When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an adventurer. It might've been every kid's dream, but mine was a bit special. It was everything I’ve ever had, or at least after I was alone.
The way I imagined my adventurers were like one cliche after another. After all, my ideal adventure came from all those fantasy books I had read. And I can tell you that much - there were many.
Like most adventures, my story would begin from discovery chapter. I thought of every possible power I could own, but in the end, I decided that I was a wizard. Not only because of how flashy wizards were but also because there were so many things they could do. I could own so many different powers. Only my imagination would be my limitation. And I did have imagination.
I thought of every adventure I could have, which were always full of excitement, and joy and just awesomeness.
I had adventures, such as saving a princess from the tower that was protected by a dragon - and that’s a real cliche. I was protecting the king from a great evil. And I probably saved every single town in the world, at least, twice.
And there was always that one girl. After one of the adventures, I met a girl that I would fall in love with. I would visit her, promising her the moon. I had numerous types of letters in my head that we wrote to each other. And to be fair, that was an impressive thing to think about for a kid.
I thought of different plot twists. What if my parents were someone famous? What if there was special blood deep within my veins, and in the end, only I could use the power to defeat the greatest evil of them all?
But even after all those adventures, there would be a big finale. I still remember preparing for it, turning every room upside down to make them look like an arena. Some other rooms were different planes altogether. It was a big moment and a big fight.
I would travel to the deepest dungeons to find the one, hiding in the Endless Chambers. I have to defeat that evil. I will defeat that evil. Everything depended on it. And if I failed that fight, all my hard work beforehand would’ve been pointless.
I thought and prepared for that final battle for months. I thought of all the puzzles I would have to go through - which I ended up solving epically. I thought up hundreds of spells I could unleash or stop the evil. And all those random dice tables that I would use for the evil. It needed to be fair, after all.
And finally, the time arrived. There finally was the battle in the Endless Chambers.
There were many stages of the fight. There would be a battle in our minds. We would teleport to different realms and planes - hero chasing the evil - to end up back in that very same place where it all began. Endless amount of spells were cast. Many slashes and cuts were hit and dodged.
And when we were both back in that very first chamber - gory, bloody, and barely alive - I would stand up, run towards the great evil, jump like a true hero, and do the final slash.
It was finally over, and there was peace. The world was saved.
People would throw a festival that would last for weeks. That day became a special day, always celebrated and membered.
And there was nothing else to do - not until the next time. But that wouldn't be my story anymore.
I would retire and marry that woman. I would become a mentor to many, even to the king himself. I would be the most famous person to ever lived. Even Hin, the first hero, was nothing compared to me. I became more than a hero - a legend.
During my free time, I would teach the new young ones, telling them about my adventures. After all, it was all about the stories from the beginning to the end. I told them how I killed my first goblin, to a hobgoblin, to a demon, to a dragon, and finally to the great evil - the final boss. And sometimes, I would go out, and do some adventuring, just for the nostalgia. But nothing would ever feel the same, at least, compared to that epic battle.
I would tell of those stories to bards until the last of my days. And I would finally leave my legacy on my children's shoulders, as I take my final breath.
That was my dream. Or, at least, that was the way it should’ve gone.
But things never go the way we like. Not at all. And like every story, my story also has a beginning. It’s a weird story, a short one. But it’s something that started it all.
And to be fair, I think I'm insane for sharing it.
My parents died when I was very young. That’s what I was told. But I kept living in my parents' home. There was always this nanny, who brought me all the food. But honestly, I don’t think she ever cared much about me. She always did the bare minimum.
Luckily enough, my parents were wealthy, and I wasn’t that stupid. I paid for the bare minimum but always stayed in-doors, spending the money only for food and books. I kept reading all those adventure books nanny brought me. It was a dull life on the paper, but fun in my head.
After all, I lived in my fantasy world. I barely remembered all those sad moments. But I assume that it was my way to escape from that pain.
The outpost I lived in was a weird one, and it was a relatively small outpost. It did pretty well, taking into account that it was the final outpost, and it was not that far from “The Volcano.” It was the place where all high-end adventurers walked through to stay overnight to either get some rest or refill their supplies. It was considered a safe zone - a place where nobody stayed for long, but it was always more towards the safe side. The most dangerous part was going to or leaving from the outpost. However, if you wanted to make a lot of coins and fast - this was the place. But it was the high-risk and high-reward place. After all, it was easy to forfeit one’s life as well.
I would've liked to stay ignorant to the outside world and continue living in my fantasy world, but there was a day when I had reached a problematic point - I was out of the money. For a while now, the nanny had stopped coming by - and I could only assume that she either had decided to leave or had died. But I still managed, by going outside to buy the food all by myself.
Living in a village that's near the chaos had one advantage - I didn't recognize anyone, and neither did they recognize me. There were two reasons why I stayed around. First, I was too afraid to leave. Secondly, I could look outside the windows and look at all those different adventurers passing by, which helped me to think all those custom character descriptions inside my head. Stupid, I know, but it helped me to stay sane. Luckily enough, my home was the opposite side of the tavern where a lot of adventurers went so that I could do it without any difficulties.
And since I had a money problem, that's where I also went - the tavern. It's the perfect place to get some food, and maybe find a job. After all, most stories began there, in a tavern.
And so did mine.
Perhaps the tavern was the only place in the city that was still unchanged. The tables were still the same old - more black than brown - barely keeping themselves together. The smell in that place consisted mostly of bad hygiene. It’s not surprising since tavern was numerous adventurers’ first stop after they had stayed all day long outside of outpost and probably swung their swords at all those evil monsters.
The only difference compared to the tavern I always knew about was the ever-changing innkeepers. And there was yet a new one, who was cleaning the over-the-top dirty glass with his definitely-not-clean piece of clothing.
With a slight gulp, I walked to the counter. "Hello," I said, waving my hand.
"Hello there," a young innkeeper responded, smiling gently and looking at me. "What can I do for you?"
"Before that, did the old man finally die?" I asked, pretended to look like a local. Before coming here, I had tried to mimic adventurer's casual clothing, to look like any other adventurer.
The innkeeper stopped cleaning the glass and examined me. "I'm surprised. That older man died five years ago when demons attacked the outpost. I'm his son," the innkeeper said. He placed the glass on the counter, together with the dirty cloth, and kept examining me. “Are you a new one around here? You certainly don't look like an adventurer."
I was surprised. Back then, I didn't understand why he could see through my deception. "I'm-"
But before I could say anything, I could feel how a hand landed on my shoulder, making me immediately turn around and take a step back, hitting my back against the counter.
The stranger began to laugh. "That boy has some reactions," an older man said, grinning. The man had a long near-white beard with some very simple plain robes, with a slightly pointy hat. In my adventurer's book, it would be a wizard. "Hey, kiddo. I have an easy job offer. Want to hear about it? It pays well, and I guarantee you that much," the man said, making me forget about the innkeeper altogether.
"How much?" I asked, not wasting my time.
The older man now pushed his hand around my shoulder, pulling me away from the counter. It was slightly disturbing. "One beer to that boy," the old man shouted over his shoulder and led me to a bit more distant table.
I wanted to resist and go back to my room, but I couldn’t. At least, the older man ordered me a free drink. "Get me some food too, alright?" I shouted over my shoulder.
As we reached the table; got ourselves seated, I stared at the older man, raising my eyebrow to make him talk.
"Ten thousand gold pieces.” He didn’t even blink, just stared straight back at me.
My eyes widened. The truth was I was very close to shitting myself. We aren't talking about pennies here. We are talking about money that most people won't see in their entire lifetime.
"Yes," the old man said, having occasional hiccups. He wasn't entirely sober, but then again, in this place, who was?
"I might look like a boy, but I'm not that stupid. Are you going to rob me and sell me as a slave or something? Or are you a loan shark?" I asked, looking at the older man suspiciously. No, I was still young and stupid. I was merely twenty. But, I always managed to look and pretend to be a lot older than I was.
The older man stared at me for a moment, serious. But after a short delay, he began laughing. "I can see why you'd see me like that," he said, taking a long sip from his beer and began searching something from his cloak. It didn't take long before he placed something on the table. "I need someone to do a simple job, and you seem like a good fit," he explained, hand still on that something. “It’s important enough for me, and my party that we are willing to pay a lot for it.” As he removed the hand, he kept staring at me. "That should make me trustworthy, right?"
After having a short staring contest, I finally gazed at the object. Just as I was reaching out my hand, the innkeeper arrived, putting a plate in front of me, consisting of some chicken wings, salad, potatoes, and the promised beer.
"Thank you," I said, getting a quick nod from the innkeeper as he left. My attention landed immediately back on the object. With a gulp, I reached out my hand and picked it up, examining it more closely.
My eyes widened. "Are you a platinum adventurer?" I asked. After taking an even closer look at the symbol, I released a long breathe slowly, trying to stay calm. "And it has even the number on it. One. Does that make you the highest-ranking adventurer out there?”
"Yes. We can confirm it at the adventurer's guild if you desire," the old man said. I had never seen an adventurer's badge before, but I had read plenty of stories and seen plenty of pictures. But to think that the first badge I ever saw was the highest-ranking adventurer was something fortunate. They say it's impossible to steal or create a fake badge, as well. And just holding it in my hands alone told me that it was a real deal.
I pushed the badge back in front of the older man and looked at him, thinking. "So? I'm listening," I said, trying to sound professional. Just knowing that they were the best adventurers out there, I knew that I wanted that job. It was a gold mine.
You see, the money older man offered me was even more than my parents had left me. With that money, I could be set for life. I could hire protection, leave, and still have enough money to live till the end of my days. So, even though I tried to look like I was still not convinced, I was ready to take it.
"I can't give you too many details, but we are leaving tomorrow morning towards the volcano. Over there we're going to leave you into a safe spot to wait for us. Your job is simple: stay near the empty cart, and keep an eye out for us. If someone comes or appears, give us the signal, and we'll know," the old man explained, not twitching even once.
"That sounds... very dangerous."
"I'll be frank here. I told you that it's an easy job, but it’s still a risk it for the biscuit type of job."
"I don't know," I said. As I reached out my hand to grab the salt shaker, I managed to tip it over. I never believed in unlucky omens, but that got me frozen for a moment.
The older man looked at me and the shaker. "Boy, it seems even destiny wants you to take this job," he said.
"What? Shouldn't that mean the other way around?" I said, pretending to laugh.
"But you did say - I don't know," the old man noted, crossing his hands and leaning slightly back. He released a long sigh. "Either way, think, boy. It might be your best chance to join a great party, and possibly earn a fortune. Perhaps once the job is over, you'll also have a great adventure to tell."
I raised my eyebrow as a response. But the older man kept smiling. He stood up and patted me on the shoulder. "Think about it. Sleep on it. If you're up for it, tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn in front of the tavern," he said. He barely took a step away, before stopping and looking back. "And take more comfortable traveling clothing - your current one is so shiny and clean that it hurts. We have a long way to go, so do make yourself comfortable," he said, finally walking away.
I took some of the salt from the table and threw it over my shoulder. I had never believed in bad luck, but I still followed the tradition. When you spill the salt, you throw some of it over the shoulder. Never hurts to respect something like this. "Bad luck, bad luck, go away," I muttered to myself, sighing afterward. With another pinch of salt on my food, I began my feast.
Usually, I wouldn't have even considered such a job since it was just too risky. But money can change people. The fact that it was a job from the highest rankest adventurer can persuade and make me believe that it was a safe job.
And so I had decided to take it. After gathering my few things and wearing one of my more comfortable clothing, I walked toward the tavern. Of course, my clothing was compared to the tavern one a lot simpler. And on top of my clothing was a clean cloak, making sure that I was warm. It was supposed to be my first adventure, so I still had to dirty it.
"Ah, here he comes. I told you he would come!" the old man shouted as he saw me. There were a total of three men and one woman standing there.
The woman seemed visibly annoyed by the fact that I had come. "Gogror, I told you we don't need anyone like that," she said, crossing her hands and examining me.
"Chia," the old man said, eyeing his companion. "Shut up!" he hissed to her, whispering something afterward. After a long sigh, he faced me. "Hello, boy. Welcome to our party!"
"Nobody cares who you are," Chia interrupted before I could tell my name. "You're just a temporary companion for a simple unneeded job.” Well, one thing was certain - she was a total bitch.
"Now that's just rude," Gogror muttered, looking at Chia. "This is not how we make new friends."
"Now-now, you two," a muscular man said, flexing his muscles as he finally decided to interrupt. His mouth barely opened, but it was enough to see his overwhelming smile. "I'm Behmer. And that monk is Jiang. But he's not very talkative one, so ignore him," he introduced himself and the monk. The monk gave me a more extended nod.
But just as I opened my mouth to reintroduce myself, Chia sighed loudly. "Let's go. We are wasting our time over here!"
"You're right," Gogror said, nodding and walking to the nearby cart, finally taking a seat. He waved at me to sit beside him. The other three got on their separate horses and began to follow next to the cart.
It was a long journey. And as we kept moving forward, the barely-growing grass already began to die off, almost like withering away. At some point, we saw more ash on the ground than dirt or grass. And then there was only rock and ash. Some black trees were smoldering, like a lump of coal. And some trees were ashen. In the end, that's what one could expect from going towards the volcano. We also saw some weird beings occasionally walking far away - more demons if anything.
But for me, it was exciting. For the first time, all those adventurers and descriptions in those books finally got a real visualization in my head.
Of course, I was visibly worried whenever I saw a monster slowly walking far away.
"Don't worry, boy. This cart is enchanted," Gogror explained, smirking.
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
Behmer began laughing. "It means it has an invisibility ward on it, which also makes anything within ten feet around us invisible," he explained.
"Fighting our way to the volcano would be a pain in the ass," the old man said.
"But doesn't that mean that this wagon is rather expensive?" I asked immediately.
"Very expensive," the old man responded, giving me a wink. "It's more expensive than I'm paying you."
"Wouldn't you be afraid that I would steal it then?"
The older man smirked. "But you won't. You're too inexperienced. That's why I chose you," he said.
I moaned. "I feel cheated," I muttered, looking at the volcano that was throwing an endless amount of smoke straight into the sky. There was also a river of lava, all the time flowing down to a side, slowly.
The traveling continued until everyone besides me began eyeing each other. With a synched nod, everyone but the old man and me sped up their horses, going ahead.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Cleaning the castle's courtyard," the old man said, preparing another smoke pipe.
"Castle?" I asked, eyes widening.
"Oh yeah. I didn't tell you, did I? We are going to kill the Demon King. The strongest Demon King yet alive."
My eyes widened even more. "What the fuck? Why didn't you tell me that sooner? And why would the Demon King live here? Shouldn't they be at somewhere more dangerous and isolated?"
Gogror smirked. "Kiddo, this is the most dangerous and isolated place. It’s next to the volcano. Tell me, would you have come if I told you casually: 'Hello, we are going to kill the strongest Demon King in the world? Want to join us?'"
"No!" I said immediately.
"Exactly," the old man said, laughing. "But in the end, it doesn't change your job. You'll be fine."
I frowned. "What if you don't make it back?" I asked the question.
"We will make it back. We are the strongest," the old man responded.
"Bullshit. It's a fucking Demon King. It’s the one, someone who is the strongest of them all. So, he might be stronger than all of you. This is madness.”
"Madness?" the older man said, going serious. "We're giving it our all! We've been preparing for this moment for a long time. We are the strongest adventurers in the kingdom. In the end, only we can save the world."
I began laughing, weakly. "This is a suicide mission. I should've seen the signs."
"Boy..." - he began fixing his pipe one last time before entering the castle’s courtyard - "...the only reason why I'm telling you this is that I owe you that much. If we fail here, you can take this cart and leave. This cart will be more than enough as a reward. The other three would probably be against me telling you all of this. Sometimes, it's better to stay in the dark and live in that bubble called lies. But because there's a chance we won't make it back, I wanted you to know the truth. You'll have your payment in one way or another."
Before I could've said anything more, we were already entering through the castle's gate. The other three were waiting in the courtyard, cleaning their weapons. There were plenty of dead demon bodies lying around.
"You arrived, good," Chia said the moment we entered close enough for them to see us. "So, let's go?" she asked, watching the older man.
The older man nodded, stood up, and with a quick hand swipe, a staff appeared in his hand.
"You're a wizard?" I asked the obvious question.
"Yes. I prefer to keep that knowledge hidden. Wizards are sought after, and it brings me more trouble than anything else," the old man said, jumping down from the cart.
“I knew that. You should change your clothes if you don’t want to be seen as a wizard,” I said, smiling. “Otherwise even the demon will focus you first!”
"We'll be back in a few minutes, I hope," he said, walking to his companions.
"I'll keep an eye out. Sure. Don't worry; my life depends on you. Yeah!" I said with a monotone voice. The older man smirked, searched something from his robe and threw it at me. I caught it. It was a simple-looking stone.
"Shake it if something is wrong," the old man said, finally walking away with others and raising his hand to wave backward.
I liked that older man. He was great and wise. He would be a good hero.
And thus, I began my seemingly endless waiting. I couldn't help but think about the spilled salt. Did I make a huge mistake by taking that job?
I could tell you fantastic stories about my waiting, but no, it was boring. Too boring, perhaps. What would you do if you were in the most powerful devil castle’s courtyard, keeping a watch? At first, I was stiffened, but as time passed, I got more and more relaxed.
It was after around four hours when my doubts began to rise. What if a backup was coming? Shouldn't I get the fuck out of there? What if the heroes had already lost and died?
So, being the smartest of the group, I decided to do the stupidest thing possible - I jumped off the cart and followed the heroes.
Why? Don't ask me. I still don't know what I was thinking. Perhaps it was the adrenaline. Maybe something told me that if I were going to die, at least, I would want to see the Demon King, at least, once. Or perhaps the heroes were injured and needed my help?
The castle halls were vast and full of monsters, except them being all dead. But things changed when I reached the main hall. That room was massive and full of corpses. I could see the interior design, full of different demon faces. But as I looked around, I could also see the bodies of those four.
"Old man? Behmer? Jiang? Chia?" I said, looking at them one by one, managing to take only a few steps forward. None of them moved, not even the slightest.
But that was the moment I thought that I was going to die. Behind all of those bodies, a colossal figure began to rise. With every breath, fire burst out from his mouth and nose. That fire released enough light to reveal a massive body of the Demon King. And I am not talking about just slightly larger than human, but like ten times larger. It had two massive horns and was entirely red. It felt like I met the devil itself.
"Backup? How dare you to enter the castle of the Demon King," a deep voice echoed throughout the chamber.
"Fuck, shit, fuck, shit, balls, donkey balls, demon balls," I muttered as I knelt down and took the closest sword I saw. It was heavy, but with enough adrenaline running through my body, I could raise it and point it towards the Demon King.
Finally, I realized the truth. I should've believed the bad luck of the spilled salt. I should’ve left a long time ago. I was going to die.
"You shall taste my fury. You will be squashed like a tiny human you are. You will taste my infinite-" the demon began his monologue, taking a great step forward. But it was a staggering step, which made him drip and fall forward. And as it landed on the ground, his head went precisely through my sword. It came without saying that I released the sword instantly, letting gravity to do all the hard work.
There was this one long moan - growl, perhaps - and then there was a silence.
"What... the... fuck?" I murmured. I had done the literal final blow against the Demon King. Or can it even be considered as a final blow?
And there I was, in a room full of dead bodies, alone. I was the only witness to this event, and I was the lone survivor.
What do you think I did next? After screaming, panicking, and crying for the next half an hour, I finally gathered every piece of expensive-looking weapons or armors, placing them in the cart. I pulled all of those four adventurers’ dead bodies to the cart. And finally, I chopped off the demon's king head - which, by the way, was a stupidly hard thing to do - and put it inside the cart as well. It was after all of that I realized why that cart was needed and so important for the older man. I was probably also the manpower who could help to carry all of those things.
I would go into details how awful the travel was, but I'm just going to skip it and say that after almost crapping myself every time I passed a monster, I finally made it back to the outpost.
The town welcomed me as a hero - after spending, at least, an hour to figure out how to disable the warding so that I would be a visible arriving hero.
After confirming the kill with the adventurer's guild, things began to move fast. First of all, I immediately got one reward for the kill - rank Hero.
It was hilarious when I had no rank before-hand, and suddenly, I passed every single adventurer in the guild. It was a special reward which says that this will be given with no questions asked, or no matter what. I could safely say that I was the only person to ever achieve something like that, without being an adventurer first.
For the second part of the reward, I was teleported to the capital city, where I met the king. Also yay for getting out of that outpost, and safely.
There was a long ceremony on how I was presented with the official title in front of every citizen, and I had to tell to different famous people over and over and over again how I did it.
And let me tell you when I was in front of those people, and I knew the truth how little I deserved all of this - yeah, I would not tell anyone about what happened. So, for the first time in my life, my thought up cliche adventure fantasy became a useful skill to have. I gave them the most thrilling story I could think of.
I wish I could tell you more, but that's where my memory ends and starts to fail me. I drank so much that the next moment was the following day. I’m not even sure if it was the next, or a couple of days later.
"Good morning, Hero," a loud voice echoed throughout the room, as someone pulled curtains away from the window, making the light shine directly on me.
"Shit, fuck, shit!" I said as I quickly got myself half-seated, still not fully awake. After a moment of pause, I released a long sigh. "Ah. Just a nightmare," I said, relieved. My whole body was slightly sweaty, and the alcohol had probably done its job.
It was finally over, or so I believed.
"Nightmares, heh? I'm not surprised. You just killed the damn Demon King," the man said, laughing.
"Yeah. Well, I guess I can finally retire," I said, laughing as well, lying back down, eyes closing. It was nowhere near close to an epic adventure, but, at least, it was over. I’m probably the weakest hero ever, so it only made sense that nobody should ever know the truth. But it was fine. I could finally retire.
I could finally thank myself for following the tradition and throwing that salt over my shoulder.
"You're funny," the man said, facing me and smiling. "We are happy that you're our Hero. But it's time to get up.”
What an asshole, I thought. I’m the hero, dammit. Let me sleep.
“It's time to do all of those hero responsibilities. There’s enough of small demons to eliminate for starters. Don't worry; they are easy targets compared to the Demon King. You could call them even a vacation."
My eyes widened. "Excuse me? I think I heard you wrong. I want to retire," I said out loud, smiling fakely.
"You jest, Hero. After all, you gave us the Hero's vow. You’re now the true hero!" the man said, still smiling. "You're the adventurer guild’s best, and their spokesperson. Just the fact that you've never been a ranked adventurer, and you managed to kill the Demon King speaks of your greatness.
"You're our new hope. You're an inspiration to the children who look up at you. Your message that you don't need to be an adventurer to become a hero is obvious. Every adventurer is also looking now up to you, waiting for you to show what you're capable of. You’re now their leader.
"You were the one who tried to save those four poor heroes, who were getting ahead of themselves and got beaten by the demon lord. But your good heart - trying to stop them and then still killing the Demon King single-handedly - shows that we need you! It's only a pity that you couldn't have saved those other adventurers… no… heroes!
"But it's time for you to become who you were meant to be! It’s time to stand up! Become who you were meant to be!"
There was a long moment of awkward silence. I didn’t expect that speech. Was that guy my biggest fan, or something? Never I had been as confused as I was that moment.
"What?" I muttered. I didn’t remember telling me about those four other adventurers, which means that I was probably too drunk. And I barely remembered giving Hero's vow. But it was before all of that drinking.
I frowned. How did I get myself into that? Yesterday I was nobody. Now, I was a hero. I didn't know how to fight, nor I knew magic. I was the weakest hero ever with no skills what-so-ever. And to be quite honest, I wasn't even the hero. Those four were. I just lucked out the kill. I was supposed to die there.
And now I was there, praised by my first fanboy.
"For starters," I began. "My name is-"
"My lords!" the door was forced open as a man ran through it.
"For fuck sakes," I moaned, getting interrupted once again.
"The city is being attacked," the messenger said out loud.
One would say that I was lucky, right? One would say that I was blessed for getting all of that glory like that? Wrong.
This is where my true adventure began. This is my story.
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
You can read my stuff and shorts at reddit.com/r/Elven
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I'm not the best at grammar, but I try to fight against it with a better story-writing.
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