The Timeless Void


Chapter 1: Genesis 
(Written by Lauren Chian)

Chapter 2: Illusions & Elusiveness 
(Written by Rachel Smitha Pary)

Chapter 3: Midnight Storm
(Written by Rachel Smitha Pary)

Chapter 4: Double-Edged Sword 
(Written by Lauren Chian)

Chapter 5: Darkened Waters 
(Written by Jerome Pooi)

Chapter 1: Genesis
(Written by Lauren Chian)

Effie awakened.

The sky was different then she remembered, touched with the breath of rose gold and a burning orange. She lay sprawled out in what seemed like a field. 

She breathed, not with her chest burning for once, and the perfume of wild meadow flowers filled her. In the hazy crevices of her mind, she remembered running as if there were no end.  But from what?

There was no pain here, nor any chaos.

Effie placed a hand over her chest, feeling the pulse that throbbed in worrisome faint beats. Am I in the Afterlife?

She rose. She had never felt so alone and the fog in her memory clouded all recollection of how she had reached the garden, making the sweetened air feel more like poison in her lungs.

“Mama! Where are you? I’m here!”

Her voice echoed all around the plains, as if in mockery of her fervent efforts. Effie screamed into the silence, stumbling blindly towards the edge of the horizon, staggering before a cliff’s cusp. She peered, tentative, below at the unfathomable depth, concealed by a swarming mist.

At once, thunder burst forth from the skies, tremoring the ground. It warned Effie to run as far away as she could, as how she usually fled in the past when she heard gunfire nearby. 

From the darkened center in which the clouds tore away from, Effie beheld the vast scape of midnight ocean that levitated in the skies. The waters flowed, by some otherworldly pull of gravity, in a vertical fashion.

A figure broke out of the waters, descending onto the cliff’s edge. Before her was a sinewy young man, bronze-skinned and statuesque, radiating an air of magnificence despite his dampened tunic. His eyes, melancholic and deep set were gold above his flushed, angular cheekbones.

“This must be Afterlife,” she heard herself stammer. The man paused for an instant before breaking into a smile.

“Of course, it is,” he laughed. “I am Gareth and my companions and I have been watching over you.”

Effie’s breath stopped short. She had made it to the safe haven that she had envisioned but never knew much about.  Yet, a part of her shrewd nature refused to accept this circumstance.

“What are you? Where is my mother? How would I know if I am really…dead?” 

“I am a Giver, one of the three guardian angels of this paradise, and believe me, we greatly rejoice your arrival, dear Effie,” Gareth smiled, voice like dark velvet.  Most importantly, he knew her. Maybe he was telling the truth –

“How can I know for sure?” Effie halted, indignant.

Gareth came close. “May I?” His voice enveloped her, reminding Effie of a tender flame she could melt into. Before she could question her feelings, Gareth spoke again. “If I prove it to you, promise that you will trust me.”

Effie grimaced. Where was her bold spirit? She realised her ankles were becoming weightless as a gentle force enclosed around her waist. It felt wondrous – even so, she trembled at the thought of the uncertainties that still remained. It was almost as if a strange, overwhelming calm was quashing the fear she was supposed to feel.

“Where are you taking me?”

As if he understood her, Gareth took her hands, rising with her to the air.  “Home, Effie. It’s time to give you your wings.”


As they ascended, a great fog of cloud engulfed them whole, drowning her senses in the cacophonic crash of raucous waves. Effie could not see anything except for the hypnotic darkness that was slowly taking over her. All she felt was the steadfastness of Gareth’s presence as he held her close.

Little by little, her old memories were coming in clearer fragments to her.

Explosions. Children’s bodies strewn bloodily on a field.

“Help me find them, Effie, we need to hide them before the soldiers come.”

Screaming. Gunfire.

A dim tent. Her wall drawings in the corner of her bedroom.

People drawing the blinds of their shacks.

Running through dilapidated alleys with Mother, sirens blaring chants through the night.

Mama, body bathed in ash and sweat, unaware of the masked hitman aiming at her….

Amidst the darkness and howl of an oceanic gulf, Effie clawed in vain at the shards of memory in her mind, trying in vain to piece them together.

She and Gareth broke above the clouds.

“Welcome to Celestia,” Gareth smiled.

“Oh,” Effie gasped, her head burning, memories disintegrating to dust in her head.

“Not what you thought it to be?”  

Effie hovered breathlessly, letting go of Gareth as she took in the city that seemed to run a thousand miles wide and touched the cosmos. The Giver moved deftly through the winds like a falcon, guiding Effie as they drew closer to the city shrouded in chariots of crimson clouds and crowned gloriously by the sun.

The buildings of the city were starlight-drenched towers of rose quartz, rising up like mountains. Gardens in myriads of unworldly colors dotted the landscape and when Effie reached the crystallite citadel belonging to the Givers, she was already breathless with rapture.

“Those are my fellow Givers. Allardyce, Valentine and that one above…” Gareth gazed upwards. “That’s Valentine’s Beast.”

Two figures were approaching the courtyard of the citadel. Allardyce, as Effie saw, resembled Gareth. Yet, unlike Gareth who was fire, Allardyce was ice. His eyes, brutally piercing, were cerulean and as pale as his alabaster skin.

Behind was Valentine with an aura of bronze elflocks. A brawny beauty, with magnificence in each stride. Above them flew her pet Beast, who was an odd concoction of wild animals. It winnowed down, feathers molting off into lithe, tattooed arms. It possessed emerald scales that patterned its lean body. 

“Welcome, Effie.” Valentine beamed. “We rejoice in your coming. Now let us bring you inside, shall we?”

Effie crept out of her sanctuary window. A few yards down below, something wild stirred the waters of the Vertical Ocean and Effie, who caught fleeting glances of what seemed like a human in the lurching waves, let her curiosity get the better of her. Who cared if she got caught anyway? 

She had to know if that human was Mama. It had to be.

The girl that fought valiantly against the current of the ocean was alight with a spirit of fury. Her arms, although bone-thin, were like knives cutting through the water with sheer determination. 

The sight of this entranced Effie and before she knew it, she was hurtling down the stairs, slipping out of the citadel’s gates to get a closer look.

It was not her mother.

The girl was a striking red-head, with a thin brown face and a ragged, weather-torn slip dress that offered little modesty. She  thrashed her fist in the air, desperately trying to engage Effie, mouth moving furiously in inaudible speech. She must be insane, thought Effie, unable to shake off the creeping fear in her mind that this queer creature of a girl was after her.

“What the hell are you doing?” Effie shouted into the distance.

The yells of the girl came in thin echoes to her. She was now being thrown backwards by the grasp of the ocean. Effie was all the girl seemed to be saying, followed by what seemed to be a faraway whisper of the name Fameya, that brought no sense to Effie.

Effie paced around, face creased. Where was anyone? Yards away, Allardyce paced briskly towards her, a wan smile on his face. Something wasn’t right. He seemed too unbothered.

“Allardyce! That girl is in danger of sinking!”

Allardyce glimpsed at the horizon and broke into the odd lilting laugh of his. “Oh, that! Look at her go! Celestia does have a lot of water nymphs that frolic around here. Such wicked, funny creatures they are.”


“Dear Effie,” interrupted Allardyce, his brash tone tinged with amusement. “That beloved soul over there is probably another insane partier who took a dive in our waters. As always, we try not to dampen their fun while it lasts.”

“I think she knows me…” Effie’s words were a mere whisper now, tottering on the edge of delusion, wariness clawing at her mind as the shrieks of Effie and Fameya seemed to beg her attention. 

Allardyce took her hand, too roughly for her comfort. “Everyone here knows you. This water nymph is simply more…exuberant than the rest. Besides, there are others you will meet at the banquet tonight.”

Effie gazed up at Allardyce. His crystalline, sapphire eyes that had first seemed to be transparent to so many truths were unflinching now. Without a choice, she relented. Just trust him, but not too much.  

“Let’s get you dressed.” Allardyce grunted.

As they ascended back to the citadel, Effie glanced back and saw the last of the girl who slipped into the mouth of the ocean, carrying the mystery of who she was away with her.

When Effie was alive, she always fathomed that Afterlife erased her earthly memories ridden with pain. It did not. Despite the banquet music that sung gallantly, Effie could not stop the strange twinge in her chest that told her she was not born for this colorful lavishness presented before her. 

All her life, she had never even thought of, lest imagined, a party. Effie tugged at her chiffon attire, teeth gritted. She was not made for this. This was absolutely foreign to whatever past life she must have had. A past life. 

Effie’s eyes gazed down at the frenzied flurry of dancers euphoric to the rhythm. A floodgate of memories opened, cutting like glass shards in her mind. 

She remembered a frenzied flurry of people, coated in smog, rushing out of their homes into the dark night. She recognised her mother among them. Her mother, Alia, who was part of a small rescue society, whom she had been nurtured by and had seen as kin. They were serving in their home country of Sikhayong, torn by religious war, providing medical service and refuge to fugitives.

That night, however, they had been attacked by genocide soldiers. Their shelters raided, once the refugees they had been hiding were discovered. Mama had tried so hard to save them.

   Effie’s heaved a shaky breath, blood turning to ice. She knew why she remembered running now.

She and mama had fled from the soldiers, yet, when she had realised the hitman had caught on to them. Her mother had told her to run to hide. Too consumed by her cowardice, she abandoned mother and fled to hide away. 

The last thing she recalled as soon as she had run out of sight from the pursuer was the sound of gunfire. Effie squeezed her eyes shut, her throat caving in.

 It was certain that the bullet was what had taken her mother’s life. 

Effie did not recall how she herself had died…Yet, why did it matter if she hadn’t been there to even say goodbye to the woman who had tried to save her?

“What’s wrong?” The sultry scent of lavender that told her Gareth was approaching shook Effie out from her stupor.

“Nothing,” spoke Effie as she slipped out to the garden. “You’re supposed to be there, having fun.” Gareth glanced hurriedly at Valentine who danced among the guests in the vivid flare of the candelabras, brows furrowing before he turned away. 

“Not necessarily. I like the quiet, better.” 

Gareth leaned against the arch of the doorway, gold eyes soft, almost sympathetic. Effie turned away, roughly fisting away the dampness on her cheek. She could not let her guard down. Not this time.

“Effie,” Gareth cleared his throat. “If there’s anything that’s bothering you, I understand. You can tell me–”

“And what am I supposed to say? That I need you to feel better?” Effie’s words were hoarse. “Just leave, Gareth. Leave.”

Blindly pushing past The Giver, Effie hurried unseeingly up the stairs to her sanctuary, heedless to the glittering lights of the banquet, till she dove under her duvet. There she lay, gazing into the dark, playing her memories over and over again till she fell asleep. 

Chapter 2: Illusions & Elusiveness
(Written by Rachel Smitha Pary)

The banquet for Effie had stretched long into the night, festivities continuing even after the guest of honour had so rudely dismissed Gareth and taken her leave. To overcome the prickles of irritation he felt, Gareth had drunk his fill, his head spinning along with the starry lights and cacophony of chatter until he had passed out on the carpet. 

Yet, as he slept, another’s emotions flooded his system, like waves of terror that washed over him with intensity and jolted him awake. With his empathic powers, Gareth knew something was amiss. Instinctively, his feet carried him to the emotion’s source, until he stood at the entrance of Valentine’s grand room. 

Inside, even the exquisite chandelier overhead and the sprawling view of the night sky from the window could not conceal the brutal scene before him. Slumped against a wall, half-curled in on himself lay Allardyce, bloodied and slipping out of consciousness. 

Without thinking, Gareth splayed out his palm and flicked his wrist. Reveal, he commanded his powers. There was a subtle shift in the air around him, and then, with his ability now awake, Gareth could make out Allardyce’s faint blue aura – a dome-like structure that had gaping holes. The condition of one’s aura was telling of their mental and emotional state; looking at Allardyce’s, Gareth felt a sharp pang in his chest. 

“I wasn’t expecting you, darling.” At the sound of the familiar voice, Gareth felt chills run down his spine. He swivelled around and took in the long glass table that stood in the centre of the room, where his sister Valentine lounged upon. In her hand she held a bloodied whip that had a silver serpent at the handle. She continued, “I was just about to give this little snitch Allardyce a beating for what he did this morning. Must be pleasant to see someone other than yourself at the end of this whip, wouldn’t you say?” 

Bile rose up in Gareth’s throat. Memories of that whip slashing across his back from when he was a child flashed behind his eyes. His every instinct screamed at him to run away; to turn his back and pretend he had never seen Allardyce’s cowering form. You shouldn’t be here, his mind hissed. Leave, before she grows bored and decides to punish you too. 

Clenching his fists, Gareth watched in silence as Valentine spoke, her voice dripping with honey. “Allardyce, dear, why were you with Effie at the shore this morning? You do know I forbid the shores to the Dreamer, do you not?” 

Gareth’s mind wandered away from her words as he commanded his empathic powers to reveal the green aura that surrounded Valentine. 

Usually, Valentine’s aura had a dark pigment that reminded Gareth of poison ivy and venomous snakes, but now it took on a sickly, greyish tinge… which only meant that behind her predatory smile, she was deeply troubled. Valentine was hiding something. If not, why was she making a big deal out of Allardyce being with Effie at the shore? 

“What’s going on?” the words tumbled out of Gareth’s mouth. Both siblings looked at him. Suddenly, Allardyce grasped Gareth’s ankle. Between spurts of blood from his lips, he wheezed, “tell her… I wasn’t scheming behind her back.” Gareth was overcome in shock at the sight of his cold, ruthless brother begging before him. Allardyce’s pain was a palpable force that pressed into his senses; Gareth forced himself to shift away.

Valentine only cocked her head to the side and widened her piercing eyes at Allardyce. With those snake-like pupils of hers, Valentine could turn any object invisible; and with a blink of her eye, the whip in her hands had vanished from sight. Panic rippled through Gareth as he backed himself up against the door. 

 “So the fool now fancies himself the strategist. Isn’t that right, Allardyce?” Valentine murmured. With a smile, she pushed herself off the table, her hand still grasping the invisible whip. She dug the heel of her shoe into one of Allardyce’s wounds. A strangled cry erupted from him as she continued. “To think, after all these years of meticulous planning, your carelessness could have ruined everything. Or perhaps, that was…your intention?”

“No Val, I – the girl was going to the shore – on her own. I was trying… to stop her.” Allardyce choked out before breaking into a rasp. His body trembled slightly as tears rolled down his face, mingling with his blood. “Why would I ever risk our plans –”

Valentine raised her hand and when she brought it back down, a slash cut through Allardyce’s arm, the blood splattering onto Gareth’s cheek. “So somehow, the Dreamer found her way onto grounds I strictly forbid her to be on? While you were in charge of watching her?” Valentine snarled, her voice growing shriller with every word, “you knew very well that those commoners living below us like to populate those waters beside that shore. And now, because of you, they spotted Effie here in Celestia, where she isn’t supposed to be. Effie is our ONLY prized possession, the key to the immortality we want!” 

Shock rippled through Gareth’s mind. Immortality? That was the motive of their scheme all along? To entrap Effie, the Dreamer in the world for eternity, so that they and their world would never die? 

Valentine’s voice echoed off the walls and Gareth’s mind raced to piece together all the bits of information. Around Gareth, his siblings’ auras turned into storms of negativity that weighed heavily on his mind, the pressure building as Valentine continued, “but perhaps you thought that if you could keep your meetings with the girl hidden, you could have her all to yoursel–” 

“Valentine, no.” Gareth burst out, the weight of his siblings’ negative auras too much for him to endure. Valentine sneered and Gareth recoiled in on himself. 

“Little one,” her voice dripped with scorn, “just because I have allowed you to listen thus far, it does not mean you are involved. Remember your place.” With that, she turned back towards Allardyce, whose fear drilled into Gareth’s head as she approached. 

“STOP!” Gareth yelled, eyes shut, trembling. He clutched at his head, fear rooting him to the ground.

Valentine paused, then paced to Gareth until she stood at his ear. “How do you plan on making me do that?” she whispered. “I’m a god, darling. And you –  you’re just a boy who can’t control what he feels.” 

She tapped his shaking wrist, smirking as she walked back over to Allardyce and Gareth’s eyes flared open. Rage coiled in his stomach. He could feel his knuckles turn white, but regardless, he knew he had to remain calm. He had to focus on what his siblings were saying. Allardyce pleaded, “I’ll see to it t-that the commoners never come here, Val. If we remind her that Celestia is her Afterlife –”

“– she has already begun suspecting us,” Valentine interrupted. “She wants to know more of this world – and she is learning quickly. What do you think will happen when she realises that an entire city lies beneath her feet? How long do you think it will take before she asks to go down to Blacksea? Or better yet – before those commoners come looking for her?”

Gareth’s mind was brimming with realisation. Of course – why else would they worry what the Blacksea people did? If those villagers find out Effie is being held here, they would lead her to the portal so she can exit the dream when she wishes – 

Valentine had returned to her long table. With a blink, the whip in her hands became visible again. “Al, the damage has been done. Soon, the word will spread that Effie, the Dreamer, precious saviour who will finally bring an end to the people’s misery, has arrived. The people will only expect one thing – to go to bed and never wake again. And when they wake and realise they are still very much alive, do you think they will be content? That they will still love us, the gods who stole their Dreamer away?”

Valentine ran her hand down the length of the whip, before flicking the blood off onto Allardyce’s crumpled body. As if in disgust, she curled her lip and snapped the whip across Allardyce’s calf. His screams rang in Gareth’s ears.

Valentine spat, “That’s how easily the people will turn. And all our dreams of being immortal? Will be shattered with it. So you…” Her eyes flashed from Allardyce to Gareth, drilling through them. “And you, better watch your actions. Or next time,” she gestured at him with her whip, “I might not be so pleasant.”

With that, Valentine swept out of the chamber, brushing past Gareth without a second thought. But Gareth could care less. His mind was buzzing with realisation. 

As long as the Dreamer remained in their world, the dream would never end – which was why Allardyce and Valentine had initially schemed to trap Effie in their world indefinitely, so they would never die. But now that Effie had grown suspicious of them… not only was their plan falling apart, their trust for each other was waning. 

Perhaps Gareth could benefit off of that. 

Perhaps… Gareth would get his revenge much sooner than he had thought.

Chapter 3: Midnight Storm
(Written by Rachel Smitha Pary)

It was time. Since the fight the night before, Gareth had planned meticulously, almost obsessively. He strode across the hallway to Allardyce’s red room at the corner. Entering the room, he wrinkled his nose as fumes of still-drying paint overwhelmed him. 

The wooden puppet that rested on the bed before him was by no means complete. It took the shape of a dancing girl, though the craftsmen ship was clumsy – clumsy, Gareth supposed, because Allardyce’s hands were still littered with bruises

Gareth raised a knuckle to the paint and as if the reds and blues had risen off of the canvas, wisps of colour curled around his fingers. An illusion, he thought to himself, recognising them as characteristic of his brother’s powers. Then, from behind him, there was a thud against the door and Allardyce stormed in.

“Even in this condition, you won’t stop making your puppets, will you?” Gareth murmured, as he turned to face Allardyce. The bandages around his brother’s fingers were splattered with paint, the bruises on Allardyce’s face having turned a blue-black since the previous night. Gareth lowered his eyes to his fist, as he felt the tendrils of paint slide in between his knuckles and rise up his arm. Allardyce’s eyes narrowed. Within moments, he crossed the space and encaged Gareth’s hand in a tight grip. The tendrils of paint disappeared with a burst. 

“Who said you could enter my room?” Allardyce snarled. Cold fury, an aura the colour of a blue flame slammed towards Gareth. Gareth grimaced, his own fear rising up his chest, but he did not waver. Allardyce’s emotions had always been violently cast at him and with the beating his brother had taken the day before,  his emotions were far more chaotic and brittle than usual.

“I just wanted to ask a question,” spoke Gareth. Remember why you’re here, he thought to himself. You are in control.  Forcing himself to take deep, slow breaths, Gareth summoned the tiniest tendril of his empathic power.  A single blue-black thread, only visible to him drifted towards Allardyce. It coiled itself around Allardyce’s aura of anger, squeezing him tightly.  “You have no business here,” Allardyce said, but his voice cracked as Gareth’s threads suppressed his aura of azure flames, until only a cloud of faint blue remained. 

For a moment, Allardyce seemed to stumble, his eyes blinking rapidly, but suddenly he lunged forward. He gripped Gareth’s shoulders and shoved, hard, until Gareth’s shoulder blades dug into the wall. “Stop playing around, Gareth. I know you told tales about me last night. You somehow convinced Val that I took the Dreamer outside on purpose.” A vein throbbed in Allardyce’s throat. 

Fury bubbled in Gareth’s chest but he couldn’t move under Allardyce’s grip. “You know I didn’t. Accuse me all you want, Allardyce, but remember that Valentine and I have a hell lot of shit between us too.” Gareth said, his cold words harsher than any slap he could have delivered. Allardyce snarled back.

Gareth bit his tongue. He wanted to release the full strength of his power on Allardyce – wanted to show the illusionist how weak he truly was; but Gareth knew that if he continued to use his powers at full force, he too would be left shaking and overwhelmed with pain. 

“I was planning to ask you for something that will benefit us both,” Gareth spoke, schooling his face into an expression of calm that revealed nothing, even as he felt his thirst for revenge seep into his gut. 

Allardyce stepped away from Gareth, baring his teeth like a wounded animal. Gareth stilled, waiting for his brother to burst out again – yet Allardyce remained silent. As if, for once, listening to Gareth. This is the moment. If he used his full powers now, he would get what he wanted – Allardyce the god, would bow to him.

In a murmur, he spoke, “Don’t you want to get back at Valentine? You’re just as much a god as she is – what right does she have to belittle you?” As the words left his mouth, Gareth felt his own feelings of indignation roaring in his ears. He willed more and more threads of his power splintered away from him, forming a cocoon around Allardyce’s aura as Gareth prepared himself for his final move. With his full strength, he tugged at all the threads that surrounded Allardyce – and with a burst, they turned to black dust. 

Breathe this in, Allardyce. A​ small smile hung on Gareth’s face, but his vision was beginning to black out. With so much of his power surging from him, Gareth’s body would collapse in moments. Yet he pushed on, willing the dust in Allardyce’s direction. 

Unknowingly, Allardyce inhaled the black dust. And like ink, a black stain spread across Allardyce’s aura, until none of the blue colour remained. 

Allardyce stiffened. Then, his head fell limp.

A shaky breath escaped Gareth. Cautiously, he knelt down – and like a mirror, Allardyce mimicked him. 

Gareth’s lips stretched into a wolfish grin as he rose and stared down at his brother. Before him, Allardyce’s features changed – emptiness filling those dreadful eyes, his mouth hanging slightly open. Allardyce, who had always underestimated his powers, was now subservient before him.  Gareth cackled. 

What would Valentine’s expression be like, he wondered, if she too learnt the true extent of his empathic abilities? If she knew, that not only could he sense others’ emotions, he could ultimately control them? 

He turned back to the puppet of the dancing girl, wisps of colour still swirling around it. “This puppet – it’s actually an illusion, isn’t it? I suppose that when you finished, you’d planned to make this illusion come to life so you’d have a make-believe person to control. ” As Gareth spoke, he slammed his fist into the puppet. Immediately, it burst apart into shades of beige, before fading away completely. 

But Allardyce, who would threaten Gareth’s life for even grazing his puppets, didn’t flinch.

Gareth knew he was completely victorious – and he hadn’t even needed a whip. “Let’s see how good a puppet you can be for me, brother,” he smirked, whispering into Allardyce’s ears. 

Slowly, Allardyce jerked his head in a nod, defeated. Gareth’s eyes lit up. 

Now, with his puppet, he would take away everything Valentine had desired.

Now, his revenge would begin.

Chapter 4: Double-Edged Sword
(Written by Lauren Chian)

The citadel was still silent with slumber even as Effie snuck out of her sanctuary to the main gates. Stealth as a shadow, she ran out to the seashore, where the Vertical Ocean crashed. 

She knew that the girl she saw yesterday had to be somehow connected to mother. Or else, how could she have known her name? Supposedly, mother had been with that strange girl and had sent her to find me, thought Effie, craning her neck to the horizon. Maybe she left something for me. 

Absentmindedly, she found herself pacing nearer to the waves, scanning the ground for any traces, unaware of the figure behind that had followed her every move. 

“Planning to run away? Careful, the waters might get rough at times.”

Effie’s breath caught. She turned, to see Gareth, his waves of hair mussed, shirt disheveled from the night before.

“Like I said last evening, you don’t have to know where I am all the time–” Effie was resolute. She stopped herself from getting too defensive. She couldn’t give away the fact that she did not trust him enough. That would only give Gareth a reason to pry on her even more. 

She waded into the waters. That girl had to have come from somewhere. Yet, the horizon seemed to be impossibly endless. If only she had sharper eyes…

Effie stumbled, too caught up in her venture, before Gareth caught her, pulling her back to the sand.

“Stop, Effie, nothing’s out there.”

“You don’t understand,” Effie blurted. She was unafraid to look straight at him now. “Nor anyone else. I’ve had memories…plaguing me ever since I’ve arrived. I just need space to sort them out.” 

Gareth did not flinch, even as she prepared to storm away. He exhaled deeply. With his empath abilities, he saw Effie’s pallid blue aura which all too well meant that she was wary of him. 

He knew deep down that if he wanted to rebel his damned siblings, he had to earn Effie’s full trust by revealing the truth.  The truth that she was stuck in the world of a Dream and she was helpless without him.

 For all he knew, Effie being the Dreamer was something more  powerful than she realised. He could certainly take advantage of that. 

“Fine. I can help you find your mother.”

Effie paused. He was a Giver…but how did he know?

“I have my sources. Trust me. I know every inch of Celestia and if you wanted to find her, I could provide guidance.” Gareth’s eyes burned a deep bronze, brimming with a sincerity Effie could not turn away from. “It’s your choice if you accept me.”

Effie’s heart thrummed cautiously. “What will I owe you in exchange?”

“Nothing but your trust. I swear it on my spirit.”

Effie faced him. She had begun to feel the slightest bit of courage over Gareth. He looked only eighteen, still yet to blossom, who seemed like the oddity among the other older Givers dripping with reverence and power. Trusting him was like walking on taut wire. Yet, she was willing to take the risk. With a breath, she agreed, before a thought came to her.

“I know someone who might be linked to my mother. There was an unknown girl yesterday, adrift in the ocean. Allardyce said she was a water nymph but she called my name and another I’ve never heard of. It sounded like a Fa…meya. Or something of that sort.”

For the briefest moment, something sparked in Gareth’s face. “Very well then. That’s certainly a convincing lead to where your mother might be. I swear we will find her.” 

“We’ll see.” Effie took a last long look at the horizon, a small hope glimmering in her chest. Maybe, she would get her reconciliation after all.

Perhaps it was the serenity of the gardens and the enchantment of Celestia’s realm that she had explored that afternoon, but Effie found herself being lulled into a fitful slumber that night, devoid of any worries that had plagued her before. Unbeknownst to her, she sunk into a dark oblivion, where her deepest memories existed in fragments, erasing all knowledge of time that had passed. 

Valentine had not paid attention to the partners that routinely visited to flirt with her that evening.  Above the flattery, which she was usually inclined to drink in, Valentine had her watch on Gareth and the girl instead.

Valentine’s lips curled. 

Silently, she transformed to be as transparent as the air, sneaking up the passageway to the sanctuary. A figure stopped her in her tracks.

“Valentine, I sense you,” Gareth’s words were rough.

“I know you’ll be here, dearest.” Valentine beamed to herself. Everything was working to her favor. “Now do as I say before I feed your pretty fingers to Beast.”

Gareth cussed as she too, concealed him into invisibility. Valentine tugged him into the sanctuary where Effie lay half-awake.

  The Giver held her breath. Good. The girl had not noticed anything.

“You know what you’ve got to do, dear. Will her to sleep for 30 days. That’ll give us enough time to sort things through,” hissed Valentine, her tone honeyed, coercing. 

Gareth grimaced. He hovered his palms over Effie as black smoky tendrils curled tentatively, faintly out of his fingers. He clenched his jaw. Slowly, the tendrils seeped into Effie. Like an obedient infant, her head drooped to a side. 

“Go,” snapped Valentine and they fled the sanctuary.

Outside the window, the dusky skies were changing fast like the unrolling of a curtain, fading back to the rose gold hue of yesterday. Seedlings, sprung from the past twenty-four hours, returned to seed. In that instant, a new afternoon broke forth, a replica of what it had been before. 

Hence, the day began its endless cycle. To the inhabitants of the Garden, including the enigmatic creatures living in the quaint suburbs underneath the Vertical Ocean, their eyes were beginning to open to the repeated occurrence of their afternoon. They were baffled as to when it will end, all while a young girl lay unconscious to the world.

Chapter 5: Darkened Waters
(Written by Jerome Pooi)

In the quaint, budding little settlement of Blacksea, nestled at the far end of the vertical ocean,  Fameya woke up to the slight sound of water droplets hitting the roof of her house.

This was a problem. 

Disorientated, she looked around the enormous studio that surrounded her. Something didn’t add up. There was an empty spot on the shelf, where the perfect sculpture she had made yesterday no longer sat. Had someone stolen it? No, no one would have done that here. And somehow, she was, well, alive. 

Fameya lifted herself out of her bed, and slowly walked to the calendar that sat on her desk.  It’s possible that she didn’t mark the date yesterday. It didn’t explain the memories that she had of the day prior. A dream? Inside another dream? No. She lingered at the calendar, trying to sort through her thoughts, when a loud rapping came at the door. As she turned, a familiar figure had already opened the door. 

Colt, tousle haired and grim, stood at the door frame. He was wearing the same gingham overalls that he wore yesterday. Very unlike him. She glanced across the room. The paint that she had used yesterday for her sculpture lay unopened. Weird.

No words were exchanged between Colt and Fameya as she walked across the room to one of the only windows in her building. Firework rockets lay outside the window – fireworks that they had kept away the day before.

“The Dreamer never came to Blacksea.” Colt’s voice broke the silence, as if he read her thoughts. Fameya took a few seconds to respond. The day prior, something instinctual inside every creature in Blacksea told them that the Dreamer had entered the world – Effie, Fameya recalled. “If I had to guess, it’d be at the island above the Vertical Ocean- the land of the Gods. She went there instead of here.” Colt continued. 

“But we would know when the Dreamer left the world. And I never felt the sensation of her leaving, even though we all felt her enter.” Fameya, and the rest of the citizens, all knew somewhere deep inside them the laws of their world. Once the Dreamer entered, after a few hours, they would leave, and their world would end. 

“And…” Colt was hesitant. Fameya turned to him, beckoning him to speak, but it seemed like Colt was trying to convince himself of something – that he didn’t imagine anything. “When the sun had set and the moon began to rise, I blinked, and I was somewhere else. I was sitting on my roof, then I was suddenly on my bed. It was… instant.”

Questions filled Fameya’s head. Why didn’t Effie come here? Wasn’t Blacksea built for her sake? Were the Gods keeping her? Why? What would happen to them now? 

Colt slowly walked up to her beside the window. Fameya began to mutter, to herself, more than Colt. “So for whatever reason, Effie’s residing in the dream world instead of leaving it, and for that reason, we haven’t died. I think… time has rewinded – or at least, our perception of it has.” People were starting to fill the streets, wondering about what had happened. 

“What happens now? Do we not die..?” Colt had asked the question Fameya didn’t dare to think. She looked down – she didn’t realise it, but she was biting her nails again. Colt cleared his throat. “Do we not die, Fameya?” 

Fameya glanced up briefly. “I… uhh, don’t know. I guess.” 

Fameya didn’t look up long enough to see the dismay that flashed across Colt’s face. She didn’t dare to guess what she was feeling. 

“Screw this shit. I’m tired of living.” Fameya dropped the empty bottle on the ground, causing shards of glass to shatter across the floor. A few patrons looked up.

 Colt stared at her, concern visible in his eyes. “Fameya…” 

Fameya knew that she should clean the glass shards up. It could hurt someone. But why bother? It’s not like the injury would stay. Every mistake rewound by nightfall anyway.

“Let’s get you back home.” 

Before Fameya could protest, Colt lifted her and started walking straight out of the tavern. “Who cares? I’ll just wake up back in my own bed anyway.” She felt the familiar sense of nausea overcame her. “Colt, let me down.” Fameya was aware of her words slurring. “COLT!” She began to kick and hit him, forcing him to loosen his grip, before –

Colt tried not to look at the pitiful figure hurling her guts out on the ground. 

Colt looked down, his figure obscured by the lamp posts scattered across the street. “Then why don’t you shut the hell up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and do something about it? 

Fameya watched the retreating shadow of Colt. Do something about it? What could she do? 

What could she do

Fameya stole a look at her bronze pocket watch. There was little time left. Five of her acquaintances stood around the room, all of them bracing themselves. Preparing for the inevitable. 

“Ten seconds” she muttered.  Nobody dared to speak. No one in the room knew how far the Vertical Ocean stretched, or how long it would take to cross it. It was a desperate, half-hearted plan that Fameya strung together, but it was worth a shot. They had to do something. They had to be able to do something. She owed it to herself, and if not herself, to Colt to at least try.  

“Three.” Fameya didn’t recognise the sound of her own voice. At the beginning, Fameya had counted the looped days that had passed. Somewhere inside her, she had held hope that someone would come and save them – that someone would respond to her. She couldn’t do anything – no matter what she did, they  would have no impact.  

“Go.” As soon as the words exited Fameya’s mouth, the loop rewinded and the environment around her completely shifted. She was back in her bedroom, greeted with the familiar sounds of raindrops hitting the roof of her building. 

She was out of her bed and rushing through the door within seconds. Colt was already ahead of her. One of the days, she had tried praying. She had tried to communicate with the two Gods, asking them to save her – to give her a shred of hope for the Dreamer to come. Of course, nothing happened. In fact, it was highly plausible that the reason why they were still stuck in this world that they already spent a century-old lifetime in, was because of the Gods in the first place.

As Fameya turned the corner, she spotted the others already pulling planks and logs on the dock. They immediately started pulling pieces of bamboo together, binding planks together. They had rehearsed this all too well. 

“Alright, let’s get it down in the water now.” A few of the others looked up, a little alarmed. Colt continued to tie the raft together. “We aren’t really done. It might not work. One of us could die.” Gruff voice.

“Who cares? If we die, we’ll just be brought back to life when the loop rewinds again. Can we get this raft down?” Fameya didn’t have the pocket watch with her – she didn’t want to risk the time taken to find it again. She had no idea how much time had passed.

They threw the raft in the water. Fameya tried, unsuccessfully, to hide the feelings of relief that she felt in that moment. “No time, let’s go. Now.” Fameya got on first, Colt following after her. Gruff voice came next, and the other two, who haven’t spoken at all, got on together. 

Hours had passed on that water with no one speaking a word. Despite the roughness of the sea, Fameya felt herself slowly drifting off. The only sounds, being the crashing of the waves against the raft, until –

“I see land!” Colt exclaimed, his voice breaking the tension in the air. Fameya winced – she had never heard Colt shout before. It took a second for the words to register, before she quickly turned to survey the sea. Sand. A beach. “Make it go faster. Pedal faster or something.” She tried to hide the excitement in her voice. There was a figure on the shore. Fameya squinted, but – holy shit, that was the Dreamer. “Guys, I think I see-” 

Fameya never finished her sentence, as something pushed the raft into the depths of the waves, fragmenting it instantly. Plunged into water, Fameya couldn’t see Effie anymore. She could barely make out what was in front of her. Instead she called out, with the last of her breath, the Dreamer’s name – and she called it over and over again.

Having spent a lifetime in Blacksea, where their minds had aged, but their bodies had not, Fameya and Colt had preparedly awaited their deaths, through the coming of their saviour, the Dreamer.  

Yet, 30 looped days had past, with the Dreamer nowhere in sight. Now the monotony of the endless afternoon had begun to sink in, burdening them with the creeping sense of entrapment.  Fameya and Colt slouched inside a small, slightly run-down tavern in the far corners of Blacksea. Fameya slowly picked at the cold plate of food before her. “It’s a nice afternoon outside”, Colt mused. Small talk did not come naturally to him, but, unfortunately, he found himself with the increasing need to do so. 

“It’s exactly the same as yesterday.” Short and curt – like most of her replies recently. An uncomfortable silence fell between them. The pressing, solemn mood of the entire tavern was incredibly off-putting for Colt. It was a gathering for the depressed, a god-forsaken area those who wanted to forget the loop were drawn too. Colt glanced over at her, noting the dullness and lifelessness of her eyes as they met. Never in his life did Colt want to leave somewhere more. 

She stared at Colt. He sat awkwardly, fidgeting and occasionally clearing his throat. After the raft’s failure, it was obvious that Fameya wasn’t really as smart as she thought she was. Something that was up against them had broken the raft, Fameya had ranted after the failure. Something unforeseen and uncontrollable, something they could not defeat. The raft was solid. It was the Gods themselves defying her will, and nothing Fameya could do could fight that. 

“You’re not alone. All the people around you right now share the exact sentiments that you do. Surely you can think of another way?” Well the problem with that was, no – she couldn’t. If she were truly against the gods, what could she do? The little bit of hope that she once had fell further into its pit of despair. “Colt, I-”

The tavern door gingerly swung open – the signs of someone trying to enter unnoticed. This only attracted more attention. The tavern was a reflection of the most desperate, the most hopeless – the most hollow individuals in Blacksea. Not a single individual cared about who saw them there. All of them were in unison, of the same mind; and yet, here, there was someone trying to sneak in? A ripple of heads turned towards the door and an almost immediate mumbling begin to echo in the tavern. A mellow, husky voice could be heard. Quiet, and yet commanding. “Um… Is Fameya here?” 

Fameya turned with the rest of the citizens to distinguish the speaker. The shadowy figure of a tall, young man and a petite girl were seen at the doorway, the afternoon sunlight from the outside obscuring him. A clear, girlish voice re-addressed the crowd. “Is Fameya here?” 

“She is.” Heads turned to Colt, who quietly beckoned to Fameya. A creeping sense of familiarity filled her. She didn’t want to react, didn’t want to hope, and yet –

The male stepped forward, where she could see the angular contours of his face and the bronze colour of his eyes. “Fameya?”

Something about him was undeniably familiar, instantly making her feel at ease. He reminded her of someone…a distant, mysterious friend…whom she definitely shared a few drinks with in the past. Yet, Fameya couldn’t quite put  her finger on it.

Finding her voice, Fameya muttered, “Yeah. I’m Fameya.” She paused, almost hesitant to continue. Her voice fell to a whisper. “Effie?” For once, a flush rose to Fameya’s pallid face. She managed a weak smile. It certainly was Effie, the raven-haired girl with soulful, burning eyes that was distinct even when Fameya caught a glance of her at the shore. Given the sudden excited hubbub of the tavern-goers behind her, Fameya couldn’t help but exclaim. “We’ve waited a darned long time for you.”

Her thin, brown hands clasped Effie’s. Fameya couldn’t help but feel the warmth radiating from her. It felt like hope, a promise of a sweet escape from the world she was prepared to depart from forever. 

“I saw you at the shore,” gasped Effie, hardly able to contain herself. “I remembered you, all this time. But now, I fear we’re in danger.”


The man’s jaw tightened. As Effie side-eyed him, he nodded. 

“I fear that the gods of Celestia are after us, trying to stop me from getting to the portal back to reality.” Effie’s voice lowered ominously, instantly causing the chatter to die down. “They don’t want this world to die. They wish to continue their reign.”

“I knew it,” shrieked Fameya to the tavern-goers, a wild look on her face. “I knew that they were up to something!” She turned back, clasping Effie’s hands firm as ever. “Trust me, Effie,” assured Fameya. “We will get you to that portal back to your reality. You and…” Her eyes met with the man once more, his features more prominent in the tavern light. “I don’t think I’ve caught your name.”

“Gareth”. His voice was like velvet. 

“Gareth,” Fameya repeated, “Trust me Effie, we will get you and Gareth to that portal.” She flinched – the name sounding regal, unfamiliar in her mouth – definitely not that friend he had reminded her of, then. It dawned on Fameya that she hadn’t ever gotten that friend’s name.

“Whatever it takes.”

Fameya lay on the roof of her house, legs stretched out, holding a bottle in her hand. She marvelled, once again, at the stars that lay in a vast, endless ocean before her. It was the one thing that she could never get sick of. Now, a strange calm settled over her, knowing that Effie and Gareth, after their perilous journey, had fallen asleep on her couch gratefully. Fameya had vowed to protect them for the night, and by morning, they would climb the highest cliff in Blacksea to the portal. It can’t be that hard, beamed Fameya, fired with purpose for once. 

Taking a sip from the bottle, she heard one of the windows open below her. The familiar, tousled hair of Colt peeked as he made his way to the roof. Not saying a word, Fameya took another sip from the bottle. 

“That better not be alcohol.” Colt grinned. Fameya chuckled, and offered him the bottle. “Ginger Tea.” Colt took a seat beside her. 

“There’s a lot.” Colt mused, “A lot of information to take in today.” Colt took a sip of the drink and winced. “You holding up okay?” 

“Yeah. How are you doing?” Fameya glimpsed at Colt – worried. She realised now, how she hadn’t spared a single concern for him following the search for Effie. 

Now, Death was a prospect looming closer than ever before.

Colt looked away, avoiding eye contact – but she could see the slight trembling of his shoulders, the way his voice seemed to shake, and the way he was curled up.

“It’s just… finally happening, you know? I mean, I wanted this, I know I did, but… it’s just… so sudden.” His voice was breaking, as if he was just barely trying to keep it together. Fameya put her hand on his, noting the roughness of them. She and Colt never cried – always kept a tough front, no matter what was ahead. Suddenly, however, she felt a lump in her throat. Slowly, Fameya approached him and placed her arms around him. She felt the trembling of his shoulders. She noticed that hers shook too, and felt her tears welling up. 

As they sat in that position, in an embrace, with tears running down their faces, they enjoyed each other’s warmth – never sharing a glance, but appreciating each other’s presence.

Lauren Chian was a Literary Arts student from 2016 to 2019. As a budding writer, those years strengthened her life-long love of creating stories and imagining worlds. Writing remains a purposeful medium for her in articulating the complexities of humanity.

Rachel Smitha Pary was a Literary Arts student from 2016 to 2019. Her time in LA has inspired her with the transformative power of words. Since then, she has used her craft to connect and give back to her community.

Jerome was a Literary Arts Student from 2016 to 2019, where he learned about the universality of stories, and his unique voice to tell them.