Fine, You

Fine, You

“Gudang?” Gatekeeper called out to his stone-cast friend.
“that name has no meaning to me, for gudang is long dead. i’m nostalgi gaius.”
“I don’t understand…why are you like this? What happened?”
“allow me to tell you a story.” The scenery changed, as Nostalgi Gaius began to spin a tale.

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“once, there was a man and woman who were two of many. their names were gudang and gatekeeper. one was the artist and the muse, the other was the guide and the jailor. they lived in a co-created paradise with the rest of their siblings, each with their own circle of heaven. gudang remained by gatekeeper's side for many hardships, inspiring him and assuaging all worry. but when hardship then fell upon gudang, gatekeeper was nowhere to be found. he abandoned her in her time of need.” With this, memories began flooding back into Gatekeeper’s mind. He finally remembered everything about his friend…and what became of her. “where were you, gatekeeper? when augustus and claudius fell, where were you? as i lay dying ill, where were you?” The pain in her voice was apparent, and jewels flowed from her eyes as she seemingly wept. “you did not say goodbye. you did not mourn me. you forgot me.”

Gatekeeper shook his head. “I did not choose to forget! My memories, they’re…”
“…fragmented.”
Gatekeeper stopped and stared at Gaius, who nodded with a sort of understanding. “we are not unalike in our errors. we are both incomplete, patched with imperfect data.” she stepped closer to him. “you are not to face retribution. rather, we may help each other in rewriting our programming, correcting our errors…”

Before Gatekeeper could reply, he suddenly fell to the floor and retched in agony.
“brother? what ails you?” Gaius asked, in what seemed to be a rare show of concern.
His skin peeled back like wallpaper, his hair darkened and curled, his stature shortened, his eye color changed, and stubble formed on his face. Brian slowly stood up, disoriented and confused, before looking upon Nostalgi Gaius. “Wait, you aren't River…” he slowly said.
Gaius scowled. “and you are not my brother. you are inferior data, an error, corrupting his memory.” A beam of pink light materialized one of her hands. “an error I must erase.” Brian shielded himself with his arms and cowered before Nostalgi Gaius. However, before she could smite Brian, she too would retch in pain. Brian noticed cracks begin to form along her body. As chips of stone crumbled away, he saw flesh beneath it. All the stone eventually sloughed off, revealing River. “Holy shit…that actually worked!” Ze said in disbelief.
“Took you long enough. I was almost done for,” Brian remarked. “I still don't know what we just did, anyway.”
“Gatekeeper and Gudang are suspended and restrained, so to speak. It should provide a window to carry out the next step.”
“What’s the next step?”
“It isn’t only your memories that this world is made of. Some of Gaius’ are here as well. We can exploit this to take her out from within.”
“Don't you realize how insane and dangerous this all sounds?” Asked Brian. However, he knew he hadn’t much of a choice if he wished to escape this trap. “…Okay, fine. How do we access Gaius' mind?”

River was about to respond, but before ze could, ze screamed in pain.
Brian became concerned. “River? What’s wrong?”
“Gaius won't let go so easily. My curse, my gift is taking over.” River groaned, as parts of hir turned to stone and hir form became heavily corrupted with artifacts and polygons.
As Brian watched this transpire, he knew Gaius was beginning to take over River. Suddenly, he could feel Gatekeeper's will beginning to push from within him, but he resisted against. Brian was scared; scared of losing himself, scared of losing his identity. He did not want to relinquish the individuality he had only just regained. He did not want to be anything less than Brian. But he also knew that if he could not defeat Gaius, he would be nothing at all, along with so many others. He could not do this alone. And so, he surrendered to Gatekeeper's influence and allowed it to take hold, as they both merged back into The Keymaster.

At the same time, River's face turned to stone, and Gaius looked upon The Keymaster. “ah, i knew you were greater than that human, brother — as am i. now, then…shall you help my cause?”
The Keymaster shook his head. “Sorry, Gaius, but I believe we are both in agreement that you will cannot have your way.”
The air seemed to shift, and pure venom seemed to pour from Gaius' gaze. “so, you favor your mortality? your corrupted data? That cloak is far too big for you.”
The Keymaster looked upon Gaius’s glitching and shifting form. “You say I am corrupted by my mortal half, yet you are no different.”
“this form has strengthened me. or it will, once river surrenders completely.”
The Keymaster felt a chill. If this being truly was his friend once, it seemed that she was too far gone. “You will release River at once,” he demanded.

Nostalgi Gaius laughed in hexadecimal. “why would i ever do that? ze loves me too much…just look at how close we have become.” She approached The Keymaster, and with a wave of her hand, he suddenly found himself pinned against the wall by an invisible force. “do you want to know why i really brought you here? you have exactly what i need to become whole again.” Her hand rapidly vibrated, phasing through The Keymaster’s chest as she reached into it. It felt as if a drill was piercing through him, and he cried out in agony. Her fingers reached around something inside him, before extracting it, leaving behind an empty cavity in his chest. What came out was a poorly rendered, pastel-colored key, with missing textures. “…the key to hir heart.” The invisible force released The Keymaster and he fell to the ground, coughing up black cubes of varying size while the hole in his chest slowly mended itself. He saw Gaius raise the key to her own chest, he knew what she intended to do, he knew what would happen if she succeeded. But he could not muster the strength to stop her in time, and he watched helplessly as the key entered. Gaius began shimmering, a spectacle of colors from every ray of the rainbow shining through. Her framebuffer was cleared, and she disintegrated into pixels and bytes of data which dissipated into the atmosphere. Then, a new form began constructing and rendering itself from the ground up. A maiden of marble, towering high above The Keymaster. No imperfections, no glitches. She was a perfect sculpture. For the first time, a smile formed on Nostalgi Gaius’ face, and it chilled The Keymaster to the very core. “thank you, brother.”

The Keymaster looked up at Gaius. “What have you done with River?”
“river is gone. i have overwritten hir. i am complete.”
The statue stepped forth, causing the environment to glitch with each heavy step that sent quakes through the realm. “and now, all who have forgotten me may finally remember. i will inspire them again, and this time, they will not squander it.”
The Keymaster knew that he could not allow Gaius to escape, having only a slight idea of the devastation that she could cause. He finally rose to his feet, standing against her. “That will not happen.” he declared. Gaius scoffed and attempted to leave, but found herself unable. “what…what is this?
“You may be here in your full power, but you are thus subject to my full power.”
Gaius tilted her head. “is that so?” She swiftly approached The Keymaster and seized him by the throat, lifting him into the air. “you disappoint me.” she scoffed with disdain. The Keymaster gazed into her face and attempted to find some shred of humanity, something with which to empathize . But all that stared back at him were dead, empty eyes of stone. “you could have joined me. we could have ruled together.” Her vice-like grip tightened further, choking him. “but now, when it is far too late, you favor the humans once again.” In her other hand, a ball of pink fire manifested itself. “the best i can do for you now is leave you in your memories forever. at least, you shall find eternal happiness.” The flaming hand then moved towards The Keymaster’s face. Suddenly, in his hand materialized his key-sword, the pommel of which he bashed across Gaius’ jaw. Gaius dropped The Keymaster and staggered back, glaring at him with flaming eyes of rage.

Suddenly, the world spiraled around The Keymaster, spinning in an acceleration of fractals. He was plunged into an infinite expanse where all of reality, time and space were one. It would suffice to say that The Keymaster now was, for all intents and purposes, at the end of all consciousness. He resided on the border of conscious and unconscious, and that border was Nostalgi Gaius herself. He was in the absolute superposition, a singularity branching into all probabilities, possibilities, improbabilities and impossibilities. Every moment, every memory, accelerated at an immeasurable rate.

The Keymaster and Nostalgi Gaius were in the combined mindscape of Brian, Gudang, Gatekeeper and River. Reality was whatever they willed it to be in this state, with infinite malleability and potential. Everything from within their memories were instantly pulled forth, subconsciously manifesting around the two beings. Their memories became their environment, existing in fragmented fractals. The Keymaster found himself navigating through partially-assembled stage sets constructed from memories. He witnessed the first breath, the first word, the first love, the first heartbreak. There was beauty, there was horror. There was joy, there was tragedy. Nostalgi Gaius launched a slew of razor-sharp polygons towards him, impaling his body in many places. She then generated constructs resembling those The Keymaster knew; Friends and family of Brian, and various members of the Pantheon. Among them was Jessica, who appeared to be crying. “How could you abandon me? Please, come back to me…”
The other constructs joined in on antagonizing The Keymaster as they surrounded him. He felt himself become smaller and smaller, overwhelmed by guilt. “you are all alone. and now, you shall die alone.”
The Keymaster fell back, when suddenly he felt an object in his hand. When he looked down, he found a shard of the sky clutched in his grasp. He looked back up at Gaius. “You may be right…but I have never been one to care about that.” In one swift motion, he then slashed away all the constructs, before driving the shard in Gaius' head. From the point of impact, many cracks spread through the stone of her face, and her expression turned to pure rage. By this point, she desired nothing less than to completely destroy him. The two beings then began pulling forth miscellaneous items from the shared mindscape, using them as makeshift weapons with which to combat one another.

What transpired next was an invisible war, a psychic battle of wills. Each being had great mental fortitude, resulting in a near-stalemate. Gaius mentally attacked The Keymaster with negative projections, attempting to exploit his fears and insecurities. However, The Keymaster fought back against this by projecting positivity — or at least what little of it he could muster. He remembered the good he had done, and the beings he had helped.

With each push back against Nostalgi Gaius, she would be stunned. Suddenly, from the cracks on her head shone a flash of pastel-colored light. The Keymaster then knew that River was not gone. Gaius wavered, almost as if stunned, slowly looking down at her hands. “ze still resists me… ” she faintly said, in a tone which conveyed a sort of horror. Ze still was there, battling against Gaius from within her, helping The Keymaster weaken her. As Nostalgi Gaius wavered, The Keymaster realized this was his opportunity to finish her off. He brought the tip of the key-sword to her neck, and like the chisel of a sculptor, he bashed his fist into the pommel. With the blade lodged in her, her stone body would crack even more, and the pastel-colored light emanated from the cracks more strongly. The stone chipped away, flaking off like old paint, drifting into bytes of data like grains of sand. This happened in greater momentum, until light burst from the being and enveloped it completely. The being’s form fluctuated, constantly transitioning back and forth between River and Gaius at an increasingly rapid rate as they screamed. Suddenly, the being exploded into light, enveloping The Keymaster and his environment in whiteness.


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