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Last Hero: Age of Shadow

Updated on May 1, 2018
Working Graphic for Book 2
Working Graphic for Book 2 | Source

Prelogue

This is the second entry into the Last Hero series within the Last Hero Universe. It takes place immediately after the first book, Last Hero. Slae awakes to find himself fully restored in his mind, though he now has to suffer through some traumas, like a bandaid peeled from a fresh wound.

Clamoring about, he remembers his friend Lyla and runs for the only comfort he has in the world, but is take up by the Angel of Light. She informs him of a lingering danger that will put to the test, all of his abilities. It turns out, the Shadow he struggled against and eventually destroyed, was but a sliver. A weakened droplet of Shadow left to its own ambitions under the guide of Thunder; its actual self amasses, an ocean of black and despair begins ripping through the universe toward Earth.

Yet Slae's resolve is unshaken and he meets up with Lyla, ready to share with her, all he remembers. Though, the feelings of loss, of his family and his entire race linger still as he navigates flashes of memory that seem to intrude infrequently. To make it worse, Slae struggles with an itching agitation and a violent utterance builds inside himself, inexplicably lashing out and losing himself in his power, only to find the frightening answer. Slae is fighting an eternal struggle with remnants of shadow-energy captured by the power of light, his ineptitude with the power of light left it weak, allowing the dark energies to penetrate his thoughts and feelings.

(Please enjoy the following snippets from the unreleased book, and keep in mind that it is an unfinished draft. While the story is set, there are still rounds of corrects to make. If liked it, let me know what you think! If you didn't like it, let me know why! I'd love to hear from you!)

Story Flow: The story this time around will not focus on Slae alone, and will move perspectives. This will be indicated by "- [name]" after the chapter number. Example: Chapter 2 - Slae.

Chapter 1 - Thunder

The room was blackened as no light filtered through a small window facing the horizon of Saturn, its turbulent atmosphere both exquisite and ghastly; rotating against the dark and foreboding expanse of space. The rings of the giant planet shone in dazzling arrays, threatening the beauty of the stars trying to shine through.

Then a light burst forth into the room, blazon with glory and pulsating with brilliant blues. The light shone from Thunder's robes and he went for a peculiar device settled upon a singular surface. The device was cylindrical and bulged around the middle and wrapped about it were insignias, similar to the writing upon his robes. He touched the top of it and the writing glowed a dark and eerie purple. The top lifted up, hoisted by four small bars. A field appeared about the bars as the energy was sucked from Thunder's robes into the container. The transfer was expediate in wisping orbs of exceeding glory, until the energy appeared as a miniature star therein the device. The container then immediately closed up, and the glowing insignia turned from that of a purple to a static blue.

Thunder discarded his robes upon a chair next to a stand; his only furniture in an otherwise mundane and undecorated room. He walked to the window and stared out at the lonely expanse, beyond the reach of Saturn’s rings. He was confused now, more than ever. Yet confusion was not something he ever experienced before; but he was able to aptly call it what it was.

Anger, which he never likewise felt before, broiled deep within and with great intensity. He was not supposed to be able to feel these things, being a complex humanoid machine, yet he did. Even more troublesome was that he was familiar with the feelings, as though his memory had simply been wiped of them; though a deeper sensation told him they were not as new as he supposed.

He ran his hand along the glass, then pressed his fist into it, saying, "What are you?" Thunder smacked the glass with his fist, causing it to crack just so.

His thoughts had shifted from himself to that of Azur or was it Slae? Thunder was unsure of what to call the strange person he fought before. Though it mattered not, the result was the same.

Thunder continued to verbalize his thoughts, "No one ever challenged me before. I even defeated you. I watched you die. Yet, somehow you came back as my equal-" He let his hand slide to his side, "No, you came back as my better."

Thunder's eyes went wide as he stumbled back from the window, images of Azur’s smile were visible with his waking eye. He commanded such fierce abilities and managed to bring Thunder down, even going so far as to make him understand fear. He gripped at his head with one hand and tried to ease his fear; he would not go back to earth, not yet.

Thunder walked to a wall in his room, which vaporized as he passed through it. Just as quickly as it had vanished, the wall reformed barring the room. Thunder walked down the long halls of the ship, trying desperately to keep his emotions under control. The purple lighting, the shadow-metal that rippled with light under his feet and the highly decorative paneling was all enough to make Thunder lose it. He never considered the pulsating rhythms until now. The metal was alive and interactive and for reasons Thunder was unsure of, it drove a small spike into his fragile sanity.

Aside from restructuring and repairing his body after his bout with Azur, Thunder had not stepped foot on the ship in nearly forty-six years. He had become accustomed to Earth and his white mansion crowned in a landscape of jungle and adorned with light. He would come to miss it and the planet.

"Azur… " Thunder let slip from his lips.

Before he could continue his thoughts however, he had reached his destination. The command center was a large triangular room. Every inch of it was a giant viewing screen, offering a view around the ship with no blind spots. Controls were holographic projections that several shadow-operators worked with.

The commander sat at the tip of the room, donned not only in basic shadowarrior covering, but also in golden shadow-armor. It was the same material Thunder's door was made of. Highly concentrated and nearly impregnable; one could pass through the center of a star and not gain so much as a burn. For Thunder though, it was inferior to even his own skin.

The commander stood from his seat and called out, "Thunder on board!"

Every operator, including the commander, saluted Thunder, but he did not flinch nor respond. He knew he could not show any emotion and worried of what might become of him should the Shadow know about his change. He had been told that he was found that way - emotionless. Yet something in him now signaled that his emotion’s programming may have been severely altered.

"Set course for… " Thunder paused. He knew where they were suppose to go, but he had a sudden thought to change course, "Sector 2, 5, 7 Gamma."

The commander and operators looked at each other in surprise, "Is the mission completed?"

"Yes. Now follow my orders, commander." Thunder replied coolly.

The operators broke out into cheers and the commander brought his hands together, "Excellent! We should wake him up then and start the next phase."

The commander went for the exiting door, but ran into Thunder who blurred into view, "We shall wake him when I say."

The commander looked skeptically at Thunder, "Sir! If I may be so bold. We have lost communication with all my brethren shadowarriors. In fact, we can no longer detect shadow-energy on that planet. I believe it be advisable to let him decide. Besides, correct me if I'm wrong, but those are not coordinates for our planned destination."

Thunder did not even glance down at the commander, who stepped back from Thunder as he began speaking "He shall not be wakened until the cycle is complete. What has happened is of none of your concern shadow-commander. The mission is complete and I gave you orders. Now Comply."

"I cannot follow thos-" The commander's voice was cut off as Thunder scooped him up by the neck.

"Treachery." Was all Thunder replied with.

Thunder's palm split open, rays and wisps of shimmering light shone forth, casting aside the dim lightning and illuminating even the darkest crevice. The commander began to scream for mercy, and beg; even as he did, his armor cracked from under the pressure and his body broke apart. The commander's pleads turned to screams as he was sucked into Thunder's palm. The operators stood silently, unsure of what to do.

Thunder pointed at the highest-ranking operator and commanded to know, "Will you defy me?" The shadow-operator shook its head fervently and Thunder commanded, "You will be the new commander of this vessel. Follow my orders or die."

Shadow began to collect upon the chosen operator and form about his entire frame. As it did, the shadow turned from black and purple to gold as it coalesced into golden armor. The armor was similar to the previous commander and the operator smiled wickedly, taking place as the new commander.

The commander’s old position, now vacant, was quickly filled with a plume of smoke and in its wake was a new operator to work the holographic controls.

"Be advised commander. I will not tolerate delays. We will go to sector 2, 5, 7 Gamma. However, we will not be late to our final destination." Thunder said as he walked from the room.

Chapter 2 - Slae

Three strange beings blurred into view, their mouths phasing open and closed in perfect sync, their words being completely indistinguishable; with the exception of a few.

"All is well," The three spoke in unison before being blotted out by darkness.

A bright blue sky came into focus, appearing surreal, liking the waking from a daze and all the while painted with streaks and puffs of lingering white clouds. The air was brisk, giving rise to Slae’s senses as he slowly sat up. He looked down at his form, having remembered his clothing being lost to the flame earlier. But alas, his red tunic and pants were upon him. Slae took in the scenery around him, recognizing he was back where he entered into the portal; a portal that took him to a strange cavern. He blinked, rubbing his head, his thoughts seemingly unreachable; as though it was taxed with too much information. Slae clambered to his feet and walked toward the metal plaque and finding the inscription was different this time, reading simply:

The way is shut

Slae grimaced; he had so many questions. Then it dawned on him, a glint of clarity he had not felt since he first arrived to fight the Shadow. He raised his hands to his face and began to smile. His mind continued race at a dizzying pace, but his confusion was replaced with pure joy.

"I can remember everything… "

Slae nearly wanted to jump with excitement when his mood was quickly dashed - He recalled everything again. Slae dropped to his knees as the emotional impact of his memories came full force. His parents had passed a year before he came to this planet as a child. The civil war that broke out on his planet, pitting family against family, and wreaking havoc amongst his own people. Because of the war, all his friends and family killed, despite having fought for the freedom of those that killed them. Yet, worst of all, his whole planet destroyed.

“I may be all that is left of my race,” Slae’s words carried upon the trembling of his voice.

Even though Quweaign, the Angel of Light, had told him of his planet's demise, his lapse in memory made it hard to process the loss. He grabbed a hand full of dirt and let it sift between his fingers, watching the grains fall straight down as wind did not reach where he was. The dry dirt fell slowly from his fingers as he contemplated his losses, in which he recalled a most peculiar thing. Something Slae was surprised he had not picked up on before. When he came to the planet he was but twelve years, in his planet's measurement of time. Now he was a grown man, and by his estimate, well in his eighties by earthly measurements. Nearly fifty years passed from the time the Angel found him, to the time he returned.

"Clearly," Slae said aloud, "I do not have all my memories."

Although Slae felt no further gaps in his memories, there was a large time span unaccounted for. He was frustrated and felt half tempted to level the entire area to ease his pain. Then he thought it odd, that a tantrum-like release of power would bring him any easement. Instead Slae stood and walked over to the milky-white stones. He felt their smooth surface, the power within them receded, and he breathed slowly and deeply.

Slae looked skyward and mustard some of his strength, being sure to hold back enough to not damage the space about him. With a thrust he was out from within the deep hole within the mountain, of what was likely a dormant volcano. As he came to the top, his momentum died, and he came down on the side of the mountain, nearly losing his footing across a bit of soft snow. Then he gave himself a larger thrust and he was high above the mountain tops, cresting the planet's upper atmosphere.

Before, the return of his memories, this would have been new and exciting to Slae. However, this was now normal. Just a short time ago, according to his own memories, he was traveling this way on his own planet. Which was far from the norm. Everybody Slae knew, even toddlers, could alter gravity about themselves and fly. Despite his inability to fly, Slae could travel distances faster than anyone on his planet, though he had to be careful on how; it was a fair trade off in his mind.

Slae neared the ground and used a small burst of strength to soften the landing. He had cleared several hundred miles and landed within a desert. The sand being hot against his feet. Slae closed his eyes and reach out, sensing the atoms and molecules about him. He pushed further out, spanning the whole desert in search of where to go. Even further he pushed until his sight traveled through forests and over large bodies of water, through the streets of ruined cities until he felt her.

Slae smiled, Lyla was yet alive and well, and he could sense her going about her apartment. He angled himself toward her direction and thrusted upward and outward. In mere seconds Slae was landing at the outskirts of the city where Lyla was. He was excited to see a familiar face and wasted no time. He ran for her apartment, passing by everyone else at a speed that made him invisible to the naked eye. Though, in his wake a massive windstorm interrupted the busy-goings of anybody unfortunate enough to be caught in it.

Despite his speed, Slae could clearly see the state of the city. Everyone appeared genuinely happy, working together to clean the streets up. Trash bins on every corner was brimming with garbage and large areas were sectioned for the collection of unowned items that could be recycled. Some buildings were receiving fresh coats of paint, and complete overhauls. A few lights flickered with unstable power trickling to them.

Slae went through the apartment entrance in which Lyla lived, and traveled up the spiraling staircase and down the low-ceiling hall. Though he moved much slower to avoid disturbing anyone. Once Slae reached Lyla's door, he was about to knock when he noticed a glint of light coming into the hall. Heading into the apartment, everything was just as he last remembered it. He moved through the few rooms that existed, but did not find her, having avoided the bedroom and bathroom. Just as he was about to search Lyla out again he heard a gasp from behind.

Slae had barely turned in time to receive a warm hug from Lyla.

"I can't believe it's you!" Lyla said joyfully.

"I was not gone that long, was I?" Slae asked, while hugging her back.

"A few weeks is long enough. I thought you were dead." Lyla pulled away, wiping tears from her eyes.

"I apologize, I had not realized."

Lyla nodded, "I'm just glad you're back. But, what happened anyways?"

Slae thought back to what had happened before. He remembered his fight with Thunder, and how when he realized Slae might win, Thunder left and ran for the mountains. He remembered the red beam, and portal that took him to the strange, otherworldly cavern housing the planet’s sought after energy. Thunder also stood across from it, taking it and nearly killing everyone in the process. In a way, the enemy had won, achieving what they were going for. In fact, if not for the last person Slae would ever want to trust, Azur, the entire planet would be gone. He had given himself up, using all his magic prowess and incredible feats of power to make himself the new energy, effectively saving everyone. Slae would be forever thankful.

"Suffice to say that I was not able to stop the tyrant, Thunder. He succeeded in obtaining what he needed. It is not all bad though. The planet is safe for now and I have my memories back."

"Everything?!" Lyla responded excitedly, clearly not as worried about Thunder's success.

"Yes."

"So, what was your planet called?" Lyla blurted out, her mind racing with questions.

Slae laughed and said, "I will answer this one. But I am not sure I am ready for a session of questions and answers. My mind is still reeling. But my planet's name is Spurion. My people were called Sylehk, which is both plural and singular."

"Fascinating. . .Tell me, should we be worried about Thunder or the Shadow?"

Slae smiled, "I am not entirely sure. With my memory also came remembrance of all my power and its potential. But I do feel confident that Thunder no longer poses a threat."

Lyla smiled back and offered Slae a drink, who politely refused, causing Lyla to ask more questions, "Don't you ever eat or drink?"

Slae cleared his throat suggestively, but answered the question anyways, "No, though it is not typical of my people either. I, even at birth, required no sustenance, which was unique to me. My body feeds off some form of eternal energy; always rejuvenating, always satisfied."

Lyla appeared skeptical, but Slae quickly changed the subject, "Tell me. How has everything been with you? With progress?"

"I've been good, keeping busy. I was actually about to help some new people move into their place." Lyla paced a bit and continued, "Some gangs rose up, but the E.P.F. took care of them."

"Why do you look worried?" Slae asked.

"It's just, some of the gang members were just kids. And after Thunder, well the world is kind of short on them right now. But the E.P.F. executed every gang member by firing squad or hanging," Lyla replied.

"Surely, the gang members deserved it. The E.P.F. is suppose to be a force of good." Slae said, trying to get more from Lyla.

Lyla shook her head, "They aren't a force of good from how I see it. They killed every gang member, even ones whose only crime was being associated with them. In fact, they've been taking people away for every little offense."

"Where are they taking them?" Slae asked.

"I don't know, they don't come back."

Slae nodded and replied, "Go and help your neighbors, Lyla. We will have plenty of time to spend catching up. For what it is worth, however, it is good seeing you again."

Lyla smiled and Slae exited through the door, his own smile fading once he had. Slae was disappointed to hear of so much corruption in such a short time. Even without the Shadow, people seemed capable of darkness. Slae was using the staircase in the apartment buildings which had no landings. It was floor after floor of winding staircases with dingy chipped, and gold-painted handrails. Walls had seen better days as flaps of loose wallpaper revealed chipped plaster beneath. The entire lighting for the stairwell came from a single source from the ceiling of the top floor. By time Slae had reached the bottom floor he could barely see a person standing at the foot of the steps.

He was dressed in standard Earth Protection Force uniform and cross-armed. His crew-cut made apparent his very recent hiring and Slae could sense his myriad of emotions. Yet it was his fear that stood out, and it was more than obvious that the E.P.F. had been in waiting for Slae.

"What can I do for you." Slae asked.

The officer flinched and replied, "Slae… right? You need to come with me." The officer produced a telecard, filled with shadow-energy at the center.

Slae glared for several seconds and realized something was deeply troubling about the situation. He had to know more and so decided to grab the card and use it. Slae found himself transported to a very small room with only three items. Attached to the cold iron walls was a light, a speaker, and a microphone-camera combo. The room was so small, Slae's head only cleared the ceiling by a few inches and could touch all opposing walls with extended arms.

A crackle from the speaker was followed by a voice, "Welcome Slae. I am Chief and Commander Eric Safron. Do you have a last name."

"Where am I?" Slae asked.

"Please, just answer my questions." Eric pushed.

"Not in your sense. I am known by my mother's name. I am Slae of Ashray'El. What is this room?"

"The room is made from thirteen feet of solid steel. A finite hole puts in oxygen and wiring. It was designed to hold Thunder, back before the entire world fell under his allure. Well, to hold and kill."

"I am not sure I understand. For what reason do you wish to harm me?" Slae questioned.

"Thunder and his allies were alien. Just like you. They promised to help us, just as you did. But how can we be sure you're not just another tyrant? It is time for us humans to rule ourselves and I plan to make sure it is done the way I know best." Eric responded.

Slae looked down at his feet for a minute, then began talking, "You are making a mistake, Eric. I am not your enemy, but if you push me, you will come to regret it."

"No, you will regret having not left once your job was finished!" Eric said as Slae heard him slam something down.

The equipment in the room sparked and Slae felt his body hit by enough electricity to power an entire city. It ravaged through him and he dropped to his knees. Slae could hardly speak, but he knew it was of little use. The equipment had been damaged and no one would hear him. Slae closed his eyes and focused his mind, while standing back to his feet. His teeth seemed impossible to unclench and Slae felt an increasing amount of voltage being poured into the room.

He tried to reach out, to see beyond the room, but the electricity interfered with every attempt. Slae was about to muster his strength when an alarming amount of additional voltage poured in, flooring Slae. The metal within the room began to glow with heat and the electronic equipment popped and began oozing down the walls.

A smile grew on Slae's face as a memory jumped into the front of his thoughts. During his training as a child on his planet, he recalled having been pinned down by a form of willpower. His child self was fearful and he believed he would pass out and lose. Then there was his instructor, who kneeled down toward Slae and kept saying repeatedly, 'patience… patience… patience'.

As a child, Slae endured very stringent training courses because of his unique place in their civilization. In fact, it was his birth that brought fame to his parents. Slae’s future was known from the moment of his birth, and he was trained for the day in which his destiny would be tested. The most prominent thing his instructor would teach, was patience. Because whenever Slae faced a power he was not equipped for, if he was patient and focused his mind, his body would adapt to be able to overcome whatever he faced.

He was a medical marvel in that regard. Incapable of illness, incapable of oxygen deprivation, impossible to starve or thirst to death, unable to get too hot or cold, and healed by internal and external sources of power that defied logic. If something did harm him, or have a negative impact, the molecules of his body would adjust and sometimes, create a thin field within his skin, to prevent further harm by the same thing. Some even heralded him as the return of their true king, Legend of old who gave rise to their entire species and died to preserve it.

Slae’s thoughts returned to his current situation, and he breathed and calmed his mind. As he did he climbed to his feet and the effects of the electricity quickly diminished into little more than a vibration through his body. Slae pointed his hand like a blade and let his power go. The room split both ways revealing that it was in a much larger room and Slae could sense the man, Eric Sanfron, just outside.

Slae placed his hands within the narrow gap and pried the room apart, allowing him passage. When he exited the chamber he found the room empty, and Eric was gone as well. It was filled with mechanical and lab equipment of various purpose. Computers dinged and chirped as they processed data and partially constructed robotic machines were scattered abroad. The white marble floor was reminiscent of Thunder's home and luminescent ceiling tiles made the room bright.

Only one door led out of the room, and it too was a few feet thick. Clearly this room was designed for concealment in case of any emergency.

Eric's voice filled the room, "That was quite a display. I did not expect that. But go any further and we'll be forced to end your life."

Slae refused to respond and simply closed his eyes. He sensed outward and discovered Eric, along with a dozen other men, in an adjacent room. Slae turned toward a wall and walked straight for it, ignoring Eric's warnings to stop. The wall between Slae and Eric was nearly three feet thick in concrete but Slae was unconcerned as he nonchalantly walked into it. The other side of the wall cracked, buckled and gave way as Slae strolled into a room filled with viewing screens and control boards.

Several armed men readied a gun on Slae, and Eric stood with genuine composure. Slae narrowed his eyes onto Eric and took a step toward him, ignoring all other. The surrounding officers pulled the triggers on their guns only to find Slae was already carrying them as he moved toward Eric. Slae dropped the guns onto the floor and grabbed Eric by the sides of his pecks, his fingers pressing just under the armpits as he lifted him, and Eric cried out in pain.

"Now you will answer me, "Slae said under his breath, "You think that room would have destroyed Thunder? No, it would not have. Thought it could hold me? You could not contain me within the depths of a black hole, let alone a metal box. Now tell me, "Slae paused as he gripped a little harder, causing Eric to cry, "How are those telecards still functioning?"

"I don't know! All I understand about them is that a machine creates them!" Eric cried out.

Slae believed Eric and released him while saying, "You will show me this machine."

Eric nodded, holding his head as he walked for a door leading out. Slae followed him through it into a long tunnel. The tunnel appeared separate from the rooms that lined it, with a grated floor and drain beneath.

"What is this place?" Slae asked

"It is a science facility. The world before Thunder constructed it; Thunder repurposed it for his own twisted desires." Eric replied, trying to sound righteous.

Eric stopped at a door and turned toward Slae, "You have to promise me you will not kill me for what I am about to show you."

"Eric, I will not kill you. You should know, however, that you are a coward. More concerned for your own life than doing what is right."

"I make no excuses for what I do." Eric said as he opened a door and walked in.

Slae followed suit, but found himself stunned. The red eye that shone out from under a heavy brow and mechanical breathing. Ora was now more mechanical than ever. His entire spine had been replaced by a jointed and mechanical column. Black fluid pumped through the column and into his brain and Ora's one normal eye was now solid black. Ora's lack of clothing also showed additional mechanical parts in place of his entire mid-section. Even much of his inner thighs had been replaced by synthetic parts.

"Ora, kill Slae!" Eric commanded, leaving the room and closing the door.

Ora yelled out violently as he dashed at Slae, but just Slae sighed and thought to himself, here we go again. Ora brought his fist against Slae, but Slae simply stood without flinching. As Ora threw another punch at Slae, Slae caught the hand and spun Ora about.

Slae frowned at him and let the power of light go from him and into Ora. The light gathered up the blackness being pumped into his head and returned to Slae. As the blackness was being absorbed, Ora slowly lost consciousness, but his life force remained intact. Once finished, Slae slowly laid him on to the floor.

Slae turned and kicked out the door in a fury and found Eric was still standing nearby, waiting to see the results of the fight. Slae grabbed him up by his collar and backhanded him, then slapped him, and backhanded him again, careful to not do any permanent damage. Eric yelled out from the strikes and spat blood onto the grate and Slae raised him into the air and aimed a hand at him.

"At my command, Eric, I could rend the flesh from your bones!" Slae said angrily.

"You wouldn't do that, you're the good guy…?" Eric said, testing Slae's threat.

Slae gritted his teeth and furrowed his brow as power pooled about his hand. Slae let the power go about him and Eric, invisible as it was, until the entirety of the place about them began to press outward. The handrails crumpled, and doors were crushed from their hinges. The walls began to give way as Eric unwittingly threw a hand out into Slae’s strength and it was crushed immediately into a mangled gore of bone and flesh. Eric screamed out and began yelling for mercy.

"No! Stop! You proved your point! You don't mess around!" Eric pleaded.

"Not with people like you." Slae said, putting Eric on his feet and feeling little remorse for him.

Eric gripped his hand and headed down the tunnel further to the next set of doors.

"The machine is through here" Eric pointed.

Slae opened the door and shoved Eric into it as he noticed several men following at a distance, to which Slae turned and forced them all onto their backs with a rush of wind channeled from his hand. Upon entering Slae closed the door and broke the handle.

"Why did you do that?" Eric questioned.

"Just in case you had any other ideas!" Slae responded fiercely.

The room was a darkened room that smelled of decay. Along the far wall was a blood-splattered box composed of multiple touch-panel screens and dials. Upon the top of the contraption was an orb of swirling dark matter that glowed an eerie purple. The wires, which came from a few places from under the machine, bundled into something reminiscent of corded rope and ran to a plate in the wall. At one end of the box was a prep table composed of wheels and tools attached to flexible arms, designed for precision cutting and opening; from there it lead to a conveyor belt. Above the conveyor belt was a ‘X-shape’ black laser that beamed down. The belt led to an opening for something large to go into the box that spanned a length over thirty feet. On the opposing end was a small clean slot, from which the cards would come from.

Slae's stomach turned and anger filled him as he neared the machine. The smell of decay lingered even stronger near it, and he began to guess at what powered the shadow-energy within the cards. Upon the box was a holographic panel with simple instructions for powering the machine and starting the process.

"Talk, now." Slae said, turning to Eric.

"I think you may have figured it out, do you really want me to say?" Eric said, coldly.

Slae neared Eric who cowered and began talking, "Yes, it's true! The machine is used to create the telecards, but it requires the sacrifice of human life. I know, cause we tried all the animals this place housed. We got non-functional cards. All I know is we put a person on the table, cut them, and they get scanned and processed. Out comes those cards. The card itself is made from their body. Where the shadow comes from and why they make it work, I don't know!"

Slae neared Eric and said, "You fool! The Shadow is derived from the soul of people! This machine is splitting their soul into those cards and making it into shadow-energy."

Slae stumbled back at the atrocity of his own realization. He stepped back toward the machine and brought his fist against it. The machine shattered into pieces and debris flew in several direction. Slae picked up the table and tossed it, embedding it into a nearby wall.

"Never again!" Slae was enraged, "Your company of E.P.F. are henceforth disbanded and you are coming with me. I will share with the city I live in of the things you have done. They will judge you, for which you should be happy. I destroyed the machine to stop the temptation of slowly feeding you into it."

Slae reached for Eric's belt where he grabbed a two-way radio and began speaking into it, "Attention everyone listening. The E.P.F. is henceforth disbanded. If I catch you in uniform, I will bring you in to be judged by your peers. Your purpose was to uphold justice in the world; but you have only shown how dark humans can be, even when void of the Shadow."

Chapter 3 - Slae

Early in the day Slae had slipped off into a deep meditation, the likes of which he had not done since his time with the rebels. It was refreshing, but uninvited images began to play at his mind; though, it was not the first time it happened and Slae had become accustomed to it. They were memories of Azur embedded deep within his subconscious. Slae believed Azur likely hid the memories there to keep them from over whelming him.

But this memory was of particular interest. It was a memory that ran parallel to a dream Slae shared with Azur when he was near death and buried in the ground. Azur stood before an elder man with streaked red and grey hair donned in purple robes. Tassels hung over his shoulders and were bound by a belt, showing the man's slim figure. His eyes held great wisdom as he poured over the text.

The man slowly closed the old tome, causing some dust to stir in the lighting. He pursed his lips and ran a hand through his long hair. He seemed greatly distraught as the golden-skinned child, Azur, awaited before the man, patient for a response. Slae realized that the two was not in the room alone. There stood several men, dressed in similar garbs, hands resting within their sleeves. They watched on in silence.

Azur's situation was a bigger ordeal than initially portrayed in Slae's first witnessing of the memory. The elderly man patted Azur on his back and they walked down a long hall, across a deep blue carpet. Massive, and intricately carved pillars, lined the walkway. Each pillar had a word of wisdom upon it, representing the ways of strength to hold one's self up. The other elders likewise followed Azur out a set of heavy wooden and gold doors to a crowd of people.

The crowd was made up of people of many colors and forms. In Slae's time, these people were considered inferior, because of their strange appearance. But it was more than that. These people were derived from Slae's kind in a manner that brought little dignity to them. Slae's people attempted to purify their genetic code many thousands of years before. The result was a kind of people riddled with genetic mutations, less power, and shorter life spans. However, Azur more closely resembled how Slae's people looked, which Slae was beginning to connect as being part of the problem.

The red-haired elder approached the crowd and began speaking, "As you all know, this young boy, Azur, is not like us. At a mere six lunar cycles he was able to converse intelligently, move by foot and demonstrate wisdom. He possesses power that was lost in the civil war against our forefathers. He would likely out live us all seven life cycles before he would succumb to death himself." The elder cleared his throat before continuing, "You also know what this means. We have poured over all documents in our possession. While there are many texts pertaining to the child of prophecy, there are only two prophecies of this child. Allow me to read them."

The elder pulled a book from the cleft of his robes and read, "'One shall rise from ashes of his ancestor's and through him the end shall come, for he is greater than all who was, is, and yet to come, save one.' That prophecy is from our original elder. The original prophecy, which is often hard to read because it comes from our forefathers. It reads, 'Whence forth all darkness come hither, from whence a great multitude shall arise. Within the multitude the fruit of our seed is within their loins. As was our end brought by great calamity, so shall their end be. Lo a great spirit rests within the seed and he shall forthwith be of gold and like his fathers before him. Upon him shall be the light of the clouds.'"

Slae slowly opened his eyes from his meditation and stretched his legs across the carpet of Lyla's floor as he thought on the memory he just witnessed. Even so, he did not waste too much time on the thought as he had a lot to do that day; mostly things outside of the city. Aside from that, Slae had a trial for Eric Sanfron, loosely based on Spureon culture.

Later that day, in the cool of the morning, they stood outside a ruined courthouse, its rubble ending a few feet back from the steps. At the top was a mediator who spoke to a group of peers whom lined the steps going down on both sides of Eric, which stood two steps down from the mediator with two club-wielding law officials. The mediator began by listing all crimes Eric was guilty of; which consisted largely of evidence brought forth from paper trails, and testimonies from freed prisoners. They consisted of three property thefts, a dozen torture accounts, seventeen direct murders and overseeing the killing of seventy-eight people for the telecards.

The mediator also listed all undisputed evidence, written testimonies from witnesses, and Eric's own confession. All of which was handed over to his peers to deliberate over, which was done publicly and with no allowed input from the outside, of which hundreds came to watch. In just seven short hours, Eric's peers found him guilty and he was sentenced to death by hanging.

Since then there had been little to no activity from the E.P.F. and Slae's role expanded as he no longer had help keeping peace or order. The next morning, Lyla was sleeping in late because she had been up talking with her neighbors and playing games with them. Slae decided not to disturb her and just head out for a run. He Exited the building and out of the city in a flash.

Slae's first stop would be a town, several hundred miles away. News over radio channels indicated a hostile takeover of a militant force, armed with strange weapons. About half way there, among green shrubbery, a strange aura caught his attention. The retention of the aura about a boulder just a short ways off was ominous; causing Slae to investigate. The aura was a blend of purple, like shadow, and trapped dust particles.

Slae could sense life from the aura and he reached in to touch the jagged piece of rock. The rock jutted out of the ground several feet, with sharp edges making the prime of its features. Slae looked about, making sure there was nothing else around, in the event of a fight. The land was rather flat and Tundra-like with some green dotting the landscape.

As Slae scraped a single finger along the surprisingly smooth surface the rock jolted upward again. As it did angular pieces broke away and begun spinning about a humanoid form, made of mostly rock. Where the rock was absent was an all-too-familiar power giving life to the formation. At the waist and joints was the clear presence of a shadowarrior. The rock about the shadowarrior seemed almost as alive as the shadow itself, appearing to crawl about its body.

Slae snapped into a fighting position but the shadowarrior said in a deep and weary voice, "Go away."

The ground opened beneath Slae, but before he could fall far a pillar of earth shot upward and catapulted Slae several miles into the air. Slae watched as the boulder began moving in the same direction Slae was originally heading, but lost him through some thick grey clouds. I hope you're not heading for that city, Slae thought to himself.

Slae neared the ground, and landed on his feet in an earth-cracking thud. He took off after the rock-shadowarrior, keeping a minds-eye out for its presence. How is a shadowarrior surviving without the Shadow? Even stranger, how is he a part of the rock?

Slae remembered the shadowarrior that had attacked Lyla after the Shadow had been removed from the planet and figured that shadowarriors could survive for a time. Yet, they did depend on a rejuvenating power derived of the Shadow. To Slae’s amazement, it seemed to have found a replacement in nonliving material.

Slae neared the town and had not found the shadowarrior yet. Just then a scream blasted Slae's ears and he halted. The rustic town appeared backwards from the rest of the world, and near completely untouched by any war. No vehicles were present, and gas lanterns lined the brick streets. Buildings were flat and featureless on the front, some with large cozy porches. The streets were packed with people, but they were all as curious as Slae about the scream.

The scream went off again, and Slae sensed a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. He ran for the source and found the rock-armored shadowarrior fighting with a women. When the shadowarrior noticed Slae it brought a point to the neck of the women, who became paralyzed in fear. Then it smiled at Slae and shoved the spike through her neck.

As her life fled from her eyes an energy leapt from her body to the shadowarrior. Slae, enraged, dashed at the creature. As he was about to reach for it a spike of rock, twisted with brick, came up and pounded into Slae's face. Slae was thrown off balance and stumbled sideways. To his total surprise, this shadowarrior was stronger than any previous ones he had fought.

Slae regained his balance and whipped a hand at the shadowarrior. As it dodged, Slae pulled his attack back and ran at the shadowarrior. Another piercing spike of rock and brick attempted to hit Slae, but he managed to spin just under it and jump at the shadowarrior. Slae grasped it by the arm and swung it over his head. He slammed the shadowarrior into the brick-laden road, again and again, until the it laid moaning in pain.

Slae stood and planted a foot unto its chest, causing the crowd to erupt in cheers. But Slae was not standing victoriously. He planned to crush it beneath him. He was angry with the shadowarrior, and saw no ending more befitting than this.

As the shadowarrior started to come to, Slae began asking it questions, "How are you alive? And before you think about trying to escape, remember this one thing. I destroyed your precious Shadow when I was weak. I will crush the life out of you, make no mistake. How quickly I do though, depends on you."

The shadowarrior raised both its hands and began speaking, "We survive on the life force of those we kill. But this new form? Ah yes, so powerful it is. The shadow-energy can bond with anything, this we just learned. The Shadow will pleased."

Slae grimaced and began pressing his foot into the chest of the shadowarrior when two large slabs of metallic ores rose from the ground and clapped onto Slae, skimming over the shadowarrior. The shadowarrior tried to run, but slammed into the chest of Slae.

"What? No… impossible! I saw you crushed!" The shadowarrior screamed out.

It turned and noticed the crowd, and in an instant, the bricks beneath the people's feet turned spike and impaled their legs and feet. Just as quickly, long thin spires broke through the brick, tearing into the flesh of over a dozen people; killing them instantly. The shadowarrior giggled as energy filled its body.

Slae stumbled forward, he almost ran to save them, but it was too late. They were murdered in less than a seconds time. The shadowarrior looked at Slae and continued to laugh even harder. Even as it did it brought forth a fountain of lava shooting skyward, consuming Slae in its wake. People ran in every which way, trying to escape a fiery demise and the shadowarrior delighted in it with childish laughter.

Then its laughter died down as the fountain became split. The split then widened, then flattened, until the lava flow was compressed and turned basalt beneath Slae's feet. Slae appeared to take a single step, but ended up being within arm's reach of the shadowarrior. It tried to step back, but Slae had already gripped it by the arm.

Slae twisted its arm and with a punch, he drove it into the ground. Slae was upon the shadowarrior, driving another punch into its face. With each throw of the fist, Slae became increasingly satisfied, his anger being appeased. He recalled TieBolt's murder of an entire city, the death of his friends, and rage filled him. Slae had never experience such personal hate for anything up until now. The shadowarrior had long grown limp, but Slae could not stop himself from continuing his assault. Chunks of shadow broke free from the impact of Slae’s onslaught, and they flung from the shadowarrior and evaporated into the air.

Finally, Slae raised both hands into the air and slammed his fists into its chest. The rock armor broke off into harmless pebbles and the shadow-armor disintegrated into vapors. Beneath the shadow-armor was a creature unlike the ones Slae had uncovered before. It was thick and meaty, with hollowed eyes beneath a thin brow. The forehead of the person was shallow and stocky fingers protruded from club-like palms.

Slae stepped back, a realization of what he had done. He had unleashed so much of his anger that the being beneath the shadow-armor had died. He never even had the opportunity to enjoy a moment free from the bondage of the Shadow. As the body broke down, the age of it taking its toll, Slae looked at a crowd of horrified faces. He knew they were relieved that the shadowarrior was dealt with, but what they witnessed of him gave them reason to be concerned.

Slae looked down at his hands and sighed. He had lost so much to the Shadow, that his emotions got the best of him. He had to strive to be better than that. Slae looked out at a group of people parting ways, collecting their dead, and decided to stay and help.

He spent the rest of the day tending to the dead and injured and helping to repair damages to the city. While it helped, Slae still felt an uneasiness deriving from those who witnessed Slae’s vengeful wrath. Though it did not stop many from thanking Slae, who later found out that nine people had gone missing over the last few weeks and was growing concerned.

Slae also gained valuable information of the militant force he originally sought after; though it seemed that the reports were based on confused facts. It seemed some of the light-weaponry used by the cavern dwellers that Slae lived with before, had made it into the hands of other people. These people were trying to ward off the shadowarrior; but because bystanders were too busy panicking, their efforts were misconstrued. This, with shadowarrior being crafty, made it appear as though they were acting as thugs, damaging surrounding villages and taking people in the night.

Slae made sure to locate the group and thanked them for their work and ensured he would clear there name with any he saw. Furthermore, he learned the weapons came from a stash they were shown in a small underground bunker. They were shown the bunker by an ex-rebel, a female of dark brown hair, who only went by the name ‘D’.

Slae thought the description fit Daniel, the one whom cursed him for Craig’s death, her fiancé who died protecting him. Slae walked to the end of a walkway, where a painted sign indicated the end of the city and street, and he looked skyward.

“Daniel… did you really escape? I wonder if you know that I am alive and well. If so, know that I will not let Craig’s sacrifice be in vain.” With nothing left for him to do he leapt for the clouds above, and away from the rural town.

Chapter 5 - Thunder

Thunder’s ship traveled through space, many galaxies away from the Milky Way. During the time, Thunder rarely left the bridge, standing like a statue, never talking, never making eye contact. He simply stood looking at the planets and stars as they passed. The Shadow had grown uncomfortable with him at times, yearning to reconnect with a part of itself or invade a passing planet. But Thunder would not permit them to, his mind was on one thing; the place in which he was found.

A beeping sounded as they entered into a system orbiting a bright blue star, “We’ve reached our destination, Thunder.” The commander stated.

Thunder just stared at a holographic representation of the planet, leaping off a spherical panel before him; about the imitation of the planet were projected screens, streaming information across. It was a dusty old planet with violent wind storms. Scans of the planet showed no life, signs of civilization and no debris - just a desert planet. This is where I was found, but this cannot be right. I was made by someone. Thunder thought.

“Captain, scan all other planets and send the data to me directly.” Thunder ordered.

The captain nodded in affirmation and the crew went to work. Within minutes the first readings appeared in front of Thunder he scanned over them quickly. The first three planets were as dead as the original one, but the fourth one showed evidence of a once habitable world. Some small plants still lived near small pools of water. Some geometric shapes could be made out in heaps of rock and rubble. Though no signs of life could be made gleaned from the initial scans; likewise, the geometric shapes read as natural formations. Still, Thunder wanted to investigate more closely.

Thunder touched a point on the holographic globe and a menu opened. Thunder selected the option to teleport to that location and was instantly taken to the surface of the world. The air was surprisingly clear with a low wind, and orange skies loomed overhead as minor gaseous clouds appeared ominous. It had a similar appearance to that of the planet beside Earth, though this one had some scattered vegetation.

Glancing about, Thunder wanted to first prove that the planet was once colonized. He aimed his power at a large section of the ground and ripped up several chunks, careful to only lift naturally occurring soil and rock. The first few layers were unspectacular, but as it rolled back further an rectangular and metallic item could be seen jutting from the ground. Thunder, hovering above the ground, moved toward what he believed to be a large beam. He glanced about, taking in the barren land, noting a most strange feeling inside of him, though he did not know what. He brought his hand down the beam, thick flakes of rust flicking off at his fingertips.

Taking to the air, Thunder brought his thumbs and pointer fingers together until only the tips touched. He peered through the circle of his hands, unleashing a spiral of power, drilling into ground and sending massive debris shooting past Thunder and into orbit about the planet. Thunder descended into the hole, the glow of his own body casting light upon the walls.

The walls were only partially made up of dirt and rock. A massive building was what Thunder was dropping down into, and the deeper he went, the more the rooms were intact. Filled with furnishing, debris having pushed in through windows, and copious amounts of dust, the rooms were exactly as they were, as though whatever buried the building, was done so in a hurry. According to Thunder’s sensors, small amounts of energy fluctuated through the building, evident by occasional flickers of light in the more protected areas. The building must have buried for a myriad of millenniums, a true testament to the incredible architectural feat of its designers.

The commander from the ship spoke to Thunder through their communication network, “Sir! There is something you should see.”

Thunder immediately rematerialized back at his place on the bridge. He waved the holographic projection of the planet away and stepped toward the commander.

“Thunder, sir, if you will look at the screen; It appears as though the strange alloys that make up your body comes from this planet. As you know, the alloys are so rare that the chance of them originating from a different source is almost impossible. In fact, this whole planet is unique. It appears to have been formed by materials unknown within the realm of this universe. There is another item of interest. We discovered a singular building that remains standing above the surface. Scanners indicate that only about fifteen percent of the building is above the ground. The building appears to have remnants of the exact alloys you’re made up of.”

“Yes, I too discovered the planet was in fact inhabited once; so it is of no surprise to me. Have the scanners been able to determine what happened?” Thunder asked.

“Not quite. From initial readings it just appears as a massive seismic occurrence rearranged the entire planet.”

“I gather that much. Teleport me to the building you discovered.” Thunder demanded.

The commander gave a nod toward one of the operators and Thunder found himself standing in front of the building. Even at only fifteen percent standing above surface it towered over a thousand feet skyward; Thunder was impressed. He moved for one of the openings on the outside, appearing to have once been a large window, and climbed into the building. Lights flickered on, illuminating a boring office space, but only for a moment, then they flickered off to a faint popping and fizzing noise.

“How is it that there exists power in any part of this forsaken planet?” Thunder thought aloud.

Much of the furnishings had eroded to their bare metals. Along one wall, caked in dirt, Thunder could make out a form the dirt seemed to be taking on, over the thousands of years of collecting against the surface. He walked over to it, the floor threatening to cave beneath him. Scraping his hand along the wall a carving came into focus. It was written in the language of the planet and to Thunder’s surprise, he knew the language. It read, ‘False Legend False God’.

Just then the floor caved beneath him and Thunder fell several floors before catching himself. He now appeared in some kind of conference room. Old rusted chairs, in rows, faced a large stage. Thunder could not be sure the exact age of everything, but it did appear as though all fabrics had long since corroded away. But the further down he went, the better everything appeared preserved. Thunder was fascinated by it all. A strange feeling he had never experienced in his memory.

A noise broke out, sounding distorted. Thunder glanced about, trying to find the source when it happened again. He headed for the door, with no handles or grips, a door that apparently slid sideways. When door did not respond, Thunder punched a hole through it and ripped it out. Dirt and rock caved in just slightly about Thunder’s feet. He sighed; knowing the only way down was through the floor.

He scanned downward, and discovered the next thirty floors were completely filled in with debris. Thunder formed his hands into a circle once more and blasted a hole past the floors. Thunder dropped while scanning and found a large spacious room near the bottom floor. His scans indicated fully functional equipment, and even some movement. He continued to blast his way through the floors until he heard words break across the intercom.

They were in the alien language, but Thunder understood them as it kept repeating, “Please report to floor U9.”

Just then Thunder noticed someone standing in the middle of the room. He neared, as some lights flickered and realized they were not standing. It was a humanoid skeleton hanging from a chandelier, having appeared to commit suicide. The preservation of things was getting remarkably better as he neared the bottom floor. He reached out and touched the skeleton causing it to break apart and fall in a clattering.

Thunder glanced about the room, which had makeshift beds and skeletons scattered about. Indicating these people clearly survived for sometime after the cataclysmic event. For reasons Thunder could not comprehend, he felt remorse for them. He had never felt remorse for the dead, no matter how brutally he tortured or slaughtered them.

Thunder tried to shrug it away, but really could not as he broke through the floors beneath. He intentionally ignored everything at each level, starting to wish he had not come to the planet. A fear he now began to understand; this discovery could change everything for him.

Just then he hit the floor just above the room he was aiming for. The broadcast was more clear, and less dust covered the floor. Much of the fabric had started to decay, but was still well preserved. A single skeletal figure of a woman leaned up against the corner of a wall, having died in agony. A white lab coat covered her body, with a pair of loosely fitting shoes. The room had been completely sealed in, causing the passage of time to slow.

Thunder reached for the device in her hands, but it shot to life before he could touch it. A woman appeared in front of Thunder. Her hair was purplish with bright green eyes beneath split bangs. Her long face appeared tired and weary and the white lab coat hung down to her ankles.

“Who goes there? Is that you John?” She asked, looking past Thunder.

Thunder glanced behind, then looked back at her and spoke in her language, “It is I, Thunder.”

The woman’s eyes focused on Thunder and she appeared frightened for a moment, exclaiming, “Have you returned to destroy those of us who remain?”

“You are already dead; you are but an image of the one behind you.” Thunder pointed.

The woman looked behind her and appeared sad, “I had feared such a thing. Help never came!” She sobbed, rising a hand to her head.

“Do you know who I am?” Thunder asked her.

“Do you not know yourself?” She replied, as her image became degraded.

“What is happening?” Thunder asked.

“According to the time stamp, I was uploaded to the device about forty-thousand and one-hundred years ago. Not precisely, but close enough. I am degrading.” She said.

“How can I preserve you?” Thunder asked.

“You would assist me?” She sounded, surprised.

“Yes, now tell me!” He demanded in return.

“The room beneath us has been sealed since before I was born. We survived for a century after our destruction; stuck in the bottom levels of this facility. I am a third generation survivor, and when our oxygen supply cut out we tried to get to the bottom floor. We were unsuccessful, but I do know there exists advance and up-kept machines down there. You should be able to load me into the computers, and I’ll be okay.”

Without hesitation, Thunder ripped up the floor and tossed it aside. The next room was encased in several feet of solid metal, but it stood no chance before Thunder. With a wave of his hand the metal peeled away and Thunder grabbed the device. He dropped into the room, and began glancing about.

“Quick, place me upon that table over there.” The woman suggested.

Thunder placed the device on the table, and the table lit up. Symbols floated in the air with boxed in read-outs. The woman’s body glitched for a moment then stabilized.

“There. I am saved.” She gave Thunder a sideways glance, “You aren’t the same, are you?”

Thunder was busy looking around the room. Dozens of droids moved around, unconcerned with his appearance. They all seemed designed for different purposes, all the while working to maintain equipment they were not intended to ever work on. Even so, they all worked toward a single and unknown goal; though little progress was being made. The room also glowed a soft and powerful blue, like static energy and in the exact tone to Thunder’s own glow. A work bench sat at one end with several parts that matched parts inside of Thunder. Except, these parts were several thousand years newer and his scanners picked up some differences between his parts and the ones on the table.

Thunder realized the holographic woman had been waiting patiently for a reply and turned to look at her, “I do not even know what you mean by that.”

Just then the wall split open and a little droid came crawling in. He appeared spider-like made up of white metal with red along the bottom of his abdomen. He stopped and looked at Thunder.

“Myka-Oh, no, you are just the copy.” The droid then went on about its business.

Thunder and the woman just glanced at each other and Thunder asked, “Do you know me?”

“Yes, I helped make you. Well, I tweaked your personality. You do appear damaged, however.”

“Damaged? I have you know that I am the god of machines!” Thunder trumpeted.

“Just machines hmm? At one point you were great enough to be more than that. You had all the powers of Legend. You could create planets and manipulate matter at will. You even had the potential to spawn life, though that was never tested.”

A long silence followed, prompting the little droid to return to work before Thunder spoke up, “Droid, I demand to know what became of me! You will relinquish this knowledge or I will destroy the entire solar system with you in it!”

“Copy of Legend, I have been around since before this universe, and the last. I watched as those I cared for died, or became so powerful they ceased recognizing me as a friend. Do you think I fear anything you could do to me?” The machine waited for a reply, but when none came, he went on, “Yet, I will tell you what I know. Legend, my friend, left this planet. He decided his creation had evolved far enough along that they no longer needed him. Chaos quickly broke out, so the greatest minds created you. They brought me in, because I knew Legend better than anyone. You see, we came from the same place.

You were made in Legend’s likeness, even mimicking his personality. His power was obtained in secret the months before he left and given to you. This caused peace again. Then you appeared, wearing nothing but your lower robes. That is when things spiraled downhill. You see, Legend has a device embedded within him that is visible at the surface of his left peck.”

An image flickered next to the woman, appearing identical to Thunder. Except in the left peck was a triangular shape fitting into the skin with a circle in the middle. Thunder glanced down at his bare chest and nothing of the like was there.

“I do not know how that was forgotten in your creation, but the damage was already done. Riots broke out and in about a year the planet was in civil war. Those who fought for you and those who fought to be free of you. You were genuinely heartbroken over the matter. I still recall your words that day as you stared out from your balcony, “Today is a tragic day. My people will surely annihilate themselves. If they wish for such destruction, I will mercilessly grant their wish.””

The droid crawled upon the table next to the device, and knocked the device to the floor as he plugged away at the symbols, “You had mentioned destroying the planet a couple of times, and the scientists had already created a device to shut you down. You stood on a balcony right off of this very building. Those scientists were just seconds away from shutting you down when you raised a single hand and pinched your fingers together. It started a small tremor at first, but soon pillars of fire moved across the ground and large sections of planet raised up and poured over, burying people and buildings alike.

The scientists, still hopeful we could survive, shut you down and hauled you away to a shuttle. They, and four other scientists climbed into it and took off for space. The hope was to fix you and through you, repair the planet. That never happened.”

The droid touched a symbol and a machine came to life. Lasers emanated from claw like tips that built a pill-looking data storage. Next to it a cabinet rotated from the wall and on the backside was a glass casing holding a small crystal. The crystal was radiant and glowed of gold and green primarily. Yet, at different angles, the colors changed, appearing as a rainbow captured within and shining like the dawn of a new star. From the device, Thunder could since bewildering energy, the likes of which made him feel infinitesimal in comparison.

Chapter 7 - Thunder

Thunder stepped toward the shadowarrior when a shadow priest stepped out from behind, seeming to form off the shadowarrior. A most wise and thoughtful creature of the Shadow, clothed in black swaths of robes that flowed into oblivion. A veil about his head masked the features of his face, if he even had such a thing, leaving two glints of purple beneath the hood. He was one of several priests, and the only one in which Thunder respected.

“Griel, how nice to see you,” Thunder said while bowing slightly.

“You too, friend. I come baring news: He is awaken, and wishes to see you.” Griel responded.

Thunder kept his composure and asked calmly, “Who woke him?”

“It was I. The Shadow is concerned with your current directives. I too possess reservations following them and as your ally, I am concerned for you. You have been distant, and now your exploring of this strange planet. We have a destiny, do not forget that.”

Thunder nodded solemnly and looked at the shadowarrior before walking down the hall.

“Um! Thunder! Sir! What should I tell the captain?” The shadowarrior called after him.

Thunder ignored him and Griel responded, “Set the destination for Earth. Prepare for abeyances along our trajectory.”

Thunder paused for a second and looked over his shoulder at Griel, then continued onward. He was left to his thoughts as he watched the lights ripple out from under his feet with each step. It had never occurred to him, but this whole ship was powered by the life force of millions of trapped souls. It never mattered to him, they were lesser beings captured by the an even lesser creature; though, now, he felt a knot in his stomach. He shrugged it off and prepared his thoughts for his master, a certain anxiety trying to thrive within them.

We are returning to Earth; they must know something is wrong. But what could be wrong? That pest Slae, he is broken. His world destroyed. Without the life force I took, that planet is nothing but a shriveled ball of rock, and Slae may have gone up with it. However, I cannot shake this feeling, this uneasiness.

Thunder came to a set of huge pillars and unadorned blackened archway. On each side was a high ranking shadowarrior, donned in golden armor and shoulder plates with the insignia of the Destroyer. The Destroyer was a unique shadowarrior who had long passed into history, though it was always Thunder’s belief that TieBolt was actually him.

He had never seen the Destroyer, but his feats were significantly greater than any shadow-entity to date, able to single-handedly bring down an entire solar system. Though, Thunder had been told to not let such a theory fill his head, as the Destroyer had merely receded to be reborn with new power. He was one of the few beings under the Shadow in which he was allowed complete freedom. Either way, Thunder would keep his theory until proven otherwise.

The shadowarriors gave Thunder a salute as he entered the great hall; he glanced at the chamber in which his master first resided, but it was mostly empty. Thunder slowly let his gaze move down the room to the chair in which his master sat. The chair, constructed of the bones of past enemies and dipped in shadow, was entangled in energy darker than the Shadow and was immovable from the floor.

The entire room was pitched in grey and upon the skull at the end of armrest were bony fingers protruding from a perpetual blackness cast over a part of the room. Thunder stood, almost unwilling to enter any further; the uneasiness he felt before seemed to be growing as he stood in the foreboding hall.

A cool voice echoed across the room and with it came power that caused the darkness therin to stir, “Come hither, so that I may set my gaze upon you.”

Chapter 7 - Lyla

Lyla had watched the flames die down from her perch atop the building she was standing. Slae had been there with her just moments before when she noticed the orange haze brought on by fire. It drove her crazy, wondering what could have been happening down there. When the flames died she thought it was over until she saw the building collapsing in the distance; she quickly ran for the rusted door upon the shack-like structure that led to some stairs.

She worked her way from the rooftop to the bottom floor, some elderly person called out after her, telling her to slow down. But she could not be bothered to do so, she had to try and get closer. It was unusual for her, she thought, as she ran her hands along the freshly painted rails running along the descending stairs. She was almost always content with sitting back, and hiding; now she felt compelled to be part of the action.

Slae’s best quality was never his incredible feat in strength. It was his inability to give up, to walk away and let the enemy win. He was always on the front line. Lyla knew she could never truly be a help in fighting the enemy the way he was, but she just had to be closer to the action.

As Lyla exited the apartment building she gazed upward in time to see larges scraps of beams and concrete go flying in a mess. She figured it had to be Slae’s doing; only one strong enough to launch an entire building. As she ran down the street her feet began to sting against the hot concrete, but she would not be deterred by something so trifling.

Then a harrowing orange glow cast its light across the city from the west and dark shadows made the place seem foreign as winds whistled between structures. Lyla paused in confusion, that was quick; she turned her attention toward the glow and began running toward it. Breathing hard the foul wind suddenly picked up and blasted into Lyla, picking her off her feet a moment and throwing her backwards. With it came a rumbling and windows exploded into hazardous shards of glass, which rained down in a terrifying clatter. Lyla rolled into a ball, but still managed to get cut in several places, some of the larger pieces even managing to tear her clothing.

Looking up, she was not the only person thrown down by the wind; several other people struggled to their feet, bleeding and wincing as they did. Someone began screaming for help and Lyla moved for them with haste, fearing the worst. She wanted to be with Slae, but clearly the battle he was in was too much for her, not even being able to get within a mile of it. For now, she would help where she could.

Lyla made it across the street to an elderly person with panic in their eyes. A glass shard was embedded in his neck and blood seeped out onto the sidewalk.

“Okay, calm down, calm down, “ Lyla spoke to the elderly person.

A teen who had been walking with him cried into her grey t-shirt, “Please help him!”

“I’ll do the best I can,” Lyla said calmly, ripping a long strip of fabric from her dress.

Lyla took care to pull the soaked collar away from the elderly man’s wound and wrapped fabric about the cut, careful to avoid the glass.

“Okay, please remain calm. Is this your grandparent?” Lyla asked the teen.

“No, I just help take care of the elderly, we were just going for a walk.” The teen said, her voice cracking with panic.

“Alright, stay calm, I am going to do the best I can.”

The teen nodded as she stilled her shaking hands. Lyla was so fixated on dressing the wound and staying calm herself that she had not noticed the few others who came to help. Everyone was cut and nicked by the glass, but all appeared able; made up of a male and two females; that were quite young. It made sense though, most older people with experience would be working while the younger ones took care of things at home or helped with those too sickly to do much.

“We need a stretcher of some type, or maybe a cot would work good.” Lyla said.

She stood as the others took off to go find one and Lyla looked around at the area. It was made up of mostly vacant buildings with a small shop on one corner that opened during commuting hours. It primarily sold food items and basic work equipment such as gloves. This area of town had become a place of commute from the living quarters to the inner city where most of the work was needed because the streets were the most opened and clear of debris.

Lyla knelt back down toward the teen and elderly and asked the teen, “What are your names?”

“I’m-a-umm, well he is Sam.” She said.

“Okay… Well Sam needs to be propped up on your lap to help keep the blood from his head.”

The teen nodded and they worked together to lift the man’s upper body while the teen positioned herself under him. The elderly man had passed out during the transition causing the teen to start to panic again, but Lyla assured her that he was still breathing. But his breathing had become more labored.

“Do you have a name?” Lyla asked as they eased the man onto the teens lap.

“No, not really… I was born into prostitution, never given a name, never knew my parents.” She responded.

“Oh! I’m terribly sorry to hear that! But look at you, you were strong enough to survive that and be here, right? So they must call you something?”

The teen blushed hard and turned her head away from Lyla as she pulled down on her shirt’s collar. Just beneath the base of her neck and length of hair was a barcode. Beneath the barcode was the number twelve.

“Twelve?” Lyla asked.

The teen nodded, “I was a product, tatted with the barcode as a toddler and sold as nothing more than merchandise. I never thought I was anything more than that until one day I found my buyers dead, and when I returned to my sellers, they were gone and their village was gone too… Everything was burned down. I knew this city wasn’t far, so I started for it… That’s when the Shadow was taken and for the first time, I began to think of myself as a person.” Twelve said as she pulled back a tuft a hair from Sam’s face.

Lyla was blown away by Twelve’s story, and the strength she must possess to overcome something so terrible. Though, Lyla knew, the sad truth was that Twelve’s story of being nothing more than merchandise was a common story, until Slae came along. She was just glad to be able to witness a part of it, free of such slavery.

The three teens came running down the street with a green-cloth and wood-braced cot in hand. At Lyla’s direction the cot was put beside Sam and he was rolled to one side. The cot was quickly pushed under him as Sam was laid onto his back. Lyla swore lightly, getting the attention of everyone.

“Sorry, we needed a blanket too. He needs to be propped, but we don’t have time to find one. Everyone take off any extra clothing!”

Luckily, two of the teens were crazy enough to still be wearing a purple sweat shirt and a patchwork jacket in the heated weather. They crammed the loose articles under Sam, propping him up just enough. Lyla and one teen grabbed the corner near Sam’s head and the two others grabbed the lower corners of the cot. Twelve walked along side of the cot, keeping an eye on Sam’s breathing.

As they walked toward the hospital, several blocks away, a clearing to it only made possible because the building that was in front of it, was now somewhere outside the city. She looked at the back of Twelve’s neck, and a thought occurred to her and she spoke it aloud.

“Twelve is an awful name. You were reborn when the Shadow left, everyone was. Slae saved our lives.” Twelve glanced back at Lyla, unsure of how to respond, “I know it sounds like a silly name, but for now on I will call you Kaid instead.”

Twelve looked at Lyla with a look of confusion, “What is Kaid?”

“I haven’t told you my name yet, but I am Lyla.”

Everyone came to a stop, but Lyla urged them to continue on.

The male teen spoke up, “The Lyla!? The one who lives with Slae?”

Lyla nodded, “That’s me.” Lyla said before glancing back at Twelve, “One day he was standing at the top of the apartment I live, as he often does, and I was watching from afar. He seemed in such a trance I didn’t want to bother him…” She smiled, recalling the memory vividly, “He spoke in a language I never heard, and much of it was too fast for me to catch, but I heard the one word: ‘kaid’. Out of curiosity I had to ask him what that meant. He said the closest meaning was ‘strong survivor’. So you see, you are no longer Twelve; a name that marked you like a thing. But you’re now Kaid, a strong survivor!”

Twelve smiled slightly and said, “Thank you, Lyla. I’ll take my new name.”

Lyla responded, “Sure and don’t worry about Sam here. If you notice he hasn’t bled much since I put the wrapping on him. His breathing is labored, but it doesn’t sound wet or strange. The glass must have just nicked the artery, enough to make him bleed a good bit.”

Chapter 7 - Slae

Slae raised a hand to his head - he felt tired and sick. The sky was dark, but growing in brightness; the morning had come. His head spun with images of an impending doom, like something of a nightmare that he should be scared of, but his memory of it was quickly fading. He did however, remember seeing Thunder kneeling before a dark presence.

“The Walker… ugh… I am not sure what that was.” Slae said in a shallow breath as he sat up.

Slae looked at the crater he was in and rolled over onto his hands and knees. Mustering his strength, he climbed from the crater to a leveled landscape. The City a ways off was safe.

Thunder broke into his vision again, kneeling before a dark shadow that screamed, “Death shall befall all you allowed to live!”

Just as the words ended, the city behind the shadow became broiled in flame and power that rushed out in a wave of mayhem; as Slae went to yell out his eyes snapped open. Several hours had passed and the sun was now in the middle of the sky, but Slae was still in the bottom of the crater. Determined, he stood to his feet and begrudgingly walked out of the crater and toward the city. He looked down at his outfit. He was dirty, but his outfit was clean and undamaged causing Slae to snort in amusement. Perhaps you oughta fight in my stead?

It took Slae an hour of walking to make it to one of the main streets running straight through the city. The buildings grew in size the further he went down and it was obvious that people were taking note of him. While not out of the ordinary, this time was different. Normally they would clamor about him, yet no one approached him this time. He appeared in bad shape and perhaps they wanted to give him room, or so Slae thought.

Suddenly a scrap piece of wood struck Slae in the shoulder followed by a cry, “It’s your fault!”

Slae turned toward the man who flinched slightly, but regained his composure, “We wouldn’t be in this mess if you weren’t here! Because of you they attacked this city! Because of you our biggest project is in a pile miles away and every window destroyed! Because of you more people were killed!”

Slae simply stared at the man dressed in dirty work garbs. He was about to reply in sincerity when another scrap item struck him. From there it quickly escalated as more workers threw scraps and tools at Slae, yelling profane things. Much of the words were lost amongst the many voices, but it was clear that he was no longer welcomed.

Perhaps they are right; those shadowarriors would not have attacked here if not for me; though Slae understood that ultimately, shadowarriors would have eventually attacked, even in his absence.

People began to move closer to Slae as he backed away from them, trying to figure out the best approach to the situation. Soon he was backed into the brick wall of a vacant building with people crowding him and more crossing the street toward him.

A flood of anger rushed Slae as he yelled out, “Back off!” A bit of his power came out with his yell, knocking everyone off their feet.

As Slae moved, the group silently picked themselves up and moved away from him. Slae attempted to leap into the air, but only managed about thirty feet before crashing back into the pavement, cracking it further. He had taken far more damage than he first thought, and healing was unusually slow. Several people broke out in laughter causing them to go back into the offensive.

Slae regained his balance as he walked down the road, leaving the city. Behind him people stopped following but continued shouting angrily, and eventually falling silent and Slae could sense a mixture of regret and pride as he disappeared from their view. The only thought on Slae’s mind was concern for Lyla.

Thank you!

Thank you for reading this, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below! If you're interested in being an early reader, please send me an email @ jltracey@lasthero.org

About the Author

Born in 1986, J.L. Tracey was given to a loving family, and brought up by good parents. It was at a young age that J.L. Tracey began to study and learn about Jesus and eventually give his life to his Lord and Savior. Though gaining a desire for writing in his early years, J.L. Tracey’s passion did not blossom until his adulthood; with the aid of his wife and support from his family. Before writing more full time, J.L. went on taking various jobs and gained valuable skills and a strong work ethic. Eventually his career choice settled on Computer Engineering and he started off by going to technical school ATI in Florida. There he learned a wide variety of skills pertinent to the today’s rapid growth in technology. While attending ATI, J.L. Tracey was married to a beautiful young lady, who would become his best friend. Through the next few years they started a family with two wonderful little girls and the story of Last Hero slowly unfolded and evolved. After the unfortunate passing of his mother to stage four lung cancer, J.L. Tracey and his wife moved to Michigan to continue to raise their children and grow in the Lord as a family. After just a year, J.L. Tracey’s life was further changed by an accident that led to back surgery and kept him from doing many physical activities for the next couple of years. However, what was at first a tragedy became a blessing; affording him time to work on his book and spend time with his family. As of this writing, J.L. Tracey and is wife are the proud parents of five beautiful children, has a second edition of his book “Last Hero” out, is working toward the goal of competing in the Iceman Challenge, is working on the second book in the Last Hero series and online series Escaping the End.

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