66 Hours 52 Minutes
One minute Taylor was laying in one of the rooms in Clifftop. The next she was gone. There. Gone. No reason behind it. No choice. She had just bounced out of Clifftop. And she was now on the beach, where Mary had taken the jump all those months ago.
She was still as deformed as ever, except something felt off to her. Something was different, but she couldn't quite figure out what it was. Wait. Felt! She could feel again! Not anything physical, but Taylor could feel emotion. And right now, she felt horribly confused. She had suddenly become self-aware again after an eternity of nothing.
Suddenly, Taylor felt very cold. It was as if she had been enveloped in a sheet of snow. And then warmth. It was as if two different forces were trying to wrap themselves around her, neither one giving in. The cold feeling felt uncomfortable and unsure, but the warm one felt certain and dangerous. And it brought a mild pain to Taylor's nerveless body. She decided then and there that the cold feeling was the one that she preferred.
And then, the impossible: Taylor's severed limbs suddenly appeared again. Not in the way that Drake's whip grew slowly from the elbow, but they were just there. Perfectly normal. No deformity. Another blast of cold. Her skin had returned to its natural tone. Another. A fixed tongue. And one more. Taylor's hair returned to normal. Ha, normal. She laughed at that, and then smiled at the revelation that she could laugh again. The warm and cold feelings left her, and Taylor shakily stood up, feeling renewed. A sharp pain in her stomach told her otherwise. First things first: she had to grab something to eat. Albert hopefully wouldn't mind if she took a tiny amount of food, would he? That was, if she decided to tell him. With a mischievous smirk on her face, Taylor thought of her room on San Francisco De Sales Island, and bounced there.
Upon arrival, the first thing that Taylor realised was that she was naked. And the second was that she was staring down the barrel of a shotgun held by Albert.
Pete had done it. Somehow, he had managed to reach into the space that held his power, and restore the bouncing girl back to normal. Of course, the Darkness was reaching at the same time as him, but he had managed to stop it from actually touching her. But part of him felt as if it hadn't truly gone as perfectly as he had hoped. He sighed. Or whatever he was doing that his mind equated to sighing.
The Darkness was doing something, that much was sure. It was reaching into the space where the powers came from, and was playing with them... experimenting, for a better word. Something about it made Pete feel uneasy. The Gaiaphage had changed, had become more unstable than a patient manipulator. Insanity. That was the word. Pete could feel the Gaiaphage slipping into the psychotic state that so many within the ball had done so. And that there was the problem: a crazy person was impossible to predict. Yet even in this state of madness, the Darkness had a wild plan formed in the back of its mind. Pete didn't know exactly what, but whenever he tried to look into it, he felt an intense absence of the avatars that made up the people. Something bad was coming, and something that Pete couldn't let happen.
Endgame, Nemesis, the voice of the Gaiaphage sounded out, you know it's coming. But the question remains as to whether or not you will foolishly try and stop me? Pete heard, no, he felt the Darkness laughing. Even from within the confines of the body of the child known as Gaia, the Darkness still had access to all of its old tricks. It was reaching into Pete's space, trying to... trying to what? Pete was sure that even the Darkness had no idea what it was doing. Don't doubt me, Nemesis. I always know what I am doing. And then, the Gaiaphage touched Pete's mind.
For the first time, Pete felt the wholesome touch of the Darkness. It was confusing. It was terrifying. It was agonising. And impossible to resist. The touch of the Darkness proved too strong, and Pete lost his state of consciousness.
Brittney stood next to a pile of cigarettes, watching in awe as Gaia glowed slightly, deep in concentration. And then she felt it. Her god was finally able to hurt Nemesis! It was a glorious feeling, and Brittney's face contorted into a smile, her brace-encased teeth showing. Diana was sat on the ground, wearily staring at a charred piece of meat, trying to put on a mask of defiance. It wasn't working.
Gaia laughed, and Brittney laughed too. Diana looked at them with confusion.
"What?" she asked, the first thing that she had said in nearly two hours.
"Nemesis is weakening faster than I thought," Gaia said. "It won't be long now until I will be the one in control." Brittney and Diana didn't notice it, but Gaia's voice caught slightly.
"Oh, what pure joy!" Brittney exclaimed.
"Yeah," Diana said, rolling her eyes, before glancing nervously at Gaia.
Good, Brittney thought. She's learning to fear the one true Lord.
Still smiling to herself, Brittney didn't notice Gaia turning her head towards her.
"You," she barked. "Come here."
"Of course!" Brittney exclaimed, and bounded over to Gaia, instinctively dropping to her knees. Diana noticed an arrogant grin grow on Gaia's face, and scoffed. She had inherited Caine's ridiculous narcissism.
"Rise, my faithful follower," Gaia spoke in a powerful, commanding voice, something entirely unfitting for her physical body's age of ten. "I am going to grant you an enhancing ability, to give you more purpose." Brittney's face was glowing with sheer elation.
"Really?" she said, her voice dripping with euphoria. "I humbly accept."
Gaia reached forward, and placed her hand on Brittney's chest, palm facing towards her. And then, all at once, her body filled with a warm tingling feeling. Oh, how joyous! She was receiving divine powers from the one true Lord! Brittney looked over to Diana, and suddenly a green balloon floated through her: the same balloon that Brittney's parents had purchased for her birthday last year. Diana also seemed to notice it, and let out a confused gasp at it passed through her body, before a grim look of knowledge passed her features.
And at that exact moment, Brittney's body fell in half.
Gaia's hand was still on the torso when the blur slammed into her. She was blown back by the force, crashing into a nearby rock. The sensation of pain filled her right shoulder, and blood leaked from the impact. She could heal later. Right now, she had to deal with whatever was going on. Gaia raised her one good hand, and fired the killing light at the blur. She missed, and stumbled back, the blood loss weakening her. She placed her hand on the injured shoulder, causing the pain to immediately fade. Now she was ready to take on this threat.
"Who are you?!" Gaia roared at the blur. "I am the Gaiaphage: nobody attacks me!" The blur stopped, revealing the mystery attacker. It was a girl with a small frame, tattered clothes, and a backpack. The butt of a sawn-off shotgun was poking out from it. Before the girl could say anything, Gaia realised who this was. It was the girl with the speed; she couldn't afford to kill her just yet.
"Me?" the girl said. "I go by many names, but you may know me as the Breeze." She lowered her shotgun, and fired once at Gaia's chest. Blood spurted from the gaping hole, but Gaia stood strong for a moment, before collapsing to the ground. "Later." And Brianna was gone.
Diana stood there, taking in the scene, her mind racing. Brittney was split in two, and Gaia was on the floor, desperately trying to prevent herself from bleeding out. This was it. The opportunity to escape had finally presented itself. She looked around frantically, searching for the quickest escape route. Gaia and Brittney were blocking the way down the hill, and the barrier was just behind her. And to her left and right, the hill sloped downwards into a field of zekes. The only way was forwards.
She took a deep breath, and made a break for it, leaping over the two squirming halves of Brittney. The ground beneath her began to slope downwards, and just as the feeling of hope filled her, an invisible hand gripped Diana, throwing her against the barrier. Searing pain filled her body, and she let out a cry of pain. Gaia smirked, and dropped Diana to the ground.
"Don't ever think you can escape me again," she spat. Diana went to make a reply, but held back her words, watching helplessly as Gaia glared at her, her hands healing her body of the wounds. They sealed, and Gaia stood up, her clothes stained a deep red. In no way was she in the same condition as before; the wounds had barely sealed up, but as Diana had discovered earlier, Gaia wasn't exactly one to care about appearances. Gaia looked over to Brittney, and Diana let out a gasp of horror at what she was seeing.
The lower half of the body had shifted to Drake's, which wasn't too odd, but the upper half had remained Brittney. This didn't seem right. Gaia also raised a single eyebrow in confusion; she quite clearly hadn't expected whatever was happening to be happening. And then, something shot out from the mangled section of Brittney that marked where Brianna had split her in two: legs. Complete with clothing. Brittney's legs had grown back out of her severed body. Which meant that... Oh dear God.
Diana glanced over at Drake's legs, and saw the thing she had desperately hoped wouldn't happen: his torso was growning back. First the stomach, then the chest and shoulders. His head grew back, his eyes still shut as his hair appeared. And then the arms. His left arm grew back like a perfectly normal arm, and part of Diana hoped, wished, begged that the whip arm wouldn't grow back.
A red tentacle burst from Drake's right shoulder, and Diana's hopes were crushed for the third time in half an hour. The now separate Drake and Brittney shakily stood up, looking around before it dawned on them what had happened.
"Nice," Drake said, flexing the whip, grinning like a madman, which actually wasn't that far from the truth. "That whole body sharing thing was a real pain in the ass, you know?"
"Yes," Gaia replied. "Hence why I split you two back into separate entities. Don't worry, you both have the same ability as before, so you cannot be killed." Looks of relief spread over Drake and Brittney, and a look of dread over Diana. "And Brittney?"
"Yes, my lord?"
"I gave you one of the powers," Gaia told her. "You now have the ability to create visions. With this, you can serve an even more useful purpose to me." Brittney's eyes lit up like she had just been offered a bar of chocolate. Tears spilled from her eyes. Diana shook her head in disbelief. Penny with that power was bad enough, never mind a mindless slave of the Gaiaphage. An excited squeal burst from Brittney's mouth.
"Oh, thank you!" she exclaimed. "I am forever in your debt, almighty Gaiaphage!"
"Don't waste your time with gratitude," Gaia said airily, trying to mask the narcissistic pleasure of having Brittney practically grovel. "We make our move tomorrow."
"What do you mean?" Diana asked.
"We're going to the lake," Gaia said. "From there, we shall begin our conquest of the dome."
Brianna had found Gaia and the others, and had attacked in a last minute decision. She had returned to Perdido Beach with the news, expecting praise. What she didn't expect was a meeting with a furious Sam.
"What were you thinking?!" he exclaimed. "Breeze, I know you can be reckless at times, but that was just idiotic." He made a gesture with his hands. "You were this close to being killed!"
"But I managed to shoot Gaia!" Brianna retorted. "And, uh, I, yeah! I also cut Brittney up!"
"Both of those things have been done before, Breeze," Sam said. "And both of them can recover like you did nothing. All you've done is put an even bigger target on your back."
"He believes it," Toto said, standing beside the truck. "He believes that Brianna has a bigger target on her back, Spidey."
"Gee," Brianna said sourly. "I would have never know that it was the truth."
"Don't get snappy just because you put yourself in a stupidly dangerous situation." Sam said. "Just don't do it again."
"Provided there is an again," Caine said absently. "It's a miracle Gaia didn't kill you. If I were you, I wouldn't go anywhere near her until the final battle comes." After seeing the others give him quizzical looks, Caine explained. "Think about it: the Gaiaphage has been dormant for the entirety of the FAYZ. Why suddenly begin moving about? The answer is simple: it believes that the barrier will come down, so the next thing it does will pretty much decide the fate of the FAYZ."
A silence fell over them for a moment, everyone taking in the implications of the inevitable battle in the near future. Finally, Brianna broke the tension.
"Hey, I know this is important and all," she said. "But I'm kinda hungry: how's about we head up to the lake, and discuss this over some lunch?" They all exchanged looks with one another, before Edilio finally nodded.
"Okay then," he said. "I guess there's no point on fretting over an empty stomach." He walked over to the truck, and climbed into the driver's seat. Everyone except Brianna also climbed into the vehicle. Edilio turned the keys, and the truck spluttered to life.
"I'll see you guys there," Brianna said with a smile, and became a blur as she zoomed up the highway.