At the End of the Tunnel [A GONE Fanfiction]

In the span of two days, the FAYZ went from a slowly darkening hell to a clear dome that showed the outside world, and the Gaiaphage went from being a writhing mass at the bottom of a mineshaft to inhabiting the body of Diana and Caine's baby. The endgame is coming. Fast. The stakes have been set higher than ever before, and every eye on the planet is trained on Perdido Beach as the final battle of the FAYZ plays out for all to see.

Light, as imagined by me.

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4. Four

Four
68 Hours 55 Minutes

Caine Soren sat on the steps of the church, looking out over the empty streets of Perdido Beach. The town was deserted, save for a few people; himself, Lana, Quinn, and the Brattle-Chance kids. Orc as well, but he was generally wandering between Perdido Beach and the lake with a Bible in his large stony hands. There were a couple more here and there, but they were the only ones that mattered. Even Dahra Baidoo, the resident doctor of the town, had upped and left. It was no mystery as to where they had gone; they had all flocked to the barrier, hoping to see their parents, let them know they were okay.

The blur appeared two seconds before the gust of air hit him.

Caine looked at the panting form of Brianna with confusion. What was she doing here? There was no reason for her to be here with him, unless there was something more pressing at hand. And if that were the case, it probably meant Sam as well. And yet, despite the rising feeling dread, a wave of adrenaline rushed over Caine; an escape from the boring monotonous life that was being the king of Perdido Beach. Brianna saw the spark of joy in his eyes.
"Caine," she said, finally catching her breath. "We have a whole lot of bad news."
"Really?" he mused, "I didn't quite catch that pretty much everyone's down at the barrier, crying mommy and daddy all day every day."
"We're talking worse than that," Brianna said darkly, "Gaia. She's feeding off of the crops that Drake is stealing from the fields." Caine turned to ice at this. He knew he was supposed to be worried about that meaning no food, but that was something Quinn could deal with. No, what terrified him to the core was the news that the Gaiaphage was eating at such an alarming rate. In no world, FAYZ or not, was that good. It was clear that they were all on the precipice of the endgame; something that Caine had tried to keep under wraps from the easily scared population of Perdido Beach. Something that had ultimately failed in the end.
"Does Sam know?" Caine asked.
"Yeah, he's on his way now," Brianna said, "Edilio and Toto are coming, too, so don't try and BS your way out of anything Sam says." She glared coldly at him, folding her arms.
"Got it," Caine replied half-heartedly. He wasn't in the mood for fighting with Sam right now anyway.

The sound of the truck's engine filled the air, and Caine looked along the road, seeing the beaten up vehicle crawling towards him. Through the cracked wind-shield he could make out Edilio's face, contorted in concentration. Sam and Toto were most likely in the back.
"Over here!" Brianna cried out, waving so fast that her arm was nothing but a blur. The truck pulled to an abrupt stop, and Edilio hopped out of the vehicle, his normally passive face riddled with worry. Caine watched silently as Edilio opened the back door of the truck, Sam and Toto also hopping out, before the three of them joined up with Caine and Brianna.
"Caine," Sam began. "I have bad news."
"Yeah, I gathered that from what Brianna told me," Caine replied dryly. "So, you have any ideas on how to solve this problem?" He didn't mean to sound like he was making a snarky quip, but that was how it came out. Sam's resolve faltered for just a moment, but he didn't back down, something that Caine would normally expect his brother to do. He had grown.
"Me and Astrid, we talked this over, and realised that the only way to cut off Gaia's food source is if we pick literally everything at once," Sam suggested. "But we also realised that with their parents in plain sight, there is no way that even if you and I went down together that they would move. So we reached the same conclusion: there is only one way to get them all moving."
"Let me stop you right there, Sam," Caine cut in. "If you're gonna tell me that we need Albert back, then you'd be wasting precious seconds. I sent out four kids on one of the fishing boats yesterday to try and reason with him, in the hope that he realised the error of his cowardly blunder." He took a deep breath, letting out a sigh, and began to bite at his thumb, an annoying habit that he didn't quite have inclination to stop. "Instead of him returning, he fired one of his missiles at the boat. The explosion was visible even from here."
"That is true," Toto said absently.
"And the kids you sent out?" Edilio enquired.
"What do you think?" Caine said. "The explosion was so powerful that Quinn brought in several charred chunks of arms and legs along with the daily catch." A horrified silence fell over the group as they all processed the crushing information.
"So Albert's pretty much lost it," Brianna said. Caine nodded solemnly. "Well, this is just brilliant; there goes the only plan we have."
"Actually," Sam spoke up, hesitant. "I have thought of another plan, but I really didn't want to resort to it."
"That is true, Spidey," Toto said. "Sam doesn't want to resort to this plan."
"Then what the hell is this plan?" Caine demanded, a little too harshly.
"The plan is that you and I go out and find Drake and Gaia, and take them out before they can make their move." Caine's face turned to stone. The mere thought of going out there, searching for the Gaiaphage, and attempting to attack it, filled him with a deeper fear than anything he had felt for a long time; he could feel the Gaiaphage reaching out into his mind, telling him not to do it. And he agreed with the Gaiaphage; there was no way that he would be going out there.
"No." Caine finally said, his answer quite clearly catching Sam off guard.
"No?" Sam questioned. "Caine, I don't see any other choice here; we need to do something before they do. Because if we hold on any longer, then I have no idea if any of us will survive."
"Didn't you hear me?" Caine's voice was agitated, his entire body trembling. He couldn't fight the Gaiaphage. It would be pointless. Dangerous. Stupid. Exactly what the Gaiaphage wanted him to feel. "We can't fight it, Sam; fighting the Gaiaphage is impossible. And with it having a body, it will be much stronger than before." Sam's hurt expression lingered for a moment, the tension finally broken by Toto.
"He doesn't entirely believe it," he said to nobody in particular. "Caine believes, deep down, that the Gaiaphage may be easier to defeat. He is just too scared." Caine muttered a foul word under his breath.
"Really?" Brianna added. "You're scared of the Gaiaphage? It's in a human body; it can be killed just as easily as you and I."
"You don't understand," Caine said. "Even in a tiny, fragile body, the Gaiaphage is still stronger than all of us. Even if we have a slim hope of defeating it before it reaches full strength." All eyes were on him as he spoke. He knew that he had backed himself into a corner. Feeling his determination crumble, Caine sighed. "So I guess it's now or never if we're going to try anything."

Sam and Edilio breathed out a sigh of relief. Brianna had a grin on her face that seemed both triumphant and eager at the same time. Toto was staring off into space, occasionally muttering 'true' or 'that isn't true'. And Caine took in the whole scene, thinking over what he had committed himself to.
"Thank god," Sam said. "Caine, if we're gonna do this, though, we'll probably have to set off as soon as possible. Tonight would probably be a good time, since despite the sheer level of power, Gaia's body still needs rest."
"You're right," Caine said. "But what do we do until then?"
"Us?" Sam said. "We do nothing. However, we need to know their whereabouts. Breeze?"
"Yeah?"
"I want you to search the FAYZ for Diana, Drake, and Gaia. When you find them, don't interact. Just head straight back and tell us where they are. Got it?" Brianna nodded once, before zooming away.
"Now let's hope that Brianna doesn't do anything stupid," Edilio said wistfully. Sam nodded in agreement, and Caine bit at his thumb, aware that what they were doing was just removing the immediate threat. Even after the Gaiaphage was dead, the kids still wouldn't return to work as normal; the barrier going clear had ruined all of that. Even if Albert returned, there was no way that even he would be able to convince them to return to life as usual. Which only left one hope for all of this, one that Caine hoped was true.

Hopefully, killing the Gaiaphage meant killing the FAYZ itself.

--

Lana Arwen Lazar woke from a bizarre dream. It wasn't unusual for her dreams to take a strange turn, but this one was something else. She couldn't remember any exact details, except that she was subjected to strange, wondrous images, and that they filled her with a sense of awe, and dread. It didn't take a genius to realise where these images came from: the Gaiaphage was trying to reach out to her again.
"How freakin' wonderful," she muttered under her breath as she pulled herself out of her bed. "You have everything you want, Darkness: a body, slaves, and a pretty good view of the outside world. So what are you trying to do here?" She knew it was pointless talking like this, but it was better than silently taking it all in. That set her on edge, and already Lana could feel the stress rising inside her.

She needed a cigarette.

Lana walked across her room, careful not to wake Patrick, and reached the dresser on the other side. She opened the top drawer, revealing the pile of cigarette packs. It had decreased dramatically since she first started smoking, and from the looks of things, Lana would have to start rationing them soon. And then they would run out; Lana didn't want to think about what she would do if there were no more cigarettes in the FAYZ. Not that she was addicted or anything, it was just that smoking helped her remain calm when dealing with stressful situations. It was just poor luck that there was always something stressful happening in Lana's life. In fact, she could list every last stressful thing that had happened to her since the coming of the FAYZ. She had nearly died on that first day, only saved by her healing powers. She had then been taken hostage by the talking coyotes of the desert, and subjected to the Gaiaphage. After that, everything had just gone downhill even more; she had returned to the Gaiaphage again; she had to deal with that god-awful plague, and then there was that whole episode with Penny a couple of days ago. "My life is just one big ball of sunshine," Lana said wryly as she reached down to grab one of the packets of cigarettes. But it wasn't there. Gone.

An uneasy feeling sunk into Lana. This wasn't right. Crazy. But not impossible. No, nothing was impossible here. She looked into the drawer again. It was now empty. All of her cigarettes, gone just like that.
"Lana!" Sanjit's voice reached Lana, and she looked behind her as the door to her room flung open, Sanjit rushing in. "Lana, something strange is happening. I was helping Bowie get dressed when his shoes just vanished. And the pillow from my bed also disappeared."
"Yeah, welcome to the club," Lana said. "All of my cigarettes have just vanished as well."
"But what's causing it?" Sanjit asked, his eyes taking in every detail of Lana's room, as if the source of the problem would be laying in plain sight.
"Who knows?" Lana said. "It could be the barrier, the Gaiaphage, or some kid getting a new power." She paused for a moment, and let out a rueful chuckle. "Or maybe some other autistic kid had a mental breakdown and caused all of our necessities to poof out of the FAYZ."
"What?"
"Oh, never mind," Lana said. "It's a long story, Sanjit, and one I'd rather not share the agonising details of."

Suddenly, the half empty bottle of water on top of the dresser vanished. Followed by Lana's bed-sheet  Patrick was sleeping on the corner of the sheet that was laying on the floor, and woke suddenly, leaping to his feet. He barked once, and then was gone.

Lana went numb, everything around her becoming insignificant as she stared at the space where Patrick was laying mere seconds ago. This wasn't happening; he couldn't be gone. It was just like when those who stepped out of the FAYZ a few months ago. And anyone who stepped out after the first week or so never came out the same; the horror tale of the mangled Mary managed to shock Lana in a way she was unfamiliar with. And if the same thing had happened to Patrick...

Lana fell to her knees, and began to sob uncontrollably.

--

Diana stared in disbelief as objects suddenly appeared around her. It was a bizarre combination of objects that didn't have anything in common with each other. A pillow. A pair of shoes. A bottle of water. And at least a hundred packs of cigarettes. And in the middle of this pile was Gaia, her face deep in concentration.
"What are you doing?" Diana asked. Gaia sighed in response, and rolled her eyes.
"Experimenting," she said flatly. "One power isn't working as I anticipated: the ability to teleport."
"Taylor's power?" Diana said. "But isn't she dead?"
"No," Gaia said. "She was touched by Nemesis, but her power is still there, only, I can only make things come to me." Diana raised an eyebrow at this.
"So you can't use her power correctly?"
"It's not that," Gaia said. "It's more that Nemesis has inadvertently given me a new power: making objects teleport to me could end up being useful." She paused for a moment, suddenly deep in thought. "I wonder..."

Gaia shut her eyes, and clenched her fists. Diana stepped back as the ground began to vibrate slightly, Gaia straining with focus. A large bed-sheet suddenly appeared, covering the ground lightly, followed by a dog. Diana instantly recognised the animal; it was Patrick, Lana's dog. And when Gaia looked at him with hunger in her eyes, dread began to well up inside her.
"Gaia, tell me what you're planning to do with Patrick," Diana said, her eyes widening.
"Having lunch," Gaia replied nonchalantly. "If I were you, I'd stand back." Diana stood back without meaning to, and watched, frozen with horror, as Gaia lifted her hands up, palms facing outwards.

Twin beams of light burst from Gaia's hands, striking Patrick. He had just enough time to let out a terrified yelp before the effects of the light occurred. His fur burned off, and he fell to the ground, becoming nothing more than a smoking pile of charred flesh and bone. Gaia turned off the light.

Diana felt a wave of sickness come over her. Normally, she wouldn't be bothered by seeing a pet get turned into lunch, but this wasn't any pet; this was Patrick. He was essentially a part of Lana, and probably the only thing that kept her going. She watched in horror as Gaia strode over to the body, and ripped off one of his back legs effortlessly, tearing a chunk off of the thigh.
"No..." Diana said, backing off.
"What?" Gaia enquired. "Why are you like this? I have merely prepared my meal for today."
"That isn't any meal, you idiot," Diana spat. "That's Patrick! The Healer's dog!"
"The Healer?" Gaia paused for a moment, realising who Diana was talking about. "You speak as if it matters; I do not care about the psychological impact it will have on her. So long as her body is alive, I can still heal myself."
"You heartless monster," Diana said, feeling tears drip from her eyes. "How could you eat him?"
"Like you haven't done worse," Gaia said darkly, before glaring at Diana. A sharp pain like no other seized Diana's mind. She fell to the floor, whimpering in agony. "At least I'm not eating a human body; I'm not at your level yet." Images of Panda surfaced from the depths of Diana's mind. The way that she actually went back for seconds. The way his cooked flesh smelled so tantalising.
"Make it stop!" Diana screeched, rocking on the floor, her hands pressed to her head, racked by sobs. Gaia looked away, and the flashbacks and the pain stopped. Diana cried softly into the ground.
"Now, if you're quite finished," Gaia said. "I still require your knowledge of the workings of what you call the phase in order for a successful conquest." She tore off Patrick's other hind leg, and threw it at Diana. It hit her head, before falling to the floor just before her face. "So eat."

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