The slow rhythmic beat of footsteps sounded under the red and orange forest, crunching dead leaves under each soft blow to the earth.
As the sun set, a dark haired boy nearing adulthood strolled down a desolate and lonely dirt path, carrying the bodies of three rabbits slung over his shoulder. Dressed in extremely worn peasant like clothing, the only thing differentiating himself to a passerby is his beautifully crafted leather arm guards and similarly decorated sheath, although now only containing the remains of an engraved steel blade fitted with a large black gem, minus a large majority of the blade itself.
As he crossed a rotting wooden bridge over a small river and crested the ridge of a hill, a small village presented itself to him, derelict and abandoned. Surrounded by a corroding and half destroyed wooden palisade, eight buildings circled a small center plaza. He was home. He quickened his pace and sighed – after a long trip away hunting and sleeping under trees, having a roof over his head made the ruins he called home seem like heaven.
He awoke in the center of the village ten sunrises ago, unsure of anything. All he knew was that he recognized this village as home and that he was hungry. He had noticed the corpse of a rabbit sitting across him, staring at him with its lifeless beady eyes and with the remains of a blade that he found next to him, diced it and quickly turned it into a meal. As he dined on the convenient meal, he questioned the possibilities of his past.
Had the village been attacked by bandits, and he was knocked out cold? No, the ruins seemed far too old to warrant anything even close to that kind of assumption and the lack of responsiveness from the rabbit proved the lack of humans in the area. Could he have been the survivor of a calamity, where he was the last remaining human left? It could be possible, after all, he hadn’t met any other humans aside from himself.
It was at around that time he had then decided to set out and explore.
As he reflected on the past, the smell of burning wood drifted towards him. Something wasn’t right. As he glanced upwards, a pillar of smoke rose into the sky from the center plaza, his view of it blocked by the wooden palisade. He placed his hand on the hilt of the sword. The blade, albeit lower in combat effectiveness, still proved a deadly adversary for anyone that allowed its serrated edge to come close. In all honesty, it proved to be more similar to a dagger than a sword in relation to its length. Engraved in its hilt was the single word, ‘Reverend’.
He let his thoughts run wild as he sprinted towards the gate of the village. It seems that his previous theory was wrong again.
The sound of hammers driving wood into the ground rang through the entrance of the village as the male voices complained about their situation.
Hearing as they were all occupied, the boy snuck through the gate. How humiliating, being forced to sneak into your own home. Until he could confirm if these people were hostile, he couldn’t take any chances. He had to find out more about himself.
“Do you really believe what the old man said before we left? It's been bothering me for a while.”
“Bout’ the adventurers or do you mean what would happen if the next batch is late?”
“That this place hasn’t been patrolled for decades – no wait – centuries. A girl like her shouldn’t be moving through here.”
The sound of a clicking tongue could be heard.
“We wouldn’t be here in the first place if that girl hadn’t been so sentimental. We’ll be late for the departure otherwise, taking the long route.”
“You shouldn’t talk about the bos-“
A deep voice roared across the enclosure.
“Oi you two, pipe it down and get the fires burning already, else you’re the first ones to go up on duty. Tear them damn derelicts down if you got to.”
The boy was shocked. What did they just say? At that moment, the crackling of flames reached his ears.
“Pull the smallest down first, the barricades should be enough defense from the demons for now.”
Splintering wood shattered through the air as an axe swung into a brittle wooden wall, completely obliterating it into an explosion of splinters.
A dark shape dashed out from the darkness swinging a half broken blade, disarming the defiler from any further damage with the axe. Shocked, the man who seemed like their leader shouted out loud.
“Ey? Who the balls are you?!”
Stay… aw… My. Home!” His mouth was moving, but barely any sound came out. It seems his vocal chords weren’t used to speaking.
A smile appeared on the man’s face. “Oi, lads! Looks like we caught ourselves a savage. I wonder how much he’s worth.”
A gigantic man towered above the boy who seemed dwarfed in comparison. Two large metallic chains slung over either of his shoulders revealed an arsenal of hand axes and other small weapons above a worn leather vest.
It was at this point the boy noticed the massive change to the center of the plaza. Surrounding a small stone well stood seven large covered horse drawn wagons, each flanked with a contingent of armed guards, the majority armed with long swords and leather armor while three others seemed unarmed.
In comparison to his half a blade named Reverend, it would seem he had made a drastic miscalculation.
The leader roared again. “You two chit chatterers, what are you waiting for? You’re on duty – snatch him! The rest of you finish off the ruins and get this fire going, on the double. Unless all of you want some combat training with some demons tonight.”
The two guards who the boy assumed were talking earlier advanced towards him, faces relieved that their threatened front line duty had only amounted to capturing a single savage so far.
“T-There… There are no demons here! Please stop!”
The sudden outburst of fairly comprehensible language shocked the men before him, who merely saw him as a savage.
Their leader replied for the group. “Ey? What’s a savage like you know about demons?
Ignoring the boy’s pleas, he picked up the disarmed axe on the ground and swung it at another wall of the semi-destroyed building. However, before his axe made contact, it his entire right arm went limp, dropping the axe on the ground. “Eh?”
He grunted again startled once more. Confused he attempted to move it to no avail. He looked over his shoulder, where the hilt of an engraved blade sat wedged in his shoulder with the figure of a small boy hanging off of it.
The faces of every person in the plaza were warped in shock.
“W-wha, WHAT?!” Screaming in rage, he swung his body around, throwing the boy, still gripping the blade off of his shoulder into the crowd of shocked faces. “… Kill this little ant… you IMBECILES!”
Still struck by rage, the man pulled two of the largest axes in his arsenal, and threw them directly at the boy, glancing off the shoulders of a man unfortunate enough to be in the line of impact and sending him and the blades flying in opposite directions.
Knowing he had little chance to win, but with a burning desire to protect his home, he began sprinting towards the nearest door aiming to break contact after being satisfied that the intruders would momentarily pause their destruction. He would escape through the rear entrance and decide what to do later.
A mere five steps away from the entrance, the silence was pierced by a splintering explosion in front of him, covering the building he was running to with flame. He spun around to find the source and noticed the three seemingly unarmed guards crushing glass between their fingers – their eyes glowing a mixture of deep crimson reds and silver whites. Successive glowing balls of flame seemingly appeared at will from the tips of their fingers, inaccurately blowing the ground around him into chunks of flying earth.
Forced to change direction, the boy began running parallel along the rows of houses, and weaving between the still dazed swordsmen – forcing the flame-men to redirect their flames to avoid harming their allies, hitting two buildings in the process.
A pained roaring voice could be heard over the calamity of the situation. “DON’T WASTE YOUR ORBS ON SCUM LIKE THAT, YOU’RE RUINING THE FIREWOOD!”.
The yell of their leader broke the daze of the numerous guards in the area, and they all directed their gazes towards the running boy and began their pursuit.
The Reverend that the boy was carrying was useless against the full swords of the guards. No matter how well-crafted it was originally, there was little he could do when his reach was so short and facing so many enemies at once. He had to take his bets on the fact that their leader had called for the explosions to stop, and lead the line of pursuers into the next closest building – the one he had awoken in.
As he ducked behind the door frame and escaped into the interior, the sounds of the pursuers died away. He decided that they could easily destroy this building, with him in it and he held his breath in anticipation, hoping for his own life’s safety, but also the building.
In the distance, the booming voice of the guards’ leaders could be heard over the crackling of flames. “Well? What’re you waiting for?”.
The sound of armored footsteps began echoing outside the building, as they suddenly burst into the room. His shorter blade had an advantage in the closer confines, and he aggressively attempted to ward them off, taking advantage of the slower movement of his armored opponents, slashing at their wrists and chests. He grabbed anything from his surroundings and tossed them forwards slowing the movement of the advancing horde from pushing him steadily backwards. However, as one by one they retreated from light injuries, it seemed as if the battle of attrition was to be won by him.
A sudden burst of splinters from the boy’s left threw him against the wall as a gigantic silhouette stood outlined against the moonlit exterior. Swinging the blunt side of an axe to its side with his left arm, the shadow knocked the boy flying through a thin wall, and directly into the room he originally woke up in.
Stopping against a wall underneath a window, he realized he was unable to move a muscle. While he held tactical advantages of moving into this space against numerous opponents – the far more experienced and large leader easily brute-forced his way into the small space, making the situation extremely unfavorable.
Bleeding profusely from his nose and dozens of splinter cuts on his face, he closed his eyes in too much pain to move anything else. He accepted his failure, and he felt as if death was the only way he could repay the damages he brought upon his home.
“You’re one bloody mess of an empty aren’t you, eh?”
He could hear the rugged breathing of the leader in the distance, as he stumbled across the floor, using his axe to bash away a wooden beam that blocked his way.
“I was willin’ to let ye live you know? But after what you did to my damn arm – it’s gonna’ cost hundreds of ‘you’s to get this healed. Empties like you wouldn’t know, though.”
The heat of rash breathing was directly on the boy’s face now. Each breath blowing a new wave of disgusting air towards him.
“It doesn’t look like you’re goin’ to survive for much longer – so why don’t I just put your little head out of its misery? We’ll start with the arm just like mine. Ey?”
He could feel the leader weighing his axe against his right arm, moving it backwards and forwards horizontally, trying to aim it properly for a clean blow directly across his entire body.
“Maybe this’ll teach you a les – well maybes not.”
The boy tensed, preparing for the end in the blackness. There was nothing else for him to lose, and for some reason he was content with it, feeling as if – somehow he had experienced death before. Not just once, but hundreds if not thousands of times. It was an empty feeling. Then it hit him. “Oh. Not again.”
To an onlooker watching from the behind the leader, the blade made its soaring arc towards him, passing directly through him and straight out the other side. A streak of liquid flew through the air from the slice, outright killing him in the process. If that cut didn’t kill him, the amount of blood lost in that one blow surely did. He was dead.
Slowly, the body of the leader fell backwards landing on its back, and a small dark winged figure landed on top of the corpse. To anyone watching the scene unfold from the side, they would have seen that the leader hadn’t even been close to the boy when the cut occurred, he hadn’t even been in axe range. Shortly before the leader fell on the ground, a winged creature flew in from the window and tapped its nose against the boy’s shoulder.
A grin appeared on the face of the boy, his eyes still closed and his aura completely changed to that of a completely different person. “Tsk. I’m sorry. I can’t die just yet.”
A quite stammering voice could be heard from the leader; “D… d-dragon? H-how?” completely contrasting his previous attitude. Completely in shock, he stopped in his tracks and rose his left arm in self-defense against the impending attack that was awaiting him.
The dragon’s wing, as sharp as a blade completely sliced through the pitiful defense of the leader – knocking him unconscious and sending him toppling over backwards from the force.
The combined reaction from the guards watching the spectacle couldn’t be said short of an uproar. It was pure chaos.
“Call for help! Demon attack!”
The guards began swarming away from the scene as if a terrifying monster appeared in front of them, emptying the room in an instant. In the face of the chaos, the boy’s aura changed again - to one of complete shock as he opened his eyes to the sudden silence. He stared directly forwards at the axe that should have been his demise lying on the ground in front of him. A soft and cute sound pierced the sudden silence. “Piiiiii”?
The boy looked up, and froze in fear directed towards the creature that was casually sitting on the body of a gigantic man surrounded by a dark sticky liquid. It stared directly into his eyes.
The sound of the door leading to the room smashed open, and the voice of a girl sounded through the room. “Brutus, what’s the meaning of this sudden rout and the men screaming about a demon attack? What do I even pay you all for?”
The figure of a girl that some would call ‘older sister’ but not yet an adult appeared in the doorway. Her silver hair reflected the moonlight, and her face was distorted in anger – clearly distraught that she had to waste her time with such a nuisance.
Analyzing the scene, the girl’s silver eyes grew round due to shock as she saw the body of the man the boy assumed was named ‘Brutus’.
As her gaze traveled upwards, she laid eyes on the winged creature and was stuck with fear. “D-dragon?” She quickly reached into a small bag hung around her waist and pulled out a small orb about the size of a fingernail with glowing white colors flowing within it. She shattered it between her fingers without hesitation, and her eyes instantly turned a radiating white even stronger than the flame-men.
Realization hit him, and he instantly dove forwards to protect the creature that he had moments before absolutely feared, an inert drive within him that told him to protect it with everything he had. “No! Don’t hurt him!”. Swiping it to the side, and rolling his body around its small figure to protect it – he knew his body would do nothing much in the face of the powerful force that he knew was coming.
As if this was her first time noticing him, the girl exclaimed in surprise “Huh?”. Puzzled rather than aggressive, she casually directed her finger upwards, sending an immensely powerful gust of wind into the center of the roof – blasting a hole directly through, allowing moonlight into the dark interior. “Are you protecting this dragon?”
The boy nodded yes in response, shocked that she had so casually destroyed another part of his village. “Don’t hurt any more of my friends, or my home…”
“Oh.” The girl looked extremely uncomfortable, as if suddenly realizing the implications of her actions. “Um, what’s your name?”
… What was his name? That’s something he never bothered with before – something completely irrelevant to him over the past few days. He looked around the room for ideas, his eyes landing on a scrap of paper half torn vertically with rough handwritten letters, the second halves of two words showing.
As he read those words, a chill went down his spine. “My – I… am Ressen.” The two words were almost familiar to him.
It was at this moment he fainted.