Indescribable pain. Blazes of fire that charred his body. Arcs of electricity that left him numb. Flashes of light that struck all parts of his being.
It was pain that made him realize he was still alive.
A faint memory was all that he could grasp. He remembered…something. Faces. Friends. People who he cared about. Companions who he travelled with.
But he was losing a hold on these memories.
He desperately reached out, breaking through the oblivion of the darkness, and his vision brightened. More memories appeared. A place he had called home. Feelings of peace and happiness.
Those seemed distant now, but he didn’t let up.
He grabbed onto them with all his might. His mind urged him to give up, his will was on the verge of collapse, but the fear, the eminent fear of isolation and chaos pushed him forward.
He gasped again.
It returned to him once more.
The light extinguished. He saw a figure standing in front of him. A tormentor. A parasite. An evil oppressor, someone who drained him of his own free will.
Tears of anguish escaped his eyes, and froze solid, floating away into the void of nothingness.
Why? He muttered.
Why me? What did I do to deserve this?
I don’t want his pain. I don’t want this life.
He shook violently, for that very life seethed into his body, blood that had stopped infinitely, flowed once again through his ice cold veins.
The gift of life, as he could discern, had been bestowed upon him.
He remembered more vividly. He had set out on a mission. A mission to save his home, alongside his companions. But the oppressor, he had swayed him from his path.
The oppressor, a shady figure of hatred and instinctual desires, turned him to a darker path.
A name rang in his ears. A name that made him shiver furiously. His name.
Zade rose up. He came to face his oppressor, but there was no face. A cruel smile, and everything else a mixture of chaos and oblivion.
“Why?” Zade spoke up. “Why have you ruined my life? Is it fun that you desire? Fun derived from the pain of others? The agony that I must endure? Is that what you want?”
The figure didn’t speak. It just faded away, turning to dust.
Another tear streaked down Zade’s cheek, but this time, it didn’t vaporize. It dripped to his feet.
A memory flashed in front of his eyes. A bridge. Raindrops that fell from the ominous clouds in the sky.
Everything had faded away the same way, turning to dust, as reality eventually caved away into the white.
More memories. His friends. Cameron, with his cheerful demeanor, Tyson with his observant eyes, Elizabeth with her fiery attitude, and Gia with her radiant aura. The fun times, the sad times. All of it, came back.
He remembered being in his body, yet having no control whatsoever. How he went up against his own loved ones, how the oppressor threatened his friends with his own voice.
He remembered seeing Cameron when his sanity was on the verge of collapse, and how the last thing he remembered before this never-ending state of pain was the memory of Cameron being whisked away by an invisible force.
His oppressor had been there as well.
That name came back as well.
Reality started coming back to his vision. Many more bruises appeared on his arms, burns on his back. More violent jolts that rattled his system.
Zade opened his eyes.
Reality is seldom as beautiful as your mind hopes it is.
He was sitting in a high chair, several wires wrapped around his wrists. Latches on his arms and legs held him to the uncomfortable seat.
Dark bangs of hair covered his eyes. Blood surrounded the chair, as the phosfluorescent white floor tainted by the dirty crimson.
“Hello, Zade.” A single, coarse voice said.
Zade looked to his left, from where the voice sounded.
On a similar chair, another person sat shackled from the wrists. His blood was spilled on the ground as well. Ashen white hair. A big, muscular frame.
“Cameron?” Zade mumbled feebly. The person shook his head, before looking up.
The cruel, yet broken look was one that Zade couldn’t ever forget. A jagged scar ran down his left eye, but Zade recognized the man sitting next to him.
“Ray?” Zade was surprised to see him, of all people.
“Looks like they treat everyone the same way, huh?” Ray wheezed, as he coughed up blood.
Zade, too, threw up, spitting up large amounts of blood.
“Didn’t think you were going to regain consciousness at all, kid.”
“Who’s ‘they’?” Zade asked. His eyes were getting heavy, but he couldn’t afford to lose consciousness, especially not after all those feelings of pain.
Ray acted like he didn’t hear Zade’s question.
“Judging by how long it’s been since the last torture, it’s going to happen anytime now.”
“What? More torture?” Zade was perplexed. The lighting of the room was dim, and he couldn’t see well enough, with his eyelids not opening up properly.
“No,” Ray spoke up, looking at his left wrist, “They torture us three or four times, followed by completely healing us.”
“Huh?” That didn’t make any sense to Zade.
“In short, they heal us so that they can torture us more without worrying about killing us. Ingenious, really.”
Zade thought of that. Whoever it was, they really hated him. But he still didn’t get why Ray was there.
“You still don’t get who’s doing this, do you?” Ray spat up more blood.
“No,” Zade fessed, “Not at all.”
Under normal circumstances, he couldn’t even bear being in vicinity of Ray, remembering how the last time they met, Zade had unleashed a gale of darkness upon him.
The arm support of the chair opened up, and a sphere appeared out of it. It was an M4-HMC capsule. Several fluids shot out of it, flowing down his skin, healing cuts, soothing the burns.
The relief was so great that tears fell from Zade’s eyes.
Then, as soon as the sphere evaporated, a high voltage current passed through his body, creating more blisters on his skin.
It was unbearably painful.
Zade wished he was dead.
Next to him, Ray was laughing.
“What is wrong with you?” Zade yelled in between the jolts, “Do you enjoy getting tortured?”
Ray didn’t respond. He kept laughing menacingly until the current stopped flowing.
“How pathetic,” Ray spat, and Zade wasn’t sure who Ray was talking to, but he remained silent.
“You have the guts to torture us, but you can’t stand here and show us your rat-faced selves, can you?”
For a moment, the only sound that could be heard was the dripping blood the pooled at their feet. Slowly, people emerged from the shadows, and several lights were turned on. Zade blinked furiously. His irises had shrunken so much that all he saw was white.
For a few minutes, he stayed in that dazzled condition. Then, his eyes adjusted. He saw soldiers. Valhallan soldiers.
Zade’s blood curdled at the sight. He recognized several of them. He remembered them from his training sessions in the Central Dome.
At the front of the group, stood the man that was responsible for sending Zade off to the mission to save Blue Moon.
Colonel Thales’ eyes were glassy. In fact, everyone’s eyes were. They looked beyond human, with movements as though they were in a sleep.
“Thanatos. Raymond. It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it?”
Zade saw Ray flinch. He probably hadn’t heard that name in a long time.
“Thales!” Zade yelled, blood dripping down his chin, “What is the meaning of all this? Why have you held me prisoner here?”
“Do you think I’m a fool?” Thales stepped forward, and brought forward the edge of blaster under Zade’s chin.
“Oh, you’re a fool alright,” Ray retorted, “We don’t need to think anything.”
Thales pointed his blaster at Ray, and a spinning orb of emerald green energy charged up. Thales embedded the orb into Ray’s chest, who shrieked in pain.
“Stop it!” Zade yelled. Thales took the blaster away, and Zade edged over, as he saw the bloody gash that was left on Ray’s chest.
An HMC capsule appeared, and instantly healed Ray. Thales retreated back to where he had been standing previously.
“Open your mouth again, Valdorians, and I shall end you right here.”
A transparent energy shield went up between Zade and Thales. The soldiers backed up a little, as Zade placed his palm on the shield. A little bit of tingling, but that was all. Compared to earlier, it was nothing.
The shield distanced itself from Zade by a couple of feet, and as soon as it did, Zade’s shackles came loose. He got up, and rushed over to check on Ray, who had collapsed onto the ground.
Zade didn’t know why he was showing concern towards his enemy, but he pushed that flicker of doubt aside and helped Ray up, and propped him against the base of the chair. Zade looked for a way out, but the seats were against a solid wall.
Zade concentrated, and created a sphere of ice, and hurled it towards the wall, but before it could make contact, the energy shield extended around them, forming a complete covering.
“Not so fast, foul creature.” Thales muttered, “Let me explain why you’re here.”
Zade momentarily let go of his anger. Finally, he thought, some answers.
“Thanatos, you are here along with Raymond because of the fact that you two have conspired against the well-being of Blue Moon.”
“I am not Thanatos!” Zade yelled, as another icy sphere formed in his palm. He hurled it at Thales, but the energy shield absorbed the attack.
Thales’ mouth slightly twitched.
“Evident,” He said sarcastically, “Now, let’s get to the point. We want to inflict pain on both of you, pain beyond your wildest imaginations.”
“Something worse than this?” Zade looked back to find Ray clutching his chest in one hand, and supporting his weight on the chair by the other hand. “What, you’re going to slow roast us over a fire while hungry Siauhus chomp us away?”
“While the idea sounds tempting, what we’ve planned is even better.” Thales grinned sadistically. “We’re transporting you back to where Thanatos came from.”
Zade’s blood froze. He felt as though a blade had pierced its way through his heart.
From where Thanatos came? Surely, he couldn’t have meant-
“Earth.” A much more familiar voice boomed.
Zade’s heart stopped beating. From behind Thales, another person appeared. White camouflage pants. Black Valhallan Corps jacket. A triple-barrel blaster in his holster.
As the soldiers stood in salute, Colonel Stanley strode over gracefully.
Zade stood frozen, his mouth agape. He had not expected this to happen. He didn’t expect this at all.
“Thanatos,” The words came from Stanley’s mouth with so much hatred, and his eyes were full of pity.
“Colonel!” Zade repeatedly banged his fists on the energy shield, “You’ve got to believe me! I’m not Thanatos! It’s not my-“
“Silence!” Stanley yelled, “The evidence speaks for itself. The control over ice and darkness. The affinity with the Shadow Blade. Your actions at the Core region.”
“You’ve got to- ugh!”
Zade collapsed, as a strong current arced through his body. He fell onto one knee, eyes brimming with tears.
The person that had rescued him, provided him comfort, and acted as a mentor. Even he didn’t trust Zade.
It was the most heart-breaking thing Zade had ever experienced.
“No…” He softly muttered, “I’m not Thanatos.”
“I wish I could believe you. I really wish I could.”
A strong hand grabbed him by the shoulders. Zade looked up. Ray’s hardy expression was fixated towards Stanley.
“I believe him, Stanley. He can’t be Thanatos.”
Those words moved Zade. Coming from the person he least expected it from, it filled Zade with melancholy. Why was the only person who believed him his enemy?
“You don’t have the right to say anything, Raymond!” Thales spat, “Soldiers! Escort these prisoners of war to the shipping bay!”
Zade lay there, motionless, as the energy shields went down. He didn’t even resist the soldiers as they shackled him with energy-cuffs. He got up slowly, feeling broken inside.
Ray was pushed to his side, as he budged against the guards. Even four of them had difficulty holding the Valdorian chieftain in captivity.
Zade still couldn’t believe that Ray had stood up for him. It was the most unexpected gesture. He thought about Gia, and how she had believed in him when she witnessed his demonstration of power for the first time. He winced, thinking about how betrayed and shattered she must’ve felt, knowing that she trusted the wrong person.
He thought about Tyson and Elizabeth, and how they would be feeling, after they saw Zade betray them.
He reminisced that faint recollection of Cameron being there in his induced state of unconsciousness. There were so many things that made his heart ache.
Optical restrainers were placed on their eyes, as Zade only saw black for a couple of minutes. He was being forced to walk to some unknown place. The place reeked of blood, so Zade guessed that the place was probably a torture hold where they interrogated prisoners and captives.
He had never imagined such a dark side to Valhalla. He never could’ve imagined anything of that sort anyways.
The surface he was walking on changed roughness all of a sudden. One of the guards crudely yanked off the optical restraints, and so, Zade was yet again blinded by the flaring lights. As his vision adjusted, the first thing he noticed was a brownish shuttle the size of the Central Dome itself. Or its exterior, at least.
Rods of red iron lined the dusty-brown body of the ship. The ship floated in mid-air, suspended a few feet above the ground. A few energy stairs floated into sight, as Zade and Ray were forced up into the shuttle.
“This can’t be happening,” Ray said in a defeated tone, “I can’t believe I’m being sent to that hellhole.”
Stanley walked up, and kicked Ray to the ground, and before Zade could protest, Stanley delivered a swift kick to his stomach as well, and he fell, his head hitting the floor of the shuttle.
Several guards dragged Zade and Ray and placed them into holding cells, which were body coverings with a single transparent flap to show their faces. Zade was pushed into the cell, and was tightly strapped into the hold.
A guard appeared with a strange syringe in his hands, dripping with a menacing blue liquid.
“Grade-A sedatives,” Stanley spoke solemnly, “They’ll keep you in induced sleep until you reach Earth.”
“Why not kill us here, asshole?” Ray spat, with a murderous look in his eyes.
“Interesting question, Raymond,” Stanley overlooked the insult, “You see, killing you straight away, or even by the most torturous methods, would still taint this planet with your filthy corpse, so I thought we might as well send you to Earth, where you’ll be stranded with limited food and water, and no other resources, so that you can die while you roam freely. Evil, isn’t it? Completely free, with no bondages and an entire planet to yourselves. Yet you die due to the restrictions we impose here.”
The syringe went into Ray’s arm, and in a matter of seconds, his eyelids dropped, as he fell unconscious.
“Leave me alone for a minute,” Stanley ordered, and the guards handed the syringe to him, before leaving the shuttle.
“I guess this is farewell,” Those words stung Zade. “Everyone who ever knew you believes you to be dead.” Stanley scratched his head. “Well, I guess technically, you are dead.”
Something seemed off about Stanley. He seemed sad and was seething with rage in front of the soldiers. Now, he seemed sort of…elated. Over-confident.
“You’ve got to believe me, Stanley!” Zade made a last-ditch attempt, a desperate plea. “I’m not Thanatos.”
Stanley raised an eyebrow. Then, he did the most bizarre thing ever.
His lips curved into a twisted, vicious smile. “S-Stanley?” Zade stuttered. The venomous light in Stanley’s eyes left him dumbstruck.
“I believe you, Zade. I know you’re not Thanatos.”
That second, time froze for Zade. Nothing mattered anymore. “I’ll let you on a little secret why, though.” Stanley neared him, until his mouth was next to his ear. Know why I believe why you’re not Thanatos?” He spoke maliciously.
Zade couldn’t bear the thought of it. “No way,” He muttered, “It can’t be…you…”
“Fast learner, aren’t you? Stanley smiled.
No. No. No. Zade’s mind was spiraling.
“I. Am. Thanatos.”
The needle struck Zade’s arm, but the pain was insignificant. Those few seconds, the only thing Zade saw was Stanley’s face, as the words “I am Thanatos” rang in his ears.
The world around him shifted into darkness, as darkness set in.
“No…” Zade muttered one last time.
Why? He thought, Why me?