The door threw Cas forward into the room beyond, slamming shut behind her. She turned around to discover a featureless wall emitting a dull, white glow. The room was entirely plain, save for a simple, metal table and a simple metal table with one polished metal chair standing next to it. A dull hum resonated from all around.
A door, its surface like a mirror, occupied the space where two of the walls met. No soft, white light came from the door.
“Back to square one, I see,” Cas muttered to herself. She approached the door and saw her reflection staring back at her, as she expected. The surface of the door wavered, revealing a familiar face wearing a familiar smirk. A cybernetic eye glistened and blinked. Cas gasped, stepping back, and the door vanished.
There was a soft crackling sound accompanied by a soft inhale.
“You’ve been very busy, Cas,” Gavin’s voice said from all around. “Very busy indeed. Yet here you are, back where you started. Or are you?”
Cas clenched her fists, ready for a fight. “Why don’t you say that to my face, coward?”
Gavin’s laughter surrounded Cas as it echoed within the small room. “Temper, temper. Short a fuse as ever, Cas,” Gavin taunted. “I would be a fool to approach you in such a state. Oh, no. We’ll talk at a distance for now, I think.”
One of the walls disappeared, and beyond the room was a lush, sprawling forest.
“A trick, I’m sure,” Cas muttered.
A soft breeze rolled into the room, and with it the aromas of fresh rain, pine trees, and a hint of campfire smoke.
“A very convincing trick,” Cas said as she stepped into the forest. Tall grass waved gently. Numerous stars twinkled above in a cloudless, pitch black sky. Numerous trees stood tall and proud, their leaves vibrant, warm hues of near-winter autumn. Cas reached out and touched a tree, surprised to feel bark and not metal.
“There had to be a baseline to build the simulations from, naturally,” Gavin’s voice said. It was softer now, no longer amplified by the size of the space Cas occupied. The room behind her had vanished, or perhaps the wall had closed again.
“Where are you?” Cas demanded. “You can obviously see me, so why not just show yourself?”
“In due time, I assure you,” Gavin replied.
Cas inhaled deeply, eyes shut. She exhaled slowly, turned, and started walking in the direction of the campfire smell.
Wisps of smoke drifted gently through the air. A faint, warm glow was visible in the distance, casting curious shadows on the trees and along the grassy field. Cas walked towards the fire cautiously, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious.
Anything more suspicious than a real, live forest among the endless catwalks, strange places where the past and future seemed to converge, and the simulations of places Cas was certain she had been once before.
“You’ve been very busy,” Gavin said again. ” Fixing your past mistakes.”
Cas froze, suddenly tense. “What did you just say?” she demanded.
Gavin chuckled, a sound deliberately amplified to roll across the forest like thunder.
“You heard right,” Gavin said. “Fixing your past mistakes. There should have been a familiarity to the things you’ve encountered.”
Cas fell to her knees, a sharp pain suddenly present just behind her eyes. “What the hell are you doing to me?”
“Nothing,” Gavin replied flatly. “You did this all to yourself, but that’s a topic for another time. You’ve still got plenty to do before we can discuss that. Until then, Cas.”
There was a soft, metallic sound, followed by only the gentle breeze rustling through the trees and rolling along the grass.
Cas waited, and the pain slowly seemed to subside. She slowly stood up, every fiber of her being aching slightly from whatever had just hit her.
The glow of the fire seemed far closer now, and so she willed herself to continue.
The fire was bright and its warmth pleasant, even from the modest distance from which Cas watched it. She could see a solitary figure, hunched over something by the fire. The wind picked up ever so slightly, casting just enough light over the person’s face.
“Raph!” Cas cried out, running over. “Thank goodness you’re okay!”
Raph blinked, his expression blank. “Is this another test of yours, Commander? I must admit, I’m a little confused by it but I suppose I’ll play along. Yes, I’m quite adequately all right. I’ll turn in now. Your turn to keep watch.”
Raph stood quickly, turned, and walked away. A chill wind blew through, extinguishing the fire. The stars still twinkled pleasantly overhead.
Cas felt the hair on her neck stand up. Someone or something, unseen in the cloak of the darkness, was watching her intently.