That’s how Zade felt as he woke up, every part of his body aching. He was no longer inside the space shuttle. All he saw was a menacing black sky, drowning him in melancholy. The air was rough, hot and difficult to breathe.
Zade willed his body to get up, and as he fought against his fervent wish to give up, his palms pressed against something sharp, as blood flowed down his palm. The pain gave Zade a jolt, and he shot up quickly, staggered slightly, but then regained his composure.
All around him, gale winds blew, hotter than anything he had ever felt before. “Earth,” Zade’s voice was hoarse, his hands calloused and covered in warm blood.
He looked around. There was no sign of any space shuttle. He was in the middle of nowhere.
It was just like when he had first woken up on Blue Moon. Except this time, there were only two humans-
“Ray!” Zade blurted. He ran around frantically, searching for his enemy.
“Ray! Where are you?!” Zade could roughly make out the terrain of the planet. The ground was dirt that had solidified to give a rough, edgy surface. Stones and boulders of various shades of brown and black were embedded into the ground.
Zade was sweating furiously. After the cool atmosphere of Blue Moon, Earth seemed as hot as flames. He was already parched, but there was no water in sight.
Something about the environment struck Zade as odd. He remembered what Stanley had-
Zade stopped walking, and stood in his place for a moment. He still couldn’t grab hold of what happened. Stanley, the confident man, the one who led the Valhallan Corps…he was the one responsible for all that had happened to Zade.
It didn’t make any sense to him. Everything went against all of his logic. Stanley had said that Thanatos was centuries old. But Stanley was well-known amongst Valhalla, and surely, someone must’ve noticed if Stanley had been born five hundred years ago.
Another oddity was how Stanley had said that Thanatos had killed his son. Why would Stanley kill his own son?
Zade felt a sharp pain behind his eyes, as he winced and collapsed to the ground.
“What the hell is going on?” He banged his fist against the ground.
Zade remembered what Stanley had said.
‘The sun was giving out less and less heat. Earth got cold feet. Temperatures dipped across the globe.’
Zade hadn’t bothered to check how cold Earth had gotten, but surely, this didn’t classify as cold. It wasn’t even temperate.
“Why, Stanley?!” Zade cried out. At his feet, something wriggly grew. It was dirty green, and was bent at an odd angle. He knelt down to touch it, and instantly realized what it was.
“Grass,” He muttered, quite astonished. All around him, grass grew in huge patches, spanning over several meters. He had never seen a plant during his time on Blue Moon. Heck, he’d forgotten what plants were. In the distance, he spotted something tall and erect. He rushed to check it.
It had a humongous upright base, which was composed of a coarse, hard material brown in color. On the branches that extended out of it, more green platelets grew, dancing in the wind.
Certain things came back to Zade. His memories…they were trying to tell him something. Something weird.
He wondered how he knew about all these things. He didn’t have a single clue.
Something about the surroundings changed. A nasty smell filled Zade’s nostrils. A huge shadow loomed over him.
He slowly turned around. Towering above him, a huge bipedal creature with rocky tusks stood, its raven black eyes gleaming with the intent to kill. Its hide was encased within a rocky-hard plating. Its hands were lined with razor-sharp stone edges.
If it had not been for his instincts, Zade would’ve been dead. The creature struck downwards, and Zade leapt out of its reach.
“Not again,” He muttered in equal parts annoyance and terror. This was what happened on Blue Moon. He woke up in the middle of nowhere, and some strange, bizarre creature attacked him. The difference, however, was that this time, Zade was aware of his capabilities.
He willed icicles to rise out the ground below the creature. For a moment, dark icicles emerged, glistening against the wind. However, the next moment, they were a pool of muddy water, resting below the monster.
Both Zade and said creature looked the water. If the creature could’ve shown emotions, Zade was sure the monster was perplexed, as it tilted its head in a quizzical manner, as if to say, ‘How exactly is that supposed to hurt me?’
Then, the creature got over its curiosity and lunged at Zade, who rolled safely to a side as the creature barreled forward.
“Okay, Zade said, “makes sense. Too hot for ice. I still have another trick up my sleeve.”
He thrust his hands forward, with a lot of reluctance, however. The last time Zade had used this power, he ended up being forced to fight his friends and was tortured brutally. But as the creature let out a guttural scream, Zade thought, Screw it. What do I have to lose?
From all around, shadows left their respective objects, and gathered in the hollow of Zade’s palm, forming an orb of darkness.
The creature, headstrong as it was, charged without hesitation. Zade let loose a yell, and with all his might, shot the orb towards the creature.
As the attack collided with the feral beast, the shadowy sphere grew in size, and completely encased the creature in shadows for a few seconds, and continued down its path at breakneck speeds, before finally exploding in a massive blast of energy that nearly knocked Zade off his feet.
Zade felt to his knees. He cursed the fact that his abilities drained him of so much energy. He had never seen Cameron or Elizabeth be that tired. Why was it only him?
Before he could get up, a supersonic cry echoed though the wasteland. Zade tightly covered his ears, as it was all he could do to prevent his ear-drums from exploding.
Above him, a draconic beast was descending from the sky, its wings long and razor-laden, and its body dark as a nightmare.
Zade stumbled away from the great black beast, as it landed in front of him.
“What the hell?” Zade muttered, as he tried charging another sphere of shadows. This time, nothing happened. Aside from a small speck of blackness, there was no great orb of power.
Zade wanted to kick himself. He had used up all his energy trying to get rid of the monster from earlier. He backed away as much as he could. No exits this time. That was how he was going to die. Marooned on an annihilated planet, eaten by a dragon. Zade closed his eyes.
Zade felt something goo-y splash across his clothes. He opened his eyes to find the head of the beat crushed under a humongous boulder.
“Déjà vu, much?” Zade had never felt so elated to hear that voice. He turned around, seeing a tall, muscular man walk up to him. His clothes were battered, torn from the arm, and he wore a huge trench coat over his rags.
“A little late, aren’t we, Ray?” Zade replied coolly.
“Would’ve served you better to stay put where I left you, kid.” Ray struck a sharp blow to Zade’s head. Zade shrugged off the pain, and picked up a rusted metal rod from the ground,
“Why’d you stick up for me?” Zade had to get it off his mind. He still remembered how Ray had vouched for him when he was being accused.
“Because I, too, was being controlled by that sadistic asshole.” Zade was taken aback.
“Wait, what?” Ray’s expression was one of amusement. “I thought you’d have the brains to figure it out. Thanatos arrived on Blue Moon. He controlled who he deemed more powerful, and set the humans against each other.”
Zade thought about it for a minute. It never had made any sense before. But now it did. It also explained why the Valdorians attacked so indiscriminately.
“So Thanatos…did he control each and every Valdorian?” Ray shook his head. “He specifically targeted those who were leaders and important figures in the society.”
“Then why were you the one who was picked up to be tortured?” Zade narrowed his eyes. “It could’ve been anyone.”
“No it couldn’t have, Zade.” Ray spoke calmly. He closed his eyes, and breathed in the air, rough and corrosive as it was.
“We have a lot more in common than what you might’ve thought,” Ray’s tone was mysterious, undiscernible. “We are both from this planet, Zade. We were born here, right on Earth.”
Zade lowered his head. Ray was about to say something, but was cut-off.
“I figured as much,” He spoke solemnly, “Let me guess. We were a part of the original humans, before our civilization ever left the planet, am I right?”
Ray looked impressed. “I guess you’re not that stupid, are you?” He cracked his knuckles. “You’re right. Both of us were born in the twenty-second century. I was born in 2100 AD while you were born in 2130 AD.” Zade let that sink in. He was over a thousand years old.
“You have all your memories with you?” Zade asked. He didn’t think anything could surprise him anymore.
“Not all. Some of it.” He turned to face Zade. “We knew each other that much I’m sure of. Just not sure how.”
“Do you remember how we came to Blue Moon?”
“No,” Ray replied, “All I remember are fake memories that Thanatos created for me to believe in. A childhood that never existed. Parents and friends that were all fake. My last memory was as a human on Earth, and then…I was the chieftain of the Valdorians.”
“Do you remember things about…about Earth?” Ray asked hesitantly, “About your past life or family?”
Zade wished he did. But only a few flashes were all that he had.
“Random things” He spoke up, “General information. Plants. Trees. Rain. Laughter. A bridge above the ocean.”
“Do you remember the sun?” Ray asked.
Zade recalled the dried up hologram that he had seen in Valhalla. It looked so desolate, so morose.
“No. Do you?” Ray sighed wistfully. “Yes. Yes I do. It was magical. So much power. Such radiance. Such exuberance that exuded out of it. I remember the sunrise. And how the rays of the sun spread across the horizon…It was beautiful.”
For a few minutes, the two walked aimlessly in complete silence, as if reconciling to the fact that the Earth that they knew could never be seen again.
“I know…that I was an enemy to you,” Zade spoke up, and Ray looked at him. “But now, we know who the true enemy is. I have a home, back there on Blue Moon.” All those memories of good times rushed past, making Zade more morose and yet, more determined.
“It is something I am willing to fight for, and no matter what, I will not let it fall, not into the hands of someone as chaotic as Thanatos.”
Zade extended his hand forward, and Ray eyed it carefully. “But I can’t do this alone. I need your strength, Ray.”
“Of course you do,” Ray sighed, and turned away, “You’re weak, Zade. Up until now, Thanatos was lending you his strength. But now, it’s all you.”
“Which is why I need your help,” Zade repeated himself. Ray looked at Zade’s outstretched hand with uncertainty.
“As long as you promise that I’m the one who kicks Thanatos’ shady ass, I’m in.” Zade smiled, probably for the first time since he had traversed the core region of Blue Moon.
“We’ll see about that.”
“Sounds fair enough.” The two shook hands, out there in the middle of nowhere.
“But where do we head now?” Zade asked, as he twirled the iron rod between his fingers. “That’s what I had gone scouting for.” Ray pointed towards his far right. “If what I remember is correct, the co-ordinates in the ship for the destination were 39.95 degrees north, 75.16 degrees west.
Zade gave a blank expression. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I remembered these co-ordinates well enough, because this was the location of the city of Philadelphia, my hometown.” Zade thought for a minute. The name of the city did seem familiar. “What about it?”
“As it turns out, one of the prime launch sites of the original ships that were to carry people from Earth to Blue Moon is located in San Francisco.”
Zade tried to remember a map, but he didn’t even remember the name of the country they were supposed to be in. “It roughly equates to a month of walking.” Ray winced slightly. “Not the ideal situation, I know, but-”
“I’m down for it,” Zade interrupted. Ray glanced at Zade. “You’re one tough guy, aren’t you?” Zade solemnly nodded. “Now then, which direction?” Ray was still pointing to the right. “That way. That’s west.”
“And how do you know that?”
Ray knelt and patted the ground. “My affinity to the ground. I can sense the Earth’s magnetic poles, and since they are reversed above ground, I can use that as a compass.”
“Then we have somewhere to go, don’t we?”
Zade and Ray started walking, makeshift weapons in hand. On the horizon, a storm was brewing. A hurricane of darkness awaited them, as the two continued down the dark, empty wasteland. Neither of them looked back.