The light dims as soon as I accept the prompt, and Lachesis, Atropos, and Clotho are nowhere to be found. Four medium-sized winged women appear when the light returns. The one closest to me is a woman dressed in white and her name 'Apanthropía' hovers over her head. She has a health bar that consists of two bars and a strange white shield surrounding her. Her skin is a pasty white, almost like chalk, and her eyes are obscured by a white blindfold.
Another world quest is triggered, the ghostly words of ‘Seal Pandora’s Box’ appearing in front of us on a separate screen.
In front of Serafina and Mist is a similar-looking woman, but dressed in all black. Her name is Parafrosýni, with the other woman dressed in blood red called Loimós. I can't help but notice a strange pillar in the center of the room with a black box on top of a pedestal, emitting black and magenta smog.
"What's our plan?" Mist asks, his gaze darting around nervously. Although they don't have huge health bars, most of us don't know what to expect. As much as I hate to admit it, it would be better if Braeden led the group to victory.
"We have to fight them in a specific order. If we get it wrong, we could get sucked into Pandora's box and be forced to claw our way out. And trust me, there are plenty of demons in there. Since we don't have a lot of items in our inventory, we'll have to rely on Sera," Braeden explains.
His comments elicit a scoff out of me and I mutter, "Who's fault is that?" If it wasn't for his incessant persistence, maybe we'd be better prepared. Serafina's healing abilities may have improved with her upgraded staff, but Mr. Know It All fails to realize we need to worry about her MP problems too.
Yumi elbows me and shakes her head at me as if to say now's not the time to argue. I sharply turn my head away, resolving to let go of my frustrations later. However, I still plan to voice my concerns after this battle. This isn't the end.
The three women surround us, flying in a circle. They begin a chant:
Choose one of three,
Pestilence, inhumanity, or insanity.
When one Arai falls,
the next shall be called.
Battle until there are none,
and the sins of the Curses are undone.
"Who do we choose first?" I ask, glancing nervously at the strange figures, hoping they won't go attack us.
"Don't worry, they're in this state until we choose. What they've said is a hint. Although it may lead us to go in the order, or reverse order, in which they're mentioned, it's actually a cool trick," Braeden answers exuberantly.
"It's almost like it's fun to be on the verge of death!" I comment in a fake cheerful tone.
He ignores me as though he didn't hear me, or perhaps trapped in a prison of enthusiasm of his own making. "We must fight Apanthropía, she represents the curse of inhumanity. She feels no emotions, and yet, they are her very weapon. Next will be Parafrosýni, the personification of insanity. One will remain, and that's Loimós, the embodiment of pestilence. They are a curse because each represents three vital elements one must have in order to maintain harmony in their soul: compassion, rationality, and good health."
"How do we let the game know what we've decided?"
"You can call their name, or attack the one you've chosen—"
Without hesitation, I cast my strongest thunder spell on Apanthropía, forcing Parafrosýni and Loimós into stationery mode in the shadows. It pulls her out of the orbit the game put her in, bringing her to a sudden halt in front of us. Suddenly, I feel my mind wander to something else, no matter how hard I try to return my attention to my opponent. Mist dashes forward, projecting a translucent shield, and I feel my lucidity return. What the hell was that?
"No need to thank me," Mist says, grunting as he holds back an invisible force. His focus shifts to his friend as he says, "Any day would be good, Braeden!"
Braeden draws two pistols and blue blasts of energy shoot out from the barrels, landing square in Apanthropía's chest. It takes down three quarters of her health bar, but she stubbornly remains on her feet. "Damn! That should have one-shotted her."
She raises a hand towards me, and I'm overcome with an overpowering rage. Everything I'm frustrated with comes to the forefront, and images of those who are the source of my anger flicker through my mind. First, those who bullied me at school for looking different than them, then Maê with her unrealistic expectations and callousness towards me, my jealousy towards Ari, and finally Braeden.
All I can think about is exacting justice, but my first three choices aren't available to me. So, I settle for Braeden. An ice spell would do the trick. You would become the leader and he would be forced to watch you do what he couldn't, a mysterious voice coaxes me. It sounds like me, but isn't quite me. And yet, it's spellbinding and I can't seem to see past the rage.
"What the hell are you doing, Mai? Braeden's not the enemy!" I faintly hear Yumi shout at me.
"Apanthropía is controlling her emotions. We need to cut off her connection to the source and she'll be fine. Yumi, Mist, Sera, finish her off. She'll die soon with an HP bar that low. I'll keep Mai busy in the meantime," Braeden says, before unleashing a torrent of bullets in my direction. Although he's not aiming to kill me, his shots are keeping me on my feet, not allowing me a moment to cast any spells.
Several minutes pass and I’m struggling to catch my breath. I glance at my stamina and notice it’s dangerously low. Braeden has ceased fire, having noticed I don’t have much in me. The others have defeated Apanthropía and are now fighting Parafrosýni. Yumi fires her arrows while Mist and Serafina keep her HP constantly replenished and her defenses impenetrable. A part of me recognizes I need to help them, but I can’t control my body. It’s like someone else is driving and I’m waiting from the back.
“Serafina. Heal me,” I order, but she’s too busy helping the others.
“Stop this, Mai. If you push yourself further, you’ll black out. Do you really want that to happen in a place like this?” he tries to reason with me. “You have to fight the influence. Damn it! Why isn't it wearing off? The game should have removed the debuff and returned her to normal. None of this makes sense.”
"Any luck, Braeden?" Yumi shouts from the frontlines. "I'm running low on stamina and not sure how much longer I can keep this up!"
I see Braeden clench his jaw and instantly see his decision before it happens. He plans to fight the Arai by himself, but the sinister thought flashes through my mind: No matter how much more experienced you are, you can't fight me and the Arai. Sooner or later, you'll make a mistake and I'll be there to reap the rewards.
While I expect Braeden to surrender, to my astonishment, he turns around and his pistols are replaced by a large sniper rifle. With his back to me, he takes aim at Parafrosýni and it's the perfect opportunity for me to strike. I only make it two steps forward before my body gives out.
With a loud thud, I fall onto the ground and am forced to watch the rest of the battle unfold before me. Braeden delivers a successful headshot to Parafrosýni, reducing her body to ash just as the box of Pandora sucks her soul back in.
Loimós approaches the group next, but Braeden doesn't hesitate to shoot her down just like Parafrosýni. He doesn't manage to one-shot her like he did to Parafrosýni, but it reduces her health to the halfway point.
"Hey, Mist! Remind me to get a refund on this! The seller guaranteed one hundred percent one-shot. This is clearly false advertising!" Braeden shouts as he prepares his next shot.This is hardly the time to be upset about a purchase you made. Aren't you scared I'll take advantage of you?
"You thought they would give a level twenty-something a weapon with a guaranteed one-shot? You should have realized it was a scam from the beginning," Mist hollers back whilst blocking Loimós' physical attacks.
"Don't worry. This one won't miss." He gazes back at me for a moment and says, "Bear with it a little longer, Mai." His words proved he believed in me to overpower the Arai's curse and trusted me with his life. Maybe there's more to him than I thought. Maybe he's not just a know-it-all. No, don't be ridiculous, Mai. He wants you to be indebted to him. Why else would he go to such lengths?
I close my eyes as I hear his gun fire, trying to come to terms with the fact that I'll need to apologize to him because my impulsiveness could have gotten us killed. If he wasn't higher level, who would have stopped me?
When I open my eyes once again, I watch Loimós' remains get sucked into the box along with Apanthropía and Parafrosýni, never to be seen again. A golden thread shimmers in her place, floating in the air. Applause resounds soon after and the goddesses of fate reappear, wearing proud smiles all around, just as the banners of 'Seal Pandora's Box: Completed' and 'Find the Moirai's Missing Thread: Completed' appears.