Four days into their journey, the clouds hung low in the sky. But, the closer they got to the Fields of Fire, the warmer it became. The sharp outcrops had slowly given way to smooth lands filled with knee high grasses and pesky roots. Horses roamed the lands a plenty, their heads popping up as they passed. They saw remnants of cities in greater numbers than their own home. The buildings had long since caved in and turned to dust, but the foundations still stood as ghosts. They crossed huge ditches and Tian’s stomach twisted when he realized what lay beneath them. His own people, the Kukouk, had been buried there after the massacres. Tian reached out for Axel’s hand unknowingly right as the ground gave way.
He fell in, dragging three other people on his chain down with him. Tian couldn’t help but scream as he stared down into a small cavern filled with endless skulls and bones. It was less like a cavern and more like a small sink pocket where the bodies had started to grow back into the Earth. The bones stared back at him, taunting him in warning. Bugs crawled through the openings of the skulls, sickeningly.
“Tian!” He heard Axel shout from above. The three other people helped him to his feet, pushing him towards the light.
“Don’t look, Tian, we are in the Forbidden forests now. Or what remains of it. This is the burial mounds,” one of the villagers whispered. “Don’t look. You don’t want to know how horrible the human race truly has been.”
A Warrior from before stared down at him with a nasty look in his eyes. He ordered for a rope to help them climb up, but they could only go one at a time. Tian could easily pick the adult bodies out, but as he stared down at the smaller bone piles he could tell that they were children there, too. The humans truly had massacred anything similar to a Kukouk. Children, Women, Men. It hadn’t mattered. Then they’d thrown the bodies away into these gigantic graves so bugs could eat at them instead of laying them to rest. He didn’t even know any of the people’s names here, and yet, he was still overwhelmed with immense grief. How many had been like him? Half human and half Kukouk?
He knew the stories well, some of the mass graves had been filled with living people. They’d sealed the tops of the graves and waited for suffocation, except, the Kukouks’ lungs were built for places with low oxygen. The evidence was in the walls where they had scratched and dug with hardened nails to escape. They didn’t all die by asphyxiation down here. Nor did they die from dehydration, because the ceilings dripped water and there were water pools near their feet. The people here had died from painful, gut wrenching starvation whilst being packed in with dirt and rock. Maybe they hadn’t been able to move for a while, but they had dug until they’d found everyone. Some were still partially buried in the dirt. Maybe they’d died before they were thrown in.
“The poor people,” Tian whispered as he peered down at a set of skeletons still intact. Perhaps a mother or father cradling a very young child in their arms. They were on their sides, and probably had waited for the inevitable. The oxygen must’ve run out at some point, and those that hadn’t died from other causes had suffocated when there was nothing lefth. What a horrible way to die.
“Tian, are you ok?” Axel shouted down once more, but a warrior pushed him back with a hiss.
“Tian, go first,” a woman named Jeanie stated as a warrior came down to start unhooking their chains.
“No, you guys go. I’ll be ok.”
Once the chains were undone from around his wrists he turned towards the bones. He could feel the energy radiating from them, slipping through the small cavern like the wind that howled through the trees. They reached out to him, pulling him towards a specific corpse. A warrior shouted at him, but the captain waved him off without hesitation.
“Let him look,” the Captain ordered, but the wind above ground threatened to whip his words far away.
Tian kneeled in front of the bones right as a faint glow started to emanate from the ivory objects. Strange symbols started to peer through the bones, and when Tian reached out towards them and the symbols started to peer through his own skin. He fell back in shock, trying to shake the images burning into his tan flesh. It didn’t hurt more than a pinch, but the light was scary. His eyes flashed gold and suddenly a hundred different thoughts entered his head that weren’t his own.
There were screaming, panicked voices rushing past him like a hallucination. Men digging at the crushing ceiling above their heads. A little child cried for a mother who’d passed on already, chanting to herself how she was going to die. But there was one voice, whispering into his head that reminded him of the father he’d never had.
“I know you,” Tian whispered, eyes glowing gold at the same time as the skull. “You’re… you’re my grandfather. Moraklis Ashturokma, the last surface chief. Your body was buried here?”
The skull didn’t answer, thankfully. But he could still hear the small voices bouncing off the walls. Screams, wails and the sounds of hard objects scratching against the surface of rock. He heard suffering and it burned inside his eyes. He clutched his head and pleaded for it to stop, his lungs couldn’t get enough air in them anymore and his whole body was overcome with a horrible tremor. He pressed his palms against the bones and suddenly a pulse went through the other skeletal bodies. The bones nearest to him lit up briefly and Tian could see throughout the whole cavern. There were hundreds of other mass graves all around them. Their spirits were filled with agony and pain, unable to pass. And they screamed and they pleaded to invisible assailants. Children wailed and children died right in front of him on an endless repeat. Tian choked, and it felt like there was dirt in his mouth.
Hands were on his shoulders suddenly and he was being drug away by a warrior. “You’re a freaking weird kid. Wolves, and now you get off on a bunch of disgusting bones?” The man kicked a skull away from their feet with a grunt.
Spirits appeared throughout the cavern, all pale skinned and golden eyed. He heard someone gasp from above him, but he couldn’t pinpoint the voice. There were still too many voices, screeching around inside the deepest confines of his head. He was the only one who appeared to be able to see the hundreds of spirits inside the cavern, alongside them. Their arms were outstretched towards him with hope still burning bright in their eyes.
“Tian Ashturokma!” The spirits whispered throughout the cavern.
“Deliver us to the light! Restore the balance before its too late!”
The boy was drug to the rope and strapped on right as the bones started to turn to dust and dissipate. After fifty years, the resentment that held the bodies together and trapped the spirits in the cavern had started to ebb away. The last warrior climbed up after him without a second thought. And briefly, Tiantok’s father stood below, looking up at him with glowing lines similar to his. Then, he was gone in a blink of an eye and Tian was hauled to the surface.
The man that had helped him last night was peering into the dark cavern before looking over at Tian with widened eyes. “They’re finally at peace.”
He was gone as sudden as he came, racing towards his horse. Tian stared after him in shock.
They hadn’t even got a break to rest their bodies after the fall. The chains were back around their wrists and they were being pulled behind the horses once more. The air around them was heavy and irritated with rain. They kept trekking through already muddy paths with aching hunger in their stomachs and a painful thirst. It scratched at the back of their throats, but they had no choice but to keep walking or they’d get whipped. The warriors ate and drank joyfully, Occasionally tossing scraps of food to his people, but the hunger wasn’t painful enough yet for their pride to disappear. Axel was the first to spit on the scraps, but the men simply beat him until he collapsed. Axel snapped at anyone who dared to help him. Tian had no choice but to keep his head forward and be as obedient as possible to avoid any injury to his body. During the daylight hours, bleeding would be noticeable. During the nights, the warrior who’d ordered Maria’s death came like clockwork to check him over for wounds and cover what he could with his own blood. He cleaned out Tian’s shoes religiously in whatever water he could find so his bleeding feet wouldn’t be seen. The man was almost crazy, Tian debated. Fussing over even the smallest drop of blood. Covering the tiniest scrape.
“It’s going to rain soon,” the Captain stated, looking back at the others, specifically Tian. “We need to find shelter soon.”
The warrior’s gaze made Tian uncomfortable every time, it made his skin itch. His feet were sore from walking, and he prayed they didn’t have much further to go. But the warrior was right, the clouds were even heavier with rain then before. They moved slowly across the sky, and the foreboding feeling of a terrible storm had all of Tian’s nerves going haywire. There was already mist settling on anything it could touch. The heat was getting to be too much. Unbearable almost. The closer they trekked to the Fields of Fire, the worse the weather became. Haywire in the beginning of the bitter winter the West Coast had come to know. The Fields of Fire created an eternal summer with temperatures soaring to almost 130 fahrenheit if they strayed too far north. Tian knew what the man was asking without having to think, is the make-up water proof in the acidic rain? The foliage around them hinted at the type of rain. Despite the heat, the plants were all yellowing and droopy, like it was already half dead. However, huge puddles of rain water lay perpetually as the rain continued to pound the most unlivable place on the North Continent. Tian shook his head quickly and the warrior paused for a brief second.
“We need to find shelter quickly, it could get bad,” the Captain said towards his men.
“We’ve marched prisoners in worse,” one of the men commented. “Besides those bastards killed our men, they deserve to get drenched.”
“Not this long of a distance. We must take cover before the rain starts.”
“What’s wrong? Scared of getting wet?” Another warrior snapped shaking his head. “Fine. What. Fucking. Ever. Take the garbage to the tree lines. You’re the worst to work with, fucking asshole.”
“Thank god,” Axel whispered from in front of Tian.
They were drug up a sloping hill shooting for a long, dense tree line. The sky thundered and crackled above their heads and the unmistakable smell of rain filled Tian’s nose and with a sinking realization he knew he wouldn’t make it. The same understanding passed through the entire line on the chains and they broke into a run. The chains around his arms snapped harshly and he was being forcibly drug right as the heavens broke up and rain started to pour down onto their shoulders. Those at the front of the lines tried going faster, but the makeup was already smearing and trailing down his back. The acidic rain bore into his sensitive flesh, causing it to purple underneath in irritation. The crusted blood against his wounds was giving way to the purple hue beneath it. Eventually, when Tian knew it was too late he stopped. It sent a chain reaction through the whole line. The warrior that had been helping him stopped as well and turned his horse around. He seemed to be contemplating something with a frown. He kicked the horse closer right as the other warriors gathered around.
“Why have you idiots stopp… Anthony! Get your ass over here now!”
The warriors were all around Tian now, pulling him from the line to throw him down. “There’s still those monsters left in this world after all!”
“This thing’s mother spread her legs for a beast. Holy shit, the fucking bitch got fucked by an animal!”
“SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!” Tian roared, lunging straight for the bastard’s face. He was immediately struck down. They pulled him from the line and threw him down with one, hissed word. ‘Disgusting’. The warriors started to punch and kick him until blood spewed from his mouth. They grabbed the strands of his hair and drug him to his feet only to hit him down once again.
“Look at it! Tan skinned but branded by the fuckers’ marks. Hiding right in the open. Its own village helped it!” The beatings didn’t stop, though. He could barely see anymore, the pain was too much.
He was afraid of closing his eyes, he didn’t want to die. He could hear his own bones snapping, ribs turning inwards. He was already starting to swell up and bruise, but they wouldn’t stop. Fists turned into the butts of the rifle and his blood started to pool all around him. He heard Axel’s muffled screams and turned his head pitifully, only to watch the redhead get struck down as well. He tried to fight his way over to Tian, but with chains, he couldn’t go far. They tried to force Axel down but the idiot bit their hand.
His own people rose up against the soldiers, trying to reach for Tian with outstretched arms. Tears welled up in his eyes as they fought against the warriors only to get hit by the butts of the rifles. They screamed and pleaded but it only fueled the warriors on more. The beatings didn’t stop, more joined in and he never knew he could bleed that much. He curled in on himself, but it only made it worse. They slammed his head into the ground before firing a shot into the air and his people stilled in shock. The gun clicked and it was put to his head.
Suddenly, everything his mother warned about came true. He was going to die just by the color of his blood and the marks on his skin.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP OR I’LL BLOW THIS BASTARDS BRAINS OUT!”
Everyone went quiet, even Axel. The warriors snickered before kicking Tian in the stomach once more, making acid rise up in his throat and burn what was already dry. The dry heaving was worse than the pain in his body.
“Please, you’ve taken everything from us. Don’t take our son from us as well,” Jocelyne pleaded, getting onto her hands and knees to put her head down in submission.
Axel got to his knees as well, gritting his teeth as he did the same thing. Everyone else followed suit, even Darrick, who Tian had always had a mutual hatred with.
“You want me to spare this fucking filth? The fuck is wrong with you? This is a fucking Kukouk bitch!” The warrior roared, dragging Tian’s limp body to his feet. “It’s even lower then you! Didn’t your fucking parents ever teach you where these things belonged? They ruined our world! Took our gold and used it for themselves!”
Tian had never been so scared in his life. His instincts told him to fight, but the gun at his head held him like a noose. Lightning flashed across the sky, and the acidic rain soaked him to the bone, carrying his magenta blood with. The thunder storm rages in the middle of the winter, and it showed just how far from home he was . And how far away he was going to die.
“You fucker,” Axel spat, raising his head. “He’s a hundred times better than you ever will be! You’ve killed children, and you think you’re better?”
“You little bastard!” The warrior slammed the gun against Tian’s head and the boy cried out as more blood streamed down his face, blinding him from his attackers. “Look at this bitch’s blood! It’s not even fucking human! It’s PURPLE! People don’t have purple blood you fucking idiot!”
“Don’t listen to them Anthony. Kill it and be done with it,” Another man commented with a shrug. “We don’t need to be branded as someone who found a Kukouk spawn. We’d never get paid again, any willing employer would think we’re cursed. Kill the piece of shit before anyone finds out.”
“I feel bad for the mother. Maybe the Kukouk raped her? They’re animals after all, they’d do that to an innocent woman.”
“His mother must’ve been ugly as fuck to attract that animal to her.”
“This one is probably 17 or 18. That must mean they know where most of those damn Kukouk are. This bastard is living proof,” the warrior dug the barrel of the gun deeper into Tian’s head.
One of the warriors turned to Jocelyne with a raised, loaded gun.. “Is this the only one? Or have you all fucked Kukouks? Got any diseases from them that we should know about it? Disgusting.”
“Kukouk gonorrhea,” One of the younger warriors laughed. “Because they fuck their own sisters.”
“They didn’t fuck their sisters, idiot! They fucked their mothers!” Another laughed, slapping his knee. “Greedy, lustful bastards.”
“They fucked both, it’s why they all looked the same. You could compare their faces and there’d be nothing different!”
“What the fuck do you know?” Axel spat. “You haven’t seen a Kukouk in your lives, not since you bastards obliterated them all. Your capital is filled with suck tits. I bet you’re the worst o”
“So what? Our world is a hundred times better without those monsters around. They were waiting to kill us, you know? Biding their time for the human race to die out so they can take over. They deserved what they got!”
“Your fucking Capital is the monster. The Kukouk people were innocent! At least we were intelligent enough to realize that!” Axel argued. “It’s a pity your brains are too small to even comprehend something as simple as English.”
“You fucking bastard! Tell me where this fucker’s parents are, I can’t go down in history as the man who brought Kukouk bastards to the Capital!”
“Tian came to us many years ago when he was young and dying. He’s the only one. He was preserved in time, there are no other Kukouk people alive. So, please, don’t hurt my boy,” Jocelyne pleaded. “I’ll do anything.”
“Anything?” The one with the gun grinned. “Then you’ll clean up what’s left of his brain. This caliber of bullet really splatters that important goop, you know. You’ll have to pick him up with a fucking straw.”
Suddenly another gun was put to the back of the man’s skull. “Drop it Tanner.”
The warrior with the face mask was much darker, his hair hung low in his face as the rain poured down his shoulders. It clung to his muscular body, making him appear wolfish in the darkening sky. He stood among the puddle of purple blood with his shoulders squared and a nasty look planted deep into his eyes.
“The fuck you doing RT?” Tanner snapped, but he was too afraid to turn and face the man. He shook like a frail, brittle leaf. “You have the fucking guts to point a gun at me?
“We sent a messenger ahead with the number of slaves. What do you think will be waiting for us if we come back with only 38? The boy lives. I will not get in trouble with the Prince and the General for your ass. Drop your gun or I’ll bury a bullet so deep in your skull that the worms that’ll burrow deep into your brain won’t be able to reach it.”
A gun was leveled at the back of RT’s head. “We are not taking that piece of shit with us. And I don’t think you’re going to be a problem either.”
Someone coughed behind Tian. A massive gun was hefted over another man’s shoulder. The guy’s hair was a bright neon blue color. He yawned pathetically before squinting one eye shut. “What do you want me to take off first, RT?”
“You brought your lapdog for a reason, after all,” Tanner sneered before sighing. “But my boys can kill your Captain before you can even react.”
“I doubt it,” the blue haired man smirked. “They say I’m a hell of a shot. Even at such close range, I can get you both.”
“The boy stays,” RT demanded, pulling the safety off of his gun. “I can make your death look like an accident.”
Tanner pulled the clip out of his gun, waving it in RT’s face. He slipped it back into his holster before putting the safety on and turned to face RT, and the others lowered his gun. He suddenly launched at RT. Fists flew, but the man easily sidestepped and grabbed Tanner’s collar before slamming him into the mud. Tanner swung his legs out in an attempt to knock RT’s feet out from beneath him only to be caught and drug. Tanner got to his feet only to slam back into the mud once more, this time with RT’s face mask in hand.
Lightning flashed across the sky as RT stood above him, full face in view. A long scar trailed down from the top of his right ear, across his thick lips Rain streamed down his face making his ebony skin glisten in the beam of flashlights. The sun had long since disappeared beneath the horizon. He looked inhuman. The rain soaked into his dark clothing, plastering it to his large frame like a second skin. It defined every line of muscle the man had while the water cascaded down from his long black hair, RT eyes hardened as he stepped closer to the fallen man, peering down at him.
RT fell to his knees, driving his elbows into the pit of Tanner’s stomach. It sounded all too hollow and fleshy. Tanner curled in on himself choking and spluttering for air with blood beading up in between his lips. RT stood above him with his head held high. Two indents were left where RT’s knees had landed. He simply reached down and ripped the mask from Tanner’s weak fingers before fixing it over his face. The long scar disappeared beneath the fabric of the mask once again.
“Do not forget who fought your battles for you. Do not forget that I was the one chosen a thousand times by the King instead of you! If you ever cross me again I’ll take you down before you know what hit you. Your nothing compared to my strength. A tiny maggot. There isn’t a single person on this planet that would care if we left your body behind.”
The rest of the warriors stepped back, keeping their heads low in respect. Tanner attempted to get to his feet, wobbly and weak, but RT kicked him back down. The men parted around the fallen warrior, too afraid to even glance in the man’s direction. The blue haired man sighed as he put away his massive gun, strapping it once more to his back and released the tension. RT stepped back before turning towards where Tian laid.
The boy lay on his back, choking as the water poured into his mouth and nose. However, the rain paused for a brief moment as he stared up at the man who’d saved him. Lightning flashed behind RT’s back again, illuminating the worry in the man’s eyes. Tian attempted to sneer at him, but he simply choked on his own blood. The other man shook his head. The rain started to loosen the mud caked to his face, but the lines of his people stood out bright and proud in the darkening sky. RT kneeled down beside him, gathering him up in his arms easily. He cradled him close to his chest carefully, but no matter how gentle the man was, all of Tian’s bones screamed. He choked on his own blood, unable to stop the water from streaming in between his teeth to drive it back down. Tian wheezed as RT stood up once more before heading for the trees.
“We make camp here until the rain stops,” RT snapped, glaring at each and every man that dared to meet his eyes.
Tian stared up at the man with his swollen eyes. Everything hurt and he didn’t have the energy to even be angry. He wheezed. “Why?”
RT looked down at him, his bushy eyebrows raised. “You’ll understand in time. I had no choice to bring my men to your home Tian Ashturokma. I truly am sorry.”
Tian was laid on dry ground and he watched hazily as a tent was constructed around him slowly. A jacket was laid over his shoulders, warming him only slightly as the rain fell all around him. His teeth chattered noisily. RT worked fast. He passed out soon afterwards, warmer than he’d been in quite a few days.