(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!!)
Inside the red pyramid, a different type of struggle for survival was unfolding, involving a boy and monsters. Lots of monsters.
At first, it was the bear/wolf hybrid creature. One after the other, without fail, they appeared every ten minutes. The battle became progressively difficult as the time went on. Jack found it tough, but somehow, he held on using nothing more than his athleticism, knowledge gained – or implanted – from the dreams of the past, and his unexplainable ability to read the situation and react accordingly.
A day passed inside the red pyramid while he struggled, just like that. How did Jack know? The display showing up in the helmet told him so.
After that, the pattern of the monster changed. He had to fight two at the same time. This lasted almost another day.
For the third day, the type of the monster changed instead. Instead of the eyeless, long-eared creature, he fought against a frog-like thing with a feline head with the body size of a bull. Oh yes. Couldn’t get any more bizarre than that, he mused at the time.
These strange monsters could leap a humongous distance, like how a frog ought to. As if to compensate, the diameter of the battleground, as named by Jack, expanded to the size of a football field with the red crystal safe zone smack dab in the middle.
Besides the leaps, its body was coated in a slimy material that seemed to reduce damage from the blunt attacks. Killing one became a chore as a result. And this monster also utilized its sharp claws on the front paws. Dodging them was pretty tough.
If it weren’t for the fact that whenever the new monster type or the pattern showed up and the difficulty reset to the “very easy,” he’d have long ago perished. And the fact that there was a sanctuary offered by the barrier surrounding the red crystal. Without those, Jack would have pressed the escape button a long time ago. This revolving battle of attrition would have driven the sturdiest man to an early grave for sure.
Jack ate, tried to rest and…. did his business within the safe zone’s confines. Doing a number two was a hassle, though – taking the suit off and putting it back on alone unaided, even if it was just the lower part, proved to be a real pain in the rear. But true to the title given, the safe zone was indeed safe, not a single monster daring to get closer while Jack did his things. As for where he did his number two…. well, there was a special bag for that placed inside the supply crate. A supplementary guide on how to use the said bag was uploaded into the suit’s PDA. That was quite thoughtful, Jack mused once more.
Being able to sleep, even if it was for a short amount, would have helped a massive deal. Of course, he couldn’t close his eyes even if wanted to. Not only was he stuck in a high-stress environment, the constant snarling of the monsters prowling outside the barrier got on his nerves constantly.
He understood that, without another way to access his Soul Sphere and enhance his body with the reserve of red souls, this revolving battle of attrition would only get harder and harder until he’d end up dying. So he forced himself to get some rest, doing his best to ignore all the distractions there could be.
His first attempt at falling asleep failed. He was just too nervous and jittery. And when he did eventually shut his eyes off, the rest only lasted for a minute before he woke up with a start. He couldn’t even get near the state of entering the Soul Sphere.
But by the end of the third day, he was too exhausted not to. He leaned against the escape pedestal and closed his eyes, finally falling into a slumber for a couple of hours.
His access to the Soul Sphere was a brief but a frantic one; Jack hurriedly went about repairing all the internal injuries he received. And there were many small wounds, mostly from getting struck by the monsters and their attacks. The sharp claws couldn’t penetrate past the Kevlar survival suit, but the impact force behind each attack still got past and hurt Jack.
Finding himself floating in this space, Jack quickly commanded the newly absorbed red souls and merged them into all the parts that were hurting. Of course, he had half a mind to use everything in one go, but at the corner of the Sphere, the souls consisting of his classmates would always stay there. He’d never, ever even think about using them.
There was this hope, a foolish one at that, of giving his friends and Emily a chance for a revival of some kind. He knew it was ludicrous. He knew there was no way. But a part of him held out. At least, when he grasped a better control over his abilities, maybe then he could release these souls and let them enter the afterlife or heaven or whatever.
Even as a someone not too interested in religion, he’d like that.
Healing up robbed him of the majority of the absorbed souls. Out of the reserve, probably as much as 60% had to be spent. With that done, he hurriedly put the rest into his muscle enhancing. This task was a little different from how he healed his wounds.
First, he had to imagine the body part that he wanted to enhance, be that his liver or biceps. Then, guide a certain amount of souls towards the said body part, making them enter. Visualize the part and the souls merge as one. Job done.
In the past, he feared any unknown side effects from dumping a lot of souls into his body at once so he took it slow but now that he was pressed for time, he rushed and poured a lot at one go. A stinging pain erupted out of the targetted areas, forcing him out of the Soul Sphere and out of his sleep.
Jack stared dumbly at the monstrous creature prowling the barrier’s perimeter.
Wow, that was a first, mused Jack. That was unexpected. So, if I tried to forcibly enhance spec too much at one go, there’s a backlash? Damn it, so I gotta watch out for that, too?
Jack frowned bitterly, unhappy at the fact that his own body was making it difficult for him. Nothing seemed nice and easy at the moment.
But the thoughts of giving up and leaving this damn place never entered his mind. Well, he did entertain it a couple of times, but he quickly quashed it under the grim determination to move forward with himself.
The temptation to escape was always nearby, though. And it was doing its darndest to entice him into pressing that shining crystal on top of the pedestal next to him.
It shouted, oh hey, you’re an idiot for not pressing me!! Come on!! Do it!!
Looking at that thing reminded Jack of how he was scammed into entering this place. Mylorne Akkad conned him with a grand tale of heroes and righteousness and all that crap.
Logically speaking, Jack really had no reason to be here in the first place, risking his life and limb to get stronger. Yes, he wanted his revenge, but was it worth putting his life on the line? Was it really? He was unsure about it. He was unsure of his own motivations. He was unsure of his goals.
Yet he chose to stay. Because this was the path he needed to tread. His mind may waiver, but he would grit his teeth and bite his lower lip, reminding himself of the reason why he chose to walk this road, scammed or not.
You should have moved.
Taylor’s sharp criticism rang true in his head even now. As she explicitly reminded him, Jack had the power and the potential to stop more tragedy from happening to other people. The only thing holding him back was his own indecisiveness. No, it was more cowardice than anything else, really.
He was scared of being a monster, treated as one, shunned by everyone.
Afraid of becoming a monster?
Then, why not become a god?
Mylorne told him the night before after handing out a smackdown disguised a sparring session. Words coming from a guy who was older and superior to him in almost every quantifiable way sounded a lot more persuasive than his own mind.
Afraid of being ostracized? Afraid of being frowned upon? Afraid of being hated, feared, distrusted? Then become something that surpasses humanity itself!!
Become a god that not even fate can meddle with. Become a being that transcends the mortal coil and smash apart the common sense of this world.
Become the savior of this world.
Jack could only smile wryly, recalling those passionate words. He was conned by these very words, after all.
He held no grand delusion of being a hero, a savior of the world and the human race. Stuff like that was something for guys like Alpha Man and Vanguard. They were ideally suited for that kind of roles.
No. Jack’s purpose was different, his desires altogether less heroic in nature. All he wanted to do was to kill Falcon and Master Evil. And in that process, maybe, just maybe, make sure another one of him would never be created again, another one birthed from the mires of tragedy like him.
When he thought like that, a wry smile instead of a bitter frown formed on his face. No matter how he cut it, his excuses for being here sounded noble. Like a goddamn hero. Like a wannabe savior.
Shaking his head slightly, Jack took off his helmet and set it aside on the ground next to him. The intense, nauseating smell of the feline/frog monster assaulted him almost immediately.
He groaned and waved off the odor away from his nose. The creature continued to prowl, emitting that foul stench from its frog-like body.
Jack was reminded of watching a big cat behind the cage in a zoo. Of course, the situation was slightly reversed, with him inside a cage. Or was it a wrong way of looking at things? He couldn’t tell. His point of reference seemed to get a little crooked somehow. Maybe it was the case of over exposure to Gilgamesh and his over-the-top antics, the ancient God-King’s personality rubbing off on him, although the memories were all too fragmented to really give Jack a clear picture.
Jack sighed again, then crinkled his nose as more of that disgusting smell pervaded his senses. He wiped the sweat away from his face and felt the texture of the glove brush against his skin. The smooth surface was caked in dirt, streaked with the salty liquid from the pores.
A god who can live his life unafraid of fear and ostracization? A being capable of overcoming fate?
Jack mused to himself, a wry smile that wasn’t really a smile remaining on his lips. It was true that Gilgamesh in Jack’s dreams, his memories of the past life was a god-like being, who was loved by his people for his grand accomplishments and benevolence – and feared by his enemies in equal measure. That was the impression he got, fragmented memories or not.
The one question that kept on popping up in his mind was whether he could become a person like that. Mylorne Akkad pledged his support for that very cause, but could he really become that guy if he remained wishy-washy over things like he was before?
No, I can’t. Not like that. I am the…. clone of Gilgamesh. I am the perfect copy. He and I have the exact same body. I face the exact same condition as he did. This is as simple as it gets – I just need to stay on course and not give up.
Jack lightly slapped his face and slowly got up. His muscles no longer screamed in pain. He didn’t feel refreshed or content, but at the same time, not too bothered. He chose to be here. The pain and aches and the deadly risks all came with the decision he made. They were his cross to bear.
Jack stretched his arms above his head, feeling the restored muscles stretch tautly under the survival suit. It was regretful that he couldn’t really enhance his specs, but that didn’t mean he could try to go back to sleep. He didn’t feel fatigued enough for that and he knew himself the best – in his current condition, he’d need a pretty strong sleeping pill to knock him out.
He could feel that there was a little more strength flowing him, though. Some of the souls must have made their way into his body, it seemed.
Jack glared at the monster, knowing he should get going for another round. He didn’t fear the damn thing at all. If anything, he was looking forward to killing it. If it was him from a month ago, Jack would run at the first sign of trouble. But now?
After his head was slowly filled up with the knowledge of the battlefield from the previous life, his desire to apply them right here against the monsters increased steadily. Coupled with his determination to remain and absorb more red souls, there was no way he’d be scared of the foul-smelling creatures now.
Jack reached down to grab his helmet and put it on. Making sure his body was moving according to his will with no issues, he got ready to step out of the safe zone once more.
Then he noticed something strange with the escape crystal. It was no longer shining.
Question marks floated over Jack’s head as he got closer to examine it. Before he could prod it with his fingertips, there was a slight change in the environment surrounding him.
Suddenly, the entire world inside the red pyramid became dark. Darker than a moonless night. As dark as a black ink, untouched by the ends of a brush.
Jack stiffened and quickly took guard. Around him, he could see nothing at all. The smelly monster was gone, and so did the spinning walls of the pyramid. The giant red crystal, the pedestal, the supply crate and he were clearly visible but other than that, he could see nothing at all.
“What the hell is going on?!”
Jack, unsure of whatever this was, quickly pressed the escape crystal. Nothing happened.
He was stunned into silence, before he hurriedly depressed the crystal again. And again. And again. And absolutely nothing happened. He was still surrounded by the total darkness.
“Hey, wait a damn minute. Am I…. am I trapped in here?! Is that what this is?!”
Color drained out of Jack’s face. He started to panic, and hurriedly accessed the communication device built into the survival suit. He knew it didn’t work, but he hoped for a miracle.
Of course, the only thing he got in the receiver was a distant static.
His confused panic naturally grew. He didn’t mind staying here and getting stronger, but that was when he could leave whenever he wanted to. No one said he’d be trapped in here and potentially never see the light of the day. That was not a part of the deal.
Jack gripped the metal baton tightly and remained vigilant while his mind worked overtime. All sorts of bad scenarios filled his head, one after the other. But there was no change in the world outside the barrier. It remained pitch black.
Jack looked down to his feet and saw the same darkness. He lightly tapped the “ground” and felt the solidity below. He couldn’t help but compare this darkness to the one he experienced while he was transported to the ancient world in his memories. The similarities were there, although he could be wrong.
But if he wasn’t wrong….
Suddenly, from above, a spot of light began to peek out in the darkness, gradually spreading out wider and wider. The darkness faded away eventually and now, Jack found himself standing on a wide open grassy plain.
“What the…. is this a part of my memories? But…. hmm.”
Jack surveyed the area, as far as his eyes could take in. This place felt alien, foreign. He blinked his eyes a few times more but the sight before him didn’t change no matter how many times he did. He really was standing in the middle of nowhere, not inside the pyramid.
This grassy plain stretched as far as his eyes could see. Below Jack’s feet, thin grass stalks sprouting from the gaps of bold gray rocks replaced the inky blackness. Bending down, he brushed the ground and saw the hint of dust rise. He then picked up a pebble and flicked it out of the safe zone barrier.
It felt real, not illusory. Thanks to the survival suit he couldn’t feel the texture of the pebble but he could still sense its weight. An illusion or, heaven forbid, hologram, shouldn’t have bulk, or so Jack reasoned. The piece of earth he held in his hand was as real as it got. This felt more and more real – the sensation that his dreams couldn’t manage to convey until now. Wherever this was, it was definitely not a dream.
Jack was trying very hard not to panic too much. He had encountered a lot of crazy stuff of late, so it paid to be as open-minded as possible about everything. If he was a fan of Sci-Fi genre, he’d say, this was teleportation and that he had fallen victim to it. Probably.
He still felt helpless, though. There was nothing he could do about the growing dread in the pit of his stomach, realizing that, maybe he was stuck in this plain with no way to go home.
The display on the helmet’s visor said there was no issue with the air quality. The temperature was moderate, too. The wind speed was a gentle breeze. It was a nice day for a picnic, all things considered.
Jack scanned the horizon once more hoping to see something, anything, to help him figure where he was. In the distance, there was a mountain range; on the opposite side, a brown desert. No forests or signs of civilization anywhere. For that matter, no signs of any living creatures either. Not even insects nor birds. He was utterly alone.
The sky above was gray and dim as if all color was sucked out. The clouds passed by like speeding cars on the highway, rushing past and constantly changing their shapes. The looming sun was huge and its rays piercing.
The more he looked, the more convinced he became that there was truly nothing out here. An utter desolation was the only appropriate term Jack could think of.
Behind him, the red crystal still stood tall, emitting that vivid red glow. The escape pedestal remained too, seemingly daring him to come and press the dull, dead crystal on top. To the side, the unopened supply crate. Surrounding him and the small area, the safe zone’s barrier.
“Just what the hell is going on here?! Huh? Where am I?”
Jack mumbled out in frustration. The GPS function in the PDA was not responding. If he was somewhere on the planet Earth, at least he’d get some kind of pingback. No GPS signal could mean that this wasn’t Earth. Or maybe he was still inside the red pyramid and all this was nothing more than an incredibly advanced hologram. An illusion capable of fooling even the most observant eyes in the world.
“Hello? Is anyone out there?!”
Jack shouted out at the top of his lungs. Since there was literally nothing to reflect back, there was no echo. The only other sound he could hear was the gentle breeze.
At a complete loss, Jack stumbled until he found the edge of the supply crate and sat on it, quivering in shock. He couldn’t see properly, his visions blurring. He could only hear his thundering heartbeat and nothing else. He felt confined, trapped.
Angrily, he pulled off the damn helmet and dropped it on the ground. The air entering his lungs unrestricted by the helmet felt refreshing and cool.
He almost fell head first into a pit of despair but manage to catch himself just before that happened. It’d be too easy to wallow in self-pity. The prospect of spending the rest of his days stuck in this world was not his idea of a vacation. No, it sounded like a prison. Besides, there would be numerous problems to solve – like, what should he do with food? There was a lot of MREs in the supply crate, but that would run out eventually.
What about drinking water? Again, the supply would not last. And he saw not one source of water nearby. And what about shelter from the hostile elements? A place to sleep? His family?
But he gritted his teeth and breathed the cool air deeply one more time. He was not going to sit here and complain. No, he would see this as another part of the trial to become the god that he was capable of. Water? Food? A roof over his head? If he needed it, he would go out and secure it. And he would see his family, sooner or later, after he conquered this place.
Jack chose to see this new world as a testing ground, a massive challenge for survival in order to forge him into a tougher, stronger being. And he was determined to score the full marks at the end of it all.
“Bring it on. I ain’t scared of you!!”
Jack growled in a low voice.
As if to answer him, a voice suddenly spoke from behind, scaring the bejesus out of Jack.
“What are you doing, boy?”
Jack shot up like a scalded cat from the supply crate and quickly spun around to face the owner of that voice.
And to his shock, there was a person sitting on an elaborate throne of limestone. He wasn’t there before, yet now, there he was. There was a certain disdainful haughty frown on the man’s face as he propped his head on his right hand, his legs crossed like a bored emperor surveying his subjects.
However, the real problem wasn’t the sudden appearance of this mystery person. No, the real issue was that the man had Jack’s face. Literally, his face, a feature for feature, it was exactly the same.
Calling him a man was a misnomer, though, as he was a teenager just like Jack was. If it weren’t for a golden garb adorned in jewels and the limestone throne, Jack would’ve made the mistake of believing that he was looking at a mirror reflection.
The man on the throne asked again.
“What are you doing, boy?”
Jack was speechless for a while. Hearing himself ask that question while calling him a boy seemed a bit…. unusual.
“Uh…. I, uh, am… here to…. get stronger.”
Jack stuttered slowly, still on guard, unsure what this was or who this could be.
The other Jack shook his head, disdain on his face growing noticeably.
“To think, that a bumbling child is my direct bloodline descendant. This…. this is disappointing.”
The other Jack cranked his neck and stood up abruptly. The limestone throne turned translucent and dissipated into the thin air. But even more surprisingly, the other Jack started changing as well.
Gone were the regal robe of an ancient world, and an impressive set of heavy red armor took its place. The teenaged face morphed, a bushy beard forming on the chin; the previously short hair growing long and straight until it reached the back of the shoulders, whipping powerfully on the whistling winds that kicked up suddenly. His entire body seemed to grow a few inches taller, his bulk increasing accordingly. Now, the man became a hulking figure that looked like a blood-thirsty warrior, a monarch of countless lands and a judge of million souls.
Jack was immediately forced to retreat by the incredible pressure and a thick killing intent oozing from this man. He stumbled back involuntarily, his confusion and alarm constantly shooting up.
“Who are you?! No, wait a second. What the hell are you? You… can’t be possibly real.” Jack hastily shouted before bringing his baton in a defensive posture. Right now, this weapon looked comically inept for the situation.
The heavily armored man directly entered the safe zone’s barrier as if it didn’t exist and stood before Jack. He had an unimpressed expression, a scowl even. Then, with a loud snort, he reached out. A thick halberd appeared up high in the sky and slammed down on the ground, causing a serious tremor. The man grabbed the weighty polearm with only one hand and pointed it at Jack.
“Do you not feel our resonance? I am your ancestor. From your past. When your blood came from the long line of true gods, when a mere mention of my name stirred a damnable fear in the hearts of weaklings!!
“I am the Conqueror of all men, an undisputed devil under the skies, the King of Uruk, the greatest nation on earth – I am Gilgamesh!!”
Gilgamesh then powerfully swung the halberd. A thick shockwave spread out and washed over Jack. His heart thumped in panic and he hastily ducked down.
The powerful wave of energy continued past the face-planting Jack on the ground and exploded past the safe zone’s barrier. And as soon as it hit the air outside, the wave clashed powerfully with the very fabric of this world and began to cut apart reality. Jack could hear the sharp cracking noise behind him, above him, all around him. It was a heart-stopping symphony of destruction
When he carefully looked back, his jaw dropped in pure terror. Even if this grassy plain was nothing more than an illusion, the damage caused by that swing of the halberd was still astonishing to behold.
There was a crescent-shaped crater where the earth was overturned. The crater was huge, its dimension enough to hold several football matches inside. And this destruction hadn’t ended yet, as Jack could still see the earth continuously being blown away. Soon, the distant mountains would be next to bear the brunt of the shockwave.
Jack’s back was coated in buckets of cold sweat. That was a serious demonstration of pure destructive power.
The imposing man, Gilgamesh, spoke again. No, he commanded Jack, in a voice that no one could possibly rebel against.
Jack trembled like a wet dog and stood up on the unsteady pair of legs. Almost every hair on his body was standing up from awe and shock. A lot of that also came from fear as well.
“You are me…. You’re… You are Gilgamesh? The Gilgamesh of the legend?”
Gilgamesh nodded and took a powerful step forward. The ground shook again under his feet.
“But how? Is this an illusion? Or did I travel back in time? But that’s not possible, am I right?” Jack stammered while taking a defensive step backwards.
Gilgamesh shook his head. “No, you did not travel back in time. Neither am I an illusion conjured up by your frail state of mind. Hear me, my descendant. I am the remnant will of the God-King left behind within the cracks of this dimension, waiting for the day you cause a trouble. In essence, I am Gilgamesh and at the same time, I am not he.”
“I… I don’t get it.”
Jack took another step back, slightly widening the distance between him and Gilgamesh’s so-called remnant will. But that gap was shortened in a blink as the man in the big red armor literally teleported right in front of Jack.
“There is nothing to get, boy. This body is an imprint of my soul, that is watching over these damnable structures as a safeguard. You have obviously stumbled into one yourself, triggering the appearance of this will. Now, I shall perform the duty assigned to this projection of will and eject you from this world before it’s too late.”
Jack’s lips hung loose, further confused by the assault of the incomprehensible words on his brain.
“Before it’s too late? What do you mean?”
Gilgamesh clicked his tongue as if Jack’s questions were annoying him. “That attack of mine was to sever the mental connection you unwittingly formed with the other side of the Dark Void. Usually, warriors subjected to this trial would not arouse the interest of the false gods, the Anunnaki, but you’re different. You are my descendant. In you, flows my blood. My seeds. The Anunnaki would be fools not to notice you going through the trials inside this structure.”
Jack was even more confused at this. “I… what? What’s an Anunnaki? What are you talking about, what mental connection? It’s true that I saw this whole thing as a trial, but this is the only place to get stronger in the shortest amount of time!! There’s something bad going on outside and I need to do this!!”
Gilgamesh cocked an eyebrow, showing a slight surprise. “Outside? Such as? What types of tribulations does my descendant suffer from?”
“I’m not 100% sure, but there’s a vassal of En-men-lu-ana wrecking a havoc in a city far from here. I do not know his purpose, nor what he wants, but I need to stop him, before he kills more innocent people!!”
“Ho? A vassal of that mad dog? Hmm. I thought his imprisonment was final, that he would never be free of the curse of the Great Below. Hmph. A vassal shouldn’t even give you trouble. Just send your own vassals to take care of such trivial matters. You’re a child of kings, so let your retainers worry about the woes befalling the world of the commoners.
“Remember that you come from the long line of superior beings, the beings comparable to the true gods. You should not involve yourself much over the matters of the mortal world, boy.”
Jack was stunned to hear this. These words were not what he had expected to hear from a king who was supposedly beloved by his subjects. No, these were the words of a man who only cared about his appearance and image.
A sudden realization dawned on Jack, thinking that maybe his assessment of his ancestor was wrong.
“But, weren’t you the most powerful man on this planet? Why would you not help your own people? Why shouldn’t I help others when I have the strength to do so?”
Gilgamesh dismissively waved his hand.
“I built my strength to enjoy life, not to sacrifice my being for some feckless mouth breathers who can’t even write my name properly on stone. That’s all there is to it. Why should I lose sleep over those weaklings? They must cultivate individual strength and take care of themselves.”
Jack’s face waned all of a sudden. He didn’t expect to hear such a selfish reasoning from the original/ancestor.
From the snippets of the story Jack heard from Mylorne Akkad as well as the memory fragments, he thought that Gilgamesh was a remarkable warrior who led the whole of humanity against the oppressive gods – in other words, a hero.
But this guy? He wasn’t a good guy.
Was Jack wrong? Was Gilgamesh a jackass who only cared about himself and no one else? But how could he befriend Utnapishtim and Enkidu and that woman from his dreams? Why did the citizens of Uruk worshiped him and sang his name in reverence?
The images of Gilgamesh from the descriptions and this Gilgamesh didn’t match at all. Jack was hopelessly confused here.
“Wait, wait, wait. This doesn’t make sense. I…. No, right!! Hey, if you don’t care about anyone except yourself, why did you leave behind a…. an imprint here as you say? Why are you here to save me?”
“Simple. My enemies are numerous. And they can be persistent too. I’ll be damned if I let those stinking sons of fatherless goats take advantage of my bloodline after I’m gone.”
Finished with explaining his position, Gilgamesh grabbed the halberd with both of his hands and got into a stance.
“I am going to destroy this structure’s hold over you. That should do the trick. You shall go home and get stronger somewhere else. No shortcuts, boy!! Got that?”
Gilgamesh grabbed Jack’s shoulder and began squeezing. Jack felt a huge weight pressing down. Jack quickly raised his voice, stopping whatever Gilgamesh was about to do.
“No, wait a damn minute!! Stop for a second, please. I, uh, have so many questions and if you are really not a fragment of my imagination, you can answer them, right?”
Gilgamesh frowned unhappily but withdrew his hand for a bit. “Fine. I shall spare you a moment of breaths. Ask away, but be quick about it, boy.”
Jack took a deep breath and quickly rearranged his thoughts.
He really did have a lot of questions swirling around in his mind. He couldn’t afford to lose this chance since there was no guarantee that he’d be able to “meet” Gilgamesh again.
“Right, so, uh, how did you get here? I mean, this pyramid we’re in right now, is located on another continent altogether. Don’t tell me you traversed the Atlantic Ocean as well?!”
“That is your first question? Aren’t you a funny child. Well, a pyramid, huh? That’s what you call these damnable structures? Bah, it doesn’t matter what it’s called.
“These structures, these traps, are built by the false gods, the Anunnaki, to recruit potential pawns to control the humanity. They want to groom strong individuals so they entice the talented ones here and throw them carrots, a promise of fame and glory.
“For that purpose, the Anunnaki have built many, many structures all over the world. This one is just another, nothing more. Once a talented warrior survives up to a certain stage, a deceptively obtuse mental link is made between the clueless warrior and the presiding Anunnaku.
“I too, was once seduced by the purported rewards and had entered one of these structures. But I found out the true purpose of this structure, this trial, and chose to not to become their puppets. I answer to no one but myself!!
“The Anunnaki unwisely decided to become my enemy when they failed to control me. Hmph, that was the costliest mistake they have ever made!!
“Anyways. I left behind an imprint of my soul behind, knowing that each of these structures is interconnected to one another. If a foolish descendant of mine ignores my warnings and sets foot in any one of them, I appear to save them. As simple as that.”
Harrumphing, Gilgamesh nodded his head.
Jack didn’t know what to say here. The answer he got only brought about yet more questions.
Did Mylorne Akkad know about this? He is the Immortal, after all. He had lived for millenniums before the Gilgamesh’s time. Logically, he should have known about this pyramid and its real functions. But why didn’t he tell me? Or is that because he didn’t know?
Watching that Jack had fallen silent, Gilgamesh became impatient and urged the boy. “Are you finished? If you have no more queries to satisfy, I shall do what I’m here for.”
“No, no, wait. Uh… right!! Right. Yeah, how do I enhance my body without going to sleep? You know, the Soul Sphere thing.”
Gilgamesh made a weird face as if he just heard something incredulous. “Huh? You don’t even know how to quickly utilize red souls?! How much did my bloodline decline in the intervening years?! How old are you, boy? Huh? When I was at your age, I could freely wield red souls as I wished.
“You should’ve at least received a proper instruction on how to control your Battle Sense and along with that, accessing your Sphere too. Just who is your negligent martial combat tutor?”
Jack, for the second time in a few minutes, was left speechless. Jack could see now that Gilgamesh was under some sort of misunderstanding here, thinking that the world hadn’t changed from his time.
But what could Jack say here to resolve this? After all, he was talking to someone that was not really Gilgamesh at all but a projection of a will, whatever that meant.
Not knowing where to begin, Jack simply chose to come clean. If the other party failed to understand, that was not his problem. “See, the thing is, I only began to learn about myself and what I can do about a month ago.”
This time, it was Gilgamesh was stunned and he took a step back.
“What? You’re my blood, so how come you were not trained until now? What nonsense is this?! Ah, so that explains why you’re like that earlier, lost and meek and quite a disappointment. Hmph, have my glorious House gone that soft? Did the shining martial spirit of my blood wane in the face of peace? Is that it?”
Jack felt like doing a facepalm before stopping himself.
“No, that’s not it. You’ve lived over five, six thousand years ago, maybe even more than that. Times have changed. For the better, I mean. People have no reasons to take up arms and fight nowadays.”
After saying that, Jack realized what he had said wasn’t entirely true. There were wars still raging in many pockets of the world. He was embroiled in one, too. Times may have changed but the battles continued. Nothing had changed, much, since the ancient times.
He was simply thinking that there wasn’t any conflict out there simply because he hadn’t been exposed to the darker side of the humanity until recently.
Jack shut his mouth. If he spoke any further, he’d end up exposing how naive his thoughts were.
Gilgamesh pursed his lips. “Hah? What is this boy mumbling about? Doesn’t matter how many years had passed. Humans will never, ever change their nature. You ever heard the saying of how the snow leopard never changes its spots? It’s the same with man’s heart. Five thousand years, ten thousand years, hundred thousand years – human beings will always be at war with another.”
Jack sighed and nodded his head in agreement.
Gilgamesh continued. “Alright, fine. You want to know how to access your Battle Sense? Hmm. You say it’s been only a month since you took up arms? If so, then it is by some kind of miracle that you have survived the trial until this stage…. You must have some latent talent then. That is good, because to develop the Battle Sense, you will need high perception which is accompanied by your inborn talent.”
The Battle Sense, huh? Jack slowly scratched his chin. Right, maybe that’s what it was. When I was facing the coyote or the armed robber, or even against Cleo, I could accurately tell what might happen in the battle and make plans accordingly. That could be this so-called Battle Sense. So, I was inadvertently using it all this time? Even inside this pyramid?
Jack was convinced. This deduction seemed logical. But how did this “Battle Sense” relate to him not needing to go to sleep for the accessing of the Soul Sphere?
“If you can utilize the Battle Sense freely, then try not only to look at your opponents, but at your own body as well. Go on, try it. Depending on how good your understanding of the Battle Sense is, your ability to draw out a number of souls from the Sphere will change. Be glad that I am telling you this much, boy. I had to find this out the hard way. All alone.”
Jack ignored the boasting tone of Gilgamesh and recalled those moments when the Battle Sense was active. After going through enough life-or-death battles within this pyramid, he had almost grasped the edge of controlling this supernatural sixth sense. With a little more practice, he could call forth this Battle Sense whenever he wanted to.
And as his perception turned inwards, he saw it. There was a small red sphere the size of an apple slowly rotating within his heart. He was pretty sure that the sphere wasn’t really there in the physical form, but something more ethereal. Like, something out of magic.
Within this sphere, Jack saw the red souls. They were swirling around soundlessly, seemingly waiting for him to pluck them out and do something.
Jack held his breath. He had done it. He didn’t need to go to sleep every time to enhance his strength!! But as soon as he was about to reach into this sphere to pull out a soul, a piercing headache punched him in the side of his head, snapping him out of the Battle Sense “mode”.
Jack breathed heavily as he plopped down on the ground, confused.
“Ho. Not bad. That was your first try, wasn’t it? But you were able to see into your Soul Sphere, weren’t you? Not bad, not bad at all. Hmph, my approximation of your worth has increased a little. Be glad, boy.”
“What happened? Why couldn’t I….”
Jack murmured in confusion, the pounding headache slowly subsiding in the meantime.
“You couldn’t forcibly maintain the battle sense for long because you are not proficient with it yet. Train harder, boy!! That is the only answer. With your latent talent, soon you’ll encounter no obstacles like that. Well, when I soon, it’s still decades for a runt like you.”
Jack frowned slightly, feeling unhappy about the state of things. At least, he learned something valuable so it wasn’t a total loss. He now had to keep on trying from now on. But how does he train his Battle Sense, though? He dusted himself and got up, about to ask Gilgamesh for a tip on how to.
Gilgamesh was at that moment, studying Jack’s armor. There was a glint of interest in his eyes. He didn’t even give Jack a chance to speak.
“Hmm. That is an intriguing armor, made with materials I’ve not yet seen before. But it’s not good enough for a descendant of mine. Well, I shall give you a reward for encountering me today like this. After all, our encounter is fate playing tricks on you, and my direct descendant suffers no foolish, petty dealings. Not on my watch.”
With that, Gilgamesh pointed at the red crystal with his halberd. The giant crystal shook violently, before a good chunk the size of a person’s head broke off. Then, this bit dissolved into a huge swirling mist of red souls.
Gilgamesh controlled this mist and separated it into several sections.
“Here we go.”
Gilgamesh spun the halberd and lightly swung it towards Jack. The red souls rushed towards the boy and madly entered just about everywhere. An immense pain assaulted Jack and he almost screamed out in anguish but something inside of him, his primal instincts, told him not to. Maybe it was his pride telling him to endure.
So, he gritted his teeth and did exactly that. Gilgamesh’s eyes glittered in silent approval.
A few minutes later, the pain subsided and a gentle, soothing sensation enveloped him. Jack felt relaxed, comfortable – a feeling akin to returning to a mother’s womb. Safe, and protected.
“I’ve enhanced what I thought was lacking in your body. It’s not by much, so you will still need to absorb more souls and train hard on your own. Also, I modified your armor somewhat. Don’t be alarmed, boy. There were some things I can’t recognize on that armor so I only improved its defensive capabilities.
“The true reward is this knowledge; know this, that you can actually enhance all your equipment, be that your weapons, your armor, the clothes you wear every day, whatever it is, as long as you can touch it, feel it, smell it, see it and taste it, you can enhance it.
“Hell, you may even choose to enhance your companions if you can spare the necessary souls.”
Jack’s eyes went round in utter amazement at this new information. Jack looked down on the Kevlar survival suit, and while a few places were damaged during the previous trials, he could sense that they had changed somehow.
Jack took in a deep breath to calm his excited mind. Jack wanted to thank his ancestor, but before he could open his mouth, the sky above them darkened suddenly and a deafening roar could be heard in the distance. The entire world seemed to shake from the sound wave alone.
Gilgamesh’s face was full of irritation after hearing that roar.
“Tsk. Looks like they are seriously trying to get to you. We can’t dally around any longer. I’m sending you out of this place now. In the future, if you wish to get stronger, do it yourself and not look for a shortcut like this!! Destroy this structure as soon as you leave, got that?”
Jack nodded hastily. He had other things to ask, but then, the roar became even louder, signaling that there was no more time to spare.
The roaring caused Jack’s entire body to shake from unparalleled fear. He looked up into the sky and his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when the gray clouds split open and a huge five headed dragon-like creature began to descend, surrounded by halos of bright lights.
Before Jack could say anything else, Gilgamesh coldly harrumphed and took a step forward. He grabbed Jack’s shoulder and let out a short shout.
“Break for me!!”
Then, the entire world shattered. The grassy plain, the descending five headed dragon, the gray clouds, everything. Even the image of Gilgamesh broke apart and shattered into countless fragments, scattering into the ether. The large, firm hand Jack felt on his shoulder was gone.
Instead, he was back inside the pyramid. It was not spinning anymore. It was as if everything he had seen and heard was nothing more than his dream.
He immediately tried to activate his Battle Sense, just to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. And sure enough, he could see the small Soul Sphere rotating within his heart.
None of that was fake. It really happened.
As Jack was digesting these new discoveries, the helmet on the ground emitted crackling statics. He hurriedly came closer and picked it up. What he thought as a noisy static was actually a radio signal coming from the outside the pyramid. Someone was trying to contact Jack.
He quickly put the helmet on and answered the call.
“Hello? Is anyone there? This is Jack Mercer.”
“Jack? Is that really you?! Oh wowsers, dude!! You okay in there? What happened? We suddenly saw your vitals appearing here in our monitors. Did you quit the training of the Hyperbolic Time Chamber already?”
“Yeah, something like that,” said Jack before remembering to ask about what had happened in New York while he was trapped in here.
“How long was I in here for? And what happened in New York? Is everyone alright?”
“Well, the proverbial sh*t had hit the fan there, Jack. You better come out and see for yourself.”
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