It was not something that Cameron expected at such a point inside the core region.
The narrow passage was brightly lit, with tiles the color of snow lining the path.
Behind him, Tyson and Elizabeth prepared their weapons.
Tyson had barely responded to Cameron’s information, and merely nodded, which surprised Cameron. It made the latter worry about how much his friend had changed ever since they left Valhalla. Tyson was stronger, both emotionally and physically, and certainly much quieter as compared to….
Cameron paused. He didn’t even know how much time had passed since they had left Valhalla. Probably a month or so.
For Elizabeth, however, it had taken quite a while to sink in.
“How?” She had muttered, and for the first time, Cameron had seen pure fear on her face.
Cameron didn’t blame her. After all, he too was scared out of his mind.
He looked down, reminiscing how even Stanley, the bravest man he had ever know, had lost his cool at the mention of Thanatos’ name.
Cameron walked a few steps further, and could start hearing loud noises, possibly the cries of the vast majority of the monsters that lay in the core chamber ahead.
Grasping the dual blades in his hand, he glanced back. Tyson had his razor-edged staff ready, as his eyes shone a rich purple, corresponding with the energy core of his sea-green staff.
Elizabeth, too was ready. In her hands she held the scythe that she had built herself a year ago. The obsidian black blade was covered by a thin layer of aluminum foam, making it impervious to flames and thereby a more effective weapon for Elizabeth, who could set the blade on fire, dealing much more damage to enemies.
They all looked silently at each other. Maybe the Paladin had been lying, trying to scare them away. Maybe Thanatos wasn’t there. But if he was…
Tyson smirked, while Elizabeth swung her scythe around, its blade slowly igniting with blue flames.
Together, the three of them walked side-by-side, completely unaware of what they were about to face.
‘This is a massive chamber,’ Cameron thought.
His eyes had trouble adjusting to the bright light, compared to the dark and gloomy atmosphere of the underground system, so for the first few seconds, he shielded his eyes from the harsh rays of light.
Tyson and Elizabeth had similar troubles, but after a few seconds, they were alright.
The first thing he noticed was the intricate pattern of the humongous sphere. White as snow, lined with deep black lines that stretched across the inner surface of the chamber.
Then, he noticed the major problem.
“It’s…” Elizabeth began.
Cameron completed the sentence for her, as he glanced around. There was no monster in sight, no sign that there had been any fights, and to Cameron’s relief, not even a trace of the sinister Thanatos.
“But I could’ve sworn-” Tyson tried to move around on the small ledge, but there was barely any space for the three of them. Elizabeth backed into the corridor, allowing ease of movement for the two boys as they scouted for any activity.
“This doesn’t make any sense.”
Then, at the other end of the sphere, Cameron spotted the supercomputer.
The machine for which they had travelled so far, now so close that Cameron was tempted to run towards it.
But there was definitely something off about the whole place.
“Should we…?” Elizabeth’s voice trailed off.
Cameron was trying his level best to think. It was at least a fifty meter drop.
Tyson, however, had other plans. He jumped off the ledge, right along the chamber walls, and skid his way downward.
Using his staff to regain some balance, Tyson broke into a run before coming to a stop as the curvature slowly became less steep.
He looked up, with a bored look on his face that said, “You coming or what?”
“When did he become-
“Such a badass?” Elizabeth prompted.
“So careless?” Cameron finished, partly in awe, party annoyed.
For as long as he could remember, it had always been Tyson who thought everything through, while Cameron was the impulsive one who got everyone into loads of trouble.
Cameron marveled at how they had completely switched roles.
But he followed Tyson, jumping off of the ledge, skidding down the curvature before he broke into a run, coming to halt a little ahead of Tyson. Elizabeth came next, stopping gracefully next to them.
The supercomputer was a couple of hundred meters ahead of them. As they walked towards it, they could make out the presence of another corridor, again some fifty meters above of where the supercomputer was placed.
The ionic casing around the supercomputer was quite feeble. As soon as they neared it, Cameron halted.
At the base of the supercomputer, lay a small humanoid, made entirely out of dark ice, and had sapphires for eyes.
“CMA’s,” Tyson muttered, as he hesitantly prodded the visible barrier with his staff. The staff went right through it. Then, he tried to put his hand through the barrier. It passed easily.
“What?” Cameron set his backpack down near the base of the supercomputer system.
“Core Maintenance Androids,” He replied, “Designed to look after the system monitoring the weather-controlling satellites of Blue Moon.”
“Is it dead?” Elizabeth asked.
“No,” Tyson knelt down and opened up the interface of the CMA. After pressing a few icons, the sapphires glowed brightly.
Tyson backed away, as did Cameron and Elizabeth.
The CMA got up, and much to Cameron’s amazement, started speaking.
“Hello!” It said, “I am Cahokia.”
For a moment, there was silence. The three of them looked at each other, then at the CMA.
Cahokia, as it had called itself, looked around, probably trying to regain the data inside its head. A second later, it grabbed Cameron by his shoulders.
“Hey!” Cameron tried to shake Cahokia off, but he wouldn’t budge.
“You have to get out of here!” The CMA pleaded, turning its neck to look at all three of them, its voice filled with an odd resemblance to that of a human.
“Why?” Cameron finally managed to take Cahokia’s arm off of his shoulders. “What’s wrong?”
“The monsters! They’re here!”
“Where?” Elizabeth turned to look around, her voice filled with suspicion, “There’s nothing in sight.”
“Calm down, CMA!” Tyson flung Cahokia to the floor.
“Help me reconfigure the supercomputer,” Tyson glared towards the android, “That’s what you’re made for, right?”
“There’s no time,” Cahokia stumbled, trying to get up. His movements seemed to be hindered.
“Where?” Cameron felt his heart sink, as, for a second, he heard a faint laughter.
“Right here,” the CMA spoke.
Behind them, waves of shadows started to appear. The three of them backed away until they were against the supercomputer.
The cloak of darkness lifted. At least a thousand creatures, all snarling, ready to enjoy their meal.
Cameron gulped. Besides him, Elizabeth stood her ground, daring to attack any beast that tried to approach from that side. To his right, Tyson, too threatened any attackers.
Cameron cursed himself. How could he have let his friends fall into such a trap?
He looked around, trying to find any escape. But to his dismay, they were hopelessly surrounded. And fighting all of them was out of question.
The waves had completely receded, but they were still covering something. A human figure, by the looks of it.
“Thanatos!” Cameron boldly addressed the man shrouded in darkness.
Slowly, the shadows decreased, leaving the person covered in the thinnest of layers. The outlines of Thanatos’ hair was visible. Everything, of course, was midnight black.
“Hello, Cameron.” Thanatos’s voice was deep. And yet, oddly familiar. Cameron couldn’t put his finger on it.
“So nice of you and your friends here,” He motioned towards Tyson and Elizabeth, “to join us. You saved us a lot of trouble.”
Cameron stood there, without anything to say at all. He couldn’t muster the courage to speak up. Something about Thanatos made him want to just give up. It was disheartening to stand in front of him, as if his willpower had disappeared.
In an instant, he was right besides Cameron, who flinched.
“You know,” He whispered, so that Cameron could barely hear him, “Your mother died only because you were selfish.”
Cameron squeezed his eyes shut, but Thanatos continued to whisper.
“It’s fortunate that she was able to die, though. After all, bearing such a shame, having given birth to such a useless coward? I would beg for death.” He maniacally laughed, and in an instant, he was at the other end of the sphere, a platform of dark ice helping him to stay above the floor.
The monsters, who had been waiting patiently for all that while, suddenly lurched forward. Tyson, however, yelled defiantly and willed a shield of pure energy to form around the group, sheltering them from the oncoming attacks.
Cameron slumped to the ground, as a tear rolled down his cheek.
He could hear Elizabeth screaming at him, as he saw her being whisked away from the corner of his eyes, while Tyson, who was horrified at the failure of his energy shield tried to recreate it, only to be trapped in the middle of a group of monsters.
‘A failure,’ Cameron thought melancholically, as he was lifted off the ground and thrown into the wall of the chamber at break-neck speeds.
He slid down the side, only for a hundred or so of the beasts to start attacking him.
‘No,’ Cameron thought, ‘I’m not going down that easy!’ A fierce determination awoke in him, as he blasted away the approaching hoard of Siauhus with tendrils of blue lightning.
From the edge of his vision, he saw a massive firestorm erupt, engulfing a large part of the chamber in flames so huge they completely melted the froth covering the walls, and Thanatos was forced to set foot on the floor.
On the other hand, several Paladins were blown back, as Cameron saw Tyson’s eyes engulfed in deep purple, wielding his staff and pushing back monsters.
Cameron held his swords in both hands, willing a strong current to make its way through the blades, just as Elizabeth had taught him.
He locked eyes with Thanatos, who merely smiled, before drawing his own weapon.
Cameron gasped. It was Shadow Blade, its blue edge gleaming with energy, as a fierce wind blew through the chamber, making it so cold that even Elizabeth’s flames were extinguished.
The monsters in the room slowly froze, while Cameron hugged his shoulders.
“A little too crowded, don’t you think?” Thanatos laughed as the frozen beast shattered, all across the chamber, and it sounded as though a million glass panes were destroyed.
The broken fragments lay there, encrusted with red crystals from the blood of those beasts.
Thanatos merely snapped his fingers, and the crystals vanished, but the chamber was freezing cold. Cameron wondered how he had survived.
He could see that Elizabeth had a nasty wound on her arm, and she was limping horribly, wincing as she made his way towards him. Cameron gulped, and looked at Tyson, who was kneeling down on the floor, his head lowered in pain, as he clutched his left arm.
Next to him, Elizabeth gasped. Tyson’s arm had been destroyed as well, just like the monsters were annihilated.
“There!” Cameron slowly turned his head towards Thanatos, as his voice boomed throughout the chambers.
“All better! Now, fight me!”
Cameron couldn’t find the energy to even get up.
That icy whirlwind had drained him of all his power, as Elizabeth collapsed into his lap, barely breathing.
“Come on now!” Thanatos taunted, the shadows thickening around his body, “I thought there would be a much bigger challenge, a more energetic fight!”
Thanatos was next to Tyson’s side in an instant, as he picked him by the collar, while Cameron could only mutter, “No…”
He didn’t want to see his friend die, but he just couldn’t find the strength to fight.
“Ah, well,” Thanatos breathed out, “I wasted my energy trying to create this perfect form! This unbeatable armor of darkness.”
Tyson coughed, spitting up blood, as Thanatos tossed him besides Cameron and Elizabeth.
“I guess I should I should drop the covers, huh?”
Cameron raised an eyebrow at that. What did he mean, drop the covers?
Slowly, the shadows receded from the body, as the person behind the darkness emerged out.
Cameron felt his heart skip a few beats.
Besides him, Tyson too flinched.
“No.” Cameron said, “It can’t be.”
The person standing in front of them was…Zade.
“Hi Cameron,” Zade casually greeted, swinging around his sword.
“I knew something was wrong with you…” Somehow, Tyson mustered enough energy to stand up.
“Ever since you arrived at Valhalla, I always suspected there was something odd about you.”
Zade smiled smugly. “Well, if that’s the case, then you should have said something, and yet, here we are. Tells you something about human psyche, huh?”
“You bastard!” Tyson shouted, and summoned a ball of pure energy in his hands, as he flung it at Zade. On making contact, the ball dissipated, leaving Zade completely unharmed.
“We trusted you!” Tyson flung more and more energy shots, as Zade merely stood there and took the hits.
Cameron felt some energy return to his body, and so did Elizabeth, as they both slowly got up, breathing heavily.
“You were our friend,” Elizabeth said, with tears in her eyes, as she summoned a ball of flames, and flung it, like Tyson, but Zade merely dodged it.
He thrust his sword into the floor, and a wave of darkness blew past the three of them, pushing them down onto the ground.
“Weak,” Zade spat, “I expected more. Is that the best Valhalla has to offer? What the rest of humanity left has to offer?”
Cameron gritted his teeth, but before he could respond, something flashed at the corner of his eyes. Apparently Zade saw it too, but before he could react, a massive green orb of light crashed into him, blowing him several meters backward.
Cameron looked from where the blast originated, and saw Colonel Stanley standing on the ledge, while several Valhalla Corps soldiers poured in from the other end of the room.
Stanley was holding his discharge gun, the same one he had threatened to hit Cameron with back at the HQ.
“Colonel?!” Cameron cried out in pure disbelief.
“There’s more from where that came from!” Stanley yelled, jumping down the ledge, skidding along the edge of the walls.
“Now this,” Zade exclaimed, a malicious look on his face, “Is a fight!”
Together, the entire Valhallan military force someone someone who had they sheltered, welcomed as family.
Cameron sighed, as Tyson and Elizabeth appeared by his sides, there energy completely back.
“To think this would ever happen,” Elizabeth murmured sadly as flames engulfed her sword.
“You knew what he was, didn’t you?” Tyson charged his staff with power.
“I just knew what he could control, not that he was…”
Cameron understood her dilemma. Zade had been their friend. They enjoyed good times together, and went up against several odds.
But that was all past them now.
“Together!” The Valhallans cried out at once, charging ahead against Zade, as Shadow Blade gleamed with power, and its wielder simply smiled.