Underneath a yellow sky, Cyril Reigns blinked in the utter darkness. He couldn't hear, his entire body was numb, and he couldn't breathe or scream. Had he died?
He knew something bad happened to him. He remembered the cold brutal grip closing about his wrist. He remembered crashing through black water, and then, nothing.
A gentle voice spoke to him, over and over. He was closer to a dream than a comatose now. Slowly the words etched emotions in his heart, printed context in his mind.
It was the taste of her blood that awoke him. His hands clasped and closed then. Something flat pressed his left palm, in the other a sword's hilt. His eyes shot wide with terror.
And he mourned for her, loud enough to be heard across the Kairutian sunset savannah. Her presence was completely gone, and all he heard were her last words seared into his mind.
It's happening again. Mighty castles lay broken in the mire among the stars. The suns no longer rise. Timid spears shatter once more before the plague's advance, and I am left with one last choice.
My home is gone to ashes, but I will do what I must to save yours. I will wrest the divine might from the Sword of Mercy, and you shall seek Lord Thor, in the ruins of the east.
You once asked if my ancestors never wrought the plague, would I ever return to Eden? After a lifetime in your domain, my answer remains. This galaxy is still a beautiful place. Fight for it. I'll see you soon.
The lingering daylight left the world by the time he found enough courage to pick the shattered remains of his spirits and rise. He did not know where the ruins of the west lay, so he plotted an uncertain westward course across the savannah.
There were no stars in the sky, the moonlight choked by a thick veil of storm clouds. Alone, he marched in the deluge by the Gate of Eden's radiant glow. He set camp at the foot of an open-palmed acacia. Huddled in the rain, he watched fingers made of lightning flash across the night sky.
He remembered a night just like this, thirty years ago. Back then, men who killed because they feared monsters from artifacts were confined in mental hospitals, so he had to spend his nights in the wilderness on the run.
Always with the rain to piss on you, he bitterly thought. He did not know a Lord Thor other than the god of lightning and thunder in the old Norse mythology.
He recalled that Eurydice had a poor choice of words, but she never mentioned specific terms without cause. Not many storms occurred over savannahs, so her thunder goddess must lay in the lightning's direction.
He set out in the morn, when the bleary sun reached over the savannah. He bushwhacked with his sword,Tyrfing. He crossed paths with a wild berry bush, which he took care to strip before continuing.
The acacia trees came in tighter groupings as he pressed onwards. Most curiously, there were no Lotas or Locrix here. By sunset the evening crows soared over a rich green canopy.
He should have continued before night fall, but he had to rest in the shade. He was an old man, and without Eurydice to help him, all he had was human endurance and his resolve alone. The day-long hike without much water or food took a lot from his aged body.
While continuing through the acacia forest he came a cross a rather unexpected sight: a creek. Last night's rain had the small stream brimming. Where there is water there is life, so he followed its course.
His first sight of his destination was the glow of camp fires, whose flames reached the ridgeline that blocked his sight. The closer he neared the more of the settlement he saw, the structures appearing from the darkness at his every step, until he mounted the ridgeline and saw the entire settlement.
Sheltered behind a barrier of mighty wooden trunks, proud in their height, an entire city stretched out before him. Cyril stood in awe at its sheer size. There were three tiers to this outpost of civilization, the lowest of which had inner walls, set with embattlements and defensive positions.
The residential districts laid on raised ground above the first tier, set with earthen huts, warehouses and armories roofed with corrugated iron sheet. The last tier was the highest land of the settlement, upon which a majestic castle rose to challenge the stars.
Cyril remained, transfixed by the sight, awestruck. Since the plague emerged seven years ago, every year reduced populations so severely that human civilization was reduced to numerous outposts and research facilities scattered in deep, unchartered space. And yet, here on a planet where the hive mind bred its obscenities, an entire city stood before him. Cyril could not bring himself to understand how this could be.
How could they build such a city, while fending off the plague, in seven mere years? It would take thousands of laborers, a commodity that was quickly dwindling, decades to complete such a city.
He gave stealth no farther thought. Whomever made this city built it for defense, with several watch towers rising on each tier. If they wished him dead, they would've killed him by now.
Cyril was so convinced of this that he was not surprised when they allowed him through the gates. The first tier resembled a battlefield more than a city, set with fields of barbed wire, behind which sand bags and machine gun turrets paid untiring vigil.
Twenty armed men approached him from both sides.
He noticed that two men carried guns and wore the modern JAW-60 standard issue tactical combat suits, while the rest carried battle axes and wore simple sheet metal armor hammered from iron pails and strung together by steel wire.
Cyril was no stranger to war, and right now every instinct screaming for him to take action, but he remained calm and kept his hands in the open to show he came in good faith.
A man, who Cyril thought the Chieftain, emerged from the guards. He looked young save for his mature height, broad shoulders set wide against his frame. Feathered spear in hand, he fixed Cyril with fierce brown eyes.
The Chieftain's timid wife stood shoulder high at his side. She had yellow-gold eyes and wore a jeans jacket over a black shirt, with a single embroidered cloth wrapped like a long skirt.
And truth be damned, she was beautiful. She impossibly resembled an old friend from a lifetime ago...but it couldn't be her. It couldn't. Kael was dead.
"My name is Chitra Kumar," the Chieftain told him. "This is my wife Roth, and this is our village. I will ask you once to name yourself and why you came to our sanctuary."
"I am Cyril Reigns," he replied. "I bring news of the plague—"
"There is no plague here, unless you brought it with you."
"Please, allow me to pass. However you've managed to stay free from the plague, your lives are now at stake. It has evolved. I must find Lord Thor in this critical hour of need."
"Then your quest ends here," he gestured at his wife. "Roth has kept us safe from the plague, and will continue to do so. You may take refuge in her care, or you may leave at once."
Cyril Reigns sighed in frustration as he reached for Tyrfing's hilt. The guards watched him as if he were a damned fool. In his eyes, it was them who were the fools. People were always stubborn and clung to their beliefs.
These people wouldn't accept that their sanctuary meant nothing if the evolved Locrix bioships burned the planet whole. Regardless of who was the wiser, his intent was recklessly foolish.
He could not even touch the incomplete Unit 02 Sword of Mercy that escaped while in its embryonic stage. A city stood against him, and within spitting distance was Unit 01 Thor, the most powerful of them all.
He could not win, and similarly could neither walk away nor embrace ignorance and take refuge in their sanctuary. There, as he plotted the last chapter of his life, a sudden noise broke his concentration.
A young guardsman emerged from the gate and flew into the village, livid with terror. "The outpost!" The guardsman cried out between labored breaths. "In the savannah—they're under attack! One-eyed giants! Dragons! And the smaller ones, the horizons swam with them!"
A sudden shock seized the Chieftain then. His grip tightened on his feathered spear. His hand almost imperceptibly shook but he took a breath, calmed himself. "Sound the horns! Gather the warriors!"