EPILOGUE || BEYOND
A breathless air, a poison that drifted without purpose in a low cloud, the smoke that rose freely and unburdened. Stone and steel, glass and plastic, sat without form in a road that was not recognised as such. It stretched on for leagues, a twisting and rutted trail that banked at its edges in decay. Past the crackling of small flames amongst the rubble, the dust settled in silence; only at the edge, beyond the haze of the mountains might the echoes waft far. The cries and torment of a people lost and alarmed, they fled or had fled in a time preceding the ravaging before them. Naturally, it was an unnerving sense that followed; the only footsteps that dared to tread where angels would not, the crunch of stone echoed farther in this empty space, its hallowed aura a little frightening. Could they speak for the bodies, those fallen and coated in dust and ash? No, it would be a folly, the indecency, the violence and insanity far outweighed their words in sorrow. This once grand city, said to be abandoned and left as a shadow, shredded of its glory.
What have you become?
With decay, there lacked the vitality of bracing and support; chunks of rock crumbled under the weight of greater things. Even with the streets sprinkled in a thin layer of ash, it was no land of ancient inhabitants; the footsteps were fine, but fresh and echoing across the park where the heads of survivors weaved in tumultuous fear. An ominous creak shivered through a nearby building, laced with silver banners that were riddle with shards and tears. The figure was unmistakeable no less, black armoured plates, a trim of crimson and a face concealed behind an expressionless mask. The moorings quaked and several bolts sprung out of place; the banner rippled under the force before a larger section of the top three floors collapsed into decay. The debris crumbled across the road with several cars falling victim to its wrath.
'Hey!' a soot covered local cried across. 'What are you doing? Get out of there!' he waved his hand to the hooded figure, cloaked in tans and white.
Another chunk of building tumbled free before splitting mere metres away; the figure whirled around as the building began to sag under its own weight. 'Hey!' the man called again, breaking into a sprint.
The strange figure refused to abide by sense, with the onslaught of chaos raining destruction. 'Nonononono Thor for… Oh Gods!' the man clawed at his hair as the cloud of dust obscured any trace.
Was it a matter of demonstration or seclusion? Was there even time to spare on such absurdity; the fact was, the strange individual was swallowed by abandon in no greater time than their arrival. In the end, did it really matter what that man thought if the trace concluded amongst the rocks. Death was not so much a feared concept; but more of a familiar friend, a wiping of the slate in some respects, or enough that the layers of cloaks and armour weren't necessary for a while. In lands as curious as these however, there was no exception on the matter. Times were strange and technology had grown stranger with it, a world collectively divided and the words of fools daring to ignore the obvious signs long since discussed for over 40 years clogged the airways. Perhaps humanity was doomed to an inhospitable wasteland before the century turned, a land then left to be ruled by the remnants of what remained. Some communities may linger for a time, the ranks of savagery dawning in the modern world, bandits, scavengers and nihilists. What would they say about their neighbours, or was life no longer a means for a sustainable equilibrium? Regardless of where humanity stood amongst the ashes, the natural world would weave its own path and the dragons were sure to reign supreme once again.
Rock split with ease, not once considered an inconvenience as the cloaked figure emerged into the amber light. Gauntlets quietly whirred, as a pair of hammer bolts retracted into their slots. The technology wasn't ancient per say, a hybrid of several eras and collected through various means. Many minds surrounded the mismatched cacophony of protection and violence, many others dared to reduce its integrity. The names of who were lost in translation, keys that couldn't be found on a western keyboard as even they remained true to their original qwerty counterparts. In retrospect, the practice has retained its consistency since 1874; the advice of telegraphers in a world forever changing and as such, some things never would.
Madmen raised in broken communities are seemingly allowed the room to grow and evolve; who are the orchestrators of such ideas? Writers of fiction and speculation born of wishful intent? A precedent is no kinder a word, but perhaps the brutality of its fiction requires a solid base; the madman raised is a madman till death; delusions, the promise of destiny and greater importance corrupting the minds of normal people, twisting what very fabrics make them human. If the hellish streets failed to convince even that truth, then perhaps humanity was already lost.
What am I seeking? I didn't see this grow. I'm afraid, I do not know the way.
The layers of filth that flayed the urban landscape grew with ominous intent, outer suburbia lacked the cruelty of the raging fires that still engulfed towers in flame. The people fled no less, terrorised in the wake of an unspoken evil. Where the eyes of the globe would soon swarm to catch a glimpse of an attack not seen since the violence of the World Wars, the crusade of this caped wanderer led into the heart of devastation. With a hand to spare a gentle brush against a derelict car, the surface burnt to frigid degrees and a soft layer of ice that crusted along the surface caught a worthy eye; the journey was near its close. Footsteps pushed forward as spikes grew into columns and arching stalagmites; the remains of a prominent tower reduced to its elements amongst the ice. The climb proved perilous, every reach for higher ground sank a scarred claw into the ice. At last, an overlook to see desolation in its infamous form; even the hanging angle of the sun refused to illuminate a bitter sense of beauty with its amber rays. Worst of all, the skies were empty; a sullen haze of dust and smoke hung to smother the city, but nothing breathed through its poison. The dragons were gone from this part of the world, escaped and frenzied to the Southern lands. All but perhaps one.
We dared to dream and like humans, we could not see past our own hubris. Could we have stopped this? I fear this was inevitable; why one would look is outweighed by what becomes. He looked and those found their worth in minutes, for revenge, catastrophe incarnate, desire or force. These people dealt no disrespect, innocents and victims or else no more than collateral. Then by no means has your plan changed; natures' army in the palm of your hand.
Night would not reign supreme, but the trek was long and winding; a soft whine that floated tragically on the breeze brought what attention it could. The shadows of this dark hovel were breached by slivers of light that burnt from the surface. Dust and ice crackled and trickled from the chaos above; the state of decay that infirmed this environment screamed disaster, but there lay treasures irreplaceable. An ear-splitting crack whipped as a cable broke free with the rubble set to topple down with it; dust and calamity sealed the tunnel behind the wanderer and with it came the desperate appeal for escape. Pistons whirred into action as those hammering claws locked into place and pounded through with little thought to the crumbling structure. Death was not welcome, there was still too much to do; a final strike blasted a hole through brick and mortar where dust filtered light was free to breath in a state of serenity upon a wide hall.
Ice spikes had blown out the Northern wall to a terraced view of the city towards the docks. The walls that remained held with them celebration, homage to a short history, and it was all it took to bring the wanderer to a halt. Dragons sculpted in all their majesty stood proud upon pedestals, species remarked by man over the decades. At its centre, the terrifying stance of a Skrill spread its wings to encompass this small pantheon in it electrifying hold. This was a sanctum of learning, knowledge and respect, but beneath the Skill's gaze under concrete debris and grafted in plates touched by the darkest elements ripped with air from the crusader's lungs.
I thought that your match had finally risen from the shadows, everything you built torn down by a simple idea. I knew a delicate truth lay hidden behind that mask he wore, but it was irrelevant as the mask itself scarred you. Again, I was wrong. The mask was not your bane but the wearer himself.
A faint red light flickered within the mess of creased and torn armour; like everything around them, a mere remnant of its true nature. With echoless footsteps, the wanderer approached with both hands curling around the concrete chunks, careful not to inflict anymore injuries. The fibres of the suit were frayed and the mesh that wound the protective shield were at their last bounds. It was well constructed no less, but this was no armour for combat; the time of day caught them all unawares. Volunteers as they were, all of them standing in defence regardless of their own safety; a city engulfed in chaos was no horizon that could have been seen. The wanderer reached forth to peel away the faceplate where it was held by only a few remaining joints. The helmet collapsed as the last tendons were severed, revealing a head of tousled auburn hair stained with blood from various cuts.
I found you.
A clattering of stone and steel pulled all focus to the Eastern wall; emerging from the rubble was an ominous threat, undeciding in form as only the darkness of night could be found. Then, with a low rumble, two green eyes shone with luminous power, bearing slits that dealt hostility. The wanderer felt the blood pulsing and threat that this creature posed; the word elusive fell short to describe him, a remarkable species deserving no less than utter respect and humility before him.
'I know you,' the voice was cast in an alien tone. 'Please, I need your help.'
The time of day rest with deepening hues on the walls; everything ached, and his arms felt weak and cold. 'Toothless? Toothless, where are you?' Hiccup mumbled, as he clawed around for any sense of bearing.
A cold and scaly muzzle nudged at his fingertips. 'I'm sorry bud,' he dragged himself close, and leant on his dragon's neck. 'Where are we… is this?'
He found the walls lined with the dragon sculptures riddled with debris and the consequent decay. 'I know this place,' he wearily pushed himself to his feet, feeling the immense pain jabbing into his abdomen.
He might have known it in a time before the chaos, but the sanctum bore only a remanence of its former self. Toothless pushed up against his side to hold him stable as they finally drank in the aftermath of their recent trials. Words fell short, he found that only silence and the pain were left to fill the void, the catalyst of irredeemable failure that rest upon his beaten shoulders. The fibres of his suit were marked beyond repair; his gauntlets flickered and fizzled, unresponsive to his touch with the occasional spark spraying from damaged circuitry.
'Don't blame yourself,' a strange voice echoed throughout the hall. 'These events have been in motion long before you were born.'
Hiccup whipped his throbbing head around, to find the source of the voice up in the remaining rafters of the roof. He gasped upon seeing the cloaked figure as it was lowered to the ground by long hooked staff. He could see glowing golden eyes, peering through the shadows above; they were thin with hostility, but content in hiding away from view. The figure crouched low, with the staff folding up into a holster on their back; the many lengths of tattered fabrics and white armoured plates obscured their motions, as it crept forth with a faceless expression and those black eyes, ringed and glowing an ominous red hue.
'Toothless ahh?' Hiccup backed up against the Skrill monument, but his dragon simply backed away with a sign of trust. 'What are you… Toothless?'
He could see from underneath the stained hood, the wanderer was masked with goggles and a white oxygen mask used by pilots. They simply starred emotionlessly into his eyes, yet what they hid was brimming with an energy in dire need of release. The wanderer slipped off a padded glove to reveal a weathered, yet slender hand; it reached unthreateningly, an open palm that curled towards his chin before a cold, but gentle thumb brush over his scar. It recoiled as the wanderer gasped, drawing back a pace and reaching for a small button around her collar.
'Hiccup,' a soft, yet vibrant voice returned with a shivering breath. 'After all these years. I never thought it possible.'
His brow creased, as the tremors in his hands increased, unnerved by the familiarity this woman portrayed. 'Do… do I know you?'
'No. It was so long ago,' she reached for her mask and goggles, sliding them away with her hood to reveal a head of aging auburn hair, complimented by hopeful green eyes. 'But a mother, never forgets.'
TO BE CONTINUED IN
RACERS OF THE NIGHT: HORIZONS EDGE