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PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, '11, 6:48 pm
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Hu-Man ducked to the side to avoid the falling bricks, which crashed onto the floor beside him. The dust kicked up by the rubble obscured his vision and caused him to cough violently.

“It’s okay, just keep moving forward,” Hu-Man thought.

The castle was now literally falling to pieces, most which were directed to Hu-Man’s head. He kept on running forward, stopping, sidestepping, and lunging in every which-way but loose to avoid being crushed and buried alive together with the castle itself. It was only a matter of minutes before the entire structure collapsed completely.

This had all started when Hu-Man had stormed the castle some hours earlier in order to confront the dragon which had been menacing Monster Land. A fierce showdown had erupted between him and the dragon and in the end the dragon had revealed itself to be nothing more than a robot, “Meka Dragon”, as Hu-Man had dubbed it. With the help of the Legendary Sword and Armor, Hu-Man had engaged the flame-throwing metal monstrosity in personal combat and reduced it to scrap metal.

But even his victory had been bittersweet. In addition to the destruction of the Meka Dragon triggering whatever mechanism had been rigged to destroy the castle itself, something was released when the robot was dismantled. As soon as the creature had collapsed into a pile of metal plates and other spare parts, a blue flame appeared and, despite Hu-Man’s best attempts to flee, enveloped his body. However, instead of burning him alive, something else happened. Hu-Man had noticed that his body had been transformed; he could see that his arms were gradually becoming green and scaly, but he wasn’t fully sure to what extent the transformation was affecting him. For all he knew he was hallucinating. And, in the case of the collapsing building, it was the least of his problems.

Hu-Man reached a dead end. There was nowhere for him to go. He looked up and saw a large opening in the ceiling. Escape. But the question still stood: How do I get up there?

Luckily, fate was on Hu-Man’s side. The wall before him that constituted the dead end began to tremble violently. It looked like each individual brick was shaking loose and breaking free from the cement that held it in place. In a few seconds, the entire wall collapsed, forming a steep, but manageably climbable hill of broken bricks.

His energy was nearly exhausted, but Hu-Man scaled the mass of rubble. Reaching the top, he let out a scream of victory and leapt from the disheveled mass of baked clay, which was already starting to give way from beneath him, to the ledge above him. He pulled himself out of the hole and made a mad dash out of the castle environs.

Turning one last time to face the inner sanctum of evil from which he had emerged, he felt a certain satisfaction within him, knowing that evil had been vanquished and was now buried for all time in the depths of the earth like it should be.

***

Hu-Man staggered into town and collapsed near the church. It was still a few hours before dawn, so the streets were empty and nobody saw him arrive. His house was a little beyond the tower, across a bridge at the other side of the sleepy village. He crawled past the church and tried to get to his feet, but his strength had completely failed him.

For several hours, Hu-Man lay inert at the edge of the church. He slept uneasily, his dreams being filled with a cascade of frightening images. He saw in vision himself being chased by the legions of monsters led by dragons more horrifying than the Meka Dragon he had defeated just hours before. He twisted and turned and groaned and shrieked in his sleep, unable to wake himself up, prisoner to his own macabre imagination.

Hu-Man suddenly shot up, awaking with a loud gasp of fright. He looked around him; the sleepy village where he made his home had yet remained sleepy, despite the first rays of dawn already beating down on the roofs and windows of few buildings in town.

Feeling a little more invigorated than he was a few hours before, Hu-Man rose to his feet. As he groggily walked in the direction of the house, he noticed something wasn’t right. His gait was a little more awkward than it had been. He felt like he was carrying a little extra weight.

The flame, he thought. How could I have forgotten the flame?

His instinct for survival had caused him to become completely oblivious to whatever the effects of his body being enveloped in the malevolent fiery mass of evil the night before had caused. He looked at his arms, which no longer looked even remotely human. They had grown an olive green color and were completely covered with scales, some of which were particularly spiny.

Hu-Man’s heart filled with unspeakable terror upon discovering what exactly was happening to him. He looked down at his chest and saw that his armor was completely gone. Instead of the suit of Legendary Armor, he found his chest covered with a series of overlapping, bony plates, much like that of a reptile.

Hu-Man grew more frantic with each change that he noted in his person. He ran haphazardly in the direction of the building where the local weapon shop was and ran inside the lower portion of the building, where there was a well. He dashed over to the grey brick structure and peered into the water to see his reflection: Hu-Man was no longer human. Gone was the immaculately coifed head of green hair and large, owl-like green eyes. Gone were the slightly sun-baked skin and little mouth that the girls in the other towns liked so much. His head now looked like a ball of dough that had placed in a press, his mouth resembling the blunt snout of a toad. His eyes were now small and black with little spines sticking threateningly out where his eyebrows used to be. His hair was replaced with a crest of horns that jutted out of the back of his head.

For several minutes, he stood at the edge of well, staring into it with an ever-growing sense of horror at what he saw. Finally, overcome with grief at what he had become, Hu-Man let out a terrified howl and threw himself repeatedly against the walls of the building, scratching them with his claws.

“No! No! It can’t be! I’m a freak! A freak!” he wailed uncontrollably, completely losing any sense of reason he might have had before.

After several minutes of thrashing about inside the small room, he found himself out of energy and sat down for a few moments, trying to regain composure. He tried to think clearly, thinking that there might be some cure, something he could do to go back to his original condition. However, the more he thought about it, the more hopeless he found his situation and the more repulsed he became with his new self.

At length, Hu-Man got up and stumbled over to the well. He gazed into his own emotionless black eyes for several minutes, trying to come to terms with his new appearance. But some voice, some sinister voice in the attic of his mind whispered that he had been cursed, that there was no way out.

“It’s okay,” the voice reasoned. “You’ve defeated Meka Dragon. You’ve done your part. There’s nothing else for you to do anymore.”

The voice kept on echoing in Hu-Man’s head until he was convinced that the voice was right. He saved Monster Land from Meka Dragon. He had done his duty. Hu-Man sorrowfully walked out of the building and walked slowly through the village until he crossed the bridge and reached the small house he called his home.

The humble cottage was modestly furnished: there was a small bed near the door, an old wooden table with a single hair in one corner and an iron stove with a pipe that led up to the chimney on the other side of the house. Hu-Man walked lazily to his bed and threw himself on it.

***

Seconds became minutes, which in turn become hours, which eventually became days. A number of the townspeople had come to visit Hu-Man, but he never answered the door. He kept the blinds closed so that nobody could look into his house and see him in his monstrous state. Not even the chain-smoking pig who worked as the custodian of the old church was allowed entrance. Hu-Man spent all of his time prostrated on his bed, living an existence of complete isolation from people, the very people he had risked his life to save.

It was his violent imagination, the thought of the townspeople running in horror or pointing their ridiculing fingers at him that kept him alienated from society. Their screams of terror and acidic jeers echoed in his ears and shoved him roughly back to his bed every time he tried to get up and leave his house.

The pangs of hunger and thirst took their toll on Hu-Man and soon he found that he couldn’t get out of bed, even if he wanted to. He now lay on the bed, fated to die in obscurity, despite his epic feats which had previously destined him for greatness in the land. He may have defeated the Meka Dragon, but the robotic demon had had the last laugh. Its curse had become Hu-Man’s downfall.

Hu-Man closed his eyes and waited for the death’s merciful release.

***

Hu-Man had no idea how much time has passed when he woke up to a delicate hand caressing his face. He tried to move and get away, but he was too weak to resist the grip that kept him where he laid.

“Calm down, Hu-Man,” said a familiar female voice. “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you. Come, you need to eat.”

The next thing he knew, Hu-Man was swallowing spoonfuls of porridge that his visitor was giving him. He felt his strength began to return. Finally, he twisted and turned to see who his caretaker was. He recognized the beautiful locks of strawberry blonde hair and cheerful smile of the nurse from the local hospital, Hu-Man’s neighbor.

“There you go,” she chirped. “That’s a good boy.”

“Nurse,” he objected weakly. “I’m not a boy anymore.”

“Of course you are! A little green and scaly, but you’re still the wonder boy who saved us all from the armies of the dragon.”

“But nurse, I’m not a boy. I’m a freak!”

“Bosh!” cried the nurse. “There’ll be none of that! Now come and finish your porridge. Poor thing, you practically starved yourself to death.” She continued to feed him and until Hu-Man snatched the bowl from her and consumed it in a single gulp.

Wiping the porridge from his mouth, Hu-Man looked at the nurse and asked, “You’re not afraid of me?”

“Of course not. You’ve been cursed and turned into a lizard, not stricken with the plague. Besides, as one of the humans living in a town filled with anthropomorphic pigs and other animals, a lizard man is really small potatoes.” The nurse sounded so peppy as she spoke that Hu-Man couldn’t help but smile, at least as much as his new face allowed him to.

The nurse went on, walking around the house straightening it up as she spoke, “Besides, you’re still our Hu-Man. You’re still our protector, lizard man or not. It’d be blatantly ungrateful of me or anyone else in the town, to shun you because of your new facelift.”

The echoes of the imagined laughter and screams of terror in Hu-Man’s mind began to grow quieter as he meditated on the nurse’s words.

Chatting on as usual, the nurse said, “Besides, your case isn’t hopeless.”

There was something of a twinkle in Hu-Man’s black, emotionless eyes. “Oh?”

“Of course not, silly!” She paused for a moment. “At least I don’t think it is. Have you ever heard of the Salamander Cross?”

Hu-Man shook his head as much as his new neck allowed him.

“Oh, then. Well, there’s a legend that somewhere in Monster Land is a magical object called the Salamander Cross, which can reverse any transformation and free someone from any curse that has been cast on him.” Her friendly tone didn’t miss a single beat as she dusted off Hu-Man’s table and iron stove.

Hu-Man jumped out of his bed. “Really? Where can I find it?”

The nurse smiled and shrugged. “Well, that got you up and going, didn’t it? I’m not sure. Although if I were you, I’d start looking around the pyramids over in the desert. That’s about as good a place as any to look for a mythical relic.”

“Desert. Pyramids. Check.”

The nurse walked back over to Hu-Man and pushed him back onto his bed. “Slow down, there. You still need to get better before you go off questing again. Tell you what, I’ll stop by every day and bring you something to eat and when you’re ready, you can visit me at the hospital whenever you need some help.”

“Deal!” answered Hu-Man, sounding cheerful for the first time in ages.

“Excellent. I need to get back to work now. Get some rest, Hu-Man and I’ll be over later this evening.”

She walked over to Hu-Man and embraced him, giving him a little peck of a kiss on the side of his snout. The nurse then turned around and walked out of his house.

***

The nurse sat at her table at the entrance to the hospital. It had been a slow day today, only the weapons store owner had come in with a scratch that he had acquired while polishing a Mithrail Sword in his shop. Other than that, the denizens of that small village in Monster Land were quite healthy and happy.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. The nurse got up and ran over to the door, thrusting it open—for all she knew, somebody could’ve gotten hurt and collapsed at the doorstep—only to find that there was nobody waiting for her on the other side. Instead, there was a small piece of parchment pinned to the door.

Removing the parchment, she read its contents.

Dearest Nurse,

I am now on my way to the Sky Castle of legend, where the cure for my state is said to be found. It has been several months since that day you came to my house to take care of me, for which I’ll always be grateful. I learned something important that day. Sometimes life puts us in strange and new situations and circumstances. Adapting to them isn’t always easy. That’s why we need a good friend to give us a push in the right direction. You were that friend. Thank you.

Love,

Hu-Man.


The nurse stepped into a clearing away from the hospital and gazed into the heavens. Far away, almost disappearing into the horizon, there was the form of a large hawk. The nurse smiled to herself.

“Good luck, Hu-Man,” she whispered. “I’ll always be here for you whenever you need it.”

***


In loving memory of Evellyn Caetano Jardim (1990 – 2011).

Dearest Evellyn, wherever you are, know that you were the first friend I made when I started studying at college in the evening. It was a new experience for me and I’m glad that you and the others were always around to keep me company before, during, and after class. We had many a great moment together and I’m going to miss you dearly. Thank you for your friendship.

- Blake Matthews

Last edited by H-Man on Thu Mar 10, '11, 6:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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