The 32nd Fire: a Tale of Oaths
Dunman the Slayer had traveled long and he had traveled far. Up rocky mountainsides and through swampy riverbanks, his pace was contained only by the direction of the wind and the amount of mud clinging to his boots.
He had to make it, he had to see what was left for an Unturned like him. If there really was an entire kingdom of others, perhaps he could gain an answer.
Most of the way was easy enough. The paved roads of the old age still held open wide swatches of land, allowing the passage of both living and dead on it’s crumbling concrete. Rusted metal still hung faded billboards, painted and repainted with various graffiti and warnings.
The hardest part for Dunman was the lack of attacks. Where before a man had to be mad travelling this country alone what with ankle biters stuck in mud for centuries, still infecting and killing people, and the old withered hordes still shambling in the woods and under the lakes, they paid no heed to Dunman.
Dunman’s frame had begun to whither. No longer was he strapped with protein-fueled muscles on his arms and legs. They had begun to shrink down and dehydrate. He was never the most strapping Slayer, but he had his mass. Now he was becoming gangly.
He would still eat. A deer or rabbit every few days seemed to satiate his hunger, which was just his stomach in pain. He tried water, but it would flow right through him. His body neither absorbed it or rejected it. Fluid just flowed through and out his body now.
He also never had soreness, foot pains, nothing. Pain was something foreign to him, unless it was his stomach. He wondered if he had to be careful now, keep count of his fingers and toes so he wouldn’t have to backtrack and find them.
The map given to him by Rene seemed to be taking further and further into derelict kingdoms of old, crumbling but still standing. Hollow monuments to men long forgotten their names and deeds. No one had time for studying history as civilization was crumbling and coming back from the dead in front of them.
Every former city, house, rusted car stood as a reminder that none of that really mattered. The hours spent fixing the car, the months spent building the house, the years of planning to rise steel structures from the earth; none of it was worth anything now.
They weren’t even worth scrounging and scavenging through. That time had passed hundreds of years ago. Now it just mounds of mold, dust, or both.
He was giving up hope, even though his map had brought him everywhere it promised to. It was all just such shit and despair, as if humanity would never be able to come back from the undead plight, as though it was constantly kept in check by its own dead.
They were all the thoughts of a man putting one foot in front of the other for about 3 moon cycles now. The weather was getting colder, from both the turn of the axis and the position up farther north. Far, far north for Dunman.
As a youth, his wooded home was the farthest North that settled people under the King’s watch had lived. It was cold enough to slow down the undead, but also rich in timber of all kinds, from mighty oaks to towering redwoods. There was mountains further north and rumors of passages and peoples still clustered in valleys and along the shorelines. But, if there were, none had ever heard or seen them in Dunman’s time.
Though he could make out some of his home on the bottom South Western portion of the map, his destination lay far on the opposite Northern end.
He had followed the red outline almost perfectly. In the rare instances he thought he might be lost, all he had to do was look for a town sign that still had a few Old Speak words on it.
Only once did Dunman meet another person on his trek. He was going through the great high plains in between the Great Rocky mountains of the East and the Mountain ranges known as Western Kingdom Ridgeline, though the map called them the Sierras.
The high plains were probably the most desolate and visually exciting of his journey. Hill after hill, revealing only more hills of golden grasses and spindly shrubs. He did enjoy the scent of dried grass, and the peaceful breezes that would sway the seed heavy grass in a row, like the waves of a lake.
On the top of one of those hills, he spotted another traveller coming down the other side, moving to meet each other right in the middle about a half-mile away.
Dunman paused, as did the figure. If it was an undead it wouldn’t have stopped.
He continued forward, knowing that this would probably end in a death regardless of them bot not being undead. Well, halfway there, anyways.
As Dunman strode closer and the figure’s appearance became clearer, he could tell that it was male and he was old. Not old enough to be feeble, obviously, but old enough to have gray hair, a rarity in Dunman’s world.
A face that carried scars with a blank expression. He could obviously handle the undead of this wilderness, though Dunman was suspect of how he could find food to eat. Most loners were also murderers in this world, that usually being the only way to survive.
His clothes were weathered and leather, a hood covering the top of his head. Dunman also noticed a scythe like Dunman used to carry glistening in the sun. This man was either an ex-Slayer, like Dunamn, or he had killed one. Either answer was fine by Dunman, he couldn’t judge. Not on that account anyway.
They kept their silence until they were well within both killing and whispering positions. They looked each other in the eyes, Dunman’s pale blues and the stranger’s dark brown.
“We seem to be going the opposite directions,” Dunman finally whispered. “How does the passage North fair?”
The stranger gave a little grunt, one that made it seem as if that was a dumb question.
“It favors fine, Unturnt.” The stranger coughed into his sleeve after his gravelly response. Dunman had heard that cough before, usually officers who smoked before the end of their life. The cough was usually the cancer inside their lungs trying to get out.
“So you know what I am,” Dunman replied, “But I wonder, are you a former Slayer, or a Slayer murderer?”
This caused an upturned eye to cast narrowly on Dunman. He had clearly hit a nerve there.
The old man spat to the side of the road. Dunman knew the gesture to be dismissive. He nodded his head goodbye to the old Slayer and began on his way again. Or so he thought.
With a heavy swoop, the old Slayer surprised Dunman with the speed and swiftness he effortlessly brought the scythe out to stop Dunman.
“My purpose has been clear for a very long time, Unturnt.” The Old Slayer brought his scythe up to a defensive stance. “I am to kill any attempting to reach the Unturned Kingdom.”
Dunman understood now. This man was still a practicing Slayer, posted here until he stopped sending messenger birds. The Slayers had threatened of such posts for crimes against their oath, failures to carry out their duties. This one must of done something very wrong to be here for so long.
“What was your crime, Slayer?” Dunman’s voice was booming now, echoing off the dried grass into unseen hillsides
“Heh, so you know about us, eh, Unturnt?” The old man half ceckled/half coughed. “Well, I suppose you know our rules on families?”
“We… I mean Slayers are not permitted to have them. All ties to emotional attachments must be severed in order to cleanse the Earth of undead.” Dunman recitation of a Slayer oath caught the old man off guard.
“An Unturned Slayer?” The old man turned his head curiously to the side. “What’s your name, Unturnt?”
“Well, it’s a rule of mine to learn the name of all I kill, even those who are abominations of the lowest form.” The old man repositioned himself into an attack stance, the scythe ready behind his back. “Prepare yourself, and say the vows you should have said when you knew you were bitten.”
Dunman grinned a little. “I did.”
He unclasped the sword the Rene had gifted him. This would be his first fight with it. A good time to test.
The old man smiled and then immediately swung the scythe around and at neck level to Dunman, a common Slayer opening move, one meant to either kill or disorient their opponent.
Dunman ducked slightly enough and then prepared his sword for the downward thrust that was to follow through the neck swipe.
As per the motion, the old Slayer stayed to form and found his scythe stopped by a ring of heavy steel, striking Dunman’s old-world sword with violent spark. A divot nicked in each of their blades.
The old Slayer drew his weapon back to a defensive stance, now aware of the undead crawling out from the tall grass and onto the ancient pavement. There were some walking down the hillsides as well, the noise of talk and ringing steel echoing for miles around.
None of the undead were interested in Dunman, however. To them, he was just another damned one, sour to the smell. They could not eat their own, though they would never wonder why.
The old Slayer suspected Dunman’s game was to draw out the undead to help him kill the old Slayer. But to the old man’s surprise, Dunman was downing the foul wretches even as they passed him by. What was once a duel had now become a holy purge, two Slayers dispatching the undead back to hell.
Once the dead were taken out, of which happened quickly, they turned back to face each other.
“I see you still dispatch, even though they’re your brethren now, Dunman.” The old man grunted, almost approvingly.
“I seek answers beyond myself, Slayer.” Dunman said. “And I will find them in the Unturned Kingdom.”
“You know why they don’t tell anyone, even us Slayers, about the Unturned Kingdom, Dunman?” The old man eased down on his scythe. “It’s because the only answer you’ll find there is the destruction of humanity.
“There is evil there, Dunman. Ancient evil sealed away for so long, it’s power would be overwhelming if ever released! Imagine an undead capable of sentient thought, not much different than you, I’d expect. But much, much worse in that they only know hunger and death. Ancient Ones are as much of a fairy tale as Unturned, Dunman. And that old, accursed kingdom is where they shall remain imprisoned!”
WIth the last syllable, he once again swung his lowered scythe up to Dunman’s neck.
Though this time, Dunman slid back, stopped the scythe with his sword at his midchest range, and then lunged forward, piercing the tip of his sword through the slayer’s faded black leather armor.
Dunman could feel his sword lurching to the sides, caught in between the old Slayer’s still-beating heart. The old Slayer dropped his scythe and grabbed the blade of the sword sticking out of him, firmly grasped at the hilt by Dunman.
“Finally, an end to my punishment.” He spat blood out through ragged coughs, dropping to his knees. The sword was still wiggling, slowing down with each bleeding heart beat.
“What is your name, Slayer?” Dunman asked.
The old Slayer coughed a laugh out.
“Heh, it’s Andrew,” the Slayer weakly said. “My name is Andrew, and my wife’s was Verona… And our daughter… Our daughter’s name was Eliza…”
And with his daughter’s name exhaled out of his body, Andrew the old Slayer died, Dunman’s sword shuddering still.
Dunman performed the final rights of a Slayer and decapitated Andrew. His plight was over, his soul could find peace without return.
Dunman’s mind was heavy from there to the last portions of his journey. Up more rocky crags and through winding valleys, his map was telling him he was nearly there. But now, even so close to the end, he wasn’t sure if he should keep going. Andrew’s words of warning kept tumbling in his head.
His shook his mind of those thoughts. He and an entire army had been lied to. An old Slayer named Andrew, punished for having a family, could have been lied to just as easily.
Dunman continued on until he arrived at the Unturned Kingdom.
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