Light slowly invaded the room, and I let out a quiet groan. But strangely, for the first time in weeks, I felt fully healthy. My breaths came steadily and easily. I shifted my legs underneath the covers, and I felt no weakness in them. I lifted my arms triumphantly, and let out a laugh. Bringing them down, I rubbed my hands against my eyes, and froze when my fingers brushed against cool metal. I sat up in my bed with a start. The mirror on the wall across from me reflected back reality, and I let out a short scream.
The nurse closed the door, leaving me in darkness once more. Her voice drifted back to me as her footsteps faded away. "Tell the King that the boy is awake."
Regaining my grip on myself, trepidation filled my heart. I was in Malcolm's hands now. Whatever had happened on the battlefield had resulted in something worse than my death. But why had he healed me? None of this made any sense. The last thing I could remember was the sound of gunfire. I should be dead.
Hardly a moment passed before the door swung open once more. A different nurse glared at me, her eyes cold. "Follow me. The King wishes to speak with you immediately."
I swung myself to my feet and followed her out the room carefully. A gasp escaped my lips as I entered the main hallway. I was inside the Haranian palace. Nostalgia bit my heart. The long hallways, the paintings of ancient rulers lining the walls, the chandeliers hanging far above- it all reminded me of home. I followed the nurse around the bend and through a doorway. Suddenly, I was in a large garden. I walked through the foliage, afternoon light drifting softly through the trees, illuminating the path in front of me. The nurse gestured down the path before turning around and going back inside the mansion.
Carefully, I made my way through the beautiful garden. Countless flowers adorned the trail. Roses, daisies, hyacinths, marigolds, tulips. I had seen nothing like it since before the fall. I went to a knee and ran my fingers over the pedals of a poppy. The sensation was almost unreal. I got back to my feet, leaving the flower in peace.
Rounding a corner, I came across a large clearing. A massive object rose in the center of the field, a black blanket covering its entirety. I glanced around quickly. There was no one in sight. I cautiously made my way through the glass and grabbed the soft fabric. I tore off the blanket with a sudden jerk and gasped. It was Arasha.
Underneath the glass, her expression was serene. Her chest moved steadily up and down, a plastic mask set covering her nose. I stared at the body numbly before a small voice pierced my ears. "Why?"
I turned slowly to come face to face with nine-year-old Samantha. Standing across the clearing from me, tears streamed down her face, fists in balls. "Why?"
"She commanded the attack on my hometown," I stammered. "I saw her slaughter my people. But her death has only made the world worse. I realize that now." I sunk to my knees. "I'm sorry."
"Arasha is not dead, Kendall Atlantis. Not yet, at least." A man emerged from the trees, and wrapped an arm around Samantha. The girl dug into his chest, sobs never ceasing. His face sharply cut and regal, his black eyes met mine with surprising warmth and peace. King Malcolm of Harania. "We have a lot to discuss."
I coughed awkwardly into my sleeve. "No offense sir, but why did you heal me? Why am I still alive? I am your enemy. After what I did to your daughter..."
He stroked his hand through the hair of his daughter gently. "I only want this war to be over. You are of far more use alive than dead."
I took a step backwards. "But you were one of the masterminds behind the razing of Mysten! You struck an agreement with Mariana to divide the world between the two of you! Why do you suddenly want peace?"
Malcolm chuckled and turned to his daughter. "Go find your nanny. I'll come and read you a story once I am done meeting with Kendall here."
Samantha shook her head. "Make him go away."
He smiled sadly. "We need him. Your sister will live. Our future depends on him."
I frowned. Something was definitely off with Malcolm. The few times I had met him before, he had always come off as conservative, aloof, and vindictive. This was a new side of him I didn't recognize and couldn't predict.
Samantha stuck out her lower lip. "No he isn't!" she said, stomping off angrily.
Malcolm sighed after her as she left the clearing, a storm cloud brewing above her head. "She's so much like her father."
I took another step backwards and felt my back press up against the table. "Her father..?" I trailed off.
The man turned around, and his face flickered with blue light. "The truth his, I am not Malcolm. I am an imposter."
I frowned. "Reveal yourself."
The imposter met my gaze calmly. "Perhaps this would help explain things." His form glowed blue once more, and a hulking bulk of black armor towered over me. A mighty war mace in each hand, every inch of its body was concealed from sight.
My fists clenched. "Who are you?" I demanded.
A laugh emanated from behind its sealed black helmet. "You haven't guessed, Heir of Atlantis? I am an Anunnaki."
My mouth opened and closed, heart racing. A thousand questions burned on my tongue. The first one slipped out. "You almost killed me, yet now you brought me back from the edge of death? You owe me an explanation."
Its maces flashed away, the mighty helmet bowing slightly. "Do not worry. I will explain everything." It flicked its wrist outwards, and a bench materialized in the grass just a few feet away from Arasha. "Sit."
I did so reluctantly, and the Anunnaki sat next to me. "Before you begin," I hesitated, "What happened to me?" I rubbed the metal that filled the socket that my left eye had previously occupied. "I don't remember anything."
It lifted a long arm and pressed a single forehead against my forehead, and memories came flooding back. I gasped. "Alexander-"
"He's dead," the Anunnaki said regretfully. "You were only shot in the eye and the leg. He was shot in fifteen different places. I couldn't save him."
Emotion bubbled in my throat, and I choked back tears. From the moment he was captured I had suspected he would never leave Cain's clutches alive, but the news stung deep. My loyal friend. "Who?"
"Some nervous soldier," it sighed. "Finger slipped on the trigger and suddenly everyone was firing."
I nodded shakily. Alexander's death felt surreal. This conversation felt surreal. My fingers brushed against the cool metal. I should be dead. How many more chances would I get?
As if reading my mind, it smiled softly. "Your survival was not due to chance, Kendall Atlantis. I saved you. I guided your way across the Inland Sea, all the while pushing your blood back inside your body. I stopped the bullet that destroyed your eye inches from your brain, and prevented you from bleeding out before my men could reach you. When I struck you in the chest during the Battle of Mysten, I aimed for the most damaging spot that would not be fatal to you."
My jaw dropped. "My grandfather always did describe you as gods."
Its eyes turned cold. "Your grandfather was a shortsighted, reckless man. The only reason I allowed him to survive after the war was because he was the last remaining descendant of the House of Atlantis. I have no magical abilities. The power of the Anunnaki comes directly from technology." It raised an arm, and blue light crackled on its palm. "That was something your grandfather was never able to understand."
I frowned. "You speak as if you knew my grandfather personally. But how can than that be? The war happened over seventy years ago, yet you look young and are fit."
Its eyes shone. "I am over four thousand years old. I have known every member of your line, Heir of Atlantis. Tell me, do you know where the word Atlantis means?"
"No," I said. "My father always told me that the meaning was lost to time, and that it could mean whatever we deemed it to mean."
The Anunnaki shook its head. "It is a word that has a long and complicated meaning from where I come from. Eventually, though, it came to mean 'bridge'. For, it was the bridge between my world and yours."
I frowned in confusion. "What do you mean?"
It continued on as if it had not heard me. "I was the first of my kind to set foot on this world. I crossed a bridge to arrive here, and arrived at another bridge. A narrow strip of land that connected two worlds, a shining inland sea on either side of me. And my eyes landed upon your ancestor. A simple farmer with a heart of gold."
My hands rubbed my temples. "I don't understand."
"I took the farmer to the stars. I showed him the entire world, but yet all he wished to do was return to his farm. All he ever wanted was a simple, peaceful life. I had never come across such a peculiar man. I offered him immortality, but he chose to grow old. I offered him technology, but he chose to return to his farm. I watched him marry, have a child, and wither away. His entire life a mere blink in time. Since then, I have shown special favor to his line."
I raised a palm. "Wait. Slow down. I still don't understand. What does all of that have to do with me?"
"It is quite simple," the Anunnaki said. "You are the bridge. You will guide this world into a new era without bloodshed. Your brother and nephew are consumed by hatred. They do not carry the spirit of Atlantis. You do. I heard your prayer to the stars. I was listening. I have always been listening."
Tears streamed down my cheeks. "Why me? I'm not any better than Ramesses or Jason. I've let myself succumb to hatred. I've strayed down the wrong road more times than I can count."
"You are the only option I have left," it said. "The world still needs the House of Atlantis. I wish to rebuild this world the way your ancestor would have wanted. A world without technology, without global conflict. Your ancestor's actions seemed foolish to me at the time, but as the centuries passed I came to realize that he was right all along."
I wiped the wetness from my eyes and straightened my spine. "You want to return the world to the way it was before the Anunnaki. Take away every last bit of technology and have humanity restart."
The Anunnaki dipped its head. "Yes. That is my intention."
"Where's the rest of your kind?" I asked. "Why did you stay?"
It shifted, the black armor creaking. "They returned home. They decided it would be best not to tamper with your people. I alone stayed, for I still believed in your people." It paused. "Will you help me?"
My mind sharpened. "Yes. I will not see another Mysten razed. I don't think so much power should belong in the hands of humans. Not anymore. But what will prevent people from simply reinventing advanced pieces of technology and weapons of war?"
It stood from the bench, its soft eyes resting on Arasha's unconscious form. "Nothing."
I got to my feet next to it, frowning. "That seems unwise."
It pushed the hair off of Arasha's forehead, its fingers brushing against her cheek before falling back at its side. "It is the only choice we have. We cannot leave a select few with technology to monitor your people, for that would eventually lead to dictatorship. No, the only solution is to place your trust in humanity and get rid of technology entirely."
I put my hands on my hips. "I will fight for your cause. I don't see another way the world can be at peace. The bad blood between the four nations runs too deep. But what about Cain?"
Blue light crackled in its palms. "Do not worry about him. He is the last of his line, but if he gets in the way of world peace I will deal with him."
Nodding, I let out a sigh. "But tell me one thing. Why did you send me across the ocean instead of bringing me to you? Why did you let my brother murder..." I trailed off.
The Anunnaki put one large, armored hand on my shoulder. "I wished to reunite you with your half-sister in the hopes that you would become stronger together, and that I could retrieve you both later. I obviously misjudged Chione's character. I am not all-powerful or all-knowing, Kendall Atlantis. My power comes from technology, not magic. I have been conserving the energy for my technology since the rest of my kind left. I have already used over half of my stores in the past few weeks."
"I understand," I said dejectedly.
"I did manage to save Brooke, Kendall Atlantis," it said. "I sent some of my men to retrieve her after Jason captured you."
My heart leaped into my throat. "What? Where is she?"
"I'm right here, Kendall."
I froze, and slowly turned to come face-to-face with Brooke. Her eyes were full of sorrow, planted at the edge of the clearing. The distance between us seemed like miles. "I saw him kill you," I said shakily. "How do I know this is the real you?"
Brooke closed the distance between us and wrapped me in a hug. "The Anunnaki can only create illusions." Her warmth seeped into me, and I sobbed.
After what felt like an eternity, we parted. "It's so good to see you again. We're finally safe." For a brief moment, guilt flooded her features. I frowned. "What is it?"
"I..." she hesitated. "I've come to say goodbye."
I stepped back abruptly, eyes widening. "What?!"
"Alexander's dead." She said frankly, pain seeping through her words. "Your brother's going to murder my entire family. I have to go back to Kalaya."
"No. No, you can't." I reached at her desperately, but she stepped out of my reach. "They'll kill you."
Brooke shook her head. "I don't believe Mariana wants me dead. I am key to controlling her brother. Jason is the only one who will seek to kill me. No one will believe the truth, so I will have to work quietly to undo his every move."
I stared at her, flabbergasted. "We'll be fighting here to save your family too. Our goal is to usher the world into a new, peaceful era. Stay with me. Together, we can put a stop to my brother's plan."
She let out a sigh. "We need someone acting from the inside as well. I can do that. I cannot count on us winning the war before Jason is able to act. I need to be there to defend my family."
My gaze drifted to the ground, lost for words. I felt her hand rest on my shoulder. "Have some faith in me. We will see each other again."
The words that had come so easily before hung in the air. "Alright," I said. "Good luck."
The Anunnaki stepped forward, appearing as Malcolm once more. "It's time to go, Brooke."
She nodded, and I looked between them in horror. "Now? But-"
"She's been awake for a few days now," it said shortly. "She has a plan, and the longer she waits the more likely it is that Jason succeeds. She needs to leave now."
"Why can't you just teleport over there and capture my brother?" I demanded as I followed them out of the garden. "You're an Anunnaki. You're all powerful."
"I don't have as much power as you think, Kendall," it said as we made our way quickly down a long hallway. "The rest of my kind left after the war in the stars. I am the last Anunnaki. Without a power source, I no longer have the power to teleport all the way to Kalaya and back."
"But I've seen you teleport twice," I insisted. "On the ship. When I fought you in Aegypt. If we get you close enough, couldn't you teleport to where Jason is?"
It pushed open a large set of doors, blinding light piercing my eyes. We stepped out onto a giant airfield, hundreds of jets ready for use. "It would be possible, yes, but I would also need to know where Jason is in order to teleport to him. It is better for Brooke to act as our informant from the inside while we work to take down your brother from the outside."
"But- Wait-" I cried out as Brooke made her way towards one of the airships. "It's too risky. You'll die."
"This is something I need to do," she said, pausing a few feet from the cockpit. "After the failed negotiations with Karkaris, I didn't want you to fly off to Mysten. I knew you'd be in great danger on the front lines, but I also knew that what you were doing was right. So I didn't object." Her eyes pleaded with me. "You know that this is what needs to be done."
I met her gaze, emotions bubbling in my throat. "I..."
The silence stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. "I'll see you again, Kendall Atlantis," she whispered, and climbed into the cockpit and shut the door behind her. The engine roared to life, and I took a step backwards as it swung out onto the runway. It picked up speed and shot into the sky and just like that, she was gone.
I fell to my knees, and I felt the Anunnaki's armored hand rest on my shoulder. "Have faith in her. She will do her part. Now, it's time for you to do yours."
My heart steeled over. "You're right. I have a brother to fight."
A/N: This will be the last chapter for a long while. I am going to go back and revise everything before moving on to the second phase of this story.