15.0 Grayscale_Chapter 3: Shade

The sun was out but the trees covered the sky, casting long shadows on the ground. I stood in the shade and the dark robed guy stood under the sunlight. I stared at him, cursing inwardly when he called me Ms. Hero.

If he knows who I am then he’s stronger than me, I thought, quickly calming down.

There was no need to be afraid. I’d dealt with stronger guys before so I knew exactly what to do.

Rule 1: Don’t break eye contact. You don’t wanna miss a punch or something. I met his dark brown eyes with mine.

Rule 2: Always be ready to jump back and start running, in case they’re crazy, perverted, or stupid. I shifted my weight and pressed down on the ground.

Rule 3: Be ready to defend yourself in case they jump at you too fast. Maybe kick some dirt in their eyes or…

The ground was wet and grassy so there was no loose dirt to kick.

…kick their nuts.

He stepped forward. I took aim. He stopped.

Damn it, did he find out? Won’t work if he’s expecting it. Gotta distract him.

“Hey uh, are you sure you aren’t confusing me with someone else?” I said.

“No, Ms. Lilith Grayscale. You are most definitely the Hero,” he replied indifferently.

Fuck, he really does know. I took a deep breath and lifted my chin at him.

“Fine then. Since you know that I’m the hero, you better stop stalking me, you creepy stalker!” I said confidently.

“Creepy stalker? But I’m not-” he said, flustered.

I inwardly grinned because I’d finally broken his poker face.

“Look, I’m busy right now. I have important hero stuff to do. Tell you what, send me a letter when I’m done and I’ll give you an autograph for free. Sound good? Okay, bye!” I waved at him while slowly taking a few steps back, but never took my eyes off him.

He stared at me and I saw some confusion in his eyes. He seemed a lot less scary now that his facade had been broken. He looked at me for a little longer before he smirked, chuckled and turned around.

“Oh well, guess it can’t be helped. I’ll just send you a letter when I find the way back home,” he said, as he started walking away.

“What did you say?” I said.

“Oh? I said I’ll send you a letter.” He stopped but didn’t turn around.

Jerk. I thought, as I bit my lip. But if what I heard was true…

“Are you an earthling too?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I waited for him to continue but he just started walking again.

Asshole!

“Hey wait! I just remembered that I have to find a way back to Earth. To… um beat the Demon Lord!” I said, as confidently as I could.

“Oh? How does that work?” He chuckled.

“Well um…” I stammered. “…that’s a secret!” I finished lamely.

Fuck! I broke his composure but he regained it way too quickly. Gotta steer this conversation somewhere else.

“Anyways, I’ve never heard of any Earthlings being summoned here except for the hero and the demon lord. So unless you’re the Demon Lord-” A sharp pain stabbed my chest, along with the urge to fire off my strongest skill.

He still hadn’t turned around and for a moment I couldn’t help thinking this was a good thing. It made it easier to drive my knife into his back.

“No, I am not the demon lord,” he replied calmly, as if he didn’t notice my growing killing intent. “If I was, I would have killed you right away. You must have realized that I’m stronger than you? Besides-” He held his arm out to the side and a few drops of water started falling from it. “I’m a Water mage. Although I have absolutely no talent in magic.”

The pain in my chest faded a little. “The hero and the demon lord can use all types of magic to an extent. This doesn’t prove anything.”

“True. However, why would the demon lord come to the middle of the Light kingdom?” he asked, still facing his back towards me.

“I don’t know, to gather intel? Maybe kill the hero before she’s strong enough to beat you?”

“Well, I suppose I can’t reason my way out of this. I’ll just have to tell you.”

The pain in my chest intensified and I unconsciously reached for the knife hanging around my waist.

Fuck! He really is –

“The Demon Lord is dead.”

“What?”

“It was announced about a month ago in the Dark Kingdom but it took a while to reach the Southern continent. I only found out because I happened to meet a merchant from the North. The demon lord died under mysterious circumstances, just like the past twenty or so Demon Lords. So rest assured, Ms. Hero, I am not the Demon Lord,” he explained, finally turning around and flashing his creepy smile at me.

I felt numb for a second as the pain in my chest suddenly dissipated. Then something else vanished too; a vague purpose or goal that I had kept in the back of my mind. A little part of me had wanted to kill the demon lord. Had wanted to be the hero.

But now I didn’t have any reason to stay in this world. I had no excuse to stay here anymore. But I didn’t want to go back. Because going back meant facing Dusty. I’d tried to avoid thinking about him because every time I did, a frenzy of emotions overtook me and made my head hurt.

After my mother died, no one had cared about me at all. The strangers I begged from, the policemen who shoved me away from the richer parts of town, and the other beggars on the street – none of them cared.

But Dusty was different. He was the first one to talk to me after I came to the orphanage. He cared enough to do so. He introduced me to the other kids, let me play with them. He played pranks on me so I got mad and whacked him with the old lady’s stick. And then the old lady whacked me for messing around with her stick. He was with me when we made our first heist, after the orphanage started running low on money.

We did everything together. We always had each other’s back. He’d been my friend. My best friend. Maybe more than that.

I still didn’t know if it was true though. The shopkeeper could have been lying. But if he wasn’t, meeting Dusty again was not something I looked forward to.

So I had been trying to put off the question. Trying to avoid the decision. Did I really want to know if Dusty had betrayed me? Did I really want to go back and find out? But now there were no excuses. There was no demon lord to vanquish. The only demons left were my own.

“So,” he said, snapping me out of my thoughts. “Do you want to go home?”

I paused.

“Maybe.”

He looked at me, frowning at my response. “Well, why don’t we look for a way back first. You can decide on the way. Does that sound good to you?”

“Fine.” I nodded. “Where do we start?”

“I don’t know,” he said, smiling.

“Then what the fuck are we supposed to do?” I asked, the corners of my eyes twitching.

“Why, we go ask someone who does know, of course!” His smile grew wider.

“And who would that be?” I asked.

“A Goddess!” he exclaimed.

I paused and thought about what he’d said. The Goddesses might know about a way back to Earth, but why would they tell us? After all, they were the ones who brought us here in the first place.

Well, it’s not like I’ve got any better ideas.

“Alright, but how are we gonna find one?” I asked.

“We can visit a shrine, perhaps. The Light Goddess’ shrine isn’t open to the public, so there’s no point in going there. However, the Fire Goddess does receive visitors and it’s fairly close by, maybe a couple of weeks on foot, I’d say.”

The Fire Goddess?

“Alright. Let’s do that.” I nodded.

“Great! We should stop by Fohil and grab some supplies first, and maybe buy a carriage if we can scrape together enough money,” he said.

I grinned. “Perfect. You take care of the supplies, and I’ll acquire a carriage.”

He blinked a few times and looked at me with an uneasy expression but then shrugged it off and started laughing.

“Interesting, very interesting. At least I won’t be bored on this trip, Ms. Hero,” he said, flashing his annoying smile again.

“Stop calling me Ms. Hero, you already know my name! Call me Lily!” I exclaimed.

“Iya ha- ahem. Very well, Lily.” He coughed.

What the fuck was that? I thought, feeling slightly…weird.

He started walking down the road.

“Hey! You’re supposed to introduce yourself too!” I said, angrily.

“Oh? I apologize, it completely slipped my mind.” He turned around.

He doesn’t look sorry at all!

I glared at him. He smirked.

“My name is-”

“Found you!” A loud shout interrupted him.

What the…?

I turned towards the voice.

A large ball of fire was shooting through the air, coming straight towards us. I stood still, mouth agape, until the heat from the incoming meteor snapped me out of it.

Shit! Gotta get outta the way!

I looked at the dark robed guy in front of me, but he was just as surprised as I was.

“Run!” he shouted, but I was already ahead of him.

We ran as fast as we could, but the fiery meteor kept following us.

“Stop!” it yelled.

Hell no!

We kept running, but the fireball kept getting closer. The air getting hotter, and a sizzling sound filled my ear. I didn’t dare look back. That guy looked at me as if he was thinking about something. He moved his hand towards me as the fireball passed over our heads.

It crashed into the ground, throwing a large cloud of dust into the air and causing the ground to tremble from the force of the collision. I shielded my eyes against the dust.

What the fuck is going on?

Something warm pressed against me, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable. In fact, it felt vaguely familiar.

“I finally found you! Why did you run off without me? It seems you need a little more training, doesn’t it?”

“Teacher?” I asked.

As the dust settled, I could finally make out the woman who was hugging me. She had long, red hair that fell all the way down to her waist, bright red eyes that shone with a fiery light, a perfect face, a perfect body, and unblemished olive skin.

Simply put, she was beautiful. She finally let go of me and held me at arm’s length, staring at me with her bright red eyes.

“Do not even think about running away again. I have to protect you, after all.” She gave me a warm smile.

Even though she was probably only a year older than me, she always acted like an overprotective mother. She wouldn’t let anyone hurt me at all. Of course, she beat me up herself all the time.

“Teacher! Why are you here?” I asked, still recovering from her shocking entrance.

“Like I said, I am here to protect you,” she said.

“Protect me? From who?” I asked.

“From –” She stopped and her eyes widened as she suddenly turned around. She pointed a large red sword at the dark robed guy.

When did she take that out?

“You! Who are you?” she shouted.

I looked at the dark-robed guy and surprisingly, he didn’t look flustered at all. In fact, he was wearing his poker face again.

“It’s rude to not introduce yourself first,” he said.

Hypocrite.

“What’s the matter teacher? Why are you pointing your sword at him?” I asked.

“Listen Lily, his name is Runir Candela and –” She started coughing and choking.

The dark-robed guy, Runir, gave her a startled look. “You can see my status?”

Teacher cleared her throat and glared at him.

“What are you –” She coughed and her angry glare intensified. “Leave! Or else…”

He looked at her for a little while before smiling.

“No.”

“Leave!”

“Why should I?”

“Because –” She started coughing again.

He kept smiling but his eyes were lost in thought.

“Teacher, what is going on here?” I asked.

She suddenly started glaring at me instead.

“Were you traveling with him? Is he the reason you left the castle so suddenly? Do you even know who he is?”

“No, I – we just met. I left the castle because I wanted to. And he’s from my world and we’ve decided to look for a way back together! Wait, why do I have to tell you all of this anyway? You’re not my mom!” I pushed her away.

She blinked, obviously confused by my actions. Then she turned to glare at Runir. But he just smiled at her.

“You know, it’s about time you introduced yourself. After all, we’ll be traveling together from now on, won’t we?” he said, still smiling.

She kept glaring at him for a while before she took a deep breath and sheathed her sword. Seeing this, Runir held out a hand.

“Runir Candela, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

She looked at his hand and snorted. I shook my head at her childishness.

“Teacher, I don’t want to have to call you teacher all the time. Can you please just tell us your name already?” I said.

She brought her gaze to me for a second, and then back at Runir. Finally, she sighed.

“Very well. You may call me Amy, Amy Genis. And if you ever try to hurt Lily, I promise to make your death as slow, and excruciatingly painful as possible. Understood?”

“Understood.”

The three of us stood in the middle of the road, staring at each other for several minutes as an awkward silence descended around us.

Well, now what do we do? Wait, what’s that sound? Is someone… snoring?

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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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13.0 Grayscale_Chapter 1: Snow

I wiped the sweat off my forehead, immediately regretting it as streaks of dirt and grime spread across my face. I frowned and lifted my shirt to clean my face before realizing that that would ruin the shirt. I couldn’t let that happen because I’d prettied up just for today.

I cleaned my face as best I could with the back of my hands while I walked down the busy street, getting jostled by strangers who didn’t even bat an eye as a short fifteen-year-old girl tried to push her way through the crowd.

I was thinking about the plan while crossing the road and didn’t notice the truck barreling towards me. A loud horn spooked me and I jumped just as the truck rushed past.

My heart was racing and I was panting, but I quickly calmed down, cursed the truck driver, and moved on.

After all, the plan had to be executed.

I stopped outside a supermarket and looked around. I found the person I was waiting for and walked up to him.

He was a skinny, brown haired boy wearing a grimy yellow t-shirt and patched up jeans but despite his impoverished appearance, Dusty’s eyes had a spark in them that couldn’t be found in your average beggar or street urchin.

“Dusty,” I said, nodding towards him.

“Not gonna gimme one of ya usual hugs huh Lily?” he said, smirking at me.

“Course not, gotta stay clean today,” I replied, not really facing him while I spoke. No passerby would be able to tell that we knew each other. “Right, you go wait by the fire exit. I’ll meet you back at the den when we’re in the clear.”

“Gotcha.” he said, moving towards the alley besides the supermarket.

I walked towards the supermarket’s front door and took a deep breath.

I was nervous. No matter how many heists I pulled, my heart would always go into overdrive. Well, maybe calling them ‘heists’ was a bit of a stretch, we just stole a little money and food.

Most of the time.

I took a deep breath and opened the door, plastering an innocent smile on my face. I walked through the aisles and stuffed a few snacks into my clothes.

Kelly wanted cookies and Chen was crying for chocolate milk. Damn brats, they should be more grateful. I never had anyone to get me chocolate milk when I was growing up on the streets.

I slightly chuckled as I grabbed some chocolate milk, thinking of the little boy’s reaction when he sees it.

After grabbing everything I needed, I walked into the bathroom, stood on top of the toilet, and looked out through the air vent that we’d opened yesterday.

“You there Dusty?” I whispered.

“Yeah,” he replied, softly.

I grinned, took out the stolen goodies, and threw them out the vent. After confirming that Dusty had gotten everything and getting him to promise to not give the goodies to the kids at the orphanage without me, I walked out of the bathroom.

Another perfect heist by master thief Lilith Grayscale!

I smiled complacently as I reached out to open the doors but suddenly, a strong hand grabbed hold of my wrist. My eyes widened and cold sweat formed on my back as I realized that the man who had grabbed me was the shopkeeper.

“Now where are ya off ta in such a hurry, lil miss shoplifter?” He revealed a mouth full of crooked yellow teeth.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just looking around,” I said, trying to pull my hand from his grip.

“Now, now missy. No need ta lie. After all, yer lil friend told us everything.”

I stopped struggling. “What do you mean?”

“Ye shoulda checked who you was stealin from missy. This is the Gecko gang’s turf and they don’t take kindly ta dirty lil urchins takin their stuff. The boy was smart ta tell us bout ya in exchange fer membership in the gang. ‘Course, there’s no tellin what happens ta him.” He dragged me to the back of the supermarket. The other shoppers didn’t seem to notice that a large, middle aged man was dragging a little girl to a room alone.

I tried to shout for help but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. After all, who would help a random street urchin like me in the middle of gang territory?

I struggled in vain but my eyes lit up as I saw something in front of me. I quickly grabbed it and smashed it onto the shopkeeper’s hand.

“Fu-” The man released my wrists and held his bleeding arm with his other hand. I quickly tossed aside the broken soda bottle and ran towards the exit.

A terrible pain pierced my shoulder and I fell on the ground. The impact with the ground knocked the wind out of my lungs and my eyes started swimming. I barely managed to make out a few figures standing over me, just as the shopkeeper made his way back to me.

He cursed and spat on me. He started kicking me in front of the store in broad daylight.

But nobody gave a damn.

Surprisingly, after the first kick, I didn’t feel much pain. In fact, my thoughts wandered to what the shopkeeper had said when he first grabbed me.

Dusty… the little fucker… selling me out to the Geckos…

Soon, the pain I felt at Dusty’s betrayal surpassed the pain of the kicks. But as my consciousness slipped, my vision didn’t start going dark.

It went white. And that reminded me of something more painful than anything else…

Snow drifting in the cold, winter winds…

A woman shivering on the ground…

A little girl shaking the woman, crying out to her, promising to get her some food…

The woman’s eyes losing their light as she gave the girl one last smile…

And more snow drifting in the wind as the girl wept over the woman’s body.

“Congratulations child!” said a voice. Even though it sounded gentle, it made goosebumps pop up on my skin.

Huh? What happened? Where am I?

I opened my eyes and my vision became so white I couldn’t see anything. Although the bright light didn’t hurt my eyes, I still closed them because it reminded me of… snow.

I was exposed and vulnerable, and it made me uncomfortable. I’d learned to avoid standing out on the streets, or else I’d get beaten and all my stuff would get stolen. Some of my friends had even been raped.

I was lucky. I learned quickly and I adapted.

“Welcome Hero! I know that you are confused right now, but I am certain that I can dispel your unease and answer all of your questions!”

This voice, what does it want from me?

“Please let me go. I didn’t do it! Please!” I said, trying to make myself sound as pitiful as possible.

“Child, you are not in trouble. In fact, all your troubles are over! This is a new beginning for you, an opportunity to live a life of honor and dignity!”

“What do you mean?”

“Child, try to remember what happened.”

I did, and a flood of awful memories and emotions slammed into me. I winced as I remembered the pain.

“I apologize, my remarks were insensitive.”

That didn’t sound apologetic at all. I frowned.

“Did I die?”

“No child, your soul was summoned here while you were on the brink of death. And now you have the honor of being a hero!”

“No, I don’t like standing out. It gets me beaten up and I don’t like getting beaten up.”

“Alas child, there is nothing I can do about this. Fate has decreed that you will be the new hero, destined to vanquish the evil demon lord or die trying. Even I cannot oppose Fate child.”

“Who are you anyway?” I asked.

“I am the Light goddess.”

“Never heard of her.”

“Well, you will hear of me on Erath. Now, because you took so long to wake up, it’s almost time for you to leave.”

Finally, this stupid light’s hurting my eyes! I blinked and rubbed my eyes.

“Nonsense! My holy light cannot harm you!”

Sure, sure, whatev- wait, you can hear my thoughts?

“Of course, child, how else do you think we were communicating? You haven’t moved your lips since you arrived.”

Shit.

A bright flash of light filled my vision. Thankfully, it began fading within moments. A bunch of people in white robes surrounded me. I was in the center of the circle, the center of the room. Everyone stared at me.

I panicked. I was standing out way too much.

“Mighty hero! Thank you for answering our summons!” said a white robed man as he fell on his knees. The others kneeled as well.

My heart skipped a beat. I ran.

The white robed figures were too stunned to stop me so I quickly passed through them. I was just about to reach an open window when a large, armored knight stepped in front of me. I tried to turn around but I couldn’t do so in time and got caught gruffly. I struggled for a bit before going limp.

“P-please let me go. I didn’t do it, I swear!” My eyes started getting moist.

“Do not be alarmed, mighty hero,” said a voice behind me. The knights turned so I could see the person who was speaking.

He was a partially bald, middle aged man with brown hair and a short, well-trimmed beard. He sat on a shiny white throne and wore a white cape and crown.

I stared at him for a bit and then observed the room. After noticing the glowing stones around the hall, the swords on people’s hips, the medieval attire they were wearing as well as the person who was obviously a king, I stood stunned for a few seconds before accepting the situation. I’d always been good at adapting.

Seeing the change in my expression, the king ordered the knights to release me.

“Hero, I apologize for our rudeness and hope that you can forgive us. However, it is of paramount importance that you listen to our request. Our lives and the lives of our people depend on it!” the king passionately said.

I swept the room with my gaze. After mapping the place inside my head, I nodded.

“Mighty hero! The detestable Dusk Alliance has summoned a vile demon lord to lead their forces of evil against us. But we of the Holy Union could not stand by and let evil prevail, so we summoned you, our greatest champion, in the hope that you would lend us your strength. Please, I beg of you, help us!” There were quite a few murmurs and mutterings when the king begged me to help but I ignored them.

“What do I get?” I asked, nonchalantly.

“Beg your pardon?” The king gaze me a puzzled look.

“If I were to help you, what would I get in turn?” Some of the people in the room gave me angry glances but I ignored them.

“Satisfaction? Honor? Dignity?”

“I can’t eat any of that.”

“Hero, is serving the goddess and saving lives not an honor in itself?”

I shook my head. The king made a worried face.

“Ah, of course! We will give you a large sum to aid you in your journey and besides, with your strength, earning money should not be an issue. And if we win, great riches and rewards will obviously be bestowed upon you!”

I thought for a moment before nodding.

“Splendid! Now, initially the hero was supposed to leave for their journey as soon as they were summoned, but we have long since decided to train the hero for at least a month before they can leave, to ensure they are strong enough to survive.”

Perfect! I can run away and hide until I can understand this world better.

“Of course, we will be providing an experienced teacher and bodyguard to protect and train you.” He gestured to the door behind him as a tall, red haired young woman stepped out from inside the other room.

She stared at me and I stared back. Then she walked over and hugged me for some reason.

The fuck is going on?

King Seleo smiled a bitter smile as he thought of the Hero they had summoned this time. The goddess had found a truly troublesome child.

The hero grew at an astonishing rate, even for a hero, but her personality was incredibly troublesome.

She tried to hide whenever she could, stole food whenever she could get away with it and always asked for money and items with a pitiful look on her face.

The king shook his head and sighed.

“Your Highness! The hero, she-” A messenger rushed in.

A cold sweat went down King Seleo’s back. “What happened?”

“Your Highness, the hero- we can’t find her anywhere! She’s gone!”

“What?” the King exclaimed. “Where could she-”

“Your Majesty, your majesty!” Another messenger rushed in.

“What now?”

“The sacred equipment, it’s- it’s gone!” The messenger panted.

The King’s mind blanked for a second before an uneasy smile appeared on his face.

The King knew Fate would direct the hero to her destiny eventually, so he wasn’t surprised she left unannounced. In fact, he was happy she at least had the sense to take the sacred equipment with her.

Only, how did she leave even though he’d stationed tens of guards all over the palace and especially around her room? Moreover, a high-class barrier surrounded the sacred equipment. How did she…?

The king shook his head. This hero…was truly quite troublesome.

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