The sound of air whistling was the first thing Alexus heard when he opened his eyes. Followed by a bright beam of sunlight shining down on him, blinding him until his vision slowly adjusted to the light in the room. Then, a loud beeping sound could finally be heard as the mist around him started to dissipate, clearing the area around him and allowing him to see.
It took a moment for him to see, but he saw a glass door open up as the mist was flushed outside when he adjusted. Confused, he turned his head and noticed that he was inside a container. What was worse was that he soon discovered that he couldn’t move. His body wouldn’t listen to his brain, and it took a considerable effort to even move his arms.
“Where the hell am I?” Alexus croaked. His throat was like sandpaper, making his voice raspy.
As his mind was trying to piece everything together, he felt the bed shake. A loud groan followed as a small mechanical screech yelped and hiccuped, trying to start up. Eventually, turning him upright before stopping and leaving him partially standing as his legs felt like they’d collapse. Barely even able to hold his weight, he weakly pushed the glass door open even more as it creaked. The door suddenly fell out as if the hinges had snapped, and he fell out the glass floor onto the ground with a loud splat.
Alexus’s hands whipped up in front of him to brace himself, but the pain that raced across his forearm and down his body to his toes told him that he wasn’t dreaming this. With a groan, he lay on the ground confused, in pain, and weak. There was nothing in his favor right this moment, making this a miserable experience. He had never been this weak before, not even after almost dying during his transformation as an Ouroboros. It just felt like life was sucked out of him, and he was only given the leftover energy that he could barely do anything with.
He didn’t know how long he stayed on the ground, letting the cool air brush against his face. Then, shivering slightly, he pushed with all his muscles could take, but it collapsed. Alexus grunted, scowling. He wasn’t going to let his muscle fatigue beat him.
“Come on, stupid arm,” said Alexus. This time, when his arm shook, he pushed through. Beads of sweat streamed down his face, and his lips twitched during the process. Short breath escaped out of his mouth, making it harder to breathe.
Finally, he was able to sit up. He examined his hand, noticing that he was wearing the same Dragon Scale suit that he remembered wearing when he encountered Naz. It felt like nothing much had changed, but he wasn’t sure what was happening.
Looking over his shoulder, he noticed something inside a mechanical pod. The machine clank and groaned; the electricity sparked off on the side as he noticed the giant black dome behind it. His eyes turned wide in surprise, completely shocked to see the Garden here. Alexus was sure that he was out of the machine in the first place, making this whole experience strange.
This made him wonder if everything he went through since he entered was all just a dream, but when Alexus looked at the Dragon Scale he had on, it couldn’t be entirely a dream. The Dragon Scale he wore inside the Garden was completely different from what he was wearing now, meaning that something must’ve happened when he was asleep.
His head was whirling with different possibilities, but no answer came up in his mind. The next question was, where was everybody? Looking around, he noticed a huge change. When he looked up, the sunlight glared into the room and made its way down the open ceiling that seemed to be torn apart by something monstrous. Metal beams were peaking out in jagged edges wrapped upwards towards the sky.
What was even more surprising was that the Garden was in shambles. Tear marks could be seen across the top as peeled open; worse, it was caked with dried-up stains of blood and dried-up bones and flakes of meat that told him that it’s been a while.
Miraculously, his pod was still intact, while most of the ones inside were not. He guessed that at least half of the people were dead by the sheer destruction, but on the other hand, many other pods were opened up and empty.
The walls and the machines were still sparking off with electricity. Even the lights on the Garden dimmed and flickered a couple of times, ready to go out.
Whatever the monster trying to get into the Garden did a fine job of eradicating half of the Garden as if it was searching for something. He wondered how such a thing even made it past the shield that kicked back Gluttony himself since he entered.
The better question was, why was he still sleeping inside the Garden all this time? Where was everybody?
“Beep. Beep. Beep.” The machine on my Dragon Scale started to make noise as a clunking sound could be heard. “Alexus Tyger. No. 099. Full body restoration in progress.” A female’s voice chimed in as the gears were rolling into place. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain as numerous needles stuck into his arms and legs as liquid started to pour into his body.
“Nutritional Value 65%. 75%. 87%. 100% for one day. Stimulating muscles. Please hold.” A light static shock blasted through his body, causing him to jerk. He was shocked, unable to do anything but be tossed around like a ragdoll as he froze in place. Eventually, he could get a better grip on his body, making him wonder when the Dragon Scale had such a function.
Alexus weakly got up onto his knees with a grunt and finally up to his feet. He stumbled a bit, but he could feel himself getting stronger by the second. It wasn’t easy getting up, but that small accomplishment made him feel better.
“Please go to the pod to receive bottles of water that will sustain you for three days.” Then, the machine called out to him.
Next, he heard the pod that he had just come out from crank as the side of the panels opened up. Clean water bottles were neatly stacked side-by-side; he was surprised it was still intact. He stumbled over, trying to grab the water bottle too desperately.
Grabbing a water bottle, he hungrily ripped open the water bottle and started to guzzle down the cool freshwater water that slid down his throat, slowly quenching his thirst. Unfortunately, the first one was gone so quickly that the water slipped down the wrong tube, making him cough heavily. Breathing became difficult, and the water sent a sharp pain down his chest. It took a while for it to calm down, but eventually, he was able o get his breathing under control. Then, wiping his lips, he let out an exaggerated sigh of bliss.
He then rummaged through the open panel and found a backpack, ten water bottles, matches, granola bars, and other non-perishable foods. Picking up the bag, he started to neatly put them in order.
He thought that there were possibly other water bottles lying around in the other pods, so he hobbled over with what little strength he had and tried to peel back a couple of the broken pods. Unfortunately, the first one he came across was half partially broken, and a dead body was sticking out from inside. His lips twitched into a thin line, not liking the thought of the dead body present, but he ignored it and continued doing what he needed to do.
Struggling for a moment, he could get through the first broken pod open, allowing him to fish out the food and water inside. He was glad that both the food and the water were still intact, though they had a couple of drops of dried blood smeared on them.
Eventually, he went through a few more and found that some of them were already empty. The ones that didn’t have anybody in it already had their water and food gone. There were survivors out there somewhere in the world, but it seemed like they were rushing to get out, leaving behind a couple of extra food or water bottles. Even the ones that had dead bodies in them were scavenged.
Even still, while he was looking for more food and water, he was trying to find any other survivors that were like him, but so far, the pods were either empty or had a dead body in them. It wasn’t a comforting feeling, seeing so many people dead. Instead, he saw their names lightly glowing on the side of the pods, telling him who they were.
He noticed a set pattern, the people who supposedly went to other countries were dead. They barely communicated with them, thinking it was a glitch that a group of people was sent. After what happened today, he wasn’t even sure if those groups of people were even alive.
He searched harder, hoping that he could find his teammates’ pods. Praying inwardly that they were alright. The first pod he found was Jessica’s, which was empty. Next, Timothy, Kathy, Sara, James, and Jones were empty.
Simon’s pod was shattered and curled up into a ball. He was shocked to see how easily Simon’s pods were in shambles; what was worse was Marcus’ pod was in pieces. At first, he couldn’t even tell if it was Marcus’ pod until he saw his name tag on the side. After that, though, he wasn’t sure if Marcus was alive or dead. There were a couple of skeletons near the broken pods, but that wasn’t easy to identify.
It suddenly dawned on him that he couldn’t find Crystal’s pod. With every pod he checked, the thought of her having died began to dawn on him even more. Then, standing in the piles of death and debris, something caught his attention on the side of his eyes. Large metal poles and debris were covering a pod deep inside the Garden.
Pushing his way through the debris, he pulled away as much as possible until he found what he wanted. The pod was completely intact and running; his hand reached over and wiped away the smudges of dust and dirt. What welcomed him with a peaceful expression still sleeping was Crystal with her hands folded in front of her.
Naz was nothing but a liar in the end. However, he was glad that he didn’t completely believe him. To see another familiar face was like a small blessing in disguise, and he was immensely relieved by a familiar face.
He was glad to see someone he knew with a sigh and a fist pump. His hands ran alongside the glass door that kept Crystal in place as he tried to figure out how to get her out. He wasn’t too keen on leaving her here in all this chaos and death, plus there was a chance that she would’ve never been able to get out of here if he didn’t find her.
His fingers found a lever, and he pulled. A loud clanking sound was heard, followed by air escaping the pod. Then, the glass door slowly opened, allowing the mist to blossom like a waterfall.
“Crystal.” Alexus softly spoke to her at first, hoping that he wasn’t dreaming. Then, “Crystal?” he called out to her again. She was wearing the same Dragon Scale suit that she wore when they went to the demon-hunting in the mansion.
This time, she stirred. Her eyes moved underneath her eyelids. Then, slowly but surely, she opened them up and blinked a couple of times before meeting him.
“Ale…xu…s?” Her words were soft that Alexus almost missed her calling out my name.
Alexus nodded, reassuring her it was him.
“What are you doing here?” She coughed, confused about what was going on. “Did you guys deal with all the demons?”
She shakily pushed herself up with a strained breath, trying to get comfortable. Her head bobbed a bit, making her slightly droop forward as if her head was too heavy for her body. He had to help her sit up.
“No,” Alexus replied; the whole demon extermination at the house was no more, plus there was no way back in, so it didn’t even matter anymore.
“Then what about Marcus? Timothy or Simon?” She asked, grabbing the side of my arm, trying not to fall. “I thought we were rescuing Jones.”
“Don’t worry about that; we got something else to worry about.”
Crystal tilted her head, lost in what he had meant. “What are you talking about? Jones is in trouble….wait, why am I in a pod?” It finally dawned on her. Alexus understood her mind was a bit slow since she was being forcefully awoken, even though he had difficulty comprehending everything in the beginning as well.
“We were in the Garden, Crystal.” Alexus helped her out of the pod. She took her first step like a newborn lamb and shakily moved forward but failed. Finally, her legs gave out, and she collapsed into his arms. “You okay?”
“Yea.” She gave a deep sigh, frustrated that her legs weren’t listening to her. “Can you explain to me what’s happening?”
“Well, I woke up hours earlier than you, but from looking around, I could tell there was some kind of fight,” Alexus replied. It was true while searching for any other survivors, he found scratch marks on the metal walls and the floor. In addition, weird contorted and misshapen bones of monsters he had never seen before were also scattered around the Garden. “I think, while we were all sleeping inside the Garden, something bad happened. Look.”
Alexus pointed upwards, where an ugly tear was shown. “That’s not done by human hands. I bet it was something big, possibly monstrous, so considering the sheer power needed to rip the metal beams in half.”
“How is that possible. No demon should be able to get through. It’s just not possible.” She said breathlessly, shocked at what she was seeing before her.
“Are you sure it’s a demon?” Alexus had to wonder if something else barged into this room, but he hadn’t heard about any other magical creatures out there except demons themselves.
“Yes.” Crystal nodded her head as she gripped his arms, getting back on her feet. “There is still a dark residue of energy left behind.”
“Wait, you can sense energy?” Alexus thought he was the only rare few who could see energy in the first place, and he hadn’t seen anything dark or heavy. Maybe a strange dark speckles of dark dust-like particles floating in the air.
“Yes, but I can’t see it. Can’t you feel the dark energy lingering in the air? There is too much death and destruction. Hatred, fear, and sorrow are mixed in with it.”
Alexus was amazed at how she could pinpoint so many emotions in one because he thought there was only one way to see energy. The thought of feeling it didn’t cross his mind until now. When he tunes into what she was talking about, he did notice a bit of heavy air mixed with dark emotions.
“Anything else?” Crystal asked.
“Well….I’m not sure if it’s good or bad, but there are many Ouroboros that disappeared. You remember the groups that went to different countries?”
“Yea? What about them?”
“They’re dead,” Alexus spoke. He saw a few old names when he was rummaging through the machine and found their skeletons.
“What?!” Her voice shot up an octave. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. The nameplates I have found on the Ouroboros side have been quite a lot. Everybody we knew for a brief moment is dead.” The word dead felt like sand in his mouth.
“Then what about our team? What happened to them?” Her grip tightened, staring into his gaze, searching for an answer.
“They got out fine, though I’m not sure if they’re dead or alive.”
“You couldn’t find any clues?”
A deep crease of worry started to form on her face. Alexus knew that she was worried about the others, but there was nothing they could do but survive right now. They didn’t even know what had happened to the outside world.
“Let’s get ourselves situated first before we look for them,” Alexus replied, trying to ease her from worrying too much. Crystal tended at times to overthink things and forget all about herself.
“Yea, you’re right.” Crystal sighed, detaching away from him. Just like how the Dragon Suit activated itself, it did the same thing with her. She could move around a little more efficiently than before.
“Yea?” She wobbled towards her pod when she heard the side panel open up. Rummaging through, she pulled out a black bag and stashed away all the water and food. She even downed the whole water bottle just like him and let out a satisfied sigh.
“The Garden. What exactly is it?” Alexus took a glimpse at the half-broken structure. He had a couple of theories about it, but he wanted to know what she knew.
The last time she didn’t reply and kept it hidden from everybody. Only a few people knew, and they didn’t say anything. It was frustrating to know that no one wanted to diverge such important information from anyone who went in.
“Like I said, it’s ancient technology.”
“It’s known for connecting people into one virtual space and safely going through the combat experiences needed to tackle real-life scenarios. The techies were able to tweak it a little and use it to train against demons while at the same time using it to kill them in real life.”
“Wait,” Alexus held up his hand in front of him, trying to grasp the last part of her sentence. “Killing demons in real life? I thought you said that it was a virtual space? So in ancient times, there was something this advanced?” He was having difficulty believing something this advanced was hidden away in the deep sea for millions of years, but a lot could happen. Humanity had only just brushed against the surface of Earth’s history.
“Yea, I know what you mean. I was surprised when I saw the carbon dating on this machine. We all thought it was impossible, especially for it to still run. It can also pull your soul into the real world and fight against the demons in some weird robotic bodies that this machine seems to have a bunch of.” She patted the pod near her, “They’re mostly made out of magic. Not only that, you can think of it as a game, but your body is safely stored inside the Garden while you learn how to fight.”
“So, you’re saying it would’ve been fine if we….died?” I wasn’t sure how to say it; everything was too confusing.
“Well, the robotic body would’ve been destroyed, but the soul wouldn’t be harmed. It will just come back here. Every time we leave Seventh Sanctum, we’ll automatically move into the robotic bodies, controlling it like our own. It’s quite advanced; it can create an illusion where it looks just like you. Even the higher-ups don’t understand how it works.”
Still, to hear that they were controlling robots sounded way too far-fetched. Almost too science fiction that they read in the storybooks.
“How do you think I was able to upgrade the Dragon Scale Armor so quickly?” She placed her hands on her hips. “I understood their basic outline, but the rest Timothy and I had to put in our flavor to get it where it is now. We couldn’t completely copy ancient tech, though we were able to recreate 80% of it, while the rest was both of our hard work and effort.”
“This whole time, I thought you were the one who created it from nothing.” Shocked to hear the truth, Alexus wasn’t sure what else to say.
Crystal shrugged. “It got the job done. That’s all it matters in my book, and even still, I don’t feel like the Dragon Scales is strong enough to compete with the originals.”
Alexus’s hand raised to push back his hair, trying to put everything together in his head. “Is that why we were all summoned into the Garden? To control the robots?”
“Yes, it seems only a certain number of people can harmonize with it; even still, they’re not
considered all-powerful. Look at it now.” She waved her hand around her, showing the destruction and mayhem left behind. “The demons are stronger than the robots, so all we have now is ourselves.”
Then she sighed, thinking about the past. “I have to wonder how we were all able to get in a Dragon suit. I wasn’t in one when I got in the pod.”
Then she leaned over towards her pod, pressed a couple of buttons, and let out a groan. “One hundred and fifty years. That’s how long we have been sleeping in cold sleep.”
Alexus wen numb. It didn’t hit him as hard as he thought until now. They had slept for one hundred forty-nine years.