A phenomenon is taking place. Mysterious but anonymous warnings on the internet have been appearing here and there, speaking of this thing called “Xizth”. No one seems to know what it is about, and the warnings are often cryptic and sound like they were either cult rumors or viral messages sent by crazy people.
Oddly, another parallel trend on the rise is that the global rate of comatose patients is increasingly steadily over the years, but nobody gives it much thought. Just another statistic that doesn’t concern the layman.
One ordinary night, you fall asleep.
You are in a dream. It’s chaotic everywhere, and as you make your way through the dreamscape, you almost get killed in several instances. You get the idea that this place is whacked and dangerous. A stranger walks up to you, and that person tells you that she can bring you to a safe hideout. She asks you to accompany her, and eager for shelter and company, you follow.
She motions you into a room, and you walk in. Suddenly, electric bars slam shut all around you, locking you in. And from outside the bars, she explains to you what is going on.
The chaos outside is a lie, a simulated environment modified by her to lure you into this trap.
Her soul is tied to the Xizth, a system that behaves as a soul prison. In real life, when people fall asleep and they are lured into the prison in their dream, they are trapped inside it permanently, and their body in real life goes into a coma. Somewhere in another part of the world, another human being awakens from a comatose state, having successfully switched his/her place in Xizth for yours.
The dream-sluggishness begins to wear off, and you start to regain your awareness and memories of your real life. The severity of the situation becomes apparent to you. You are stuck, possibly for good.
Xizth is an endless, continuous network of souls trapped in limbo, she says. Every year on one particular day, Xizth pulses out a Knockout Wave from its realm, sending about a thousand sleeping people around the world into a comatose state. These people don’t have a choice; in their dreams, they will be immediately absorbed into Xizth to become its prisoners.
But there is one way out. Firing the Knockout Wave requires Xizth to link its realm to our realm of real life. And during that link span of one day, soul transfer goes both ways. Meaning people from inside Xizth can get out – but there is only one condition: Conservation of souls. Every one soul going out must be counterbalanced by one soul going in.
So, she tells you bitterly, to escape, you have to do to another person what she had just done to you.
In your spectral state, you’ll have to invade another person’s dream. In his/her dream, modify his dreamscape to lure him into Xizth to take your place. And you must achieve this before the day ends, before Xizth recovers from the Knockout Wave and remodulates its barriers. If you miss this chance, your next opportunity will be when Xizth fires its next Knockout Wave, which will be about a year from now. One year in limbo, or maybe forever.
Why tell you all of this? you ask hopelessly.
She looks sad. I didn’t deserve this, but neither did you, she says. I am giving you a chance to get out, but of course, at the cost of your conscience. Which is more important to you?
She walks off. As she does, the walls peel away to reveal you an infinitely vast emptiness of blue space, with nothing but criss-crossing networks of travelators suspended all around you, winding above, below and everywhere, snaking far from horizons to horizons. And on these travelators, humans stand and sit there in silence. Prisoners of Xizth.
You think fast. Probably, not many of them know about this secret way of escaping the system, so they’re probably either lost in confusion, or have given up all hope. You’re lucky she taught you how to do it, and somehow, you can’t really blame her.
Because you are going to attempt the same thing.
You ride the travelators, looking for anything out-of-place around you. After what seems like hours, you finally spot a small tear in the middle of the air, and you try squeezing through its faint seams.
Immediately, you find yourself in a city, and you know it’s a dreamscape of someone who is sleeping in real life. You can sense the dreamer somewhere in the city; his psychic signature is distinctively foreign. You forcibly will the streets to realign themselves as you make your way towards the dreamer’s location. You find him, a lost teenager not much older that you are. Your gut clenches.
You fake a smile and chat him up. He eases up, and you take him into a restaurant.
A few corridors later, it is no longer a restaurant. You pull a steel cage around his room, and from outside the bars, you grasp his shoulders.
I will be back, you promise. I will find a way to beat Xizth from outside in real life, get help from scientists or the police or whatever, and I will get you and everyone out of here. I promise.
He is bewildered, and starts to lose it. He tries to wake up, but realises he can’t. You leave before his dream-sluggishness wears off, because you can’t bear to see the real emotions that will soon follow.
The dreamscape peels away, and you wake up.
Your dream-sluggish is all but gone, lifted the moment the cold tap water hits your face. It was just a dream, you tell yourself. You have a test next week. You have homework to do. There is no such thing as Xizth — you made a fake promise to a fake figment of your imagination. Get real.
But even as you leave the bathroom, your gut is still clenched.