Fire and death. A man clad in crimson armour riding atop a winged creature barks out orders as his army swarms the burning village beneath him. An explosion rips through one side of the village leaving naught but a few charred corpses and splintered wood in its place. The attackers roared in victory as the few survivors of the village fled into the woods.
Ahri sat bolt upright in bed. Cold sweat ran down his spine as his ragged breathing began to settle.
“What was with that dream? It was so vivid.”
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, before taking a moment to look around at his surroundings.
“Where am I?”
Ahri sat alone in a small scarcely decorated room. Besides the bed he was in the only other items in the room were a bedside table and a bookshelf. Outside of one of the windows, the sun could be seen hanging low in the air.
“I don’t even know if it’s morning or almost night.”
Ahri looked down at his body. His arms and his torso were covered in thick bandages.
“Was someone taking care of me?”
He looked towards the lone door and wondered who could be waiting beyond it.
Should I just wait here? Whoever lives here clearly doesn’t mean me any harm.
Ultimately, Ahri decided it was best to investigate on his own. He got out of the bed and slipped on a shirt and pants that had been laid out for him.
He crept close to the door before placing his ear against it, making sure there was nothing waiting for him on the other side.
He turned the handle and opened the door by just a sliver. Peeking through the crack in the door, he hoped to get some kind of understanding about who had brought him here.
Cobblestone flooring and wooden walls combined together to create a cozy little hut outside of Ahri’s room. An inviting fire crackled at the opposite side of the hut, and a wooden table accompanied by two chairs sat in the centre of the room.
Ahri was able to spot one bed in the corner of the room. As far as he could tell there were only two other doors in the hut, and one of them clearly led outside.
Should I just make a run for it? Whoever lives here has helped me, but I don’t even know how I got here. I don’t think anyone is here right now, so I’m sure I can get away.
As Ahri was trying to decide the best course of action, the door that lead outside opened and a middle-aged man entered the hut.
The man wore an oversized cloak that covered his face in shadows. As he entered the hut, he walked while hunched over to the nearby table. He half-collapsed onto the chair and let out a groan.
He must be the one that brought me here. He doesn’t look like a bad man. I’m sure I can just speak with him and leave once I’ve found out how I got here. If worst comes to worst, I’m sure I can take him. He looks like he’s barely able to stand.
Ahri opened the door fully and walked towards the man.
“Finally awake I see.”
The man spoke with a gruff tone. He didn’t even turn to face Ahri as he spoke. It was almost as if he knew Ahri was watching him the entire time.
“Yes. I’m guessing I have you to thank for taking care of me?”
“Me? Oh no, I just found you. My daughter, Rhea, was the one that decided to look after you. I wanted to leave you passed out in the nearest town.”
“Right, thanks for your kindness.”
Ahri did little to hide the sarcasm in his voice.
“So, you have a name I’m assuming.”
“It’s Ahri. And you are?”
“Oh? Well, you can just call me Drake.”
The old man stared intently at Ahri’s eyes as if he was waiting to see how he’d react.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you. Now, where exactly are we?”
“We’re in my hut just outside of a small village called Greenwood. Ever heard of it?”
“Not that I can recall.”
“That’s not surprising. It lies on the other side of a forest, far away from any real civilization. We’re actually in Lord Grey’s territory along the southernmost point of Kaldovia.”
Ahri still looked completely lost.
“Ahri, where are you from? What do you remember before waking up here?”
“I… I’m not sure. Everything has been so fuzzy ever since I woke up.”
Now that I think about it, I can’t remember anything. I was so concerned about how I got here, I didn’t even realize I could barely remember my own name.
“Maybe you suffered a blow to the head. When I found you, you were lying unconscious along the river bank. It looked like you had floated some distance before eventually washing up there. It’s a miracle you were still breathing when I found you.”
“Along a river?”
“Yes. You had burns all over your chest and arms. Rhea was able to heal most of the burns on your arms, but the burns on your chest…well, it might be better if you saw for yourself.”
Drake motioned Ahri in the direction of a standing mirror.
Ahri hesitated at first before standing up and positioning himself before the mirror. After removing his shirt, he began to unravel the bandages around his arms. The area under the bandages appeared to be healed, excluding a few scabs here and there.
“Rhea is able to use some basic healing magic, but for more severe burns like those you suffered, that’s the best she could do.”
“I’ll be sure to thank her when I see her.”
Ahri then began to slowly peel away the heavier bandages covering his chest. Starting around his abdomen, he peeled back layer after layer of the bandages. At first, the injuries on his skin looked similar to his arms, but as he moved further up towards his chest, something was clearly different.
Ahri first noticed how clearly he could see his veins. Not only that, they weren’t the normal blue colour. They were pulsating and bright red. His veins weren’t the only notable difference.
What the hell is this!?
There were thin black tendrils spreading out over his chest. These tendrils and the red veins all converged on a single patch of blackened skin directly over his heart. Each time his heart would beat, a crimson light would begin to glow underneath this patch of skin before travelling out through the red veins. The patch of skin was about the same size as his palm, and the longest of the tendrils was only about six inches.
When he placed his hand on the black patch of skin, it felt hot, not to the point of being painful, but hot enough that it felt unpleasant to hold his hand on it for too long.
The blackened skin felt hard as stone as Ahri traced his finger around its edge.
“What is this?”
“I’m not exactly sure. I’m not going to pretend like I understand all of the magics of this world, but there’s no doubt in my mind that that injury wasn’t caused by some form of powerful magic.”
“A powerful magic….”
What the hell happened to me before I woke up here?
“You really can’t recall anything?”
“No. Everything before waking up here is just blank.”
Drake fell silent and looked down at the ground.
“That’s really unfortunate. Well, as I said before, Rhea’s attempts to heal you were unsuccessful, but that’s not to say whatever that is can’t be healed at all. There’s a talented alchemist in Greenwood that may have something that can help you.”
“You really think this can be healed?”
“Honestly? I have no idea. I’ve never really seen anything like that before, but the town isn’t far from here and if anyone around here can help you, it’s her. Now, Rhea and I need to head to town in a few days anyway, we can take you with but you’ll have to wait here until then. Is that okay with you?”
“I’m grateful for everything you and your daughter have done for me, but I need to know what happened to me. If you have a map or can just point me in the direction of this town, I’d rather leave as soon as possible.”
“I’m gonna be honest with you Ahri, the woods around here can be dangerous, and I can tell just by looking at you that you’re no fighter. I can provide you with directions if you’d like but I think it would be best for you to wait here. It’ll only be a few days.”
“ What do you mean by dangerous?”
“There’s your usual nuisances: wolves, bears, and the occasional goblin. More recently, however, there’s been a large influx of bandits. This area is pretty well cut off from most guard patrols and not to mention the ongoing war.”
“There’s a war going on?”
“Ah, right, of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that either. The Kingdom of Macha declared war on Lord Grey, the man that rules over the country we’re currently in, many months ago.”
“And what does that have to do with the increased bandit activity around here.”
“The vast majority of the fighting has been taking place far to the north of here. As a result of this, many of the country’s bandits have travelled south, hoping to take advantage of the decreased military presence around here. And now we’re the unlucky sods that have to deal with them.”
“Is it even safe for you here? I don’t mean to sound insulting but I have trouble believing that you could really handle yourself in a fight.”
“Hah, well, looks can be deceiving. Not to mention, Rhea’s more than capable with a bow and she’s taught herself some basic combat magic. Even if I couldn’t handle myself, I’d feel safe enough knowing she’s around.”
“So it will really only be a few days then?”
“Yes, and I really do think it would be best for you to wait. Besides, you still haven’t thanked Rhea yet and I can’t let you leave before that.”
Drake shakily stood to his feet and walked towards the front door.
“She should be getting back soon.”
He opened the door and looked out into the surrounding forest.
Ahri took one last look at the blackened skin covering his heart before slipping his shirt back on and walking over to Drake’s side.
“She left to go hunting early in the morning. I’m sure she’ll be coming back sometime soon.”
A few minutes passed as Ahri stood in the doorway. Drake had begun taking care of some minor tasks outside of the hut as they both waited for Rhea’s return.
A little while later, Ahri spotted something emerging from deep within the forest.
“Is that her?”
Drake turned away from his work to look in the direction Ahri was pointing. Through the countless trees and thickets, a figure could be seen approaching the hut.
The figure was cast in a dark shadow due to the heavy canopy overhead and the now setting sun. Ahri couldn’t quite make out if it was a person or not, but the shape was a little odd for it to be a human.
“Yeah, that’s her.”
Ahri continued to strain his eyes trying to make out the figure slowly approaching them.
The shadowy figure steadily made its way through the trees before eventually reaching the edge of the woods.
Standing there, was a lone girl. She had deep red eyes that matched her short auburn hair. She was almost as tall as Ahri, and he couldn’t tell if her caramel coloured skin was due to long hours working outside or if it was her natural skin tone. She was wearing worn hide pants and a sleeveless leather top that seemed well suited for outdoor work.
The most curious feature about her was the large deer she was carrying across her shoulders.
As she exited the woods, she looked up and waved to Drake. When she noticed Ahri she stopped for a moment before continuing her slow march back to the hut.
Drake had returned to his work and only acknowledged his daughter with a few short words.
“Yeah, sorry. This guy here really gave me quite the chase.”
She nudged the head of the deer with her shoulder and smiled before turning to Ahri.
“So you’re alive?”
“Uh, yeah, mostly. Drake told me I have you to thank for healing me. I just wanted to say thank you for looking after me.”
Rhea haphazardly tossed the deer carcass to the ground and said, “Don’t mention it. It’s not like I could just leave you like that. Besides, now you owe me one.”
“Right. Well, if you have a favour that you’d like to ask me, let me know.”
“Oh, you can count on that.”
Ahri showed a look of concern at her words, but before he could respond, Drake interrupted them.
“Alright, I suppose it’s about time we got dinner ready. Rhea, Ahri’s decided to stay here until we head into town. You get this deer cleaned up while Ahri and I get dinner ready.”
“Yeah, yeah, just leave all the hard work to me.”
Drake let out a small laugh before heading inside, signalling for Ahri to follow.
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