Chapter 1:

Thus Passes the Glory of Humanity

The Beast Inside: Immersion


Sunset.

Somewhere inside a vast forest, three young individuals stare at a what it looks to be a scarlet light emanating far away from them. Beaten and battered, blood bathes their clothes as they stand frozen in absolute shock to what they witness. Although the forest rests calm, inside their minds there is nothing but despair.

Young 1: *Shocked* Repeat that one more time…

Young 2: *Terrified *

Young 1: *Desperate* YOU DEAF, NOW!? I TOLD YOU TO REPEAT WHAT YOU JU--

Young 2: *Terrified* WE’RE DEAD!!! WE’RE FUCKING DEAD, ALREADY!!! WE’VE GOTTEN TOO… WE’VE GOTTEN TOO…

Young 1: *Shocked* …!?

Young 2: *Terrified* We’ve gotten too close.

Silence fills the air for a few seconds. The Sun is about to set completely, making the scarlet light more noticeable. Tears start pouring down gently on the second one.

Young 2: *Sad* “When you see the light, there will be nothing… but a futureless past left behind.” Oh, so this is how it feels, huh? Is this what every single one of them felt…?

As these words are said, their focus is placed on several small devices laying down on the floor next to them. These seem to be unevenly destroyed and spilled with blood. There is at least a dozen.

Young 1: *Shocked* No… You… you can’t be serious. After all we’ve done just to get here.

Young 2: *Sad*

Young 3: …

This next moment of silence lasts longer. The Sun finally sets and the scarlet light reflects on the faces of these young ones, as it is the only source of light. This is when the third one speaks.

Young 3: I am removing this damned thing. We have fallen for their trap, so I’d rather go out trying. I´m guessing we weren’t the only ones.

The third one grabs the right wrist strongly and begins to pull something out of the wrist.

Young 3: Our bodies might be just bones and skin…

Young 1: *Shocked* …

Young 2: *Terrified *

Young 3: But maybe… just maybe…

As the third one continues to speak, the ground underneath begins to shake violently as if an invisible wave had arrived from the direction of the scarlet light. The light, in turn, glows stronger per each passing second. The tremor, however, does not seem to bother the young trio. The third one finishes the sentence breaking up in tears.

Young 3: *Sad* There might be something worthwhile within my soul.

Young 1: *Shocked* …

Young 2: *Terrified *

The focus shifts on the third one, as the other two seem to empathize by gently grabbing onto their right wrists. Nevertheless, they do not seem to follow the lead. Despair has filled their hearts. Hope is lost.

Young 1: *Sad* …

Young 2: *Sad* …

The tremor has turned into an earthquake, shaking down trees and creating fissures throughout the area. The devices on the ground are lost within one of the fissures, yet, neither of the three seem to care. The third one proceeds to pull from the wrist even harder. The terror dwelling inside is now shown clearly as the other two simply watch.

Young 3: *Terrified* Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….!!!!!!!!!!

The third one screams loud, yet, the shaking ground covers all the noise. Suddenly, as the scarlet light shines like a blood moon on the entire area, all three of their young bodies start to have a reaction. Slowly, their outfits burn out and parts of their bodies begin to turn into drops of blood that float in the air, ignoring gravity completely. As this happens, the first one speaks with a hollow expression.

Young 1: You can try that all you want if that makes you feel anything. For what is worth… I never believed any of that bullshit they told us.

Young 2: *Sad* …

Young 1: What choice did we have, but to simply play along?

Finally, as they seem to lose more parts of their bodies, an extremely loud explosion is heard from the origin of the scarlet light. This sends a shockwave of wind that immediately turns the area into a hurricane, destroying most of the trees around with ease. As if nothing had been happening, the second one looks up towards the night sky in total defeat and notices the blood particles heading upwards.

Young 2: *Sad* ((Strange. I’m in this horrible moment, yet… this sight…))

The amount of blood droplets has exponentially increased creating what looks to be an ominous scarlet cloud. To this sight, the second one finishes the thought.

Young 2: *Sad* ((…this sight is somehow the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I feel… somehow like this is a refreshing experience. Who’d knew I’d find death rewarding.))

Finally, the second one disappears into a trail of blood in the air. To this sight, the first one goes to the shaking ground awaiting for the end.

Young 1: *Despair* …

Suddenly, a fissure opens underneath, taking the first one into an abyss. Seconds after, a substantial amount of blood droplets appear from the fissure indicating the first one’s demise.

Young 3: *Desperate* UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH….!!!!!!!!!!

And then, there was only one.

Young 3: *Desperate* ((Why…?))

Desperately trying to pull from the wrist, the world seems to slow down for the third and final young individual.

Young 3: *Desperate* ((Why didn’t I make it? How can any of this be fair? I did everything I could, I survived until know… killed until now… and yet, there was nothing I could do to change who I was… who I was supposed to be…!!!))

The tears start coming down harder.

Young 3: *Desperate* ((It will all be over… on my terms… once I take this fucking Tracer off!!!))

As the world around falls apart, as if by fate, the left hand turns into blood causing the loss of grip of the right wrist. To this sight, the third one is shaken.

Young 3: *Shocked* …………………………………………………………………………………………

It took just a few seconds to sink in. It was now only a matter of time. Understanding Fate was now in control, the third one stares at the palm of the right hand. There, on the wrist, a device similar to the ones that were on the ground earlier.

Young 3: …………………………………………………………………………………………

As the left arm is lost, fingertips of the right hand start to turn to blood as well. To this sight, the third one feels a gentle spark inside. In the end, instead of pulling the device from the wrist, Fate has decided to do it for the young individual. One by one the fingers turn to blood drops, leaving towards the sky.

Young 3: …………………………………………………………………………………………

Without looking away, amid all the destruction, the tremor, the rising blood drops and the despair, the left hand is about to disappear leaving only the device on the wrist. Knowing full well these where the final seconds, at that instant, staring at a handless right arm, one final thought came to the third one.

Young 3: ((… I only wished to have peace… and to share it with you...))

- 1 Year Earlier -

A boy sits on a corner of a very large facility, filled with hundreds of children in their late teens, staring at the palm of his right hand. His name is Xess.

Xess: …

His attention is on a translucent device around his right wrist. Lost in thought, he stares at it with curious eyes. Just then, a girl approaches him.

????: *Happy* Did it hurt?

Xess: Hmm?

????: *Happy* Did the connection hurt? You just got it, right?

Xess shifts his attention to the young girl, who approaches with an inviting big smile. He answers.

Xess: Well… I guess it feels somewhat off.

????: *Happy* Hmm…

Xess: Ehm…

????: *Happy* “Evangelica”, that’s my name. Just “Eva” will do, though. What’s yours, “stranger”?

Xess: “Xess”.

Eva approaches Xess and sits close enough to him so their shoulders touch. She stares right at Xess with a big smile.

Eva: *Happy* So…?

Xess: *Confused* What? ((She’s awfully close.))

Eva: *Happy* What do you mean ‘what’? What were your side-effects? Come on you don’t have to be shy, we all went through that.

Xess: I’m not, I just don’t know how to explain it.

Xess moves away from Eva just a bit as he says these words.

Eva: Hmm… yeah, I guess that can happen. Well, I can tell you mine if you want?

Xess: *Serious* No.

Eva: So, I got this nasty headache that I could feel my own heartbeat on it. My head would go like BUMP…BUMP-BUMP…BUMP… BUMP-BUMP…BUMP. It lasted for hours; it was the worst.

Eva grabs both sides of her head, as she describes the headaches to Xess. Xess seems to be caught off-guard by her demeanor.

Eva: But you know what, I can’t complain… for now.

Xess: Oh, please tell me, then, why that is.

Eva quickly approaches Xess and places her face inches away from his. Xess notices that Eva’s expression has changed somewhat, as she gives off a concerning vibe. They lock eyes for a few seconds. He feels that Eva’s eyes emit some sort of bleak aura, however, it seems impossible for him to determine its meaning.

Xess: *Surprised* …!

Eva: *Serious* There will come a time when both of us would wish we’d be sitting right here as we are. Without a care in the world. No meaning to our lives whatsoever.

Xess: *Confused* …?

Eva: *Serious* Tell me, “stranger”…

Eva turns her head and looks at her right wrist, as she focuses on her own translucent device. There she stands for a few seconds. Xess cannot seem to move before she raises her head once again. She moves in much closer to him, placing her left hand on top of his on the floor. He is completely frozen, caught by Eva’s gaze. She continues.

Eva: *Serious* What do you believe in?

Xess: *Confused* …?

Eva: *Serious* Freedom or control?

Xess: *Confused* …?

Eva: *Serious* Independence or collaboration?

Xess: *Confused* …?

Eva: *Serious* The law of life… or the law of humanity?

Xess does not understand the meaning of Eva’s questions. Nevertheless, he feels Eva’s words resonating within him. He can feel she is not messing around, as her behavior has increased the perceived tension in the air.

Xess: *Confused* ((What is the deal with this girl…?))

Eva: *Serious* …

Eva seems to be waiting for an answer.

Xess: *Confused* ((She comes across as very obnoxious, yet, I feel like she is seriously asking me these questions.))

Xess takes a hard look at Eva’s expression. He can feel Eva is asking these questions in earnest. He cannot understand or know why, but he is sure to feel this is important to her.

Eva: *Serious* …

Xess: *Confused*…………………… *Serious* I do not know why this is important for you, but I feel like that should not matter. Still. I do not have an answer for you right now.

To this answer, Eva’s eyes widen somewhat. Xess continues.

Eva: *Serious* …

Xess: *Serious* But I promise that when I do I will answer your question.

After what it feels like a minute for Xess, Eva finally lets go of his hand and backs away from him. She answers.

Eva: I see.

Eva stands up and leaves more space between her and Xess. She speaks once again with a calmer look to her face.

Eva: You and I are the same then.

Xess: …?

Eva: I’ll see you around, “stranger”.

Eva leaves Xess behind, moving towards where most of the crowd is. As she walks away, though, Xess decides to answer her initial question.

Xess: That side-effect you mentioned, earlier…

Eva stops and glances back a Xess. He continues.

Xess: My age, my family, my friends, this place… I wouldn’t be able to answer you.

Without saying a word, Eva turns to face Xess once again.

Xess: *Serious* Is it a side-effect from the connection? Would I get everything back eventually? What happened before I came here? I cannot even tell you that much…

Eva: *Surprised* Then… how-

Xess: *Serious* They told me right after I got it installed.

Xess cuts Eva’s sentence, knowing full well what her question is. He stares at his right wrist once again as he continues his thought.

Xess: The only thing they told me was, ‘”Xess” is your name. You’ll understand soon enough.’

Eva: …

Xess: *Serious* …

Eva: Does it matter?

Xess: *Confused* …!?

Xess focuses on Eva, as he does not understand what she means.

Eva: Whether or not you end up remembering your past, would it change anything about your future?

Xess: …!

Eva: We are not bound by what led us to the “here” and “now”, so instead, focus on what lies in front you. That is the only thing than can affect you from now on. Do you want to know what this place is? What we are all doing inside this place? What this facility is for?

Xess: …

Xess does not initially respond. Nevertheless, he does want to know where he is. It is only natural. Surrounded by more than a hundred strangers around his same age inside an unknown huge facility. Not recognizing the place. Not recognizing others. Not recognizing himself. An unknown device installed on his right wrist, and a combination of four letters he was told to use as his name. ‘Could this girl have any answers for me?’, Xess asks himself from the deepest part of his subconscious. It is in this moment when Xess hears it.

‘Children...’

Xess: *Alerted* …

A male voice, speaking to Xess from within his head. He, along with the rest of the group in the facility, seem to be paralyzed at the same time. They all seem to have heard the same voice.

Xess: You too?

Xess asks Eva, as if it by impulse, trying to confirm. Eva does so by agreeing with her head in silence. Xess gently touches the side of his head as a reaction to the situation. The voice continues.

‘By now all of you must have spoken amongst yourselves in order to find some answers.’

Xess: *Alerted * …

Eva: *Alerted* …

‘It is understandable. As distressing as the current situation is, however, we regret to tell you that in order for all of this to work, it is best for you to be in the dark as to why you are all here. As unfair as that sounds, it is to achieve the best results. We will, however, explain what awaits you in the immediate future.’

Xess: *Alerted* …

The entire room listens carefully. It seems everyone is listening from within their heads.

‘At the very end of this room, there lies a large white door. Most of you probably have seen it by now. Beyond it lies the largest forest in the world, The Forest of Hollows. Soon, all of you will go into that forest for your first Hunt. You will not dive into this forest individually, though, as that might prove to be extremely dangerous. Very soon you will come to understand why that is.

Xess: *Alerted* ((How is he talking to us like this…))

As Xess wonders, he looks up towards Eva who silently points to her right wrist, indicating to him the possible source.

Xess: *Surprised*…!

The voice continues.

‘You will be divided in what we call “Clusters”. For each Hunt, you will be assigned a numbered cluster, and work together with those who have the same number as you do. It is imperative that you understand that until the Hunt ends, you will always be associated to that cluster. You should always remember that. As far as what you will be doing inside the forest, you will be hunting a specific type of prey.’

Xess: *Alerted* ((What?))

Just then, Xess notices that Eva is staring at him as if trying to convey some sort of emotional message. As Xess keeps listening, the voice continues.

‘Over the course of recent history, there have been many individuals who have caused incomprehensible harm. Harm with significant consequences for our kind. Individuals involved in extreme violent and destructive behavior cannot be inserted back into the world... such is their corrupted state.’

Xess: *Alerted* …

‘However, just as your current situation is unfair, so was theirs. One is never exclusively responsible for their own sins. The influence of a third party in one’s life is ever so present in society. Is a child guilty for having an abusive parent? If the child grows up to be a murderer, then guilty shall that child be... Such is the world we live in.’

Xess: *Alerted* …

After this comment, for some reason unbeknownst to him, Eva’s words from a few minutes earlier come back to him.

Xess: *Alerted* ((The law of life or… the law of humanity…))

‘When you all go into that forest, you will be tasked to hunt down and kill those who have been judged to be guilty. Murderers, rapists, thieves… you will encounter the worst this world has to offer.’

Xess: *Alerted* ((They want us to…))

‘Within the scheduled time, all Clusters should search and kill all the criminals available in the Hunt. Whether or not you feel it is fair, you bear a significant responsibility for the world: any criminal who you fail to hunt within the specified time will be set free into the world once again. A second chance in the world we live in. A second chance to murder, rape or steal once again…’

Xess: *Surprised* …!

‘Any and all prey who leave the Hunt alive will need to be balanced by the Clusters most responsible.’

It is in this moment that a voice is heard within the facility from someone listening to the voice.

????: *Angry* WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN!!???

Xess: *Alerted* …

Instead of answering immediately, the voice seems to pause for a few seconds before answering the question.

‘In this scenario, the clusters with the lowest number of prey hunted would have to choose one member amongst themselves…’

Xess: *Alerted * …

Eva: *Alerted* …

‘…and kill them as penalty.’

Xess: *Shocked * !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Xess is shocked not believing what he is hearing. The crowd within the facility becomes more agitated as this last line felt like a giant hammer falling onto their souls. Nevertheless, no one in the facility has time to wonder about the situation. The voice continues.

‘No one will force you to participate, the choice to leap into the forest will always be yours. In the end, the only growth of value is that which comes from genuine inspiration. We will not repeat pasts mistakes. We will achieve the goal. Thus, we have decided to move forward in this direction…’

Xess: *Serious* …

‘Do you want to know the truth about all of this situation?’

Xess: *Serious* …

‘Then go out there, survive and accomplish your mission.’

Eva: *Serious*…

As these words are spoken, the white door starts to open at a slow pace. As it does, it feels like a reminder that all of this is real. Its slow speed promotes a dreaded environment of fear and confusion. Slowly, the vast forest makes its appearance, being shined upon by the full moonlight. It is a sight many are yet to wrap their heads around. A strong, cold wind enters the facility, exacerbating all their current states of mind. Xess, Eva, and the rest of the room are staring at the door as it completes its opening. As this happens.

‘…What are you…?

Xess: *Serious* …

Finally, the voice concludes.

‘Survive and find out.’

Xess listens to the voice carefully, as he stares at the endless forest in front of his eyes. He loses himself in thought for a few seconds.

Xess: *Serious* ((Why…? Why is it that I am not feeling anything? I know I should be scared but… why am I not...? Where is this sense of safety coming from? No… I can feel it…))

Taking his focus from the forest to both his hands, Xess tries to understand his unexpected feelings.

Xess: *Serious* ((This… this is more than just confidence. I can feel my body trembling.))

Without noticing it himself, Xess starts to smile as if to express an uncontrollable amount of joy.

Xess: *Excited* ((THIS IS EXCITEMENT, I FEEL!!!))

Immediately after, Xess covers his smile in embarrassment. The voice’s recent question rings strong on his mind. A question he does not have an answer to. Regardless of his true feelings, he understands his emotions do not match with the common sentiment of the rest in the facility. Conscious, yet unsettled, he focuses on the rest of the group. The emotions he can see range from terror to confusion, as some have gone to the floor while others seem to be frozen. These are the ones Xess must collaborate with in order to survive. Just then, in the middle of this turmoil, there she stood. Eva, unattached of any expression and without looking back at Xess, references the question he asked him earlier before the voice first spoke.

Eva: So, you want to know what this place is?

Xess: …

Eva: …

Xess: …

Eva then turns her head to face Xess with a calm look to her face. Her eyes pierce through his like daggers. Among the chaos, Xess remains silent.

Xess: …

Looking straight at him, Eva finally answers the question.

Eva: …This is where humanity is left behind.

Chapter 01 - Thus Passes the Glory of Humanity: END

to be continued…

Vforest
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