21.1. Ashes. Lots of Ashes.
“But why must we go to Maplewell?”
Daniel protested, following behind me. I did not turn around as I continued my march down the dirt path.
“Because he’s there. And if what Blake says is true and this ‘Gold Ranked team’ is going to kill him, then we have to stop them.”
“He? Do you mean the Greater Demon? Luc— Luci—”
I stopped as the road split into two. I glanced back at the Human man as he too halted.
“Which way is this ‘Maplewell’?”
“I don’t know. And I don’t want to go there. What happens if the Gold Ranked team finds out you’re a Demon too? They’ll think you’re trying to aid it— him.”
He paused, narrowing his eyes.
“Wait, are you trying to help that Demon?”
“No! I don’t even like Lucerna. He tried to kill me and I couldn’t kill him.”
“Then why do you want to save him? Let the Gold Ranked team take care of him— it’s a win-win situation for us all!”
I stared at Daniel, trying to articulate my thoughts. It was not that I wanted Lucerna to live; he was a menace, and he should have died to the [Cultists]. But he was strong and he killed them all instead. Just like he would have killed me if I hadn’t fled in time. And yet...
“He’s the only one who knows how to get me back to the Netherworld. You— you Humans haven’t been any help at all. But Lucerna was the one who brought me here in the first place. He would know how to bring me back.”
“And you think he’ll just tell you?”
“He won’t, but we can make him if the Gold Ranked team defeats him. Then you guys can kill him for killing all your Human companions in Silverdale and Fairgrove!”
“It’s Silvergrove and Fairdale… are you doing that on purpose?
I shook my head, ignoring his question; I cast my gaze back to the forked path. It was getting dark again. We had spent too much time asking questions in the city about the Demon attack— again. I was starting to see a pattern here, and I was not sure if I liked it.
In the far left, above the vast canopy of trees that stretched to the horizon, I spotted a speck in the twilight sky. Billowing up to the white clouds above was a column of smoke; it blew strongly with the wind, slowly being carried higher and higher. I pointed at it.
“There— that’s smoke!”
Daniel grimaced as I excitedly ran back to him.
“That means that’s where Maplewell is. Lucerna uses smoke!”
I tried to wave him forward, gesturing for him to hurry up as he simply stood there.
“What are you doing? If we don’t hurry it up, we’re not going to make it there in time!”
The Human man hesitated, biting his lower lip. I cocked my head, confused at the way he was acting.
He started, then stopped. I frowned.
“What? What do you want to say?”
He sighed, glancing away from the smoke and down at me.
“I don’t think that’s smoke from magic, Salvos. And I don’t think we’ll be getting the answer you want anytime soon.”
...seriously? Am I going to have to wait longer again?!
We arrived at Maplewell to find it a pile of ashes. Well, the pile was specifically concentrated around the center of what once was a village. The rest of the ruined village had a small layer over it though.
“What kind of a spell did that?”
Daniel spoke, voice quivering as he pointed at the pile of ash. It rose up to my waist so it was not as high as a hill, but it was spread so wide that it was thinned out.
“Lucerna must have done that. He had a Skill that could create these big balls of ash that burnt my skin off!”
“But could it do this?”
I looked at the destruction— at the burning houses and trees all throughout. I shook my head.
“I don’t think he could have created all that ash. At least, not when we met. And I don’t think he was able to create fire too.”
Daniel glanced around, gritting his teeth.
“We need to search for survivors. There has to be someone who survived this attack.”
He started forward, covering his mouth as he stalked through the flames and smoke. I followed behind him, mimicking what he was doing, although I was unsure of what it was for.
We trudged between burnt and burning buildings, leaving a trail of footprints in the ashened floor; the fire was not raging wildly, but it tried to consume whatever it could before it would extinguish itself. Whatever Skill or magic Lucerna used to cause these flames was not a powerful one— it just so happened that no one could stop them from spreading, which made the situation what it was.
I took this all in, noting how different a place of Humans could become after a battle occurred in it; I had never seen a village before, but I had an idea based on the city.
Daniel stopped abruptly and I nearly bumped into him. I caught myself just in time and peered over his shoulder.
The Human man ignored me, instead choosing to bend over to the ground. He leaned over to a body on the ground, touching it slowly.
“Is he alive?”
He didn’t respond. He closed his eyes, muttering something under his breath. Then he got up and continued past the body. I glanced one last time at the body— at the small body that was flanked on both sides by two bigger bodies— and decided that I should do something as well. So I nodded at them as I would to a companion, before catching up to Daniel.
“I found someone.”
The Human man called out to me just as I reached him. He was holding a red haired woman wearing robes in his arms carefully. I identified her as he grabbed for a bottle around his belt.
[Mage - Lvl. 45]
She’s high level! I noted as he held it over her, uncorking the bottle. He poured a familiar red liquid down on her drip by drip, stopping only when she began to release a series of sharp exhales.
Her coughing died down, but she didn’t get up. He slowly laid her against the side of an intact wall. He turned to me.
“I can’t use all of my healing potion on her or I’ll run out. I’ll look for more survivors, so just wait here and watch over her.”
I waved at him as he left, trying out one Human gesture I had observed while in Hazelbury. I thought I did it right— but if I did, he would have waved back. I glanced down at my hand and frowned. Do I have to do it like this? Or like this? I wiggled my hand in different ways as I waited for Daniel to return.
More time passed as the moon fully asserted itself into the sky. I watched the lingering flames around me slowly snuff out, leaving nothing but the light from up above to illuminate my surroundings. I had gotten bored of waving my hand a while ago, and was now in the process of trying to figure out how to make my fingers create that snapping sound someone in the Adventurers Guild made. All I got was a clicking sound from my claws knocking into each other.
I looked up from this arduous task as I heard a groan. The woman in robes was sitting up and rubbing her face.
“...where am I?”
I greeted her enthusiastically, glad that I could finally direct my attention at something else. She jerked back, caught off guard by me.
“Wha— what’s going on? Who are you?”
“Daniel found you lying by that pile of bodies there, so he helped you get better before leaving me to look after you. I’m Salvos!”
I pointed at the corpses strewn about where she had once been as she slowly turned. She blinked a few times as her mouth hung her open. Then she jumped up, knocking ash into the air.
“That [Djinn]! Where is it? What happened?!”
She glanced around frantically, reaching for something at her side but found nothing.
“Where’s my team?!”
I cocked my head inquisitively. She sputtered, pointing at herself.
“My team— Paul, Eloy, Silvia! Where are they?!”
I whirled around, seeing Daniel walk over with a somber look on his face. He bowed his head slightly.
“I’m sorry. But your team was killed by the Greater Demon attacking this town. There are no other survivors but you.”
Her eyes widened as she took a step back. She looked like she wanted to deny it— to call Daniel a liar. But she stopped. She spoke softly as she nodded.
Daniel averted his gaze from the woman.
“I’m sorry, but there was nothing I could do. Maybe if Salvos and I had come an hour earlier… but no. The [Djinn] was long gone when we arrived.”
The woman took a deep breath, shaking her head.
“Right, I heard you the first time. Both your explanation and your apology. You don't have to repeat yourself."
He clenched his fists as the woman looked down at the ground, a shadow arched darkly over her eyes. I glanced between the two before pointing at Daniel.
“You did! I heard you both times too!”
The two glanced back at me as I cocked my head.
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