Amanda was delirious for the tenth time in those long ten days. Egbe always showed up, driving her crazy.

She begged him to disappear, and used the name Jesus (just out of custom and attachment to her own belief), then Egbe disappeared. She often wondered if he wasn a nuisance to simply disorient her and keep her trapped in that forest.

However, Egbe wasn the only delusion that distracted her. There was also hunger and thirst. She was completely hungry like shes never been in her entire life. She always ate good meals, although she couldn remember family dinners. Her head was so crazy, she couldn remember her own name, where she came from, or her family.

She found a water source that looked like potable, drank some and Egbe crouched down beside her, talking non-stop about how a friend died from carelessness about the water he drank.

”…So drinking any water can be a problem for your body, Khasewet. This is the Forest of the Abyss, it could be contaminated with black ooze. As he said, a friend died from drinking contaminated water, and it caused a pandemic throughout his city. If you don want to die and cause illness when you leave here, I can advise you on how to find drinking water. ” Egbe was silent for a second. ”Oh come on, Khasewet, don pretend you
e not listening to me. I know it feels like Im always leading you into a trap, but its never my intention. I promise. All I want is to help you. You are lost, Khasewet. You are increasingly walking towards the Duat. If you go in there, you will die. Let me guide you. ”

”Shut up… ” Amanda asked, sticking her head in the water. She screamed, producing bubbles.

When she popped her head out of the water, Egbe was no longer there. She had a horrible headache.

As soon as the damn delirium returned, Amanda pondered whether or not he was a ghost. She listened to them, but she had to run away from another beast, limping and starving. She had already collected an endless series of scars all over her body smeared with mud, black earth and blood.

Trying to think of something, she came to the conclusion that Egbe was a demon, trying to take her into the mouth of a monster.

Amanda ran a hand over her head, feeling sick. She still hadn found food, nothing that could feed her. Two days without food added to her injuries, she drained the last of her energy.

She lay down on the riverbank, looking up at the gray sky, aware that that place was unprotected and could be attacked by an animal.

She scrambled close to the roots of a tree that had once caught her eye. It reminded her of a cage. It looked like a good shelter for nightfall. At least a sarcophagus, for she didn know if she would be able to proceed tomorrow.

She crawled into the center of the roots, moaning in pain. Her foot was swollen and she thought it was infected. She was also starting to have a fever.

She couldn take it anymore. She just thought about giving up. She closed her eyes to get some sleep. Who knows, as soon as she woke up, she would remember who she was and someone she could support her life for.

Amanda woke up suddenly, her whole body feeling heavy. She tried to move but couldn . It took her less than a second to realize she was wrapped around the roots she used for shelter. Coiled all over her body like snakes.

Terrified, she felt her survival instinct overwhelm her giving up. But as she howled low in fear, the plant gripped her arms tightly. It hurt so much, Amanda thought she was going to pass out.

”Let go of me, damn it! ” she screamed, forcing her teeth into the plant. It was rubbery like latex.

She managed to free herself by tearing the plant from around her arms first, feeling a horrible pain in her teeth. She let go of her hand, soon getting rid of the plants that covered her body with her hands and nails. Amanda was so quick, she barely had a clue how she managed to escape.

She shrank back as far as she could, realizing the strange plant couldn reach her trapped in a thick stem.

She hit her back against a tree, sweating. Breaking out in a cold sweat. She just stood there, looking at the carnivorous plant trying to devour it in every way possible.

Amanda couldn breathe properly, fear filled her air. Just when she could steady her breathing, she felt her heart beat faster than normal.

If it was a dream, she still had no idea about it; but the dark forest sprawling around her eyes was as real as the growing pain in her arm.

She realized too late that the trees differed from everything she had seen or knew about botany, which was very little. It had twisted shapes, and foliage that resembled toothpicks and knitting needles. The bushes were dark, growing wild in the dry, sandy soil.

She had spent days on end fleeing wild beasts, not realizing that there were also carnivorous plants in the middle of the bush. She lay in a trap and would be slowly devoured while she slept.

Moving her mouth in a whisper of an expletive, Amanda still didn feel smart enough to understand what was going on. She lowered her eyes, searching the ground, the sky, the trees for answers. Anywhere.

She needed to get out of there… she didn know how and didn have the strength to continue anymore.

”Help me! ” A scream suddenly seemed to burst from inside her ear.

She turned left, startled, screaming in terror.

There was no one beside her. No one shouted in her ear.

Amanda wiped the sweat from her face, feeling her heart beat faster and faster.

”Your body is mine! ” Another scream jumped in her ear.

There was no one, once again, to her right.

Other whispers and screams began to emerge from all sides, and she shrank back, moaning in fear and pain.

”Stop! ” Amanda asked, feeling the tears run down her eyes. ”Stop! Please stop! ”

But that didn stop, they continued and got worse. Amanda felt like a million invisible creatures were all around her. As if demons were trying to possess her body.

She crawled to another tree, looking for predators nearby. She needed to get out of there, run in search of a safe place and someone to give her a logical explanation.

She got up, hobbled away from that spot.

Aimlessly, Amanda ran into the forest. Those voices followed her like they were bees, buzzing in her ear. They called for help or promised to devour her, or to possess her body.

Egbe has returned.

”Ah, Khasewet, ” he was saying, following her side by side. ”Have I told you how I died? ”

He looked at her.

”Yes. You could say I was the first to die in battle, ” he laughed. ”I was standing there at the Battle of Crouga, holding my spear, waiting for the enemy to attack, and ”, he made a sound with his mouth. ”I was pierced by a xopesh. The first to die. After all, I never went to war and I certainly barely trained. A foolish death, but at least I died fighting for the right side…

Groaning with displeasure at hearing their stories again, Amanda jumped down a ravine, fleeing the increasingly noxious voices in her ears. Now they asked her to break up with herself, to end her fear. To give up. Amanda continued to limp, getting lost even more. In the midst of her escape, she heard something in the distance, and decided without thinking to cross the path there.

She walked through a bush, falling on the banks of a river. She stopped in the middle of the river, feeling the current hit her bare feet. She was lost, she didn know where she was or how she got to a forest.

Again, she heard something in the middle of the woods. Amanda turned away, wondering what it could be now, and that she maybe she shouldn be standing still. She couldn remain in sight. She didn even want to die for whatever stalked her.

She ran heavily, feeling the soles of her feet ache every time she touched the ground; she hurried through rocks covered with thin gray grass, bracing her fingers for breath. But before she could stop, before she could even catch her breath, another noise crept through the woods. Something was leaping out of the darkness toward her, and Amanda felt the blood stop all over her body.

It was big. Her fingers were slender and skeletal, like the branches of a dry pine. The big eyes. His black tongue ran over his sewn-shaped lips, like one who longs to eat something that smells good.

With a cry of terror, Amanda ran into the woods.

Bushes wrapped around her legs, cutting like knives. The old branches snapped under the soles of her feet. The burrs stuck to her skin and clothing, some leaves tangled in her hair. Before she could move forward, Amandas ankles knotted with something that made her fall. She was flung away, looking for a place to hide right away.

She tried to flee, looking over her shoulder, but her leg failed. She looked down and panicked with a scream.

Amanda didn know what caught her leg, but that was what knocked her down.

It was a kind of insect, but not a common one. It was the size of a canary, shaped like a tick. It stuck to her leg, driving what looked like a stinger into her skin.

She couldn get me up anymore. She felt pain when stepping on the ground. But she needed to keep going, and as much as the pain, she had to know where she was and how she was there.

Now she had both legs injured, but she kept running away with a parasite trapped in her flesh.

***

She wandered aimlessly in the forest for so long, she didn notice the time pass. Her body started to fail around half a day, she was hungry and thirsty, and in pain, a lot of pain.

She found a strange cave, and entered it. It started to rain heavily, which provided some water for her. But the rain didn stop, not for a moment. And as everything around her began to be flooded, gullies falling, Amanda was isolated.

She supposed it had been two days. She was hungry, she was too weak.

Her strength was still taken by the huge parasite trapped in her leg, a creature that was getting fatter and fatter as a tick, even though it looked like an alien insect.

Looking at the thing attached to her leg, Amanda fell to the ground. The roof was rolling, the blackened stones seemed to come and go like a wave. I was cold.

Apparently, no rescue was going to show up, because if she didn know how she ended up in a forest, then probably no one did.

She tried to replay the events, but all she remembered was a bright light in the back of her closet. A cool white color, which sucked her into a whirlwind of more light.

Then she woke up on the cold floor of a temple; the priests treated her badly as if she were the insect stuck in her leg. Then, she had been kidnapped and almost sold for things that reminded her of reptiles…

How could that be possible? How?

Amanda closed her eyes, remembering those survival TV shows where a couple of people were thrown naked into the jungle. At least they could take a flint to survive. Shed rip her own arm off if it meant a little heat.

She herself flinched, shivering. A tear slipped down the bridge of her nose. She felt something like sandpaper brush her skin, and opened her eyes in alarm.

One thing almost scared her, but she no longer had the strength to be surprised. She saw a pair of very blue eyes, and realized that the figure of a cat was licking her tears, looking at her. Amanda sighed, feeling the animal cringe in her arms.

”You
e the most normal thing Ive found… ” she cried, feeling the strength drain away more and more. ”… A cat… ”

Amanda felt a strange sensation, and it seemed to her that she had fallen into a deep, dark well. She didn remember how shed passed out, but when she opened her eyes again, she was startled again.

There was a person in the cave. A person…or a demon, she wasn sure.

Her eyes were so bleary in a haze of confusion, she only remembered seeing a skull of some animal. A demon with a skull face.

”Oh my dear… ” Skullface said. It sounded like a womans voice. ”You were parasitized by a xoper. Hes pretty chubby… Unfortunately, to remove this here, Im going to have to kill you.

Amanda couldn keep her conscience clear for a long time, closing her eyes, feeling them swirl in her eye sockets, and then sinking into deep darkness.

When she woke up again, Amanda felt like the world was spinning. Something inside her stomach turned over, and she couldn hold back the gag. She turned to her side, and vomited what she didn have in her stomach.

”Im glad you woke up, but… ”

Hearing the voice that spread through the room, Amanda jumped from where she was. She didn know where she was, had no idea how she ended up in a room…a hut, maybe.

She shrank back into the big and roomy bed, her back slamming into the rough wooden walls. She scanned her surroundings, looking for some escape route.

She was in a small and bright cabin, where, on the opposite side of the bed, she saw extensive shelves filled with jars, household items, jugs, unidentified objects and beside it a cauldron. Of course, a cauldron could not be missing.

The strangest thing was the organization, the cleanliness, and the twisted arms of branches coming through the open roof. No, the weirdest thing was that even with the pouring rain and an open roof, it wasn raining inside.

Amanda shook her head, confused, looking for more information. Her heart was beating too fast for her to pump lucidity right at that moment, maybe she was going crazy.

”Um, ” she heard someones voice. ”Keep Calm. ”

She turned towards a woman. A very beautiful woman, whose eyes were greenish like moss on a river rock. Her long curled hair cascaded around her shoulders as she was propped up on the table, separating what looked like grains with her long fingers.

”Who are you? ” Amanda gasped, terrified.

”Oh dear, theres no need to make such a fuss, ” the woman laughed, sliding her long, pretty fingers back through the grains, separating them.

”Where am I? ” The girl demanded to know.

”In my hut.

”H-How…? ”

Amanda checked around once more, and the place was amazing. She smelled what felt like some tea, and felt her stomach lurch again.

”I believe its reacting to the drugs. ” The woman studied her reaction. ”Are you by any chance allergic to anything? ”

Feeling dizzy, Amanda took a moment to nod her head once.

”… Im allergic to drugs like ibuprofen, ” she replied, but soon became agitated. ”But where am I… Who are you, how did I get here? ”

The woman took a deep breath. She got up mumbling something to herself. She went to one of the cabinets behind her, and she placed her hands on her hips as her eyes studied the vials.

— People usually come here to buy medicines. When it comes down to it, Im not the Witch, Im just some ordinary botanist, ” she mumbled thoughtfully. ”Ibuprofen is a term I haven heard in a long time, although synthesizing this drug is always quite complicated, even with the help of my friend Kajja. And to think that such simple medications are so scarce around here.

Amanda looked at the woman bending down, picking up a small bottle, the liquid inside glowing like a fluorescent light.

”I believe this compound here will nullify the effect of the allergy. ” The woman smiled. Although I know a lot about Terran medicine, the Urians are still ahead of any civilization in the universe. I studied in Ur for six years, before I was dumb enough to team up with that man.

She went to Amanda, who shrank closer to the wall, shivering. The woman sat down beside her, opening the bottles stopper.

”Come on, drink it, youll feel better. ” She offered the medicine to the girl.

Amanda wasn sure if she should drink it, she stared at her hand and the bottle, too scared.

”Trust me, girl, ” the woman asked. ”If I wanted you dead, I would have left you behind in that cave, being poisoned by a xoper. But I saved you, and brought you home.

They stared at each other for some time. Amanda looked into his incredible green eyes, which seemed to sparkle in the artificial light of the hut.

The girl didn know why, but she thought she should trust the woman. She picked up the bottle, and drank it in a quick gulp. On the move, she noticed that her fingers were swollen from the allergy, her skin lumpy.

”Fine, youll be fine, ” the woman smiled, getting up.

Moving toward the table, Amanda saw her hand flutter toward the head of a cat that had been sitting staring at her the entire time on top of a chair.

”You two are great. ” The woman smiled, taking her seat. ”I know you must be confused, but Im also a little confused. I don see many people around here, especially when it comes to earthlings.

”Earthlings? ” H-How so? ” Amanda whispered, feeling something in the back of her throat. ”Where am I?

”Oh dear, given the fact that half the people in this world are from another world, Im sure youve been abducted. ”

Amanda felt the world revolve around her. She wanted to laugh at that word, but she couldn . They were so true that they were an entity possessing her inside.

”A-Abducted? ” She stammered, startled.

Then she remembered her last days, and remembered that she had come to the same conclusion, even though her mind was cloudy and delirious. She bit her lip, hating to hear that word.

The woman sighed at the girls reaction, looking down at the cat, who jumped onto the table. The animal started to eat the grains separated for disposal. Amanda realized that he was no ordinary cat. It had a giant, fluffy, double tail. His eyes were blue like two sapphires.

”Hmm… ” The woman turned her eyes to the girl. ”Well… Ill try to explain as soon as possible. ”

She lowered her eyes, going back to separating the beans.

”You were abducted by a Stargate, a high-tech device spread all over the place, and it allows you to travel through subspace. Understand how if you have a door in your world, which if opened from here, will bring anyone here. This is called abduction. ”

Amanda felt her face go pale, there was a cold feeling all over her body. She already knew that, due to her (virtual) boyfriend Rafael and his friend Gabriel. They had explained the concepts of earthworm paths, just to hold a conversation about the science fiction comics they loved so much. She had never been much of a fan, being an adept of the practicality that was in grease and gears.

”This is a planet lost in the galaxies, which ”abducts ” people from other worlds due to a curse of infertility. So, they need people from other planets to keep the culture alive. ”

The woman turned her eyes toward Amanda.

”I never knew of any stargates in the Abyss Forest, ” had a mystery in her eyes, ”so seeing her here is an enigma for both you and me ”.

She smiled slightly, running her open hand over her beans, tossing them into an earthen bowl.

”I might assume you were one of the adventurers, who turns and moves, comes to the Forest to find trouble, but I can see your confusion is that of a newly abducted. Ive seen it too many times to recognize it. ” He looked back at her. ”Lucky I found you, girl. ”

Amanda licked her lips after thinking for a second.

”I… ” the girl stammered. ”I came… I came from a temple. ” There was a guy named Aiy, who accused me of heresy… And after that, I was kidnapped by reptilians and… T-then, the ship was devoured by a whale the size of an island, like… I… . I ended up here…

The womans eyebrows rose lazily at Amandas quick and shaky explanation.

”Ah, Aiy… ” She smiled. ”You mean it came from Tathra? ”

The girl did not respond. She didn know, didn remember.

”Okay. ” The person in front shook his head. ”As far as I know, Aiyis a well-known priest. A Dynasta favorite. He is corrupt, and he was paid to keep our world in this long dystopia.

She frowned, but a smile tipped the corner of her mouth.

”If you know Jeza, that means shes very special, girl. ” She shook her head.

”II just want… I just want to get back to my family. ” Amanda felt tears welling up in her eyes.

”No. The doors here only open to one side. Apparently, no one knows how to use the stargates; they are revered as gods, and the temple priests only have the knowledge for abduction. ”

Amandas eyes grew heavy. She was sure the meds were starting to take effect.

”I… want to go back… I…

”You
e stuck here forever, honey.

She closed her eyes, and thought she heard something like ”Im sorry ” before she could cry and couldn stop.

—————————————-

Footnote

Black goo —>, also known as black goo. It is reported that several ancient Egyptian coffins and mummy boxes were found covered in a mysterious ”black goo ”. The goo was made from a combination of vegetable oil, animal fat, tree resin, beeswax, and bitumen — which is solid crude oil. In this concept it is a poison from the Abyss.

Xoper —> means beetle.

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