The bright, sterile lights of the infirmary burned through Horst's closed eyelids, causing him to grimace in discomfort. Sirens blared in his ears, mingled with shouts and noises of struggling that filled the hospital wing, and Horst sat up shakily and looked around. The entirety of the medical staff was in the infirmary, and it seemed like almost every person was locked in some kind of fight.
Horst struggled to his feet, but fell to the floor immediately. Someone grabbed him under the arms and hoisted him to his feet, and Horst leaned heavily upon his assistor, allowing himself to be deposited back on the gurney. "Where's Johannes?" he asked groggily, shielding his eyes from the blazing white lights over his head.
"They're bringing him up now," the doctor tending to him said absently. "Just try to relax. There's been a major explosion and we're evacuating the facility. The higher-ups think we might be under attack."
"What?" Horst shot back into a sitting position and looked around. Sure enough, there was an almost steady stream of doctors escorting patients out of the medical bay and towards the emergency exit. Another bed rolled up next to him with a familiar form sitting upon it, head in hands. Horst called out to Johannes, causing the other man to jump. "Johannes! Du bist okay?"
Johannes refused to lift his head, but replied, "Ja, Ich bin fein," in an exhausted and almost angry tone. "I hear there was an explosion," He said, still keeping his head bowed in his hands.
"Yes, there was. In the excavation site. How you two survived is a mystery, being so close to the source." The doctor tending to Horst said, looking over the latter's singed hair and clothing, even as he wrapped a roll of gauze tightly around Horst's head. "What were you doing down there, anyway? Didn't you hear the announcement? You're lucky Herr Metzger came in here and told us where you were, otherwise you could have both been killed." When the doctor was finished, Horst slid off the gurney and onto his feet and took a few shaky steps towards the exit. A blinding pain exploded in Horst's head, invading every last neuron in his brain. Pictures, shapes flashed across his vision, millisecond by millisecond. The Gate, Metzger, a dead world, an immense pyramid, an orb. The orb! He needed to get to that orb and remove it from its stand, or else the entire facility and possibly the whole of Antarctica will be obliterated!
Horst opened his eyes and looked around. He was back on the gurney, and Johannes was standing over him with an extremely concerned look dominating his features. Gasping for air, Horst stared past his friend and said breathlessly, "I need to get to the Gate."
Johannes changed his expression in an instant from slight concern to shock. He shook his head slowly. "No, we don't. We need to get out of this facility and escape. Can you walk?"
"Yes, but I need to get to the Gate. I'm the only one who can stop this base and the entire continent from exploding!" Johannes helped Horst to his feet, but shook his head again. Horst must have suffered some sort of brain trauma from the explosion. Johannes led his friend out of the infirmary and headed towards the emergency exits, but Horst dug his heels into the floor.
"Horst, stop that now! We need to get you to safety. I don't have time to accommodate you and your concussion-induced delusions-- Or do you want us to die?"
"Johannes, you need to listen to me!" Horst wrenched his hand out of his colleague's grip and took a wobbly step towards the staircases. Unable to stand on his own, however, he simply leaned against the nearest wall, staring Johannes full in the face. The hallway was much more crowded than the infirmary, and every now and then a person would push past the two, or else barrel right into them head on, trying to make their way to the emergency exits. "That Gate, I need to get through it and stop whatever is causing this! Metzger is--"
"I'm what?" Horst froze in shock and horror at the sound of Kurt Metzger's voice, but that horror quickly melted into a hot, boiling rage that propelled Horst towards Herr Metzger, hands outstretched. Johannes lurched forward and grabbed Horst's arm just before the latter could reach Metzger.
"Deine Staßemutter Tochter! Komm hier! I'll kill you!" Horst's face was contorted into a startling expression of rage in its purest form. Johannes was genuinely afraid of his friend, even as he locked Horst's arms behind his back and pulled him away from Metzger, who was standing imperiously, watching his inferior struggle.
"Johannes, let me go, damn it! He nearly killed us!" Horst struggled and twisted in Johannes' grip, but was unable to break free. Johannes spun Horst around to stare directly into his eyes. Horst's pupils were constricted, leaving his icy blue irises to dominate his eyes, but something was off. Brilliantly bright and fluorescent blue streaks radiated out from Horst's pupils like lightning. It was a small, almost unnoticeable detail, but it was there. Johannes went back to the previous day when he had carried Horst from the excavation site, recalling Horst's murmuring about his eyes glowing. He watched the rage gradually fade into what had to be regret. Panting and gasping, Horst sank to his knees. "Please," he said quietly. "I need to go down to the Gate and stop it from destroying the base. There's still time."
Johannes sighed and pulled Horst to his feet. He looked up, and saw that Metzger had vanished. Good. "Horst, you need to tell me what's going on, right now. What happened in the excavation site yesterday, and what happened in the infirmary?"
"I can explain later, just take me down to the Gate." Johannes folded his arms across his chest. Horst took a moment to lean back against the wall and stare at his colleague in an I-can't-believe-this-is-happening sort of way. "Did you get a good look at the obelisks yesterday? Did you see the strange colors, and how the patterns were actually moving?" Johannes shook his head; a look of confusion began creeping onto his face. "Those obelisks are some sort of energy channel, same with the pyramids. They're what power that giant Gate. It's a portal. And I need to go through it to stop this base from being obliterated."
"How the hell are you going to do that?" Johannes asked, his confusion turning into shrewd skepticism.
"When I passed out in the infirmary, it told me everything I need to know, including how to save this base. If I can just get down there and stop Metzger from—"
"Wait, wait, what told you? And what does Metzger have to do with any of this?"
"I can't exactly explain what told me, but here's what I can tell you: Metzger's been possessed, Johannes! Don't you get it? We're a threat to him! He's been killing people for months to feed this-- this monster that lives on the other side of this portal, to make it stronger. When you knocked him out, that was a direct threat to him and the entity that is controlling him. That entity is the only thing that is allowing Metzger to feed this beast and make it more powerful! The Gate is open, Johannes, and if I don't get down there and destroy that monster, we're dead. It doesn't matter if we evacuate or not, the range of this creature's power is greater than you can imagine!" Horst was still leaning heavily against the wall, too weak to even stand on his own, but there was a determined gleam in his eye that somehow proved to Johannes that Horst was being completely serious.
"If this doesn't work, and you somehow survive, I'm going to haunt your ass," Johannes said in a resigned tone, taking Horst by the arm and leading him towards the stairway. They moved at a slow pace, if only to keep Horst on his feet, but eventually they made it back to the excavation site. What few obelisks had remained standing in the past 24 hours were now on the ground like the rest, and there were immense chunks of ice scattered about the floor of main cavern, some taller than Horst or Johannes combined.
"This way," Horst said, steering Johannes towards one of the larger caves. They walked in complete silence; no words needed to be said. They both understood what had to be done. As they neared the chamber that housed the Gate, Horst began feeling oddly energetic. Johannes looked around at him when Horst stopped leaning against him so heavily, and now struggled to keep up as Horst walked with a rather brisk pace. They entered the scorched and warped chamber that housed the Gate and paused to gaze at the large golden structure standing menacingly in the center of the room. Loud, angry crackling and jolts of electricity were emanating from the building, and an intensely bright blue light emitted from within the arch. Horst turned to face his friend. "Go back up to the infirmary. They need your help. I'll be out of here before the last ship leaves."
Johannes stared at his friend, shocked by what Horst was saying. He shook his head, taking a step closer to the Gate. "I can go with you, we can stop this thing together."
Horst sighed sadly. "No, Johannes. If you try to go through this portal with me you will be destroyed instantly. I need to do this alone." They both jumped as the Gate emitted a particularly loud crack! "Go, now. We're running out of time."
Johannes fought hard to keep his composure. He stood rigidly and held a hand out to his companion. "Auf wiedersehen, mein freund. I hope to see you soon."
Horst refused his friend's outstretched hand and stepped forward, pulling Johannes into a hug. The two embraced for what felt like an eternity, and when they finally pulled apart, tears were running down both men's faces. They both understood the weight of the situation, and were equally terrified of what may lie ahead. What if they never see each other again?
Horst turned his back on Johannes to stare at the Gate and heaved a great sigh. He took a step forward, then another, not taking his gaze off of the great golden structure. Faint lines of electricity sparked and crackled in the air, creating a veil of pure energy. He was nose to nose with the portal, now. Horst closed his eyes, and stepped forward.
Johannes watched in stunned amazement as his friend vanished in a blinding, deafening blue lightning strike. A split second later, the Gate was silent. Johannes allowed himself only a moment to process what had happened, then turned tail and sprinted back towards the main chamber. He flew past the lake, not thinking about where he was going or what could be lying ahead of him. Only one thought remained in his mind: Get to the infirmary.
He stumbled up the staircase and into the hospital wing and looked around; there was still plenty of commotion as doctors fought to restrain or sedate patients, while others simply bolted to the door and towards the emergency exit. There was still plenty of work to be done.
A jolt of pure terror shot through Horst when he realized that he was falling. He couldn't see anything, his entire world was pitch black. The wind roared in his ears and buffeted his face, and it felt like he would be falling for eternity until suddenly, he hit the ground.
He felt and heard nearly every last bone in his body shift, bend and snap under the force of the landing. Horst struggled to draw in a breath, but only managed to make a pitiful rasping noise that made him think vaguely of ruptured lungs and asphyxiation. He tried to push himself off the ground, but collapsed back onto his stomach with a muffled, "oomph!" There was no way he was going to let himself give up this fast, but how was he going to stand if he could barely even move, let alone breathe? Ignoring his own protesting brain, he let his head fall onto the cold ground and closed his eyes.
As he did so, something changed. He felt the bones within him shifting and returning to their natural positions. It was a very unnatural and uncomfortable feeling, but it wasn’t painful. It was then that Horst realized that he hadn't felt any pain at all, not even when he had hit the ground. He gasped, taking in an enormous lungful of air and pushed himself into a sitting position, letting his eyes adjust to the dark, gloomy atmosphere.
The first thing he noticed about this place was the fact that it was apparently floating in nothingness. It had a cold, dead atmosphere about it that seemed to penetrate Horst's very soul. He looked down at the area of rock he was sitting on and noticed that it was a drab brown color, like clay. He looked up at his surroundings and noticed that the rock beneath him was no more than a platform just a few meters wide, and that there were multiple other islands floating around his own. Horst climbed to his feet, questioning how it was possible for a platform made of clay and rock to float.
This entire place seemed so familiar, as if he had visited it a very long time ago. That's not possible, he told himself firmly, taking a step forward.
As soon as he did so he knew that there was something seriously different about the gravity in this world, if it could even be called a world. He felt weightless, as if he could fly. It was an odd sensation that pulled at his center of gravity and threatened to lift him right into the air. With the strange, weightless sensation of the environment came another kind of equally strange feeling, a kind of energy that meshed with Horst's body and soul and made him feel invincible, as if he could run for an eternity.
When he reached the edge of his hovering rock formation, Horst paused and looked around. In the distance, he saw an absolutely massive island with an immense pyramid nestled in the center of it. Even from such a great distance, Horst could see a faint bluish glow resonating from within the pyramid. There were hundreds upon hundreds of islands and rock formations surrounding the pyramid, just floating in the atmosphere; it gave Horst the impression that all of these smaller sections of rock were once part of a much bigger picture.
He needed to get to that pyramid; that was the source of all this trouble. Horst took a flying leap off of his platform and flew high into the air, soaring over countless pieces of rock and floating debris. As he began his descent, he made sure to aim for the biggest target he could. Sadly, that target was less than a meter wide in any direction. He tried to land as evenly as he could, but the platform still trembled and rocked as if it were trying to throw him off. Horst was surrounded by miniscule chunks of debris, none of which would be able to hold his weight. He had to think fast.
The nearest island that looked like it had any ability to hold his weight seemed too far away, even for Horst to get to, what with the lack of gravity. Perhaps he could control how long he was able to fly for? Was it even worth trying? His feet left his small chunk of rock and he rose into the air, higher and higher until he was almost double the height and distance of his first leap, but he began his descent much too early. Thankfully it wasn’t a very steep decline and he landed just on the edge of the larger platform. He was now close enough to the pyramid that he could make out some of the more subtle details.
It was a six-tiered structure with windows in all but the bottom two levels, which were many times taller than the upper four. The topmost segment emitted an intense electric blue glow that radiated throughout the three floors below it, and there were also smaller structures scattered around the pyramid that shone a bright teal color. It was hard to tell from such a distance, but they looked like statues of some sort. Additionally, there was an immense staircase that stretched from the top of the second level to far beyond the limits of the rock where the pyramid resided.
Horst briefly considered how long it would take for him to climb such a large flight of steps, but then he remembered that could practically fly. Laughing at his own foolishness, he ran the length of his section of demolished rock and jumped, nearly halving the distance between himself and the pyramid. He looked around his new platform and noticed that it looked nothing short of an open, hovering hallway that connected directly to the main section of rock where the pyramid resided. The path was flanked by very intricately designed metal pillars, fountains, and what looked like very short and crookedly built obelisks. Horst moved closer to one of the pillars, examining the elaborate patterns. They reminded him of spider webs in the way the carvings wrapped around the shaft of the metallic structure.
He moved onto the obelisks, seeing that these, unlike the red and black obelisks in the excavation site, were only as tall as Horst, and had ancient runic letters carved into the sides; they appeared to be made of a very rough, gray metal. Apart from the runes, there were also other shapes and patterns carved into the metal structure, one of which being six circles conjoined, forming a flower-like pattern in the center of them. This shape was repeated randomly throughout each face of the obelisk, each time joined by a clockwise rotating spiral.
The fountains looked like simple bird baths; they had just one single basin, perched atop a stand that, like the obelisks, had ancient runes carved into them. Around the edge of the basin was an alternating pattern of spirals and the flower-producing circles. The water spouting from the center of the basin was a bright blue-green color that glowed intensely; the brightness was amplified by the surrounding darkness. Horst gazed at the water and made a quiet groaning noise in the back of his throat. He hadn't had a single thing to drink all day and, come to think of it, was beginning to get lightheaded because of this. He leaned towards the fountain, but stalled. What if this water was dangerous? What if it made him terribly sick, or killed him instantly? A few seconds passed, during which he argued with himself silently. Eventually, thirst won over and he caught some of the spouting water in his mouth and swallowed.
As soon as the liquid hit his stomach, an intense shudder ran up and down his spine and buzzed throughout his brain. Horst closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them was baffled to see that everything was bathed in a gentle blue light. He blinked once, and the effect was gone in the same instant. He shook his head and turned away from the fountain, setting off down the hallway and towards the pyramid, which loomed ahead in the darkness.
As he proceeded further and further along the path, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Something was wrong. He was being watched. Horst twisted around and peered at the columns and obelisks suspiciously. He wasn't sure how, but he knew for certain that there was something hiding, lurking in the shadows, waiting for him to turn his back. His eyes narrowed, and he turned to face the pyramid, the ever-growing sense of paranoia swelling inside of him as he moved forward. His chest ached with anxiety as he just waited for something to jump out and attack him. He fell into a slow jog, measuring his footsteps and straining to keep his pace steady. The pyramid grew closer.
A jolt of panic shot through Horst; it pierced the space between his shoulder blades and drilled into his heart as the shadow of one of the short and crooked obelisks moved. It was an intense and violent movement, much like the ripple of a lake when disturbed with a large stone. Horst stopped in his tracks, trying to catch his breath and slow his heart, which was pounding painfully against his ribcage. He looked down at his chest and saw that his shirt was actually twitching from the force of his pulse, and so he sucked in a deep breath of air, held it for a second, then let it out as slowly as he could.
The tight ropes that were coiled around Horst's chest loosened and his heart calmed down enough for him to hear his own breathing once more, allowing him to focus on what just happened with that obelisk's shadow. He started forward again, keeping a wary eye on the obelisk and its shadow, but for some reason he couldn't shake off that pressing feeling of being watched. He only managed to walk a mere five meters before another slight movement caught his eye, but it wasn't as violent as the first. It was a small and erratic motion, like a shudder of sorts. Perhaps his eyes were simply playing tricks on him?
Refusing to stop now, Horst quickened his pace, refusing to take his eyes from the top tier of the pyramid. He could still feel the shadows moving around him every now and then, but resisted the urge to turn and find them. He knew they were following him, and could feel their cold hands reaching towards him, and finally the urge to turn and fight became too strong. He spun on his heel, fist raised and struck--
At thin air.
Horst blinked in surprise and flicked his gaze to the left and right, but everything was as still and desolate as ever. Again, he turned towards the pyramid, and the moment he did so, he could sense movement behind him, stretching and curling their shadowy fingers in his direction, each and every one of them acting with the intent of grabbing him and taking him in, to keep him from ever reaching that pyramid and the electric light within. Panic began to rise within him once more, and he broke into a heavy run, then pushed off the ground after six strides.
He landed lightly halfway up the stairs of the pyramid, careful to place one foot a few stairs above the other. He twisted around and looked down at the open hallway, his heart once again pounding within his chest. The shadow of every last objects decorating the path shuddered and rippled violently before breaking free of their caster and morphing into humanoid shapes. They walked strangely at first, hunched over and dragging their feet, but they soon adjusted to their new forms and moved faster. Their heads were turned upwards to stare at Horst, and as a unit they broke into a run, making a mad dash for the pyramid's stairway. Having seen enough, Horst rushed up the remaining stairs, taking them three and four at a time. In a matter of seconds he reached the top and went inside the pyramid itself.
The whole interior of the pyramid was bathed in an intense electric blue light; the drastic contrast between the inside and outside stopped Horst in his tracks, and he stared around, completely disoriented. The confusion was quick to fade, however, instead replaced by a sense of burning curiosity. He moved further inside the pyramid, listening to a quiet electric humming that seemed to come from everywhere as he looked around for the source of all this light. However, he was quick to discover that the light seemed to be coming from the walls and floors themselves and upon closer examination, he noticed that the walls or floor weren't even visible; vast machines obscured much of the pyramid's interior. They seemed to be lined with hundreds upon hundreds of bright glowing tubes of varying widths that wound and bent in every direction. The machinery itself seemed to be made of a silvery type of metal. Horst had never seen anything like it. It looked extremely high tech, perhaps surpassing even modern technology, but what was it doing inside such an ancient pyramid? On the floor beside him lay a pile of discarded machine parts, and Horst sifted through them, pulling out a pipe that was nearly twice the length of his arm. He held it over his shoulder like a baseball bat and looked behind him, waiting for the shadows to burst into the chamber and attack him, but they never came.
Now feeling somewhat calmer, he looked to the center of the room where an immense stone pillar rose into the ceiling and floors above. There was a large hole in the floor that gave the pillar a meter of space on any side. He approached the pillar and looked down towards the very bottom of the pyramid, visible only due to the light being emitted from even more machines in the lower floors. He then shifted his gaze upwards, to where an intense white light shone from the top of the pillar. He was so close now. He knew what to do.
He leapt towards the pillar and landed on the staircase that coiled around it, and began climbing. Every floor looked nearly identical, with large silver machinery and glowing blue tubes stretching across the floors and walls; it quickly became an old sight. The intense feeling of paranoia was quick to return to him as he peeked over the top of the pillar to the source of the intense white light. It was nothing more than an orb. Just a simple white sphere on a metallic stand. A series of images flashed before his eyes, of the orb falling into the pit below and shattering on the bottom floor of the pyramid. Was that all he had to do? Just knock the orb off of its stand? It seemed too simple. But then again, Horst thought to himself, reaching out towards the orb, most things are.
The very instant his fingers brushed over the edges of the white sphere, a deep, bass-like voice spoke from behind him. "You have come to free me." It wasn't a question. Horst jumped in shock and spun around. The figure that stood before him was humanoid in shape and color, but with lifeless black patches where the eyes should have been. A dark fog surrounded the creature, and the smoke reminded Horst of the black fog that he tried so hard to escape from in the excavation site.
Horst lifted the pipe that was in his hands and swung, but the entity before him caught it effortlessly. The figure laughed and the sound reverberated throughout the chamber and shook the very walls of the pyramid. Horst yanked the pipe out of the creature's grip and drew himself up to his full height, which was matched perfectly by the humanoid figure. It felt like Horst was looking in a mirror. The figure looked exactly like him; it had the same long, tired face and identical body shape to Horst. It was strangely off-putting. The only thing wrong was that the eyes were simple black holes in the figure's head.
"What are you?" Horst asked. Every few seconds, an image of the orb falling and shattering on the ground flashed in front of his eyes.
"I am one of many. Something more powerful than anything in the physical world. An entity of the chaos realm, and you have come to me at last to free me from this world, and unite the earth and the chaos realm once and for all." The creature's voice was a deafening roar in Horst's ears, and the doctor had to fight the urge to back away. He stood resolute against the screaming forces that surrounded him, his face void of emotion. "With the payment of only a few drops of your blood I can give you powers matched by the ancient gods themselves, and I shall finally be free of this prison!"
Horst stared at the entity, completely baffled by what it was saying. Powers matched by the gods? Horst looked away from the creature, thinking. It was for sure, a tempting offer, to achieve anything he had ever dreamed of. Immortality was definitely something he was interested in, but then again, how could this thing give him such abilities? And if he were to gain immortality, what would happen when all of his friends and family were gone, and he had nobody left in his life? Would he just keep making new relationships, starting new families? And what if he finally became tired of living an eternal life? Of course, to escape death indefinitely was something every man dreamed of, but maybe it wouldn't be such a good thing after all. And what other abilities would entail having 'powers matched by gods'? Mind control? The ability to create life right before his own eyes? Perhaps this was too broad of an offer. It could get him into serious trouble in the long run. No, he would have to refuse. Besides, he needed to close that Gate and get back to the base.
He decided to avoid the offer for now, instead asking, "What is this place?" The wind was screaming in his ears and he had to shout to even hear himself.
"This is what's left of an ancient city that was once on Earth. A place that is between and beyond worlds. But that doesn't matter now. You're here, I'm finally free!"
"What are you talking about? This place was once part of earth?" Horst glanced outside the window. The world outside looked much too dead and desolate to have once been part of such a lively place like earth.
"Yes, this was once part of earth, many eons ago, before a universal catastrophe caused by that dreaded planet destroyed us," was all the entity said, still blocking Horst from reaching the orb. "And if you destroy this orb, as you intend, the energy contained within it will destroy everything we've worked so hard to create."
"The slave that I've possessed. Metzger, he called himself. Yes, he was a lovely channel for my energies, and very malleable. He helped me return to my full power by feeding me the dead bodies of his kind. He came here just before you did to warn me that you would come to destroy us, but I know that you are here to free me and help us finish what I started so long ago."
Horst paused, trying to gather his thoughts. "And what exactly is it that you want to finish?"
"We will unify every soul and body for the one and only terrible God. This world is ours alone. Humans are nothing more than filthy insects living upon it. We shall bring upon this land a new age, where everybody is one and equal, but a part of the Grand Plan. The Master demands it and it will be done." A cold chill ran down Horst's spine at these words. He shook his head, slowly at first, then lunged forward, swinging his pipe furiously. He struck the entity on the side of its head and it staggered, then fell through the hole in the floor. Horst heard the muffled thud of the creature as it hit one of the lower floors, then reached for the orb once more.
Before he could even touch the orb this time, the entity launched itself up and hit Horst square in the chest, knocking him flat on his back. The pipe fell out of his hand, and he heard it clatter against the edge of the pillar, down towards the lowest floor of the pyramid.
The entity spoke, but instead of the calm and calculated tone it had used before, it now adopted a mood of what could only be described as pure, unadulterated rage.
"NO! I'VE WAITED TOO LONG IN THIS VOID TO BE STOPPED BY THE LIKES OF YOU!"
Horst cried out in shock and pain as the entity's grotesque, claw-like hands buried themselves deep into his chest. He could feel the absolute rawness of the cold as it leaked into his bloodstream, drawing every last bit of warmth from him. His entire body stiffened from terror and the sheer freezing cold penetrating him and he tried to draw in a breath, but his chest was in complete agony; his heart and lungs were covered in a sheet of ice and Horst knew that the creature was trying corrupt his blood and leech it out of him.
He opened his eyes wide, and on the bridge of his nose could see a light blue glow coming from his irises, but there was something more. A small orb of glowing azure energy floated inches from his face, and it gave Horst a feeling that something that he had lost ages ago was finally returning to him. Close the Gate, it said to him. Seal it and destroy it.
Horst nodded, and looked at the foul creature that was still on top of him. His eyes unfocused for a moment, allowing a number of images to flash before him, and everything came back to him at once, even though it made no sense. He was one of the gods that trapped that entity in this place and doomed it to be forever imprisoned in this endless void. Horst's eyes refocused, staring directly into the creature's eyes. "I know what I am," Horst said. "You are old, but I? I am ancient."
At this moment, a powerful wave of energy washed over Horst and bore into his chest, heating him to the core. He felt completely invincible. A metallic ringing noise met his ears, like the sound of a high-pitched gong that went on and on, and an intense blue light surrounded him. The surge of energy was so powerful that it vaporized the entity, leaving nothing more than a pile of dust on Horst's front. Horst rolled over onto his front and pushed himself to his feet. He looked down at himself and saw that his entire body was covered head to foot in a strange metallic blue light that stretched and warped around him. Everything within eyeshot was bathed in a softer, almost aquamarine glow that pulsated around the edges of his vision.
He fell to his hands and knees, a feeling nausea creeping over him. The filter of color faded in a way that reminded Horst of how a reel of film would burn in distorted patches, as did the strange substance that coated his body. He retched, spitting up a mouthful of pure black liquid. Two more times this happened, until a small pool of the liquid swirled slowly around his hands. He heaved a great sigh as his entire body shuddered. "I remember now." He spoke quietly, calmly, despite what had just transpired mere seconds ago. Everything that he had known and every ability he possessed during the ancient times was finally returning to him.
Horst pushed himself back to his feet and approached the orb once more. He reached out and picked it up without hesitation and stood over the edge of the pillar. He gazed down at the lowest floors of the pyramid and held his hand out.
Horst watched the orb slip from his fingers and descend gracefully into the dark pit and shatter on the ground. As the orb burst, it let forth a light brighter than a nuclear explosion. Horst closed his eyes and leaned backwards, a weak sense of panic beginning to rise within him. There was no time left. He needed to get back to that Gate.
He leapt from the pillar to the surrounding floor and all but threw himself out of the door and onto the ground beside the pyramid. He looked into the distance and saw the Gate on a high platform, sparking angrily. Horst ran down the open hallway, past statues and obelisks and fountains and didn't stop; he leapt into the air and landed on a wide platform, almost halving the distance between the pyramid and the Gate. The rocks were too small here, he'd have to be careful. Focus¸ he told himself.
Just a few meters ahead of him there was a platform that looked large enough to make a running leap and make it to the Gate. Each rock he jumped to would shift beneath his feet, trying to throw him off balance. Horst pounced onto the larger platform and took only a second to look around. The bubble around this world was shrinking fast. He needed to make this final jump count.
Horst backed up until his heel hung over the edge of the platform and leaned forward, never once taking his eyes off the crackling and energized Gate. His feet pounded the stone beneath him as he fell into a sprint. The edge of the platform was approaching fast. He pushed off the ground and flew up and into the air, sailing towards the small island. He concentrated on moving himself forward and up, but it wasn't enough. His feet just missed the platform by a few centimeters. Thinking fast, he grabbed onto the edge with his hands and hung there for a moment before pulling himself up. He paused only for a split second and looked around. The edge of the world was closing in, vaporizing everything that dared go beyond its boundaries. Without a second thought, Horst dove into the archway. He felt the air temperature around him change the instant he was through, and felt he was high enough to perform a single summersault in the air. He pushed forward, and rolled over himself, and landed perfectly on—
Horst opened his eyes and looked at the Gate. It had fallen completely silent, and deep down he knew that it would never be opened again. He pushed himself to a sitting position, his legs crossed and looked around. In spite of just narrowly escaping vaporization, he felt quite calm. He looked around, noticing that in the corners of his vision there were small, translucent orbs hanging, suspended in the air. Each one was a slightly different color from the next, ranging from pink, blue, green and red to pure white. Horst watched serenely as the small balls of light danced around the chamber. He could have watched them for hours, and that was exactly what he planned to do. The orbs moved slowly, deliberately, and circled around Horst in an almost hypnotic fashion.
Horst frowned when all the orbs stopped in the same instant, secretly wanting them to continue. His eyes followed a particularly bright blue one as, all at once, the orbs rose into the ceiling. A deep rumble echoed through the cave and snapped Horst out of his trance. Something wasn't right. He jumped to his feet, looking around, suddenly breathing heavily. Another rumble reverberated throughout each cave and chamber, and a loud crack sounded directly above Horst's head. His eyes widened in fear and he shot out of the chamber, letting muscle memory guide him through the series of pitch black caves. The entire excavation site was collapsing. It was just his luck that he would be right in the middle of it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the lake fly past. His legs burned, but he did not slow down, and soon he found himself hurtling up the stairs and skidding to a halt in the hospital wing. The smell of antiseptics hit him like a ton of bricks, but it was the most comforting scent he could have ever experienced. Below him he could hear the excavation site crumbling like a house of cards, and he could feel the vibrations of it beneath his feet.
Horst nearly jumped out of his skin when the intercom crackled to life. "Attention all remaining staff. The last evacuation submarine will be departing it five minutes. Please drop what you are doing and leave now."
Horst's very soul seemed to freeze with shock, then thaw and warm with relief. Without a second thought, he shot down the hallway and towards the evacuation chamber. Sure enough, the top of a submarine was breaking the surface of the water, waiting for the countdown to finish so it could submerge itself and depart towards the cargo ships. Heart pounding, mouth completely dry, Horst stepped onto the back of the vessel and lowered himself into the machine's body. There was a large clock on one wall of the submarine, counting down from thirty seconds. Horst looked from that to the other occupants of the vessel. There were only three other people in the submarine, none of whom Host was able to recognize. He looked out of the porthole as the submarine dipped under the surface of the water, his only concern being for his best friend, wondering if he had made it safely on board one of the ships.