It was bright the night it all began—bright with the flames of a burning town. A cloud of smoke blocked out the moons, and the stench of blood and burning wood permeated through the air. It was a sight Gaspard had seen more than once before, but that didn’t stop the heavy weight in his stomach from sinking deeper with every step forward he took.
The gravel that made up the pathway into the town crunched under his metal boots, but the crackling fire drowned out anything else from entering Gaspard’s ears.
At least there wasn’t any screaming.
He hated the screaming.
Those final signs of life evaporating into the air, leaving nothing but an agonizing echo—they’d kept him up at night for as long as he could remember. He would be lying if he said the thought of quitting his supposed valiant mission hadn’t crossed his mind, but an overwhelming sense of responsibility always pulled him back into the depths of this world.
If he wasn’t helping, he thought, then what about those people who he could’ve saved? Could he really live a lavish life of relaxation knowing that there were people out there dying from his lack of action?
No, he concluded. Even if it tortured him every night, this he had to do.
But how much more can I take…?
He asked himself as he stared at the engulfed corpses around him. At this point, you could barely tell that they were ever people, but the stench of burning flesh wasn’t one that could easily be forgotten. At some point they were alive. And maybe they’d still be if he’d arrived earlier.
A massive sign crashed to the ground, catching Gaspard’s attention. On it was spelled, in sloppy handwriting, “Blacksmith”.
A weak smile formed on his face.
He’d met the owner of that shop not even a month ago. Apparently, the owner’s son had written that sign to replace the old one they’d had since forever. A birthday present. That’s what now burned on the floor.
Every building there had people with stories to tell. Stories that would forever go untold.
The people of the town were some of the nicest townsfolk that he’d ever come across in his adventures. The way they welcomed outsiders with open arms was unheard of. They’d even gifted him materials and food.
Gaspard guessed it was that same friendliness that became their ruin.
Looking away from the blacksmith, he turned to an object at the very center of the town. A flag with an “X” formed by a halberd and a fauchard blew in the breeze. A ring of thorns surrounded the emblem.
A cold shiver ran up his spine.
But before he could assess the flag any further, his attention turned to a nearly inaudible sound coming from between the flames. Being an elf, his hearing was enhanced but still wasn’t the very best among the races. Yet, he could still decipher the faint sound as—
“…Coughing…” he whispered.
Someone was alive.
For now, that is.
With the fire and the smoke, there wasn’t much time left before that fact was irreversibly changed.
Gritting his teeth, he sprinted toward the origin of the sound.
The town was relatively small. Houses were built close to one another and there was a massive open area near the back where they grew their crops. Thankfully, because of that, finding anyone alive wouldn’t be too challenging. But because of the fire, he couldn’t recklessly charge ahead either.
“Is somebody out there?!” he yelled as he carefully ran through the narrow pathways of the town. The further he went along, the more bodies he came across, scorched, and brutally cut up. A fire burned in Gaspard’s chest, but he quickly doused it before it affected his concentration. “I’m here to help!” he continued.
His boots scraped against the gravel as he came to a hard stop. The coughing had stopped for a while, but he was sure he had to be around the place where he first heard it. If it wasn’t for the fire, maybe he could have a better read, he thought.
“Shit…” he murmured before clasping his hands together. Sucking in a breath full of smoke, he concentrated on his hands, imagining a ball of liquid forming in them. He silently chanted a few words in his mind until he felt moisture build up between the tiny gap left between his palms. Instantly, he separated his hands, exposing a small blue orb floating in the space between them, churning, contracting, then expanding.
The more space he added between his hands, the bigger the orb became. Once the orb was thirty-two centimeters in diameter, he slid his hands around it as if tracing an invisible wall around the orb. Once his hands were side to side in front of him, he raised his arms, palms to the sky, the orb following with him. After another deep breath, he made a pushing motion upwards, making the orb glow a bright blue before erupting in a geyser.
A tremendous boom rattled the crumpling town. Streaks of water fell upon the fiery landscape, slowly calming the raging flames.
A spell of this level was difficult for most, especially because he was using two at once. One to create the water and another to properly disperse it without it crashing down ferociously, probably causing more harm than good.
Even for an elf like himself, this was a herculean feat. One that he couldn’t hold out for long.
“Urgh…” he stumbled as he forced the spell to keep going. Water dripped from the orb to his hands, down his arms, and into his collar and torso. Although not much, it was still an annoyance that could affect the spell.
After a good twenty seconds, his arms collapsed, and he fell to his knees. Breathing heavily, he looked around. While fire still burned certain areas, for the most part, everything was clear.
He let out a deep sigh.
Even with his constant training, Gaspard hadn’t been able to do much about his magical ability. Physical strength was one thing, the amount of swinging he did more than enough helped in that department, but magic was an entirely different beast.
He reached into the pouch tied around his hip and pulled out a light blue crystal—
A metallic screech followed by a massive impact to the back of Gaspard’s hand launched the crystal straight out of his grasp and onto the floor a few meters away.
“Argh!” he pulled back his hand and looked at the deep cut into the metal plating. Thankfully whatever had cut him hadn’t gone through the layer of armor, otherwise his hand would’ve been torn clean off.
“Ehh…? That’s no fun…” a creepy voice wormed into Gaspard’s ears.
Without hesitation, he unsheathed his sword and swung towards the voice, but missed.
“Feisty…but it won’t be that easy.”
Raising his head, Gaspard finally saw his assailant. A woman, holding a halberd in her right hand and a crossbow in her left, wearing mismatched armor welded together haphazardly. Messy black hair reached right below her jaw before ending sharply.
Jamming the bottom of the halberd onto the ground, the woman smiled, “You don’t look from ‘round here. Were you just passing by?”