You look blindly into the dark of your mind. As you stare through the realm of your subconscious, you find yourself walking through your home back on Nivlahim. You never thought very much of it, but now that it’s so far away, you can’t help but want to shed a tear over losing it. You stop for a few moments in your room to pick up the plush ulfr which had once been all you had of your mommy. Now, instead of a simple child’s toy, you have a warrior’s sword. You set down the stuffed animal and walk out of your room, determination writing itself onto your face. You have something to do.
Moving out of your bedroom, you find the family room to be in the same state of disarray in which you left it last. Looking about as you move through to the door, you see the residue of plasma discharge along with the massive corpses of the wyrms Shilo defeated with such deftness. Thinking back, you still can’t believe what happened. If you hadn’t tried to help, she may have survived. Then again, you may both have died. The past is the past, though, so there’s no real way to know now. No sense blaming yourself…
The doorway is demolished, but you step through it gently. On the other side, the heartwrenching sight of the lobby is there to meet you. After all, this is your own mind. What else would reside there beside your memory? Finished with the sorrow this sight brings you, however, you reach into the depths of your mind and restore the room to its state before the attack. The wyrms’ corpses disappear, and the massive light fixture is restored to its former state hovering over the center of the lobby. Apart from the lack of people, there is only one difference in the room from your previous memories: In the very center of the lobby, there is a black pillar with green light woven through the material like ribbons in the fog.
You walk toward the pillar, remembering the last sight you witnessed there: Shilo’s eyes turning dark. As you suspected, the entrance to Shilo’s mind is standing before you. You need to talk to her directly. You place your hand on the pillar. The world changes in an instant, a burning rush of wind pouring over you.
You find yourself standing on a road constructed of what seem to be large pebbles set in sand. Looking about, you don’t recognize the place from any of Shilo’s memories. The trees are even strange. Looking more closely, you can’t quite place what it is, but something about the color of the leaves is wrong. You straighten up and begin looking about for Shilo.
As you look about, you take in some of the stranger aspects of the world around you. The buildings are made mainly of wood, and the roofs appear mostly to be thatched. There are no pulse cars in sight, but there are short, wooden trucked trailers hitched to the yokes of large, four-legged beasts. You’ve never seen animals quite like them, but their similarity to hrossaks is remarkable.
As you approach the nearest one, you hear the sound of herd animals being brought in your direction. You turn toward the sound, but there’s a hill between you and the herd, so you can’t really see anything. While you’re waiting for the herd to approach, the beast behind you snorts. You jump at the sound, quietly laughing at yourself for being startled inside your own mind before reminding yourself that you’re inside Shilo’s mind, not your own, as strange as that is.
“Keri?” Shilo’s voice is easily recognized, but it’s strangely distant. Looking up, you see her herding a large group of big, fuzzy animals over the hill. Looking around, she almost seems perplexed to see you here, her face engulfed in concern. She pulls down her cowl and pushes the hair in her face behind her ear. “What’s going on? I haven’t heard anything from you for days!”
That’s odd. The attack on the Osgord was just yesterday. “What do you mean?” you ask. “The Osgord was attacked. You helped me figure out what was going on, and I got tossed into space, and then Keliar’di was there, andIgothurtandmyeyesdidntworkandtheworldwasallglowyand–”
“Whoa, whoa, Keri, wait up!” Shilo’s finally made it to you, and she crouches down to look you in the eyes. “I haven’t talked to you since our first night on the Osgord.” She looks more closely into your eyes, and her eyebrows raise at the sight of something. “Ahh. I see what’s happening. There’s a series of tomoweh in your mind’s eye. Someone’s implanting an experience on you.” You give her a confused look that clearly states you have no idea what that means. “Let me explain. When you woke up, and all those things were happening, you hadn’t actually woken up. You’re still unconscious.”
You sit down on the ground, crossing your legs and gathering your focus to think more about what’s being said. “So what you’re saying is that I’ve basically been having a terrible dream?”
“No, Keri,” Shilo says, sitting down in front of you. “You’re awake, but your mind is essentially imprisoned in the will of another. And considering the depth of space we’re in, there are only two people I can think of that would be able to affect your awareness so completely: The Monarch or the Matriarch. And since you’re not dead right now, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t the Monarch.” Shilo swings the bag strapped to her back around and into her lap. Reaching into it, she pulls out a ragged book that looks a few dozen cycles old.
“What’s that?” You reach out a bit, wanting to see what’s in the book. She just smiles and hands you a small, red fruit. You take a bite out of it. It’s crisp and sweet with just the right hint of sour. You smile. “What is this?”
Shilo’s eyes look over the edge of the now-open book and says, “I have no idea. This place is a bit of a mystery.” You give a quizzical look. “This isn’t from my memories. It’s from a vision given to me by the Matriarch when I finished my training. It’s not her vision, either. All Valkyries are shown the vision upon completion of their training. It’s from the old skies. It was entrusted to the Matriarch by a man she called, ‘outside of time.’ I’m not sure what that means, but if I had actually gotten to meet her and ask face-to-face, I’m not sure she’d know, either.” She smiles and returns to the book.
You take another bite of the fruit and take another look at the world around you. The color of the leaves is yellower, not because of season but because the star in the sky has less blue in its spectrum. The animals around you are all completely unknown, but you can’t shake the eeriness of the buildings. The village is so small, it reminds you of a bedtime story. Outside of time is probably a perfect description of anyone who’s seen this place in real life.
“Here it is!” Shilo cries out. You look back to her, your attention focused. “Well, that explains why we’re able to talk here… Oh, that makes sense. Hmm…” She tells you no details of what she’s reading, and it’s all you can do not to grab the book and read it yourself. Instead, you take another bite of your fruit. “Well, I can only think of one way to get out of this simulation, Keri.”
You have no idea what she has in mind, but Shilo has never let you down. “What do I do?” When you see her confident smirk, you can’t help but smile back at her.
“You have to try to reach out to the Matriarch and…” Shilo begins to fade into a dull gray silence. She stands up, grabbing your hand and pulling you into a hug, trying to tell you more before she fades completely, but you get nothing.
“Wake up, Keri,” the lie of a voice reaches into your ears like milk, but you can’t let yourself be distracted by this false reality. Opening your eyes, you look into the shining world around you. You’re back on the Osgord, though you suppose you never left, and this isn’t actually an accurate indication of your location anyway. You begin searching the void with your strongest glow. “Can you see?”
There it is! The planet is so far away, but the path of green light you feel can’t quite be hidden away. Too much effort is going into simulating the events onboard the Osgord. On the planet of the same name, you feel a presence stronger and warmer than anything you’ve ever felt, even compared to memories of your mother. Grasping hold of the sensation, you try your hardest to scream out to it with your mind, “I see YOU!”
For the third time, you open your eyes. This time, however, you know everything is real. You’ve been brought to the medical bay, and the Medical Officer scrambles over to you, calling over the communicator in her hand, “She’s awake, sir!”
Exhausted beyond reason, you feel the strength of your glow fade, sapping strength from your body as well. ‘Good job, Keri,” Shilo speaks in your mind. Smiling, you close your eyes again, saying, “I need to rest a bit.” As the Medical Officer grips your hand, you grip it back.
Then, another voice echoes in your mind, accompanied by that same warm sensation you felt before. As clearly as if it had been whispered into your ear, the voice says, ‘I’ve been waiting a long time for you, Keria’Ledrii. Enjoy your trip. I’ll be waiting just a bit longer.’