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“Wait, so that’s it?” I asked.

“Correct,” said Gerald. “The giants were just the final piece of the puzzle. We can start our attack whenever we want now.”

“And then…that would be it, huh?”

“Yes. Whether we live or die, you won’t have to do anything after that.”

We’re walking through a secret path in the forest. This is one of the giants’ many escape routes in case their village is compromised (which it is). Even through the trees, I can tell the sun isn’t shining. Thank the clouds for that.

“You sent the giants off somewhere,” I said. “Where is that?”

“Don’t worry, they know where they’re going,” said Gerald.

“Okay, so where are we going?”

“We’re going to stop by a town.”

“And?”

“That’s it. We’re going to rest and wait for every one of our allies to get ready.”

I look back at the hara and humanoid dragon behind me. Wouldn’t it be a problem if they showed up to a human town? Well, Claroth could pretend he’s a slincend, but Reiar is a hara. Haran don’t have a good reputation among humans.

“What? It’s not like we’re going to do anything,” said Reiar. “I’ve been to human towns and cities before, and some of them even tolerated me.”

“You don’t have to worry about us, Drake Bane,” said Claroth.

That name’s sure catching on, huh?

“So what town are we going to anyway?” I asked.

“Lyndhurst.”

Damn, really? I like the idea of checking in with Richard, but… “But that place has been on lockdown since I left a few days ago.”

“We can sneak in, if we want.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Well, you were at least able to get out of there, right?”

“But I didn’t sneak out.”

“Point is, if there’s an exit, then there’s an entrance.”

“…How do you even know where Lyndhurst is, anyway?”

“It’s a spell, don’t worry about it.”

Hm, interesting. “Then teach me the spell.”

“No, you should conserve your water for when you need to turn.”

“It’s not like I won’t be able to turn at all.”

“Then you’ll die.”

“For all my life, I’ve known that was a possibility.” I stop on the path. “I’ve just been really lucky that it hasn’t happened yet.”

Gerald stops as well. He turns his head slightly to glance at me. “Just so you know, it’ll only work for places you’ve been to before. Specifically places where you’ve walked on the ground barefooted.”

That’s strangely specific. “So you’ve been to Lyndhurst?”

“Yes. I passed through it a few times on my way to the International Institute of Imagery. I participated in a few events there.”

“What’s the spell?”

He turns around fully and looks straight at me. “Where the sole meets the earth, the soul becomes connected to the earth. That piece of the soul becomes an ever present beacon stretching past the heavens.” He turns back around and starts walking again. “Of course, you’re supposed to imagine what the town looks like along with that.”

…I only caught half of that.

I should’ve brought a notebook or something so that I could’ve written it down. Why can’t that spell be simple like, Let there be light, or something?

And why barefooted? I’m almost never barefooted in my own room.

I guess I won’t find a use for this spell any time soon.

“Something’s up,” said Reiar.

“What?” I need some kind of explanation.

“Yeah, I smell that, too,” said Claroth.

“Smell what?”

“Smoke,” said Reiar. “Where’s Lyndhurst, Gerald?”

Gerald stops and eyes Reiar for a moment. Then he pointed in a direction that was a little ways off our current path.

Reiar turned his head in that direction, then sniffed lightly. “It’s definitely coming from there.”

“I guess that must mean we’re close to Lyndhurst.”

But why smoke? What’s going on there?

Wait…

They said before that a dragon was spotted in that area.

And that dragon…might not’ve been Claroth.

“How about we cut straight through?” suggested Reiar. “We need to reach our goal as soon as possible. Never mind the thorns.”

“As you wish,” said Gerald.

And so we strayed off the path laid out for us and stepped into the prickly, untamed wilderness once more.

It did not take long for us to see the large gates that screamed LYNDHURST at the top.

And past those open gates, there was nothing.

Just broken-down wood and stone.

The stifling fires are barely making any smoke.

And yet, Reiar can’t stop himself from coughing or tearing up.

As we walked through the desolate town, we weren’t able to find a single soul.

No one walking on the ground.

No one lying on the ground.

There are no questions being asked among us. Even I know what happened.

They were going to do this to Amande’s village as well, but we were able to stop it.

However, it took me a while to notice all the mist pouring into the sky.

It’s white mist.

I keep on going forward until I see a lot for the wagons.

I see Richard’s wagon.

White mist is pouring out of it.

Welf and Cross are nowhere to be found.

I walk toward the wagon.

I open the curtains.

I see Richard.

He’s sitting there.

White mist pouring out his mouth.

His nose.

His ears.

His eyes.

His wounds.

So…he was blessed.

And when I die, the same thing is going to happen to me.

That’s how I’ll finally rid myself of the curse and the black mist.

Yes.

That might be my only option.

Thinking of nothing else, I exit the wagon.

“--and from the fact that the town’s still smoldering, the attack probably happened around the time the giants’ village was attacked,” I hear Gerald say.

“Speaking of the white mist, there are definitely people here. For some reason or another, they either put or kept them inside,” said Claroth.

“We can’t see those bodies from the windows, though.” Reiar looks over at me. “Hey, Drake Bane, was someone really there?”

“Yeah, a man was in that wagon over there. From what I can tell, he was blessed.”

“Did you know anyone in this town?”

“No, not really. They’re all strangers to me.”

“But the fact of the matter is they’ve identified you and they know where you’ve been,” said Claroth.

So now they’re coming after what’s dear to me, huh? Or at least the places I’ve been to. They can do whatever they want. My hometown doesn’t have much to lose. It’d be fine if it completely disappeared. I know I’d be fine with that.

No more stories.

No more people worshipping me.

No more people pitying me.

No more people pretending to be my parents.

No more people disowning me.

No more officers.

No more farmers.

And no more Wendy.

No more Wendy.

…Wendy.

Wendy.

I want Wendy.

I want her. I want her to be happy. I want her to be safe. I want her to be healthy. I want her to be with me. I want her to smile. I want her to play. I want her to hold me. I want her to never let go. I want her to stay. I want her to hide. I want her to live.

“What’s the matter, Drake Bane?” asked Reiar.

“…Gerald?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s the spell that has a beacon again?”

“You’re not going anywhere, boy.”

“…I’m going.”

“You aren’t.”

Fuck it, I’m out. “I’m going back to my hometown. To Prel. I need to check on something.”

“You shouldn’t be doing that, boy,” said Gerald. “They just hit this town. They weren’t expecting us to come back, yet they still attacked it. Your hometown is nothing but a trap.”

“More reason to head back.”

He grabs my arm. “This is extremely irresponsible of you.”

“Don’t stop me.” I look back at them. “I’ll kill you all.”

Gerald isn’t letting go.

I pull my arm away from him.

He lets it leave his grasp.

I walk.

And walk.

And keep on walking until I’ve made it to the gates.

“Boy.”

I turn around and see Gerald and the others trailing behind. “What?”

Where the sole meets the earth, the soul becomes connected to the earth. That piece of the soul becomes an ever present beacon stretching past the heavens. Then imagine Prel.”

I recite the spell. Along with the beacon, I remember the time where my bare feet did touch the ground. That was a common punishment when I misbehaved or didn’t do enough work on the farm.

And then suddenly, to the right of me, I see a light.

It’s a sliver, but it’s there.

It’s not blinding at all, but I can still see it through the buildings and trees. It’s like it’s been etched into my eyes.

I walk through the gate and walk down the hill into what could be oblivion.

But at least I’m not the only one entering.

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About the author

DAStewart

  • Ellicott City, MD

Bio: I have a lot of ideas in my head and my only purpose is to write them.

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