“You don’t remember? None of it?”
Cameron sighed. The cold wind tousled his snowy hair as it blew ferociously, the clouds dark as midnight even though it was seven in the morning as he eased his breaths. Well, according to the standard timings anyways.
He leaned against the cool metal railings of the Valhallan HQ building, overlooking the powdered-white landscape of Valhalla, with the only contrasting elements being the obsidian black roads and the neon blue side-lights that elucidated them.
Right next to him, with his back against the glass-covering, Tyson was breathing heavily as well. The two had been jogging for the past half an hour, and the last couple of minutes had turned into a sort of a race, which took place inside the hyperspace training facility on the top floor of the headquarters.
Cameron won, since he had slightly better stamina than Tyson, but that didn’t stop the two from over-exerting themselves.
After the intense session, Cameron had not been expecting such a question, even though he had given a flat-response to it several times before.
“I’m telling you,” Cameron began with an exasperated tone, “I have no clue what happened back then. The shadows enveloped me, and for what seemed forever, I was wrapped in darkness, until I woke up at the hospital, seeing your goofy, bandaged faces.”
He was lying, of course. Cameron vividly remembered what he had experienced in that blackout. All those fleeting memories, all of that pain, both his and…
Cameron tightened his grip on the railings, letting his nerves tingle a bit as static arced through the metallic rods.
It didn’t go unnoticed by Tyson, who finally eased himself back on his feet, and walked up to his best friend’s side.
“Man, don’t do that!” Cameron felt a sharp blow on his arm, as Tyson punched him in annoyance. “I can’t have you, of all people, hide things from me. Something is going on inside that big head of yours, and if you don’t tell me what, I...I will-”
“Will what?” Cameron grabbed Tyson’s hand just as it was curling into another fist. “I told you. I. Don’t. Remember. What part of that don’t you understand?”
Cameron pushed away the latter’s hand. Tyson bowed his head, as he looked away from Cameron, off towards another direction.
“Look,” Cameron was surprised by the fragility of his voice. Tyson looked back, sensing it as well. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how I defeated…defeated Zade.” A sharp pang went off inside his heart. He had been trying not to think about Zade.
When Cameron had woken up in the hospital two weeks earlier, everyone had been overjoyed, and treated him like a hero, even though Cameron had no idea why. When he explained his confusion to the others, everyone, including Colonel Stanley, looked at Cameron as though he was trying to make a lame joke.
“I’m serious,” Cameron had said, and only then did Stanley narrate what had happened in the Core Chamber.
“I suppose, then, that you don’t remember going completely berserk and beating the crap out Thanatos?” Elizabeth asked with a lop-sided grin.
“You went completely berserk. As the shadows were dragging you in, you sort of… blew up.”
“Blew up?” Cameron wildly eyed her.
“Not exactly. Your eyes…there were no whites. Completely electric blue. Your body was shrouded in tendrils of electricity, and you charged Thanatos head on, and well, you kind of let lose all your energy at the last second, and then...Zade’s body lay there, badly burnt.
Cameron still remembered the sadness in Elizabeth’s eyes as she said the name. That pain was present in everyone’s eyes. A former friend…who turned out to be their worst enemy.
“I still can’t believe it,” Tyson angrily banged his fist on the railing. “I had a feeling, nagging suspicion all that time. And yet, I did nothing. I let him hurt everyone, let him kill so many Valhallans. Soldiers with friends, families and loved ones.”
“It’s too late, Tyson,” Cameron sighed sadly, “What’s happened cannot be changed, for better or for worse.”
They stood like that for a while, under the embrace of the snowy skies.
“It’s like that day, isn’t it?” Cameron’s gaze was distant. “The day when Zade arrived.”
Tyson huffed. “Let’s go.” He said quietly, putting on the jacket over his T-shirt. “We have to attend the formal welcome as well…Emily will be there as well.”
Cameron’s expression softened a bit. “How’s she doing? You know, with all the sudden changes and what not.”
“She’s okay.” Tyson morosely replied. “Still in mourning, still in shock. But it’s hard for her. Her family, friends, and the city she grew up in. Everything she cared about was destroyed.”
“And you need to be there for her,” Cameron nudged Tyson, and headed towards the elevator.
Everything she cared about was destroyed.
That sentence stuck in Cameron’s head. His mind drifted towards his memories of that state of limbo, in which he experienced Zade’s memories. The bridge. The ocean. The warmth. All of it had evaporated right in front of him.
Zade, too, had lost everything.
‘No, his mind said, Thanatos. Not Zade.’
Cameron’s heart ached in pity. He didn’t know why. Maybe because he had experienced all of Thanatos’ pain, all at once. So much anguish. So much pain. It was beyond anything anyone should have to suffer.
As the two stepped into the elevator, Cameron thought about that world, the world of Zade’s memories, one last time. The water droplets that cascaded down his body. The serenity of the glowing skies.
He wished he had never seen that.
A few hours later, Cameron and Tyson stood in the lobby of the Central Dome, waiting for Gia and Elizabeth to show up.
“Come on!” He yelled, hoping that the sound reached them in their rooms. “The address will be starting in a few moments. Both the boys wore casuals: Jeans, T-shirts and a jacket with a capital “v” monogrammed on the breast pocket.
“I wish I could go,” Amelia, the caretaker pouted behind the counter. “But I have to keep this place under check.”
“We’ll tell you all about it when we get back,” Tyson promised, and as Amelia went into the archives for her daily checks, Cameron and Tyson paced around the lobby. A few minutes later, the two girls showed up, wearing attires similar to the boys.
“Ready?” Gia asked happily, “You three are going to be hailed as heroes in front of the entire city.”
“Hey, make that four. You’re a part of the team as well.” Elizabeth fussed.
“I was useless,” Gia lowered her head slightly, “I spent most of the trip as a useless add-on.”
“Don’t say that!” Tyson put his arm around his sister, “You were a great help!”
“When, exactly?” Gia sternly questioned.
“Um...” Tyson was dumbfounded. Cameron, however, came to his rescue.
“You kept stock of our supplies, kept the team’s morale up and even fought your way through Ray’s captivity before reaching Venn.”
“That wasn’t me,” Gia replied, “That was all Za…”
She stopped mid-sentence, and nervously played with her fingers. “I’m sorry,” She said.
“Let’s go,” Elizabeth suddenly dragged Gia out of the Dome. “We’re getting late.”
Cameron silently thanked Elizabeth for changing the mood so quickly, as he and Tyson raced behind the girls, on towards the city square.
The city square was humongous. It was easily thrice as big in area as compared to the Central Dome. All around, the Valhallan Corps’ insignia was showcased on the virtual banners that floated above the streets, arranged in perfect order.
Structures were erected to house the representatives of the hidden cities of Helix and Xenias, as well as the Valhallan officials. A single podium hovered much above the platforms, and on it, several meters off the ground, stood Colonel Stanley, firm and confident as always. Several people were present on the platform. Cameron could make out Colonel Thales, and a few others.
On a platform below them, stood thirteen or so people. They were the survivors from Venn.
A clearing was created, leaving a lot of empty space in the middle, while the Valhallan Corps soldiers formed ranks in various formations across the whole place.
It seemed as though all of Valhalla was there. People crowded every inch of the streets, so much that the congestion went back several blocks, but since the platforms were raised, everyone could see the whole thing unfold from far away.
Cameron and the rest weaved their way through the crowd, until they finally broke through and emerged into the opening. A few soldiers guided the four through to a platform that lay awaiting them on the ground, and as soon as they stepped on it, the platform rose, and energy barriers went up, forming a fencing, as the platform finally came to a halt next to the survivors.
Cameron looked below. Several meters below, everything look so tiny.
Gia and Elizabeth walked across to the other platform, deciding to greet Vennians. Cameron followed their lead.
“Hello,” He greeted the man at the head of the other group, “I’m Cameron. Nice to meet you. And welcome to Valhalla.”
“Hello,” The man’s grip was frim. “I’m Ishmut, and these are my companions, Steve, Kyle, Kristen, Luke, Callum, Jonathan, Daniel, Mohit and Emily.”
Cameron shook hands with each of them.
“Our sincerest condolences,” Gia spoke up, “We hope you find peace, here in Valhalla.”
Kyle, a fairly tall guy with a wheat-ish complexion, stepped up. “We hope so too. It hasn’t been the best of times, but all we can do now is hope for the best.”
Cameron looked up. On the platform above, Stanley signaled Cameron to be ready. He was about to begin the address.
“We should stand in a queue,” He told the rest. Everyone nodded their heads, and lined up, with Cameron and the group on one platform, and the Vennians on the abutting one.
Tyson moved over so as to stand adjacent to Emily, who was wearing a beige skirt, a green pullover and a sleeveless jacket over it. The lenses of her rimless spectacles glistened against the lights of one of the virtual banners that passed them.
Cameron, who stood right next to him, couldn’t help but smirk as he saw Tyson’s fingers slip into Emily’s hand, out of the corner of eyes.
A static sound pierced through the air, and for a second, there was pin-drop silence. Cameron breathed heavily as he saw the number of citizens that were present. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands had gathered to witness the adressal.
Then, Stanley spoke up.
“Good day, citizens of Valhalla. Today, as I speak, I can finally let go of a huge burden. A burden that we, as inhabitants of Blue Moon, have been bearing for centuries. An evil so vicious, so malicious, that it tore asunder the very foundations of peace and brotherhood upon which our present society was built upon. An evil that threatened our very existence.”
Stanley paused, and a several hundred thousand eyes turned to him.
“An evil, that we, in the past centuries, named Thanatos. A name that we loathed and feared. The very embodiment of turmoil that has been ravaging this planet. I’m sure most of us here know of how he appeared in this very city nearly two decades ago, and with what inhuman strength did he attack. We had managed to drive him out, completely beaten and incapacitated. We should have killed him then, but we too were driven to the brink of defeat. Due to the valiant sacrifices made by young, honorable soldiers, we had defended our home, but we couldn’t rest.”
Stanley paused again, as several onlookers murmured against themselves.
“We couldn’t rest,” His voice boomed, “Because we knew that Thanatos’ evil was still out there, convalescing, but still, somewhere encased with the shroud of darkness. But today, we all can breathe a sigh of relief. We can rejoice, we can rest easy, because by virtue of our brave soldiers as well as our young elite squad, Thanatos is no more.”
Cheers erupted amongst the crowd, as people broke into applause. The virtual screens projected the Valhallan Corps’ troops assembled at the base of the clearing, who raised the flags of their insignia high above their shoulders. The screen then changed to show Cameron, Tyson, Gia and Elizabeth, who stood confidently. There was a tremendous amount of clapping and cheering, and Cameron looked up to see even the officials from the various cities standing and applauding. His gaze went further up, to see Stanley softly gazing at them.
Cameron had never felt so happy.
He had redeemed himself from that weak, insignificant young kid from four years ago.
Next to him, even the Vennians applauded.
“Now!” Stanley spoke, and the crowd fell silent. “We have some special visitors today. The heads of governance from our sister cities, Helix and Xenias.” The officials stood up, and there was further clapping.
“Amongst the joyous atmosphere, we also grieve for the fallen city of Venn, which was devastated by the relentless assault from Valdorians and Thanatos.”
The virtual screens shifted to show the survivors, standing on the high platform.
“Our prayers and best wishes go to them. And even though we already know it in our hearts, I would once again like to extend my heartiest welcome to them.” Stanley looked down to the survivors. “This place, Valhalla, is now your home. I hope that the wounds from the past can be healed, and that you can rebuild your lives here, with us.”
People cheered for the Vennians, who sadly smiled. Cameron couldn’t help but smile as well. He remembered that night from all that time ago, from when he had first set foot in Valhalla. The city had welcomed him with open arms. It had not excruciated him for being weak, or for being Valdorian.
People had been kind to him. They didn’t differentiate. They accepted. Cameron loved that the most of Valhalla. It was his true home.
“Of course,” Stanley sheepishly rubbed his head, “We couldn’t do much about the climatic problems. The core region was pretty badly torn up, and the machine was damaged a bit as well due to the battle that took place. But after Thanatos was defeated, most of the dark ice surrounding the core shattered. We were able to send teams of specialists down, and they managed to correct the error in the core program. The cold weather will continue to persist,”
A huge number of disappointed people spoke silently amongst themselves.
“But,” Stanley silenced them, “There’s a silver lining. We can now build new atmospheric stabilizers, and although it’ll take a large number of years, Blue Moon can expect optimum temperature by the end of the decade, that being 1010 PED.”
The platform holding the officials rose higher, and halted next to Stanley.
“I now hand over the mic to Colonel Thales, our governance head.”
Thales proudly strode over, while Stanley went ahead and sat in his seat.
“Good day, Valhalla. My dear friend, Colonel Stanley Rogers, told you about what we have accomplished as of late. My heartiest congratulations to the Valhallan Corps for this. Now, I would like to speak on behalf of my fellow heads of governance. We, the leaders of the hidden cities, have arrived at a peace treaty. A treaty that will ensure development across all of Blue Moon. The first development that we have planned is the abolition of communication restrictions. Citizens will be able to freely contact people from other cities.”
A huge hoot of approval went up.
“We also plan on removing transportation restrictions. In the near future, we are looking at free migration from one city to the other. This will promote intermingling amongst the peoples of the three cities. I would also take this opportunity to thank General Ralph of Helix and General Felix from Xenias for this token of peace and co-operation, that will shortly be revealed.”
The ground shook violently, as the middle of the clearing opened up, and a huge obelisk, dark as midnight, grew out of it. It rose until it was at nearly the same height as the platform Cameron was on.
“What’s up with this?” Elizabeth asked curiously. Cameron was staggered. He had forgotten she was there as well. He had been listening so intently, he had forgotten his surroundings.
“I don’t know,” Gia looked down. Its hard surface glistened with energy, as neon blue streaks of light illuminated it, similar to the roads. At the base, a marble white parameter was created, and fire red columns of light leading off of it, covering the entire clearing in a warm, comforting glow. The blaze black obelisk and the volt white base contrasted, and gave off a power-filled aura.
“This is the Obelisk of Light,” Thales spoke, his face illuminated by the light of the huge spire. “The ultimate defense mechanism of the city. This structure serves as the control interface for the new defense lasers that have been deployed along the city walls.”
The floating screens showed the western perimeter of the city, and out of the walls, humongous cannons emerged, primed towards the sky.
“No more shall any perverse force harm this city,” Thales muttered, in an almost sinister matter.
“Hail Valhalla! Hail Blue Moon!”
Cries of ‘Hail Blue Moon!’ went up amongst the crowds. The soldiers performed a standard march, all proudly rejoicing the new defense systems.
Cameron, however, found it a bit…weird.
“Hail Valhalla?” He uttered in confusion. The whole concept… it made it sound as though the three cities were preparing for some sort of a-
“War?!” Tyson completed his thoughts. “Are they expecting something to attack them? It doesn’t make any sense! We just defeated Thanatos, and most of the Valdorians are captured-“
“Thank you all,” Thale’s voice boomed, “For coming out here. May the new alliances and relations formed usher in an age of peace.”
Amidst the cheers, the platforms started floating away. Cameron turned to his right and saw Emily’s and Tyson’s hand grow further apart, until the fingertips brushed apart. The platform of the Vennians headed towards the headquarters building. The platform Cameron was on headed towards the Central Dome.
“It’s okay,” Gia said with uncertainty, “After all that has happened, maybe they’re sticking to the honing their preparations. Better safe than sorry, right?”
Even though Gia tried to say it with confidence, it was pretty obvious something was off about the whole ordeal.
Cameron felt the atmosphere become exponentially colder for a fraction of a second. Then, it was back to normal.
“Did you feel that?” He asked his friends.
“What’re you talking about?” Elizabeth asked.
“The odd dip in temperature just now. I could’ve sworn-”
“Maybe it’s just your nerves,” Tyson interrupted, “Because none of us felt it.”
Cameron sighed. Maybe Tyson was right. He had been having trouble sleeping since he had woken up in the hospital two weeks prior. Maybe it was because of that.
He stepped forward, and put his hand on the energy barrier. It didn’t hurt at all, but only because the electricity freely flowed through his arms without hurting him.
Cameron gazed at the Obelisk of Light. It had enhanced the entire look of the city. A symbol that ushered in the winds of change.
Cameron close his eyes.
‘I hope,” He thought, ‘These changes are for the best. For everyone I care about.’
His eyes fell upon a small glistening snow flake. Cameron’s vision followed it until the flake dissipated in the sky, breaking to form small, solid crystals.
Crystals that glistened blue and black.