14.0 Grayscale_Chapter 2: Clouds

Clouds drifted over the sun, shielding the city from the blistering heat that had plagued it for the past month. I walked out of an alley and blended into the crowd going down the streets of Cerena, capital of the Light Kingdom, after having finally escaped the castle.

Vendors shouted praises for their wares, horses neighed as their riders walked them down the street, and the general sounds of a bustling medieval city rang through the air.

Well that was surprisingly easy. I thought. Or am I just too amazing?

And that wasn’t simple narcissism, mind you. I’d been planning my escape ever since I got here and had executed it perfectly. They never suspected a thing while I walked right out the front door!

You see, when you train so hard that everyone thinks you’re willing to die for your cause, they never expect you to not give a damn about defeating the Demon Lord or whatever. When you wear bright, shiny clothes all day and waltz around in armor and makeup, nobody bats an eye when a grubby little maid leaves your room, even though no one saw her go in. If you keep stealing cookies and fruits and asking for money to buy candies, they never suspect that you’ve been swiping small change from all over the place and saving up a small fortune.

And of course, when the Hero can summon the Sacred Sword and Holy Armor whenever they want to, summoning them when you’re safely out of the castle isn’t a problem at all.

Those royals were pretty dumb, but at least they taught me something useful.

This past month had been grueling. I learned sword techniques, magic, skills and the History of Erath. All that knowledge and training would definitely prove useful eventually. In fact, it had already proven useful.

For example, the Sacred Sword and Holy Armor that I had acquired, were safely tucked away inside my ‘Inventory,’ which was a skill that only the Hero and the Demon Lord could learn. Of course, over the years, people had created another skill called ‘Storage’ which was derived from ‘Inventory,’ so my skill wouldn’t stand out unless someone used appraisal.

In fact, it was because of the ‘Appraisal’ skill that I had to wait so long before escaping. I’d learned it quickly enough, but I didn’t want people to know that I was the Hero so I had to find a countermeasure for it first. In the end, I had to settle for a skill called ‘Obscure’ that made it harder for people weaker than you to see your status through Appraisal. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t bear staying in that castle any longer so I escaped as soon as I learned Obscure.

But why did I leave? They were giving me food and shelter after all, and it’s not like I’d get bored there either.

But that old geezer’s eyes…they were disgusting. I’d seen eyes like those before.

I’d seen them on the self-important politicians and privileged assholes that ran my old city to the ground; eating away the money meant for orphanages and homeless shelters.

I’d seen them on people who wanted to use me for their own goals. Gang leaders that wanted me to bait some police officer, a pimp that wanted me to spread my legs for his clients or a police officer that promised to spare me if I ratted out my friends but would probably throw me in jail anyways.

I hated those eyes and I couldn’t bear staying near him or being under his control. Besides, why the fuck would I risk my life to kill a Demon Lord? I didn’t give a damn about these privileged bastards and I didn’t owe them anything.

I’d spent my History of Erath lessons mapping out a route to the nearest city, since I was sure that they’d come after me. I was their precious Hero, after all. So even though traveling to a new city would be dangerous, I reckoned that with my new sword skills and the crazy strong magic I’d learned, I’d probably be able to get to the next town safely.

But first I needed to get some supplies. Luckily, I had the money that the king had given me as well as some that I had acquired from various sources, so I made my way to the marketplace with a spring in my step.

Someone bumped into my shoulder. For a second, I felt like telling the guy off but he just kept on walking, not even giving me a glance. Strangely, a weight fell off my shoulders. I’d been standing out so much for the past month that it made me uncomfortable all the time. Under all those scrutinizing stares, I had to put up an act longer than any I’d ever had to for a heist.

I walked into the marketplace and bought some food, a knife, and a few other necessities. After I left, a bunch of shady looking guys stared at me for a second but I wasn’t too afraid. Apart from the fact that I was probably stronger than them, I also knew their type.

These guys wouldn’t come after a little girl, nobody did unless they were real perverts. It wasn’t worth the trouble since they usually didn’t have money, would scream for the cops, without a second thought and weren’t much fun to play around with anyways.

I walked out of the city gates wearing a brown hood and robes. I followed a merchant caravan for a few miles before they started giving me suspicious glances, so I decided to part ways.

Cerena was built on top of a plateau, so I would have to walk downhill for a while before I reached the hills that surrounded the plateau. From there it was just a few days’ hike to the town of Fohil.

I walked down a stony, dirt road that was a shorter route to Fohil than the official road but also a bit more dangerous. But I was sure that I could handle anything that came my way.

For now, the clouds were still covering the sun and the air under the trees was cool and refreshing, so I couldn’t help but relax and gather my thoughts.

I’d left the castle but what should I do now? I obviously wasn’t going to go kill the Demon Lord, but I really couldn’t think of a purpose or goal either.

Did I want to go home?

I was a lot richer here than I had ever been back home. I was also stronger and probably wouldn’t get beat up anymore. Should I go back to being a petty thief on the streets? Not likely.

Back home, I used to steal for survival until I got so good at it that I started doing it for the thrill. The old lady whacked me with her stick when I brought snacks for the little kids but she still begrudgingly accepted the supplies I brought.

The mayor and the government were corrupt but nobody gave a damn. Nobody ever gave a damn for the poor, or for the little kid begging for food down the street or for the-

I stopped myself before I started thinking about that night.

What should I do here? I thought, as I took a deep breath. I don’t even know anyone in this world. Or rather, I do know some people but I don’t like them or trust them.

I kicked a pebble lying on the ground.

Well, my instructor wasn’t so bad. Though I don’t know why she hugged me the first time we met. I never did hear her name though, did I? All we ever did was practice sword techniques and magic. Oh right, now that I think about it, wasn’t she supposed to be my bodyguard or something? Guess she was supposed to keep tabs on me. Good thing I left without telling her.

But it really is lonely here…

I’d been lonely before; back on the streets after my mom died and before the old lady picked me up. After that I’d always been with her or the other kids.

Especially Dusty…

A slight pain cut through my chest when I thought about him so I shook my head and kept walking down the road. The sun was still hidden behind the clouds.

I’m being tailed. I thought, as I sensed someone following me.

I didn’t know who it was but years of shaking off police officers, gangsters and angry shopkeepers had taught me how to deal with situations like this.

But for some reason, I couldn’t shake off this creep at all. Worst of all, I couldn’t stop and rest because I knew they were right behind me. Just as I was worrying about what I’d do at night, I heard a loud roar in front of me.

Perfect.

I jumped back as a silver ball of light shot past me. A large, gray haired ogre stepped out from behind a bunch of smoldering tree trunks. It was a Light ogre.

Ogres were a very common monster found in every country on Erath, however, their elemental affinity depended on the country they were born in and of course, this one had been born in the Light kingdom. Or at least that’s what my magical creatures’ textbook said.

It roared and stomped towards me while shooting balls of light from its mouth. I dodged and ran backwards, straight towards my stalker. I fired a few smaller light balls at it that didn’t even leave a mark on its thick, gray skin, but at least they managed to anger it even further!

I avoided all the trees that came into my path until I stopped, put my back against a large oak tree, and faced the ogre as if I was going to fight it. Just as the ogre charged at me, I jumped to the side and let it barrel straight through the tree and into the stalker hiding behind it!

Or at least, that was what was supposed to happen. Instead, the ogre suddenly stopped charging and opened its mouth. But instead of a roar, it started releasing particles of light that gathered in front of its mouth.

It was preparing a level four Light magic spell – Laser!

Shit! Gotta get out of the way!

I tried jumping to the side but stumbled because my robe got caught on a branch.

Not good!

I hurriedly tried to activate magic but it was too late. A beam of light whooshed through the air, straight towards me. I stared wide-eyed at the beam as my vision flooded with bright, white light.

Light as white as snow.

Still as pathetic and powerless as ever, aren’t you, Lily? I chastised myself.

But just as I’d resigned myself to death, there was a flash of darkness inside the white light. The light was cut in two and incinerated the ground around me. In front of me appeared a vaguely familiar figure.

It was the guy who bumped into me outside the market! What was he doing here?

He wore a dark, black robe that faded into the darkness. In his left hand, he held a glistening black blade that sucked the light from its surroundings. The ogre was surprised by the interruption and roared intimidatingly.

“Shut it.”

The black robed man waved his sword as the ogre came up to smash him with its fists. There was another flash of darkness and the ogre was cut in two. Blood and gore sprayed through the air, some of it sprinkling onto my face.

I almost puked. I’d seen plenty of dead people on the streets and I’d seen some pretty fucked up corpses too, but I’d never been showered by guts before. The black robed man turned around just as my face grew green and my stomach acids began to rise.

A streak of sunlight broke the clouds.

I saw his face. He was a dark-skinned teenager, maybe just a bit older than me. His face looked calm but in a creepy way; like he was wearing one of those freaky masks I’d seen outside the theater back home.

He shook the blood off his sword and sheathed it before meeting my gaze. He smiled, sending a shiver down my spine. I took a step back and readied a magic spell just in case. His smile grew wider, making me even more uncomfortable. His eyes looked like they could see right through me.

But that wasn’t possible, was it?

“Hello Ms.Hero, wonderful weather isn’t it?” he said.

Shit.

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