Seventy-six woke to a world of red and black. A world of cold and fear and pulsing darkness. And for the first time ever, he woke alone.
sprang from his crystal pillar. All down the resting chamber the eyes
throbbed red. Red as blood. Red as pain and anger. Red. Everything else
was dark. The pillar lights, the walkways, the overheads. That could
only mean one thing:
A call for help, and no one to answer.
he shouted. At last light. It leaped from the floor encasing him
in armor and weapons of glass and energy. Information glyphs winked in
his helmet's faceplate as he ran for the Gate room. A call for help had
come through containing all the proper key phrases in the proper order.
But it had come through almost twenty-five years ago.
can't be right." He checked again. Twenty-five years. Someone had
delayed delivery of the call somehow. "Why...?" His feet
suddenly stopped, noticing something strange before his mind did. The
Girl. Her pillar was empty. For a moment he stared in uncomprehending
stillness. She shouldn't be out. She couldn't be out, not if he was... A brief instant of warm hope flashed through him.
A wave of icy panic scoured it from his chest.
The other pillars. They were empty too. Seventy-five--Xian or seventy-four--Amon. The Girl. Seventy-two.
his feet to move, he
staggered down to the tunnel. Seventy-one. Seventy. They were all empty!
He ran. His feet pounded the stones. His heart fluttered wildly, a
desperate bird trying to escape the cage of his chest. He skidded to a
halt. No. Not all the pillars were empty. After
fifty-two--Kona--the guardians were present. He did a quick count.
Twenty-four of the others--the Girl included--they were gone, gone,
This is wrong. This is all wrong!
He ran on. The control stones in the walls finally re-lit. Then the whole of the Citadel blazed to life.
head spun. His helmet stubbornly told him to go to the Gate. To answer
the call. It was his sacred duty. He blinked the messages away searching
through the glyphs and codes. There! Another call! And another. Forty
message in less than ten years, then the time delay gap.
glyphs went red in his vision. Another message, freshly delivered, this
one only twenty-four years old. Then another. Another. Another. They
stacked up before his eyes. Always the same. Always proper. Always from
the past, unanswered for years.
"They kept calling. Long after the Guardians quit answering," Seventy-six muttered. "Why?"
Only two answers: A great danger. Or a trap.
made his way quickly thought the passages, down, down to the very
lowest sections of the citadel where the weight of the great structure
could almost be felt, pressing down, with smothering presence. Here all
the tubes and tunnels and lights led, feeding into the slick black slab
of the Gate. The glyphs in his faceplate turned green at last--content
that he was finally in the right place.
He paused before
the smooth stone and stood for a long time, uncertain. None of the
others had returned. It seemed unlikely he would. Fear rose up dark, and
sticky cold within him.
"I don't want to die."
Girl's face came suddenly into his mind. Years ago she had stood there
before the gate, perhaps struggling with the same fears. Knowing that
beyond the Gate death, after so many long centuries might await. And she
had stepped through. She had been brave, dutiful. A true guardian.
will strive to be like her," he whispered. Then straightening, he
ordered the Gate with all the command he could muster, "OPEN."
slick black surface of the stone warmed to radiant white, filling the
chamber, the air, his vision and mind with burning brightness. And in
the space of a breath was beyond the Citadel.
stood on a vast and shattered red plane. The altar stone was cracked and
blackened, the pillars toppled. Craters some big enough to swallow
Seventy-six several times over, peppered the red ground. Their edges had
softened with years of wind a rain but the clouded glass glittered in
pools and shards in and around them, the evidence of heat great enough
to melt the sand. Tumbled stones and splintered pillars jutted from the
ground like the bones of dead things.
No trees. No grass. No life.
The wind hissed through the sand, mocking him.
the distance something flashed with solar brilliance. He sprang into
the air and an instant later alighted upon the horizon beside a row of
tall posts fashioned like spears from gray metal. Atop each faintly
glowing with the remnants of reawakened power were...
He counted quickly. Twenty-two shimmering helmets. Guardian's helmets. Fury reconfigured his armor to Assault Mode.
she is alive, I will find her. And if she is dead..." He spun, seeking
an opponent, a target, but there were none within view. He brandished
his fists and weapons deployed from his armor, ready to strike. "There
shall be a reckoning! Hear me! There shall be a reckoning time itself
shall never forget!"
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