Authors: Nicholas Alexander
by Nicholas Alexander
© 2015 Nicholas Alexander
The wind told no tales, for there was nothing left to tell. Only death existed in this place she now found herself.
It was a village that was once filled with the warmth of the sun, the sight of people coming and going, and the laughter of children ringing in the air. Now it was nought but a shadow of a memory - a testament to the lingering emptiness of death.
There was nothing. The buildings stood intact, the well was full of water, and the trees still grew tall. But there was not even the faintest breath of life in any of it, not without the people who had once given it all meaning. Someone had once lived in this town. There had been dozens of families - men and women and children and elderly grandparents. Now, nobody walked these streets. A wind of death had blown through the town, taking all life from it and leaving no mercy in its wake. The occasional overturned bucket, or a crushed wooden toy half buried in the dirt, was all the proof that remained of the struggle.
She held her breath as she passed through the streets, listening closely for the betraying sound that she only half hoped to hear - the sound that she may not truly be alone after all.
But of course, the wind told no tales. She was alone, in this empty, dead town. She had found exactly what she was looking for. The emptiness was familiar to her.
Very well, then - she could live in such a place.
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Emila rose from the floor, and took a look at her hands, grimacing at the dust and filth that covered them. She had just spent the last hour or so cleaning out the bedroom she was going to be using for the foreseeable future. Everything in the room had been covered in a fine layer of dust, and it had taken ages for her to clean it out. All the windows in the building had been opened to air it out. But finally, after beginning in the early morning, she had finished around noontime.
When she had arrived in the town of Forga, she hadn't expected much. Those expectations had not been betrayed. The town was deserted - mysteriously abandoned for reasons that nobody was certain about. An investigation had been held some time ago, but no definite reason could be found for the sudden disappearance of the townspeople. There were a few signs of battle, suggesting that a group had come and wiped the townspeople out, but no survivors or witnesses from Forga had appeared at any of the other towns in the region. The primary blame was, like so much these days, placed upon the kingdom of Acaria, but it did not match the usual style of their attacks.
Emila did not think it was the Acarians. She had seen firsthand the results of their violence, and she knew that their proud king would never carry out such a secretive attack. He liked his atrocities to be known. He would have left survivors, to run and tell Marcus, the Saetician king, what had happened.
She looked over the room again, which was finally in livable condition now that she had cleaned out the dust. She had explored a few unlocked buildings before coming to the inn, and found that the town had been left in almost perfect condition. Gold and belongings were sitting in chests in bedrooms, untouched. Perfectly usable weapons were still hung on the walls. Food was still stored away in the kitchens, though most of it was long expired. If attackers had come to raid Forga, they had left behind a plethora of essential resources.
Emila knew the attackers had not been Acarians, which was why she had chosen to live there. She had been staying in T'Saw, the capital city of the kingdom of Sono, for the previous two years of her life. In the past few months, she had heard much talk among the city folk regarding Acaria. In fearful whispers, they spoke of its vengeful ruler, his growing army, and his vendetta against Zaow, the king of Sono. They said the Acarian king carried a magick sword and used dark powers sealed away long ago. They said he would not stop until Sono was destroyed, or even the whole Alliance of Kingdoms, if need be.
War was coming, it seemed, and Emila did not want to be caught in the middle. So she had packed her things and set out for the mysterious ghost town that nobody would go to, so that she might be able to be in peace, free of the nightmares of the men in black armour who chased her. If she had to live all by herself, so be it.
Anything to be free of the Acarians.
The journey had taken her a full two months, making her way across the countryside of Sono, before crossing the border into Saeticia. She perhaps could have shortened the time had she travelled at night, when the monsters emerged, but she wasn't a fierce fighter. She preferred to avoid violence whenever possible. Hunting monsters for food was a necessity for any traveller in Bacoria, but fighting against humans was a different matter altogether. She could kill a goblin when she was hungry if need be, but she could not bring herself to do the same to another person. Thus, she made sure she travelled very carefully to avoid bandits and thieves on the road. Thankfully, the highways had been unusually clear of late, ironically, thanks to the very men she was running from.
Emila returned to the inn's kitchen, which she had cleaned earlier. Her work there had been far more difficult, with less desirable results. The vast majority of food that had been stored there had long ago spoilt, and thus had needed to be disposed of outside. Only a small amount of the supplies were untarnished. She would still prefer to use it only in emergencies if she could. What other food she would eat would have to come from hunting. Living in the town on her own would not be a problem. There was a well to drink from and plenty of beasts to hunt - she could even set traps in the woods outside the town.
Emila lifted a bucket of clear water from the floor and placed it on the counter, and began to wash her hands with it. The running water and indoor magitech were down, but if she could fix those she would also have tap water, showers, and a refrigerator and stove to ease her burden.
Once she was finished, she dried her hands. She was feeling tired from the work, and hungry and thirsty. She decided she would cook up some of the meat she had left from her travelling supplies, then turn in for the night. Before that, however, she would need to make a quick trip to the well and refill her bucket.
Taking the wooden bucket, Emila stepped outside onto the streets of Forga. The sun was still high in the sky, not likely to begin setting for another hour or two. That was good - she would have plenty of time to lock up the inn and prepare for the night. The town was abandoned, so there was little doubt the usual beasts would emerge and prowl the streets once the sun had set. She could likely hold the monsters off, but avoiding confrontation was the first step for survival. Her mother had once said something along those lines...
Emila thought of her home, Sulin, and her parents and younger sister. The memory of them was painful and caused an aching in her heart that pierced right through her numb apathy and threatened to bring forth tears. She suppressed the pain - as she always did.
She arrived at the stone well in the centre of town, and began the process of lowering the bucket down into its depths. Now that she was back out in the open, and no longer within the comforting walls of the inn, she could feel it again - that sense of death that pervaded the air around the place. Something very terrible had happened in this town.
She would get used to the isolation, or at least she hoped she would. She would have to find books to occupy her time once the place was done being fixed up. She needed something to do, lest she lose her mind from boredom. She'd known the risks she was taking by coming here, and she'd prepared for them, but already she was beginning to feel the weight of it.
Perhaps she'd made a mistake, she considered for a moment, before shaking her head and reminding herself what was back in T'Saw - and the inevitability of what would happen. She would rather stay in this empty, dead town and suffer boredom and loneliness and possibly even insanity. It was better than another meeting with that one-eyed man of darkness - the Acarian king who had taken everything from her.
Emila pulled the bucket back up from the well, which was now filled with clear water. Looking up for the first time in a few minutes, she felt a prickling on the back of her neck - that feeling of being watched. She looked around, but the town was empty. She knew it was empty - she could feel the loneliness of it every moment. So why had she felt like someone was there?
Then, there was suddenly the sound of an explosion. A flash of light filled her vision, momentarily blinding her. She felt a wave of mana surge through the area, travelling in a ripple away from it's point of origin. It came so suddenly, and in such intensity, that Emila was knocked back, slipping off her feet and falling. The bucket of water left her hands and hit the ground, its contents spilling out on the dirt road.
Thankfully, Emila did not fall into the well - she was able to grab the edge of the stone and push herself away, instead falling onto the ground. The intense wave of mana was fading, and she could tell where it had come from now - the river at the edge of town.
Emila moved on instinct, pulling herself up and racing to the nearest tree. Her sense of hearing told her that the mana burst, whatever it had been, had happened at the very edge of the river.
The scent of blood lust filled the air.
Emila gathered her body's mana and formed it into the shape of a small dagger of ice, which she held at her side. It was a very weak spell, the blade would likely shatter with a single glancing blow. But it could save her life, and the amount of mana she had used to make it was too minor to be felt from a distance - or so she hoped.
There was silence now. The blood lust was gone, replaced by a hesitant tension. Like a hunter who had momentarily lost its prey.
She found herself wondering what it was. The amount of mana that she had felt could not have come from anything but a magickal attack, but from who and why? Was someone or something after her? Was it a monster? It couldn't be - monsters did not come out until after dark.
That mana had rippled away, being felt after the effect of the spell had occurred. That meant it wasn't the source, but an after-effect. An echo of a more powerful spell. And with such a large area being felt by an echo of the spell - it had to have come from a powerful magus.
There was a sudden spike of mana, accompanied by the sound of someone shouting. Emila braced herself, fearing she had been found, but nothing happened to her. She quickly realised there were two voices shouting.
Nobody was after her. There were two people by the river, and they were fighting. They likely didn't even realise she was there.
Carefully, Emila poked her head out from behind the tree to spy on the distant river. She saw, as she had suspected, two men. One was large and armoured from head to toe in red-trimmed black plate mail. His eyes were hidden within a steel helm. He held a large
and heavy battle axe that he held with no sign of difficulty. She knew that armour well, and the sight of it made her blood run cold. It was an Acarian.