FreshOutOfTheCave: Walking Man

Working on a tale for the Bellerverse…

Walking Man

The World was Wasted on Chaos. Festering in some recess of the Infinite Cycle, Chaos rode to its summit and toppled those resident kings from their perches. So much potential. So much life. Wasted. The world was fractured, though not slain. Torn from their roots, the empty earth they left behind grew fertile. Niches were ready to bear anew. Man had been exiled from Eden once again; but with it, he stole a second bite.

Exoduses take many steps.

In all his ineptitude, this capacity is that which is the savior of men. Teach a man to fish, and he will fish. Teach a man to mutilate, and he will mutilate, as we have seen. But teach a man to teach. Teach a man to love. Teach a man to raise his fellows.

Then help him to his feet, and you will have your exodus.

On the edge of a humble port city there sat a wide barrel, and on either side of it, a proud man. It was a life of perpetual noise within the city; the allure of the river which coursed through its heart being all but overtaken by the sounds of rocking ships, sharp footsteps, and gregarious shouts.

"What do you know about the traveler who dropped by your shop?" Said Saudi, as smooth as the silence.

Saudi finally found a security job in the west-shore market. Though, whatever wealth he acquired would be but a step closer to leaving the city. He knew well that heroes could not sit still. Although, that very morning, he accomplished the feat of saving a traveler's satchel from the wicked York. Saudi quickly ran down the thief and tackled him through a cart of Jackfruit, earning himself a black eye and the pleasure of paying off a dozen squashed fruit.

"Only that he doesn't know how to haggle," his old friend belted.

Having sold wares across the Wastes for years, Reis had the experience to make such critiques. "Fool gave me half a keel of gold for some leather sandals when Vinni was right there next to me, selling Eucalyptus slippers for coins!" His cackling was promptly cut of by a fit of coughing.

"Oh, but I think you're missing something, my friend" Saudi grinned, the glint in his eyes reflecting the ornate metallic surface which had revealed itself from the traveler's sleeves.

"Come on, Saudi, I'm too full of drink to be on the edge of my seat, out with it!"

"He was one of Gyre's men! And I don't think he was our only visitor!" Leaning across the table, Saudi's chair, too, threatened to slip out from beneath him. "I've been seeing more and more new faces—"

Slumping back, "Vestighal has always gotten visitors; we're traders for Abirt's sake! If Gyre sent his Disciples to my city, I'd know about it. Those Disciples ought to just leave us be for a change. There's nothing to break out in the Wastes, it's perfect for them!" With his sound conclusion, he took a swig of fermented beet juice.

Saudi's beard was short, but it was thick enough to catch such prejudices before he breathed them in. "I don't know, Reis. Maybe they could turn things around. Remember what happened in Elbane? The place was overrun by slave traders and New Men until it was freed by a group of Disciples!"

The old man sighed and looked to the horizon. He had sympathy for the boy, wholly realizing he held the same naivety as a young man. "Saudi—"

"I love you, Reis, I really do. You have been by my side ever since I left Mideia," he started, standing up.

"Saudi, I know, but," Reis got up as quickly as his twice-broken back would permit.

Not ready to give up, "but could you just believe in something for once in your li—"

"Saudi!" Reis got Saudi's attention, pointing to the horizon.

Saudi had to scan the distance several times before sighting a curious speck. Grunting the way one does while looking at something so ambiguous, he pondered, "What do you think of it?" Crawlers and Dingoes occasionally tried to scavenge from the city's limits, but this moved too fast. Was it a trader? Maybe, but they normally came from the main road, and neither of the men could name a steed with six legs.

A faint call echoed. Nothing they could understand from a distance, but it was saying something. "Saudi, lets head back," Reis relayed unsteadily. Saudi looked on, considering it. Then, with strength not usual for a man of his tenure, Reis pulled him around. "This isn't the time to try anything, son."

"Yooowie!" The guttural call struck them like an arrow.

Turning, the figure was all but on top of them, making Saudi jumped back and fall to the dirt. Swiftly dismounting his reptilian steed just as it screeched to a halt, it was unlike any man he had seen. Even on his back, it hurt Saudi's neck to look up so high as to see the figure's face. Atop some three meters of etched, black armor and bright, embroidered scarves, a pair of pearl-like eyes bore down on him.

"Are you soldiers?" the Man asked with a smooth but commanding voice.

Avoiding the oppressive gaze, Saudi glanced at the distance. This wasn't just a band of scavengers. Underneath a rolling plume of smoke, a group of Yowie soldiers, easily numbering in the hundreds, rode toward them. On the backs of camels, they carried shields, axes, and spears. Even held by the Yowie's ungainly claws, they were deadly. The peoples known as Yowie were just like men; trading, farming, and warring among the Waste's many peculiar peoples. They bore the faces of their ape-like ancestors with pride, becoming infamous for announcing the Wastes belonged to them, and having enslaved several tribes to the West, for having had begun to take it. Saudi knew the city's guardsmen and Watchmen to be extremely skilled, but the wall surrounding the town was built for floods, not sieges.

"Y-yes," Saudi stammered with little more than a thought, "I am a soldier."

"Good." The Man, looking to Reis and finding no such affirmation, lifted Saudi to his feet with a hand twice as large and dark as his own. "Today, you become a knight."

Leaning against the wall, Reis watched as the Man touched his palm to Saudi's forehead, and watched as Saudi ceased to exist.

Bones cracked and shattered. His skin flaked off into the wind as it was replaced by something darker and thicker. His chest split open, and an armor, black like charred bone, reached out to cover him. In Saudi's place stood a Knight. One of the few the Wastes had ever known.

Looking over his alien limbs with sore breath, the Knight gasped incredulously, "…Drakgin?"

"I am no god," the Man laughed. The Knight found about as much of an answer in the Man's vivid white eyes as one would find in the kind of impenetrably murky water that ran through the desert. "Come." The Man turned and began to run.

Reis let out an ear-splitting whistle, ignoring his old lungs. The state-guard would be on its way. Without more than a thought, the Knight's feet lifted him into a sprint. Buildings shrank and sand blurred around him as the entirety of the world shrank down to the size of the strange Man and the lines of bestial soldiers rumbling over the spice fields ahead of him.

As the Man approached them, his long feet pushed him into the air, vaulting into a cluster of soldiers. In passing, the Knight recognized something analogous to fear on their faces as the Man spread his arms and pulled them to the ground. Their camels were so startled, they stumbled into the other riders.

Dozens already scrambling on the ground, the rest dismounted, rushing to the unexpected hole in their lines. Forming rings around the Man and his Knight, they ducked behind their shields and pointed their spears inward. Attempting the same maneuver as the Man, the Knight jumped toward them. Managing to barely get above their spears, he landed flat on his belly, crushing a soldier beneath his own shield. Others jabbed at him, only to lose their weapons inches into his bony plates.

Even surrounding the Man, the Yowies kept their distance and chose their movements carefully. "You don't have to do this!" the Man screamed, "You are not your fathers!" A soldier dashed toward his back, holding his axe high in the air. Swinging down, his arm was caught in the Man's grasp. "Know that this does not condemn you," the Man said with sincere regret. The Yowies' screams did not last long.

A sliver of the Knight's arm crawled into his hand and took the form of a curved sword. Jumping to his feet and drawing his ivory scimitar, he swung at the closest Yowie, splitting its chest-piece and tossing it back, screaming. Forming a wall of shields, they approached again. He gritted his teeth as several tines dug into his calf. His leg wouldn't move at all, so just he swung his arm frantically, breaking several spears and cutting several soldiers. Their shields and armors proved to be no match for his strength as he broke them one by one like the shells of maca nuts.

The Knight rose, surrounded only by the dead and dying. His exhaustion almost distracted him from the spectacle of his wet, ink-black muscle fibers tying themselves back together. He looked then over to the Man, looming among a much larger collection of bodies, but similarly unscathed. He crouched down to one of the more elaborately painted bodies. "You will awake in Khanbaliq. Inform Genjí the Library did not die in vain." The fallen Yowie whispered something back between spits of blood before falling limp.

The Knight stumbled in a circle, counting corpses. He watched as the Man collected a camel and placed a body on its back. "What are you doing?" he asked, still addled by the slaughter. The Man did not answer, only pressing his hand to the corpse. Its wounds then filled with black liquid and healed themselves, just as his leg had. Picking up a nearby arm from the ground, the Man clicked it into the empty socket.

"Do not worry, we took no lives today. We saved a great city and we wrote a message." The Man offered, turned the camel and sending it off. The Knight's eyes followed the parade of camels as they marched off into the setting sun.

"Is your city a great city?," the Man prodded in thought. "What is her name?"

A little caught off guard, the Knight had to think. "Well… Her name is Vestighal," he began, trying to do it justice to the formidable Man. "It's a port city… 'Founded by merchants for merchants' right at the heart of Erits river. Ships and traders come in every day, and our market is the biggest you'll find that won't cheat you out of your pockets like Kal—"

"But would you say it is a great city?" the Man asked, cutting him off, then glancing at him. "Could people look up to it and feel pride for it?"

"Why yes, I believe so," the Knight replied, not sure how to answer. "I've heard it's one of the most comfortable cities you can find."

The Man packed and mended the rest of the bodies in silence, somewhat disconcertingly. By the time he was finished, the Knight had noticed a great number of soldiers and residents gathered around Reis on the city's edge. Silent. Staring on in awe.

Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he looked back to see the Man towering over him once more. "It will do," the wide grin on his face making Saudi smile.

As the Man marched on toward the village, Saudi started after him. Trying to curb the excitement in his voice, he called "Who are you? and what in Abirt's name is going on?"

The Man turned around to face Saudi, walking backward toward the city.
"I am Kirin," raising his beaded arms and yelling jovially, "Today we save the world!"

(Survivor Section)

"I believe you mistaken, my friend."

The sky's most prominent star glared harshly upon the congregation. The eyes of a dozen survivors squinted at the lone Figure whom stood opposite to them. Over the course of their discussion, the sun had settled just behind the Figure's head, appearing to them as if he wore a blinding crown of light.

"And why is that, brother?" The survivors shuttered as they felt the ground tremble at his words.

Only one of the survivors, his headdress of wonderful skins, dared to speak against the crowned figure. "Your men have stumbled. We cannot wait for them to lick their wounds again. We must step forward."

"We must step forward; indeed, but we must step together. To condemn them is to feign ignorance, and you know better than I the damage ignorance can inflict."

"You need not accuse me of ignorance; I know you cannot follow our path. Leave us."

Bowing his head, the crowned Figure strode away from them, toward the setting sun.

"May your foolishness teach you what I could not."

(Meeting Section)

Within minutes, a meeting among Vestighal's leaders was called into session; and within minutes more, Kirin was brought to stand in front of it. A council of lavishly-robed, hard-faced, and heavy-pocketed merchants sat in a wide semicircle within the tall, stone meeting hall. Already dwarfing Saudi and the rest of the guards beside him, the sun cast Kirin's shadow high to the ceiling.

The first to speak was the young, broad-chested member Khatal whose notoriety was only surpassed by his wealth. "This morning, I observed you dismantle an entire Yowie legion. Disciples with power like yours tend to… make names for themselves. So tell me, what are your intentions here?" The stout man, Trech, who fumbled at his side, added in cautiously, "Such an act of courtesy will not go ignored, we can offer gold… other metals… carts of cured meats and spices, rest assured, you'll be welcomed by our priestesses. We are not a poor state," he finished, out of breath, earning a glare from Khatal.

"Many thanks, but I do not require such compensation." Kirin's level tone made his imposing person all the more disconcerting. Saudi was sure the Watchmen, hidden among the rafters, tensed their hands around their magical weapons at that moment, ready to jump down and dispatch the Disciple should he make any moves. After what Saudi had just seen, he just laughed to himself. Quickly, he came to think about just how ineffective Vestighal's defenses would be against creatur— beings like Kirin… and how lucky he had been to never find out.

"I come to make a proposition," he replied. "I wish to unite the peoples of Erits river into a powerful nation. A nation which need not fear torment by the Wastes. There are a great many Disciples and a great many men whom starve for refuge. I believe you will find there is a desperate need for order, and I believe we can provide it."

The hall was silent. The only to speak was the sharp-faced Siceroh. "Empires do not last long in the Wastes… You know the Gods do not tolerate such power. Even if you could evade Geyre's eyes and snub Drakgin's flies, many have found that Disciples like you only bring death and destruction."

"I am well aware of the presence of such attitudes, but I am more aware of what I have seen… If for nothing else, we must make use of all we can in the face of the Wastes. Manpower is a commodity like no other."

Sparks of discontented noise began to rise from the crowd. A man, cloaked by the wall of bodies, called out, "If it's so great, why do we need the help of monsters and savages?"

With a ready response, "Because Old Aggie herself could not have carved these rivers out of the Earth had it not been for the help of Endigh. Man was not the only of her children to be bestowed with gifts."

Just as another roar of opposition began to swell, Khatal spoke, and the crowd knew well enough to quiet for him. "You have much to say, Disciple, and I believe we could learn from it, but how do you expect us to support you? How do we know that you aren't another charlatan hoping to become a tyrant?"

With a grin, Kirin extended a black, bony hand toward the council, and a pink bud sprouted out from his palm, soon unfurling its leaves and revealing a plump, crimson fruit. "I believe you would agree that civilization has been crippled for too long. Besides the obvious wealth in expanding… I carry the seeds of fruits which will turn even your most barren of sands into rich soil. They are your welcome gift should you use them how I ask."

Khatal stood up from his clothen throne. "Well then," he searched the crowd and finding no opposition, he relieved "we begin fighting back the Wastes in the morning."

Saudi stood outside of Vestighal, his feet cold against the moist earth as the air stuck to his skin and the sun rose. The city, small with distance, filled him with an intense pride. As he let out a heavy breath, he noticed a blur through the buildings. A long, thin enormity, rising from the river within.

Larger than Vestighal itself but still perpetually out of focus, its seven arms and bare, rune-painted body were as much detail as his feeble mind would permit him. A deity was revealing itself before him. Cool rain speckled his shoulders, and Saudi fell to his knees. He knew it to be Erits. Raising his head from prostration, his eyes met hers as she knelt before him, her immense, inconceivable beauty considering him.

Bowing his head, he was no longer himself. A dozen, mirrored limbs were attached to his own tanned arms. A single thought spurred a wave of movement, the rainbow of appendages almost resembling flapping wings, and fractal patterns of ink bloomed around his skin until his entire body was a rich black. Still staring in awe, his lungs grew dry with heat. Turning his head, his eyes watered in dull pain as he glanced toward the horizon. The god-sized dragon. The god-eating dragon. Sikayt. An unstoppable wall, barreling forwards, its flesh twisting in perpetual auto-cannibalism and irrational hate.

Millions of eyes, ripped from millions of heads, rolling in every direction suddenly stared down at him.

His legs threatened mutiny as he struggled to his feet, and the beast's millions of jointed legs shook the Earth. Saudi stared upwards into the darkening sky.

Not with hate. He lifted a heavy foot and began to run forwards.

Something other than hate. He screamed at the top of his lungs.

Resolve. Sikayt split down the middle, forming a gargantuan maw, eager to swallow the world.

A duty. It screeched back at him, the sheer volume pulverizing his eardrums.

It only made him run faster.

Sitting up in his woolen bed, Saudi was hit with the stick of dried sweat and the ache of sore lungs. He was confused, and his warm, dimly lit lodging only made the headache worse. Trying to calm himself down to think, he turned his head over on his pillow. Yelping in surprise and just about falling off the bed, he found Kirin kneeling next to him. His iridescent, silver eyes just staring at Saudi quizzically, before standing up.

"Come." Without another word, he ducked out the door.