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The decapitated head of the necromancer plopped down on the table, spilling blood on a number of documents in the process. The mayor looked at me in shock, clearly not having expected me to succeed in my task.

I wasn't in the mood to be polite either. Not after the mayor tried to cover up the deaths of the victims.

"I want the victims to be buried by their families within the next few days." I said, not leaving any room for argument.

The mayor squinted and replied in a monotone voice.

"I'm afraid that's not possible, hunter. While I appreciate your completion of the quest, the summer festival is fast approaching. There is no time to arrange a mass funeral."

I frowned when I heard his response. I couldn't tell if he was trying to delay the burial or to cover up this incident entirely. Duke Rass would not be happy with the mayor if he heard about this, after all.

"By asking the townspeople for help I'm sure you can get both done rather quickly."

"The townspeople would mourn their dead, yes, but in the process, the entire town would lose revenue from missing out on the annual festival, which could have long-term consequences for their wealth."

I was starting to get frustrated at this point. Did this man feel no indignation at the horrible deaths his citizens had undergone? Did he feel no remorse for his failure in protecting the citizens?

I stood up from my chair and leaned over the mayor's desk, staring him straight in the eyes.

"Let me tell you what's going to happen now, mayor. You are either going to arrange this funeral within the next few days, using your personal funds, or I will reveal the truth to the citizens myself, right now."

The mayor seemed a little shaken at my threat, but didn't back down. He replied in a low voice.

"You do realize that as the mayor I hold absolute authority in Ralston. I could have you arrested right this moment for your threats. I'm sure Duke Rass would back me if your guild asked for an explanation. After all, why would they stick up for a probationary member?"

I backed off, but kept staring.

"Then let's see whose side your guards will pick. The side of their dead family members, or yours. Did you think they were satisfied with your handling of the case so far? Or do you want me to believe that you told every guard about what you found in the alchemist's basement?"

From the grim look on the mayor's face, I knew I had him. He could attempt to threaten me all he wanted, at the end of the day he was left without options and he knew it. He took a bag of coins out of a drawer and put it on the table.

"Fine then, you'll have your funeral. Take your coin and leave. Just know that I'm never hiring your guild again."

"Oh don't worry about that, I'll take personal responsibility when I report this conversation to the guild master." I added spitefully.

I marched out of his office, slamming his door closed as I left. That man had succeeded in lowering my faith in humanity. If even a small-time mayor could be so corrupt as to prioritize money over respect, then what would the higher-ups be like?

Grumbling, I left the town hall in search of an inn. I decided to stay for a few more days so that I could attend the funeral.

 


 

A few days later, I was walking through the streets of Ralston, on my way to a tailor to buy some appropriate attire for the funeral. It was customary to wear black clothing to any official events, including funerals and weddings. Events that included the church of Helios, on the other hand, didn't have a customary colour, because Helios' teachings were indiscriminate to everyone, regardless of the colour of their clothes. That was the idea, anyway.

As I walked to the streets with my hunter badge attached to my leather armour, peasants came up to me to thank me every few paces. The mayor had announced what had happened with the necromancer a few days ago, including the fact that the alchemist's innocence was currently under question. Since then various people had come up to me to either thank me or curse me.

Normal townsfolk mostly fell into the former category, while a merchant or two had found it necessary to seek me out and make me pay compensation for their lost profits, which I promptly refused. One had even pushed it further and almost started a fight, but the townsfolk had started to throw rocks at the merchant before he could give his bodyguard the order, forcing them to flee. Clearly, they were very unhappy with the priorities these merchants exhibited.

To be honest, their gratitude felt good. I had done something good and people were praising me for it, which was an amazing feeling. Still, the few negative reactions my actions had caused left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. For some reason, we as humans remember bad things more vividly than good things.

My thoughts were interrupted by a young boy that had run into my leg. He looked a little dirty, with torn clothes and unkempt hair. He looked to be around 12 years old. I could hear him sobbing.

"What's wrong, kid? Are you alright?" I asked him softly. He looked up at me with pleading eyes.

"You're the witch hunter, right? You killed the bad killer?"

"I am. I did. Now tell me, what's going on? Why are you crying?"

"Can you find my dad like you found the bad guy? I've been looking for him, but everyone says he's gone! But he's not gone, I know he's not!"

Momentarily, I was stumped. I wanted to reply, to reassure him that everything was alright, that I would find his father for him, that I would make everything okay again. Instead, I simply stood there, looking down with my mouth hanging open and no sound coming out.

I wouldn't even be able to find his father's corpse in the heap of body parts.

 


 

A few minutes later, I had bought a set of clothes for thirty silver pieces, which barely ate into my funds, since I had received a large reward for the quest I had completed. I had tried to forget about the kid from earlier, with no luck, since he was following me.

At first, I had tried to simply console him so that he would stop denying his father's death, but apparently it wasn't that simple. I turned around and tried to convince him to leave me alone. I felt bad for him, but there was nothing more I could do. At this point, the kid should just return home to his mother.

"Listen, kid, I tried my best, but I can't find your father. He may be...dead. You should just go home."

The kid sniffled and looked down at the cobbled street we found ourselves on. He replied in a quiet voice that I could just barely make out.

"But I...have nowhere else to go..."

This made me change my mind. Since the kid had nowhere else to go other than an orphanage, I presumed, I could at least entertain his questions so that he wouldn't have to go through this funeral alone.

"What's your name, kid?"

"Michael."

"When did your father disappear?"

The kid seemed to glow up at my apparent willingness to find his father.

"A few months ago."

"Where did you sleep for the last few months, then?"

The kid replied quickly, grasping onto that hope.

"In our old house, just up the hill!"

"Well, bring me there. Maybe I can find something."

 


 

The old house sure did its name justice. Just outside of town the boy lead me to an old shack that had multiple holes in the walls and roof. I wasn't sure if these were a recent addition because of the father's disappearance, or if the house had always looked like that, but it didn't appear to be a proper place to raise a kid.

The interior also wasn't anything impressive. Even compared to our old little village hamlet, the house was sparsely decorated, with a small table and a few chairs.

"Where did your father keep his important things, Michael? We might find something there."

"Uh, he had a study! Upstairs! Follow me!"

The kid's enthusiasm was starting to become palpable. Now that he had finally found a way forward, he was starting to regain confidence, I noticed. I wondered if my course of action was correct. Perhaps brutal honesty would have spared the kid's feelings in the end. At the same time, I wanted to at least give him a chance to find out for himself. Only if he did everything he could, would he be able to live without regrets. That's how I would have felt if it had been my father, at least.

When we reached the study and looked inside, I started to understand what kind of father this kid had had. While the downstairs area had been empty and humble, this study was filled with books and parchment, all arranged neatly on bookshelves. There was a single copper construct that glowed a light orange. I supposed it was a magical artefact of some kind, but I didn't know enough to figure out what it did. Wisely, I decided not to touch it. On the desk, I could see a small booklet, labeled 'notes'. I looked inside and found notes on fire magic! Again, I couldn't understand exactly what they were about, but they mentioned something called a 'heat mark' skill, that would direct spells at a certain target.

When I read that, I felt my gut twist as a sense of fear and guilt formed. With a small voice, I spoke to Michael.

"What kind of class did your father have, Michael?"

"Dad said never to tell strangers about his class! But I guess you're not a stranger, since you're helping me find him... Well, okay! He had the tier 2 [Fire mage] class! Cool right? I want to be a [Fire mage] too when I grow up!"

"Listen, kid. I have to tell you something."

I sat down on a nearby chair and told him the tale of my battle with the necromancer, leaving out my affinity. When I told him about the fire wielding skeleton, Michael seemed to realise what I was getting to. He didn't make a sound as I continued my story, but tears streamed down his face. Still, he didn't back down from my story. He wanted to hear every last detail.

In the end, when I had finished my tale, I went down to one knee in front of him and took out the fire staff from my spatial bag. I offered it to him.

"This was your father's. I think he would want you to have it."

He seemed to be at a loss. He was staring at nothing and I could see his hands tremble. After some hesitation, the kid accepted the staff and held it close, quietly sobbing.

I stood up and left the house, but stayed outside on the porch for the rest of the night. I would wake the kid up the next day to go to the funeral.

Sitting there, I reflected on myself. I had created a dissonance between my actions and their meaning. During the fight with the necromancer, morals didn't matter, only survival. I didn't think twice about the fact that I was desecrating the dead. I hadn't thought I had a choice. I still didn't think I had had any other choice at the time.

Even so, the thought of me being the one to destroy whatever was left of Michael's father didn't sit well with me. Having to confront the very real effects of this entire situation was something I hadn't been prepared for.

I had always imagined myself as a hero, a misunderstood knight that would help the poor and the unfortunate and destroy evil! That fairy tale didn't seem so appealing if you actually had to live with the consequences of your actions.

Well, the world stops for nobody. If I hadn't gotten involved at all, the kid would've never gotten closure. I thought I had made the right decision in the end.

With that thought in mind, I fell asleep on the porch a few minutes later.

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Belgianfri

  • Your holiness

Bio: I like fries. The belgian kind.

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