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Absence

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         Consciousness slowly began to sip into his mind once more but he did not open his eyes yet he could feel the ground beneath him and he could feel the grass as he grasped at it with his hands but everything hurt every movement hurt but the grass when was the last time he had felt anything other than the warm yellow concoction or the cold metal bed? He could not open his eyes for whatever reason but he could feel the fire as if he were covered in fire from head to toe as if he himself were made of fire as if he were engulfed in fire to his very dots and he could imagine those yellow cubes floating about each one carrying within them their own flame as he tried to raise himself to a sitting position but his frail arms did not allow for such a physically-intensive task and he felt as though he had taken a million-turn nap but he knew that was not true could not possibly be true refused to acknowledge such an asinine assumption as fact as feasible but then again he believed that he had died about ten times but how could that be? Death is a one-time thing or so he recalled everyone telling him telling him that death awaited all but far into the future so far that death might as well not exist and if that were true if his life-long dogma were true then how and why did he know he had died so many times? Once again he tried to raise himself but to no avail to naught and was stuck perpetually face-planted on the grass but at least it was grass and not that freezing metallic examination room the room that had haunted him every waking day every waking moment all those lives ago all those deaths ago but his hearing came back it sure did because he could hear everything now the crying the exploding the whistling the screaming the slaughtering the crumbling the blowing the shuffling the crackling the running the beeping the whirring the puffing the stomping the clanking. The clanking. There were two whips. One on either side of him. They were made of chains. They were not made of fire. Yet he himself was. Scratch that. There really was fire on the chain. Just not everywhere. Not like how he was fire. Fire everywhere. He tried opening his eyes. No luck. He tried sitting up. Success. Success at last. He tried opening his eyes. No luck. He gripped the handles of his whips. He floated there. Motionless. Unbudgingly. Listening. Intently listening. The sounds about him were getting louder. His ears were clearing up. He tried opening his eyes. Success. Success at last. In front of him was a monster. A beast. Metal beast. Only metal thing he knew of was an Exo. Yet this Exo was unlike the ones in the lab. Not at all. Not like the ones in the lab. Not like the short ones in the lab. Not like the red-eyed ones in the lab. No. This one was huge. It scared him. He did not know what to do. He had whips. Did not know how to use them. Yet his breathing was calm. His mind was no longer racing. A wave of calm overtook him. Calm. Very calm. The fire cooled down. The water was soothing. He closed his eyes again. Tranquility.

         “Uhnnngggnnnh!” the monster grunted, blasting fire everywhere. The grass around him withered and caught fire. The monster’s wings erupted from his back. He stared at the Exo and lurched forward, grabbing the Exo and purging so much fire that the Exo crumbled to dots and melted. It was an impulsive action, but he was now calming down. He began to analyze his appearance in detail for the very first time. He had enormous, yellow claws on both hands, a tail, and two humongous wings with yellow horns on them. He grasped his head and discerned three intimidating horns there as well. He felt his heart start swimming.

         “Aaaauuuuurgggghh!” The demon bellowed clawing at his face. He launched himself upward and flapped his wings to reach even higher. He did not want to stop. He kept soaring higher and higher, faster and faster, still clawing at his face to the point of ripping off whole chunks of his face. He could not stop himself. He was a monster. What had he become! Whose chunks were those raining down on the unsuspecting Texeli below him! Why had he magically gained the ability to fly! He was a Xana, a Xana! Yet he was a Theri, a fell harbinger of death! To iris with those Dracomis! He had a Theri companion residing within him. He literally was his own companion! No, he was no companion. He was an enemy, an enemy eating at his flesh! So preoccupied was he with clawing at his face that he did not even notice when his wings stopped flapping, when his height began to sink, when the ground beneath him began to sprint straight at him as he plunged to his death.

         An Exo who had been silently observing everything from afar beeped and booped in defeat. “Amalgam-13 proved to be a failure. Commencing retrieval of dots –- if possible. Certainty of dots being recoupable: Low. Prepare Amalgam-14.”

*                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

         His consciousness had been… faulty. Imperfect. He could not describe it. He looked down at his red-plated arms, his fire-ridden physique. He did not remember from where he had obtained such things, especially the whips. He no longer knew who he was. A strong sensation of something terrible residing within him resurfaced but sunk as quickly as it had ambushed him. So quick, in fact, that he began to doubt he ever felt it in the first place. He could not remember anything from the past ten minutes. There was a clock. He knew it had been ten minutes. But where did those ten minutes go? It was as if his consciousness had decided to dive ahead in time. Granted, he never truly understood how time functioned -– he doubted anybody did -– but to dive ahead in time? Unheard of!

         All around him fire ate away at the furniture, at the walls, at the… There was a pile of yellow liquid. Could it be? No, it couldn’t. He had not ever heard of anything as baffling as melted… he refused to think about it. He was the only one in the room, and to acknowledge the possibility of… was to insinuate that he…

         Twenty minutes this time. Why… why could he not remember? The room was flooded in even more fire, but there were claw marks flowing down the walls and across the ceiling this time. More frightening however were the additional two piles of yellow sludge. There was a single mirror in the room completely intact. Everything in the room was reduced to ashes or tatters, yet the mirror had not even the tiniest of cracks. He walked over to it, to its impeccable and pristine condition, and gazed upon his reflection. He was the same man he vaguely remembered he had been except for the flames that inhabited his every pore, the red armor that encapsulated him, the whips that coiled themselves around his neck, and the three horns on top of his head. He began to panic once more, but that was all. The next time-skip would skip him to the end of time itself. He skipped to the end of the world.

         “Amalgam-22: failure.”

*                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

         “Amalgam-29. Do you remember?”

         “Yes.” The fire, the claws, the deaths, all of it. The more he tried to remember, the more he felt himself sink deeper into the sea inside of his mind. Remembering was like -– swimming, seeing the same thing both above and under water.

         “Current emotions?”

         “Confusion.” Who was he? Was he Xana? Was he Theri? What were all these memories?

         “Mentally unstable. Memories quasi-intact. Control?”

         “Pardon?” Control? Did he mean over him?

         “To what degree of certainty for transforming at will?”

         “Low.” Or perhaps not. He could tell from his memories that the monster would surface whenever his emotions became too extreme. As long as he remained calm…

         “Contacting Unit #1356 and Unit #0032. Prepare concentrate.”

         “No.” He knew what was to be done to him. He was to be submerged. Not again. He did not want to go back to sleep again. To go back to sleep was to become vulnerable, to be doomed to wake up for another examination, another test, another death. He needed to escape. He needed to summon forth the demon inside his flesh. He remembered the pain -- the suffering -- that the Exos had put him through for so long. He could feel the spark within him ignite. His consciousness began to sink as the monster took hold.

         “Cease!” the Exo shouted as many others began to pour into the interrogation room. A sea of Exos approached him, but they were all feeble and miniature tin cans.

         “AAAAAUUUUUGH!” he roared, amused by how much they had underestimated his power. They had assumed that a mere thirty scrawny scientists would suffice to quench his thirst, but they could not have been any further from the truth. All thirty were melted to mush, and he blasted the door open to escape once again. This time, however, he was prepared. No longer would he let his guard down and allow the scientists to ambush him. Burn is what they wanted him to do -- what they had created him to do -- and burn is what he shall do, but not Texeli. He was going to burn all of them, ALL OF THE EXOS!

         “Damn it all!” He shouted after finally regaining his consciousness. He found himself outside the Exo base, on top of grass, below the shining sun, amidst the cool wind, but he had slept once again. “I need you to stop stripping me of my consciousness, you fool!”

         You’d only get in my way.

         “I cannot possibly trust you to-”

         We are one. You die, I die. You are safe.

         “I am not talking about myself here! I am talking about everyone else. There is no guarantee that you would melt Exos exclusively. I cannot allow you to… to…”

         Texeli do not melt. Only Exos. Texeli are safe.

         “No. I refuse to give you full control. You are conscious while I have control over my body, yet you do not allow me to remain so when you are in control. Do you not see the problem?”

         No. You’d get in my way. It is necessary.

         “Listen to me, you…” Just then, he heard three people approach him. One was a dwarf in white armor, another an ogre with golden shoulder pads, and the other a stereotypical Barbarian.

         “Well look at what we have here!” the dwarf shouted. “We got ourselves one frail little boy.”

         “We sure do, Scorylo,” the ogre responded.

         “Where is your defender, little guy?” the Barbarian asked.

         “You overestimate him, Heartwood; as if any Human would ever want to be associated with him.”

         “Come on, at least entertain him before we destroy him, Makepeace.”

         “Stay away from me,” he said. A warning from the depths of his heart. He was scared of the monster he would become.

         “Did you hear that, boys?” Makepeace taunted. “This fella thinks he can one-up us.”

         “What a fool,” Scorylo noted, spinning his axe. All three of them began to spin their axes in hopes of intimidating him. He gripped his whips harder. The fire that surrounded him began to burn brighter.

         “Do you think we are making him a little too scared? Just took at his trembling!” Heartwood mused.

         “Alright, well, let us just finish him off. ‘Tis what he gets for thinking he could be like us -- Texeli who adhere to no defender’s every whim.”

         “Charge!” Makepeace shouted, running toward him. Before he knew it, all three of them had surrounded and were cutting down on him. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… One cut after the other. Without his armor, he would have been done for, laying on the ground as nothing more than liver pâté. Each blow drained his energy, however, and after so many blows, his body quit on him and rendered him unable to move. He lay on the ground, his armor far too heavy for him to move in.

         “AWAKE!”

         I know this voice… It was the voice of one of the scientists.

         “Remember, you are no ordinary Xana…”

         I am a divided being.

         “Two selves that rage as one.”

         Two selves that suffer as one… He realized then the key to ultimate power. As much as I do not want to admit it, demon, we are one and the same. There is no need to fight for control over this vessel for we are one. We are neither Xana nor Theri. We are something new… Xana made fast to Theri, Theri unbound by Xana.

         The fire around him became even more chaotic. A red aura formed about him, and the three others stumbled backward unable to withstand the heat. He could feel the wings sprouting violently from his back, he could feel his face deforming into that of a demon, he could see his hands morph into exaggeratedly long, sharp claws, yet he remained conscious… and so did his other voice. And together they shouted…

         “WE ARE THESANTHEI!”