By S. A. Locket
Dunte’s tears made wounds upon his paper cheeks, leading to the brown wrinkles on the corners of his mouth, a memory of when he used to smile.
Tempest was beautiful. Its towers rose high enough to sway from the windy skies, and the paper houses stacked endlessly until the blue plain of the sea. The city had seen the worst of peoples, and the best. It had seen hatred and compassion. It had seen violence and love. It had learned from its mistakes over the course of centuries, and eventually, after so much bloodshed, it had become a true home of peace and love.
Now, the beautiful city of Tempest sat in wind-flattened ruins, the flickering remains of its people and structure being whisked away by a gentle wind. The air was thick with blood, a taste so horrible it made breathing a chore.
Dunte wiped away the tears before they could hurt him further. Like all Vél he had pointed ears, a narrow face, and skin made of paper. The skin was tough, able to withstand some weathering, but tore if it got wet or was bent too far. It stretched across his soft bones in a light yellow shade, like the color of an old book on your grandfather’s shelf.
“Why are we here, old friend?” Sanmuk asked. He was sturdy for a Vél, with thick skin not unlike sandpaper, which made his movements rigid. His smile lines were more defined than Dunte’s, but he did not smile now. “Why do we remain in this wretched place?”
Dunte narrowed his eyes as he stared off into the distance.
There were figures moving through the horror, dreadful in their steps, completely oblivious to the centuries of history they stomped over. They weren’t Vél, or anything of this world. They were Hyumuns. Arrogant monsters with no regard for life, hailing from a portal above the sea, a tear in reality which led to whatever hell they spawned. They coalesced in giant structures around a spot beneath the Tidewatch tower, where the water had always been black and rancid. The alchemists called the black water ‘oil,’ and said that it was a substance of no real use other than destruction. How fitting that these Hyumuns were interested in just that.
Dunte held onto a wall as the ground shook. More of the dark machines had crashed against the soft shores of the city. The palace of paper trembled, more of its pieces fluttering off in the gentle breeze. Dunte clenched his jaw.
“We need to prepare,” Dunte said, his pained gaze still on the city. Standing at 2’9, he was tall for a Vél, and Sanmuk had to look up at him. “There is a Hyumun inside the palace. We’re going to take its blood, and use it to make a plague, one which should wipe the Hyumuns out.” It was a tried and successful method, the same which they’d used to exterminate the Blood Urcs long before Dunte’s lifetime.
“Didn’t we swear to never conduct such genocide ever again?” Sanmuk said. “Will we really repeat our greatest mistake? The Blood Urcs did not deserve what we did to them. Even for all their crimes, they did not deserve to be eradicated.”
“The Hyumuns are a different case. They are monsters through and through. It will be justice, not genocide, to wipe them out.”
Sanmuk lowered his face, but gave no disagreement.
Dunte’s heart felt heavy as they passed through the halls. The guilt lingered longer than it should’ve. He stopped at a banner of the east, a flat thing which fluttered rigidly, its substance the same as that of a butterfly wing. He closed his fist around the corner of the banner, then watched it break into dust and bound away.
A figure came up the stairs, the floor ruffling with each of their heavy steps. Sanmuk smiled at first sight, his tin mace hefted over his shoulder.
“It’s here,” said Nogi, looking up at him. “Came in not three minutes past. Went on towards the Old Timber Throne.”
“We should start making our way down then,” Dunte said. “Sanmuk, stick to the eastward wall and wait for Nogi to make his move. We won’t be able to do anything to the Hyumun until it’s been knocked over.”
“If it’s knocked over,” Nogi said with a shake of his head, the reflective portions of his face flickering in the light. He was a Gome: a race which came from mountains where winds blew strong enough to become lethal for anyone with paper skin. His skin was porcelain instead, harder than paper, reliant on rubber joints to bend. “Can’t believe I’m running to my death because of you. Hero of Tempest, you call yourself. Look at your Tempest now.”
“Quiet you!” Sanmuk growled, planting his feet. “Have some trust in him. Dunte Retlez has saved this city before.”
Nogi clicked his tongue. “If he means to save it again, he’s too late.”
“Stop this,” Dunte said, stepping between them. “The Hyumuns are the enemies, not each other.”
“You think we can stop them?” Nogi chuckled. “You haven’t seen one up close. Neither of you have. Their very skin is impenetrable. It’s harder than porcelain, and more flexible than paper. They’re quick as a draken, they have a fifth sense that allows them to know where we are without seeing or hearing us, and they’re as tall as two Urcs stacked on top of each other. Everything about them is terrifying. They will slaughter us to the last. You’re a fool if you think you can kill one.”
Dunte looked out at the city. The endless flecks of paper were still ripe throughout the air, filling the sky like leaves on an autumn day.
“We don’t need to kill it,” Dunte said. “We just need its blood.” He brushed his hand against the vial on his belt. The vial that would soon hold the blood that would lead to the genocide of entire race. Did that follow the pacifist ideals he had once sworn? Was it possible there were innocent Hyumun somewhere beyond the portal? Even in his wildest imagination, Dunte could not envision it.
He looked at the bay, where floated the great sea beast of the Hyumun. It was nearly the size of the city in full, with giant towers stretching from its center, made of material so strong it did not sway in the wind. Behind the great sea beast, there was the portal, a tear in the sky that reflected a dark, hellish landscape. This couldn’t break any oath of his. They were all monsters.
“You have your magic, don’t you Nogi?” Dunte asked. “How strong is it?”
“I was only a novice mage, but I should be able to produce glass shackles. They’ll be strong enough to hold…” Nogi gulped. “…an Urc.”
But not a Hyumun. Dunte could not take his eyes off of the windy destruction. The Hyumuns came aboard their black boats and walked through the paper city like giants, taking no notice of the blood which filled the air. He clenched his jaw and his heart fell rigid.
They began to move into their places, careful not to step on any ruffled paper. When Nogi was out of earshot, Sanmuk stopped Dunte and said, “The Hyumun within the palace is alone. Perhaps we should try and speak with it.”
“Speak with a monster?” Dunte asked. “Do you not see their destruction? They know nothing but terror. Speaking with one would be like trying to speak to a draken.”
“I saw you once try to speak to a draken,” Sanmuk said with a grin. “I think it’s why I now follow you. You had hope for that creature.”
“Hope that did not last,” Dunte growled. “I still killed it.”
“Yes, because that hope you had was fruitless. But that does not mean it was fruitless to have hope at all. We have seen little of these Hyumuns, and they may deserve some hope yet. You are the Hero of Tempest for a reason. I believe you will make the right choice.”
The Old Timber Throne had not been used since the empire fell. It sat in the only room in the palace which was made of silicon rather than paper. Tall windows lined the walls, each covered by a pasty sheen of glass; flexible enough to not shatter, but light enough that they had already been taken by the heavy, otherworldly winds. For years, the large throne sat within the great hall of the Peacewrought Palace, decaying and gathering dust. It was miniscule compared to the Hyumun standing in front of it. A few rays of sunlight struck its impenetrable armor, which was colored in a strange assortment of various shades of green. The Hyumun’s long fingers scratched along the armrests, setting up enough dust to choke a draken.
Dunte stared from afar, his Wind Blade tightly gripped. He knew it would be useless. Every account thus far had told him the Hyumun’s skin was much too thick to penetrate with anything short of solid tin. Everything needed to go just right.
Sanmuk gasped as he glimpsed its face. “Those holes,” he whispered. “Are those…eyes?”
Dunte glanced at the large tumor between the Hyumun’s eyes and mouth. It jutted in their direction like a stubby finger, and on the underside there were two circular holes, no teeth or saliva, just dark depths of unknown. “Mouths,” Dunte murmured. “It is using them to breath.” It was unnatural. A face should consist of eyes and a mouth, nothing more.
Sanmuk gulped and went to his position. Dunte counted to ten, then stepped out into the open. The Hyumun jerked in his direction, revealing its hideous face. The holes on the tumor twitched as the monster stepped forward. Dunte covered his mouth and glared at Sanmuk. His old friend was pale, the brown smile lines of his cheeks stretching downwards.
Nogi charged, shouting, “For the Gomes!”
Silicon rubble morphed into glass which swirled around Nogi. It coilied behind his arm as he brought it back and punched the Hyumun in the leg with enough force to knock out a draken. But there came no clang, or snap of bone, only a muffled thump. The glass wrapped around the leg, then shattered in an instant.
The Hyumun looked down at him quizzically, its leg not even jittering. Sanmuk ran out roaring, “For Tempest!”
The Hyumun’s face jolted in shock, and it took a step that spanned half the room. A roar escaped the Hyumun’s lips, and its leg caught against the throne. There was a crash, and the whole building shook this time, rubble pounding against the floor, walls toppling over ceilings.
Dunte squinted through the dust, scanning the room as his ear rang. The Old Timber Throne was broken, toppled over by the Hyumun. “We did it!” Nogi shouted, leaping into the air. He ran behind the throne. “It has fallen, and its eyes are closed. We have done it.”
Dunte scowled and stomped over. “Quiet. It is not dead. Take out your knives, we need its blood.” He took out a vial and stared at the monster. Closer up it was even more terrifying. Its skin was creased in places, but there were no wrinkles on his cheeks, no indication that it had ever smiled. The two circular mouths no longer twitched, but they were still an unknown darkness. The skin was clammy as well, almost moist, as if it were made of water.
“By gods, it’s ugly,” Sanmuk grunted as he hobbled over. Dunte’s eyes widened as he saw his old friend’s leg, red mist spewing out of a cut on the knee. “I’ll be fine,” Sanmuk said. “Me blood’s just mist. Mist ain’t never hurt anyone.”
“Take it easy,” Dunte said. “It’s not like your mace was going to draw blood from this monster anyways.” He knelt by the Hyumun’s face and took out an Urcish dagger of the sturdiest paper that could be cut. He pressed it against the skin, and the skin pushed into itself like flexible putty.
“Hold the vial,” Dunte said, scratching his neck. What was this skin made of? It wasn’t porcelain, or paper, or stone. He pressed the dagger against it again, and waited for the bloody mist to spew out, but it never did. No matter at what angle, the skin would not break, only indenting this way and that.
“The Urcish dagger is too thick,” Nogi said. “Maybe your Wind Blade would work?”
“Too thick?” Dunte glared back. “Skin this strong needs something thick to bear down on it. Wind Blades are for versatility, it won’t cut through this.”
“Ah…give it a shot,” Sanmuk grunted. “You’re more like to wake it than puncture anything as we’re going right now.”
Dunte sighed and brought out his Wind Blade. He pressed the thin paper against the skin, and as he expected, it only bent into itself, barely causing an indent. “See?”
“Dunte…” Sanmuk mumbled. “Is that…blood?”
The three of them sat frozen for a moment, then Nogi thrust forward with the vial, ready for the mist. But there was no mist. The wound—the cut upon the Hyumun’s cheek—was nothing more than a thin red line.
“It doesn’t bleed?” Nogi said.
“It has to bleed,” growled Dunte. He brushed a finger against the cut, trying to pull it open to let out the blood mist. A red smear marked where he wasted his efforts, and the three of them glared at Dunte’s red finger.
“Its blood is liquid?” Sanmuk muttered. “This monster comes straight from hell.”
Before anything else could be said, Nogi jerked back, letting the vial clink against the floor. “It’s stirring…” the Gome muttered.
The Hyumun grumbled, its face twitching, and with a quick instinct Dunte jabbed the dagger into one of its eyes. The monster let loose a roar that shook the building, forcing him to cover his ears. Something shattered, and his head went spinning. When he came to his senses, a red mist filled the air. He found Nogi’s fractured remains on the other side of the room.
Dunte looked at his hand, which he now realized was searing in pain, and found it was wet, not with blood, but with a clear substance. Even the Hyumun’s eyes were impenetrable, protected by a barrier of the most unholy thing; water.
“Can you do it, Dunte?” Sanmuk asked, leaning on his good leg. “Tell me to stay and I will stay. I entrust everything in you.”
Dunte looked at his old friend, then at the Hyumun. Its limbs jerked with enough weight to flatten him four times over. Nogi’s blood blurred his vision, stung his eyes. There had to be a way to take its blood. If there wasn’t, then all of the world would be destroyed.
He glared at the Hyuman’s despicable face, taking in all of its details, stopping on the one feature he did not recognize. “Don’t stay. Get the kitewings ready for a flight to Temple Summer.”
“Go!” Dunte said. “I can do it myself.” He reached for the vial, then jerked back and looked at his wet hand. The skin was black and folding, the fingers drooping in uselessness. He was alone now. The Hyumun continued to writhe as he approached, dagger on his belt, the vial in his one good hand. Even if its blood was liquid, it could bleed, and that meant his plan could still work.
He looked at the two circular mouths, each an abyss of darkness. The skin wasn’t as tough as he had thought, only malleable. And if it was only malleable, then the spot where it was thin would be easy to break. He waited for the right moment, then leapt onto the monster’s face, shoving the open vial into one of the small mouths below its eyes. It was cavernous inside, skin so thin he could feel the bone, a sturdy material, stronger than timber, or stone, or tin. Then, his good hand erupted in pain, and he sprung away.
Dunte closed the vial and staggered away as quickly as he could. A pale green substance was beginning to soak into his arm, and his hand was drenched in a thick dark ooze. He stared at it for a long time; it was the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen. It was blood. The blood of a demon.
He ran towards the room where they’d met up earlier. Behind him, the Hyumun moaned, grabbed at its face, where blood continued to drip out of its circular mouth. Luckily, the doorways were too small, and the monster did not follow.
Dunte reached the balcony facing Temple Summer. The banner was still there, the torn corner still missing.
“You’re insane!” Sanmuk bellowed. “You actually did it!”
Dunte clutched the vial with his soppy, breaking fingers. “We need to get to Temple Summer. Is there a clear path?”
Sanmuk smiled. He pulled out a single set of kitewings. They were expandable and sturdy things, which did not flap, rather using the wind as a source of movement. They were a soft blue color, dulled by a sheen of dust. Despite each wing being five feet long—only when expanded of course—these were small kitewings, barely a size that Dunte could still fly them.
He would need help to fasten the kitewings on, as his hands were now ruined. His right hand might be cured one day, but his left was still drenched in that dark ooze. He was certain the damage was permanent.
“Where’s the other one?” Dunte asked, seeing just one set.
Sanmuk nodded to a pile of broken boxes, the shreds of kitewings sticking out of them. “I’ve always been too heavy to fly these things anyways,” Sanmuk said with a smile. “And stop with those soppy eyes before you scar your cheeks.” His smile remained as he forced Dunte into the kitewings. “Nogi was right about the Hyumuns. They’re stronger than us, so much stronger that it’s incomprehensible, but they’re not stronger than you, Dunte. You’ve already defeated one, why not the rest? Take the vial, and save this world.”
Dunte bit his cheek and stared off into the ruined city. He had never been one for sentimental goodbyes. But then again, all he had ever known was a world of peace and love. He had never bid farewell to a friend who was heading towards certain death. “I’ll make it beautiful again,” he promised. “I’ll bring Tempest back.”
Sanmuk grinned. “I believe you, old friend.”
Dunte didn’t look back as he flew towards Temple Summer.
“Clear the way!” shouted the former Castellan of Tidewatch. “The Hero of Tempest is here.”
Dunte stumbled as he landed, but didn’t fall over. He looked about at the quickly gathering crowd, a bloody fist clenched to his chest. They stood in the temple courtyard, where mistfruit trees lined the edges and a great timber grew from the center, a dozen paper balconies built around. However, the mistfruit trees were fruitless today, all of their product taken by the endless gales, and the balconies on the timber were crooked and abandoned, too treacherous for anyone to use.
“Have you discovered their secret?” the Castellan asked. Smile lines creased the corners of his mouth. “Will you defeat them as you did the draken?”
“Grena Thickhide,” Dunte grunted. “The Master Alchemist. I need you to take me to her.”
“Grena?” the Castellan frowned. “Well, that sounds like a Urcish name. The Urcs are no longer allowed at Temple Summer. We drove the last of their kind out not three hours past, and good riddance.”
Dunte stopped. “You…drove them out? To where? The Holy Village?”
The Castellan smiled awkwardly. “The Holy Village? No, no. Back into the city of course. Hopefully they will slow down some of those monsters from the portal. They were no help to us here anyhow.”
Had Dunte still had his hands, he would have wrung the Castellan’s throat, and had he still had his spirits, he would have at least charged and bashed him with whatever he could. But one look at the city, and his spirit was broken. The Peacewrought Palace was all but crumbled by now, and the Hyumun structures were multiplying. There were no survivors out there.
He turned away from the Castellan. There were alchemists besides Grena who could craft his plague. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter if they lost a few Urcs along the way.
The lab was on the eastern wall of Temple Summer, close enough to the water that the waves might sometimes splash. For this reason, the walls were made of both silicon and paper, a lined pattern which left some parts of the wall crumbling, and others only doomed to fall apart.
The alchemists were ecstatic about Dunte’s plan, and they got to work straight away. Dunte refused to leave the lab as they went through their tasks, which forced several medical attendants to stand in the lab while they tended to his wounds. The fate of the entire world was on the line. He had to be here.
The Hyumuns caused a ruckus in the city, slamming giant metal rods into the earth, letting on giant warmachines which roared every time they moved. Worst of all were the great sky beasts that soared overhead, casting strong enough winds to tear down another wall of Temple Summer every time they passed. They brought back memories of misty remains of the city dwellers, of Nogi’s shattered body, of Sanmuk’s last goodbye.
The day faded into night, a time of pure darkness in Temple Summer, but not in the laboratory of the alchemists, where bottles and vases held luminescent, magical potions and elixirs. Dunte stared at the unnatural substances, some as thick and despicable as a Hyumun’s blood. He looked away and tried to focus on what mattered. He thought of his parents, and his sister, and most of all, Shrak Ganthi, the greatest being to ever live. She was the sole reason their world had come to peace; she was the sole reason Véls, Urcs, and Gomes could live side by side. But she was also old, nearing four decades now, making her the oldest Vél in Tempest. That meant she was fragile, and in a world with Hyumuns, fragile folk would not survive long.
Dunte looked up. The vial held a purple liquid, clear enough to see through, but not without distorting the world behind it. It glowed, but only slightly—you would never be able to tell if it were not pitch black. He took the vial in his crusty, broken hand, then looked at the alchemists. “For Tempest,” he whispered.
“For Tempest,” they repeated, half of them spouting painful tears.
There was a roar, and what followed was a gust of wind that blasted through the walls, knocking over every potion in the laboratory and ripping multiple holes in the walls. Dunte clutched the vial and fought back tears.
“Get me my kitewings!”
Dunte looked at his bloody, broken hand as they fastened the kitewings over his chest. It was a pain he thought might plague him for the rest of his life, but now it appeared that time was short, very short. He wanted to drop the vial directly onto one of those monsters, he wanted to see their eyes twist in confusion, and he wanted to stick around to see their realization when it turned out this was the end. He wanted to kill every last one of them for what they’d done to Tempest.
“My lady, you mustn’t come this way. It’s too dangerous.”
Dunte looked back to find a crowd of prissly-dressed priests around a tiny old Vél, her face with so many wrinkles there was more brown than yellow. She walked with a cane of Urcish Timber, a sturdy little thing that had been in use for longer than the average Vélen lifespan, and when she smiled, Dunte felt his heart flutter.
“Shrak Ganthi,” Dunte exhaled. “I’m so glad to see you’re okay.”
“I say the same for you, Mr. Retlez,” Shrak said, leaning on her cane. The priests stepped back, staring at the tears in the walls, but all knew better than to interrupt these two legendary figures. “Now, can you tell me what you are doing? I’ve heard that the Urcs were forced out from our protection. I cannot blame you for this, for I know you were yet to arrive at Temple Summer, but why have you not gone out to welcome them back?”
“There were more pressing matters.” Dunte looked out at the evil lights of the Hyumuns, which now illuminated the ruined city.
“There are no more pressing matters than saving lives.”
“I am saving lives.” Dunte clenched his teeth, wanting nothing more than to prevent an argument with Shrak Ganthi. But he knew what must be done.
Shrak looked at him sympathetically.
He clenched a bloody fist around the vial. “We’re going to kill them all,” he said. “Just like we did with the Blood Urcs!”
Shrak frowned. Her lower lip jutted and she shook her head. “That was no good thing. We should not repeat our mistakes.”
“We should not let them kill us all either,” Dunte said, and his cheeks burned as tears fell from his eyes. “The Hyumuns are too powerful for us to repel through any other method. I’ve seen it myself. They smile as they step on us; like we were no more than ants. This plague will target them, and only them, and there will be no cure.”
“You said it smiled,” Shrak blurted.
“The Hyumun. You said that it smiled. If one can smile, can one not also feel compassion?”
“Clouds look joyous on some days; that does not mean they are sentient. The Hyumuns are selfish, hateful creatures, and just that.”
Shrak pressed her lips together. She looked disappointed more than anything, like all she had done to improve the world would go to waste if Dunte unleashed the plague. Why couldn’t she see that it was the opposite, that all her work would go to waste only if he did not unleash the plague?
“You don’t actually believe that,” she said. “You must understand that they are just like us.”
“They are nothing like us,” Dunte muttered. His grip was loosening on the vial. What would become of them if he did not do this? What would become of their world?
“Do you know what I see, Mr Retlez?” Shrak hobbled to the wreckage of a wall, peering eastward at the great portal and the Hyumun beasts. “I see a world, one which is equally beautiful to that of our own. I see a world filled with hatred and oppression and selfishness. I see a world where nature is cruel, and where things unnatural are crueller. But that is not all I see. I see a mother smiling as she holds her child, a father watching with pride as his son completes his first hunt. I see life that is wholly equal to our own, life that does not deserve to be snuffed out because of a few selfish souls.”
Dunte gulped and felt his crusty fingers crackle around the vial. “There are more than a few of them.”
“Perhaps.” A breeze fluttered by, and half the room shouted in panic as they reached to protect Shrak. She chuckled, holding fast to her cane, then lifted a hand to calm them. “Tell me, if there were ten thousand good folk among them, and only one hundred evil, would you still insist on killing them all?”
“And what do you think their answer would be?” he snapped. His cheeks were black by now, thick with enough tears to run painful indents into his skin. “They are evil to the core, and it is more likely that there are ten thousand evil folk and only one hundred good. We are a better people than them. We would never devolve into such degeneracy.”
“It’s not about being better than them. It’s about being the best that we can be.”
Dunte shook his head. His body felt rigid, as if all his skin had been soaked then dried. He had to do this. He could not let her sway him. “Not in this case. It’s us or them, and we know peace while they are despicable. My decision will save us.”
Shrak turned to face him. “If we knew peace, we would not have sent a hundred Urcs to their deaths today.” Her voice was so delicate, like the ending of a sad song. “The panic they have caused has turned our hearts evil again, shown our true colors, but that does not mean we cannot still try to be good. The pure truth is that no matter the struggle, no matter the obstacle, no matter how hopeless everything might seem, we should never fall back into those evil ways.” She held out a hand. “Give me the vial, Dunte. We must not do this thing.”
“I can’t,” Dunte exhaled. He shook his head and let a tear drop onto the floor. “I have to save the world.”
Shrak smiled. “You will save the world.”
Dunte stared at her, his hand searing in pain as he gripped the vial tighter. She was so small, so weak. A light scratch could tear her skin, a breeze could take her away. And yet, she was the most influential being to ever live. Without her, Tempest would still have been the center of oppression and hatred, and the world would never have come to peace. He looked at the vial, at its purple liquid, a simple thing which could save his world but destroy another.
He handed her the vial.
About the author: S. A. Locket is a twenty-two year old student pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Literary Studies, and has been passionate about fantasy worlds since he was a ten year-old building kingdoms with Legos. Besides writing, he enjoys walking his dogs(though he usually has to carry the old one), and watching Dragon Ball. He enjoys writing because it fuels his motivation in every aspect of life, and after just a few years, he can’t imagine going a week without it. salocket.com
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