Chapter Thirty-Five – Path of Destruction
Apis placed the shuttle in stationery orbit above the scarred silver-grey surface of Earth’s satellite Moon. From their vantage point, the band of brothers listened for any sign of life coming from the beautiful blue planet in the distance. The speaker on the bulkhead filled the interior of the shuttle with the sounds of countless battles being fought across the continents that made up less than a third of the planets watery surface. Shu’s vast army was taking everything the many nations on Earth could throw at them in defence of humanity’s home. As Nusaan’s receiver scanned the thousands of frequencies, a picture of the gradual annihilation of the human race began to emerge. The shuttle’s sensors reinforced the picture in graphic detail. Icons on the tactical screen showed the futile attempts by the military forces of the Earth to defeat the invincible army of Shu’s berserkers. After each brutal battle, the brothers watched her army move to yet another continent, carving its bloody way across the countless thousands of kilometres and many borders of the countries it contained. By the time the shuttle covered the three hundred and eighty-four thousand, four hundred and four kilometre gap between the Moon and Earth, the last remaining battles were being fought in the northern hemisphere of the planet.
Approaching Earth’s southern hemisphere, the brothers watched the sharp line of darkness caused by the Earth’s rotation away from the sun’s light, plunge its southern surface into night. The reshaped, isolated continents of South America, Africa, and Australia were empty; changed forever since the defeat of the Drana commandos centuries earlier when the Mergiddon had shifted the Earth’s axis and flooded the landmasses with giant tsunami waves. No telltale haze of lights from cities and towns existed. Only the dull red glow from bush and forest fires marked the positions of the new continents. Adjusting the heading, Apis piloted the shuttle towards a chain of six snow capped islands that had once formed the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South Island. He altered direction towards the southernmost island, created from an area of land containing the former Stewart Island and the mountainous region of South Westland, and descended to the valley at the bottom of the world. For centuries it was hidden from the outside world. Its ancient vegetation stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding beech forested valleys of the former South Westland National Park. As the shuttle flew low along the valley floor, the brothers saw rotting carcases of Ankylosaurus, whose ancestors were trapped in the valley since the Gondwanaland breakup, millions of years before. The pyramid shaped hardened shelter lay in ruins where it had previously blocked the northern approach to the city.
Apis brought the shuttle gently down, carefully avoiding the bodies of the dead and dying in the vast square in front of the council chambers in the heart of the city. Thousands of Human-Nephiles lay mortally wounded throughout the city. Manesh and Seti managed to piece together what had happened. Shu had somehow located the valley again and made it her first target on Earth. (I found out later that this was because of Tuluk’s meddling.) Her army of berserkers rampaged across the city and beyond to the house at the northern end of the valley. From the whispered deathbed accounts of some of the cities inhabitants, they found out that a few had managed to flee the onslaught, Hor among them. But where had they gone?
The answer to the whereabouts of the people from the Mars colonies and the lone berserker was solved. Shu had forcibly recruited them into her army, killing the one new convert who refused her orders and boosting the number of her berserkers by nearly five million.
In the search for possible survivors Besal travelled north across the crumbled ruins of the hardened shelter and followed the path of destruction towards the house at the head of the valley. He passed herds of dead, gentle Ankylosaurs, their horned hides hideously torn open by the swords of the berserkers, together with the lifeless bodies of giant penguins and other birds who had lived peacefully together with the dinosaurs and the Human-Nephiles, in the splendid isolation of the valley. After a few hours, he arrived at the base of the low hill where the house sat. Climbing its grassy slopes, Besal drew near to the marble building, the favourite home of Akhen’s great-grandparents, Auset and Tom, so many centuries before. He crossed the threshold and wandered through the rooms remembering the time when he and his brothers had stayed there last. He looked out into the enclosed garden under the pergola to where Akhen had buried Shu. The grave had been dug up. When he looked into the hole, it contained a fresh corpse lying on the cold damp clay. The body of the last giant Haast’s Eagle, its magnificent plumage blood stained from the mortal wound caused by an arrow through its heart, lay in one corner of the grave. In its massive beak were the putrefied remains of a berserker’s head. Jojo, friend of all in the valley, had died defending the house. Besal climbed down and removed the vicious arrow, plucking several feathers from the mighty raptor’s wings. He stored both the arrow and the feathers carefully inside the pocket he had made in the inner skin of his shield. Before returning to the city, Besal gave the old bird a sendoff worthy of a mighty warrior. He built a small funeral pyre in the centre of the garden and reverently placed Jojo on it. As the flames consumed the old bird, Besal held his sword above his head in final salute, saying, “From one hunter to another – farewell my friend.”
The news that Shu’s body was gone and that Jojo was dead, shocked and saddened the brothers. They each held fond memories of the giant eagle. But why Shu’s body had been removed mystified them. Akhen uttered the terrible berserker war cry, then roared “Time to die!” Moments later, the shuttle rose into the clear sky of the early morning and headed north in search of the ‘red eyed she-devil’ and her berserker army. The shuttle flew across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, dotted with many new island groups, north to the old United States.
Crossing its western shores, Apis turned east and headed across the inland seas that now covered most of the former inland states, towards the range of mountains that had separated America’s east coast from the rest of the continent. Landing briefly, the brothers surveyed the terrible scene beside the twisted remains of the Statue of Liberty, the first welcoming sign of freedom and a new beginning to thousands of migrants two centuries before the Mergiddon changed life on the planet. The statue’s giant green torch, lapped by waves from the Atlantic, pointed west. Evidence of a hellish battle lay all around. Tanks and guns lay in twisted smoking heaps. Burnt ships’ hulls were half submerged in the shallow waters. The remnants of fighters and bombers were scattered across the tangled rusting skeletons of former skyscrapers, now exposed to the elements through the shattered dome that had protected the rebuilt city of New York. The people who lived here had put up an almighty defence of their home…
The shuttle lifted off and flew west across the Atlantic towards the islands where the European continent had once stood. Apis landed on a plateau in the Dolomite Mountains and the brothers made camp for a few days. Nusaan searched for any sign which would lead them to where Shu and her army were currently wreaking destruction across the vast expanse of islands and small continents surrounding them. He still heard reports of fighting from time to time, mainly from Kirenia, the new continent encompassing the ancient Italian and Greek landmasses to the south west. Shu seemed to be heading towards the Middle East for some reason. Khan, Akhen, and Max all agreed that the band of brothers should skirt around Kirenia and choose a place to confront her. There was one possible place in a vast mountainous plateau, which a mere three hundred years before had been formed by geological upheaval. It lifted a section of land comprising parts of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, three thousand meters above sea level, forming the new continent of Gilgama. Its scattered inhabitants chose the name in honour of Gilgamesh, the ruler of Erech, an ancient city during the Sumerian era of occupation. The particular place the brothers had in mind on Gilgama was the fertile land between the two mighty rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, at the southern end of the former Iraqi state, backed by swamps and marshes to the east and deserts to the west.
I had witnessed many battles being fought over the centuries in this place. The ruins of ancient and modern civilizations bore testament to the lands significance to its invaders and inhabitants. The ancient Sumerian cities of Babylon, Adab, Ur, and religious centres like Nippur, still gave up their secrets to archaeologist’s trowels and probes, describing and depicting the age old battles and way of life, since man first settled there thousands of years ago. There was no more appropriate place.
Enjoying one last peaceful meal together the brothers embraced then climbed aboard the shuttle. Apis set course for Ur.