and placed
her finger on my chin, pulling my face to hers. My eyes accidently met gaze with her own and
were pulled into her orbital lock. My throat became bone-dry and a drop of sweat slid from my
hair. What was this feeling? It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before…
The striking gray eyes lured me into her open arms, without a conscious thought. She was
absolutely stunning with a gorgeous curvy figure. Her tongue smoothed over her plump red lips
and she leisurely batted her eyes. Different emotions struck upon me once again, but this one was
different than any I had ever faced in the past. This was not anger nor was this fear.

She embraced me in her arms, my face falling straight for her chest. She held me there with
locked arms, but my body would not allow me to break free. It refused to struggle upon her
advances, but rather, I craved it. Was this the feeling that of temptation?
Her head lowered, her lips softly touching the tip of my ear as she breathed into it heavily. The
hairs on my arms stood up as I felt her teeth gently bit down onto my lobe. Leaning in a bit
closer, she whispered softly in my ear.

“Won’t you be my girlfriend now, Ness?” she asked, almost begging. “I’m all grown up now, so,
won’t you be mine?” Her tone was seductive and she continued to fondle my ear.

“You’re that little girl?” I gulped, scanning her appearance.

“Yes, I’m Nico!” she stated as she stepped back, causing me to lose my balance and nearly fall
back. “Don’t you remember, Ness? I was your first crush.”
The memory then struck me like a brick in the face. That little girl, Nico, had been my first crush
through the school years. We had been classmates ever since the pull-up days, but I had always
been infatuated with her. Her reactions had struck me odd though, because as memory served,
she had never paid any mind to my pathetic attempts to confess my feelings. If anything, she had
been annoyed and wanted not a thing to do with me. Was I horribly mistaken or was she?

“I remember you now,” I reminisced. “But I recall a strong lack of interest on your part.”
A grin formed from the corner of her lips and throwing her head back, she laughed; it was long
and mournful.

“You’re absolutely correct, Ness,” she admitted, a tear twinkling in her eye. “I despised you.
Every day, you would gawk over me and it was so embarrassing. You were the sole act of social
suicide!” her smile faded. “Then she came along and you never thought a lick about me again.
Just now, you couldn’t even remember my name.” For the life of me, my mind was unable to
comprehend just who she was referring to or why she even cared for that matter.

“I don’t understand, Nico,” I responded, scratching my head. “I don’t know who the hell you’re
talking about or why you care if you didn’t even like me.”

The smile spread once again, “Oh, you know, the blonde with the bow? It doesn’t matter who it
is to be honest, Ness,” her eyes flashed. “But I will not allow you to fall for another girl while
I’m still here!” She took a step back and pushed her chest out. “I thought I would appeal to you
more if you saw my stage of maturity. It’s working, isn’t it?”
An overwhelming sensation pulled me closer to her as though she was my own personal magnet.
The lovely assets in which she bore drove me into the dirt like a madman, but I could only howl
for more. I wished to be freed from this force, but I could not escape.

“You want me, don’t you, Ness?” she asked, the seductive tone boiling my blood. My feet
stepped toward her, my mind unable to control my actions. “You lust for me, Ness. You only
wish to be mine.”
Urges swept through my mind, forbidden desires forming into my only thoughts. Like a zombie,
I walked to her open arms as she waited to snatch me away.

The girl with the bow…

I stopped immediately in a muted stance as the memories came rushing into my head like a wave
of water flowing from a broken dam. I remembered her golden blonde curls bouncing up and
down as she walked. I remembered her cheeks turning bright red as she smiled with adorable
little dimples. I remembered the heat of the moments when she was fired up, deadly flames
shooting from her fingertips with a spark in her aqua blue eyes. I remembered the feeling of
solitude when I had first found her, fearful tears dripping from her chin. I remembered.

“Come to me, Ness!” she demanded, her eyes flashing with the attempt to lure me to her.


“Excuse me?” she asked, flabbergasted. “What did you just say?”

“I said no,” I firmly stated, crossing my arms. “I have no interest in you.”

“No,” she muttered as she hunched her back, her eyes bulging and her lips twitching. “That
cannot be…no….no…” Tears dripped from her pale face, her red hair clinging to her skin.

“What I do not understand is why you’re now so into me, Nico. Why bother caring if I’m what
you call, ‘social suicide’?”

She lowered her head and gave a weak laugh, “It’s a girl thing, Ness. You wouldn’t understand.”
Suddenly, she threw her head up, her hair becoming a crazy frizzy mess; her countenance
foreboding. “That doesn’t mean I won’t make you mine!”
With eyes bugged out and a sinister smile, she ran at me, the sole desire of lust pumping through
her heart. I quickly evaded and pushed her to the ground. Looking away, I shook my head.

“Even in this insanity,” I stated, my fists tightly clenched. “I will not forget my feelings toward
her. I may have lost all other memories, all of which are being recreated by this world, but this is
one feeling I am absolutely confident in.”
When I looked back at her, she was a child again, with the same teary face as before. She
dropped her butt to the floor and threw a tantrum, her wails echoing through the silent sky.
“Stop your whining,” I demanded, staring past the branches that hung loosely as a dead man’s
noose. “Crying will get you nowhere in life. It’s a waste of time.”

“You jerk!” she cried and was swallowed in the endless shadows. Releasing a sigh of relief, I
attempted to seek a source of light outside of this clearing; unfortunately, the situation seemed
gravely dim.
Was I truly stuck here forever? Had I become lost in these thoughts, these memories with no sign
of truth or lies? With those memories intact, was I in fact a vicious monster others wished to be
What was I…?

As the blades of the shriveled grass broke with a snap in the shadows, I prepared myself for the
next encounter. However, the field continued to break as weight was forced upon its tiny strands,
signaling the appearance of many. My heart had lost its fierce passionate rage, but I was
determined to see this out to the end.
Shadowed faces crept forward, ominous grins plastered on like a doll’s. The group had finally
sought their prey and closed in; there was no possible escape. I jumped in alarm as arms dug out
from beneath the poisonous soil and grabbed for my ankles. They shot up at random, first seizing
my feet, then legs. Within seconds, the arms pulled me to the deathly dirt despite my struggles. I
was completely pinned down, a hand also clasping my mouth. Tears trickled in my eyes from
fright as the figures stood in a vast group, looming over helpless me. First, whispers spread from
motionless lips, but then the intensity of the volume increased. I longed for nothing but to cover
my ears as the hushed voices yelled.

“What a terrible child he is.”

“His parents bore a demon!”

“Spiteful wretch…”

The tones came from both sexes, each filled with a deep hatred.

“He took my family away from me!”

“A murderer in the body of a boy…”

“A manifestation of evil in its greatest form.”

The tirade continued without end, the cruel spiteful words sinking directly into my heart.

“A dirty hypocrite!”

“Useless coward!”

“We’ve always thought you were a freak, Ness!”

I thrashed about with great effort, but the hands held me to the ground. Only longing to cover my
ears, I tried to resist the voices, but the attempts were futile.
Was this truly the monster I was?
The venom they spewed had only progressively worsened, but I was through. Furious, adrenaline
coursed through my veins like wildfire, spreading rapidly, aggressively. I growled toward the
mass ferociously, pupils nearly fading in my bloodshot eyes.

“Shut up!” I screamed, the circulation cutting as my fists begged to be free. “You’re all wrong!
You’re wrong! Shut up!”
The noise did not stop, but only augmented in volume. With a twitching face, I broke free of the
hands and charged toward the shadows with a swinging fist. Though they were hidden, I could
still feel the impact of the soft warm skin and heard the shattering of crackling bones. I had no
longer cared whom it was my knuckles made contact with, but only longed for their demise. For
what seemed to be hours, the air no longer carried a sound of anything other than my heavy
breaths. The whispers had ceased and not even a whistle stirred. However, I could not come to
peace with my inner self.

What are all these emotions I feel? Why does this sense of anger take over until the mission
of fatality has been accomplished?

I had hardly noticed the disappearance of the field of hands, rather, I stared at my own and
silently contemplated my fate. However, it was cut short as I heard a pair of feet running rapidly
toward me, but by the time I reacted, it was too late. I uttered a cry as something sped straight
through my back and stuck out from the other side. My eyes bulged and I spat blood, falling
helplessly to my knees. Daring to peep down at my chest, I mustered out a frightened moan. A
face looked back at my own, giggling shamelessly with a familiar grin, Nico. She had somehow
stabbed herself through my exposed body, half of hers sticking out through my chest.

“Here we go, Ness!” she smiled, pulling her arms from my leaking body. She placed her hands
on my back and held me to her. “Now we can be together forever!”
Unable to speak, quick breaths and short moans seeped through my lips, blood pouring from my
tattered body, filling this world with ruby waters to the rim, like a bathtub. The crimson tasted
similar to the pennies I had sucked on as a child, but it was sweeter.

“Get off of me, you stupid girl…” I managed to choke, glaring furiously at Nico, much to her
surprise. Using what little strength I could muster, I pushed her away, the lock her arms made
around me breaking. Instead of her usual tears, her smile only widened to something inhuman.

“Is it because I’m ugly, Ness?” she asked quietly, her eyes throbbing as they bugged from their
sockets. “It’s because I’m so ugly, isn’t it? I can fix it for you, Ness!” Raising her hands to her
face, she dug her nails deep within her flesh, tiny cherry trickles forming from her fingers. She
pulled downward with her tips still digging deep and began to peel away at her face. Giant globs
of skin plopped as they hit the ground, as the mutilated face of a girl stared at me. She continued
to pry off her tissue, as if it was nothing more than a mere mask. The gruesome face I looked into
was now a skull with loose chunks of skin dangling from its bone, one eye hanging loosely from
its near empty socket. “Am I pretty now, Ness?” she asked, her thin lips shedding like fall leaves.
“Will you love me now?”
No longer able to bear the chaotic sight, I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed for her to disappear
as the others had done. However, I could still hear her soft insane giggles and skin hitting the
dirt. The pain I felt was excruciating and I was unsure of just how much longer I would be able
to endure it.

Please, make it stop…

Hesitantly, my eyes slowly opened to see the hole that wounded my stomach was gone, along
with the girl. I smiled as I sighed; never had I felt more relieved. I ran my hand over my gut and
felt the solid smooth skin. When would this horror story end?

I continued to walk, questioning whether or not I was closing in on the Sea of Eden. The feel of
the air was eerie, unsettling really. The world had died and became a macabre graveyard. The
once living plants had now decayed and were nothing but black and rotten. I hurried along, eager
to abscond this dreadful place. With great haste, I jogged back into the shadows, the final
destination in mind.

Eventually, my dash turned into a mere walk, but the darkness was not as pleasant as one in a
park. It was impossible to tell where solid land was, so I carefully paced myself. Not once did I
see the light of the sun nor of the moon, only black in every direction. I wondered how much
time had passed or if time even existed in this place. I just wandered about aimlessly, possibly
even trekking in circles. I contemplated whether I would ever find the right path.

After a while, I began to tire from the endless hike and nearly lost the resolve to continue.
However, a slightly lit area appeared ahead, but I refused to get any hopes up. I knew it could
very well be nothing more than a mirage or hallucination of some sort. As I closed in, I was
relieved as it did not fade, but it put me on guard

I cried out as I struck a hard structure with my knee and yelped in pain as I fell on top, sharply
plunging into my side. Cursing under my breath, I inspected the source and saw a worn old rock,
a tombstone. I picked it up and noticed the engraving had weathered and its characters were
difficult to make out. Squinting, I slowly deciphered the message.

                 “Here lies the Flying Man, the sworn source of Ness’ Courage.
                                Slaughtered by madness and fear.
                               Resting in the void of nothingness.”

Four more tombstones rested abysmally in the rich soil, all exhausted from time. Each bore the
same message and struck dread deep within my heart. My knee stilled throbbed in pain, but the
sense of fright drove me away. I stumbled as I tried to run, fearing the walking dead would make
an appearance once more.
Slightly limping, I dragged onward, a winding path in the near distance. Was this upcoming road
the Sea of Eden? Was I near the exit?

The wind picked up and blew fiercely as its whistle became ear splittingly deafening. I struggled
to stay on my feet as the gust carried the black grass in waves, almost identical to the vast sea of
“It was a lot tougher than you thought, was it not?”
I turned around and saw a familiar elderly man leaning on a cane.

“Old man!” I cried, approaching him.

“Ness, I am actually quite surprised you have made it this far,” he admitted, nodding his head. “It
must have been quite rough to make it here. I sense there is a burning ambition deeply embedded
in your heart.”

“Is this the Sea of Eden, geezer?” I asked, observing the road that twisted in many ways with no
clear end.

“Sadly, it is not, Ness,” he apologized. “This road is the last of the trials before you reach the
truth within yourself. However, these past trials are nothing compared to what will be faced
then...” His expression actually appeared to be a bit frightened, but only for a few seconds until
he flashed me a confident smile.

“What will be there?” I questioned, cautious about progressing.

He smiled, “I have no idea myself.”

I nearly fell in surprise to his response, glaring angrily at him, “What’s the big idea, wrinkles?
What are you trying to pull?”

He continued to smile, “I apologize for the way that may have sounded. Truly though, I have not
a clue what lies up ahead for you, nor do I know the end result. I do know you cannot remember
a single memory from before your time in Magicant and you are unsure of each memory you
have seen since. I do know you no longer know who you are or what you are for that matter.”

“Why did this happen?”

“It happened solely to test the true colors of your heart,” he explained, peering toward the sea.
“Perhaps you will be the one to conquer your fears and find your way out of this world. Do not
be swayed by the false truth and see the light without lies and only then can you win.”
As he turned silent, I too stared at the dark sea and contemplated the events that had occurred.
Nothing was one-hundred percent clear in the shadows from which my memories were stowed
away, but I was determined.

“Alright, old man,” I smiled, energy pumping through my veins. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I
will conquer whatever is waiting for me and get out of this stinking place!”

He smiled warmly and nodded approvingly, “I have full faith in your ability, Ness. There is
nothing more I can do for you now. It will be you and you alone against the swelling madness
that you have stored in your life. Now, push onward and find the truth in this darkness. Though
you will be alone from this point forward, you shall prevail if faith remains in your pulsing heart.
Go, Ness! May you find peace!”
With his final words, he lowered his head and a small breeze peacefully blew through my hair.
Within a second, the field stood empty forevermore. With one last deep breath, I continued down
the path.

I will find the exit from this hellhole.

The grass did not grow on this road, rather, it was replaced with tiny grains of neon red soil. The
sky had even changed in color, as it had shifted from solid black to a deep violet purple within
seconds. Such a minor change no longer took me off guard, as I prepared for far worse to come.
The street held many different paths, much like a maze. However, each intertwined within itself
and no clear direction was visible, so I was obligated to choose at random.
As I walked along, not a single sound was made, making it dreadfully ominous. I could not even
hear my footsteps as they dug firmly into the loam; it was as if the earth absorbed all noise. The
lack of one of the five senses easily delivered paranoia as well as anxiety. The world was
becoming crazy within itself, insanity surging through each root planted within its natural soils
and releasing into its atmosphere like poison. It was overwhelming.
I sauntered onward, becoming frustrated as I questioned whether or not I was only repeating the
same path as before.

“I wish I had some breadcrumbs right now…” I muttered under my breath, marching forward.
My eyes flashed with excitement as I saw a figure up just ahead, their back toward me. Stifling
my breath, I attempted to sneak in the direction of the body, hoping for the advantage of a
surprise attack. I could see the shape kicking with great might at an object at their feet. A small
blood splatter occurred with each punt, a small puddle pooling at their shoes. Upon closer
inspection, I realized the target was a now mutilated dog, whimpering in silence.

“Hey, stop it!” I cried, pulling the character back, away from the poor creature. “What the hell is
wrong with you?”My jaw dropped as they turned around, a boy with scraggy black hair smiling
warmly at me. He wore a loose yellow-and-blue striped shirt, stained with rusty red blood
splatters and now new maroon ones. How could a kid be responsible for this?
He cocked his head in confusion from my action, but greeted me with a warm smile.

“What’s wrong, man?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You were just kicking that dog!” I protested, gazing down as the mutt struggled to breathe.
“What’s not wrong with that?”

“No, it’s cool! I promise. It’s just a stray after all…” he looked back at the pup and sneered. “It
wouldn’t have even mattered regardless of whether it belonged to anyone or not. The weak in
this world have no place to be living.” His eyes turned cold as his voice faded, but within a few
seconds, he snapped back to and looked at me with a gentle smile.

“That is not cool! You have no regard for this animal’s life!”

“I don’t,” he answered, reaching to his side, pulling out his true instrument of destruction. He
clenched a baseball bat, stained just like this clothes, tightly within his hand. With a mighty
heave, he brought the bat down full force upon the helpless animal. A soft breeze whistled
silently, an awkward vacancy of sound fell like rain as I stared at him, baffled. He let out a long
sigh and laughed as he turned to me. “He didn’t stand a chance!”

“What is wrong with you?” I screamed, my voice cracking in the process. Blood smeared across
his face, but it did not bother him in the least. “How could you do that?”

“As I said before,” he started, softly tapping his bat at his shoes, small chunks of skin falling off.
“That dog did not matter to anyone. The weak are only toys to the significant superiors. It’s fun!”

“Killing innocent animals is fun to you?” I could not believe the words he said, so casually as

“Killing in general really,” he responded, digging his foot deep within the corpse, popping its
head clean off. He kicked it over to me as if it were a soccer ball. “Wanna play?”

“Hell no!” I yelled, jumping back as it rolled to me feet.

“I didn’t always kill people…” he whispered, looking intently at his palms, filthy from blood and
dirt. “It all started when I was made fun of in school. I was different than the other kids and
shunned from all activities.” His fists clenched as well as his teeth, his eyes burning with rage,
but within seconds, the anger subsided. “Now I am stronger than those asses! I am the better
He seemed absolutely thrilled, smiling as he was so giddy with happiness.

“That doesn’t make murdering things right,” I pointed out, crossing my arms. “Just because you
were abused doesn’t mean it gives you any right to do the same thing to others. You’re no better
than them.” He smiled, as if my words were nothing more than a joke to him.

“I let the madness consume me in its shadow, the darkness seeped in. I crave the death of those
weaker in comparison and desire destruction. I love the sight of blood, the powerful smell of
blood, the sweet taste of blood mixed with salty tears, the drips of blood as it falls into a puddle,
and the feel of blood in my hands. I allowed anger to turn my heart blacker than space and
disregarded all love I ever had. And yet…” he looked at me, his eyes wide and his smile
stretched as he was swallowed into insanity. “I love it!”

I slowly cowered away as he turned back to his mess, crouching over the remains. My mind
wanted nothing more than to flee and leave this loon behind, but my legs would not budge an
inch. I had been planted to the ground by the roots of lunacy, completely susceptible to his next
action. He returned to his feet and smiled warmly as he approached me. Panic crept under my
skin and crawled like a scarab underneath my flesh.

He gestured his arm, “You dropped this, by the way.” Looking at his hand, he held a hat,
drenched in blood, an odor arising.
“Here, let me!” he offered cheerfully, plopping it on my head, rubies rinsing my pale face in its
glorious color. It felt warm against my bare skin, as sticky as syrup. My mouth hung open in
shock, disturbed and horrified.

Wake up, Ness!

A bit of truth crawled from the confines of the black shadows and struck me with 1,000 watts. I
could grasp no single emotion, as each was swirled together in a parfait of disaster.

“You…You’re me…” I mumbled, lowering my eyes to the mess he had created. He snickered in
front of me, kicking casually at the dirt. “You can’t be!”

“Oh, yes!” he giggled, his grin only widening. “I am you, Ness! Have you forgotten? I am you! I
am you!”


“Oh, yes! Oh, yes!”

“No!” I screamed, heaving my fist as hard as I could at his face. He shattered to the ground, a
new floor of glass scattered amongst my feet. After all, he was nothing more than the reflection
in the mirror…
I dropped the bat, more glass breaking as it hit. My hands were dirty, covered in rusty red rubble.
Below my feet lie the dog, glass shards now sticking into its mutilated hide. It had all seemed
familiar, but it was not something I could make out. I took one last long look and fled.

I ran without fear, without rage, without sorrow, and without purpose; I just ran. The abnormal
colors seemed to play tricks on my eyes as they swirled together in a plethora, the floor
becoming the sky as the sea became the floor. I knew no longer if it was possible to feel any pain
or emotion ever again. I was aware of the maroon substance drizzling down my face, but I could
no longer sense it. I ran to run and that was my single reason.
My feet stopped abruptly, causing me to fall and skid on the ground with my face. I could not
feel the stinging pain or tenderness, but I was aware of its existence.

Many times, I nearly fell into the endless void due to my carelessness, but I managed to stay on
trail. Pessimistic thoughts swamped my mind, the fear of the inevitable doom crashing down
with infinite pressure. Regardless, I continued onward, merely because there was nothing else I
could do. There were numerous dead ends, leaving me to retrace steps. I did notice an odd statue-
like object poking from the ground at a road with no outlet. It peaked my curiosity, but triggered
my defenses as well. For all I knew, it would contain the electricity of one-million lightning
bolts, or could be the tooth of a monster waiting beneath my feet, eager to gobble me up.
Disregarding such adolescent fantasies, I approached the odd figure. It twisted like a root, but it
gave off a metallic shine. I raised my hand and touched it with just the tip of a finger and a
blinding light flashed throughout all of Magicant, everything being absorbed into the
illumination, then fading into a pitch black.

                                              * * *
As my eyes slowly drifted open, I only saw darkness. I had been plunged into deep black waters,
warmth circulating around me. The liquid seeped into my mouth, a displeasing taste ultimately
disturbing my tongue. The water felt too thick for my comfort, so I allowed myself to surface.
Above the liquid, it was not much brighter in comparison. Surprisingly enough, though the water
had seemed to be lacking a bottom, I realized it was only waist-deep. It felt more solid than
liquid, like wet cement. The air felt cold, but at the same time humid. It was stuffy and an
indescribable odor rose from the gentle ripples. I could only assume this was the famous Sea of
The water itself was blacker than a starless night, the sky a dim gray. Sharp rocky peaks, a
display of glowing colors, stuck through the water, almost like thorns. This was the belly of the
monster, the hideous and evil side of the beautiful rose.
It took great effort to trek forward, my eyes sniping the area for an exit. Now that I had made it
here, what was to be done? Unbeknownst to me what horror lurked in the sludge, or what it was
actually composed of, for that matter. Soon enough, the water had become too heavy to even
take another step, as if something was forcing my stop. Though in dim light, I focused toward the
sea, but a moan escaped my lips as my hands trembled.

All around me, dead bodies were afloat on top of the black water. The corpses were of both
animals and humans; each was mutilated in their own sick way. The beheaded drifted silently
with their tongues touching the water. Bodiless limbs gathered together in groups, piling in
vulgar clusters. Guts and intestines intertwined around my body, binding my arms and legs in a
sickening cocoon. Their cold lifeless eyes all stared at me, a silent anger brewing amongst them,
‘You did this to me! This is your fault!’
Even though I wished I could defend myself from their muted accusations as they pointed their
invisible fingers of blame, I knew not if I had the right to. Did I have any right to say I did not
cause all of this pain to others? Was I truly the monster everyone made me out to be? Even if I
no longer bore the memories, was I not still the same as then?
No matter how many times I asked myself, I was not the holder of the answers.
The weight of the world, my world, began to weigh upon me, dragging me down into the black
water made of blood and rotten decay. Should I give in now, whilst so close to the truth? Did I
even want the answers?

Clenching my jaw, I pushed myself to move forward, hoping my efforts here would not go in
vain. Ignoring the nausea, I pushed the bodies from my path, struggling to pursue to the end. I
would not allow myself to stop, regardless of the task, until I met the very end.
My body grew tired and it began to sink, but my ambition held my remaining strength, so I could
not halt. A little while later, I saw a small island ahead, no bigger than a king-sized mattress.
Spiked rocks surrounded it, except for a small set of stairs, leading directly to a figure that
glowed as brightly as the fullest of moons. Upon closer inspection, I could tell it was a humanoid
statue, standing as tall as I, reflecting the black sea on its body. It firmly wielded a sword, also
bearing horns like a demon. I stepped toward the stairs, the water releasing me from its deathly
grasp. As I came face to face with it, a strange feeling overcame me; this was the end.

“You have finally made it,” it said, without single movement to indicate it had a soul. “That is a
great accomplishment indeed.”
“So this is the end of Magicant, right?” I asked, looking into its metal eyes and back at the

“Yes, the road ends here,” it replied, pausing for a moment. “What is it you seek here, Ness?”

“I want the truth,” I firmly demanded, facing it once again. “I want to know the truth behind
everything. What in this world is true? What am I truly like? I want to know.”

“Is that truly what you desire?” it asked. “Perhaps certain memories are better to be forgotten.”
I contemplated as rapid thoughts came as fast as they left. I had the key to the answers right
before me, but was that what I wanted?

“I don’t know what I want,” I admitted, turning my head. “Though I long to know who or what I
really am, is it better not to know? I honestly don’t know…”

“You were a monster. You betrayed and abused your only three friends and showed no remorse
as they died. Poo was a kind soul who wanted to help his leader, but you paid him no mind.
When he was badly wounded, you showed no concern and went on your way. Jeff was a timid
child who was once your best friend after meeting, but things began to change. Soon enough,
you thought it was amusing to see him crying and bleeding, going out of your way to cause him
pain. Lastly, there is Paula, the girl you fell in love with instantly. Your love turned sour as you
tried to impress her with brute strength, disregarding others to look cool. Sadly, that love became
rage and you turned against her as well,” it spoke, taking another long pause. “Perhaps this is not
the truth, Ness. Maybe this is just another lie, but you cannot be certain.”

I took a deep sigh and shook my head, “You’re right. I can’t be certain of a damn thing you say.
I’m still not sure if I even want to remember. Memories are funny. They are the source of
madness in a person. Someone will reflect and grow angry about something that occurred in the
past, but the past is nothing more than a mere memory. Maybe erasing every memory would be
for the best.”

“But someone without the memories of their past is hardly the same person at all.”

“Exactly,” I smiled, peering into endless gray sky. “This place, Magicant, was nothing more than
a fabrication of my memories. I don’t know which were manipulated, but with each I
encountered, nothing but rage swept my heart. I was losing sanity,” I paused, looking back at the
ominous figure. “You’re just like this world, wearing a mask as you hide the truth.”

“You’re right,” it admitted. “This shape is nothing more than a memory from your past. I am the
center of Magicant, the creator of this wicked world. You see me this way as you associate this
statue with insanity. I am your most frightening nightmare, Ness.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” I grinned, looking back at the sky. “If anything, I’m your
Looking back, it had changed appearances, now a little boy looking at the ground, a strand of his
black hair popping out from under his light blue cap. He smiled warmly and nodded his tiny
head, “You figured it out, have you?”

“I did,” I answered confidently, flashing him a smile. “This world was created by memories,
each dreadful in its own way. From what I can infer, the life I lived was not a good one. You’re
the last of my sanity, holding the true form of my child-self. Little kids don’t desire harm and
because of this, Magicant was created. This place is only a nightmare you constructed and I play
the bad guy, right?”
He grinned, “That is the gist of it. However, you no longer hold the role of the antagonist.”
I raised my eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.
“Your role depends on your decision. Whether or not you choose to remember is your choice,
but each comes with their own price.”

“Oh? How so?”

“You can choose to remember your memories, but by doing so, you shall become crazy. Not a
single logical thought will be processed without immense anger toward every subject.”

“Why is that?”

“This world is part of your mind. Each encounter was a trial of yours sins. Lies, temptation,
greed, anger, lust, they were all accounted for. Since you got here, you have been destroying
memories and corrupting your thoughts. As the world began to die, so did your sanity.”
I looked away, clenching my fists. Would I really want to return with such a consequence?
Would that even be considered as “living”?

“What if I choose to forget?”

“If that is your choice, I am afraid you cannot leave,” he answered dimly, his expression quite
grim. “You will have to remain in Magicant, receiving punishment for the actions you committed
in your life. You will be trapped in a coma on the outside, but here you shall stay. You will be
sentenced to endure all the pain you have ever caused others until your physical body dies. The
torture will be without breaks and you will never know the reasoning behind the pain.”

“Those are my only options?”

“They are.”

There was a long pause as I thought. “Do you believe in Heaven or Hell?” I asked, smiling as I

“I do not have a place to.”

“In a sense, this place seems like purgatory, that decision ultimately deciding my fate in the
afterlife,” I paused, turning back to him. “What do you think?”
“I believe it is a possibility, but nothing is ever certain.”

“You’re right!” I gleamed, his face puzzled. “This is the Sea of Eden, but this world is not
beautiful as one would expect it to be. Rather, it’s a rotten dead place, ruined by the sins of the

“What exactly are you getting at?”

“I have made up my mind,” I announced cheerfully. “I want to stay here and make up for wrongs
I have committed. I would rather keep my sanity and take my punishment than cause pain and
suffering onto others while corrupted with madness.”

“Are you quite certain?”

“I am,” I replied, positive in my answer.

“So be it.” He rose his hands and the black waters began to flow, drifting into giant waves,
clashing violently against each other. The dead limbs began to move once more, mouths making
sounds of agony, all lone eyes facing me. The sea had come alive, ready to swallow me into its
confines. “This is the beast within the shadow, as it is the darkness and shadow itself.”
Though it was repulsive, threatening, and absolutely terrifying, I had no regret. I would face my
reality. As I began to walk down the stairs, I turned to him once more.

“Do you think I’m a monster?”

He smiled and shook his head, “Memories may make up a person’s emotions, but they can never
make up the person.”
I smiled warmly at him and nodded. Turning back away, I stepped into the living waters,
allowing the shadow to consume me. As I felt the beast pull me deeper under the water, my body
thriving in pain, I closed my eyes and smiled.

                                            * * *
Jeff and Paula kneeled before Ness, his body ice cold even in the gruelingly blistering heat of the
volcano. His breathing was minimal and his eyes did not even flinch.

“Jeff, what do we do?” Paula asked as she cried, her chin quivering. The tears that fell were in
pain, sorrow, and fear.

“We need to go now, Paula,” he answered swiftly. “I’m certain my dad can help us from this
point. We don’t need Ness. We’re strong enough to continue without him.”

“But what about Ne…”

“We need to go,” Jeff interrupted, helping Paula to her feet. “I’ll take care of him.” Paula’s eyes
grew as Jeff pulled out one of his shiny guns, her sobs grew as she began to convulse. She knew
not if she should be sad or relieved, so she fell into panic.

“But…but..but..bu…” she wept, the salty tears burning the blisters on her face.

“Paula, go on without me to the other room. Poo will be waiting there and needs tending to.
Please, I will join you in a minute.”
Taking one last look at Ness, Paula pulled her gaze away, crying as she ran away. Jeff sighed and
adjusted his specks. The glass was cracked on one lens, both stained with a few drops of blood.
He looked back over at Ness and grinned widely.

“You bastard…” he whispered, his finger tapping the trigger.


Adjusting his glasses once more, Jeff put away his weapon as it smoked. He began to laugh as he
glanced down at his former friend, so helpless and pitiful now. He sneered at the deceased body,
laughing as he walked out of the room, joining his party. As he left, the magma hardened and the
light faded. As it stood empty, the room was consumed by the shadows.

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