Yiqi hiked across the barren, flat wasteland, transparent blue form shrouded by a traditional Suan cloak. His long tendril-fingers snaked around a metal walking stick, on which he leaned most of his weight. The tightly stretched, light sensitive skin that covered the front his head scanned the horizon for any sign of what he came looking for. Still nothing. He gestured to his companion with his right arm, signalling for them to keep up. It wasn't time to rest yet. 'What are we looking for?' his companion asked yet again. Yiqi turned around and lowered his hood, releasing his back-tendrils and causing his head to sizzle in the open air. 'We'll know it when we see it.' He replied.
Yiqi's companion was a young Suan. His skin was a deeper shade of blue that Yiqi's own and his behavior was unrefined. Yiqi had not bothered to learn the young one's name, nor did he feel the need to. The only reason Yiqi had company was for the extra lookout. He wouldn't want to miss what he had came for after all this searching. Yiqi tucked his tendrils back into his cloak, donned his lavishly decorated hood and turned back to the front. At this time of day, the sky was a beautiful blend of blue and green and the moons could be seen clearly, huge circles hovering in the sky. Yiqi soldiered onward, his pack becoming heavier by the minute.
Eventually, as the sky began to darken and the moons became nothing more than silhouettes, Yiqi deemed it appropriate to set up camp. The young Suan lit a fire whilst Yiqi lay down bedding. Tents would not be needed. Soon enough, darkness enveloped the wasteland, meaning Yiqi and his companion had only the fire and their own natural glow to light their meal. Yiqi sat down cross-legged next to the flame, making sure to keep his legs obscured by his cloak, and pulled out a small bag constructed of a smooth green material from his pack. Inside the bag was a clump of long, tentacled worms. Yiqi tossed his companion half of the clump and began to eat the other half himself. One at a time, he absorbed a worm into the patch of feeding skin at the front of his head, sending it into his digestive system.
'Yiqi,' the young Suan said as he shoved worms through his feeding skin, 'Why do you still wear that ... cloak-tapestry?'
Yiqi looked at the Suan. He wore a simple hooded robe, designed only to keep his skin from the outside air. Yiqi looked at his own, extensively decorated cloak and said, 'Tradition.'
The young Suan finished his worms and leaned forward, the flickering blue fire adding to his natural glow. 'Tradition? Really?'
Yiqi lowered his hood, causing blue steam to vent from his pores and bubbles to form on his transparent skin. 'What's your name?'
'Qona.' The young Suan replied.
'Qona,' Yiqi began, 'Tradition is the single most important aspect of our culture. Do you hate culture so much?'
Qona leaned back, causing his hooded head to descend back into its natural glow. 'Aren't you fun?' he said bluntly.
Yiqi shrugged and stiffly stood up, despite not having finished his worms. He walked over to his bedding and lay down on his side. To the sound of a flickering fire, Yiqi pulled his cloak tight and fell asleep.
The next day, the sky was a gorgeous bright green. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the hard, barren ground. With the campfire stamped out and the bedding packed, Yiqi and Qona continued to search for what they had came for. They had agreed that if they were to meet the end of the wasteland, they would turn around and head back in, albeit in a different direction. Yiqi had packed enough worms to last weeks so they could continue for as long as they needed. Behind them, a trail of vaguely circular foot-prints in the thin layer of dust that coated the Wasteland marked where they had been. There was no wind in the Wasteland so the prints were not likely to disappear.
After a few hours, Yiqi noticed something on the horizon. It was far too small to be what they had came for, but it was something nonetheless. Yiqi picked up the pace and gestured for Qona to do the same. The thing's silhouette was round, like a small hill, and seemed to be constantly shifting in size. Eventually, Yiqi and Qona reached it only to discover it was a resting Yuona. The huge beast was breathing heavily, explaining the size shift. Blue saliva pooled around its enormous mouth and its four lungs could be seen through its transparent green skin. Suddenly, a Suan stepped out from behind the monstrosity. The Suan wore nothing but a dirty pair of trousers and seemed unfazed by the steam billowing from his pours.
'Hello!' the Suan said enthusiastically, 'My name's Opav, and you are ...?'
'What are you doing here?' Yiqi asked, ignoring Opav's question.
'Looking for that tower.' Opav had a strange accent and much lighter skin that Yiqi was used to, 'You doing that too?'
'A tower?' Qona asked, 'Is that what we're looking for?'
'Something along those lines.' Yiqi replied before gesturing to the resting beast, 'The Yuona?'
'I overworked the poor thing,' Opav explained with irritating enthusiasm, 'Giving her a rest before moving on.' With no covering, Opav's back tendrils waved freely, seemingly guided by a non-existent breeze. The organs housed in his thin torso pulsated and rumbled as they processed a recent meal.
'We're moving,' Yiqi stated without turning away from the stranger. He began to cautiously walk forward until he had passed Opav. Only then did he pick up the pace. Qona hurried along after him.
After the pair had gotten a reasonable distance away from the Suan, Yiqi turned around. Opav and his Yuona were gone. Vanished. Qona turned to Yiqi, 'What just happened?'
'Something's wrong.' Yiqi replied, 'Whatever that thing was, it wasn't Suan. We are close.' He turned around and continued to walk.
'You're not telling me something.' Qona said as he trailed after Yiqi.
'That's correct. You don't need to know everything. You're just my lookout.'
Qona caught up to Yiqi and pulled the Suan's hood off. Yiqi twisted around, pores spewing gas. 'Tell me what we're looking for.' Qona demanded.
'An oasis.' Yiqi turned back around and pulled his hood up.
After an uncomfortable night's sleep and another few hours of silent hiking, they had found it, or at least something other than empty wasteland and disappearing Suan. Yiqi and Qona stood at what seemed to be the edge of the Wasteland. Where the hard, beige ground stopped, strange, green plant-life flourished. Yiqi had never seen anything like it. The ground was covered in small, soft sprouts of opaque green plants. The same type of plant also resided in clusters at the tops of strange, rough-textured, brown pillars and in large balls randomly dispersed around the ground. There was no denying that they were indeed plants, but they weren't like any plants Yiqi or Qona knew. Plants were transparent, blue and emitted a natural glow, just like Suan. These were opaque, green and gave off no light at all.
Yiqi was the first to step into the exotic, green wilderness. Tentacle-like plants hung from the tops of some of the gnarled pillars. 'This is not what I expected.' Yiqi said as he studied the bizarre plant-life. Qona cautiously stepped in after him as he began to slowly navigate his way through the wilderness. 'Is this the oasis?' Qona asked nervously.
'I don't know.' Yiqi replied as he cautiously stepped over a hard, snake-like structure bearing resemblance to the rough pillars. Strange noises sounded out from deeper into the 'oasis', causing Qona to jump. Yiqi removed his hood as a test. His skin did not respond. 'The air here is stale. Different.' he said as he twisted around to face his companion.
'You don't need an extra lookout anymore. Tell me what this place is.' Qona demanded.
Yiqi sat down on a nearby snake-like structure. 'I don't know.' he said as he stared at the soft, green and brown ground. 'I was hired to explore this place by a higher-up. Said there's something valuable here. Didn't tell me what. I'm as lost as you are.'
Qona lowered his hood, causing his tendrils to spring out of his robe. 'Let's keep going. Opav said something about a tower, didn't he?'
'That he did,' Yiqi said as he looked up, 'You're ... motivated.'
Qona shrugged, 'Curiosity killed the Yuona.'
Before Yiqi could reply, Qona had already begun to navigate deeper into the green oasis. 'You don't know what's in there! We need to be cautious!' Yiqi yelled at his companion.
Qona turned around and continued to walk backwards, 'This could be the discovery of a lifetime, friend! I don't need caution!' Yiqi shook his head at his companion's sudden recklessness and then stood up to follow.
The oasis went on for far longer than Yiqi expected. They had been walking for a few hours and had yet to see anything other than the color green. The occasional far off screech or clicking sound added some tension to the trek, but otherwise it was surprisingly dull. 'What do you do for fun, oh cultured one?' Qona suddenly asked.
'Tailoring.' Yiqi eventually responded.
'Makes sense.' Qona said, 'I do scouting for the Shukyo military.'
Qona's tendrils brushed across his left shoulder as his looked over his right one, 'Different Suan, different tastes.'
'So how is Shukyo anyway?' Yiqi asked, gradually feeling more at ease around Qona, 'Heard they were out to conquer the world or something.'
Qona faced the front again, 'No, they're just territory-hungry.'
'Sounds like world conquering behavior to me.' Yiqi said.
As it turned out, the rough, brown
substance was highly flammable, which was both a blessing and a curse when it
came to building a fire. After nearly burning down the oasis, Yiqi and Qona had
finally settled down for dinner. Worms, as per usual.
'What do you think the noises are?' Qona asked between face-fulls of worm.
'Couldn't say.' Yiqi replied, having finished his meal.
Suddenly, Qona screeched in fright. His tendrils flared in an aggressive stance and his skin flushed green. Yiqi quickly stood up, tendrils raising in the air as well, 'What, what is it?' he asked.
Barely illuminated in the strange, orange fire was a small animal. It was covered in what looked to be hair, only it was brown and grey instead of blue and green. The animal gently squeaked.
'Is it dangerous?' Qona asked, slowly backing away from the beast.
'How should I know?' Yiqi replied.
The animal skittered over to where Qona had dropped his worms and began to nibble on one of them. Qona looked at Yiqi and made a gesture as if to say, 'What should I do?' In reply, Yiqi made a cutting motion with his arm and then tossed Qona a knife from the pack. As soon as he caught the blade, Qona nodded, viciously sliced his own arm open and then aimed the blood spurt at the animal. The thin, blue fluid splashed right onto the animal's back and began to melt its flesh. After a minute, all that was left of the creature was a few red chunks and a small hole in the ground. Qona checked his arm, and sure enough, it had begun to heal.
'Good thinking,' he said, 'what was that thing?'
'Probably whatever was making the noises.' Yiqi replied.
'There'll be more. We should keep moving.' Qona said as he tossed Yiqi back his mostly melted knife.
To combat the darkness, Yiqi and Qona had removed their robe and cloak to let their natural glow light the way. All Yiqi now wore was a pack stuffed with their clothes. The oasis was even more eerie under the faint blue glow of Suan skin. 'What are we looking for?' Qona whispered.
'We'll know it when we see it.' Yiqi replied.
Qona growled and continued to lead the way. All of a sudden, the sound of rustling, paired with a throaty gargle surrounded the pair. Qona and Yiqi froze in their tracks as their blue glow became green. Yiqi slowly reached into his pack and pulled out the melted knife.
'It's still got some sharpness to it.' he whispered.
The sound stopped, then seconds later a Suan-height black creature burst of the darkness with a screech and grappled onto Qona's face. Qona screamed and began to stab it over and over with his back-tendrils. Yiqi rushed up to the creature and slashed his own arm open. The blood splashed harmlessly off the creature's skin and melted a hole in the ground. With his right arm out of commission, Yiqi grabbed it with his left, wrapping his tendrils around the creature's torso. Its skin was hard and pitch black. Qona wrapped his tendrils around what appeared to be the creatures neck and squeezed. The creature began to sputter and then fell off Qona, appendages clawing at the tendrils around its neck. Yiqi let go of the thing's torso and put his foot on its chest.
Even under the green light of aggravated Suan, they still couldn't make out what it was supposed to be. Suddenly, the creature quickly dissolved into a fine, green dust. Qona retracted his tendrils, Yiqi stepped out of the dust pile and then the pair just stared at each other at a loss for words. Finally, once the Suans' glow had returned to blue and their tendrils had lowered into their dormant state, Qona calmly stated, 'I can't see.'
Yiqi looked at Qona's face, ripped to shreds and oozing blue blood. 'How long will that take to heal?'
'An hour, maybe two.' Qona replied.
'Are we going ... are we going to talk about what just happened?' Yiqi asked.
'It doesn't matter. What happened happened. Let's see if we can't find this tower.'
Yiqi paused for a moment, 'Are you alright?' he asked Qona.
'I'm fine,' Qona replied bluntly, 'Let's just get this over with.'
Navigating through the oasis at night whilst having to make sure a blind Suan didn't run into anything was no easy task. Especially since Yiqi had lost his walking stick in the chaos. Eventually, Qona's wound did heal enough for him to be able to see fine again, or at least as fine as he could see in the oasis's darkness. Just as the night was drawing to a close, the pair finally stumbled into something. Something big.
It was a gargantuan, black, metal wall. It was perfectly smooth, flawless even.
'Is this the tower?' Qona asked.
'If it is, it's bigger than I expected.' Yiqi replied as he brushed a tendril over the perfect surface.
'I've got an idea.' Qona said as he began to sprint directly away from the wall.
'Wait -' Yiqi began, but it was too late. Qona bounded across the oasis's soft ground, occasionally using his tendrils to swing on twisted pillars. Once he was a reasonable distance away, Qona began to climb one of the pillars, wrapping his arms around its rough surface.
After vanishing through the clusters of green plants that adorned the tips of the pillars, Qona was greeted with a breathtaking view. Green as far as the eye could see in every direction. Every direction, that is, except one. The black wall towered into the sky, pieces of its skin missing, revealing a skeleton-like frame hidden within. It didn't extend too far in either direction and fit the description of 'tower' reasonably well. One of the places where it was missing skin was located near the ground, not a great distance from where Yiqi stood. That was their entrance.
Qona came bounding back after a few minutes. 'To the left there's an entrance.' he told Yiqi.
'Sounds like we found what we were looking for.' Yiqi replied happily as he began to stroll in the direction Qona pointed.
Before long, they came across the hole. The internal frame of the tower was broken and pieces of it lay strewn across the soft oasis ground. Where the actual metal skin of the tower was, that remained to be seen. Qona cautiously stepped into the pitch black tower, with Yiqi following after.
The ground was hard and cold. The Suans' glow barely illuminated a foot in front of them. Pale light from outside lit a small amount of the room, but barely enough to see anything beyond the first few steps. Somewhere in the distance, flashing green lights could be seen, giving some idea as to how large the room was.
'Hello?' Yiqi called out to test the echo.
'Hello.' A different, deep voice replied.
'There's someone here,' Yiqi quickly whispered to Qona.
'I know there's someone here, I heard it too.' Qona whispered back.
'Bickering. How typical. How ... primitive.' The voice echoed throughout the room, giving no clear sign as to where it was coming from.
'Who are you? What is this place?' Qona called out.
'Find out.' the voice as the room suddenly lit up.
The room was a huge hallway. Lining the walls were large glass tubes all containing the same black creature that attacked Qona in the oasis. They seemed to be submerged in some faintly green liquid that bubbled and distorted their image. The hallway was constructed from strange, geometric metal shapes all either painted black or green. Qona and Yiqi slowly made their way down the hall, wary of the creatures floating in the tubes. Suddenly, the bottom of every tube opened and sucked the creatures and liquid out. Below the Suan, hundreds of screeches and cries could be heard.
'Good luck.' the voice said as the tower's exit somehow shut behind them.
'Idiot!' Qona shouted as he shoved Yiqi.
'What did I do?' Yiqi asked.
'If you hadn't come looking for this place, none of this would have ever happened.' Qona replied as he walked back to the entrance. He approached the metal wall that covered the exit and dug his right arm into the still-healing scar on the left. He directed the spray at the exit. The blood bounced off the wall harmlessly.
'You probably shouldn't ...'
'Shut up!' Qona interrupted, 'It's my blood, I can do what I want with it. Besides, weren't you supposed to be brave and tough? Because that's how you acted before we found this place.'
'I never acted brave or ... or ... what was the other thing?'
Qona pulled his arm out of his scar and turned around, 'Listen, I don't care if you're the bravest Suan ever to live, but I'm the one in the army here, so you listen to what I say.' Yiqi nodded meekly in reply.
Still leaking blood, Qona took off down the hallway, not caring to see whether or not Yiqi was following. 'This place is covered in holes, there's bound to be some way out,' he said, 'we either find one of those, or find the voice behind all this.'
Eventually they reached the end of the hallway and crossed over into the next room. It was another hallway, only it turned right and was far wider. Qona turned around and Yiqi cringed.
'What?' Qona asked.
'Your face...' The flesh around Qona's face scar had turned a bright green and bubbles had formed deep in the skin.
'What, what's wrong with my face?'
'Nothing, let's just keep going.' Yiqi lied.
Qona slowly turned to his right and started to stroll down the poorly lit hallway, actively looking for any possible reflective surface. After a few minutes of walking, Qona noticed a dark passage to his right. He stood still and looked into it, oddly captivated by the pure blackness. Suddenly, one of the scrawny creatures leaped out of the darkness. Qona panicked and swung his right arm. The tendril hit the creature square in the head, sending it flying down the hall. Qona's tendrils extended from his back and wrapped around the creature's neck as it came bounding back. After an intense session of strangling, the creature dissolved into green dust.
'Wow.' Yiqi spat out.
'Looks like they don't like strangling.' Qona commented. Once his tendrils returned to their normal positions, Qona continued down the hall, Yiqi following nervously. Not even three steps were taken before a chorus of screeches erupted from the dark passage. Yiqi turned to see a horde of scrawny black creatures pouring out of the darkness.
'Run!' he screamed.
Qona only needed the sound of a hundred desperate screeches to convince him. The Suan bounded down the dimly lit hall, tendrils trailing behind them. Amidst the chaos, the deep voice unexpectedly spoke up, 'Take a left.' it said just as the Suan reached a fork in the hallway. Without any time to think, they blindly followed the voice's directions.
Soon enough, the hall opened into a large octagonal room. As Yiqi and Qona entered the open space, the creatures seemed reluctant to follow. They growled and clawed at thin air with their bony appendages, but refused to enter the room. Suddenly, Qona screamed. Almost all of his flesh had turned bright green and was steaming profusely. He clutched at his head wound and groaned. Yiqi cautiously backed away. The room had eight exits and its ceiling seemed to extend the full height of the tower. Qona gave one more scream as his skin turned black, opaque and rock hard. His tendrils became segmented, bone-like structures and a vibrant green light shone from his head wound.
'...Qona?' Yiqi asked as he let his pack drop off. Qona screeched in response and charged at Yiqi.
Yiqi attempted to perform the same right hook move that Qona had done earlier, but it only served to anger the blackened Suan even more. 'Qona! Snap out of it!' Yiqi desperately cried. Qona growled and leaped at Yiqi, sharpened tendrils aimed at his head. Yiqi scrambled out of the way as Qona landed, turned around and sent a punch flying in his direction. The attack whizzed past Yiqi's head as he rolled to the left. As Qona bounded on all fours up to him, Yiqi clambered to his feet and began to sprint in the opposite direction. That was, at least, until Qona managed to grab his left arm and tear it off his body. Yiqi screamed as blue, acidic blood sprayed across the room. His knees collapsed and he fell backwards. Qona stood over him, gently growling. In desperation, Yiqi lashed out with his tendrils, most of them were deflected off Qona's armored body harmlessly, but one hit the Suan square in his glowing facial wound.
Qona screeched in pain as his body began to dissolve into a familiar green dust. Yiqi lay frozen, blood pooling around him.
'Who are you?' Yiqi called out, 'What are you?'
In response, black slabs of metal rose from the floor and shut off every exit except one. Yiqi climbed to his feet, clutching the tendons that his arm used to be connected to, and began to make his way towards the only available exit on the other side of the room. Like all the other exits, the one the voice had funneled Yiqi into was a long, dimly lit hallway. Unlike the others, this one sloped upwards and the lighting was noticeably green. Yiqi cautiously limped into the hallway and began to climb the gentle incline.
Eventually the slope leveled out and gave way into a moderately sized circular room. Etched on the wall at the far side of the room was some kind of symbol. A green triangle barely containing a large green circle. At the right of the room was one of the scrawny creatures strapped onto a slab of black metal. Strange equipment surrounded the slab and metal tubes extended from the floor into the top of creatures head. Near the symbol on the wall, surrounded by similar equipment to the creature, was a cluster of floating green shards, vaguely arranged in the shape of a Suan.
'Hello Suan.' the creature strapped onto the slab said in a deep, booming voice.
'... You?' Yiqi cried out in disbelief, 'The voice was one of you things?' He fell to his knees in exhaustion.
'I speak for my master.' The creature said, 'We have been watching your race for a long time.'
'Who is your master? What do you want?' Yiqi asked desperately.
'We have a purpose you couldn't possible imagine. Your friend was killed for a reason.'
'When you things are choked, you turn to dust. What happens if I choke you right now?' Yiqi asked as he climbed to his feet.
'I would turn to dust.' The creature replied bluntly.
Yiqi walked up to the slab and wrapped his right arm around the creature's neck. The creature did not struggle or screech. It simply accepted its fate as it turned to dust.
'You'll regret that decision.' a wildly different voice said.
Yiqi spun around to see the Suan they had encountered in the desert, Opav, standing with his arms outstretched. His skin was completely bright green but there was no sign of the hard, black exoskeleton forming.
'The master accepts us.' Opav continued, 'He finds us fascinating. Creatures of light with blood so acidic it burns through flesh in an instant? We're one of a kind. He gave me unimaginable power. He can give you power too.'
Yiqi stood silent, staring at the green Suan.
'Did you know that when Suan get frightened, they produce green light? Of course you know, we gave you that knowledge.'
Yiqi remained silent.
'Suan don't produce green light, at least not naturally. We found you whilst you slept in that desert, and how should I put this ... we put some things into you that weren't there before. Being scratched by one of the master's shells set off those things in Qona. We didn't expect him to turn aggressive so quickly.'
'What ... what did you put in me?' Yiqi nervously asked as he looked down at his remaining arm. It was completely green. 'What did you put in me?' Yiqi was feeling oddly strong for someone who just lost a limb. Without warning, his tendrils extended from his back and shot towards Opav with incredible speed. The tendrils impaled the Suan through his chest and held him up high.
'Fascinating...' Opav croaked as he began to dissolve into dust, 'The fail-safe works for impaling...'
After Opav had completely disintegrated, Yiqi turned his attention to the Suan-shaped cluster of shards. As he stared at it hovering idly, he began to feel a burning sensation in his chest. His body filled with a renewed vigor and he noticed his stump of an arm was beginning to grow back.
Yiqi asked the cluster, 'What are you?' He jumped at the sound of his own voice. It was deep and guttural. A voice to his right replied. 'The fail-safe can be reversed if need be.' The creature was back, unharmed and strapped onto the slab. 'Before you kill the shell again, know that we cannot harm you, at least not conventionally.' the creature continued, 'You are, by all intents and purposes, immortal.'
'The Mouth isn't lying.' A newly reformed Opav said. Both Yiqi's arms had grown back and his skin was glowing with vibrant green energy. He lashed his tendrils out with impossible strength and impaled both Opav and the creature. After they had dissolved into dust, Yiqi retracted his tendrils and ran back the direction he had came. The doors in the hexagonal room were all open, allowing Yiqi to go wherever he pleased. Without breaking pace, he snatched up the discarded pack and rushed through the exit still teeming with black creatures. They clawed harmlessly at Yiqi as he rushed through the crowd. As he advanced down the hallway, he felt stronger and stronger. His pace picked up and his sprinting grew faster than he ever through possible. He turned a corner and entered the entrance room of glass tubes. He continued to run faster and faster until slowing down in time to not run into the wall at the far end was impossible. He hit the sheet of metal head on and burst through it with no injury. Bright light filled Yiqi's vision as he exited the tower and returned to the Oasis.
Looking at the green plants and brown pillars ignited strange memories Yiqi didn't know he had. Words like grass, trees, forests. He knew what they meant, he knew what the Oasis was. Yiqi bounded through the trees, occasionally swinging on branches or leaping over a fallen log. Nothing seemed to be chasing him but Yiqi felt no motivation to slow down. He had an unwavering desire to tell everyone he knew, to tell the world about the tower, about the power it offered. His skin billowed steam as he exited out into the hot wasteland, but Yiqi didn't care. A voice in the back of his mind argued that this was what the shard-Suan wanted, that he shouldn't give into its commands. He stifled the voice and kept running. By the end of the week, everyone would know what had happened.