I couldn’t see anything.My eyes were open but I still couldn’t see anything.
It was like the whole world had been consumed by darkness and there was nothing I could do to light it up.
I was the Hero. The embodiment of Light. The embodiment of Hope, Faith, Love and Kindness.
But now all I could feel was despair.
I was suffocating.
I could breath but I was still suffocating.
Sharp pains tore through my lungs as if I’d inhaled tiny shards of glass.
The suffocating darkness was everywhere. Both inside and outside me. In fact, it was amazing that I was still alive.
Or maybe that wasn’t a good thing?
Well, it didn’t matter anymore. I’d die here soon enough.
I’d die alone in a world of darkness.
In a world of despair.
In a world of ash.
It would be a quiet death. I couldn’t struggle, couldn’t make a sound.
And the world was silent anyway. The Hero was going to die beneath a wall of ash but nobody made a sound.
The world didn’t shake in agony or wrath.
No god descended to save me.
I didn’t suddenly find some hidden talent or strength that would let me burst through the darkness.
I was Lily Grayscale. A lowly street urchin. A friendless orphan. A pitiable thief.
I was no Hero.
I was just…me.
In that quiet world of suffocating darkness and despair, I lay perplexed.
Was I happy that I was going to die? I’d never wanted to be a Hero. I’d never wanted to be in the spotlight.
I liked being in the shadows. To go by unnoticed.
So perhaps this was a fitting death.
I’d die all alone in the dark. A fitting end for a person like me.
My thoughts went silent, mimicking the silence of the world around me as I waited for my death.
But in that world of suffocating darkness, despair and silence, I heard something.
A whisper that I could barely make out.
The darkness, the despair, the silence, it all vanished like a bad dream.
I looked around to see two brown haired children lying against the wall, a red haired girl lying frozen on the ground and a black haired boy glaring at someone wearing purple robes and really tacky glasses.
“H-hey Kai.” I said, barely managing to squeeze out the words.
“Hmm?” he replied, fixing his glasses.
“So he’s gone?” asked Runir.
“Yeah, looks like it. Disintegrated into a trillion pieces. All that ash you guys were covered with came from his body, after all.” replied Kai.
“Damn, that’s nasty.” Runir said, grimacing.
“Where did it all go though?” I asked.
“It’s a secret.” said Kai, smiling.
I frowned but decided to let it slide for now.
“Amy, are you planning on sleeping on the ground tonight?” I said, looking at the red haired girl who still lying frozen on the ground.
She didn’t respond.
I frowned and was just about to walk to her when I heard the cold sound of metal grating against steel.
I turned around and saw Runir raising his sword above the little girl lying against the wall.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I shouted.
“They’re monsters. My Ability is telling me to kill them.” he replied, swinging his sword.
“But they’re kids!” I exclaimed, rushing over to try to stop him.
A red blur passed by me.
I heard the sound of clashing swords as Amy appeared in front of Runir.
“What are you doing?” Runir asked frowning.
Amy grunted and pushed him back then brandished her sword.
“They are children.” Amy said, sternly.
“They’re monsters. Judging by what I’ve heard about the Ashfiend, they must have tortured, mutilated and murdered countless people. And they aren’t likely to change.” he replied, coldly.
I felt a chill down my spine.
“They must have done that because their dad. I’ve heard about this sorta thing before. Serial killers teaching their kids their methods and the kids growing up to carry on their parents’ work. We just have to teach them properly. We can save them. They don’t have to be like their dad or get punished because of what he did.” I said.
Runir stared at me.
“Maybe if we were on Earth, we could send them to a correctional facility or give them psychiatric help. But this world doesn’t have any of that. Besides, there’s a bigger problem.” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“Fate.” Amy answered.
“Fate? You don’t really believe in that kinda bullshit, do you?” I asked.
“No one can resist Fate. Not even the Goddesses.” she replied, her eyes downcast.
“So what? Just because they were born to a murderer, they’re supposed to be evil? What kind of fucked up logic is that?” I said.
“You still don’t get it Lily. They’re monsters. If we let them go, they’ll kill more people and unlike us, they won’t have a crazy cheater like Kai to rescue them from Pompeii!” said Runir.
“Well actually, the crazy cheater would like to say something.” Kai interjected, walking closer.
“Well it’s not like I can stop you…” Runir muttered.
“You keep calling them monsters but, technically, they’re human.” He continued.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Their Statuses say they’re human.”
“You can see their race?”
I was startled too. I’d never seen anyone’s race in their status. In fact, I’d never seen my own race in my Status screen either.
“Oh, can’t you? I’m pretty sure Amy can see it too. Amy, these two are human children, aren’t they?” Kai said, gesturing to the unconscious kids.
“Yes.” she said, nodding.
“But they’re still murderers. You’ve seen their Titles and their Ability haven’t you?” Runir said.
I looked at them, noticing that they were sleeping peacefully while we decided whether they should ever be allowed to wake up at all.
And their Title was making it really hard to let them go. Especially because Altis’ Title had changed…
Title: 14th Generation Ashfiend. Compelled to attack outsiders that intrude upon their territory, the Ashfiend grows stronger by devouring the souls of its prey.
And their Ability gave me goosebumps.
Ability: Soul Devourer V.24. Suck the souls of one’s prey and consume them to strengthen one’s self. The taste of souls is addictive, compelling one to devour more. Gain in strength is proportional to the strength of the devoured soul.
I bit my lips.
“It’s still not their fault that they were born like this.” I said.
“Fault? I don’t blame them for their actions but the fact of the matter is, they are going to kill people and they are going to suck the souls right out of their victims. Unless of course, we kill them.” he said, glaring at me.
“So you don’t think they’re evil?” said Kai.
“No. They’re just unlucky.” said Runir, his voice barely above a whisper.
“I see. Hey Lily?” Kai said, turning towards me.
“Yeah?” I said, taken aback by his sudden shift in focus.
“You spent time with Altis, didn’t you? Didn’t she seem kind and caring? Didn’t she love her family dearly. In fact, at the time, she seemed like an ordinary little girl, didn’t she?” he asked.
“Yeah.” I said, recalling our trip across the city. “She was…is a good girl.”
“So after you got to know her, you ended up liking her. And even now that you know that she’s a murderer and that she eats souls, you’d still say that you liked her. So it doesn’t matter who or what she is. She’s still your friend and you don’t want to kill your friend just because of their Title or Ability.” he said, smiling.
Runir’s face twitched.
“Y-you…” he stammered before biting his lips and sheathing his sword.
“Fine. Let’s go.” he said, curtly, as he left the alley.
Amy glanced at the kids before walking over and dropping a pouch next to them. She then followed Runir out of the alley.
I walked up to them, intending to heal their injuries with Light magic but I realized that they were completely healed.
I thought for a moment then placed an old shield on the ground before walking away.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Kai glance at the kids sleeping against the wall. I saw him turn around while saying something under his breath.
He walked ahead of me as I looked back at the kids one last time.
Altis was lying against the wall, a small smile on her lips and she was mumbling something I couldn’t hear. Her little brother’s head rested on her shoulder, his drool falling onto her robes.
I stared at the peaceful scene as I noticed something that hadn’t been there before and felt a bitter taste in my mouth.
They were covered by a small blanket of ash.
She rubbed her eyes as she woke up.
She looked around, confused. Where was she? What happened? She couldn’t remember.
She saw her little brother sleeping next to her, wearing the black robe that they only wore on special occasions.
The memories of last night came flooding into her mind.
Her eyes opened wide as she frantically searched for her father.
She reached down to push herself up when she felt something gritty press against her palms.
She looked down and froze.
Her trembling hands grasped the ash on the ground.
Tears fell down her cheeks as she raised the ash to her face and sobbed.
She reached down to grab more ash but felt something else in the gritty blanket.
She pulled it out with trembling fingers and cleared the ash from its surface.
It was a letter.
A letter from her father.
She opened it hurriedly, hope shining in her chest.
Maybe her father was alive. Maybe he left this letter to tell them where to meet him!
She read the letter.
Dear Altis and Hart,
Daddy has to go somewhere now but he can’t take you with him.
I hope you’re not too mad but don’t worry, you’ll always have my love no matter how far apart we are!
But you see, I can’t help but think that I wasn’t a very good dad.
Always running away from work! Always nagging you to brush your teeth! Always beating up the boys that tried to talk to you!
I don’t regret that last one at all though…
So please forgive me for my mistakes!
Also, it seems that I’ll be gone for a very long time so I’ll probably miss your play Hart, even though you’d finally bagged the main role! I’ll miss your birthday too Altis, even though I’d even reserved a table at your favorite restaurant, but oh well.
Oh, I guess I won’t be able to see you grow up either, huh? And I was so looking forward to the time when Hart would call me “old man.”
Can’t come to your graduation ceremony either.
I’ll miss your marriage too.
Oh, and the grandchildren.
Damn, got a lot of regrets.
Well, that’s not important anymore.
Hey Altis, take care of Hart will you? You know he’s gonna cry when his loose tooth comes out.
And Hart, listen to your big sister okay? She’s in charge.
I know I’m leaving a lot of work to you guys but I’m sure you’ll manage to keep the Inn running.
You’re Beterns after all!
Oh, and about the…other thing.
Just remember what I taught you. Make sure to hide your face and stay safe.
Safety comes first, always remember that.
Although I have a feeling that won’t be a problem anymore. At least that’s what he said…
Oh look at me, worrying about you guys for no reason.
You’re all grown up after all! I’m sure you’ll be alright.
Ah, Altis I still remember when you used to cry after wetting the bed.
Hart still does that sometimes though…
Woops! Ended up embarrassing you in my farewell letter! Parents are just hopeless aren’t they?
Well, guess my time’s up.
Take care of each other and try to have a fun life. I won’t forgive you if you don’t chase your dreams!
Life’s too short to worry about stupid stuff like appearances or other people’s impressions of you.
If you wanna dance in the Inn, just do it!
Actually, don’t. It’s dangerous. Daddy kept stubbing his toe you know?
And don’t cry because you miss me, because I’ll always be with you!
Just remember all the fun we had and know that you were the best things that ever happened to my boring old life.
Goodbye kids, I’ll send your regards to mommy, okay?
Love you to pieces,
P.s. Remember to eat your vegetables.
P.p.s. No boys until you’re 21, Altis.
P.p.p.s. Wear the rings. They’re cool.
Her heart sunk as she finished reading the letter.
He was gone.
The little girl buried her face in the letter and cried.