The Consequence of Saving the World
Time was a cruel mistress.
These houses, or what’s left of them—to think that they’d be in such a state.
I wished I could’ve answered Sereya, but I simply didn’t know how to express what I was feeling at that moment. I must’ve looked like I’d seen a ghost, but the truth was, it was far worse.
I was looking at the ghost of the village I once called home. Instead of children and animals running around, it was neglect and dilapidation. An utter shell of its former self—just how was it reduced to this state?
These poor folk who were surviving on the rations provided by the church—were they my neighbours whom I no longer recognise? Their bodies were so scrawny. Their clothes were too tattered.
I wanted to talk to them, to confirm if my suspicions were true. Yet, there was no way I could. Their situation was infinitely direr than mine. How could I engage in conversation with them when their entire focus was feeding themselves? The harder I tried to get a good look at them, the more their eyes ran away from mine.
Also, I looked too different for anyone to recognise me. On top of my larger, toned physique, I had no idea what Hanasuke did to turn my hair white instead of keeping its original blond colour.
The biggest nail in my chest wasn’t actually all this, it was the speed of how it all transpired. Logically, I knew that ten years had passed, but if logic was so easily accepted, we wouldn’t be called humans now, right?
All of the suffering happening right before my eyes felt like it happened in just a few weeks.
The annoying baby next door who wouldn’t stop crying.
Max, Andrew’s overweight son who still owed me for breaking our fence by falling into it.
The limping wanderer from further down south who turned out to be faking his injuries for free food—I still remember all of this as if it were yesterday.
The speed at which this church was built and how fast poverty spread through the village—this wasn’t just a simple effect of the cruel mistress called time.
This had to be part of a bigger picture that eluded me. There was no way I would accept that this was all the hand of coincidence.
“Evan, you’re squeezing a bit too hard.”
Sereya’s discomfort summoned me back to the present.
“Sorry. Could we go further down the road to take a look?”
An affirmative nod was the answer she gave. It was a slight relief that my partner was so understanding. She had no clue why I was so fixated on this squalid part of town, but still trusted me to go along with it anyway.
The road that we were on gradually devolved into a dirt path. This was also the case with the shacks that I saw.
I was familiar with the layout. From the way the houses were positioned, we were standing at what used to be the north side of the village. However, some of the bigger buildings, like the warehouses, were so battered that I couldn’t tell which was which. The only way I knew they used to be there were the large plots of land they were on.
Another big change was the smell. The scent of farm animals used to waft around here, but was now replaced with the foul stench of death. I didn’t need to find where the smell was coming from—the birds circling above over yonder already told me.
People were literally dying on the streets here, yet on the other side of town, it was business as usual.
I made up my mind. I’ll be paying Baron Edmund, or whoever the current lord of Breven is, a visit.
As we explored further, the uncomfortable feeling of being stared at disturbed me. Outsiders definitely never wind up here. Why would they? Regardless they were many unwelcome gazes in our way that we could only brush off.
Eventually, we reached a dead end. A huge wall cordoned off a section of the old village. I knew exactly why this unfamiliar wooden barricade was erected here, because:
“My house is over there.”
Sereya had an initial look of shock, before it turned to a face of vexation, the same expression that I was wearing.
They purposely sealed off my farm from the rest of the village so that the pilgrims and the villagers didn’t meet. How noble of them.
Giving away food was just applying bandages to a poisoned man. The Evanists were trying to help, but the reality was, they were part of the problem. Did no one see the hypocrisy that was going on around here?
I was certain that there were genuinely good Evanists like Anita who would do something about this, but it was evident that somebody on top wasn’t as kind as they were supposed to be.
It was all so frustrating.
My home, treated like a piece of gold that was picked up from a pile of dung. No one bothered to clean any of the mess up.
“Hey, you two!”
A voice that I know reached my ears. We both turned around.
“If you don’t want to get hurt, drop everything you have.”
As my hand was still holding onto Sereya’s, I stopped her from reaching for her blade.
“Please, let me talk to them. I’ll handle this,” I whispered.
Sereya relaxed. With her grip no longer as tense, she let go of my hand and took a step back, entrusting the situation to me.
The men robbing us could barely even count as men. They were so malnourished, they looked like boys. With rags for clothes and bones for skin, the only thing that they had more than us was numbers. There were five of them.
Their hands were struggling to hold their chipped and damaged knives. These people were doing this out of survival. If I was in their shoes, or lack thereof, I probably would’ve done the same.
I drew my sword from my waist. The shrill sound of steel sliding off the scabbard made the robbers jump a bit. Good. I prayed they also realised the difference in the quality of our equipment.
“I don’t feel like spilling blood today,” I spoke in a casual tone as the hilt of my weapon teetered loosely on my palm. “Let us leave in peace. I will speak to the baron to improve your living conditions.”
“The baron? Really?”
The leader of the robbers lowered his knife, offering me slight repose.
“You don’t get it, do you? The baron already helped us. He brought all those missionaries here to help us and what do we get? Scraps and leftovers, all while they line their coffers with trade and commerce! Does this look like help to you?”
Hearing the words from his patchy lips caused my heart to ache in sympathy. I really wanted to help, but they didn’t want words, they needed action. Worst of all, I wasn’t even sure if I could fix this, the scale of this issue was way beyond a simple country bumpkin like me.
“Can we stop talking, please?” the robber closest to their leader begged for the parley to end. “If we killed them and shared them around, then my parents could last the week.”
“Agreed, there’s quite a bit of meat to them. Let’s do it now,” another one concurred.
For them to resort to this, I—
At an instant, my heart sank to the point it stopped pumping. My head grew light, my vision turned pitch black. It lasted for only a second, but even after shaking off that sudden dizzying feeling, I had to catch my breath.
By the time I looked up, all the men were lying on the ground.
Sereya had knocked all of them out through bloodlust alone.
“You didn’t need to do that!”
I knew I shouldn’t, but I raised my voice at her.
“Don’t worry, I controlled the pressure. They’ll get back up in a few minut—”
“And they were prepared to take lives, too. This was for the best.”
“For the best? A Hero defeating a group of starving villagers was for the best?”
“And what do you propose to do? Strip naked and give them your clothes? Cut off a piece of your flesh and hope that it satisfies them? There are no answers here, Evan. Only mistakes.”
She was right. Sereya was the level-headed one here. My frustrations were building up to this point, that I lashed out at her.
She shook her head. She was just firm, but not angry.
“I know how you feel, Evan. I was there at one point before. But you have to realise that Heroes cannot save everyone. Sometimes, we are forced to choose who to save and who to leave behind.
All we can do is move forward and do what we think is right.”