187 Reflections of a Foe
"What do I call you?"
Zoey was sitting on her barren hill after the last enemy attack, looking out at the empty plains of Gaia. She was talking to the conscious defense routine that had been protecting her while she was stuck in this prison. Without the Dark Star to protect her, she would have been at the mercy of this place and would have likely succumbed to it just like Cornelius had.
After a moment of thought, the conscious defense routine responded, "We would like to be known as Praesidio."
Praesidio… An odd name, but Zoey remembered that it meant 'protect' in an ancient language from Gaia. Rather fitting considering their circumstances.
"So, Praesidio. What do I need to do to get out of this Mind Prison? You mentioned a control matrix?" Zoey asked after a moment.
Praesidio appeared next to her on the hill after a moment, then said, "The control matrix is accessible at any time. All you need to do is think about getting out and it will appear. But be warned, in order to take control of it you will face a test."
"A test?" Zoey asked.
"Correct. According to the information we have found in the database, you will be presented with your greatest internal conflict as a test. What that means, or how you must overcome it is not clear." Praesidio responded.
Zoey frowned. Internal conflict? That was rather ambiguous. If escaping the prison depended on her overcoming her internal conflict, whatever that may be, she had no choice but to face whatever this place would throw at her.
"What about him?" asked Zoey, pointing at Cornelius lying on the ground where he always appeared. "What will happen to him if we break out of here?"
"We do not have enough information to determine that. He is a psychic projection, so it is difficult to determine what will happen. Likely he will be set free if you manage to break out of here," Praesidio replied.
Zoey sighed. Whatever his fate, it was no concern of hers. He had gotten himself into this mess and had reaped what he had sown. His fate inside this prison was his own doing.
Deciding that she had waited long enough, Zoey turned her thoughts to escaping this prison. A moment later something appeared, hanging in the air before her. It was a circular metal construct formed by hundreds of interlocking gears, levers, and machinery. It looked like the internals of a very intricate clock, but there was no time-telling features on it. It's only feature was a metal handle in the center, waiting to be pulled.
There were also words across the outer perimeter of the object, but without her interface, Zoey could not read them.
"Face your greatest foe. That is what it says," Praesidio helpfully translated the writing for Zoey.
Zoey already knew that 'greatest foe' meant her inner conflict from what Praesidio had told her already. It would most likely be another mind game that would not be easy to get through.
But Zoey was prepared. Over the last few days she had strengthened her mental state to the point where she could face down the enemy without flinching, a feat that had once been impossible for her. She had never been stronger mentally, so if this Mind Prison wanted to challenge her on that front, she would be ready.
Readying herself, she took a breath, grabbed the handle on the construct and pulled. There was a sound like rain falling, then darkness descended down on her like a waterfall.
Zoey couldn't see anything for a while, then a red-orange light shone down from above. She looked up to find an image of the Dark Star above her, hot and boiling like she had seen it on the mural when she had absorbed the dungeon core.
Zoey looked down to see that the she was standing on some water. It was not deep, but the surface was like glass reflecting the image of the Dark Star above, creating a mirrored scene that made it hard to determine what was up and what was down.
Zoey started walking, the ripples she caused spreading out around her as she disturbed the water. Strangely, the sky above her reflected the ripples she was creating, but inverse, as if there was someone walking on the sky toward her.
Then she noticed that there was actually someone there! In the sky, standing upside down on the reflection of the ground was a figure that resembled her! As she stepped forward, so did the figure in the reflection of the sky, mimicking her movements as they approached one another.
Step by step they walked, the ripples spreading out around them, refracting the light from the two stars, disturbing their image in millions of tiny reflections caused by the water. Then they stopped and Zoey looked up at the figure as they looked down at her, their eyes locking together.
Zoey felt a sudden sense of vertigo, and the scene suddenly changed! The reflection in the sky suddenly merged with the plane she was standing on, bringing her face to face with the other Zoey.
Wait, had the sky merged with the ground? Or had the ground merged with the sky? Zoey had a hard time remembering which it had been. This place was very confusing.
Regardless, she was face to face with herself, and the only difference between them was the eyes. Zoey could see in the reflection of the water that her eyes were still emerald green, but the other Zoey had white irises, a strange contrast to her pale skin and midnight-black hair.
Then a voice, a whisper sounded out at the two of them across the water, coming to their ears like a breeze.
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"You are the one who will do anything to survive, who will fight back when pushed, who will crush her enemies so they can never rise again.
You are the one who wishes for peace, who strives to heal the broken and avoid conflict, who will show mercy even to the foulest of foes.
You are in conflict. To leave this place, conflict cannot exist. Decide your path, but know this; If your choice lacks conviction, you will never be free of this place, and you will never have this chance again."
The whisper faded, leaving Zoey face to face with herself. She had a decision to make, a decision that could either damn her to this place, or be her salvation and freedom.
The only question was which side would she choose, and would she have the conviction to see it through?