Genesis Of Light
The landscape wasn’t beautiful as such. It should have been. All the usual elements of beauty were there—sweeping meadows, flowers bobbing in the gentle breeze and trees standing watch over them, majestic and peaceful. Even the city down below, at the bottom of the hill, looked beautiful on this day, with the sunlight glittering on the windows of office blocks. But Callista saw no joy in the view before her. Not today.
“One year. I can’t believe it’s been one year already.” Callista’s voice was barely audible. She clenched her fists, trying to squeeze the pain away, but, however much she squeezed, nothing would bring her parents back. In her hand was the golden necklace her mother had given her as a child. It was beautiful and intricately carved, studded with diamonds in a cross. She turned it over in her hand and tried to picture the day she had received it, but the memories were distant, and the day had blurred together with the ones that followed.
“The first year is the hardest. But it will get better, I promise. You’ll miss them like mad. That part will never go away, but you’ll find new ways to deal with it, and you’ll find yourself thinking about other things more and your parents less.”
Callista looked at Tom, who somehow always knew what to say, and felt a grin spread across her lips. She tucked the necklace back inside her shirt to keep it safe.
“Good job I’ve got you here. I wouldn’t want to do this on my own.”
Tom gave her a wide smile, and his eyes flashed with genuine warmth. “No problem,” he said. “Someone has to look after you, don’t they?”
Callista’s smile turned into a frown. “I can look after myself, you know. I just meant that it’s good having somebody to talk to.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s OK to admit you need a man to help.” A sly smirk played on Tom’s face.
“I don’t need a man to look after me! I am more than capable of dealing with whatever comes my way, and you know it.”
Tom lay back on the grass, arms behind his head, and laughed hard at Callista. She huffed and crossed her arms. He was deliberately aggravating her, she knew that, but it took her mind off the anniversary of her parents’ death and that was precisely what she needed. That was why he did it.
Her eyes drifted to the view before them. Pabell was a small city and her neighbourhood was close-knit and friendly. Many of the residents were people she considered friends. When her parents had passed away, she knew she could have gone to her neighbours for help, but her pride was too strong for that. She had needed to show the world she could cope on her own.
Luckily, she didn’t have to get a job. That was one weight off her mind. Her live-in nanny and housekeeper, Yvonne, had been with them for years. She stayed around and took care of Callista when Karla and Stanley Nienna died. Mood swings, bad behaviour and skipping school, were all frequent issues Yvonne had to contend with. Luckily for Callista, Yvonne had super-human patience dealing with the recently bereaved teenager.
Tom helped her just as much, but Callista would never say that to his face, his rugged, handsome face. Stealing a sneaky glance at Tom, who lay beside her, Callista grinned.
It was Friday again. It was always a Friday when they met. Sometimes it was to practise the martial arts they learned together, sometimes it was just to talk. But it was the highlight of her week and she wouldn’t miss it for the world. It didn’t matter what they did, just being with Tom was enough.
After all, he was the only person who didn’t think she was crazy when she said her parents were murdered. Karla and Stanley Nienna were not, and never had been, involved in the shady underworld of illegal Sarro dealing. To even suggest they had died in a filthy alley due to drug overdoses was ludicrous to Callista. But no matter how many times she said it, nobody believed her, except Tom. Only Tom agreed it didn’t add up. Only Tom listened, actually listened, instead of suggesting she was tired or suffering from delusional grief. It was why she had clung to him at first, and why she had continued to cling to him ever since.
The evening was drawing in, the sky just beginning to turn pink as the sun slowly dipped beyond the horizon. It was beautiful. Tom sat up beside her and looked out over the city. “The sky’s too red,” he muttered, then lay back down again.
“What?” Callista laughed. “Too red? It’s beautiful!”
“Nah. Too red,” Tom repeated. Callista aimed a playful punch at his shoulder.
“Hey!” he cried out, but his face broke into a smile. They grinned at one another, and Callista felt her cheeks burn. Tom was the first to tear his eyes away.
The smile dropped from his lips. “It really is too red though, don’t you think?”
Callista’s heart leapt into her throat as she followed his gaze. This wasn’t just a sunset. The sky was blood red throughout, not the scattered, fading patches of pink that usually came with the sun’s descent. Something was wrong.
Everything happened in an instant. The sky tore open with a deafening crack and the ground beneath their feet shuddered. A deep boom and then fireballs were shooting through the air and plummeting down to the city. Callista gasped and jumped to her feet. Even from this distance, she swore she could hear the screams of terrified people as the city was obliterated. Buildings were flattened, reduced to smouldering rubble within seconds. It was as if the gods themselves were hurling rocks from the sky, decimating everywhere and everyone she loved. Tears welled in her eyes, her mouth wide with horror.
Between the crumbling buildings and blazing infernos, Callista caught a glimpse of something impossible and unimaginable. She shook her head but when she looked back again it was still there. An enormous creature of towering height, unlike anything she had ever seen before. Engulfed with dripping lava and leaving wafts of sulphuric smoke in its wake, it skulked through the burning city. It swiped indiscriminately with gigantic burning fists, smashing aside buildings and trees, and crushing the bones of any living thing in its path.
Slowly, as if recognising Callista’s presence, it turned to look at her. Sizzling eyes of such intense evil focused upon her petrified form. It held her gaze for a moment, then turned away. As quickly as it had emerged, it disappeared behind the remaining buildings and out of sight.
It was as if it had made a choice not to hunt her down, to let her live. She would have been thankful were it not for the sheer terror that locked her feet in place and made her heart thunder.
Smouldering rocks began to pelt down, but thankfully much smaller stones than the ones obliterating the city. Tom pulled Callista into his arms, trying to protect her, but a rock the size of a penny hurtled out of nowhere and struck her on the forehead. Lights erupted in her vision and intense agony seared through her like a red-hot poker pressed to her skin. She cried out as Tom held his hands above them for protection. A rock hit him, sending him reeling away. He clutched at his injured arm as blood ran down to his fingertips.
Hundreds of tiny stones rained down upon them, burning hot, searing their flesh as they hit. The ground lurched, and Callista was thrown off her feet onto the grass. Her head spun and her vision clouded. With aching limbs, she tried to lever herself up from the ground, but an agonising gash in her forearm made her collapse again.
Lying with her face pressed into ash and mud, and with rocks slamming into her prone body, she considered giving up, staying there in the dust to die alongside her family and friends who had probably failed to make it out of the doomed city before it fell. She could see her parents again. Closing her eyes, she allowed a rare moment of peace to drift over her. She blotted out the noise of the dead and dying, the screams of pain and loss. In the distance, buildings fell, crashing with almighty force into heaps of twisted metal and smouldering rock.
The ground began to shake again with violent aftershocks that jolted Callista’s bones. She yelped, turning over onto her back as rifts began to wrench the ground apart beneath her.
She was pulled from the churning horror in her stomach by a firm hand grasping hers.
She peered through the smoky air, thick with the ash and embers of burning buildings and bodies. The voice came again.
Tom’s hand was warm and strong upon hers, and she pulled herself to her blistered feet. When she stood, she saw the reason for his panic. The city was crumbling and falling, hundreds of buildings bursting into splinters of wood and twisted metal. But beyond that, something even more terrifying was coming their way.
Flanking the city was the ocean and it was changing. It was no longer made up of the calm, crystal blue waves Callista surfed and swam in. The waters were frothy and turbulent, splashing and spraying, as if a giant creature beneath the waves was frantically thrashing and trying to rise from the depths.
A deafening boom sent a wave of red-hot air flowing over them, stinging their eyes and singeing their hair. The ground tremored, and the sea was slowly sucked backwards, away from the city and the beach.
“We have to go, now,” Tom said.
Out in the ocean, a wave was beginning to form, a monstrous, towering tsunami that grew and grew with every drop of water it swallowed and every metre it advanced. It rushed towards the beach, swelling with more and more water in its wake.
Callista and Tom ran, hand in hand, across the meadows on the outskirts of the city. There were no buildings here, nothing to protect them from the devastating wave and the detritus it would drag along with it.
They ran as fast as they could, pushing their screaming muscles and pounding hearts as the water thundered behind them at astonishing speed.
On the outskirts of the city was a tall hill that Callista and Tom often used for hunting and practising their fighting skills.
“Tom! Barrow’s Hill!” Callista cried, and together they veered for their favourite training ground.
They powered up the hill, their calves aching with every stride.
The water was advancing. Callista swore she could feel the cold spray of the deadly water behind her.
When they reached the top of the wooded hill, they collapsed, exhausted, on the ground. Their chests heaved up and down as they gasped in huge breaths that made their lungs burn with the exertion. They had no idea if they would be high enough to avoid the water, but they knew they could go no further. If this wasn’t enough, they would die. All they could do was wait.
They lay side by side, their chests heaving and hands locked.
The water crashed towards them, sweeping along everything it touched. Bodies were wrenched from their resting places and smashed to pieces amongst the flowing rubble.
Callista gasped with horror as the water approached. She leaned over and grabbed onto Tom, burying her head in his neck. The tears began to fall, and she whispered a prayer.
She dared to glance up.
The water was just one hundred metres away. The waves crashed, followed by screams wiped out in a split-second as the tsunami hit.
Fifty metres away. Tom’s warm arms wrapped around her.
Ten metres. The fear was worse than seeing her approaching death. Callista couldn’t help looking up. Barrow’s Hill wasn’t high enough. The wave would surely strike them.
She let out a yelp of terror, but just before the water enveloped them, the wave seemed to lose its power. The raging tsunami, which only seconds earlier had been a ferocious beast, withered away into nothing. The water spread out into a calm lake, inches from their feet.
Callista wanted to feel relieved, but all she felt was a cold chill running down her spine. The way the water had stopped wasn’t natural, it was almost like the wave itself didn’t want to harm her. Was the force that started the apocalypse when she was out of the city the same force that had shielded her from falling buildings and fireballs? It felt like she was being protected, and it terrified her.
Tom jumped to his feet and dragged her into his arms, yelling with delight and planting warm kisses on her cheek. She blushed and pushed her friend away. If there was any embarrassment for his actions, it didn’t show on his handsome dark features. His grin spread from ear to ear.
“I can’t believe it! We survived!”
Callista looked out at the lake that now covered the land they had run through. Pabell was gone. Completely gone. The city in which she had grown up, played and fallen in love in, had gone. She put her hand up to her mouth as tears ran over her fingers.
The tips of buildings were just visible, poking out of the calm water. Pieces of wood and metal floated to the surface, filth and dust giving the water a grey coating. When bloated corpses began to rise to the surface, Callista turned away as choking sobs wracked her body.