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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11.0 Candela_Chapter 2: Queen’s Gambit

Void Ray!

A beam shot out of my hand towards the giant spider monster hanging in the branches above. It didn’t even get a chance to cry out before its head was pierced by the beam. Strangely, no blood flowed out from the hole in the monster’s head, even when it fell onto the ground with a loud thud!

Ping!

Ah, I leveled up again! Finally hit level 200. Can’t stay here for much longer, it’s getting tougher to raise my level in this forest.

I walked away from the monster’s corpse, thinking about the week I had spent here. Although I could only hide and pick off the smaller monsters for the first couple of days, I’d soon become strong enough to hunt most of the monsters in the forest.

After all, this was the world of my favorite game, so I remembered all the spells and their effects. Besides, I always chose the demon lord route anyways so I knew exactly how it worked.

If I remember correctly, level 200 was good enough to beat the main story-line but I should probably aim for at least level 300, since the secret bosses are insanely strong.

And then I’ll go claim my army!

Iya ha ha ha!

…It’s a good thing I only laugh inside my head…

A young man stood on a balcony. His long black hair flew in the air as a gentle breeze brushed by. At the moment, the young man’s deep blue eyes were gazing off into the distance. His face was a sculpture; perfectly crafted and devoid of all emotion. Thus, although he looked like he was barely twenty years old, he gave off the air of a great scholar or sage.

Suddenly, there was a loud boom in the distance. The young man frowned and turned his gaze towards the sound. Just as he moved closer to the edge of the balcony someone knocked on the door outside his room.

“Come in,” he said.

“Sir! I apologize for disturbing you so late at night, but someone just smashed through the city gates!” said a knight wearing a set of steel armor, as she saluted him.

The man frowned. The city gates were enhanced with magic and protected by the elite guard, destroying them was no easy feat.

There was another loud boom, even closer this time. The knight ran out into the hallway. There were a few crashes, groans, and cries of pain before everything went quiet. The young man still stood on the balcony but his gaze was locked onto the door which the knight had left open. A figure clad in swirling black robes slowly walked into the room.

“I am the Demon General Azoth. I would ask who you are but I already know,” the young man said as he kneeled.

The figure observed the kneeling young man, but didn’t respond. The clouds covering the moon shifted, bathing the room in silver moonlight.

Azoth looked up and saw a young, expressionless face. He realized that the face belonged to someone even younger than he did but what surprised him even more was that this person’s face was impenetrable. He couldn’t glean the tiniest bit of information from it.

“Welcome, oh great Demon Lord,” he said, bringing his gaze to the floor.

The dark robed teenager didn’t respond, but when Azoth raised his head to look at him again, a shiver went down his spine. Even though his face remained expressionless, for some reason, Azoth felt as if he was smiling.

I sat on a chair at the end of a large oval shaped table. Eight people surrounded the longer, curved sides of the table and on the opposite end facing me sat the man who had introduced himself as Demon General Azoth.

“Your majesty, on behalf of your loyal citizens and the Ministry, I once again congratulate you on your safe arrival,” said a tall, bald headed knight wearing a set of glistening black armor.

“It is truly fortunate that His Majesty managed to reach us safely, the previous demon lords all died mysterious and untimely deaths, leaving us at the mercy of the hero. In fact, if it wasn’t for the oracles informing us of their deaths, we would have assumed that the demon lords were not being summoned anymore,” said the fat mustachioed man to my right.

They know that the demon lords get summoned but they claim to not know how they keep dying. Didn’t that annoying voice say that most of the previous demon lords were killed by the demon army?

“Now that our liege has arrived, we can finally return the favor to those filthy Light kingdom savages!” spat the middle aged woman on my left.

“Long live the demon lord!”

“Lead us to victory sire!”

“Crush the hero!”

The people on the sides of the table started cheering and shouting.

“Sire, we have prepared a report on the state of the army and we can have them ready to set out in a fortnight,” said the old white haired lady sitting beside the bald, dark armored knight as she placed a file in front of me.

“With His Majesty leading us, how could we possibly fail?”

“Those savages will regret challenging us!”

“We can finally avenge our fallen comrades!”

“All hail His Majesty the demon lord!”

They cheered again.

Lead the army? Do they want me to fight on the front lines or something? Do they want to get me killed or are they just incredibly stupid?

I mentally frowned. At first I was surprised by how the Demon Lord’s long absences and untimely deaths had led the people of the kingdom to form the democratically elected “Ministry,” and I was sure the Ministry had something to do with the previous Demon Lords’ deaths but these people were far too stupid to be a threat to anyone but a hot-blooded battle junkie.

I raised my hand a little and they all stopped cheering. I smiled inside my head and Azoth on the other end flinched.

Interesting, it’s like he can see my smile even though I’m only smiling inside my head. Well, I guess there’s no point in hiding it then.

A small grin broke out on my face again and this time they all flinched. I picked up the report and tore it straight down the middle.

“M-my lord, was it not to your liking? I’ll immediately compile a new one-” said the old woman but I raised my hand and she stopped. I swept my gaze over them.

Now, I’m sure. These guys are just a bunch of stupid politicians.

I stared at Azoth on the other end of the table. I nodded, indicating that he should speak. He hesitated then said, “My Lord, I believe the best course of action for now would be for you to leave to a safe place.”

Oh? Concerned for my safety, are you? I frowned.

“I meant no disrespect of course, I am certain that you possess the strength to protect yourself but the previous demon lords were strong as well. Yet, they died and we don’t know who or what killed them. Therefore, it would be wise for you to hide and increase your strength, sire.”

This is confusing. If I become stronger, wouldn’t I be an even greater threat to his power? Does he only wish to retain his power for a little longer, perhaps intending to prepare for a way to deal with me upon my return? Or does he plan to get rid of me when I’m out of the public eye? Just another demon lord dying an unfortunate death.

I grinned again and Azoth’s face paled. I pointed at him.

“Play with me.”

I raised my hand and brought it back down onto the board. “d4.”

Azoth frowned as he gazed at the pawn I had just moved.

“I’m surprised you have chess in this world though,” I said, looking at him while crossing my legs underneath the short table.

“Yes, it was derived from a defensive mechanism in the original demon lord’s castle.”

“Oh, I thought that might be the case. I’ve always wanted to play chess on a giant board like that, is it still around?”

“No, although it was a death trap, it was a terrible defensive mechanism. The first hero just smashed through it and we never saw the point in fixing it afterwards.”

“Pity, I wanted our game to be grander. After all, you’re the first person I’ve spoken to in years.”

Apart from an annoying voice that spoke inside my head of course, I thought.

“I am flattered.”

“Sure you are.” I smirked.

He finally moved his hands, hovering above a pawn before picking it up and placing it in front of mine.

“c4”

My fingers started tapping on the table.

“So what do you think I intend to do here?”

“Lead the army to crush the Holy Union or set out to conquer a dungeon?”

“Oh? And why do you think I would do something so dangerous?”

Azoth frowned. “Your Majesty, that is what most of the demon lords have done in the past. After all, the hero’s growth is supposed to start slowly but become much faster than your own later on. It is therefore advisable for you to set out to increase your power quickly and crush the Light Kingdom before the hero becomes more formidable.”

I looked at him but his face was unreadable.

“Tell me Azoth, why must we go to war?” I said.

He gave me a confused look before replying, “For the same reason the people of the Dusk Alliance cannot harm you nor disobey your commands, sire. It is Fate.”

“Fate?” I frowned. “I’m surprised that someone as smart as you would say something so irrational. I for one, like to make my own fate.”

I moved another piece on the board.

“d5.”

He stared at me pensively.

“Your Majes-”

“And stop it with the Your Majesty crap. Call me Runir, Runir Candela.”

“Very well Yo- Runir, it seems that the ancient documents were correct. The people of your world are not confined by Fate the way we are. For us, Fate is an inviolable existence that binds us all to our positions and roles. Much like this game.” He gestured towards the chess board. “The pieces move at the behest of the player, each unable to escape the shackles of their role. Even the strongest of us are just pieces.”

“I see. And how does this analogy explain your hatred of me?” I leaned closer to him.

“Hatred? No Y- Runir, I do not hate you. After all, you’re just the Queen. A powerful piece yes, but a piece nonetheless.”

“Oh, I’m the Queen? Well then, who’s the King?”

“The Goddess, of course.” He said, leaning back in his chair.

“The Goddess?” I frowned. “I assumed she was the player.”

“Sadly no. She is at once the most powerful and the most restricted piece on the board. Most of the population believes that the Goddesses made this world and that the wars are a result of their internal arguments. But the ancient documents state otherwise. The Goddesses are mere pieces as well.”

“…I see. But that begs the question, who is the player then?”

“That would be Fate. Fate prevents the Goddesses from killing humans or interfering in our wars. Fate compels the hero and the demon lord to fight each other to the death. And Fate prevents those who wish to prevent war and needless bloodshed from doing what must be done to stop it.”

“And what must be done to stop the wars?”

“Kill the hero and the demon lord of course. Well, the hero isn’t compelled to go to war, they are merely compelled to defeat the Demon Lord, so perhaps killing them isn’t necessary. One would also have to eradicate the royal families of each of the kingdoms to really stop the war, but the demon lord, they must die for peace.”

“I see. Do you know how the other demon lords died?”

“The earliest demon lords died in battle, mostly at the hands of the hero. Some were assassinated while a few committed suicide. The last twenty-three, however, died mysterious deaths that even I am not aware of.”

“Does Fate prevent you from lying to me?”

“Yes, no human from the Dusk Alliance can betray you, even to the extent of a lie.”

“Ah that reminds me! Why do we call ourselves the Demon army or the Demon general and so on, when we’re all just ordinary humans? Wouldn’t it help our public image if we were called the Justice army or something?”

“Fate compels us-”

“Yeah, yeah. Fate. Well Fate shouldn’t be a problem in my case.”

“What do you mean?”

I grinned. “I’m going to focus on governing the kingdom for now.”

“Your Ma-Runir, I don’t think you understand. The demon lord’s Fate is to conquer the Holy Union or die trying. You cannot resist Fate-”

I raised my hand to silence him. “I never said I wasn’t going to conquer the Holy Union. I just don’t want to fight a long, bloody war. You see, in my world, wars aren’t fought by large armies running into each other on a plain. No, it’s time for some modern warfare.” I grinned. “Your move.”

We considered each other for a moment. Then he moved his pawn to d5, toppling my piece with a flick.

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10.0 Candela_Chapter 1: In my head

Again?

I sighed and made a disappointed face. In my head, of course.

I was standing in front of my school locker, mentally pitying the poor monkey who had filled it with some putrid, brown substance that I had no wish to identify. It was both amusing and disheartening to know that there were still idiots in this school who hadn’t realized that provoking me was akin to a self-condemnation.

Laughter. “What’s that in your locker shit-face? Your mom’s tampons?” More laughter.

Well, looks like I won’t need to check the video cameras after all.

I didn’t even turn around because I had already identified the voice. In fact, I had already deduced that Frank Stones was the only muscle brain with a skull thick enough to not realize how utterly stupid his juvenile prank was.

But you see, I am a very nice person, so I selflessly took it upon myself to educate this buffoon before he got himself into any real trouble.

As Frank disappeared down the hallway, my face contorted into an evil grin. In my head, of course.

Frank Stone was feeling much better today. He’d been in a foul mood all week, ever since his friends had inexplicably stopped coming to school. He called them a million times but they never picked up and when he went to their houses, their parents would tell him that they were sleeping or feeling sick or crying over their dead dog’s body.

But he wasn’t buying it. There was more to it than that, but he couldn’t figure out what. Back before all this shit started happening, they’d been stealing lunch from nerds and hitting on some girl. Business as usual for the Kewl Kids Klub.

The only other thing he remembered was one of his boys walking into a stone-faced black kid and the rest of them ganging up on the little fucker to teach him a lesson. But a teacher had seen them and broken it up before they could do anything.

Black kid musta brought em some bad luck then.

He resolved to deal with the little bastard himself. Hopefully that would get rid of the bad luck haunting his boys. If not, squashing a filthy bug should fix his mood up anyways. Besides, he’d always hated the kid, not just because of the color of his skin but also because he never said anything at all. For some reason, looking at his stoic expression always sent shivers down Frank’s spine.

 

He filled the kid’s locker with dog-shit and made fun of him in front of everyone in the hallway. But, although he felt a lot better afterwards, something kept nagging at the back of his head as he went to gym class. Again, he couldn’t tell what.

Once the class ended, he wiped the sweat off his forehead and headed into the showers. He was just taking off his gym shorts when he heard his phone beep. He walked over to it and smiled as he read who it was from.

Melissa: Hey Frankie, wanna come over tonight? My folks are leaving for the weekend so we can have a lot of fun ~ iykwim

He smirked and told her he’d come over to chill. He put away the phone after texting Melissa for a few more minutes.

Fucking whore. Just won’t shut up will she?

He finished showering and wore his regular clothes.

Hm? Something smells strange, was there a gas leak or something?

He walked out into the hallway and was just thinking about how to mess with that black kid again when someone called his name. He turned around instinctively.

“Joanne! Hey how are ya babe, are we still on for tomorrow night?” He flashed her his perfect smile.

She slapped him.

“J-joanne? Babe what’s wrong? Did you not like the bag I bought you or-”

She slapped him again. “Frank Stone you fucking two timing bastard! Don’t you ever show your face around me again! Fuck you, damn it.” She slapped him again.

Frank was shocked. How had she found out? Then he noticed the phone in her other hand.

That’s Melissa’s phone! How the fu-

Joanne slapped him again before storming off. He held his sore cheeks and stared down the hallway.

Whatever! Fucking whore, you think I was gonna stay with you for more than a month anyways? Bitch.

“Frankie!”

“Melissa? How are ya babe? We still on fo-” He shrieked, putting his hands over his face. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“I heard everything. Fuck you, asshole!”

“Shit! Why the fuck did you bring pepper spray to school?”

“Because of fucking pigs like you!” She only stopped when the can ran out. Then she stomped away after flinging the empty can at the wincing blonde haired boy’s head.

Motherfucking bitch! Just you wait, I’m gonna fuck you up so bad you won’t be able to sit-

“Frank Stone, please report to the Principal’s office, immediately. Frank Stone, please report to the principal’s office, immediately.”

The principal’s office? For what? Don’t tell me that little bastard bitched about me to the principal just because of a little dog shit? Shit, I’m gonna fucking kill that bastard.

Frank wobbled his way to the principal’s office, rubbing his eyes like crazy and lashing out at anyone that wouldn’t get out of his way in time. He entered the office, not waiting for the secretary to give him permission.

“You called for me ma’am?”

“Ah yes Mr. Stone, I’m afraid we have some very serious things to discuss today but first, do you want to go freshen up a little? You look awful.” She lowered her spectacles as she analyzed the boy’s face. A slight frown crept up her face.

“Nah, it’s alright Ms. Garfield. Just got something in my eye, is all.” He rubbed his eyes again.

“Very well then, I’ve called you here because we have received some very disturbing images from an anonymous source. Here, take a look.”

She pressed a button on her desk and images popped out of it.

“This is… No Ms. Garfield, ma’am, I’ve never- I mean I wouldn’t even think- These are definitely fake!” Frank stuttered, cold sweat pouring down his back.

“Well, I’m afraid we also found a large stash of drugs in a secret compartment in your locker, and with these pictures showing you smoking hashish and inhaling cocaine as well as obviously selling them to others, we have no choice but to detain you until the police arrive.”

“B-but Ms.Garfield, I don’t do drugs! There’s been a mistake, I-I-”

“Mr.Stone, please stop lying to me. Your eyes betray the truth as does the stifling stench of drugs that surrounds you. Please wait quietly outside my office until the investigators arrive. Good day.”

I chuckled inside my head. Dealing with that muscle brained buffoon had been far too easy.

I sat on the school’s roof, playing my favorite video game, all alone. Not that I was lonely. I’d never attempted to make any friends in the first place. In fact, I barely talked to anyone at all. After all, other people were so insufferably stupid that conversing with them would not only be an insult to my intellect, but also an undoubtedly torturous experience for my superior mind.

But then again, it did mean that I had no one to talk to. Life wasn’t challenging at all, ‘school’ was nothing more than a distraction and tormenting monkeys like Frank had long since lost its appeal.

I was bored.

Well, at least I have this, I thought, as I played my favorite RPG. It was a rare gem in an age where the only games you could find were mindless endless runners and shoot em up games.

It’s too bad the guy who made these killed himself a few days ago. I always loved his work, but I guess these imbeciles were too much for him too.

I didn’t know much about the guy. I knew he’d burned himself to death after the game companies rejected his latest game. He’d already tried self-publishing it, but nobody bought it.

Although I regretted not being able to play his last game, I didn’t feel sorry for him at all. In fact, I envied him. He had a purpose in life, a goal even. Something to drive him and motivate him. Even if he failed to achieve it in the end, I envied him for having something to fight for in the first place.

Unlike him, since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I was always just drifting in my thoughts or immersing myself in video games and web fiction.

I heard someone open the door to the roof and absentmindedly turned to see who it was.

Ah… fuck…

Frank Stone had a gun in his hand. There was a loud bang and everything went dark.

I was drifting in space. I wasn’t sure if I was awake or if I was having a very surreal dream, but whatever it was, it made me nauseous.

“Oi, wake up!” shouted an annoying voice.

“Annoying? That’s it, I’m not being gentle anymore. Wake up!” screamed the voice.

Urgh! This voice is so annoying! Why won’t it shut up? What sort of fucked up dream is this?

“Call me annoying one more time and I’ll-”

Oh? You can hear my thoughts? Fascinating. At least it’s an interesting dream.

“Shut up about the dream, will you? You’re not asleep.”

Oh? Well then, tell me annoying voice, if this isn’t a dream then what is it?

“Again, with the annoy- Look here! I already hate explaining this shit so shut up and listen. You were about to die whe-”

Die? What do yo- Oh, now I remember. Frank, the gun, the rooftop. I see. So, this is the afterlife, is it? It’s more annoying than I thought it’d be. Can I choose oblivion instead?

“Why you! Don’t interrupt me! You didn’t die, all right? Your soul was summoned here before you could die an-”

Oh? A summoning you say? And who are you supposed to be? Are you the one who summoned me?

“…No, I did not summon you. I’m just supposed to show you the ropes.”

But you didn’t answer my question. Who are you?

“I’m a goddess of course!”

Of course,.

“Why you! Listen, I don’t like this either all right. Just let me finish so we can both move on.”

Fine. But I have a question. Where am I?

“I don’t know where you are right now. I can’t even see you. The only reason I can speak to you right now is because our minds are connected while you’re in that place.”

Oh, so you won’t be able to talk to me after I leave. Thank god.

“Why you! If you’re done asking questions, let me-”

Ah, but you misunderstood my question. I meant, which world have I been summoned to.

“Oh right, welcome to Erath!”

Hmm? Sounds fam- I’ll think about it later.

“What was that?”

Nothing, just wondering what kind of blessings I’ll be receiving from you! A hero needs his cheats after all!

“Blessings? Hero?” The voice laughed. More like cackled, really. “Who said anything about a hero? I am the Dark Goddess Lunaris, and you are here as my champion.”

Ah, I see, so I’m the Demon Lord. Demon Lord Runir Candela, doesn’t sound so bad. And what about my cheats? You can’t expect me to survive a world of magic and monsters with the skills from my previous life, can you?

“Oh! I don’t expect you to survive at all, actually.”

Excuse me?

“Well, unlike my overachieving sister, I don’t like putting in a lot of effort into my champions.”

So there have been other demon lords before me?

“Hundreds of them. Though the last twenty or so died in their first week.”

Wait? You’re not serious, are you? How can the Dusk Alliance win against the Holy Union without the Demon Lord? Who else could stop the hero?

“Shut up! Don’t tell me how to do my job. Oh look, it seems like we’re almost done. But I guess I’ll give you some advice because I’m bored.”

Thanks.

“Don’t mention it! Right, you’ll wake up somewhere in the Twilight Forest and then get viciously attacked by a bunch of bloodthirsty monsters. If you somehow manage to run away, you’ll be hunted down by the demon army-”

Hunted down by the demon army? What for? Aren’t they supposed to be my subordinates?

“Of course not, they hate the Demon Lords. They always throw them into a war that kills thousands and destroys their economy. In fact, most of the demon lords that died early were killed by the demon army! Now don’t interrupt. Let’s see, if you somehow manage to survive, you’ll probably be killed by the Holy Knights of the Union.”

Great. What about the hero?

“Well, the hero was summoned at the same time as you were but they’ll be a lot stronger than you. Your growth rate will be almost as ridiculous as theirs but you won’t have the holy sword or armor nor will you get any help from me. Of course, my sister will be trying her best to bend the rules to favor the hero but I believe in letting you grow in the face of adversity!”

Grow in the face of adversity? Don’t you mean you’re too lazy to care? Well whatever, this part was only supposed to last five minutes. See ya!

“Sure, sure, good bye!”

“…”

“Wait? Why did he know when this was supposed to end?”

I woke up in a dark forest and instantly heard a bunch of loud cries, roars and snarls around me. I stood up.

I never thought I’d get to play my favorite RPG like this! Ah yes, since I’m going to be the demon lord, I’ll need a cool evil laugh won’t I?

How about, muahahaha! No, kukuku. Maybe, hehehe. No wait, I know!

Iyahahaha!

I laughed maniacally as my lips broke into a menacing smile. In my head, of course.

 

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9.0 Ignis_Chapter 3: Anger

I crashed into a mountain and the blurring scenery vanished. The darkness let me collect my thoughts.

What do I do? How do I get back? I need to hurry!

The absolute darkness gave way to a flashing blur as I came out the other side of the mountain. My thoughts scattered until I was no longer able to think coherently.

Why did they have to call me now? Why couldn’t I resist their call? If I’d been able to resist for a second or two…

Why was I so weak and powerless? Why couldn’t I choose for myself? First the haze and now this? Was I a puppet meant to dance around at the whims of others?

I couldn’t form these questions in my mind, but they tortured me nonetheless.

I felt guilty. I was the one who used magic I didn’t understand. I was the one who lit up the forest and the night sky. That monster found us because of me, and Jeffi and Yunni were in danger because of my actions.

I felt despair and helplessness, because I couldn’t think of a way to save them. I didn’t know how this ‘summoning’ worked. Were they calling out to me? Was it some sick, perverted joke by a higher being? I didn’t know.

But most of all, I felt anger. Overwhelming anger. Anger at whatever force or being was controlling my actions. Anger at whoever it was that forced me to leave the children right when they needed me most. And anger at myself for putting them in that situation and failing to save them.

Soon, anger began to consume my other emotions. I was angry at my helplessness. I was angry at my guilt. I was angry at myself for allowing those emotions to distract me from my objective.

I felt my anger burst forth, as if it had manifested in my blood and was gushing through my body. Anger flooded through my mind and cleared it until there was only one thought left.

I need to protect them!

I tried everything. I lashed out with my fists, I flared the energy that I had used to fight the ape monster and I tried shouting as hard as I could.

Stop!

And I did.

I tumbled for several miles until I managed to dig my feet into the ground. As soon as I stopped, I rushed back through the trail of broken trees and rocks. My anger fueled me, driving me faster and faster through the forests and mountains.

I’d left a fiery trail of destruction behind me but luckily it didn’t seem like I’d gone through a town or a village, and the fire proved useful in showing me the way back.

A sea of flames greeted me as I reached the forest where I’d last seen Jeffi and Yunni. I searched around, wildly cutting across the burning trees while shouting their names.

The night wore on, the gentle moonlight ravaged by the light of the flames devouring the forest. Black ash and scarlet embers floated through the air, burning branches fell from above, and the cries of animals and monsters rang through the night.

But I still couldn’t find them.

My anger intensified and so did my frantic searching. Were they already dead? Were their corpses devoured by the flames? Were their ashes floating above my head?

And then I saw it. A scruffy brown haired boy holding up a burning tree with his back; a little girl covered in burns lying on the ground beneath him. I rushed over and punched the blazing piece of wood away just as the boy’s body finally collapsed.

I looked at what was left of his back, most of which was burnt to a crisp. I forced my trembling hands to turn him over.

“H-hey Aia.” His cracked lips barely moved as he whispered those words to me.

“I-I am so sorry, Jeffi. I-”

“It’s all right. You came back…that’s…that’s all that matters.”

“No! I should have never left. But I could not help it. It just-” Tears started falling from my eyes as I fell to my knees besides the boy. “I will take you back. We can heal you. We can-I can still protect you!”

“Not even a goddess can save me now…”

I froze. “What do you- since when?”

“Since you came crashing through the forest. When that monster cornered us, I don’t know why but I started praying…praying to the fire goddess. And just when I thought that we were dead, you showed up.”

“But I couldn’t- I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t protect you. I-I failed as a goddess.”

“Nobody can do everything…if you hadn’t saved us back then, we would’ve died a long time ago. Besides…it’s too late for me but Yunni, you can still save Yunni.” The corners of his lips twitched. “You’ll have to be her big sister from now on. Take care…take care of her. Family is important you know? You have to protect her, help her, teach her, and take care of her. I know you can do it.” His arms slid down my side as he whispered through cracked lips:

“Big sis.”

The light went out of his eyes just as he stopped breathing. I wailed, crying out into the night as the first droplets of rain started to fall.

The flames on the trees went out, but I was still burning inside.

I carried Yunni back to the shrine. She cried along the way. Jeffi’s lifeless body hung over my other shoulder. When I got back, I was told that they had attempted to call me by praying in front of my statue at the shrine and that they had heard my voice in their heads, telling them to stop.

I raged at them for daring to summon me. For daring to pull me along like a toy. For daring to pull me away just when-

But I soon calmed down. They didn’t know and it would be wrong to blame them. I forbade them from calling me like that ever again and stormed up to my room at the top of the tower. There was no bed so I went up to the stone pedestal and put my head on it.

And cried.

I buried Jeffi outside the shrine, at the top of a nice, quiet hill. Monsters never came to that hill for some reason, possibly because it was too far away from any food source. I made it a forbidden zone for the people at the shrine. Only Yunni was allowed to go there.

I left some flowers over his grave, and Yunni wrote some words on his gravestone.

“Here lies Jeffi, the best big brother anyone could ever ask for.”

I didn’t want to see anyone anymore. The only one I ever allowed up the tower was Yunni, but we barely ever talked.

She became a junior priestess at the shrine and was learning how to take care of it. I always thought back to Jeffi’s last request and tried being a good older sister to her but soon, she was the one taking care of me.

I didn’t need to sleep nor eat nor go to the bathroom. I just stayed up there on the top of the tower. I had already gotten used to the small tugs on my soul and barely noticed them anymore. I could recognize who it came from as well, although the only person I knew was Yunni and I’d forbidden her from praying to me. Having your little sister pray to you was strange. Of course, that became a problem because many of the shrine’s duties and traditions revolved around praying to me. So, I abolished them and forbade them all from worshiping me.

I was no goddess. I was just a broken girl who had lost her first friend.

I learned how to resist the larger pulls. I just had to direct some of that energy that I had used against the ape monster, in the direction of the tug. At least there wouldn’t be any more holes in the shrine’s walls.

Yunni came up again, she’d grown up and become a proper priestess by now. I hadn’t changed at all though, and she looked much older than me now. Now she looked and acted like the older sister.

She tried to make me come down from the tower, but I only came down to visit Jeffi’s grave whenever I was feeling particularly sad.

She tried to cheer me up and I gave her a hollow laugh. She went downstairs with a sad smile on her face.

Yunni is the head priestess now. They seem to have made a new title for her in fact: ‘The Red Shrine Maiden.’ At first I grew angry when I heard that title, thinking that they were making fun of her face that had red burn scars all over it, but Yunni assured me that the color was her idea. After all, there were other shrines in the world.

The ‘maiden’ part came because she never got married. Was it because she was always looking after me and didn’t have the time to find love? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I was grateful for her company.

We started having tea every month, after the calendar was setup. I’d met up with my sisters to talk about the world and how to govern it, but that’s a story for another time.

For now, Yunni was my only sister. My only family. She didn’t need my protection anymore because she’d made a name for herself on her own. She was powerful, both politically and with regards to magic.

We were having tea one day when she turned around to get the sugar. And then her cup fell to the ground.

I quickly went to her and called for help. Nobody could hear me from up there but I had long since learned how to speak to my followers through my mind. A group of red robed priests rushed to the foot of the stairs just as I reached the bottom.

We helped Yunni to her room and laid her on the bed. Her white hair stuck to her wrinkled forehead because of the sweat that was pouring out all over her. I hadn’t been able to stop her from aging, and no matter what I did I couldn’t find a cure to her illness.

And even though I spent a year looking for medicinal herbs and pills, nothing seemed to work.

I grew enraged again. This time, I was angry at fate for taking away Jeffi and for trying to take away Yunni from me too. In my frenzy, I developed a new magic, ‘appraisal’ that helped speed up the search for doctors and herbs.

But it was no use.

I lay next to Yunni, tears streaming down my face as I held onto her hand. She told me that I had been the best big sister she could have ever asked for. She assured me that Jeffi would be proud of me. She said she loved me and would always be watching me.

She made a request just like Jeffi had done in that burning forest sixty years ago. She told me to take care of the children of this world, and be their big sister. I cried as I promised her that I would try my best.

She smiled.

“Thank you…for everything…big sis.”

I saw her close her eyes as a wave of emotions washed over me.

Sorrow, helplessness and of course, anger.

Fate forced me to endure the torture of the haze. It forced me to be summoned at the whims of others. Fate took away Jeffi. It took away Yunni. But Fate could never take away my anger.

I will fight fate one day and I will make it pay.

I cried as she took her last breath. Yunni was gone.

Now all I had left, was my anger.

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8.0 Ignis_Chapter 2: To Protect

When I opened my eyes, I saw a rocky ceiling covered with vines. I sat up and looked around.

I was in a damp, dark cave and couldn’t see anyone in front of me. Just as I was about to call out, a hand suddenly stretched out from behind me and covered my mouth.

“Shh! There might be monsters outside, whisper if you wanna say something.”

I nodded and the hands withdrew. I turned around and saw a scruffy, brown haired boy wearing a ragged leather jacket, a dirty blue shirt and a pair of muddy gray shorts. He was the boy I’d saved from that horrifying black smoke.

“What was that…thing?” I whispered.

“Dunno.”

“Where are we?”

“Dunno.”

“How did you get here?”

“Dunno.”

“…”

“…”

I stared at his brown eyes for a while before my gaze drifted to the side. I saw the little girl from before, leaning against the cave walls. She had brown hair just like the boy but where the boy’s hair was short, rough and unruly, her’s was long and silky. Her clothes were in better condition too; her baggy blue shirt and gray shorts weren’t caked in mud and there weren’t any noticeably large holes either.

I shifted my gaze back at the boy.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Name’s Jeffi.” He said, then he pointed towards the girl, “That’s my little sister Yunni. My turn now, who’re you?”

“Aia Genrion Ignis.”

“Wow, sounds fancy! I’ll just call you Aia then.”

“Uh…okay?” I frowned. This child is a little…

“Oh yeah!” He said, interrupting my thoughts. “How did you do that Aia?”

“Do what?”

“You know! That scary red aura and those flaming fists! They were so cool!”

I hesitated. “I don’t know…I just felt…angry.”

“Angry? What for?”

“That thing. When it attacked me, it made me remember…the haze.”

“The haze? What’s that?” He furrowed his eyebrows.

“Do you not remember it? Do you not remember being trapped in that state for who knows how long? Unable to move. Unable to feel. Unable to think.”

“Oh…that.” His expression darkened.

We were silent for a moment, solemnly recalling our experiences from the haze.

“Where do you live?” I said, hoping to break the silence.

“Dunno. We were in the middle of this forest for a really long time. Or maybe it wasn’t that long? I don’t even know why we’re here. I mean, why would a couple of kids like us be in such a scary place with all of these monsters roaming about? And I remember that we were smiling all the time, like we didn’t care about the danger at all. Some guy in shining armor or a shadowy figure in black would come by and talk sometimes but I don’t remember what we talked about. But this morning, I felt a cold breeze and I could hear the leaves rustling. But I couldn’t stop and enjoy it for long because then there was this loud roar and I just grabbed Yunni and ran as fast as I could but then we ran into that smoky thing and I felt like…like we were going to die. And then you showed up and beat it up!” He said, his eyes sparkling near the end.

I thought for a moment and then decided, “I will take you back with me then.”

“Do you know where your home is? How are we going to get there?” He asked.

I felt a strong pull on my soul.

Just in time.

I grabbed Jeffi as well as the sleeping Yunni who was jolted awake. Before either of them could protest, I hugged them and allowed myself to be pulled by the tug that seemed to be coming from behind me.

We started crashing through the trees while I tried my best to shield the two children in my arms. Soon, the forest was just a blur as we rushed off in the direction of the pull.

We were rushing through the forest and my back was sore from all the constant collisions with trees, rocks and sometimes even monsters.

However, I suddenly felt the pull on my soul vanish just as we crashed into another tree. Our momentum carried us for a few more miles until we gradually tumbled to a rest in a large clearing.

Either because I had already experienced it before or because we didn’t stop as suddenly as last time, I wasn’t very dizzy so I immediately sat up and looked at the children in my arms.

Jeffi had fainted but Yunni’s face was frozen in an expression of fear. I tried calling to her but she didn’t respond at all.

I concluded that they were uninjured and began surveying our surroundings.

We were in a small clearing in what seemed to be a different forest. The trees here were taller and probably belonged to a different species.

Although I didn’t understand why the pull had vanished so suddenly, I decided to think about that later. For now, the best course of action would be to walk towards the direction where I felt the most tugs, since that was likely to lead me to the shrine.

“H-huh? Yunni? What’s the matter? Wher- Wa! Aia! What did you do? Why’d yo-”

I quickly covered his mouth. “Shh!”

He nodded and I removed my hand. “But what was that! Don’t do it again! You scared Yunni you know?” He pointed towards Yunni.

The little girl blinked a few times, then nodded. “Hmn!”

“I was taking you home.”

“Huh? Is this your home Aia?” He looked around. “It’s…er…a little…”

“This isn’t my home. We got cut off for some reason but we can walk the rest of the way.”

“Do you know where to go though?”

“Yes. Follow me.” I started walking.

“…hey Aia…ha…We’ve been…ha…walking for…ha…hours. We should…ha… rest. Yunni’s tired you know?” Jeffi said, pointing towards Yunni while gasping for breath.

The little girl who was chasing a butterfly stopped and blinked. Then she nodded. “Hmn!”

“So soon? Very well.” I stopped.

“Huah! Finally- I mean, make sure to rest properly Yunni!” Jeffi said, before collapsing onto the ground. “How far is it now?”

“I am not certain, but I am sure it isn’t much f- What was that?” I quickly turned around.

AAAHHHH!

“Yunni!” Shouted Jeffi, before he jumped off the ground and started running towards the scream.

Of course, I started running too. I rushed through a bush and saw Yunni trembling while staring at the monster in front of her.

It was a giant ape-like monster with four arms, each thicker than my entire body. Under the bright midday sun, its red fur was almost as glaring as its bright scarlet eyes.

It stared at the trembling little girl in front of it, but didn’t move to strike.

“Yunni!”

Just as Jeffi broke through the bush, the ape monster growled and reached for Yunni with one of its hands.

“S-stay away!” The girl shouted while running in the opposite direction.

Just as the monster’s hands were about to grab her, I jumped at her and dragged her out of the way.

The monster roared while beating its chest and smashing its fists against the ground. The sky was filled with birds that were flying away, spooked by the monster’s actions.

It is too loud! I need to finish this quickly.

I flung the terrified little girl at Jeffi and looked at the monster’s bright scarlet eyes.

It hesitated, noticing that my eyes were an even brighter shade of red.

I grunted and then lunged at it.

There was a loud crash and then a thicket of trees fell over.

I’d missed.

It isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

I got up from among the broken tree trunks and winced as I felt something warm trickling down my left arm.

Tch.

I looked at the monster and saw its mouth twist into a smile and though it angered me, I also felt a little smile breaking out on my own face.

It’s afraid…

I lunged at it again, this time punching out with my right fist. It was shocked by my speed but barely managed to meet my fist with one of its own.

Crack!

Blood erupted out of its crumpled fist as it roared in pain. I was surprised by my own strength and stopped.

And then I went flying into the trees again.

Where did that come from?

The pain in my left arm intensified, making me gasp as I picked myself up again just in time to dodge a tree that the monster had thrown at me.

Blood dripped onto the ground beneath my left arm but I ignored the pain and looked up at the monster again.

I rushed towards the monster, dodging the trees and stones that it was flinging at me. It grabbed a particularly large tree and uprooted it, then swung it at me with two of its arms.

I leaned back to dodge it but my eyes widened as I saw its third arm coming at me. I was in no position to dodge so I raised my hands in front of my fists.

I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder again as I was pushed back by its attack, but I ignored it again while racking my brain for a way to end the fight.

I could feel my anger rising but surprisingly, rather than obscuring my thoughts, it made them clearer instead. As I looked at the monster, I realized that the fist that I had blocked was also bleeding. I looked into its eyes, saw the fear and uncertainty within them as well as a little…unwillingness?

The beast roared and this time, it was the one rushing towards me. I smiled, before kicking off the ground.

It saw me in the air and its mouth twisted into a grotesque smile again as it swing the tree at me, confident that I wouldn’t be able to dodge.

It was right.

As the tree approached me, I grabbed onto one of its sturdier branches and pulled myself towards it. I felt the wind get knocked out of my lungs as I slammed into the tree trunk, but most of the force of the collision was absorbed by the branches.

I felt the tree stop moving as the monster grew confused by my sudden disappearance. I felt it bring the tree close to its body again as it assumed a defensive stance.

I smiled and jumped out of the tree, punching at the monster’s head with my right fist. I felt something get crushed just as I was showered in blood.

Its body fell back by several feet before collapsing onto the ground while I fell on my knees, gasping for breath.

As I stood up and my breathing started to calm down, I felt my anger drain out of me along with the mental clarity and focus that had unexpectedly come with it. I saw something move in the corner of my eyes and instantly turned to face it, certain that another monster had come to finish me off.

But it was just a stunned brown haired boy and a frightened little girl.

I calmed down and took a deep breath. “We should leave before more of them show up.”

They flinched, before nodding and following me as I continued walking towards the shrine.

I cleaned the blood off myself as well as I could while Jeffi helped me bind my injured left arm with leaves and vines. Yunni was drinking water while watching us but when I met her gaze, she quickly looked away.

We kept walking until it got dark but I couldn’t tell if we had gotten any closer to the shrine.

“Aia it’s late isn’t it? We should make camp for the night so we can go to sleep. Yunni is…uw~a…sleepy you know?” Jeffi said, pointing at Yunni while yawning.

The little girl’s eyes were drooping but she still managed to nod before falling into Jeffi’s arms.

I stopped and looked at them, puzzled.

“What is ‘sleep’?”

“What do you mean ‘what is sleep?’ It’s sleep you know?” He said, looking at me as if I had gone crazy. He gently laid Yunni down on a bed of leaves.

“I am sorry, I do not understand. Have you ever experienced sleep before?”

“I-I dunno. Maybe? I just know what it is. I mean, it’s basic human knowledge you know?”

I frowned. I really didn’t know what sleep was supposed to be and finding out that it was basic human knowledge made me even more confused. “What is it like?”

“Er- Well, it’s what Yunni is doing over there.”

“Is she not simply unconscious?”

“No, she went to sleep because she was tired.”

“Oh? Then is it like losing consciousness of your own will? Strange, I always assumed that losing consciousness would be an unfavorable experience.” I frowned, deep in thought.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll get around to it when you’re tired enough. But seriously, you have amazing stamina don’t you? You fought two tough and scary monsters but you still aren’t tired. You’re amazing!” He said, his eyes sparkling again.

“I…thank you.” I replied, surprised by the sudden outburst of admiration.

Yunni made a small sound before turning over to her other side, and I happened to see Jeffi’s eyes as he looked at her. There seemed to be a very strange emotion in his eyes but I couldn’t understand it at the time.

“Jeffi, why do you care for Yunni so much?” I asked.

“She’s my sister. She’s family! The only family I have, you know?” He whispered to avoid waking her up.

“Sister? Family? Are these things important to you?”

“Huh? Of course they are! Don’t you have a sister Aia? Or any other family?”

I was about to say no but then a few faces came to my mind. “Maybe.”

“Maybe? You have to take family seriously, you know? They’re really important! You have to love them and take care of them. Especially little kids like Yunni. It’s my job as her big brother to protect her, you know?”

“To Protect?”

“And always listen to what they say! Helping your little brothers and sisters whenever they ask is also a big brother’s job, you know!”

“I see.”

As the night wore on, Jeffi lay down next to Yunni while I stood guard because I still didn’t feel tired at all.

Jeffi’s words were still floating around my head along with some faces that I couldn’t quite recognize.

“H-hey A-aia. C-c-could you l-light up a f-fire? Y-yunni is f-feeling c-cold, y-you know!” Jeffi said, his teeth chattering as he pointed towards Yunni.

Yunni was wrapped up in Jeffi’s jacket and covered with long leaves so she was sleeping peacefully.

“I do not feel cold though?” I said. It really didn’t seem cold to me at all.

“Y-you’re strong Aia! B-but Yunni is w-weak s-so she n-needs a f-fire!”

“Very well.” I replied. “Where is the fire?”

“Huh? A-aia, you h-have to m-make the f-fire!”

“And how will I do that?”

“M-magic of course!”

Magic? Oh!

Status!

A pale red screen appeared in front of me. I saw that my level had risen again without me noticing it. I scrolled down to the ‘skills’ section and found the ‘fire magic’ skill. It was at level 10 and when I focused on it, it opened a list of magic that I could use.

I read through the different magics and decided to use the level 3 magic ‘Flames’ to light up a fire.

I focused on the skill and said “Flames!”

The space in front of me lit up in a roaring blaze that reached far above the tree tops. The forest around us started burning. Hot embers floated above our heads and fell onto fell onto more leaves, spreading the fire even faster.

I quickly roused the sleeping Yunni and stunned Jeffi and dragged them away from the center of the fire. However, I suddenly heard a loud snarl from behind us so I threw the children ahead.

Something slammed into my back, sending me hurtling towards the burning trees.

Although I felt a dull pain in my back, I forced myself to turn around so I could see what had attacked me.

Just as I did, a claw tore into the ground where my head had lain mere moments ago.

I immediately kicked the beast off me and shakily stood up.

I’d managed to fling the monster several feet away but it didn’t seem to be hurt because there were no cuts or bruises on its smooth golden skin.

As it turned around, I saw a feline face with black stripes over the golden skin that also covered the rest of its body. It snarled at me, showing off its large, serrated teeth.

I rushed at it.

The monster was surprised by my aggressiveness and chose to swipe at me with its huge black paws.

As its claws came down on me, I shot ahead even faster and got underneath its outstretched arm. I jumped up while punching as hard as I could and heard a satisfying crunch.

The monster roared in pain and thrashed about but I had long since escaped its reach.

As the fire grew more intense I quickly turned around and ran to the children. The monster noticed my actions and let out a furious roar that made me turn my head.

A large ball of light was forming outside the monster’s mouth.

I dug my feet into the ground and grabbed a large branch that I threw at the monster’s face. The branch flew straight at its target and pierced the monster’s eye.

It howled in pain and fired its magic towards the side before collapsing to the ground.

I knew it wasn’t dead and would probably come after us in a few moments, but the fire was raging so intensely that I had no choice but to turn around.

But just as I reached out to the children, I felt a strong pull on my soul.

My eyes widened as I stared at the frightened brown haired child who was holding his sister to his chest.

No! I…I have to protect-

I started crashing through the forest.

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7.0 Ignis_Chapter 1: Haze

At first I felt nothing. No heat, no cold. No pain, no joy. No sorrow, no happiness.

I had my senses but I was behind a veil. I could see, I could touch, I could listen, I could smell and if I’d ever eaten anything, I’m sure I could taste, but I just couldn’t process any of it. I didn’t care about anything, as if I was perpetually indifferent.

Of course, I always carried out my duties, but in retrospect, those duties seem very strange. I blessed anyone that came to my shrine or healed anyone that came to my church, but almost nobody ever came.

I vaguely remember blessing a knight covered in glowing armor or healing a shadowy figure wearing robes. But no ordinary people ever came to my shrine or to my churches. Even the priests and the priestesses only prayed to me whenever the shining knight or the shadowy figure spoke to them, and they never asked to be healed or blessed.

They were as indifferent as I was.

Yet I never thought about any of this at the time because it didn’t matter to me. Nothing mattered to me. All I cared about was fulfilling my duties. But sometimes, I’d feel a change in my existence. As if someone was tampering with my soul.

But then again, maybe I didn’t have a soul back then? I can barely remember any of this, because these memories are vague, indistinct, and hazy. I couldn’t even tell the time back then, so I don’t know how long that state lasted. A few days? A few months? A few years? A few centuries?

I didn’t know and I didn’t care.

But then something happened. A prickling sensation crept up my toes, and went up my body all the way to my head. For the first time ever, I felt something: a cold, hard surface touching the tips of my toes.

Then something gently brushed past my back. Something with a smooth, silky texture rippled across my skin. A slight chill engulfed me, but it was soon replaced by warmth. Warmth that came from my own body.

I could sense something else too. Something fresh and sweet that drifted into my lungs with each breath I took. Mesmerized, I stood in the same pose that I’d always stood in and explored my newly discovered senses.

Although sight wasn’t a new sense for me, everything I saw was sharper and more distinct, and the colors livelier. The red tiled floor, the red walls, the red ceiling, the red curtains, and the red stone pedestal that I was standing on made the entire room pulse with an aggressive energy that captivated me.

 

Red; such a powerful color.

A while later, I felt a familiar sensation. Someone was calling me from the bottom of the tower.

Is someone seeking my blessing? No, this feeling isn’t coming from the shrine. It’s coming from somewhere else.

I frowned. I sensed the direction from where the feeling came, but I didn’t know what lay there. Whenever I’d felt this sensation before, my vision would blur for a moment after which I would be inside a church or the shrine but this time, nothing happened.

And then I felt another similar feeling. And then another. And another. And another.

Soon, I felt as if someone was trying to pull my soul in a million different directions but surprisingly, I felt no pain. In fact, every pull made me stronger and sturdier and my senses become even more potent and refined.

Ping!

I fell off the pedestal.

What was that?

Ping!

There it is again!

I heard the sound a few more times but soon, there was only silence.

Those were the first sounds I’d ever heard. Even when the shining knight or the shadowy figure prayed to me or asked for my blessing, I never heard anything. Their intentions just came to my mind. Even when I responded to them, I never actually said anything.

Ping!

This time, not only did I hear a sound, I also saw something strange. A pale red square hung in the corner of my eye before slowly fading away. Worried that it would soon vanish, I tried to touch it. However, as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the square expanded and filled the lower half of my vision.

Level up! Aia Genrion Ignis has reached level 354! Required experience to reach next level: 39400517

Although I somehow understood that ‘Aia Genrion Ignis’ was my name, I couldn’t understand anything else. Confused, I ignored this new information for now and willed the screen to disappear.

Ping!

 

This is starting to become annoying. Is it possible to stop it?

Surprisingly, it worked. Although the pale red square in the corner of my eye remained, the annoying sound no longer came. I waited for a little while and when I was certain that I wouldn’t hear it again, I began thinking about what to do next

The thin, red curtains covering the window were fluttering in the wind, so I walked over and pulled them aside. Bright light flooded in, blinding me for a few seconds until I gradually got used to it.

A clear blue sky, with a glowing yellow sun shone above my head. Down below, rows of red buildings lined a lighter red road that led up to the tower that I was standing in. A lot of tiny, red-robed figures were running around. A few of them seemed to be walking in a daze and a handful weren’t moving at all. In fact, they seemed to be looking at the tower, or maybe, at me?

Some of the tugs I was feeling seemed to be coming from these figures. Someone moved towards the large, bright red doors on the far side of the road and pushed them open, allowing several other red-robed figures to enter.

A smaller version of that door was on the other side of the room I was in. The door was covered in strange runes and symbols that I couldn’t understand at all, but rather than being impressed, I shrugged them off as gibberish. I approached the door like the figure down below had done, and pushed.

The doors glowed brightly as angry red sparks flew out from their center. They rumbled and scraped the floor before opening. I hesitated for a moment, before taking a deep breath and walking down the stairs behind the door.

Why would anyone build such a pointlessly long staircase?

After walking all the way down the pointlessly long staircase, I encountered another door like the one upstairs. There seemed to be voices on the other side so I stopped for a little while, trying to listen to what they were saying.

“…miracle…must be…divine…pray…gratitude…go up…impudence…wait…she expects…praise be to…should we…maybe…fools…heretic…how dare…let go…how dare…why you…stop it…interfere…unsightly…”

Unable to understand what they were saying, I approached the door and pressed my ear to it, hoping it would help. Sparks flew, the door glowed bright red and I was suddenly looking at a group of red-robed men and women frozen in the middle of a brawl.

A young blonde-haired woman had her hands around the neck of a fat middle aged man. A black haired young man was pulling on a white haired old man’s beard and a short, bald man was trying to force the boy to let go.

And of course, I stood with an ear pointing towards them in a pose that obviously betrayed the fact that I was eavesdropping on them. Feeling awkward, I quickly stood up and accidentally struck the same pose I’d made on the stone pedestal upstairs.

Immediately, all the red robed figures fell to their knees and bowed.

“Oh, great one! We humbly express our gratitude for your benevolence. Praise be to the Fire Goddess, master of the raging flames!”

I sat on an elaborately decorated red chair in the shrine’s gathering area. It was a large hall filled with rows of wooden benches facing the stage where I was sitting.

I soon learned everyone had experienced the same hazy state of existence as well as the sudden liberation of their body and senses. Since they were listening to everything I said, I decided to have them all gather together so we could discuss all that had happened.

Judging by their endless praises and heartfelt gratitude, they seemed to believe that I had released them from that hazy state of existence and I didn’t deny it because I wasn’t sure if I had.

After we collected some more information, I found out about the status window. It was a pale red screen like the one I had seen that described your physical and mental condition. Although merely expressing the desire to check your condition would also open the status window, thinking of the term status window or status would open it more easily.

After a few tests, we learned that a person’s level corresponded to their overall power. Also, it seemed that my level was absurdly high, because the highest level that anybody else had was 11.

Your title was your position in society. Even the servants had titles like: servant of the Fire Goddess’ shrine.

Moreover, everyone had a unique ability that nobody else seemed to have. I had the ability Wrath of Ignis, however, some of the less fortunate people around me had abilities like Celestial Firewood Collection or Mastery of Tongue Twisters.

As I sat listening to more people share their experiences, I suddenly felt a powerful pull towards my right. It was so strong that I was sure that I would be physically pulled in that direction if I even thought about it…

Oh…

I crashed through the walls and sped towards the forest outside the shrine, leaving behind the stunned the priests and priestesses that sat on the wooden benches below the stage.

I traveled so fast that everything was a blur. I crashed into trees and boulders and felt a dull pain in my right shoulder, which bore the brunt of my collisions. By the time I finally stopped, I was so dizzy and disoriented that I stumbled and fell on the ground.

It’s all hazy again…

When my vision cleared, I saw a little boy with an even younger girl in his arms. They stared at me in shock but quickly recovered and looked behind me fearfully. I followed their gazes and saw hazy black smoke blowing in the wind. Yet no matter how hard the wind blew, the smoke didn’t move at all.

What is it?

Unbelievably, I felt as if the smoke was looking at me. And then, I saw it move. I was surprised, but another thought came into my mind.

Why am I surprised by this? Why do I feel like smoke shouldn’t be acting like this even though I’ve never seen smoke before? Wait, why do I even know what smoke is?

However, this was just one of many similar questions that had popped into my mind today. Why did I know about these things despite not knowing when or where I learned them? Or who I learned them from?

While I was lost in my thoughts, the boy pushed the girl behind him and glared at me and the living smoke. The smoke moved, seemingly provoked by the child’s actions. However, I didn’t feel any malice or ill intent from it. In fact, the smoke seemed reluctant. As if it couldn’t help but move towards us despite its true desires.

Confused, I asked: “What are you trying to do?”

The living smoke stopped. Bubbles of air started erupting from its surface and it emitted a soft, gurgling sound. Was it trying to say something? The little children behind me started quivering in fear and before I could stop them, tried to run away.

The smoke stopped making noises and flew towards the children, passing through a tree branch on the way.

Something tightened in my chest.

The branch withered and died.

I rushed in between the smoke and the children just as it almost touched the little boy. A wave of coldness washed over me, followed by a stifling pain in my lungs. I gasped for air while flailing about, but the pain intensified and soon, I couldn’t breathe at all.

What…what is this?

My lungs constricted and my vision grew blurry.

It’s all…hazy again…I don’t…I don’t want…to feel that way again.

But no matter how I thrashed about, my lungs refused to take in air and my body grew colder and colder.

And then…

I couldn’t feel anything. For a very brief moment, I felt like I was back on that stone pedestal in the room at the top of the tower. I was behind a veil again, aware of my senses and of my existence but unable to move, unable to feel.

I panicked but my panic soon gave way to anger. I was angry at the smoky creature that reminded me of that time. Angry at the children who had called me to this place. Angry at myself for my inability to fight against this feeling of helplessness. And angry at the haze and whatever or whoever it was that had made me experience it.

There was a blinding flash of red light and a powerful pulse of heat went through my body, driving out the cold. Tremendous power coursed through my body. I opened my eyes and saw a world painted in red. Or rather, everything I saw had a red tint to it.

I looked up, and saw a frightened face. The boy had tears in his eyes and he seemed to be clinging onto my clothes. The girl was hiding behind the boy, but I was sure she was crying as well.

I turned and saw the smoke creature a few feet away from me. It seemed to be trembling. The sight made me happy for some reason but there was another emotion in my heart, one that overpowered everything else at the moment.

Anger.

I rushed over to the living smoke and punched, but my fist just went straight through it, making me angrier. It tried to escape but I followed it easily. I kept trying to punch it but my fists went through it and hit the ground or a tree or a boulder. Although the ground was full of craters and the trees and the boulders lay in pieces, I didn’t manage to hit the shadow at all.

No! I will not give up on my revenge! You dared to confine me! You dared to imprison me! I will never forgive you! Never!

I roared, letting out my anger and frustration. I felt a vague power on the edge of my senses and intuitively grasped it. A bright red flame emerged on my fists as I punched at the living smoke again. Although I didn’t feel like I’d hit anything with my fists, I knew that I had done it.

Sure enough, as the dust settled, the living smoke lay in the crater that I had just created. It slowly dissipated, leaving a small black ball in the center of the crater.

Breathing heavily, I looked at the crater for a long time before my anger subsided. However, as my anger disappeared, so did my strength and I instantly collapsed onto the ground.

An indistinct sound came from the distance. A blurry figure reached out to me, but I couldn’t feel anything. I was behind the veil again.

Everything was hazy. But soon, everything went black. I was unconscious, but I felt relieved. At least I wasn’t caught in the haze again.

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6.0 Zero_Chapter 6: Starry Skies

“Kai? You have to tell that story again!” Clare proclaimed.

“Why?” I asked.

We were camping on a small hill with the campfire crackling between us as usual. Clare sat up in her sleeping bag while cuddling a tired Waon in her arms. We were only few miles from Reneste so Clare knew that the journey was almost over and was particularly insistent on hearing a story tonight.

“Waon wants to hear it again! Don’t you Waon?” she said, picking up the yawning purple furball and making it nod its head up and down.

“Waon!”

Well, I guess it can’t be helped.

I smiled and started the story again, “A little girl was dragged to the countryside by her friend…”

Memories of that last night outside Reneste filled my head as blood streamed out of Clare’s lifeless body.

I remembered her bright smile and her infectious laughter. Then I saw its shadow on her pale, lifeless face. We’d only known each other for a few days, yet, I kept thinking back to when she was washing Waon, and fell into the river. I fished her out with a net, but left her dangling over the river to dry off.

I thought back to the time she burnt her tongue on soup even though I’d told her to be careful, and to the time she brought a tiny Waon out from under a purple wall.

And to the nights spent staring at the stars.

Why? Why does it hurt so much? Why do I feel so attached to her? Is it because she listened to my stories? Stories that nobody wanted to listen to for so long. What does she mean to me?

I always wondered what it would be like to have a sibling. For some reason, whenever I had the bittersweet dreams where my family was still alive, I always pictured a little sister swinging from my parents’ arms.

What would having a little sister feel like? What would I even do with her?

Would I comfort her when she was sad?

Laugh with her when she was happy?

And would I…

Tell her stories?

A terrifying pain tore through chest and a flash of red burst in my head.

I didn’t even use a code to help me focus.

I willed it.

And all the bandits vanished.

May Skye was not an emotional woman. Her position as the village chief required her to keep her emotions at bay. But when Clare came home, she couldn’t help but run over to hug her. Just the thought of the pain the little girl was enduring had filled her with guilt and grief.

May’s ability couldn’t tell the future, nor was it perfectly accurate. It only allowed her to vaguely sense whether her loved ones were in danger. Back when she’d felt an overwhelming sense of danger for her brother and his family a couple of days ago, she had instantly regretted letting them leave on their own, even though she’d known that a small group was their best chance at evading the bandits and contacting the Fire Goddess’ shrine for help.

At that moment, she had felt the irrational urge to set out to save them.

But then a sharp pain told her, her brother’s wife had died. Then another, sharper pain told her she’d lost her only brother. Their deaths filled her with pain and sorrow but she was also worried.

What of the child?

At that moment, she couldn’t help but curse the Fire Goddess. Why did she insist on only listening to children who came to her with their families? What kind of sick condition was that?

But all her emotions were soon drowned out by shock. Her Ability told her the child was safe; safer than the villagers in fact!

And now, when she saw what was happening in front of her, it happened again.

The helplessness she had felt as she saw the girl tumble to the ground, the sorrow that ripped through her soul when she met those lifeless eyes and the pain that pierced her chest as she saw the ghost of a smile on the child’s face, were all consumed by shock and disbelief as the bandits simply…vanished.

The boy’s face was hidden in shadows, as he walked up to the girl’s body, but as he picked her up and went inside the village chief’s house, May Skye felt something else light up in her heart.

Hope.

She woke up feeling strange. She couldn’t quite understand what it was, but something felt different. Opening her eyes, she found herself in a familiar room but the uncomfortable feeling remained.

She realized where she was, but her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Why was she here? Her memories were a little fuzzy, but she slowly began to remember.

She remembered watching a purple robed boy fighting a ragged group of men and women. As she thought of the boy, she a warm feeling crept up her heart. But who was he? She remembered walking with the boy while holding a purple kitten in her hands. The memory was warm and fuzzy, just like…

Waon!

She remembered picking up the Hell kitten from under a purple wall. She remembered sitting around a campfire with the boy. The boy told her stories while looking up at the sky. He made her feel warm and safe. He was…

Kai!

She finally remembered the name. But then she felt a chill. She remembered a woman with an arrow through her head. A man whose head was rolling on the ground. She remembered the death of her parents. And then she felt pain, sorrow, helplessness, and despair. It consumed her. Tore into her heart. Mauled her soul.

Yet these emotions felt different. They were far stronger than she remembered. She screamed, groaned and whimpered. The agonizing pain in her chest was unlike anything she had ever experienced.

But why?

Her vision grew blurry as the door swung open and a hazy figure rushed over to her. The figure tried to say something but she couldn’t understand what it was saying. She closed her eyes as the pain finally overwhelmed her.

I looked at my hands. They were trembling uncontrollably, but my heart was trembling worse.

I… I did it. She was dead but then I brought her back like it was nothing.

I slammed my fists onto the ground but they kept trembling.

I should be happy, right? Even death can’t stop me anymore. I can do anything! I’m all powerful! It’s amazing Kai, it’s amazing! You’re amazing! But still, why was it so easy? Life doesn’t mean much after all. Just a thought and it’s over. Another thought, and it’s back. Like flicking a switch, no, easier than that.

The floodgates had opened and a storm raged inside my mind because I had let that thought loose. In fact, that thought had been in the back of my head for a long time.

It had been there when I came to this world and saw how easy everything was. It had been there when I was designing my ability back in my old world. It had been there since the night of the play. A burning desire deep inside my heart that I was too scared to confront.

I ignored it. No, I sealed it.

It was probably what pushed me over the edge in the first place. You have to be a special kind of crazy to be willing to burn yourself to death to activate an ancient spell you’d bought at a seedy old bookstore.

But it excited me like nothing else had in my life. Playing with life and death was exhilarating, but it also sent chills down my spine. And now, it made me nauseous.

As I’d laid the corpse on the bed, I’d hesitated. Even when sorrow and anger completely overwhelmed me; even when her blood covered face, empty eyes, lifeless smile and the hole in her head haunted me, I still wondered if it was worth opening the floodgates. If I did this for her, then there was nothing holding me back anymore.

But when I recalled the short time I’d spent with her, my hands started trembling and a storm kicked up in my mind. Waves crashed against my conscience as memories flashed in the turbulent sky about the storm.

Wiping her drooling face as she fantasized about expensive food, running after Waon, saving her from the bandits, consoling her for the loss of her parents and telling her stories under the stars; all of this flashed before my eyes.

I gritted my teeth and whispered: “Rewrite.”

Her chest rose up and down. There was no blood on her face, no hole in her head. Her cheeks were a healthy pink, and her smile no longer lifeless.

Then the floodgates opened and I left.

And now, on a hill outside Reneste, I screamed. I thrashed about, smashing craters into the ground with my incredible strength. Both of my hands were on my head as if trying to push that thought out of my mind. But it was futile.

I can bring them back. If I could bring her back, then I can bring back my…my…

I started crying.

Will I get to see their faces again? Will he be proud of me; of everything I’d done? Will he look at me and say that it came from his side of the family? Will she mercilessly cut him down with a retort?

I raised my trembling hands…

I can bring them back. I can bring them back!

My hands fell. My ragged breathing subsided.

But would it be the same? I can write them into existence but would they be my parents? Would they be copies based on my memories of them? Shadows of their real selves? Or worse, what if they were the real thing? What if I could bring them back as easily as snapping my fingers.

Are their lives so worthless? Was their death so worthless? Was my pain and suffering so worthless, so insignificant? Is life and death meaningless? Like flicking a switch or pushing a button?

Like pulling the trigger of a gun?

I took a deep breath and asked myself: Haven’t you always dreamed of seeing them again? Of him tousling your hair or her holding you in her arms?

I stood up and replied.

Of course, I have. But this, this is wrong. I don’t know if my ability is imperfect and only brings back a copy or if it is perfect and brings back the real thing, but I don’t want to know!

I made my decision. I turned around and looked at the little village in the distance and sighed.

Sorry Clare, but if I saw you, I’d probably know the answer. And I don’t think I’m ready to open the floodgates again, just yet.

Under the starry night sky, I walked away.

She woke up again. Her thoughts were a blur but she remembered pain. Intense, searing pain, unlike anything she had ever felt before.

But she stopped herself from thinking about it, almost by instinct. As the pain subsided and her vision grew clearer, she stopped to take a few breaths and then did what anyone, in a world where you can instantly check your mental and physical condition, would do; she checked her status.

Then her heart skipped a beat, twice.

First when she saw her title. It had changed from Reneste Village Chief’s Niece to One Who Defies Death. But what was truly surprising was that the title had an extra effect; one that made her mind go blank.

But she didn’t have the time to consider it, because when the second time her heart skipped a beat, she almost fell unconscious again. In the abilities section of her status screen wasn’t her old ability Sunshine but a new ability called Starry Skies.

Why had it changed? Titles can change but no one had ever heard of an ability changing.

Did it have something to do with the pain that tore through her when she woke up? Did something happen? Did someone do something to her? All she remembered was the boy fight the bandits and then darkness. No, it was more like emptiness. Did she die? No that didn’t make sense, she was alive right now, wasn’t she?

But there was something else too, something she could barely remember. A voice. It said something to her. A single word, but she couldn’t remember it. But she could remember who it sounded like.

And then she understood. He had saved her. But rather than shock or disbelief she felt something else: hope. Because if he could save her, couldn’t he also…

She jumped out of bed and ran outside, ignoring the shrieking purple ball behind the door. He wasn’t in the living room so she left the house. Her Aunt sat on a chair next to the well so she ran over to her, gasping and stumbling. Before her surprised Aunt could say anything, she asked her where Kai was.

Her Aunt replied, and she froze.

She looked up at the night sky.

There was no golden rain, so the stars weren’t crying. But for some reason, they didn’t seem to be smiling either.

“…they smile,” said the boy.

They were both silent for a few moments, quietly gazing at the stars.

“That was pretty lame you know?” The girl laughed.

“No it wasn’t! It was cool!” said the boy, pouting.

“Whatever you say,” teased the girl.

The boy stood up in indignation. “I’m leaving. It’s getting pretty late so I’ll let you follow me, but you better keep up!”

“Sure, sure.” The girl smiled, also standing up.

They started walking away from the hill but the girl stopped and turned around. She looked at the stars one last time and whispered:

“Goodbye.”

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