I've finally come back to the one storyline I was most proud of. Dunman has been through much and I thought he and you all deserved some answers. I wonder if I will come back to this, to end, continue, or rewrite it. While I don't know yet, I am glad I got to share these flames with all of you.
Dunman had reached the great Unturned Kingdom. After many mountains and many rivers, deep and flowing, and the dark nights, Dunman continued on through with his steady stride. He still had doubts even heading towards the giant mountain called Rainier on the map Rene had given him.
From the peaks of other mountaintops he stood, Dunman could see the great expansive of an ancient kingdom sticking out of a half-frozen swamp, leading into a blue sea.
Dunman broke his stride into a sprint, tearing down the mountainside and into the hills leading into the swampy murk surrounding this Unturned Kingdom. That proved to be a problem. He waded into the muddy waters up to his waist until he decided that even as an Unturned and without the need to breathe, the weight of an entire swamp on top might stop him. And the amount of still grasping arms sticking out a few feet away from Dunman convinced him that there must surely be another way the Unturned Kingdom.
He followed the swamp from the side of the hills leading to the shore the sea. Dunman had seen the ocean before, but never from the far north. The wind was constant and singing, a wailing near constant. Dunman followed along the shoreside until he reached the faded gray that used to be pavement.
Dunman’s destination was the single spire in the midst of this city that poked out into the sky. A black net seemed to pulsate out of it and the closer Dunman got to the ruined city, the more visible this black net became.
The roadway seemed to be in better shape than most in the ruins he had come across in his journey. Though it was old, it certainly wasn’t as old as the rest he had seen in his journey to the north.
The net pulsated with a violent black, causing Dunamn to wonder if this was yet another test or the result of something else. As he approached it, settled around the very edge of the city, it separated from itself and opened up to him, as if he put off something that repelled it. He thought it was strange, an oddity that would hopefully be explained along with the rest of his questions.
He passed through the opened net with ease, closing and resetting itself after he went through.
The rest of the city seemed to be in good shape, almost livable, Dunman thought. This place, this Unturned Kingdom may have had people living here, but whoever they were, they were nowhere to be found.
The absence of Undead was also something Dunman noted. While the swamps below the freeway seemed to have had multitudes of bloated undead wallowing about, inside the pulsating dark net and the city itself, there were no walking unholy.
Dunman kept heading toward the spire reaching out to the heavens, like a halo in the sky.
At the base of the tower, lights were on. Not candles or flames, but illumination caused by glass domes, something he knew from childhood as a relic from the old world. Endless day they said, where light was available to even the most poor of people.
Dunman didn’t know what to expect, so he just kept going until he reached a glass door. He pushed it and it swung open.
Inside the base of this giant spire were screens and noise. It looked to be people of the old world, talking about events and issues that were important to them. While some of the language was foreign, the pictures and facial emotions were not. Everyone displayed on giant screens looked miserable, unhappy, or just bored.
Dunman was struck with awe. He had never seen this, these moving pictures on flat surfaces. He had heard tales, just like the glass light domes, but he never experienced them. As he continued walking, looking and absorbing, the many screens seemed to be progressing in their stories. From the boredom and misery he saw the people on the screens become angry, agitated, and scared. He saw riots, buildings burning, killings.
Turning a corner, the moving screens now showed a familiar sight: The Undead. Shambling toward screams and others, he saw people being eaten and torn asunder by the unholy. He saw so many sights that he had seen already, though the victims seemed more afraid, more surprised, more unprepared.
As he was walking, he noticed he was heading toward a black door, the glow of the screens reflecting off it like glass. Dunman found it to be solid obsidian, cold to his touch as he pushed it open.
“Strava lads, so you’ve finally returned after all these years, eh?” A voice came out.
Dunman took it all in. The lights were bright inside a giant dome. Walls were covered in words, articles, and pictures. The voice he heard seemed to give no direct attention as a hooded figure, cloaked in a gray robe worked over a desk, writing something.
Dunman spoke. “We have not met and I have never been here. My name is Dunman”
The hooded figure turned away from whatever task he was on and gave Dunman a long hard look, his pale blue eyes piercing out.
The figure coughed. “Ah, I thought it be less likely another Unturned would find this place, rather than those idiots to return back.”
Dunman gave the figure a turned look. “Do you refer to the Unturned army that forced the King’s advance back many generations ago?”
The hooded figure pulled back his gray cloth hood, revealing pale, wrinkled skin with white hair that no longer grew. “Is that what those idiots did?”
The old Unturned then started laughing, heartily. He continued chuckling for sometime.
After a little, Dunman, still somewhat distracted, finally spoke. “What’s your name?”
This caused a considerable difference in the old Unturned’s behavior. He stopped laughing and just smiled, as though he had finally met someone he had waited a long, long time for.
“My name is Mars, a strange name to you, perhaps, but one that I’ve carried with me for longer than civilizations themselves.”
The old Unturned named Mars stood up from his desk and motioned Dunman to follow him. “Come, there is much for you to learn and decide to do with that knowledge.”
Dunman followed Mars to another door, exiting out of the strange dome with obsidian doors.
“Let’s start with what you saw on your way here.” Mars spoke as they walked down a long hallway lined with many pictures, all with faces and name displayed underneath. “That was the decline and eventual destruction of humanity in its previous form. While they were waiting for the end, it came upon them in the most unexpected of ways. No one should mourn for them or the loss of times past. It was a horrible time filled with horrible people”
Mars coughed a bit, very dry and raspy. “But it was a wonder to watch.”
A door ahead slid open, as if by magic, revealing a very small room with a few buttons on the side.
“Once it had all fallen apart, the undead walking and the wonders of the old world never coming back, a few had noticed that they did not turn into the same type of creature as their friends and family had once they died or were bitten.”
Mars motioned for Dunman to enter the small room and followed behind, pressing one of the buttons. The doors slid back closed and the small room rumbled.
“They all gathered to one place, to one place that was known to still have survivors and the means to protect itself.” Mars continued, unfazed by the shaking small room. “What you might know as the Unturned Kingdom once held the name of Seattle.”
The small room stopped shaking and the doors slid back open revealing a vista the likes of which Dunman had only held on the highest of peaks. He could see the entire city below and out, the dark net holding it in, then the oceans out on one side and the giant mountain called Rainier on the opposite.
Mars motioned towards the sight. “That black net out there is akin to what runs through the veins of Undead and the still living. Black Goo they called it before it did this.”
Mars and Dunman walked along, apparent to Dunman that they were now in the giant halo of the spire.
“It changed humanity. Dunman, was it?” Mars cast a questioning glance, to which Dunman solemnly nodded in acknowledgement.
Mars continued. “It was pumped into the sky and breathed through the air and infected humanity into the core of its fiber, called DNA. It soaked them and plagued them until they had become nothing more than husks for this Black Goo, ready to take the body once it had died.
“But there was some… Exceptions” Mars motioned toward himself and Dunman.
“Why are we Unturned, Mars?” Dunman asked.
Mars gave a heavy sigh. “If only I knew, Dunman. My purpose in the old world was to observe and collect. Curate, if you will. I guess I’m to do that until…” Mars gave a shrug and stared at the setting sun to the west, reflecting hills and oceans from afar unto clouds, giving brilliant hues of purple and red.
“The dark net you entered through was a last gift of the old world. It separates out the Undead from living, and it apparently has always considered Unturned living. Most of us Unturned came here after the fall, desperately seeking companions in a world that would rather kill people such as you and me, Dunman. Power is generated from lava tubes that run deep under this city. Until the lands themselves shift, this place will stand, the last testament to a world that should never have existed in the first place.”
Dunman felt somewhat annoyed. He had come all this way just to learn it was all pointless? He couldn’t believe that was it. He need more answers from this curator named Mars.
“I was told this place held Ancient Ones.”
Mars quickly glanced towards Dunman’s face, eyes locking into his. “Ancient ones were once held here, yes.”
Mars then gave a nervous little chuckle. “Ancient Ones are different, much much different. They were no Ancient Ones when this disease first hit. No, there were none for a few hundred years, at least.”
Mars walked toward the glass window, the last rays of sunlight spiking through the air as night became closer.
“They are Undead, though they have some… differences. They can talk, like you and I. They can also command the Undead and use them. They can inflict diseases and cause fire to erupt. Magical, I suppose, but more like the full integration of the Black Goo into their human vessels. I’ve seen only one, it’s skin gone, muscles exposed and inky black. Everything about them is black. Black eyes, black tongue, and a dark, dark purpose.
“The Unturned that used to live here tried to hold them, once. When they got loose, my friends left to find them. Only I remained, out of both obligation and their requests.” Mars' voice changed a bit to mockingly mimic. “‘You’ve got to help the others that come here, Mars.’”
Mars sneered and then threw his hands toward Dunman. “And the only one who has ever come here since that time is you.”
After some time had passed, both watching the final light shine down and the stars take hold of the sky, Dunman and Mars got back in the small room, sliding close the doors on both the view and Dunman’s hopes of finding his purpose.
They talked a bit afterwards, each learning a bit about each other. Dunman learned of Mars and his old life. Mars also learned of Dunman and the happenings of the current age. He smiled during much of it.
“I have to go, I need questions answered that only the King can give.” Dunman said in the early morning hours. “Perhaps he can explain why the army stopped its advance and why Unturned are regarded as unholy. If you’re unholy, Mars, then humanity really is doomed forever.”
Mars grinned at that. “Ahh, you’re an oddity, Dunman. Perhaps you did find what you needed here.”
Dunman nodded and shook the curator Mars’ hand.
“We’ll meet again, Mars. I’m sure of it.”
Mars laughed once more. “That’s the last thing the idiots before said.”
Dunman then left the Unturned Kingdom, heading south. He was going to his King for answers. But first, he wanted to stop home...
Continued on in the 7th Fire.
Precluded by the 17th, 19th, and the 32nd Fires.