Like a diver earnestly pushing his way back to the surface, Jayhan slowly regained consciousness. Upon opening his eyes, he was greeted by an intense scarlet glare from up above. The sky appeared as though it was on fire. He laid there, stretched out on his back for some time, uncertain as to what the hell was going on. A wave of mental queries assailed his thoughts. Was he alive? Or was he dead? Was he in heaven or hell? Or some sort of strange spiritual limbo? Were those angels he was seeing, coming to retrieve him at any moment? He didn’t know, he couldn’t tell. All his life he never really fancied himself as a religious person but he always made an effort to be good. Mostly succeeding. A flicker of apprehension marred his otherwise blank and expressionless visage.
After what seemed like an eternity, his questions went unanswered. He finally willed himself to move. His body ached badly whilst a wave of lightheadedness swept over him as he slowly clambered to his feet. A beat later, he managed to compose himself. Proceeding to take a quick look about himself, he was astonished to find that he was completely naked and covered in ash. He then diverted his attention from himself to his surroundings. The ground was charred black as far as his eyes could see. The lush green forest that once surrounded what used to be the clearing was no more. The lake was all dried up. And furthermore, not a single person was in sight. Instead all that remained was a barren, ashy wilderness.
This can’t be real, He thought.
What the hell just happened here? Where the hell is everyone? After pondering for a few moments without so much as an explanation forming in his thoughts (even a farfetched one would’ve sufficed at that point), he decided to redirect his attention towards the sky above. His eyes winced slightly at the intense glare it exuded, but he kept looking nonetheless. He studied it intently for a moment and noticed that it appeared to be moving.
‘Wait, What?’ He thought to himself, yet upon closer examination, he realized that the sky itself wasn’t moving but that the phenomenon he was staring at was infact a comet and a rather colossal one at that.
For the time it zoomed gingerly by, his gaze remained transfixed upon it until the astronomical body was nothing more than a miniscule glare in the distance. Then it was gone.
Reality came knocking once again. He was all alone, naked and confused. The last thing he remembered, aside from being in alot of pain (which he still was), was that a large knife was about to be plunged into him. The more he thought about it, the more the key events that led up to that point began to flood back into his memories. From Selena trying to date rape him, to that crazy young woman in the red gown. Yes, definitely her. Her face (pale complexioned with menacing grey eyes) was one that he wouldn’t forget, not for a while at least. But her actions still puzzled him, from her whackjob speech, to her standing over him, calling him by name as though they were familiar and her almost stabbing him to death. But why? Why him? There were just too many whys, whats and hows creating a cyclone of confusion inside his mind. For the moment, he decided to sideline them.
Then the realization hit him, in all that brainstorming, he hadn’t once thought of Fares or Julia. Where were they?
He took another look around him, turning and scanning earnestly in every direction. Still, not a soul was to be seen.
“Fares!!!! Julia!!!” He called out loudly, though he suspected beforehand that it would do no good. Still it was worth a shot. For about two minutes the only sound he could hear was the fading echo of his own voice. Slumping wearily to his knees, an overwhelming sense of despair began to consume him. The only thing he wanted right now was to go home. Just to get away from all this madness. He closed his eyes and imagined being back in his home in Steel Crescent, either snuggled up in his bed or sitting in the living room watching some sordid drama series on tv. The fact that both were a very long ways away and coupled with the question of how he was going to get there made that fantasy almost impossible to sustain. He supposed he would have to start walking. Then again, the absurdity of a stark naked and ash covered teenager (a black teenager at that) possibly wandering along a busy highway where he would no doubt draw attention to himself gave him pause. But what other option did he have?
I suppose I’ll just have to figure it out as I go. He surmised finally. Right now, the urgency of him needing to make a move could not be ignored any longer.
He then hoisted himself up and began to move off. First with slow, unsteady yet careful steps before eventually hastening. That in and of itself suddenly presented itself as a very daunting task. His bones and muscles ached terribly but he ignored the pain and bore it with weak groans as he hobbled along.
He kept at it for about 20 or so minutes before stopping to catch his breath. He took a short glance behind him to survey the distance he’d covered. He felt like he had been walking forever, but at the very least, he had come a long way from where he was previously standing.
Flashing a weak smile, he continued to press forward. A while after, he felt weary and another spell of lightheadedness gripped him. Coupled with the fact that every inch of him felt like it was on fire, they did not a good combination make. He stumbled, almost falling flat on his face, luckily he caught himself just in time. If he had gone down he wasn’t sure whether he would get up again.
Just then, he felt a strange sensation in his head, like his brain was being forcibly stretched apart like an elastic band. A series of incoherent images suddenly paraded backwards before his mind’s eye as though he was suddenly standing on the precipice of eternity watching a movie of thoughts and memories rewinding on the reels of the cosmos all the way back to the beginning. Just like the moments before he was about to be run through, he saw his life flash by, from that very instance all the way back to his infancy then there was a gap, and beyond that a new stream of images materialized, more memories he reckoned – but they were not his, or were they? The reel began to slow before eventually coming to a halt on one particular image which stuck out to him. And as he fixated upon it, he found himself slowly immersing in it, in that very time, and place.
An apocalyptic vista of an ancient world stretched out as far as his eyes could see. He attempted with much difficulty to digest the scene of utter carnage unfolding before him. Raging fires spurred on by deafening explosions sent violent tremors reverberating all around. Stifling heat and smoke mingled with the stench of death assailed the atmosphere. The sounds of violence pervaded almost as loudly as the explosions, assaulting the air with a ringing crescendo of clashing steel as well as human battle cries contrasting with hellish bestial roars. Understanding finally dawned upon his puzzled countenance that he was standing in the midst of a terrible war. Casting uncertain glances about him, he beheld men and women bearing the same dark brown complexion as he and garbed in golden trimmed robes of varying colours as well as battle fatigues (to say they looked ancient would be a gross understatement. But they seemed practical nonetheless) and they were locked in heated conflict. Not with each other but with an inhuman foe whose very appearance sent shivers up his spine. Unlike the wonderful melanin rich warriors who opposed them fiercely, these creatures appeared like humanoid reptilian hybrids, their skins paler than snow and possessing azure eyes that burned with intense predatory fury. They scared the living daylights out of him. The mightiest and fiercest lion would suddenly assume the disposition of a common kitten, who shivered timidly in the presence of a pack of rabid rotweilers. One of the creatures in particular seemed to bear a vague resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger complete with a tail and blade like talons on its hands and feet.
His attention then shifted to one side where he saw in the distance an immense and immaculate stone structure which bore rich African architectural designs, engulfed in a great inferno that consumed it bit by bit. Jayhan could tell it used to be a palace. Such a shame, he thought. He then shifted his attention back to the fracas before him, and saw the pale creatures were gradually gaining the upper hand. The warriors valour and tenacity ultimately proved moot as their adversaries maddened and dagger sized fangs and claws tore into their flesh, ripping them asunder. Shrieks of terror then drew his attention to another side. His heart sank when he beheld a colossal white serpent, slithering through the battle field. Those who weren’t crushed by its massive form, whether human or beast fell victim to a far worse fate. The great boa proceeded to open its gaping maw to gobble up an entire handful of warriors. As the last warrior made its way down the monster’s oesophagus, it began a startling transformation. Tendrils of crackling, green energy encompassed it while its massive form receded drastically. A moment later, instead of a snake, a strikingly beautiful woman, pale as snow was hovering over the melee. Every part of her except her head and the upper part of her bosom was covered in a flowing black gown. Her dark raven hair whipped and twisted in the nonexistent wind of its own accord like tentacles. Her face bore a wicked grin as intense amber eyes devoid of any humanity or remorse surveyed the battle. Jayhan was both stunned and mortified by her. An explosion suddenly erupted in the distance. All semblance of joy quickly drained from the woman’s face as it contorted into a rage filled scowl. Riding into the battle, mounted upon powerful, armoured black stallions were a small legion of warriors. At the forefront were five warriors, three men and two women on the outer flanks. But there was something different about these newcomers. There was a fire in their eyes that was beyond human. Time almost seemed to slow down as Jayhan’s focus rested on the lead rider. Awe and confusion seized him as he realized that the man bore a striking resemblance to him, only, this man seemed alot older and possessed a more muscular physique. His slightly bearded face, no doubt hardened by war, and framed by thick rope-like locs held a look of pure ferocity. Another thing Jayhan took notice of was the man’s attire. A radiant crimson and black body armour, accented by golden trims. His chest was girded by a heptagonal shield bearing the embossed likeness of a roaring lion’s face. Immediately, the inhuman hordes turned their attention to the riders. There was a change in the air. Jayhan felt it in his bones. The skies, already blackened to some degree by the ever ascending clouds of smoke, gradually became shrouded by an even deeper darkness. As the newcomers accelerated their steeds, the lead man stretched out his right hand and as if by some strange miracle, a large broadsword materialized out of thin air. Quickly gripping the hilt, he made a powerful, wide swing. A wave of scarlet, fiery energy proceeded forward and all the creatures that charged forward to oppose him and his companions were instantly obliterated. Another swing of the sword unleashed another wave of energy, taking out another score of the monsters. The pale woman’s scowling countenance quickly contorted into a mortified glare as she beheld the demise of her comrades. She tilted back her head a let out a blood-curdling screech, before lunging downwards toward the riders. Her reptilian eyes suddenly took on a toxic green glow. Bolts of green energy shot forth from them, taking aim particularly at the lead rider. The man careened his steed off to one side, narrowly avoiding a string of explosions that ensued when the energy connected with the ground. Unfazed, he leaned forward and with fearless determination in his eyes, dismounted his steed with a high somersault before barrelling through the air like a missile toward his assailant. A flicker of surprise registered on her face as the man brandished his sword. In a swift and fluid motion, he unleashed a vertical wave of energy which cleaved her in twain. A bone chilling cry erupted from her before her two burning halves plummeted to the ground. A look of satisfaction plastered across the man’s face as he hovered triumphantly in the air. Despite the momentary victory over the dreadful witch, he knew the battle was far from over. On the ground below, his fellow riders followed his lead in like manner. The man that rode beside him on his left, a slightly burly man with a thick afro and clad in mostly black plated armour with a purple cape draped around him, vaulted off his steed, wielding a large double-bladed axe. A rich verdant aura of energy engulfed him. And as his feet reconnected with the ground he brought down his axe in a mighty stroke. Once the blade made contact with the soil, a huge fissure suddenly opened in the ground, swallowing up the scores of beasts that charged at him. The lead rider smiled approvingly at his companion from his lofty perch in the sky. Another one of his riders, a slightly younger man who rode at his right, leaped off his charger and made a rapid ascent into the air where he began a furious rotation which quickly increased in velocity. A harsh wind blew across the battlefield from all sides picking up dust, debris and a whole multitude of the beasts before coalescing into a large funnel around him. Bright flashes of lightning crackled at various points in the twister. Quickly fading howls of anguish signified the demise of the creatures unlucky to be caught in the merciless cyclone.
Then as the winds dispersed, the two female riders made haste to join their brother warriors. The young woman that rode to the far left, slapped the reins on her mount, urging the stallion to accelerate. Her right hand stretched out beside her and immediately a stream of water materialized and began to flow in her wake. She then performed a series of slow circular motions with her arm and the stream suddenly grew into a raging river. But she didn’t stop there — as the circular motions of her hand began to accelerate, so too did the size and force of the water until a great mass like the tides of the oceans towered over the battle like a great mountain. The pale creatures’ deformed faces seemed to register mingled looks of surprise and horror. The young woman rode atop the waves as though it were solid ground. As Jayhan gazed in total astonishment at her, he was finally able to get a closer look at her. Her beauty vastly exceeded that of even the pale snake witch which was not too long ago vanquished by his older look alike. Her dark chocolate skin glistened with a preternatural glow the same way her fellow riders’ did. And her features, if he wasn’t mistaken, appeared to him like a graceful mixture of those of the Somalian model Iman and the British singer Alexandra Burke with a radiance that far surpassed either woman. Gazing down at her unnaturally hued adversaries, her face held an expression of utter contempt and disdain. With a sweeping motion of her hand, the waves descended upon the monsters with no mercy. The enemy horde was now cut by three-quarters. Riding upon the waves of the deluge was the other female combatant. Jayhan could tell from the much more stern expression that graced her beautiful countenance that she preceded the other young lady by atleast five or so years. In her hand she held a large crossbow. Jayhan was nonetheless puzzled as to her intentions, taking into consideration the extraordinary feats he had just witnessed. Despite the significant loss in number, a still formidable multitude of monsters remained. With a baleful smirk, the young woman aimed her crossbow upwards, her fingers tight upon the trigger. A few moments later, a lone arrow whistled through the air. As it gained considerable altitude, a spark of magenta energy ignited around the tip and in no time, the one arrow multiplied into many too numerous to count. Then sparks of magenta began to light up the sky. The arrows trajectory suddenly altered to take aim at the monsters. As the projectiles barrelled towards their target, Jayhan’s puzzled eyes widened as he beheld them suddenly change their form, transfiguring into what seemed like an innumerable flock of cranes composed entirely of silver. A peculiar magenta flame suddenly engulfed the birds as gravity and the will of the one who unleashed them brought them closer to their targets. A string of devastating explosions followed by anguished growls and shrieks as the projectiles made contact. Now only a mere handful of monsters remained. A loud cheer went up from the surviving warriors on the ground. —–
As though someone had suddenly pressed pause, the vision ceased before dissipating like a mist. Once again the unconformable sensation of having his brain stretched apart pulsated through his head, seemingly in reverse, forcefully dragging his mind back to present where his senses now alerted him to the advent of a blaring, high-pitched noise that now assaulted his ears. A noise the adolescent quickly deduced to be sirens.
Panicked, Jayhan looked wildly around for the source. He saw nothing and wondered for a moment if it was his mind playing tricks on him.
Despite his arguably unstable psychological state, he nevertheless inclined his ears to listen a little closer. No, this was not a trick. The sound was getting louder and closer with each passing second and as he gleaned his eyes more intently toward the far west, lo and behold the source was not far behind.
Glares of red, blue and orange flashed in quick succession followed by a series of head and indicator lights rapidly coming into view.
Jayhan made an about turn in the opposite direction and broke into a run. A run that felt more like a sluggish wobble. He had no intention of sticking around to find out who those sirens belonged to, although, he had a faint idea.
Faster, faster he kept grunting in agitation as he desperately tried to accelerate all the while the feeling of being a fugitive on the run flashed across his thoughts. In his mind he imagined moving at superhuman speed, like the Flash from the Justice League cartoons he used to watch as a child or even Quicksilver from X-Men. Yeah, right like that’s gonna happen, he mused in contradiction. Moments later imagination manifested itself in reality as an intense and exhilarating burst of energy ignited within him. His surroundings suddenly dissolved into blurs. Clouds of dust and ash were kicking up in his wake.
‘What the…?’ He thought frantically as he he became partially cognizant of the fact that he was moving at an inhumanly fast pace, yet all the same there was another part of him that refused to believe it was truly happening.
So preoccupied was he with trying to discern the reality and origin of his new found superhuman prowess that it had completely slipped his notice that his surroundings had completely changed. The harsh, sulphuric air that blew against him now gave way to hard, gristly but yet, organic feeling obstacles that assailed him with every step he took, leaving numerous mutilations and perforations in his flesh. Moments later, a debilitating agony came to life within him as he felt his toes crack against a hard, sturdy obstacle, like stone. No sooner did he lose his balance and went tumbling head over heels, skidding across a soft, mushy, loamy surface before finally coming to a halt when his back made contact with another sturdy, jagged object.
What the hell is happening to me? Perplexed queries echoed through the disordered labyrinth of his mind as an agonized groan escaped his lungs.
For the next few minutes his breathing came and went in ragged gasps whilst he himself wavered in and out of consciousness. He didn’t know what to think anymore. None of this was making any sense to him. His eyelids then grew heavy. He decided to give in and closed his eyes. If only for a moment. His nose and ears began to breathe in and register the scents and sounds of nature in full and unadulterated quality as if the volume on life had somehow been turned up exponentially. The tantalizing fresh air mingled with the musty aroma of moist soil and grass and and the even denser scent of ozone. The sounds of chirping crickets, hooting owls, squeaking rodents echoed all around. It all felt so peaceful, relaxing. Then something interrupted the serenade. A low, guttural growl, like a bear or a wolf or was it something else?
Then his eyes shot open, only to be met with a stygian darkness. But just as quickly they adjusted.
What the hell is this? He wondered as the world now appeared before him in vibrant but inverted colours. The distorted vista told him that he was in a forest again. But where? And just how far did he run?
Man this night just keeps getting more and more fucked up.
Then there it was again, the low growling sound. A terrified Jayhan looked all around, all the while silent prayers to a god that he never really gave much deep thought to throughout most of his life sounded on the coattails of his earlier mental protests. Still nothing but thick woods all around and the dense canopy overhead provided little room for illumination from any of the celestial bodies. He slowly climbed to his feet, bracing himself against the tree that broke his fall.
Surprisingly the burning agony that gripped him earlier when he first regained consciousness had largely subsided. But that was not important. The identity of what that growling sound belonged to was priority.
Cautious eyes continually scoped the arboreal enclave before a rustling sound from a thicket a good ways before him drew his attention. Jayhan held his breath. Two sets of heartbeats thundered in his ears like bass drums. One fast and the other regular. The fast no doubt belonged to him and the other……..
The enormous mountain lion, almost the size of a grizzly bear, bounded forth with a snarl from its shrubbery refuge sprinting directly toward the vulnerable teen. Even in inverted colours, the beast’s cold impenetrable eyes glowed with pure, primal, predatory savagery. Jagged fangs, the size of steak knives poised to deliver a lethal bite.
Every fibre of Jayhan’s soul told him to turn tails and run but his suddenly defiant body, paralyzed by fear, refused to obey the commands his brain was sending to it.
The carnivorous cat quickly closed the gap between them. A beat later it pounced. Outstretched claws and bared fangs determined to tear apart and feast upon their petrified quarry.
The cowed teen braced himself for what seemed like the inevitable for the second time in that tumultuous night.
Just mere seconds before the mortal impact, a loud voice exhorted him from deep within the subconscious recesses of his mind.
Jayhan threw himself out of the way just in time, he rolled a few times before coming back to his feet. The mountain lion crashed head long into the tree before dropping to the ground where it stayed down for no more than a minute before rising to its feet. Shaking its head, it focused its attention on him again. Its fangs were broken and it looked somewhat dazed and perplexed. No doubt its feral mind wondered how this previously immobile prey was able to evade death at the last minute. No matter, it would not be denied its meal.
Jayhan drew an anxious breath as the big cat stalked closer to him. For every step it took forward, he inched back. His heart rate increasing a few beats every second. The beast then crouched down, baring its broken fangs, then, it leaped.
A flash of black with a reddish magenta silhouette cut across the lunging animal. Cut through it. A sickening, gargled snarl erupted from the beast’s maw before its heavy corpse veered off to the side then hit the ground with a heavy THUD!!..
Jayhan stood there with a stunned look on his face. Exhaling a sigh of relief he looked all around for his mysterious saviour. A moment later he found himself surrounded by hooded figures clothed in what appeared to his inverted vision as black robes. Of course his corrected sight would have perceived them as white.
“Who—” the question formed in his throat but before he could even get it out fully, one of the figures spoke with a female voice, cutting him off.
“Fear not child! We mean you no harm”
Despite the reassuring words, Jayhan shifted uncomfortably. Part of him couldn’t help but worry if these were the same goons from the party that had tried to kill him earlier and they came to finish the job. Then again the whole idea seemed kinda ridiculous since he hadn’t seen a soul since he awakened. Who were these people? And how did they find him? Why did they find him? He tried to turn and run but before he could even make a move, a hand slowly came up to his face and just like that his whole world went dark again.