Chapter One (Psyche) by Lucy.
Chapter Two (To the other side) by Andrada Costoiu.
Chapter Three by B.V. Stratton.
Chapter Four (The fateful night) by Smita Ray.
Chapter Five (Insight Part I) by Amitbhat0912.
Chapter Five (Insight Part II) by Amitbhat0912.
Chapter Six (They’re still out there Part I) by Lucy.
Chapter Six (They’re still out there Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Seven (Cycles of violence Part I) by Lucy.
Chapter Seven (Cycles of violence Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Eight (Fragments of the past Part I) by Shweta.
Chapter Eight (Fragments of the past Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Nine (Flashes from the past) by Smita Ray.
Chapter Twelve (Revelations) by Lucy.
It was an emptying timeline, defined by only the idea of escapism. Or death, Artemis mused. Valleys of shadows trudged ahead as she pursed her lips.
I lost my humanity long ago, she looked back to the blooded trail, and what I am is reflected by Anastasia and what she sees me as. I doubt she is dead either, considering the errors in her own mortality. What does this make her as? Just as catastrophic and ugly as the rest of her creations? Did she make me this way to suffer?
In a haste, if she could ever step into a portal of the normal world, from a life before, she would be outcasted as a horror. A white osmosis filled her belly with fear, ravines clutched in the pit below. She froze.
An array of sunlight shattered through the rising mist. Shivers subsided from her limbs, her skin taming wounds and bruises that she had seen before. This wasn’t much. Wind being as ultralight as she could remember it, she kept her watch, all without realizing the grimace she had made.
However she cut the thought, she deemed herself a monster; her echelon braced upon her wrist, she twisted the silver band. She itched at her barren skin before catching up with Tom and Lauren. She could only hear part of their conversation, her ears twitching as she matched their gait.
“She told me about—well, what she said is that Anastasia wants to be ahead of time.” Lauren crossed her arms, as Artemis watched from the distance.
“How… How would that even work?”
“I don’t know. But if the psycho healed most of your leg injury, she’s definitely got some powers.”
“I still don’t understand it.”
“Why she healed you? Let’s face it, the bitch has got issues. I think she’s bored and wants a chase. I just don’t know how inevitable it all is…”
“Death? Being put back into the loop?”
“I don’t want to lose you again, Tom.”
“You can’t promise me that, just like I can’t promise you the same.”
He couldn’t handle the thought. In asymmetrical reverie, he thought back to Zara and Clarence. Why did it feel like it never existed when it had? It almost welted in his mind, choking back every memory that could point him to a solid conclusion; one never existed. Illumination stirred from above, and all he knew was that the only family he had left now was Lauren. It was time to move on from the past, but all the same, it was something he could never be ahead of. “I think there’s something else. If she is obsessed with time,” he began, “then what are the loops for?”
“To replay it over and over? Fuck, if I should know.”
“No,” Artemis cut in. She looked over at Lauren almost with familiarity—one she couldn’t place. “There’s more we don’t know about the island or Anastasia. The loops have nothing to do with time, if only to keep you in a certain place to prevent questions.”
The white ravines creeped into the dying skyline. Almost eerie to watch, yet entrancing on a whim; she reminisced of the older days of slaying and feeding off Anastasia’s additional failures. She idly wondered if it could be considered cannibalism, but with careful intrigue, she knew it was survival in both the act and deed. Each hunter, being weaker than the last, had a more natural taste.
Artemis concluded that the reason they declined was because if they were too advanced or too powerful, they have potential to overthrow what had been established. She latched her sight to the rattled presence of the clouds, furrowing her brow at the world around them–an elixir of death and a kingdom in between time.
The terrain was rough; she could feel a pit deepening into the ground, but it was mental as the wind echoed through her skull. Disoriented and enraged, a sweet flowery essence pervaded her nose in turmoil. Anastasia’s perfume. On edge, she turned to her peripheral to carve an exit for them all, finding nothing nearby after them. Her grit could match how hard she tightened her jaw, the stench of blood and what else I remember, it’s almost like I’m still in my forest. I don’t even know if I’m only now emerging away from these methods of torture.
There was something to it, she could admit but to what extent? She didn’t know. Her next move was to stay quiet, tracing back her eyes to the co-dependent siblings.
Lauren took a puff of air. “So it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Fan-fucking-tastic. Hey Tom, hand me your 380 so I can just end it all already. If any of you want to jump in, do it while it’s hot.”
There was silence for a few moments. “Don’t say that. I need you. We need you.” Tom broke his gaze, as coldness wrapped around his chest. In a hazy moment, it looked as if Artemis wanted to brush her hand on her shoulder but decided against it. Tom couldn’t blame her—with talons like that, Lauren would be able to make a swift go for it, probably at her pretty neck.
Lauren murmured. “Relax, dipshit. I was joking.” I think… She took a breath before twisting the third and final x in her hands, and trying to be optimistic, “Hey, lookie what we found.”
Tom studied the wood in her hands, and engulfed with the realization, he pulled out the second one.
“You found it.”
“I did—by accident.”
“I don’t even know why you two bother,” Artemis perused their features. “Don’t you understand that it leads to nothing? As I keep telling Lauren, there is no escape. It’s like suicide. If you want to do something, we can try and kill Anastasia.”
“But we may not have to do that!”
Artemis felt ice throughout her blood. “You promised me if I helped you find your brother, you would help me kill Anastasia.”
“Uh… Yes,” Lauren glanced away. “I did promise that, but we may not have to go through with it. Haven’t we been through enough?”
“I know only a little about what you’ve been through, but you can’t lie to me Lauren. Doesn’t it at least intrigue you?”
If they were alone again, as it was in the sanguineous cave, she would feel inclined to say yes. She had seen enough blood-fall in her life, even if her hands were not directly stained. She could still at least hallucinate these threads of guilt and their depictions, but all she could find herself murmuring was, “I don’t know.”
Artemis’s figure barely inched, as her eyes bore into her skull. Tom felt tempted to dig a hole for himself as his face leaked white; what else had Lauren been through that he couldn’t recall? Why would killing Anastasia be intriguing? Hands molesting his temples, he sighed.
We’ve both been through a lot, but I don’t know if she’s the same person I once knew her as. This change as it came and went was not for the better, he decided. As he studied her face, it looked as if she aged a decade; he traced through his mind not only the tribulation of these events, but the time and memory lost in between. How old are we? How long have we lived this way?
More questions swelled in his brain that he knew only Anastasia contained the burden of pertinent knowledge.
Similarly, Lauren drowned in the images she remembered, both from the cave and from her fragmented past. Without losing pace (and desperately wanting to hold off on this fucked up conversation), “Let’s just match these babies up, alright? In my time in the island rebellion, we heard stories about what would happen if we can find all three. Some were myths, but knowing a little about Anastasia? These myths may not be myths after all. We may be able to find something out. A new path? A key? I don’t even know!”
All Artemis could process was island rebellion, something almost coming back to her. She shuffled her feet on the leaf undergrowth; fertile and soft like newborn skin, and yet a sickness unraveling at the touch.
With the three x’s placed together, a light was thrown underneath the ground, blazing almost in an orchestral coordination. Constant cuts of warmth draped over. Decimated summons of lines pushed forward, all until an illumination struck the bystanders from above. Ivory tethered in their eyes, flipping through each of their psyches; the key to their underlying thoughts, feelings, ego, and memories.
Abandonment was all Lauren had ever known. She twisted the knife in her hands.
“We got the cabin for you and your girlfriend. I don’t even know why you need this, you already have a cottage in the forests.“
“It’s for us and my brother. It’s also closer to where Zara is which can keep Tom nearby, so,” she flicked the knife out of habit, “two birds, one stone.”
“I expect some form of payment, Lauren. Particularly in survival.”
She stood up off the rock, shoving the knife against his long neck, almost into his throat. “Can’t guarantee it so shut the fuck up, Benzino.”
He swallowed. “I know you two conspired and used me to get what you want.” She didn’t even wince. “Are you happy?”
“I’m happy that I don’t have to fuck you anymore.”
Benzino brushed her off, readjusting his red scarf before slowly returning to his former paces. “I really cared about you, Lauren,” his eyes glazed over, “but more people are dead because of your orders and actions. There’s only the four of us left, that is, if we include your brother.”
“It’s all for a purpose. I didn’t send them off to death without a consent form.”
“…You’re a monster.”
“You kinda have to be in a world like this.” She shook her head. “Look, were you able to scatter out the supplies at the locales?”
“What do you think?”
“The answer better be yes.” She walked away.
Artemis inspected the cabin, reserving herself to become familiar with all exits. Her eyes landed on the former owner’s pictures.
“Smiling and senile,” she huffed. “Probably from the loops.”
She heard the door open on the far side of the cabin. In dissociation, she looked to her palms and nails. Clean. They did what they did for survival; she just wished more could understand it that way. In this world, it was different.
“Jesus fucking christ,” a voice murmured behind her. She turned around.
“What’s wrong?” Artemis asked.
Lauren kicked the table leg. “Nothing. I’m going to get tape. It wouldn’t feel right moving any of his stuff. I just don’t want to see him.”
She hummed. “Did you get the confirmation we needed from Benzino?”
“Yes, exactly,” she grimaced. “Even after everything, I still feel dirty.”
“I’m sorry, amore. It was my idea for you to… well, you know… I didn’t like it, but I figured it’d get what we need.”
“No, no, it was alright. That was a long time ago.” Lauren looked to the window. Almost sunset. “I have to get going. Tom’s waiting for me.”
Tom gasped as he was submerged out of the water. His body was thrown onto the sand, and every atom in his bones dug into him. He was a speck of dust in the ultimatum of failure and death, and for what cost? To lose everything? He just needed to find his sister if she weren’t already dead.
Artemis and Zara were gone, and now all they had was each other. Just like it was growing up. Just like it was before.
He stirred when someone touched his face. “Lauren?”
“I suppose my two favorite siblings broke out of their loop yet again. Tsk, tsk. What am I going to do with you?”
“Kill me,” he groaned.
“Murder is a punishment. If I kill you, it’s a reward. Time will always be ahead of you, dear Thomas. You don’t have it. You will live different lives and in each life, an entire separate being capable of contrasting choices. You make them each time. Years ahead of now, this will be a speck. You will never be ahead, but I always will be no matter what happens. Revenge is not your weakness,” she summoned light from her palms swaying it into his eyes as his world disappeared, “but rather your sister’s.”
It ended as soon as it began, the wood crumbling from such power. Silently, Artemis let the ashes play in her hands until toiling in pseudo-intensity when she lifted her hand off the ground. The half-life of its energy like an elixir, she turned back to Lauren. “I know you now,” her eyes glazed over and she could see that Lauren had not understood.
“I—What?” Tom, in vanished headspace, felt drifting and pixelated, just as the world around them felt split.
“You’re so cryptic,” Lauren fixed her hands through her hair. “What do you mean?”
“When you remember, come talk to me.” Artemis geared up to leave, looking back at the contrast that shone from her eyes; the traces of white, all leading back to both sand and forestry. It was one and the same now.
“Wait,” Lauren grabbed her before she could take off. “Please tell me where you’re going.”
“A hunt.” She then scowled. “I told Max to get a head start. I’m glad he doesn’t think through much. He’s annoying.”
“Eh, maybe kill him for me?”
Artemis shook her head, stirring her nails over her superficial wounds. She clenched her teeth, the pressure focusing on her skull. She turned on her heel in the opposite direction, breaking off into a sprint and descended deeper into the forest ambush; her heart thumbed through her chest and enjoying the wind in her face, she let out her talons like a wild cat.
She couldn’t just bring back mutant corpses, right? She didn’t think Lauren would like that. At the dry skies, she heard flitting wings from above the tree tops and climbed the dead bark. The birds would have to do.
With her hunting knife, Lauren sliced some of the leaves on the ground as her eyes were still adjusting from the absence of the shine; she rubbed them tiredly, looking down at the blank strata. She laid her finger over it, pulling it back once engulfed into a soft ash; she schooled her face into solemnity but was freaked all the same. What the fuck was that? Did life no longer blossom here in the tundra?
Tom glanced warily at Lauren furthering his trek toward her. He came back empty. His eyes traced the skyline or what was left of one before rolling back to a resting spot. Distinguishing the awkwardness he felt, he instead chose to abandon the shirt he wore using it as a rope to bind the hostage’s limbs.
Lauren could only step back and watch, labored by multiple thoughts and curiosities. Nothing was as it seemed, and she was so utterly wrong on what she thought she knew. Two parallels, she felt she could feel the dust of time passing, the exposure of the world merely a ploy in its appearance, as they found ways to subtly avoid death’s arts. Memories fronted them as they had, but it was not redeeming a discovery or answer. Just flashes and an implied context that settled between her ego and subconscious that the air in between felt empty.
Lips itching for a cigarette, Tom had fastened the knot—digging his fingers in to ensure its security. Admiring his handiwork, he beckoned Lauren for her thoughts; she looked toward the human hostage, and then the water body miles off.
An inhibited presence into a pool from the blue screen of death itself, fate was only blemished and arranged by her mind. She had two choices, and she made one of them long ago to know there was remorse. Suspended in the air, Lauren willed her hands over the woman’s throat under the guise of checking the knot—that ran from the back of her head to her mouth. Her eyes turned cold as the face that stared back pixelated.
She didn’t know what it was. Her fingers covered a vein, popping from her own neck, she squeezed; and she gradually lifted herself away from the shivering hostage. And an essence of all eyes into a rose, cossetted with blood she helped create, she couldn’t hear what Tom had asked her.
“I’m sorry… I sort of spaced out. What’s up?”
It was a silent agreement not to talk about it until they were safe. Tom reached over her shoulder. “You don’t seem like yourself.”
Lauren brushed him off. Maybe you just never knew me and what I did for you. “How would you know? You barely remember me anyway, let alone anyone else.” She walked into the miseries that the sun had now struck upon them and, while waiting for the mutants to return, closed her eyes to allow the barge of memories and trials enter from her subconscious. Something she longed to forget, but this had to be done. She sat down over the edge of the hilltop, feet disappearing into the fog.
Tom followed at a distance, slipping down right beside her. “Clarence.”
She almost jolted over the edge if Tom didn’t grab her in time. The siblings moved further back onto land—masking terror and dread with relief. She uttered something unheard to Tom, not knowing what to make of it. Her eyes opened as if reliving a memory, but it wasn’t, was it?
“Did you keep this from me? You made a joke awhile back, but I guess that was your way of breaking it to me, wasn’t it.”
She ran her fingers through her hair. “No,” she blew into the air. “I didn’t remember her either until I was in the cave.” It felt wrong in her bones.
Tom, perplexed, dragged in circles. “How could you not remember?”
Lauren violently grabbed her niece, becoming more bothered by the shadows in the dusk. There was nothing far off in the distance to carry over anything perilous, but take it as a feeling, an instinct when she threw them both into the sand.
“What’s going on?” The child screamed. All Lauren could see were glitches in her face—eyelids pressed against sanguineous nocturnes, different hues latticed in the hidden depths of fear. Primal fear.
It’s not real—it’s not real—not real—not real—not real—
Lauren pushed herself off the ground. “Artemis,” she looked back to her cottage; the forest trees plentiful. It was the perfect hideout for camouflage, staying off and yet still “on” the radar long enough to coordinate an escape. It would be at least a few more years before putting it into fruition, but she thought she’d prepare for it by scouting out different cabins near the old headquarters. She saw the child rise from the ground. “Clarence, go to Artemis, she’ll—”
It began with a stream of blood as an arrow pierced the child’s skull. Lauren dropped her hands in shock, and then to the source which had her submerged to the deep pit she felt curled in her stomach. She was to die, but crackles in the distance hummed having them leave. By the time Artemis ran out, it was too late.
The hour of the night-slayers came and went. They were never after them.
They were after Tom and Zara. She swirled her hands on Clarence’s pulse, Artemis propping her head up to evaluate the wound.
“I know,” Lauren wiped off the blood from her hands. She didn’t know what to feel, all she felt was numb. “Let’s—do you think you can make a wooden box in your shop? I want to give her a proper,” she swallowed, forcing the next words, “burial.”
Artemis looked away. “What about Tom?”
It dawned upon her, its actuality. “What—what about him!? He just abandoned her here. With us. They escaped, and the society fucks just killed Clarence because of it. They didn’t listen.”
“My god,” Lauren murmured, touching her face—almost ensuring that she herself was still here. Still real.
“What? What happened?”
“You left your daughter with me, so you and Zara could make a break for it. YOU left her behind so you two can—”
“Don’t assume what you don’t know,” Tom growled. “We left her behind so she can live. Zara and I took the chance in escaping, knowing there was greater probability of us dying. We didn’t want to drag Clarence in that. And if we survived, we would come back for her.”
“Well, she’s dead because of you fuckers!”
The world, this time, was glitchy and dark. Tom had tensed up as his face twisted around; possibilities he hadn’t acknowledged when running away from Anastasia, thoughts he still couldn’t process, even this possibility and (now) confirmation of his fears.
“She’s dead,” she made a gesture with her fingers. “Arrow to the head. Bang.”
“H-h-how? W-why? What do you know? What else have you been keeping from me?”
“Keeping from you!?” Lauren laughed in his face, tears streaming down. She tried to blink them away as her voice cracked. “I’m only just remembering these things myself. We were still in the loop, we were still in the loop. Can you believe that?”
Tom pushed Lauren against the red bark; she tensed up, as his eyes narrowed. “What happened to my daughter!?”
Using her free hand, she hit him in the chest. Tom stumbled back, heaving, as he tried to clutch for the hanging offshoot. Lauren stood over him, glimmering.
“The night-slayers were sent out because you two made a run for it. They were ordered to only kill Clarence. They left me and Artemis alone.”
Processing this information, he stayed on the ground in a stand-still between himself, time, and his sister. What was real anymore if everyone else was almost gone? Where were the rest of his memories and hers? More could be discovered, but inside, he didn’t want to know.
He shook his head, eyes wallowing apology. Lauren shrugged it off, as they got further and further away from the site they marked.
Tom stopped in his vigil, trying to push back thoughts and emotions of Clarence. For now, at least. His memories were still fuzzy, merely slipping as they began to return. “What do you mean, you and Artemis? You met… yesterday.”
“Or so I thought,” Lauren mumbled grim. “Anastasia must have taken away memories that would bring us to this conclusion. Who knows how many times we were close to figuring it out before being put into another loop—before thinking we escaped it when all that really happened was a reset?”
“I noticed two did seem pretty familiar with each other,” Tom stroked his chin, sober. He groaned as he looked to the side of the hilltop, urging memories to come and pass. “There’s something more here, a possibility we’ve yet to uncover. Anastasia told me something in the cave.”
Lauren looked at him to continue.
“If you thought any of it was real after all, I’m sorry to take that away from you.”
“…What does that even mean?”
“It haunted me, Lauren, in that moment. It means… Well, it means she put these memories in my head. Right? I can’t think of what else it signifies. That means everything that I’ve known isn’t real or existing. It’s not real, Lauren. None of it ever was.”
“Now what does that even fucking mean?”
Tom frowned. “It means what Anastasia said.” He slowly arrived to this point, and he couldn’t turn back now. Once he knew, it almost felt in itself a blessing and a curse. Knowledge is the poison that kept him kicking and wanted him dead all the same. “Don’t you see? These have to be fabricated memories. Clarence is not my daughter—she was never real. Alive.”
“I know you saw something in the light, Tom. We all did. You can’t trust the words of a fucking maniac that tried to kill us—you have to trust what you saw.”
“Think, Lauren. Really think. Why would she tell me this otherwise?”
“To not remember!” Lauren inched closer to him, eyes blazing. He couldn’t look away from her if he tried. “If I remember Clarence at least, then she’s real to me.”
“We don’t know what Anastasia did to either of us, so who are you to say that?”
“She may be the cult leader, but that doesn’t mean she has the power to implant what never existed. At least, not entirely.” It took her some time to form her next few words. “Do you know what power she has?”
Tom leveled his head in resignation.
Lauren revealed her hands, orbiting around until she could finally speak. “She can’t delete our memories, the real ones. That’s impossible. Anastasia can only alter them to what we think is true.”
“How do you know this?”
“Law of the conservation of energy. You can transport it, but it’ll never go away or be created. The same or most of it should apply here. After what we’ve been through, doesn’t it make sense? It’s why we can’t remember everything and only specific things. She doesn’t want us to figure it out when we’re so close. She’s blocked out the people close to us so that all we have in the end is ourselves in desperation.”
“If there’s always a possibility…” Tom murmured, not catching himself.
“What you said—she can’t put in what never was alive unless it already existed somewhere else. If there’s that possibility… Can’t she put in what’s a possibility from another timeline? Another world not ours?”
Lauren bit her finger and roamed around the trail. She came back to silence, her face only whittled with a slight pale upon her cheeks. “You’re saying… You’re saying that she’s…No. No.” She looked away trying to process, still trying to understand the root of where this came from; white lotus crisscrossed through her skin, strands of blood-red caked through her nails. She unclenched her fists and breathed.
“You’re saying that she’s tapping into alternate timelines. You’re telling me that if there’s always a possibility, then what happened to us… What happened to us never happened. This means, this would mean mom and dad never died. Are all our memories like this? Then how could I know Artemis in another universe and remember it here? How do we know none of the memories we have remembered are from here? It also means… that Clarence would never have existed.”
Tom was solemn. “It’s what I think. It’s what I remember now. She was there and she talked of multiple timelines and different choices.”
Lauren swung her head violently. “She’s a deluded psychotic psycho bitch. We have nothing to prove it with. We can’t go on what we think. Like you said, if there’s always a fucking possibility, then why can’t there be the possibility where everyone is alive? Mom, dad, Zara, Clarence.”
“It’s not real—what we know, it can’t be. Not all of it,” and the more Tom repeated it, it almost made her convinced he was slipping. It served to piss her off.
“Some things we remember can be in our control and in this reality, you just don’t want to face the traumas you’ve been given,” Lauren sighed. “Before we make the bazillion stretch leap that Anastasia is using her powers and Charles Manson cult to tap into alternate dimensions, why is it more unbelievable to you that this can’t be the result of breaking out of the loop? Just memories floating around until we recall them again?”
“I never said that!” Tom snapped before taking a step back to calm down. “Sorry, just… Long day.”
“Same for us all, don’t feel special,” she snorted.
“I never said it was unbelievable, though,” he paused for a moment. “You told me when I first ‘washed up’ here were that memory loops were constructed for a purpose and that purpose was to serve the island and what I assume its plans… right?”
“Yes,” Lauren followed; and her stomach turned when she completed the thought. “That was its purpose. To freeze and stop time, or what we think of it.” Time could never be stopped though and the more she dwelled upon the loops, she rationalized that only time lost would be time saved and stopped. For a purpose she could not understand, however. Years of their lives lost in the mist of her abuse, the mystic orbs of time and clarity dwindled upon tragedy, death, and sacrifice.
“She lives in time—never here or now. She lives in death as a way of preventing time. Their souls are for a cause, everyone dies for a reason. Time, in essence, is a pixelated function to the tint of humanity—to the intensity of self-created beasts and Gods.”
“No, Tom. You’re wrong. There cannot be alternate universes. These are the loops and what she made them for ourselves as.” Lauren looked to the pale water bodies and found herself on the forest floor. She was in denial. She felt faint as her gaze followed the sun, knowing Artemis and Max should be back soon. There was silence as she remembered the former’s words, and just how utterly wrong Lauren was to dismiss them. Now they may have the rest of the pieces here to understand what happened with them, and why they remember similarly and as well differently. Flashes were no longer flashes to her. They were traumas.
She clung to the dirt until she found Tom lying down with her.
He lied still. “If it were only the loops, how could she put in and alter what we know? If I’m right, this means she’s giving us other memories.”
“I don’t know, I don’t know, Tom.” Her face crossed in doubt. “Aren’t we making a leap?”
“Why would she be sorry to take something that was not real to me in here?” Tom mused.
Lauren pondered it over a minute before a new theory formed in her head. “Because it was real, just not in the way you remember.” She turned, clutching her torn up shirt, before facing Tom again. “Artemis may know more about this, but if everyone else we’ve encountered broke out… Then the loops were a prison, and the real-unreal memories? If… If it’s true, she’s not only tapping into alternate dimensions. She collided our world with another. I’ve seen the glitches, the flashes, the memories without really remembering, Tom. Haven’t you?”
Tom had nothing to say, only trembling lightly. The more she went over the theory in her head, the more it settled in that they were living in two dimensions. Everything that has happened did, but colliding them created this one—a reality that should not have been born like the siblings.
“I think I’m going to vomit,” she whispered. And before Tom could get a word in, she violently turned and retched the contents of her stomach into the grass.