This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s
imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events
is purely coincidental.
Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s
imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events
is purely coincidental.
It was cold. My body felt heavy like my back was stitched into the ground. I heard a hollow scream.
“I might have overdone it.” A tender voice resounded.
I was not sure if I was still dreaming.
“There is no need for you to keep reminding me. We have already lost a day.”
The voice sounded like it was coming from a fairly young girl. It sounded close. She seemed to be talking to someone but I never heard a reply. She was certainly not talking to me but I wanted to keep listening.
“Cold… What is this unease I’m feeling?..”
I opened my eyes and saw everything white. I turned my head and saw a land covered with snow and ice. I was buried in snow. I struggled to get up and then I hastily removed the snow that piled up on my full plate armor. The steel plates clanked as I rubbed the icy white grains away. Beside me was a large spear, slightly buried in snow. I grabbed it and examined it.
“My, you are awake at last,” a young maiden’s voice drove my head towards its direction.
“Ah… It was her.”
She smiled at me, her eyes were blindfolded. Her long black hair waved along with the cold wind’s. Wearing that white and pastel blue robe made her almost ethereal. I thought I was dreaming again.
“Hurry up! We don’t have much time!” She grabbed my arm, pulling me up with her modest strength. “You have been out cold for more than a day. We only have three days left to reach Tombras.”
I finally stood up, thanks to this girl’s nagging, I noticed a furry creature following behind her. That thing that looked like a ball of white fluff with four paws and a pair of wings was something I had never seen before. Its pair of golden yellow big round eyes reminds me of a serpent. That ball of fur was around two-thirds of the girl’s size. I found it disturbing. It was not even flying. That thing was floating.
“Hero!” She called raising her voice while standing several steps away. “What are you doing standing there like a lost child?”
“Me? I am being called a child by an actual child.”
Afraid that she might get lost in the middle of this white dessert, I followed her. Who knows what kind of monsters lurks behind those icy hills.
“Little girl,” I hurriedly approached her. “Where are you headed?”
She halted her advance and then looked back; her lips frowning. “Little girl? You are mistaken, Hero. It may be due to malnutrition or famine, but I am certain this body is around seventeen or eighteen years of age.”
“She talks weird.”
“Hurry up, Hero!”
“Yes, yes,” I replied following her back. Watching those small shoulders felt somewhat nostalgic. “By the way, why do you keep calling me Hero? My name is…”
“What was it again?...”
I dropped the spear, and the snow crunched as the spear dug its shape deep into it. I stared at my hands covered by a pair of gauntlets. I felt like I was so close to saying it but the word vanished as I was about to open my mouth. For a moment my mind was chasing something warm that kept sinking deeper into the bottomless ocean. It was hard to move against the current but there was something I must not lose. It was painful. I was drowning in my own thoughts.
“What about your name?” The sound of her voice snapped me back to reality.
“I can’t remember.” Hearing the cracking of my own voice cleared my head. The muddled voices disappeared. It dawned on me that I had no memories of who I was or why I was in the middle of nowhere with this girl dressed in almost all white.
“I see. Then I will call you Hero.”
I stared at her figure as a strong gust of wind blew. It almost pushed her small body out of balance. Her robe danced as her bare feet scuffles to recover her poise. I looked around the whiteness of the surroundings. This environment was not just cold. It was freezing. Strangely enough, inside the armor felt so comfortable. I stared at her while she regains her steadiness.
“Am I dead? Is this the afterlife?”
“Fool!” She responded and then followed it up with a heavy sigh. “Would I be pressing you for time had you been dead? The dead has no time.”
She continued on her way. I picked up my spear and followed close to her. Her footprints were barely half the size of mine.
“Then… Why are you not cold?”
“Because I keep this body close to this dragon.” She pointed at the fluff-ball without looking back.
“It’s incomplete but it is a dragon.”
The thing stared at me while I was trying to digest what I had just heard. It floated closely beside her as if it was following her every move.
“Should I believe her every word? No. Why is she wearing a blindfold? Maybe she is blind?..”
“What is your name?”
“I have none.”
“Then what should I call you?”
She stopped on her way and crossed her arms. “Hm… I have not been called by anyone for a long time.”
“What a very lonely kid.”
“Aha! You can address me as The Keeper.” She said and continued to move forward. “It’s my job.”
The sound of that name she gave me dropped an invisible wall between us. I almost choked trying to say it.
“Then, K-keeper. Does that dragon have a name?”
“Are you sure you still can’t remember anything?” Her tone sounded deep. It made me wonder if I said something wrong. “I see, it must be that. The thing your kind calls intuition. This dragon’s name is something you’ll learn once we reach Tombras.”
“Tombras? What’s that?”
“It’s my den. Over there.” She pointed ahead. I could see nothing but mountains of whiteness.
“There’s nothing there. It’s a mountain of ice.” I said and pointed at the opposite direction. “We should return to the village. The closest should be Savrou-”
I paused when I realized that I just said something naturally without prior knowledge about it. No, it was not something I do not know. This information was something I used to know before I lost my memories.
I turned back to see that Keeper had stopped and the fluff-ball was looking at me with its crystal-like teary eyes. The fluff-ball tackled me and I fell down buried in the snow. Something clicked inside my head.
Czimestra was a country far north of the globe. Even though the land was big, most of it was covered in snow and ice. We were in Savva Region, the last habitable area in northern Czimestra. Beyond this region was a desert of snow full of monsters. From the rumors that were spread around, no one had ever returned after going too far from the boarders. I had never heard of that place called Tombras, not because I lost my memories.
“What are you doing, Hero?” She looked down at me. Then she pulled my arm while I was getting up. “We are losing time.”
“Wait. I just remembered. This Tombras you are talking about, it does not exist.”
“It does. It’s a place no human can enter that’s why your knowledge is limited. But do not worry, Hero, I have given you permission.”
“Am I being toyed around because I lost my memories?”
“It’s dangerous out here.” I said to the girl who again started to move forward.
It did not seem like she intends to listen to me. It was probably none of my concern if she wanted to kill herself due to poverty. It was an act that was not rare. However, the moment I learned about it, I cannot let her proceed anymore. Maybe we can still work things out. She was only half my size. If she refused to listen to me, then I just have to drag her back to the village. There we can find her relatives and fix things.
I jogged closer to her.
“This armor, despite its look, is surprisingly light.”
I was about to grab her from behind but the fluff-ball tackled me again. This thing is indeed warm. I accidentally pulled the girl with me and we all fell on the snow.
The fluff-ball looked at me, eyes burning with anger.
“You two!” She got up amazingly fast. “Stop playing around, the sun is about to set. Tombras is still far away.”
“Sun? This place is eternally cloudy.”
“Wherever that Tombras is, it can’t be there.” I argued.
“Are you refusing to fulfill your end of the bargain?”
“If that is so, then consider your wish forfeited as well.”
“Farewell. Dragon, you are coming with me.”
Watching her back that was slowly drifting away was making my chest feel cloudy and heavy. My heart was being squeezed dry. My vision turned hazy, and suddenly breathing became difficult. That was not what I wanted. Then again, I do not know what it was that I was longing for.
“Unhand me, Hero!”
Without realizing it, I found myself grabbing her right arm. She struggled to get away while her other hand pounded my armored arm. Her shout along with those soft twangs snapped me back. I got flustered, letting go of her thin arm in a hurry.
“You fool!” She shouted at me while hiding her arm under the sleeves of her robes. “Don’t just grab this arm like that! You are now a very strong man, there is a possibility that this arm could snap had you use too much force.”
“Just then… What did I want to do?”
“Have you changed your mind?” She asked.
“Ah-… Yeah…” I guess it should be fine if I accompany her until we reach that place. It would be safer if I stayed with her. “I’ll accompany you until you reach this Tombras.”
“Very well. I’ll forgive you this once.” Her tone was filled with confidence. She went ahead leading the way. “You almost made a regrettable decision.”
As the surroundings gradually got darker, we started to pass by some dead trees, pines, and some small plants. Little animals also ran around and hid behind rocks and into the holes in the ground. Soon enough I heard howls. Each time, it sounded different. We are most likely surrounded by different kinds of wild animals or if our luck is bad, there would be monsters waiting for the right time to jump on their first delicious meal in a long time.
I caught a couple of rabbits. I also gathered twigs and small branches on our way. We decided to rest under a fairly large dead-looking tree. All this time we had been endlessly walking. I might be used to this kind of travel since I did not feel exhausted at all. However, the girl was pretty frail; she must be tired and hungry now. We can roast some meat for our meal. I needed to start making fire to give us light and keep us warm in this gloomy surroundings and extremely cold weather. I was about to gather materials but Keeper scolded me. She told me to use magic.
Yes, magic. At that moment, it felt like I remembered that I can use magic however the process is still vague in my head. I cannot recall the right incantations. I stood there recalling what I used to know. I know that I know it but I cannot put it into words. While I was lost in my thoughts, the fluff-ball started gathering stones and then arranged it in a circular shape in front of me.
“This thing is trying to tell me something. Could it actually be an intelligent creature?”
I glanced at Keeper. She was sitting on a rock by the tree. Her lips are frowning. She looks bored as if waiting for me to figure out what to do on my own. I turned my sight back at the circle when the fluff-ball bumped on my leg.
“Okay, what’s this? Circle… Magic circle?”
The moment I thought of magic circles, those images flowed in my mind. Those things that I arduously studied before I lost my memories came back to me in a flash. Simple magic with simple circle construction can be done just by drawing a clear image in one’s head and then calling the spell’s name. The complicated magic needs longer incantations, or an actual drawing of the detailed circle, sometimes both, to activate it.
I looked again at the rocks in circular formation. This time I know what to do.
“Fireball,” I said softly.
A magic circle glowed for a second then a crackling spark followed. I found it strange. Before I could process it, a huge towering fire exploded in front of me. It produced a heated gust of wind that blew and melted the surrounding snow away. Its power pushed me back. I lost my balance and tumbled down. The dark surrounding was illuminated before it went up the sky and disappeared in a blink of an eye.
I scuffled to stand back up and check on Keeper as soon as possible. In front of the rock where she used to sit, the fluff-ball floats unscathed. Behind the rock, the girl stood up revealing herself. I ignored the obvious frown on her face, instead I observed if she was hurt or burned anywhere.
“Although, the nearby trees and plants were charred, she looks unharmed.”
I was prepared to get scolded again but she simply sighed. She gritted her teeth, her hands are closed tightly. She struggled to get her composure back with a sigh. She scratched her head before sitting back on the rock.
“Do it better, next time.” She said. “You are more powerful now. You need to learn how to control it.”
“Did she know me before I lost my memory?”
“What?” She crossed her arms and then tilted her head to the side. A short silence followed while I blankly stared at her. “Right… The image. Create a strong image of what you want to do in your mind.”
“Is she giving me a lesson?..”
“Stop staring. Do it.” She nagged.
I followed her instructions. After a few failed attempts, none of which were as dangerous as the first one, I finally succeeded in making a fireball. Listening to her coaching made me feel tired. Still, I prepared the rabbits I caught earlier. We could roast some tonight and preserve the rest for tomorrow.
“It seems that I am quite used to this kind of task.”
I took my helmet off and laid it aside. I took one stick with skewered meat. As I am about to take a bite I noticed her disinterested expression.
“What’s wrong? Aren’t you hungry?”
She did not answer. It seems like she was staring at her hands. Though her reluctance was evident, she picked one stick and ate.
“How does it taste?”
She turned her face at me while chewing. “Tastes… fine?..”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
I let out a forced laugh. “I see.”
Something felt off again but I convinced myself making up unnecessary excuses. It must be because I did not use any spice. We have none of those right now. She was being considerate, not telling me how the meat was awful or bland. I was not the kind of person who would get mad about such things.
The fluff-ball beside her caught my attention.
“That thing does not have a mouth. How does it eat?”
“Could such a thing exist?”
I looked into that thing’s eyes. It stared back at me. Keeper did not eat much; she was pretty small after all. We had plenty of leftovers.
The silence that was surrounding us was troubling. As I sit in front of the scrunching bonfire, it felt like I was looking at a familiar view but something was missing. I focused my sight on Keeper fidgeting on the rock like a toddler. An image of her flashed in my mind. No. This girl was like her but smaller, a much younger version. I grappled to recall this person but the more I scrambled to catch a clear image of her, the more blurry it became until it all crumbled away.
“Just who are you to me?”
My mind was plagued with questions. I wanted to ask her but I did not even know where to begin. There was a burning desire inside me; a hollow longing. I wanted to know her name so bad. As these thoughts circulated inside my head, I felt incredibly tired.
That night I dreamed of the not so distant past.
A group of people were surrounding the bonfire. They were talking and laughing together. I used to be a part of this group. We were out to hunt. This body that is larger compared to everyone else in the group made me quite reliable in terms of strength and giving protection. My teammates relied on me, and I felt dutiful to return those feelings. It was an honor in my part.
The armor I was wearing then was different from the full plated armor I had when I woke up. It was a silver colored steel cuirass over thick warm clothes. The pauldron, arm braces, wrist braces, gauntlets, leg armor, and gorget were made of strong leather. My hiking boots were made of both steel and leather, perfect for walking in the snow-filled horizon.
Amidst all these inaudible conversation was maiden’s tender voice. Beside me, I was holding her hand. I can feel her warmth through our leather gloves. I can feel it through her beautiful smile; lively and calming. She was wearing a leather armor similar to mine; just the much lighter kind. It was a design that prioritizes speed and agility. Her black hair is tucked under the white fur of her hood. She was wearing the hooded cape made of wool and fur that I gave her as present on her birthday two months ago.
She was a sickly child.
“I am remembering things again.”
I wanted to keep listening to her talk, it felt like home. The way she laughed cleared the dark clouds accumulating within my chest. I held her small hand tighter, our fingers interlocking. That was a moment, I do not want to let go off.
“I won’t let go… not again.”
I turned again to look at her but my vision was smudged. My mind panicked. Everything I see was wiped away as I struggle to pull it back together. The colors kept slipping out of my hands like muddy water. Soon, I was left in the middle of nothingness; it was dark. Breathing was hard. My hands were dripping with blood. My chest feels like it has been ripped apart. Suddenly a flicker of light appeared; a muddled voiced spoke in my ear.
“How unfortunate.” This voice kept ringing in my head. “What is it that made you so miserable?”
“What are you?”
“I am—” The words sounded scrambled like it was overlapped by another unearthly sound.
For a moment, my mind blacked out. “Please save her!” I shouted; my voice shivered. My throat is dry. “I will do anything.”
“Reviving the dead is against the law of this world.”
“No. I refuse to accept that it will all end here. Our time together was so short.”
“I see. If that is what you desire—”
The voice became distant. I can still hear it but I can no longer make anything of what it says. I wanted to listen. I wanted to stay. I had to reach that which I was longing for. There was something that I have to do. That was something that I have to remember.
“How did it start? How did it end? Something’s amiss.”
I opened my eyes feeling horrible. Like my chest was cut open and then someone carved the inside with a shovel removing the organs until it was empty before stitching it back again. I closed my eyes so tight that no light slipped in; wishing for that dream to continue. But it was impossible.
“I wanted to go back to that dream so bad.”
I closed my eyes… and hoped…
“Don’t talk back to me!” The girl’s voice rang from the distance. “Your will has no place here. It’s his wish I’m fulfilling, not yours.”
I opened my eyes again. The sky was still cloudy and dark, though traces of the sun’s rays to some extent slips through. I searched for the direction of the voice and found Keeper sitting behind the rock. Her back was slightly peeking at the side. Nearby, was the fluff-ball. It looked angry.
“Is she arguing with that thing?”
“This is as fair as I can go.” She stood up. “After all conditions have been met, you’ll—Huh?..”
After picking up my helmet and spear, I walked closer. While blankly staring at her profile, I unintentionally reached out to her. She swiftly leaped backwards guarding her face. Looking at my hand that was reaching for the girl, who distanced herself away made my chest feel cloudy and heavy.
“What are you trying to do?” She asked.
The fluff-ball stares at me. The expression in its eyes was something I cannot fully comprehend. I feel uneasy. Perhaps that thing was insulting me.
Keeper’s question made me ask myself too. Why was I acting like that? Looking at her small physique and her waving black her reminded me of that girl. It was a vague feeling I cannot explain however curiosity was certainly a part of it. Because what if…
“I wanted to see your eyes.”
“Why are you wearing a blindfold?”
There was this long pause that made me think that she was not going to give me an answer again. “It’s part of the contract.”
“Are you done clowning?” She gestured for the fluff-ball to come closer to her. “Let’s move on.”
“W-wait-!!” I sprinted catching up to her. “I remembered my name.”
“My real name is Hemeros Vasileiou.”
“I see.” Her voice rang with coldness.
“Call me by my real name.”
“It’s too long. Hero fits you better.”
“Huh? Why can’t you call me by my name at least onc—”
“What else did you recall?” She interrupted; blatantly dodging the topic. “What magic do you specialized in?”
“It wasn’t fire?”
It did not seem like she was going to say anything else. “Just once, my na—”
“It’s wind magic.”
“What? She cut me off again.”
“You have high level of mastery in wind magic.” She continued. “It works well both with the ice and snow around.
It also compliments fire element. Hurry up and recall.”
“Alright.” I became more curious. I felt my lips arching upwards. This is a good chance. “You have to help me recall then. Call me by my n—”
Once again I was interrupted when a shadow of an unknown creature slipped at the corner of my eyes. As my sight followed the mysterious shadow another one jumped from the opposite side. It was about to lodged on to Keeper so I gripped my spear hard and then went ahead with a full swing. The thing flew far away after getting hit full force. It made a loud thud and then rolled leaving a deep trace on the snow.
After tumbling few times over, it stood back up. An ape or bear-like monster around five feet tall with a body covered in thick white fur. It was a Yeren. Its red eyes locked onto me. They were the kind that flocks in groups. We had already wandered into their territory. Before I could warn Keeper, the yerens had already surrounded us. The swarm leaped one after the other.
“Stay behind me!”
My body quickly moved on its own; protecting Keeper and the fluff-ball. I swung my spear with the weight of my body. The yerens flung across the area, tumbling on the snowy field and rebounding on pine trunks. After they watched their kind fly over their heads, the larger ones started to move forward. The Grand Yerens are the ones that had grown more than eight feet tall. Those monsters that were larger than me were not ones that I can fight the in same way. Their size and number were way out of what I can handle alone. I should find a way to deter them before we get even more flooded.
“Hero!” Keeper screamed while staying low. “Magic!”
“Right! Think! An effective attack I can use right now!”
In that split second that my mind wondered away, a grand yeren caught me off-guard. Its gigantic fist flew in front of me. Using my spear’s shaft I managed to block its punch from scoring a direct hit. However, its powerful punch was still able to push me several feet behind. While I was trying to get my stance back, the grand yeren was already eyeing its next target.
“Too far! But I might be able to make it in time if I throw my spear--”
I raised my arm to throw my spear but the fluff-ball moved in front of Keeper as if it was trying to protect her. It glared at the aggressive monster. Suddenly, the grand yeren burst into flames. The color of that flame was mesmerizing; I felt its warmth in my chest. A fire enveloped in golden aura, I recalled seeing it before but the image was unclear. The monster roared in pain and it rolled on the snow in an attempt to extinguish the fire. At the same time, the fluff-ball fell facedown. That thing was no longer floating. The commotion made a short pause in the yeren’s attack which gave me enough time to return on my position.
“Dragon!” Keeper shouted while she held on the fluff-ball’s body. “I told you not to use your power in this form. That was a thoughtless move.”
I continued to fend off the yerens that were trying to get close while keeping an eye on the big ones. No matter how much the grand yeren rolled, covering itself with snow, the fire did not die. The golden fire evaporated the snow and continued to burn until there were only ashes left.
A loud growl echoed.
The smaller ones backed off while the grand yerens started to move forward in quick succession. It was short but it was enough time for me to call a spell.
I stretched my arm with my spear pointing in front. Glowing magic circles appeared surrounding us in a circular form. “Pierce!”
A gust of wind blew, and then holes were suddenly drilled through every grand yeren that were within the three meters radius around us. Their blood splattered staining the white snow with red. Before they could make their next move, I had already prepared for the next attack.
A magic circle glowed on the spear’s blade when I posed to swing it. “Slice!”
Magic flashed for a second. All monsters that stood taller than my spear as I swung it found their bodies and limbs cleanly cut. The roars they made as the survivors run were deafening. For the next few minutes I watched them disappear in the distance as the blood of their fallen comrades soaked the snow around us. Once I had confirmed that the area was safe, I looked back to check on Keeper.
“Any injuries?” I asked her.
“I sustained no injuries, it seems.” She answered with her usual calm tone. “Dragon is the one in danger now. She used up too much magic in that one attack.”
“Low mana, huh. Then, it just needs to rest.”
She sighed. “If she continues to do use magic in this incomplete form and depletes her mana, then she’s going to die for real this time.”
“To die for real?..”
“That’s right!” She said pointing at me. The furrows on her forehead became more apparent. “It’s your job to protect this body. Don’t let your guard down again until we reach Tombras.”
The child’s way of talking was too suspicious for me to ignore. “I have to protect what?”
She completely ignored my question. She simply walked by and picked up the fluff-ball that was motionlessly lying on the cold ground. It looked like she was hugging a pillow. For moment, I thought it was cute.
“Hey, what’s the date today?”
“It’s the three hundred and sixty-fifth year of the Age of Chaos, as humans refer to. Today is the seventeenth day of the eleventh month.” She answered calmly.
“What is the contract?”
She stood still then turned her head towards the direction of what she calls Tombras. She took a deep breath before facing me again.
“Is this as far as it goes?” She mumbled. “I’ll answer all your questions, however consider your wish forfeited.”
She said in monotone.
“How am I supposed to process the words she just said? Where did I go wrong?”
After giving it some thought, I decided to ask few more questions. “Making contracts in exchange of a wish… What are you? A demon?”
“Demon? Insolent man.” She responded. The coldness in her voice sent chills down my spine. “You dare put me in the same category as those mindless abominations?”
A strong gust of wind blew. The ruffling noise blurred her next words. The sandy snow that flew along the wind made my vision hazy.
“Am I going to lose her again?”
“Have you decided yet?”
As soon as the wind calmed down, I found her in front of me.
She tilted her head. “Do you want to know?.. everything…”
“What was my wish?”
“If I tell you, it won’t come true.”
Should I press for answers? No. I already had a vague idea what it might be. However, I wanted to confirm something.
“If it’s not going to break the contract, will you answer?”
“As long as it is not something that will break the contract.” She answered. Then she started walking ahead while carrying the fluff-ball. “If you intend to keep the contract, we should keep moving. We are losing time.”
Escorting her to that place called Tombras was what I agreed to do in exchange of something. I just have to get her there safe.
“Where is the owner of that body?” I caught up to her side.
“Are you possessing that body?”
“Then, will she—”
“You will have her back once we reach Tombras.”
“I see. That’s how it is.”
“Well… Far from it but for now it will be enough.”
“You sure are quick to remember the things that are connected to this woman. That should be the least of your problems right now.”
“It seems we have very different priorities.”
“Foolish man. Recall your magical powers. If you don’t, how else are we going to survive?”
“I am strong as it is.” Even those basic spells seems to have become a hundred times more powerful than I can remember. “Even monsters won’t live this far in this land of ice. Their source of food is closer back to the villages. That’s why you have people like me around.”
“I am not talking about those small fries.” I was able clearly read the disappointment in her face as I look at the creases on her forehead. “You mentioned it earlier so I had faith you remembered.”
“Don’t make things up.”
“Because humans had excessively hunted them these past years, they became more unpredictable and more powerful.” She explained. “Humans still do not understand that even those creatures born from corrupted mana are part of this world’s natural order. As a result they started appearing in places they did not use to show up before. Furthermore, that thing became more aggressive, even I was caught off-guard.”
“Wait! Wait! Wait!!!” I pressed my palm on my forehead. “Right… We were going to hunt. What happened then?”
She paused as if giving me time to gather my thoughts.
The village chief gathered the hunters around to confirm the sudden appearance of a demon in the far north. If it does exist, then we need to slay it while it is still in the early stage of its life. They should be weaker around this time because they have not absorbed a lot of mana from their surroundings yet. There were five—no eight of us experienced hunters. It was clear; we were not underestimating that demon.
“What happened on our way there?”
My head started to throb like it was being hammered from the inside.
“What happened to my comrades?” I asked myself again in a louder voice.
“Comrades?” She responded normally. “I have never met them.”
“Can I really take everything she says as the truth?”
I calmed myself down to let the pain in my head disappear. “That demon… It is not something a single person can handle. What you want is impossible. How about we take a different path?”
“You want to go around even though we don’t have much time?”
“This contract thing has a time limit?”
“How much time do I have left?”
“Perhaps just another day.”
The carefree tone of her voice frustrated me. I doubt that this spirit understands common sense. I was not sure if she was telling me the truth about this contract or wish. However, one thing was for sure, the owner the body that spirit held hostage was in danger. I cannot turn away. Just thinking about it made me incredibly uncomfortable.
“But do I have a chance?”
“That demon is the least of your problems.” She said. “I made you a hundred times stronger; you can beat that corruption with a flick of your finger. Well, only if you are putting more effort in recalling your magic. Your biggest enemy right now is time.”
“That, and your out of this world expectations.”
Either way, I need to get my memories back before we get into that demon’s territory. Not remembering the important bits made me anxious.
I tried extremely hard on our way to remember at least the basic magic spells. I got too immersed in my own thoughts that I did not notice when we entered the ice cactus zone. Just as it was called, the area was filled with ice cacti. They were plant-like monsters that bury their roots so deep it can reach the ground under the thick snow. They survived by attacking smaller burrowing animals, insects, or whatever life form their roots catch. Above ground, their thin fiber-rich bodies enclose itself with crystalized ice. These ice crystals can be cracked away and taken as clean source of water. As long as the fiber body is not touched it will not attack. They were originally not an aggressive monster but it was better to stay alert.
The area where these ice cacti grow was the last line of life in northern Savva Region. Beyond that was the lifeless zone, not even monsters dare to live in. There was nothing but snow and ice out there. And that demon, once it cannot find any organism that can provide it with mana, it will surely target the closest village where large concentration of mana is gathered.
After a while, my body started to feel heavy. We had been walking nonstop after I woke up. I had lost tract of time since the yeren attack. I should have taken notice earlier. My body was telling me to rest. Given that the girl’s body was only being possessed and she had not complained about getting tired, it could be that it does not feel the exhaustion normal humans do. Not good. This may cause problems for that frail-looking girl.
After convincing Keeper to rest, I used my magic to make a small snow hut. I gave her the rest of the meat we had. The frown on her face told me that she may not be used to eating these stuff, however human bodies need nutrients. She had not eaten much the day before, and I was not sure if she ate anything today at all. Since the spirit does not feel the same way as humans, it was my responsibility to take care of that possessed body until it goes back to its original owner.
Even though it did not seem like she was going to listen to me, she obediently ate at least half of what I gave her.
She took the fluff-ball beside her to sleep. It seemed like she had finally rested so I also slowly drifted into the world of dreams.
Once again, I dreamed of the past.
Bits and pieces of a bloody battle flashed in front of me. I can barely understand how that event started to unfold. The first rule of hunting was to never underestimate the enemy. No one else was more susceptible to failure than those who were overconfident in winning. There were no lapses in our procedure and handling of the situation. If we were following the standards of demon hunting, so how could things go so wrong?
That demon called Gader’el was nothing like the ones that were listed and identified in the archives of the Hunter’s Council. Perhaps, it was the first time something like that ever existed in this world. If so, we had already anticipated that it to use unknown skills.
However, that abomination was simply so strong, no matter how much we struggled, we could have never won.
Gader’el was a demon towering with a height that was beyond fifteen meters. The whole body was covered with shiny crystal-like fur. It had four arms, two ape-like legs, a tail, and a head that resembled a lion. That demon controlled the ice and snow around. It rained us with its sharp crystal fur that pierced through our armors. Its roar had a paralyzing effect that left us stunned and dizzy most of the time. Even our chance for a quick retreat was thwarted.
“I watched my comrades’ fall one after another.”
We did not even have time to assess the situation. As I gave the order to fall back, I picked up the bodies of my stunned comrades. I threw them farther away hoping that they will be able to run away once they get their strength back. But Gader’el was too fast. When I threw one ahead, it caught him mid-air and then instantly crushed his body, squeezing out the red liquid that rained down on the previously white ground. It then proceeded to hammer its giant fists on those who were running away. I watched as Gader’el flattened them one by one. I stood there frozen by fear and confusion, or perhaps I had given into despair. As I blankly stare at the massacre, golden flames burst in front of me.
Her power was to summon this small lizard monster that breaths golden flames. Once the flame starts to burn something, it does not get extinguished until everything is reduced to ashes. It burned one of Gader’el’s arms. The demon thrashed around trying to get rid of the fire that continuously burned its arm.
She looked at me. I quickly ran towards her. Blood pours down from her stomach. She was hit by those icicles.
I held her, preventing her from falling on her knees. Her breathing was thin. Her eyes were droopy. She was losing blood every second. We have to get away while the demon was busy getting rid of the fire.
“At least, let me save her.”
I carried her and then ran with every last bit of my strength. As long as we get far enough, I can still save her. However, luck was not on our side. Gader’el cut his own arm and flung it towards us. I leaped to dodge it but the demon, having speed over us, hit us with its fist. I was unable to evade the attack in mid-air.
I did not know how far we flew. I just held on to her, refusing to get separated.
When I woke up… Right, it was when I woke up that I met that spirit. I woke up and…What did I do? I can… still…
“I feel sick.”
I heard a thud. No. A clank, I guess. A repeated sound, I found it annoying. What was that? Someone is throwing something at my armor.
“Are you done recharging, Hero?”
I looked down and there was a pile of snow on my chest. I raised my head then a snowball came flying at my face.
“Aw—!! Stop it.”
I stared at her. She reminded me of a playful kid. She holds a bunch of snowballs while riding the floating fluff-ball. Quite an energetic start, we had. The fluff-ball seems to have regained its strength as well. Good.
“How could you still sleep a lot after I made you hundred times stronger?” She said while commanding the fluff-ball to go outside of our snow hut.
“It’s a normal human’s function. And why are you riding that fluffy thing?”
“It seems that my function to walk had been drained.”
I followed her and took a peek at her feet. I only saw a bit of her sole. With just one glance at those purple-ish feet, anyone could tell that she was not in a good situation. Could it be frost bite? I was surprised she was able to walk all the way here in that condition.
“Let me see your feet.”
“Why?” She responded while the fluff-ball rapidly put distance between us.
“It is basic knowledge among mages to at least know fundamental healing magic.” I increased my walking speed to catch up to them. “It is a very useful skill after all.”
“No need.” She answered while they continue to put larger distance between us. “This dragon can carry me just fine. I carried her yesterday; it’s now her turn to carry me.”
“This girl… very unreasonable.”
I increased my walking speed again till I was almost jogging. “That body is injured. At least give it the treatment it needs. Don’t you think it’ll be a problem once the owner reclaims it?”
“It won’t! And the owner of this body has no problem regarding that matter.”
“Is she somehow able to converse with the original owner? Then, she’s fine… right?..”
I continued to chase after her.
“If you get any closer to me, I will kick you so hard your soul will detach from your body!”
“I feel like I heard that line before… Just the words used are a little different.”
If it was going to be like this then it would be better for us to hurry to Tombras. The problem was that demon. There were eight of us and we failed; terribly. All of my comrades died, except her. I at least wanted to bring her back alive.
I gripped the shaft of my spear harder. Flashes of my comrades’ death started to play in my mind. Since that spirit did say that I was made hundred times stronger. Assuming that was true, do I have a chance? No. I might have indeed become stronger, even so I cannot be sure how much since I cannot remember how strong I used to be.
“Normally, I would go for a trial battle but I do not have the luxury of time right now. If I could, I would take her and run away. But it would be meaningless of she is not back in her own body. What would happen to her if I fail to take that spirit to this Tombras? This is suicide. Is there a way for me save her? Even if it’s just her?..”
I lifted my head and looked ahead. Watching her small back felt like I was letting her leave me behind. We were specs of dirt walking on a blank sheet. I do not want to see another red blot seeping on this other-worldly scenery; especially not hers. I might go crazy.
I shouted; my voice echoed. She paused and then turned.
I closed our distance. “Why did you decide to fulfill my wish?”
“Because I have something to gain from it.”
“What if completing this task is impossible?”
“Do you doubt the greatness of my wisdom?” She sighed. “I gave you half of my power.”
“If half of your power is enough to defeat the demon, then why do you need my help?”
“I can’t fully utilize my powers in this body. You see, while I was guarding Tombras, an irregularity suddenly appeared. I went to check on it, I was caught by surprise by this demon. It absorbed nearly half of my mana before flinging me far away. After, absorbing the mana of an ancient like me, naturally its strength went off the chart. You could never imagine how troubled I was. The body I used broke with the impact of the fall and I have to return before that demon discovers what’s in Tombras. Without a body I cannot move while time continued to pass. That’s when you came flying down in front of me.”
My brow twitched at the thought. “This entire situation is your fault then.” I felt my blood boil despite the freezing temperature.
“You looked as troubled as I am. After hearing your story, I have determined that the possibility of acquiring your help is high.”
“Then you should have just possessed me.”
“That is impossible, I can only possess d—” She cut her reply and then turned around. “It seems that the demon had expanded its territory.”
“Have we been noticed?”
The whiteness of the surrounding was blinding. I barely saw any figures anywhere. Gader’el might as well just jump out from nowhere. Then a piece of icicle fell, piercing through the snow near my foot.
“This way of attacking-!!”
All I know was that I have to protect her. I stepped in front of her and the fluff-ball. At every drop of the icicle, I swung my spear shattering them; not letting a single one of those to hit her. However, every second that passed, the number of icicles increased. Some of them passed through the swing of my spear and then shattered as they hit my armor. Soon, I won’t be able to hit it all, or use my body as shield. The same thing cannot happen again.
I gritted my teeth. I spun the spear increasing the speed in every rotation. I was desperate to protect her. As the force of the spinning spear grew, the air around us started to move in circular motion.
“Use magic… a powerful spell I can use now.”
Soon, the air around us grew more violent and then surrounded us with a wall of wind. It turned into a small tornado protecting us from the raining icicles.
Taking advantage of the moment I turned to her. “Once the rain of icicles stops I will diffuse this little tornado. You take that chance to find a safe place to hide. I will distract Gader’el.”
“Understood,” she replied compliantly.
“I feel more worried now.”
“You have to defeat that demon. I will be able to get my full power then.” She then tapped the fluff-ball. A small ball of golden flame formed between us. “Take this. This is all I’m allowing this dragon to contribute. This much is fine.”
I opened my palm in front then the flame moved over. “I won’t waste this.” It disappeared into my hand but I was still able to feel its warmth.
“Calm and peaceful air, release your wrath.” I stretched my arm, raising the spear pointing upwards. The violent wind surrounding us gradually calmed down. “Cyclone Slash!” The wave of wind sliced through the snow in front revealing the ground under it. It continued to slice through until it hit Gader’el’s gigantic body.
With that, I caught the demon’s sight.
The fluff-ball swiftly darted away as the snow-dust flew around which made the visibility low. I watched their silhouette vanish into the whiteness. It made me feel more at ease.
Gader’el’s attention was then solely focused on me. That slash earlier barely grazed its icy thick fur. If there was anything that could effectively affect him, it could only be this golden flame. I had only one shot. I had to find a way to successfully use it.
Before I can come up with a plan, the demon’s giant knuckle was already about to forcefully make its way landing on my spot. I dodged by leaping to the side. However, the force of the impact still blew me away. The demon roared loudly. I fell down crouching. The nauseous feeling made my knees soft. For a second, my sight became hazy. While still lying on the ground, I rolled facing the sky.
“Ting~!!” I heard a weird sound.
An icicle grazed the cheeks of my armor. Larger icicle came raining down on me this time. In this position I would not be able to move freely. I have no choice but to curl up hoping that my armor could stand these giant ice needles. The banging sound that every icicle made as it slammed and broke on my armor made me feel more disoriented. There should be a few second-pause after this rain of icicles. I must take that time to attack however it will be wasted if I call on another weak spell. This fire, it has to hit a part of the demon’s body that it cannot cut off. Right, I am certain of my target.
“How am I supposed to reach it?”
At this rate I might just end up flattened by its fist or ripped apart by these icicles.
The last twang echoed and I quickly took my spear and leaped up. I used the power of the wind to push me faster towards Gader’el’s blind spot. I thought I could get a clean hit from behind but that demon was quick to move once it locked on to its target. Before I can take a full view of its back, its knuckle was already flying down my direction. This time, I called on the power of wind to lift me higher and dodge. The impact of the demon’s fist landing on the ground was still strong at my distance but I managed to keep my balance.
“I could use this large arm to get closer to its body.”
I landed on the demon’s icy arm. Its fur was hard like crystals. My trusty armor easily broke them when I stepped on them. I almost slipped as I ran up. Staying on that slippery path was like running on top of a giant tube made of glass.
Gader’el moved its arm to throw me away so I fell off balance and away from the tracks I made on its arm. The demon tried to grab my body while I was still falling mid-air. I called on the wind again to propel myself away from its gigantic palm. It looked like I was flying as the force of the wind lifted me higher while I evaded the demon’s hands. In a few rapid dashes, I ended up higher than the demon’s head. Looking down at it from there made me feel like I can take him on.
“I can defeat this mindless abomination.”
Gader’el roared loudly during that single second I was lost in my thoughts. The deafening growl caught me stunned as I fall from that height. And just when I thought that was not enough to destroy me. Gader’el called on the icicle storm once again. The icicles that hit me pushed me down; violently slamming my body on the ground. I could not move. That storm did not stop hammering me for a couple or more minutes.
I was finally able to bring myself on my knees but the demon’s fist came crashing down on me. Even though I was still unable to move in that state, I managed to quickly get my hands on my spear.
“Should I use it to defend? Block that gigantic knuckle…”
I waved the spear and pointed at Gader’el’s incoming fist. My spear stabbed into the demon’s knuckle while the impact pushed me back. The force of the impact carved the shape of my body deep into the snow while the blade of my spear pierced through the knuckle of the demon’s middle finger. Gader’el must have felt that stab but it was not enough for the demon to give any major reaction. It swayed its arm with me still grabbing onto my spear that was still buried in the center of its fist.
“Calm and peaceful air, release your wrath.” I called while being randomly swung around. “Pierce!”
A gust of wind shot from the tip of the spear still buried in that demon’s flesh. The wind gored through the arm up to its shoulder, rapturing its flesh along with its bones from the inside. The pain from losing that left lower arm made the demon growl viciously. That roar felt ten times more crushing than the previous ones. Then another icicle storm rained on me. Ah— this time they were not icicles. Those were giant balls of ice, like mini frozen meteorites. Each one of those ranges from the size of a horse or a carriage.
“I hope that girl found a safe place outside this spell’s area of effect.”
I put all of my effort into dodging the frozen meteorites. With their size, it was easier to figure out where they would land. I can either evade or break them. All these dodging and smashing made me feel like I am dancing with my spear in the middle of a white white stage.
If I could get through that, I was sure that Gader’el would not be able to call on this spell for a while. I should use that chance to get close and put an end to the battle. Just a short pause; preferably before it could stun me again with that annoying roar. Just one jump; throw myself strong and fast towards its core. Just half a second, no— even a quarter would do.
“Burn until there’s nothing left!”
As I danced with the snow dust and breathe in the frozen air, I kept my eyes open for that one opportunity.
The last frozen boulder fell and smashed to pieces with the impact. I focused my strength on my leg muscles and then jumped. I casted explosive wind spells to boost my speed and the force that pushed me higher. I started spinning like a little tornado in mid-air. Still, I got my eyes focused straight at Gader’el’s chest. I changed the trajectory of my flight down the demon’s chest. My spear pointed at where the demon’s core would normally be located. Just one more push, I propelled towards the center of its chest. In a split second, the spear stabbed deep through its thick ice-like fur, and then into its chest. Before the demon can use its free hand to grab me, I casted another attack spell at the tip of my spear’s blade.
“Master of wind, hear my call. Gather around before you release your wrath. With this power combined, I command you.” I released the golden flame that Keeper gave me and combined it with my wind element magic. “Reduce everything to ashes, Fire Storm!”
The combined forces of the wind and fire burst inside Gader’el’s body; violently ripping the demon’s innards and burning it from within. Its roar cracked as it endures the pain of the attack. I watched him suffer while I slowly fall. Gader’el flailed around going berserk while trying to rid itself of the fire.
“Please die already.”
The ground shook as the demon stomped its feet and pounded its fists around not knowing what exactly it wanted to hit. From the demon’s chest, dark discoloration appeared. It grew larger as time passed. The affected area grew darker and larger until it crumbled like charcoal dust that was blown away by the wind. The demon fell down burned to black. Its dust smeared on the white of the snow like a caricature on a blank paper.
“Now, I can look for her. Where to?..”
Even though I had no idea where they were that time, it just felt like there was somewhere I must be. I dragged my spear and moved forward like a zombie.
“I’m coming… for you… Alethea…”
Something crossed my mind. What was that feeling? It was a strong desire to go there, a place that I felt like I had always known but never been to. My feet were heavy like lumps of iron, but I cannot stop myself from taking another step closer to that place.
“What’s with this excitement?”
I just remembered her name. The person I had been longing for. The memories that were erased were slowly being unveiled inside my mind.
“Alethea, my beloved, wait for me. I am almost there. I have completed my mission. We are going to be together again…”
After that never ending walk in the middle of nowhere, I finally reached the place I felt like I needed to go to. But there was nothing there. That place was empty.
I turned around. Everything I see is white.
“Hero,” a familiar voice echoed. “Don’t just stand there like a child abandoned by his mother. Come here.”
I moved forward following that voice. After several steps, the surroundings suddenly changed. It was like a cave suddenly came out of nowhere and then swallowed me whole without me noticing. The surroundings were bright despite having a long corridor covered with icy roof. The wall and floor were made of crystalized ice that reflects the light through its mirror-like surface. I followed the hall and then found a wider space deeper inside.
“So this is Tombras.”
I continued to walk into the center of that seemingly wide space. I looked up and there was a roof that mirrors everything on the ground. Close to the center, there stood several steep pyramid-like crystals. There are around twelve of them, two of which no longer shines as bright as the others. Farther back, Alethea motionlessly sat on a bench made of a rock.
I called but there was no response. I tried to approach her, but then a voice coming from the opposite direction called. It was the voice of that being I talked to in my dream.
“Hero, over here.”
I turned and a floating transparent humanoid figure greeted me.
“Keeper!” I rushed closer to the figure. “How is she?”
“Do not worry. The remaining other half of my power had been returned to me. I gave you half, now I am going to give her that remaining half. As your wish, you may now spend eternity together.”
“What do you mean? What is this place?”
“This is Tombras!” The spirit answered with a tone full of enthusiasm. I cannot comprehend his true intentions because the figure in front has no visage. “This is the place where my friends rest in an indefinite slumber. We, the ones you call “ancients,” have committed a sin against God.” The voice shifted into a deeper tone. There was a trace of grim in the way it talks. “My brethren here are being punished. They sleep and dream a life filled with misery, over and over again. They are unable to ascend the paradise that God bestowed to his creations after leaving this world.”
That was a story passed down to us from generation to generation. How this world was once destroyed and built again, and how the former residents had left after gracing our ancestors with different gifts. The Ancients helped our ancestors build our current society. For that reason, there were great kingdoms that became prosperous. Now, after three thousand years, that prosperity no longer succeeded. It was destroyed by conflicts and the never ending wars.
“Was there ever a tale about the ancient sinners?”
“Now,” the spirit continued taking my attention back. “I’ve been safeguarding this place safe for thousands of years, until that demon caught me off-guard. Fortunately I met you. And now we are here.”
“Safeguarding?.. Thousands of years of slumber… Keeper?..”
“There were twelve ancients who used to rest here. Two of them had ascended… probably around a couple of hundred years ago. My brethren will be able to ascend once their penance is complete. As to when that will happen, I myself cannot tell.”
“Ah-!! This spirit is the Grave Keeper!!! That’s why-…”
“Have you remembered your wish?”
“My wish?” I mumbled while I stood dumbfounded in front of the faceless image. “I… Right. Alethea, please give her back to me.”
“That sounds a bit different. But it is not a problem.”
“I do not feel like it’s any different.”
The spirit moved, it floated passed me. I turned my body following Keeper’s direction.
For every step I took, I try to remember the conversation I had with that spirit. How did it exactly go? I have to recall… what were the conditions I agreed to?
I moved my sights to where the spirit stands and something behind it, an unknown but familiar shape, caught my eye. Inside that frozen wall is a massive creature that I thought only existed in legends.
“That is a skeleton of a dragon?”
“As promised - - -”
Suddenly the words that the keeper said became murky. My head was throbbing. I dropped my spear and then I pressed on my temple; hoping that it would ease that dreadful pain. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead. For a split second, I felt a skull-splitting pain. It brought me down to my knees. Images flashed in my mind.
“Ah-… I remember everything…”
The ice that held the dragon’s bones together started to melt fast. The parts that were becoming free of ice begin to grow flesh, then skin, and then fur.
“I can only possess dead bodies.”
The spirit’s words resounded in my mind while I watch the dragon come alive.
“I will have her soul in different form, for now. I believe there is a worthy vessel back in Tombras. Reviving something that is not human is acceptable.”
The dragon covered in thick white fur stepped out of the ice. It stretched its feathery wings and then whisked away the water droplets from its body.
“I am only able to break one rule and pay the price. I need someone to keep Tombras, no, the shrine of my brethren safe. I will grant your wish to be with her for eternity, in exchange of your assistance.”
The dragon turned its head at me. Its golden yellow big round eyes stared back into mine. It was so dazzling, like my soul was being sucked in.
“For the mean time, I will seal your memories. Before it all ends, I wish to witness the powers of that which you call ‘love.’ For that power will be a great support in thousands of years of watching over our little shrine.”
The huge yellow orb at the dragon’s chest lit up. From there a ray of light touched the floor of the ice cave. Within the circumference of that ray of light, a humanoid spirit started to take form. A small girl wearing white and blue robes appeared, her long black hair waved while she twirled around. She chuckled; a sound so familiar. The warmth of her smile melted the icy sensation in my heart.
“Hemeros!” She called. “What’s with that face? You look so stupid.”
I could no longer suppress my excitement and rushed towards her. “Alethea!” I tried to embrace her but it did not connect. I slipped through her slightly transparent body.
She chuckled and then floated a distance away. “Silly. What you’re seeing right now is not my body, but a part of my spirit.”
She looked enthusiastic but something was off. I could not help but think that maybe I did something uncalled for.
“What do you mean?”
“That’s me now.” She pointed at the white dragon.
I forced a laugh. “Cut it out.” I turned towards the spirit of the ancient.
“I have fulfilled your wish.” Keeper answered. The faceless humanoid form he took started to crumble into small bits. “You wanted to be with her forever. I turned you into an immortal man, and gave her the body of a deathless dragon.”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
“When you are in panic, you always end up doing something stupid, you know.” Alethea said, her lips only slightly arched. She forced a laugh. “That part of you doesn’t change easily. It can’t be helped… but who knows… I might have done the same if our places were reversed.”
“This is the best development I can give you.” Keeper said while his body continuous to slowly disappear like little sparkles of stars at the rise of dawn. “The two of you can accompany each other as you take my place. Since you have each other, I doubt you’ll ever get lonely.”
“Take your place? What’s happening to you?”
“Ah- I’m disappearing. It seems that I will not be able to join my brethren. My soul will be gone, I will become nothing. But, I believe this sacrifice isn’t worthless. I’ll leave my brethren in your care, Hemeros, Alethea.”
Those were Keeper’s last words before the faceless figure completely vanished.
“What did he mean by disappear?”
“That’s the punishment for breaking the law of this world.” Alethea answered. “The ancient spirit kept my soul and then merged it with the dormant frozen skeleton of this dragon. Afterwards, he turned you, a human, into an immortal. Giving immortality to a human is disrupting the balance of our world.”
“Why did Keeper not return you to your original body?”
“Because I died. It’s been a few days and that body had started to lose its normal functions.” She explained. It seems like she was the only one who fully understood everything. “This dragon used to serve the ancients but for some reason it was sealed away in ice. I guess it does not count as a ‘revival’ but rather a ‘seal breaking.’ He needed someone to take him back to Tombras and continue the guard duty.”
I see… If Keeper resurrected Alethea that time, then I won’t have any reason to come here and guard this place. Reviving the dead is against the law so Keeper would have vanished there. I needed him to bring back Alethea and he needed me to defeat Gader’el, take his stolen mana back and return him to Tombras. All to make sure that his brethren’s sleep is not disturbed and that they can ascend safely
“Hemeros, we are the new Grave Keepers.”
The END . . .
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