Trismit led Retvik down corridor after corridor, past rooms filled with canisters, all linked and wired together and all leading to a single, utterly dark chamber. Inside were monitors, all as silent as the chamber itself, and a single, lone canister.
“Alright, what the fuck is going on?” Retvik snarled as Trismit fiddled with a lock.
“It is a long story. But the gist of it is that while mutated Rethans such as ourselves go through comatic sleep training, Litvir uses our subconscious minds to run constant tests and calculations. This inhibits most normal Rethans from actually learning how to use their abilities and slowly drives them mad. You are the first Rethan strong enough to notice the inconsistencies and powerful enough to use your abilities at a distance.”
“What about you? What about the other captains? What about Kuta?”
“They do not exist. Not as you know them. Not as they believe themselves to be!”
“We were in a dream world.”
“Yes. And the other captains… well, they are no more than thralls. You and I… We are conscious enough to understand that something was not quite right. We saw past Litvir’s mind prisons. Not at first but you felt it, yes, how nothing quite made sense.”
Trismit trailed off, fumbling around for something attached to his belt. He pulled out a large collection of keys and started sorting through them.
“I thought I could get out on my own. I had a use to Litvir. So he let me do some work awake. I have spent ten years slaving away in this horrible place…” Trismit’s hands were shaking more and more as he spoke, making him unable to slide a small, silver key into the heavy lock. “I… I did not want to do any of this… I just wanted to go back to a normal life… He made me build you all into the system… I had to act, I had to move fast… when he… when…”
The lock was finally undone and the heavy steel doors swung open, revealing the true contents of the room. The canister in the room’s centre was open, unlike all the others. Tubes and wires flooded out of it, connecting to monitors and computer terminals. Inside the canister was a perfectly still body, machinery feeding fluids in and out of it.
“You asked about Kuta… He… he runs the whole simulation… If you had not saved him from falling, we would have all perished with him. That was when I realised I had to act now. I couldn’t let the hundred Rethans in this facility all die.”
“Can I speak to him?” Retvik muttered, not sure what else to say.
“We have to wake him up. We wake him up, everyone goes back into their own dreamscapes, and then we can wake up individuals from there, but you and I, we cannot do that alone. We just need Litvir out of the equation and he is unkillable while Kuta is like this.”
Retvik blinked, wandering around the room, barely comprehending what Trismit was telling him. “What?”
“Kuta is Litvir’s twin brother. A cursed and blessed painting that makes internal whatever we do to Litvir…” Trismit sighed as he rushed between various consoles, pressing various buttons.
“Are you suggesting that me setting Litvir on fire, strangling him and tying him up was not enough?”
“No, it was not, dear Retvik.”
Litvir hovered in the doorway, a shadowy mass obscuring his true features. In one hand he held a gun-staff, in the other he held a large scythe. Immediately, Trismit started panicking and frantically typing on keyboards.
Retvik sighed, looking around for a weapon, before swiftly giving up, leaping out of the way from laser blasts from Litvir’s gun-staff. Clearly Litvir was trying to avoid damaging the equipment, but neutralizing Retvik was the larger concern. Rather than fight Litvir head on, Retvik created a fireball and used it to push Litvir back out of the room and into the corridor, but a second fireball was consumed by Litvir’s shadowy cape.
“I wish you had just fallen to me, Retvik. You would have made a wonderful thrall.”
“I wish you were serious in trying to help mutated Rethavok!” Retvik snapped back, slamming the doors shut behind him, locking Trismit in the console room. “But not everyone gets what they wished for!”
Quickly realising that Litvir was adapting to his attacks, Retvik attempted to bring down the ceiling on top of Litvir, only for the shadowed general to flick away the debris effortlessly. Suddenly, Litvir lunged forward, dropping his gun-staff and grabbing Retvik by the neck.
“It is such a shame that you have to die. It feels bad, taking the life of a Rethianos.”
With a sly smile, Litvir drew his scythe, dragging it across Retvik’s unarmoured arm. He then threw Retvik through the heavy doors, pleased with the bone-snapping crunch from flesh and carapace hitting steel and concrete.
“You getting up, Retvik? No?” Pleased that Retvik was out of the fight, Litvir turned his attention to finding Trismit. “As for you, little traitor, I have no qualms with killing you… Now where are you hiding?”
Trismit didn’t answer, holding his breath as he hid under a console. He had done all he could. All he could do was wait and hope his plan worked.
“Trismit…” Litvir’s voice echoed then trailed off, proud feelings suddenly being replaced by a wave of dread. “What have you done?”
A hideous, shadowy form wrapped Litvir, far more terrifying than his own shadowed cloak. Thousands of tiny cuts started appearing across Litvir’s body as he felt claws digging deep into his back and into his mind, tearing and ripping him to shreds. His body began to change, rapidly aging and losing muscle mass. After mere moments, what was left of Litvir collapsed on the ground, next to a second, almost identical body.
Not skipping a beat, Trismit used Litvir’s gun-staff to stab the general through the neck, killing him, then hesitantly sat next to the other, almost as lifeless body.
“What… happened?” Retvik shuddered, holding a broken arm against his chest and limping towards Trismit. He kneeled down, being careful not to lean on his injured leg and cracked tail bones.
“You…” hollow, desperate words passed from the mouth of the body. “You… freed me… showed me… reality…”
Trismit glanced up at Retvik, sighing. “I am sorry we could not have saved you sooner, Kuta.”
A smile briefly appeared on Kuta’s tattered face. “So… this is what… breathing on my own… is like… My own… heartbeat… my own… body…”
“We are sorry, Kuta…” Retvik stuttered. Both he and Trismit knew that Kuta had mere seconds left. “I am sorry for not keeping my promise.”
“You did though…” Kuta’s words wheezed, barely audible. “I got to… feel reality… life… as it should be… Thank you…”
The tattered Rethan closed his eyes as his heart stopped beating. His chest relaxed one last time, Kuta’s last breath leaving his body.
For a long time, no words were spoken. Trismit stared at the two corpses while Retvik staggered around, still not really believing what he had seen. After a while, Trismit stood up, turning to Retvik.
“Can you walk?”
“It hurts to do so, but yes.”
“Good…” Trismit sighed as he let Retvik lean on him. “Let us get out of here. I have not seen sunlight in a very long time…”