Blade of the Destroyer
Chapter 1: A Warm Welcome
By Brandon Chen
A Destroyer only knows flame and ash.
They walk the earth with the confident stride of a titan, scorching countries beneath their gait. The forests ignite as they saunter past and the oceans boil. The air itself feels as if it melts. To survive an encounter with a Destroyer is a feat in itself, for they are machines that pursue the sole purpose of eradication.
And I despise them with every ounce of my being.
My body was a canvas of lacerations from a whip. Blood dripped from me as I hung from the ceiling, my arms bound over my drooping head by iron chains. I gazed weakly through the dark hair that draped across my sweat-caked forehead.
I was in a dark room with two men, fully dressed in the armor of knights. Torches, secured on sconces, illuminated the perimeter of the room, for there were no windows in stone-bricked room.
I wondered what time it was. The guards had whipped and beaten me for at least a day. It must’ve been morning by now.
There was a creak and a woman sauntered into the room. She was dressed in the same knightly armor as her peers, her chest plate adorned with the insignia of Kairos, the capital city. The woman tilted her head, her cerulean eyes examining the deep cuts that carved into my flesh. “He’s said nothing?”
“Nothing, Captain,” one of the guards responded.
“Even with a beating like this? I’m surprised he’s still breathing.” The Captain stepped closer to me and cupped my cheeks in her cold hand, forcing me to look at her. “You’re a young man. I imagine you have a lot to live for. Yet, you won’t speak?”
I lowered my gaze.
“You know Vulcan the Destroyer,” the woman said, releasing my face. “Where is he?”
I scoffed. “Why do you care where he is? If you seek to hunt him, he will melt your soldiers to the bone before you even reach one hundred meters of him. If you seek to defend your city against him, a single sweep of his hand and he can crumble this entire settlement.” I looked up and met the Captain’s unwavering countenance. She did not seem fazed by my words. “Have you seen a Destroyer before?”
“I have not,” the Captain admitted.
“That is because it is part of the Destroyer’s code to leave no survivors,” I growled.
“You seem to know a lot about them,” she said. “What is your relationship to Vulcan?”
I did not respond.
“You were so talkative when I walked in and now you’ve gone quiet?” The Captain reached to her side and pulled out a blunderbuss. She dug the muzzle into my stomach, the cold metal pressing against my stinging cuts. “Speak!”
I eyed the gun and sighed. Then I closed my eyes, feeling the flow of memories seeping into my mind as I recalled the unforgettable day I’d met Vulcan the Destroyer.
I was twelve and underneath the scorching afternoon sun. Sweat glistened on my skin as I swung a wooden sword. My father watched my form, correcting me each time my posture fell out of line. He beamed proudly when I finally got the swing right.
“Nicely done, Jun,” he said.
I remembered those words, which quenched me like fresh spring water on a summer day. I grinned back at him, gripping the hilt of my wooden sword, prepared to perform the swing again. Then I felt something.
A sensation, like the weight of invisible boulders, bore down upon me. My legs melted and I crumpled to my knees, my eyes widening as a jolt rushed through my bones. At the time, I’d been baffled at my body’s actions. However, my body simply knew what I felt before I did. Fear.
I felt heat on my back, like torch to flesh. I saw my father’s expression, his eyes wide with horror, his gaze locked onto something behind me. I turned to look.
A moment before, there had been a village, thriving and beautiful. Wooden structures and buildings, erected long before my birth, laid across the field in the distance. Now, it was all blown to ash.
A flaming behemoth sauntered across the earth, at least two hundred meters in height, taller than the largest building in my hometown. The creature was made of clumps of obsidian that joined together to create a hulking mountain that crushed dozens of buildings beneath his gait. Glowing lava flowed through the cracks in obsidian, like blood from veins, dripping from the gargantuan monster and incinerating the grassy land at its feet. Its eyes glowed red like blazing flames and, lodged in the center of the goliath’s chest, was a coruscating ore that glowed like a miniature sun.
I’d never laid eyes upon such destructive beauty. I watched as the beast swept his hand, unleashing a tsunami of fire that decimated centuries of culture in only moments. The civilians did not even have the chance to scream before they were reduced to ash.
Another towering creature followed the first. However, this one had blue flames that drifted off its body, instead of the orange lava that drooled off its partner. The two continued to stomp around my ignited village, as if ensuring that every bit of kindling had been lit.
“What are they?” I asked my father, my voice quivering.
“Destroyers,” my father said, reaching to grip the sword at his side. He brandished his weapon, revealing a golden blade to the afternoon sun. He sprinted past me, rushing towards the village. “Find your mother and get out of here immediately, Jun!” He vanished, the blustering wind caressing the space he’d been in a moment before.
Destroyers. My father had told me of such creatures that had appeared in the last decade. They’d supposedly fallen from the heavens like meteors, crashing to the earth. From their simmering craters, they arose, programmed to only eradicate. They were known to vary in size, but I’d never heard of Destroyers that were this massive.
But how had they appeared so suddenly? It was as if I turned around to find two new mountains. My father had told me that Destroyers were known to appear abruptly. Yet, to have such colossal beings step from the air was beyond my understanding at the time.
My father was a Blade Guardian, a new type of soldier developed to combat Destroyers. We spent every day training with a wooden sword so that I could one day become like him, a warrior to protect mankind.
But as I gazed upon the seared land, which was marked with lava and fire, I couldn’t help but feel my heart drop. How could one protect against something this disastrous?
“Father will defeat them,” I assured myself, beginning to dash back towards our cottage at the top of the hill that overlooked the village. “He’ll kill them both and protect all of us!”
My mother opened the door and walked outside, her eyes wide with worry. “Jun, we need to leave!” She started towards me.
“What about father?”
“He’ll be okay. We need to—”
There was a whooshing sound and I turned to find a building hurdling towards us at blinding speed. The earth at the top of the hill exploded, as if it had been struck by cannon fire. Dirt sprayed into the air and a shockwave catapulted me backwards, sending me tumbling down the hill. The world spun and my ears rang.
I found myself staring weakly at the clouds, which drifted peacefully across the afternoon sky. My aching muscles and scratched body relaxed and I felt the urge to simply lay there and become part of the earth and stare at the sky forever. Mother?
I bit my lower lip and forced myself to my feet, turning to look at what had happened. Dust and dirt drifted around me, but I saw that the entire hill at been blown apart. There were bits of wooden debris that were lodged into the dirt. “Mother!” I screamed, feeling the panic rising in my chest as I stumbled through the destruction.
The wind howled around me and my eyes widened as I caught sight of crimson in my peripheral vision. There was a severed arm lying at my feet, painting the grass with red. Upon the motionless hand was a glistening silver ring that belonged to my mother.
I staggered back in horror, realization taking hold. “No … no, no no….”
I whirled around and saw that the blue Destroyer was on the ground, smoke billowing from its body. There was a gust of wind and my father stepped from the air, appearing beside me. A stream of blood trickled down his face from a gash on his forehead, but other than that, he seemed unharmed.
“Are you okay, Jun?” he asked, leaning down to grip my shoulders. When I didn’t reply, he gave me a shake. “Jun, where’s your mother?”
My hand trembled as I pointed at the severed arm.
My father held his gaze on the hand for a long moment. His eyes were soft and accepting. But they quickly emblazoned with determination as he looked back to me. “I killed one of the Destroyers, there’s just that one left.” He glanced at the ambling giant. “But he’s strong. Stronger than any Destroyer I’ve seen.”
“F-Father, shouldn’t we run?” I whimpered, giving his arm a squeeze. “I’m scared.”
“Do you have your sword?”
I nodded, holding up the wooden sword that I’d used during sparring. My bruised hand hurt from gripping it so hard.
My father ruffled my hair gently and smiled weakly. “As long as you have that, there’s nothing to fear. A Blade Guardian must overcome their fear to take on the enemy.” He stood up and exhaled. “Head west to Kairos, son. Destroyers cannot reach the capital.”
“You aren’t coming?”
My father turned his back to me, but I could see a glistening tear stream off his cheek as he swung away. “What kind of a Blade Guardian would I be if I let this monster roam free?” He exhaled shakily. “What kind of husband … would I be?” he whispered.
And then he vanished as he charged after the Destroyer.
I started to sprint west. The fields stretched as far as my eyes could see. With my father’s ability to move at incredible speed, surely he could’ve saved us both on that day. At the time, I’d failed to understand it … what it meant to be overcome with powerlessness and rage to the point of inane action.
Perhaps that is a fault of humanity, to be so driven by emotion to the point of demise. Even the most logical and powerful leaders fell victim to their deceitful feelings. As the tears streamed down my cheeks, as my teeth gritted with untamed rage, as my eyes twinkled with confusion, I couldn’t help but wonder … what was I feeling right now?
Despite all of the horrors that I endured, when I thought of my father charging after that Destroyer, there was something else that sparked in my chest. Hope.
My father reappeared beneath the Destroyer, his body carried by a gust of wind. His dark hair flowed across his eyes, which blazed with hatred. He brandished his golden sword and pointed it up at the colossus that towered over him. “Howl and roar.” His blade began to glow evanescently white, a shine so bright that it looked like a star. “Zephyr!”
The Destroyer tilted his head as he gazed upon my father, the tiny human that was smaller than his toe. “You must be one of those new Blade Guardians I’ve heard so much about.” The Destroyer spoke in a low voice, smoke and lava spilling from his mouth as he spoke. Even his voice trembled the earth. The titan glanced over his shoulder at his companion, who lay slain on the earth. “Wielding those tiny swords.”
“Tiny swords meant to kill you, Destroyer.” My father slammed his feet into the earth and propelled himself hundreds of meters into the air, the wind wrapping around him and carrying him to the Destroyer’s face. He gripped his weapon tightly, feeling the surge of power rushing through his arm and into his blade. Rotating his body, the guardian swung his weapon down at the exposed Destroyer.
I panted as I continued to run, watching the horizon and imagining it getting closer. My ears pricked up as I heard a whizzing sound and gasped as something smashed into the ground beside me, skipping across the earth. Dirt spewed around me and I yelped, instinctively diving to the ground.
Do not fear.
I gripped my wooden sword and slowly stood back up. As the dust cleared, I saw my father lodged into a small crater in the ground. His blood painted the grass, his head lolled back, his mouth half-open as if he wanted to yell. I stared in disbelief at the man that I’d deemed unbeatable. He was the strongest I knew.
But as I stepped to his side, I saw him shattered. His broken bones broke through his flesh, his blood streamed like tributaries down his unmoving body, his anguished tears trickled from his hopeless eyes. His pitiful gaze bore into me, as if he apologized for being too weak. Too weak to avenge my mother. Too weak to protect our home. Too weak to save me…
His lips twitched and I could tell that he wanted the words to come out. I knelt at his side and grasped his bloody hand in mine and smiled softly at him. “It’s okay, father.” I whispered, feeling my eyes moisten as the ground rumbled behind me. The heat seared the hairs on the back of my neck, but I did not turn around. “Please, rest. We’ll be together again. All of us.”
His eyes never left me. That was the kind of man that he was. His gaze, even in death, was filled with such regret that he’d let his rage and sorrow usurp his mind. Instead of saving me, he’d believed in himself.
“Tragic.” The voice came like an earthquake. A darkness cast across the land as the towering Destroyer blotted out the sun. And there I was, an insect in this monster’s shadow.
I squeezed my father’s hands tighter, my vision blinded by my tears. This day had been a normal one until this abomination showed up. My life had been wonderful. I had doting parents that supported me. Now, they were gone and I would die too.
The fear that I felt creeping through my bones, I shoved back. Instead, my eyes blazed with rage. Ire boiled in my blood as I grabbed the hilt of my father’s sword with both hands, my arms aching at the weight of the weapon. I turned to face the Destroyer that towered over me. “You!” I screamed, my eyes wide as I faced the behemoth. “You did this!”
The Destroyer watched me curiously.
“Zephyr!” I roared, calling upon the name of my father’s sword as I’d seen him do. The wind gusted around me, like a gentle vortex that wrapped around me. But the breeze calmed after a moment, for I knew not how to control this power. “I’m going to kill you, Destroyer.”
The behemoth tilted his head. “You are but a child. I could murder you in a thousand ways.” The cracks in his face crinkled into a frown. “Yet, you stand before me with that silly toy. Do you not fear me?”
Do not fear…
I squeezed the hilt of the sword until my knuckles blanched white. I pressed my feet into the dirt and dashed forward, feeling hot wind rushing against my face as I charged at the giant’s foot, eager to at least slash the beast. The fear kept creeping into my mind, but I shook it away. I replaced it all with my untamable hatred. Before I could reach my foe, the earth shattered around me as the Destroyer stomped on the ground.
Fissures split through the ground like cracks in ice and I was sent flipping backwards through the air. I crashed against the ground, my arm twisting unnaturally as I tumbled across the desolate field.
I wanted to scream in agony as I gazed upon my broken arm, but I bit down on my lip instead, until blood trickled down my chin. Pain exploded throughout my body and once again, I felt the tempting sensation to stay on the ground and let myself fade away to dust. But a fire in me refused to die, a raging passion that fueled the adrenaline pumping through my veins. I stood up once more and picked up Zephyr in my good arm, dragging the heavy sword across the dirt.
The Destroyer stared in awe as he examined my countenance. The pain that he expected was not there, nor was the terror. Instead, my eyes only burned with an insatiable hatred. “The only reason you are alive, boy,” the Destroyer growled, “is because I allow it. I could set this entire field on fire if I wanted. I could scorch you to dust where you stand!”
“Then do it,” I barked, continuing to limp forward. “Because if you don’t … I’ll slaughter you!”
The Destroyer gawked, baffled at my statements. “Who are you?”
“The son of a great warrior,” I snarled. “I am Jun!”
The Destroyer scoffed. “It is against the law of Destroyers to leave human survivors.”
I narrowed my eyes. The Destroyers had laws? I’d thought they were just barbaric beasts that wandered to the world, obliterating all in their path. “Then kill me.” Ignoring the agony that burned in my legs, I started to dash towards the Destroyer. I dragged my sword along the dirt, lacking the strength to fully lift Zephyr with only one arm.
The Destroyer knocked me back once more. He did so again and again, making sure to be careful to strike the earth around me and use shockwaves to send me to the ground. He did not want to kill me. “You are different from the others,” the Destroyer said. “Even your father, I could smell the fear drifting off him like a foul odor. But you, there is nothing but mindless rage. It dominates every fiber of your being.”
Why could I suppress my fear so well? It was because I’d accepted my death. It was a feat that many would never achieve, let alone at the age of twelve. To accept death was to eradicate the fear of it. If I did not fear death, then what was there to fear in this moment?
“Someone like you deserves a better purpose.” The Destroyer swung his arm down into the ground, obliterating the entire field for a mile with a single punch. The earth exploded and kingdoms miles away could feel the strength of the omnipotent titan. My broken body flung into the air, the wind roaring around me. As the world spun, I thought of how perhaps it would’ve been better if I’d just stayed on the ground instead of getting up.
I began to descend and I awaited the ground to meet me. However, instead I landed in the rocky palm of the Destroyer. “I am Vulcan.” I felt my consciousness beginning to slip away as the giant raised me to his face. The corners of my vision began to blacken. “And you will make a great Destroyer.”
“Vulcan … took you in?” the Captain said in disbelief. She took a step back, her eyes widening with disbelief. “That means—”
The two guards stepped forward, unsheathing their swords in unison. They stepped between the Captain and I, pointing their blades at me. Such harmless things.
“That’s right.” Heat began to rise in my chest, burning until there was a glowing orb that glistened beneath my skin to the right of my heart. My eyes, shifted from their darkness to glowing orange, as if lava filled my irises. The hotness in my chest began to sprout throughout my body, surging until they reached my hands. Flames sparked at my fingertips, dancing down my wrist and melting the metal cuffs that bound me.
I landed on the cold stone floor, the globs of melted metal splattering at my feet. Fire coiled around my body like a snake, licking away my bruises and cuts until my flesh was unmarked as before. “He made me a Destroyer.”
The Captain bolted for the door. “We need to get out of here—”
The room exploded as I unleashed the heat from my body, sending fire spraying in all directions. The debris of the crumbling prison bounced harmlessly off my body as I sauntered forward. The dust began to settle and I saw the cadavers of the two men that had tortured me for the last day, buried beneath the fallen rubble, their twisted ligaments protruding from the scattered detritus.
I looked onward to the afternoon sky, the pinnacle of the sun’s height. I exhaled, releasing hot steam through my nostrils and mouth. I ambled forth and gazed upon the stretching city in the distance. The beautiful buildings had slanted rooftops made of clay tiles and were quite tall in comparison to other cities I’d seen. The civilians, dressed in an amalgamation of elegantly colored garbs, all looked to me in wonder after witnessing the explosion.
The people were relatively silent now, but I imagined the cries of the marketplace as shoppers haggled over prices. I pictured the crowds ebbing and flowing with liveliness prior to my arrival. I thought of the countless generations that had been born and buried on these grounds and the many memories that clung to the land.
To be a Destroyer was to see thriving civilizations like this and feel nothing as they burned.
Over the years, Vulcan had raised me with an iron fist. To survive, I had to become like him. I had to slaughter thousands and scorch lands until they were naught but ash. To Destroyers, that was their entire existence. They wore born to obliterate.
I turned my head as I heard the shift of debris behind me. It was the Captain as she pushed aside a block. Her face was matted with her own blood and she gasped as she tried to pull herself from underneath the wreckage that had crushed one of her legs, but to no avail. She was trapped and powerless. “Destroyers are supposed to have Heart Cores!” she shouted at me, tears beginning to twinkle in her eyes. I could not tell if they were from fear or pain. “But you hid yours, because you’re not like the rest of them, right?”
I began to walk towards her.
“You used to be human!” the Captain cried out more desperately. “You don’t need to do this. Our city has been here for over five centuries. You can’t—”
She silenced as I placed my palm over her head. I squatted down before her, looking deep into her blue eyes. The tension drifted from her as she saw the pity in my gaze. “I’m sorry,” I said softly, listening to her whimpers. “What is this city’s name?”
“T-Tolgoras,” the Captain let out.
“Tolgoras,” I repeated and stood up. We watched each other for a long moment. “I will remember that.”
Flames rushed out from my palm, devouring the Captain. Before the screams of agony could even leave her lungs, the Captain’s entire body had been swept away by flame. Drifting at my fingertips was simply ash and melted metal.
I lowered my arm and sighed at the destruction around me. Emotions began to stir up within my gut, but I turned my mind away. After all, I was here for a purpose. I was to destroy the cannons near the exterior wall that surrounded the city.
Leaning forward, I pressed the front of my foot into the ground. The ground exploded beneath me as I propelled forward, flames rushing through my heels. I descended upon the city, unleashing jets of fire to send me flying through the streets towards the outer wall. The horrified screams of the civilians were muffled in my ears as they were incinerated by the streaking fire behind me.
I kept my eyes trained forward as the buildings razed around me, my flames devouring my trail. As I reached the outer wall, I sprinted vertically up the barrier with ease, the burning soles of my feet searing the wall. Landing gracefully on top of the wall, the guards atop were already prepared for my arrival. Their weapons were brandished and they charged me, murder in their eyes.
I swiped my hands and waves of fire swallowed my foes. Another swing of my arms and crescents of fire rushed from my fingertips and obliterated the rows of cannons that were positioned along the wall.
I looked down at the scorched corpses that lay sprawled around me, their charred flesh cooked to a blackened crisp. The anguished screams of the townsfolk were no longer muffled and I turned to find the chaos of the scrambling city as people fled their burning homes. A conflagration had swept across the street that I had passed and I watched as the civilians and soldiers tried desperately to contain the raging flames. But it was all pointless. After all, he was coming.
I glanced over my shoulder into the distance and saw him, Vulcan. The great Destroyer left an inferno burning behind him as he sauntered across an open field. The heat that he emitted was enough to cause the plants and vegetation to ignite up to a mile away. The lakes in the distance dried, even the air felt as if it would melt.
Soon, all of these people would die, because Vulcan had arrived. And I, his blade, carved his path.