(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)
Min-jung was reliving the nightmare of all those years ago.
She was watching her younger self staring at a computer monitor that showed a test being run on the laboratory next door. It was busy running an accelerated simulation of gene grafting. On the monitor, there were a couple of scientists wearing white Hazmat suits operating robotic arms behind a protective screen. On another monitor next to her, green texts slowly scrolled up, apparently showing the real-time updates on the progress of the experiment.
Understandably, Min-jung was dazed by this scenery.
Just how long ago was this scene from? She remembered it all too well. This moment in time was inexorably etched in her mind. After all, this was when everything changed.
She was greatly alarmed by this recollection. She was pretty sure of falling asleep after returning home, but this…. why was she dreaming of that fateful day?
Reflexively, she reached out. She wanted to reach out and warn her younger self about what was to happen. But her hands simply couldn’t touch. They faded past the objects in this laboratory. She couldn’t interact with the glass flask filled with colorful liquids next to her, nor could she touch the clean tabletops and all the scientific paraphernalia on them.
Min-jung shouted out at her younger self, but even that bit of desperation was denied. No voice came out of her mouth.
All she could do, was to watch the agonizing events happen to her, all over again.
It wasn’t long before the younger version of Min-jung noticed a new, unknown protocol she didn’t authorize running on the computer monitor. Enraged, she sat up abruptly and ran to the next door where the experiment was taking place.
She nearly kicked the secured door down in anger and confronted one of the scientists there, a man twice her age and possessing twice the ego. This man frequently clashed with Min-jung, questioning and mocking her ideas all just because of her race and her young age. His reasoning was that since he had more experience and achievements as well as a better background, it should have been him as the lead in this project, not her.
He tried to undermine her authority ever since coming on board – and on this particular day, he had voluntarily substituted her models with his own during the crucial phase of the experiment, thinking that with this, he should earn the necessary recognition when everything went as planned. All within in his ego-bloated mind, of course.
Sure enough, the new models began to go haywire. The robotic machines went overload. The older scientist’s paled, puzzled and ultimately in-denial face would remain in Min-jung’s memory, as big a part as this entire ordeal was for her.
There was an explosion. Something somewhere somehow went wrong. The protective screen bore the brunt of the impact, but it still cracked under the powerful blast. A piece of this screen broke loose and flew towards the unguarded Min-jung.
Next thing she knew, she was on the floor, grasping the side of her lower stomach, a blood stain slowly spreading on the clothing.
That was when her dream ended. That was not the end of her ordeal, but whenever she had this nightmare, it always ended there.
Min-jung weakly opened her eyes. She was still lying sprawled on the bed in her bedroom. The house was eerily quiet, devoid of life. Bob had taken Dana to stay with his parents and was yet to return from the trip. She was all alone in this two-story suburban home.
She sat up, feeling groggy and heavy. The silence of the house actually helped her to get some valuable shut-eye but now…. being alone didn’t seem like the smartest idea.
She massaged her head, wondering just how long she fell asleep for.
Checking out the alarm clock, she frowned. The sleep only lasted for a couple of hours. Sighing, she dragged her weary body to the adjoining bathroom to wash up and get a change of clothing.
A splash of cold water on the face woke her up. That little bit of rest had helped her, at least by a little. She thought she could think better now, clearer and faster. Hell, even her tummy growled in protestation, not having been filled in the last twelve frantic hours.
Now that her head was spinning better, she could collect her thoughts, reflect on the events of the past.
Her first priority still was to find her son, currently kidnapped by her boss, Mylorne Akkad. According to Jack’s friend Taylor, her son had manifested superpowers of his own. The teen girl posited that was probably the reason why Jack was targetted. She wasn’t too far off the mark either, Min-jung mused bitterly.
The Finn girl helped Min-jung to confirm her son’s location but in the end, they were one step too late as Jack was whisked away to god knows where while she watched helplessly on the ground.
Not having any other ideas left, she reluctantly took Taylor back to the hospital, where her father was after being on the receiving end of the sudden attack from the trio of teen Supers.
From the description provided by Taylor, Min-jung knew almost immediately who the attackers were. She had seen their photos in those classified files in General William’s office, after all. And the implication here was a chilling one.
Did the consequences of the deal she made with Akkad all those years ago finally catching up with her?
But if she didn’t make that deal, then her life would not have been the same. No, it would have been incomparably worse.
Because…. that incident back then left her damaged. She didn’t want to remember but since that nightmare came back to her, she did and she could accurately remember the total number of creases on the aged doctor’s face, the doctor who told her after the life-saving operation that she’d never get to have children. She could recall the color of his eyes, even. Every tiny little blood vessel on those green pupils, the way he contracted them to impart an expression of sincerity and sympathy. She recalled it all.
And mixed among those recalled memories were the moments where she contemplated taking her own life. Or, when she conspired to murder the scientist responsible. Of course, that man was no longer involved with the project, removed by the overseers after the revelation that his untested computer model was the reason for Min-jung’s injuries.
What was his name again…? Min-jung tried to recall the scientist’s face and his name but couldn’t, really. Maybe she decided to mentally block the triggers that could cause her to fall back into depression.
She certainly was depressed back then. She felt devastated, scared, confused.
But then, Akkad appeared before her one day with a proposal. It was an incredible, impossible proposal that, if accepted, could change her fate for good. So, she took it. Min-jung didn’t even read the fine print, simply choosing to dive in head first and threw caution to the wind.
Oh, how much she regretted those decisions now.
The idea, the core of the deal, was simple – to carry a clone of a human in her, the baby’s DNA interspersed with hers and Bob’s as well as the crucial third source: that of Gilgamesh’s. The very first cloned human to walk this earth would come from her womb.
It was not as improbable as some people might have thought, either. The Project Dead Kings and its success all hinged on utilizing the ancient God-king’s recovered genes as the binding agent to hold all the augmentations together without falling apart at the seams. And it was working, as far as lab experimentations showed, regardless of the environment the modified embryos were placed in. She had more than a fair chance of success. No, it’d be more than fair, as the initial fertilization wouldn’t even take in her womb.
Min-jung possessed all the right knowledge to succeed. And for his part, Mylorne Akkad would provide the tools, facilitate this medical procedure when it takes place, and pay for the post-op as well as offer her a sanctuary in case of an emergency. In return, she’d provide him with the technical data of all the subjects participating in the Project. Every single one of them.
All this, without the alerting the Project Dead King’s overseers – the Department of Defense and the Federal Government of United States of America.
What Min-jung did back then was a clear breach of the Project’s protocol. If found out, she would have been arrested on the spot and thrown in a nameless jail somewhere not marked on any map without a trial. Even now, that hadn’t changed. If the secret was exposed after all this time, then the only destination for her was inside a prison cell.
Yet, how could she care about that, when her son’s wellbeing, his life, was at stake here? Who knows what kind of fanatical rubbish Mylorne was exposing her son to? Min-jung had to stop her mad boss before her son’s mind was irreparably harmed.
After another splash of water, she remembered a favor she asked Professor Evans before crashing into a deep sleep. It was to find the flight plan of Mylorne Akkad’s aircraft. Every aircraft, private or not, needed to file a flight plan with the applicable aviation authority before setting off on a journey.
Originally, she was going to call Federal Aviation Authority herself, but she lacked the right accreditation. She briefly entertained asking General Williams but then, he was currently splitting his attention on tracking down the three troublesome escapees as well as whatever was going on in New York. He wouldn’t be able to even hear her requests seeing how busy he was.
Besides, if Williams asked for a reason, and he’d definitely ask her for one, what could she tell him? That her billionaire boss had somehow controlled three escaped subjects of the Project and kidnapped her son, not to threaten her but to do something else that she also didn’t know herself?
In the end, that’s why she called Professor Evans for help. He was still at the underground base as she was leaving for home. If he was still there, then, Evans could ask one of the computer technicians to check out Akkad’s flight plan. Min-jung thought lying to the aged professor should be easier than to a career military man.
Her mobile phone was on the bureau next to the bed. She had to check for any messages she might have received while she was out cold. When she turned off the running water, she heard the phone ringing softly in the bedroom.
Min-jung hurriedly ran out of the bathroom, but the call ended just before she reached it, making her cuss out just a little. She quickly picked it up and tried to see the number, if it was indeed from the good professor. But the call was from her husband, instead.
She frowned and was about to call him when a message blinked on the phone’s screen, telling her that there was a voicemail. When she clicked on it, Bob’s urgent and worried voice came over.
“Hey babe, if you’re at home, turn on the TV. Something big and awful is going on, right now in New York.”
Confused, Min-jung narrowed her eyes and searched for the remote around her. It was cleverly hidden but she was able to locate it after a few minutes and turned on the wall-mounted television. The screen took a second or two before coming to life, and when it did, the very first thing on was an emergency news broadcast.
The male anchor was doing his job as professionally as possible, but he seemed rattled. He was stuttering somewhat, loosening his tie and gripping the pile of papers on his hands as he spoke to the camera.
“The situation in Manhattan is regretfully unknown as we speak, ladies and gentlemen. All attempts to make any type of contact with the population of the island has failed so far and we have reasons to believe there might not be many survivors capable of contacting the outside world.
“These images coming in right now are courtesy of our affiliate station based in New Jersey. Please be advised that what we are showing you is not a computer generated imagery, nor is it faked in any shape or form. It is, indeed, as real as you and me.”
The screen switched to show a devastated landscape, shot from a great distance. Buildings were collapsing, raising thick dust plumes; the roads were destroyed, cars were set alight, and almost everywhere, thick, black metal things could be seen. These metallic objects were writhing around, moving and squirming like a living, breathing tentacles of a Kraken.
The scene changed and now, the destroyed skyline of Manhattan came to the view, shot from across one of the rivers. The iconic buildings and structures were no more; replaced by what Min-jung could only describe as a black metal rod seemingly taking over the half of the island’s width.
And it jutted high into the sky, ripping apart the blue background and piercing out of the atmosphere until the stars could be seen in the dark backdrop.
It was a surreal thing to witness and Min-jung thought offhandedly that it would be even more crazy unreal to see it with the naked eyes.
She blinked her eyes a few times, before wondering whether she should call her husband and ask him what the hell was going on. When she looked down on the phone, only then did she notice there was another message, this time a text.
It was from Evans; the message did come. The old Professor didn’t let her down, it seemed. Hurriedly, she opened it. After reading it, she dropped the phone on the floor, her entire body shaking from the shock.
“Doctor Mercer. It’s Evans. I’ve found the flight plan you asked for. The plane’s heading to a small airfield near New York. Hopefully that helps you.”
She took a second before panic fell on her eyes. Hurriedly, she grabbed her coat and ran to the door. She wasn’t sure what needed to be done, but somehow, she had to get to New York.
When she flung open the front door, she was surprised to find two black-suited men standing there, just about to ring the bell.
One of the men cleared his throat and asked her. “Doctor Mercer? May we have a moment of your time? It’s very important.”
She was about to refuse, when the other men pulled out an object from his jacket pocket.
She didn’t even have the time to back away before darkness came over her.
Professor Evans washed and shaved his face. The feeling of refreshment made him crack a soft smile. Wiping away the residual water on his face with a luxuriant towel, he exited the bathroom and gingerly made his way towards the table where a laptop was switched on, waiting for a human to interact with it.
After sending the text to Doctor Mercer, he had taken command of one of the rooms available here in the base instead of returning to his own residence. There was little waiting for him there, anyway.
Evans believed that since the fruits of his lengthy, often tumultuous labor were being deployed in New York, he might as well stick around to see how successful his vision was under the glaring spotlight of the reality. No better place than to do it here, in the underground base. He could have accompanied General Williams and Major Podolsky to the city but decided not to – at his age, he’d rather not travel as much as possible if there was an alternative available.
As he was about to sit down in front of the laptop to check for e-mails, there was an urgent knock on the door, followed by his name being called.
Frowning, Evans asked with his raspy voice. “Yes? What is it?”
His frown became deeper when he heard the reason for this call. He opened the door and told the young soldier to bring the laptop with him, while doing his best to briskly walk towards the command center in this base.
He was having a terribly bad feeling the moment the soldier mentioned a new anomaly appearing in New York. An anomaly that looked like a massive metal spike.
Evans was deeply invested in this project; he studied and analyzed nearly every facet of Gilgamesh’s tomb, not to mention the subsequent cuneiforms and hieroglyphs found in the burial chambers of the ancient Supers. His knowledge of the subject pertaining to anything and everything Lord of Darkness-related was perhaps the most extensive in the world. And his worries were stemming from this deep pool of information stored in his head.
The distance between his quarters and the command center never seemed so far away before, making him even more anxious to get there quickly.
Eventually, he arrived before the electric sliding doors. They hissed and parted sideways, allowing the professor to hurry inside, only to be struck dumb by the giant image of the black metal thing projected to the main monitor positioned in the middle. The place was currently under a Colonel named Pattison who came over to Evan’s side and began to talk at a rate of knots.
The aged Professor was too shocked to fully grasp what the Colonel was telling him, but had understood the gist of the story. After regaining his senses, he borrowed a work table and asked the soldier to set the laptop on it.
Evans then hurriedly searched through the database, thinking that metal object was something he should know of, that he should’ve recognized it right away. He didn’t have to wade through tons of useless files, though, as he almost immediately found what he was looking for.
“Oh, my god. That thing is…. Could it be the Tree of the End?”
“What is that, Professor? What is a Tree of the End?”
Pattison, who was near Evans, asked in confusion.
Gulping his saliva, Evans clenched his fists into a ball and looked at the colonel. “There is a significant portion of the Gilgamesh’s tomb dedicated specifically to telling a tale involving the petty gods and the mortals, battling for the right to decide their individual destinies. According to this tale, the ancient gods controlled the earth via six so-called divine Trees of the World. It’s not immediately clear how they did so, but the initial revision of the translation shows that it could be by telepathic manipulation of human beings.
“To wit, one of the most well-known parts in the Epic of Gilgamesh is of the God-King’s quest to slay Humbaba the Gatekeeper and fell a Cedar tree in the forest of the gods.
“I believe that was simply a retelling of Gilgamesh’s journey to stop the gods from influencing the humanity. That Cedar tree is more than likely one of the Six Divine Trees, the Tree of Life.
“From the tomb’s translations, the six Trees are,
“The Tree of Life, supposedly made out of wood-like materials. Hence, a Cedar tree. It’s believed to signify the neverending cycle of life.
“The Tree of Soul Sea, signifying possibly the spirituality of the mankind, represented by water.
“The Tree of Perdition, signifying punishment, represented by fire.
“The Tree of Absolution, signifying absolving of guilt, represented by wind or breeze.
“The Tree of Change, signifying time or something similar in concept, represented by thunder and lightning.
“And finally, the Tree of the End, signifying the zenith and the fall of human civilization, represented by iron or other metal.
“So tell me, Colonel, which of these six Trees does that metallic object most resemble to you?”
Pattison pointed at the image on the main monitor. “That is…. No, never mind that. If that supposition is correct, then what are your recommendations, Professor? How grave is the threat level?”
Evans sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Even I do not have all the answers – but remember, it’s the ancient gods that supposedly incite the Lords of Darkness to rise and destroy humanity. So, the level of threat…. is extreme. It, the Tree, needs to be brought down right away.”
“Is there a way to destroy or remove the Tree?”
Evans grimaced and leaned forward to rest his head on his hands. “Colonel, we’ve raised our army for this very day. I fear that sooner rather than later, we will be encountering a full-fledged Lord of Darkness. And the appearance of the Tree is just merely the beginning. Please, Colonel, there is no time to waste. Contact General Williams right away. He needs to know, and to get our combatants ready for a war.”
A seemingly abandoned warehouse district far North of Manhattan, just beyond the boundaries of the borough of Bronx – two figures were moving in haste, trying their best to hide in the shadows wherever it might be. More correctly, one figure was running while carrying the other on his back.
It was, of course, Abyss who was carrying the still-unconscious girl along with him to a safe house somewhere around here. Well, calling it a house was a stretch of one’s imagination, but it was considerably safe from the threats of his enemies, so either way, it was fine. He didn’t care what anyone called it.
The sleeping girl was wrapped up in the robe Abyss found inside the make-shift laboratory. But she hasn’t shown any signs of opening her eyes at all. Her breathing and heartbeat were all normal, so Abyss didn’t worry about her condition, at least not for now.
The robe wasn’t the only thing Abyss had found within that lab. There was a metal briefcase that contained two vials the sizes of a large syringe. Within those vials, one was filled with semi-solid green gel, while the other, a viscous liquid dyed in deep crimson hue. He had no idea what they were, but when he tried to examine them, a sensation of something forbidden to touch swept over him. And his gut feelings were usually correct, so he just left the strange materials there. They didn’t seem related to the girl, per se, and if they were, he’d just track it to wherever the cops or the Feds stored them in. No biggie.
What was a biggie, though, was running on building rooftops during the broad daylight. He was probably seen hundreds of times by the citizens and that sure as hell didn’t feel so good. It was all the fault of that dagger stealing asswipe. Abyss couldn’t wait to kick that man’s ass properly.
But now wasn’t the time. He had to make sure this girl was safe first. Only then, would he return to the city and have another go at finding that bastard before he did something as terrible as the massacre in the JFK. Abyss had to stop him. It was his job, his life’s mission.
However, taking care of the girl was a problem.
Even though he went out of his way to find her, the aftermath would be messy, he figured. Not that he was reluctant to deal with it, but just that, he was fully aware of what he was getting himself into.
As far as he knew, this girl had no dependents nor did she have a home to return to. Abyss didn’t even know her name. He had only learned of her existence by sheer accident when he was out on another one of his crime prevention run in the old neighborhood.
Abyss overheard a conversation between one of Max’s boys and an unknown man. They talked about handling some strange girl for a customer who was paying top dollar for the storage and transportation. Abyss thought that they were talking about human trafficking.
Incensed by the fact that there was someone on his watch dealing in that sh*t, Abyss went to Max’s place to rough him up and get the information out. He found the photograph of the smiling girl in Max’s apartment and that was all he needed to know.
But who knew things would become complicated like this?
He knew nothing about her. Not her name, not her age, not her origins, just that, bad people had interests in her and she was vulnerable and needed help. He should’ve interrogated Max more thoroughly. If it weren’t for that smiling bastard taking away his dagger, he wouldn’t have moved like this.
Well, being a twisted boy scout that he was, Abyss still had to intervene on her behalf no matter what. When there were many matters to attend to, he’d rather finish them in sequence. The girl’s safety came first so here he was. He didn’t regret his decision. It was the right thing to do.
After running for so long without a break, even Abyss was tired and he needed to take a rest. Running on the bridge was the worst, with the nosy traffic getting a full view of his movements. He figured that a change of his address probably was in order in the near future.
He entered one of the desolate warehouses. It was empty, weeds grew out of every crack, and rusted bits and pieces were the only occupants here. Making sure there was no one, Abyss carefully put the girl down first, propping her against a wall before he too sat down next to her.
In his years as a vigilante, this must’ve been one of the most troublesome missions he had undertaken which was saying something, seeing that his past enemies were quite a colorful bunch, to say the least.
On the opposite side to where he sat, Abyss could see the vague outline of Manhattan’s skyline, his home, through the broken windows. What a piece of work that place was. Full of lowlives, degenerates, corrupted bastards, rapists, drug pushers, armed robbers, murderers, thieves, religious fanatics, terrorists and hooligans, as well as those that took the cake for being the worst, the white collar criminals who try to hide behind the protection of the crooked constitutions and laws and judges and an army of lawyers.
This was his town. This was his hunting ground, one where he’d never run out of prey.
Abyss was well aware of how deranged he was. No need for a shrink to tell him that.
Wherever he looked, he could only see evil. Goodness in people’s hearts had long turned to ash in the greedy pursuit of wealth and benefits. No city in the world exemplified this trait as much as New York. The main rot came from the overflowing temptation of the Wall Street and its myriad of investment banking schemes that promised to make millions overnight while sucking the system dry to the bone. It started from there.
Probably because he was slightly insane, this city seemed such a perfect fit. He knew that if he had to go to, say, Denver, for instance, he’d be totally lost, feeling somewhat irrelevant and unsure of his purpose in this world. But not in New York. This was his hometown. He knew all the dirty secrets or, at least knew where to find one, knew which tree to shake for that juicy fruit.
He grinned maniacally, after imagining himself tracking down that smiling man who stole his dagger and massacred so many in the JFK. What method should he choose to punish this new form of evil?
He was excited just thinking about it.
As he was grinning, the girl stirred slightly. She moaned softly, her head falling to a side. Abyss turned to observe her, hoping the girl might wake up now and provide him with some information about her. That’d be a massive help in deciding how to handle her future.
The girl slowly turned her head more, a frown forming on her smooth forehead. She then shuddered, her eyelids fluttering. Abyss waited for her to open her eyes and go into a full panic mode – that’s what most people did when they saw him. He already mastered a method to deal with such situations, depending on who was throwing a panicky tantrum.
As he waited for her, Abyss sensed the ground tremble slightly. It was very minute and easy to miss for a regular person, but he wasn’t and he didn’t.
Concerned at this uncharacteristic event, Abyss placed his hand on the ground, sensing the continuous vibration. There was no subway going under his position, nor was there a construction site nearby. Such a shaking shouldn’t even be here.
Then the shaking morphed into a rumbling. The whole world seemed to quake. The broken window sills of the warehouse shook. The ceiling panels began to collapse one by one.
“What the hell?”
Abyss stiffened and stood up, ready to pick the girl up and leave this crumbling warehouse. Then he heard it; a giant screeching sound, and an explosive bang, followed by a blinding white light bursting out in the distance towards the Manhattan skyline. He shielded his eyes but it still stung.
Before his eyes could readjust, the walls exploded, and the thick metal vines attacked where Abyss stood. He belatedly saw them, and couldn’t dodge in time.
The vines were about to strike him when the girl’s eyes snapped open, revealing a pair of rich golden-verdant irides.
She raised her left hand and on her palm, runes began to gather. The space right in front of Abyss became separated from the rest, creating an invisible barrier that the vines crashed noisily against but unable to penetrate.
Stunned, he stumbled back for a moment, watching the writhing vines trying to breach the barrier but failing to do so. He had never in his life felt such malice and danger emitted by the wriggling vines. He was actually breaking out in cold sweats.
“What the hell is this?! What the f*ck?”
He muttered in a daze, before remembering the girl behind him. He turned around and saw the girl whispering something in a low murmur, while a warm green light seeped out of her.
Her eyes narrowed, her frown getting deeper in concentration as the warehouse began to disintegrate all around her and Abyss. He saw the concrete walls and the rusting metal frames assimilate into the metal vines, feeding the explosive growth of these things. He could only watch on, at a loss for words.
The barrier continued to block the powerful attacks of the metal vines, ripples of the each impact clearly visible in the air. But eventually, the frequency of the attacks slowed until they ceased, and the calm arrived before long.
Abyss looked at the girl, on high alert. She looked totally wiped out, her face pale and her breathing rough. She stared at him, panting, before asking him in a trembling voice.
“We are not safe here. We must leave.”
Abyss slowly nodded. “You don’t have to tell me twice. Can you stand, or do I need to carry you?”
She shook her head slightly. “I’m too weak to walk on my own. Please, lend me your aid for a foreseeable future, oh brave warrior.”
Abyss cocked an eyebrow under his black mask. A brave warrior? First time someone called me that….
Erik pointed at the huge metal rod in the distant horizon and angrily asked Stu – Stewart – in front of him. His eyes were bloodshot from the exposure to the blinding light, and spittle flew out of his mouth.
“Look at that!! Are you still gonna try fighting us, when that thing is right there?! Hello!! Where is your priority, man?”
Stu gritted his teeth, unable to make up his mind. He glanced around at his surroundings and saw that there was an incredible level of confusion and panic quickly spreading to the citizens like an infectious disease.
“But I have my orders, Erik!! I’m a soldier, and I must follow my orders to the letter. You are coming with me, right now!! Stop resisting, will you!!”
The two of them glared at each other, not budging from their spots. Before the two of them noticed it, Cleo’s family was outside the church, worriedly surveyed the scene and the bizarre metal spike thing on the horizon.
The Catholic nuns were busy praying on their knees, their brows twitching in fear. The drivers of the cars also stepped out of their cars and were staring at the metal spike. A Muslim man in his sixties left his Mercedes and muttered under his breath, “The Day of the Judgment is…. here? Is this al-Qiyamah?”
As if to answer his query, the ground violently rumbled, the entire world seemingly shaking like crazy. The dozens of thunder-like explosive cracks ripped the air and even Cleo had to cover her ears from the acute pain.
Surrounding the metal “tree,” clouds began to gather and several purple lightning were seen snaking within.
“What the hell is going on in Manhattan? Lei, can you find out what’s going on?!”
Erik asked in a worried voice, realizing that something very ominous was happening right now across the river from where they were. The oppressive aura oozing out of the spike thing was incredible – just looking at it was difficult. There were some in the crowd already fainting from the absurd oppressiveness.
Lei silently scanned the airwaves in a hurry. Until now, she was only monitoring the channels regarding the Project Dead Kings and more specifically, those trying to find them. Naturally, she didn’t pay much attention to the other ongoings of the city itself.
No one spoke until Lei raised her head and conveyed the grim news to all who were present.
“There is a lot of confusion right now, and I can’t tell what’s going on exactly, but before that metal thing rose up, GoH guys were going after the suspect from the JFK thing. He was trapped in the Met, and a team of Superheroes went in after him. And then…
“I don’t know, but we need to leave the city right now. I’m hearing reports of strange black colored metal vines destroying everything in their paths and are trying to cross the rivers via all the bridges around the island of Manhattan. So far, none has crossed over because the bridges collapsing under the weight or something. But there is no guarantee the situation will remain like that for long. It’s not safe where we are.”
“See? Did you hear that?! Do you think this is the right time to rigidly, mindlessly follow your stupid orders? Huh? Tell me Stu!!” Erik shouted at Stewart and then told his companions. “Get in the cars. We are not staying here.”
Stewart gritted his teeth stepped forward, ready to engage in combat, when his focus was taken away by an urgent radio call coming to his earpiece.
His facial color changed as he heard the new orders being channeled in – the command was recalling every available operative back to HQ. On top of that, all the previous missions were rescinded as of immediate effect as well.
Stewart’s expression further crumbled in dissatisfaction, but the new order had to be executed. He gave the signal to withdraw to his squad before glaring at Erik for the last time. “Don’t think you got away, Erik. When this is over, I am still coming after you lot.”
“Well, then. See you later, Stu.” Erik waved him away before jumping into the car. “C’mon, Mister Costanza. Floor it. Let’s get the hell outta here.”
Mylorne Akkad’s facial expression was not good. No, it was possibly the worst he had for quite a long while. In fact, it surpassed the one he carried after studying the camera footage from the JFK airport. Anyone who saw him right now, wouldn’t even recognize him. It was that severe.
But he had all the reason in the world to be unhappy. Right now, he was staring at the unmistakable sign of ill omens to come, the Tree of The End, on the computer monitor.
There was no one beside him inside the private resting quarter just outside the large tent hiding the ancient ruins so his ugly expression was left unseen. That was a good news for Mylorne, as he valued his public persona very, very much. Such a tyrannical, angry face would badly damage the carefully cultivated image of a man steeped in refinement, culture and an air of total mystery. With the invention of social media, keeping secrets were pretty hard nowadays. He had to be extra cautious.
But the Tree was an incredibly bad news. Bad news for his plans, bad news for the humanity as a whole, bad news for the planet itself.
To think, that the accursed dog of the so-called gods, En-men-lu-ana had this kind of trump card lying around. Even Mylorne couldn’t have predicted this outcome.
And things were moving too fast. He could not control the matters anymore. With this Tree revived, Mylorne Akkad had to assume that En-men-lu-ana also possessed other means to resurrect the rest and complete the portal to receive the vanquished gods back to the planet Earth. What would happen then? The subjugation and the enslavement of every living being on this planet, that’s what. And all his carefully laid plans wasted.
Mylorne Akkad glanced at the second monitor, showing the red pyramid underground. No signs of Jack Mercer emerging from it. Understandably so, since it had not been even half a day since the boy entered it. Hell, even if the boy managed to withstand 24 hours inside the structure, his strength still wouldn’t be enough to destroy that Tree.
Back then, Gilgamesh’s powers weren’t enough so he had to work together with another godly being, Enkidu. They were former enemies who had then become lifelong friends. The two were the most powerful beings in the entire world, maybe even this galaxy, yet they nearly died trying to destroy the final remaining Tree, the ironically-named Tree of Life, and its guardian beast, Humbaba.
I need to locate the potential spots where the other Trees might be located. Get rid of the future troubles before they sprout.
Mylorne frowned deeply, wondering how he should go on about this task. Even with his vast wealth and connections, he still failed to notice the presence of the Tree in New York. The satellite images moments before the Tree’s resurrection had shown that the ground zero was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It stood to reason that En-men-lu-ana came specifically to the U.S.A in order to access something in the museum. An old relic, an ancient artifact of some kind – or maybe it was just a coincidence.
Mylorne kneaded his temples, weighing the pros and cons of him stepping back out into the limelight. He had, for the better part of the last two millenniums, hid behind the shadows, never truly exerting a visible pressure on the directions of the history. But things were different now; with the appearance of this one divine Tree, the end of the human race’s independence had begun. Soon, more would rise and the “gods” would take interest in this planet once more.
No, maybe they never truly forgot about this planet at all.
Mylorne Akkad had no idea where to even begin in order to find the nesting places for the other trees. He had some inkling but that was just that, a hunch, and in truth, he could be wrong. The planet Earth was a sizable one and it was pretty much impossible to scour it completely, even with his incredible wealth. It just couldn’t be done.
But if he went to New York personally, then maybe he could find a clue. Even better, he could capture the “vessel” for En-men-lu-ana and get the truth out that way.
The question, though, was whether he should do it. He may be an immortal, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t die. Oh no. In fact, he was not that strong, physically. Someone like Cleo Costanza would overpower him if she was dead serious. Well, she was a Super augmented with the genes of Hercules, so there was that, but still.
So, looking at the matter in a cold, logical view, what chances did he have in New York?
Akkad took another glance at the monitor showing the pyramid. He felt slightly helpless right now. He couldn’t call Jack, nor could the boy inquire as to what was happening outside. And the boy, as the direct descendant of the God-King Gilgamesh, was the only hope for the mankind right now.
Could Jack shoulder such a huge burden? Mylorne Akkad wasn’t sure. The boy was too immature, too green and naive and idealistic. He wouldn’t survive for an hour in the real world. The comfy suburbia life had spoiled the great seedling of a warrior into a potential pudgy middle-class wastrel. Nearly.
Luckily, the boy had awakened just in time and the damage may not be too severe. Mylorne could remold him, back into the monstrous powerhouse he was supposed to be. To rightfully reclaim his position as the King of all Kings. Only then, would Mylorne Akkad’s, or Utnapishtim’s, dream be fulfilled.
He sighed and leaned back on his seat. He decided to endure for now and instead mobilize his contacts to search for the other Trees. And when Jack Mercer exits the pyramid, then he’d have to somehow bring that Tree down before it was too late. Akkad calculated that there was still a little bit of time before the Tree’s guardian beast, Humbaba, would appear in full strength. If that is so, then even Jack should have a decent chance of beating it with the aid of all the other Supers present there.
Hell, the might of U.S Army was also focused there, so it was possible. No, it was completely doable. Mylorne Akkad was sure of it.
He accessed his phone and made a call. His work was far from finished; it was only just getting harder. He needed to know more about how the hell En-men-lu-ana was able to break free from the eternal prison that the insane, undying ruler was thrown into.
Mylorne was quite sure that it was indeed En-men-lu-ana who was responsible for this upheaval. That golden skull was as good an evidence as any. Because of him, the human race was met with the Second Great Calamity, the Cleansing Flood, that nearly wiped two-thirds of the population as well as the culture and progress of the civilization back then.
Thinking back to the time when he barely survived the ordeal, Mylorne Akkad’s face became a lot darker. He had lost so much that day, and had gained this immortality curse at the same time.
Since then, he survived the Third Great Calamity by the skin of his teeth. He had absolutely no intentions of going through a fourth as well if he could help it.
Clenching his fist in anger, he waited for the call to be connected, but instead, it went to a voicemail. He tried it again but no cigar.
What the…. did he get affected by the destruction of Manhattan? Shouldn’t be – Milosevic is based around Brooklyn and Queens. He shouldn’t have a reason to be on the island at all.
A flash of worry added another crease on his face.
That bastard better not be dead. That girl’s power is essential to my cause, now more than ever. Damn it, I shouldn’t have trusted someone like that criminal!!
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