This is a continuation of a story begun in the post “Chapter 1. Part 1.” If you enjoy it, please like and share it with others!
CHAPTER 10: WHERE THERE’S SMOKE
I looked around the river beach at the shabby group of wet individuals. The boat was overturned on the sand to empty out the water that had been trapped inside it during the fall. Chak, Plink, Fwish, and Fwik were all standing in a group talking. Thrump was reclining on the side of the boat, cradling an injured hand that he had received on impact, while Flye and Brew were inspecting the line of Umbra all standing perfectly at attention in one neat row. I looked around and realized that Doctor Lee was nowhere to be seen. I joined the group of conversing Umbili to point this out, but was silenced when I heard their topic of conversation.
“I don’t know what else we can do! He’s stuck with them. There’s no way to turn them all loose and then recapture them all except for him. You know the orb can’t discern that way. An Umbra is an Umbra no matter what!” Chak was practically shouting.
“I don’t care! I’d rather let them all go and die fighting than kill him!” Plink shouted back.
“Well it’s not your decision to make!” Chak retorted.
“Can’t we kill them without the orb?” asked Fwish in the most serious tone I had ever heard her use. “The legends talk about killing an Umbra with your breath. They say there was a provision made by the Higher-ups—”
“That’s an old wives tale. And even if it were true, Umbili can’t do it, only other species. Not to mention it’s incredibly dangerous for those other species when they try it. I don’t think even Doctor Lee has the mental focus required. The orb is the only way to get rid of the Umbra from Mendrax without risking our safety or accidentally releasing them,” Chak said.
“What about Shishu’s safety? What about his life?” Plink yelled.
“He doesn’t have a life! He’s an Umbra!” Chak shouted back.
“You pretentious cogsrap! Of all the—”
“I don’t have to explain my decisions to you! I was charged by the Higher-ups with leading this group to safety–”
“And Shishu is part of this group!”
“Only if you count the dirt on the ground as part of the group too! Shishu’s served his only purpose. After the drop-off he was completely expendable and—” Chak suddenly wasn’t standing up anymore. In the heat of the argument, Thrump had risen from his resting place, walked over to the group and punched Chak hard in the face. Chak stood up and glared at Thrump, anger and outrage shot between their eyes.
“How dare you speak of Shishu that way,” said Thrump steadily and confidently, though I could hear the anger being well veiled in his voice. “That Umbra just saved your life. He just saved all of our lives. He stopped you from possibly becoming a member of the race that you detest so greatly. How dare you speak of him like trash.” Thrump and Chak shared a tense silence in which it was obvious that Chak wanted to respond but didn’t want to be hit again. Thrump continued. “I think we should let Nicholas try.” There was a murmured agreement among the group and a silence long enough for me to jump in.
“Try to kill those black Umbra, with your breath,” said Thrump.
“There’s an old Umbili story of how the Umbra came to be,” said Thrump.
“Oh, oh! Can we tell it?” asked Fwik.
“Yeah, let us do it! It’s our favorite! Please, please, please, please, please!” said Fwish.
“Actually I was going to let Plink tell it,” said Thrump. “And you two are behaving like human children by the way.” Fwik and Fwish’s smiles faded.
“Right,” said Plink, “where to begin? The story starts in a time long ago, before the creation of Earth, before the creation of the stars, during the period of time when Umbili were still being created by the Higher-ups. Every day, more Umbili were being crafted and one by one, they were placed in the Syllogy of the Universe. The first few Umbili were roaming around and attempting to build the city the way the Higher-ups had told them to. Massive buildings were being built, incredible feats of engineering and architecture, and goodness and justice reigned supreme. But then the first attempt to rebel occurred. One of the first dades tried to resist an order from the Higher-ups; she tried to infiltrate the forbidden garden. Over the mountains of fire and the fields of ice, she traveled in secret to try and unlock the mysteries of time.
“Her partner discovered her schemes and followed one day behind her in an attempt to stop her from disobeying. He was too late to prevent her from trying, but it turned out that he didn’t need to. The Higher-ups caught her before she broke the locks of the Gate to Nowhere. The dude arrived in time to see her trial period where the Higher-ups determined her punishment for the disobedience, but all Umbili know what the punishment is: eternal death, eternal separation from the protection of the Higher-ups.
“When killing an Umbili, the Higher-ups send a ball of glowing green force through the Umbili’s body, which removes their life, body, and mind in one fell swoop. But the dude cared for his partner, and so, just as the Higher-ups were about to carry out the sentence, he stepped in front of his partner and accepted the blow from the Higher-ups himself. Strangely, the blow did not kill him; it transformed him. Its intent was to steal his life, which it did, but because the blow was not meant for him, it did not act the way it way it would have for his partner.
“It left him a white shell of who he was before. His light had been stolen from him. That piece of an Umbili that made him truly unique was ripped from his body and replaced by a colorless smoke. He became the first Umbra, and that ball of energy that passed through him became the first Agnoscian Orb. The Higher-ups moved the time garden after that. At least, that’s how the story goes. But the story doesn’t end there.
“The legend goes on to say that the first Umbra lived by himself through the end of the period of creation, but eventually a few more Umbili were changed into Umbra, not by the Higher-ups punishment, but by dying sacrificial and noble deaths. That was around the time that the first human ever came to the Syllogy of the Universe. He was brought by the Higher-ups for an unknown purpose. He wandered the wilderness of the Syllogy for a time and eventually came upon a group of Umbra. Legend says that the first Umbra and the first man became entrenched in a heated argument, one that lasted days. Now the Umbra had never fully revealed themselves to the human, and so the man saw only a shell of them, a transparent outline entrenched in smoke.
“According to the stories, the man became so enraged with the Umbra during the argument that he summoned a powerful breath and used it to scatter the smoke of the Umbra. His rage gave him the breath to literally blow the Umbra away. That is what we are hoping you will be able to do Nicholas. Blow these evil Umbra away, but spare our friend Shishu.”
There was a poignant silence when Plink finished telling the story. All eyes were on me. A thousand questions about the new facts I had just learned swirled in my mind. There were other humans in the Syllogy before me? Where did they come from? What did the Higher-ups bring them for? There were other disobedient Umbili besides Mendrax? What made Mendrax different? Was Mendrax different or had everything I’d been doing been done before? Umbra could be killed. How do you kill something that’s already dead? How did the Higher-ups accidentally create Umbra? The Higher-ups could make mistakes and accidentally kill something they didn’t mean to? How, why, what did all of this mean? I forced all of these questions to the back of my mind and focused on the one important question currently at hand. How was I supposed to defeat these Umbra with a breath?
I exhaled slowly considering the power that laid in that simple action. “Ok. What do I do?”
“Nobody knows!” Chak yelled. “It’s never been successfully attempted since this legendary story, and those who have tried ended up blowing themselves away. It’s an unnecessary risk that we should not pursue! It’s much safer to use the orb and count Shishu as one of the casualties of the war with Mendrax!” Chak was becoming irate again. A frown from Thrump silenced him.
“Chak it’s my choice isn’t it? Are there at least any theories as to what I should do? Should I get angry?”
“Speaking frankly I do not believe that anger is what fueled the power of the breath.” I looked around. Doctor Lee was hovering just outside the group. He must have flown down the canyon side and found the group while Plink was telling us the story.
“What?” I asked.
“I said that I don’t believe that it was really anger that fueled the breath that blew away the Umbra. I believe it was something stronger than that. Passion.”
I looked deep into the little beetle’s beady black eyes.
“Well, how do I make a passion-filled breath?”
“You can’t. Passion isn’t something you make, it’s something that is. You have to have it already. It can be nurtured, but it cannot be manufactured.”
“Well then we’re back to square one,” I said disappointed.
“Says who?” Dr. Lee asked.
“Says you,” I said. “You just said passion isn’t something I can manufacture, I have to already have it inside of me.”
“And who says you don’t already have it?” said Dr. Lee.
I thought a moment. What did I have passion for? Back on earth there were three things: boats, my orchard, and Pathena, all of which were gone now. What did I have passion for right now, here in the Syllogy? What was my purpose in life, now that I had left the place where my purpose was death? Dr. Lee could see the wheels in my head and I saw a little beetle smile appear on his face as I understood what he was getting at.
“The only thing I still have passion for is this seed, passion for getting the job done. The only thing left for me, for all the Umbili, in the Syllogy and the City of Falling Water, and everywhere is… is hope. I have passion for hope!”
“Indeed you do Nicholas, and I believe that within your passionate hope lies the ability to save us all. Not only from the terror of our world ending altogether, but also from this unpleasant prospect right here, right now. Let hope motivate your breath.”
I nodded confidently. It was so simple. Of course I could do this. I had hope. I had a passion for something much greater than the anger that the first human used to blow away the first Umbra. I had hope: the hope of completing the task and changing my purpose once and for all, just like Chak had said back in Troy.
I walked over to the line of Umbra standing in a neat row on the beach. The rest of the group fell in behind me, eagerly awaiting my attempt. I could feel the excitement on the little beach as I shook out my hands and stretched my sore muscles getting ready to try and blow another being right out of existence. I could tell that even Chak was a little bit excited at the prospect of seeing this feat done right in front of him.
“If you feel yourself fading, stop right away,” said Thrump. I didn’t know what he meant exactly, but I nodded anyway.
I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, clearing my lungs and my mind. I then pictured myself driving the little purple seed into the ground of Mendrax’s forbidden garden, and I imagined a huge ugly lizard staring on terrified at my success. In my mind Mendrax sounded like a slimy lizardy kind of name, so it made sense that he would be a huge slimy lizard. With the hope of success in my head, a fiery passion in my stomach, and resolve in my heart, I filled my lungs with a huge breath. When I was completely full of air I let it out steadily and as I did, I heard an ethereal whistling sound.
The sound grew steadily louder as I blew, and I found that the breath filling my lungs was going longer than any normal breath had ever gone before. If this had been any normal breath I would have run out of air after about thirty seconds, but this breath blew past the two-minute mark with no sign of stopping. It was a strange feeling to be so full of breath, but be breathing out at the same time. After a few minutes had passed, the tension remaining as evident as ever, the picture in my head started to change. I saw the huge slimy lizard whip away at my feet with his long slimy tail. His slimy tongue flicked in and out of his mouth and I heard his slimy voice whisper, “Failure is imminent.”
Suddenly I felt something slam against my body. It felt like a huge wave from the ocean trying to knock me off my feet, but the feeling didn’t pass like a wave would. It was a steady force pushing against my chest. I briefly started to lose my concentration and the slimy lizard in my head started to laugh.
I closed my eyes and pictured my hand driving the seed into the ground again, but the slimy lizard hand was pulling against my own, stopping me. I opened my eyes and saw the Umbra in front of me start to quiver. The beach around me disappeared and I watched as a breeze trickled through the smoke around his torso. I thought of the seed plunging into the center of a garden and felt the slimy lizard hands relinquish. As they did, the invisible wave trying to knock me off my feet disappeared and I felt a huge gust of power come from my mouth.
The Umbra started to thin. I saw bits of his transparent face tear away from the rest of his body. Slowly he rose higher and higher off the ground and the smoke grew less and less thick. And then, when I felt the need to take a breath overwhelm me, my vision went dark.
The beach erupted back into existence with a cheer. I had blacked out for only a second and I realized that I was on my knees. No one had even noticed I missed anything. Thrump was the first one to my side. He placed a hand on my shoulder while the celebration behind me subsided.
“Nicholas, are you okay?” he asked urgently.
“Yes. Yes I’m fine. Did the Umbra disappear?”
“Yep, it’s gone. You did it. I don’t think you realize how historic this moment is. You just confirmed Umbili legend. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes I’m fine. I’m a little bit tired now,” I said, standing up. The sight of the empty beach where the Umbra had been moments before revitalized my spirit. I turned around and everyone was beaming at me. Even Chak had a small grin on his face. There were pats on my back and I smiled at everyone on the beach.
“Well,” I said. “One down, five to go.”
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 11.”