5 years later.
“Oga, on your right!”
The swishing sound of metal dances in the air mixed with its own strike. Ashes floated in the air before disappearing completely.
“Burn to ashes!”
Fire engulfed the surroundings leaving behind nothing but ash as it moved around unabated like it has its own will. Like a phoenix on fire burning everything around as it flew through the air.
Right after, water slowly floated up from the ground. Then, the sword in control moved with the sputtering water until it all gathered at the tip of the sword. The sword glowed white until suddenly, the concentrated mass of water burst out and darted through the sea of fire.
“Hey! Rui, don’t just use fire magic that big while we’re in the forest!”
“But it’s the only thing I can use! You can just do something about it like always, right, Shion?”
“Please don’t look at me like that... Do you know just how much power I need to use just to extinguish your fires... “
“Argue later! There’s more of them coming.”
“Ah, Aron! Please tell your sister to at least minimize her flames.”
“I said save it for later.”
“These stupid dogs just keep coming.”
“Oga, have you finished on your side?”
“Yes, I finished all of them but... It seems that they have backup.”
“It looks like this is the last of them. Rui already burned most of them.”
“...Yeah. Along with us that is.”
“Hey! Stop talking about me like I’m not even here!”
“Here it comes!”
The surrounding air moved and gathered on his feet. As it did, Aron moved from one place to another within a second. He twirled his sword quickly in the air until it smoothly slashed the body of one of the wolf-like monsters.
The other one heightened their awareness as they watched their comrade instantly die. However, before they could react, they’re vision already reached the ground... then to the sky. They weren't even given the time to realize what just happened as they disappeared into nothing but air.
“Oof... That’s all of them.”
“Wha…?! Don’t I get any praise for finishing them off?!”
“Good work. Now let’s move on already.”
“Why do I only feel resentment when you say that... “
Shion clapped her hands. “Right, right. Let’s not just stand around here and return to him already.”
“That’s right. Though, he might’ve finished all of them by himself already.”
The group chuckled to themselves then made their way deep into the forest where their other friend was.
When they arrived, what they saw was a boy with black hair looking up at the sky blankly while holding his sword. Surrounding him were the remnants of the monsters he had just killed. They immediately disappear as the group arrives.
It seems that he also had just finished himself.
“Ah, everyone! I was planning on coming back but it looks like there was no need.”
“Leo! Don’t just run off like that! You made me worried.”
Leo scratched his cheeks in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Rui. It’s just... a habit.” He simply made a small laugh at the end.
“Mou... Please stop being reckless.”
Rui pinched Leo’s cheeks. “Ouch!”
“Just say ‘Yes’!”
“Yes, yes! Please stop, Rui. It hurts.”
“That’s a lie. Something like this wouldn’t hurt you.”
“No, no. Even if you say that, I still feel pain, you know?”
After a few minutes, Leo finally convinced Rui and managed to save his cheeks from ripping apart. Leo checked his cheeks a few times. It’s still there...
He took a glance at the group and noticed that they all had smirks on their faces.
All of them all looked away.
“Nothing. It’s not like we've been here all this time.”
Leo realized that they all had been ignored and somewhat felt bad. After an indescribable silence within the group, Aron finally broke the air and spoke.
“So far, we only encountered wolf fangs.”
“They said that there was a strange monster spotted lurking in this forest. They couldn’t tell the specifics though since it was night the time they saw it.” said Oga. Oga has a distinct crimson hair and is the biggest one of the group. He wielded a battle ax, befitting his stature.
“This is going to be hard…” a silver-haired girl said. Her name was Shion. She held her flamberge on her side as she pressed her chin while thinking.
“Based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s only been wolf-fangs, many at that.”
“We’ll probably see something if we head deeper inside the forest but…” Aron glanced at the group. “Let’s take a break here first and make a camp.”
They had been fighting monsters all the way here. Without any information about the monster they were hunting, it wasn’t a good idea to keep on staying on a loose track. Aron thought that they should take the time to refresh and possibly come up with ideas.
“That’s a good idea”
“Right. Fighting all those wolf fangs was tiring too.”
“Shionnnn, make some water. I'm thirsty.”
“Rui... I’m not some kind of a portable water container, you know…”
“But you can use water magic. It’s fine, right?”
Meanwhile, Leo remained on his ground, his eyes stared deeper into the forest.
“Strange monster... If it were a demon... ” he muttered.
“Leo?” Rui tilted her head as she came back for Leo.
“Ah, sorry. I’ll come right away.”
After setting up camp, Leo and the others took a seat at a log, each placed in the form of a circle. While Leo, Aron and Oga handled the manual labor, Rui, and Shion prepared the food for everyone to eat.
Since they were going through the forest, they prepared food and some ingredients in case they took a stop. The typical nourishment one had when going out as a group especially in the forest was a packed meal. In other words, preserved foods.
The food was prepared before they set off from the village this morning. The only thing they had to do was reheat it. Thankfully, they had someone who could use fire magic so they didn’t need to worry about making fire manually.
“Hm~. It smells good. I can’t wait to taste it.” Rui’s nose twitched as the flavorful air went into her nostrils. Her lips turned upwards.
Everyone carried a spoon as soon as their food was served. Rui elegantly put the spoon in her mouth before blinking in surprise. “Leo’s cooking is as good as always!”
“Well, it had been prepared this morning so I’m happy that it suits your taste.”
The others carried their spoons to their mouths as well.
“Even so, it’s delicious! I’m glad someone can cook this well in our group.” Oga commented.
“Hey, I can cook as well!” said Rui after savoring the flavor of the food.
“Well, I can also cook myself but I don’t think I can keep my confidence everytime I eat you cooking, Leo.” Shion said.
“Oh, please…” Leo scratched his head. He made a resigned sigh before tasting the food himself.
Rui hummed happily as she took another bite of the food to savor the taste. Seeing that, Leo’s mouth softened faintly in a fleeting way.
After eating their food, Leo looked up at the sky. The weather was clear, the skies were bright while clouds were scattered around vastly. It’s quiet.
Leo took a glance at the group. Hm?
Rui and Shion were talking about something in a serious manner. Rui was taking notes on what Shion was saying while pointing her finger in the air. Meanwhile, Aron and Oga remained seated with an awkward expression.
When Rui noticed Leo staring at her direction, she instantly looked away.
Leo tilted his head. “Um. Is there something wrong? You look like you were talking about something serious... “
Rui refused to face Leo and spoke in a flustered tone.
Leo wore a troubled look. “But it looks like it’s not nothing though…”
Seeing as she still refuses to look, Shion made a tired sigh and faced Leo with a piercing gaze. “Leo. It’s not good to pry into a woman’s secret, you know?”
Realizing what she meant, Leo immediately put up his hand in front of his face. “Ah. I-it’s not like that!. I’m sorry…”
Leo nervously said then he took a glance at Aron and Oga who were quietly seated on the side. When they noticed Leo’s gaze, they also immediately looked away, nervous. Leo was extremely confused.
Meanwhile, Shion and Rui simply chuckled.
Leo immediately stood up and called out to everyone with a serious tone. “Something’s coming!!”
Everyone instantly followed up without a beat. The instant switch on their expressions showed how much experience they have. But at the same time, it was the danger that they had felt which instinctively caused them to point their weapons forward.
Leo reached for his sword and assumed battle position. The intense danger they felt wasn’t like anything they encountered. It was different from the wolf fangs they had fought until now. The looming danger was about to come.
It was undeniably real.
Despite that, Leo and the others immediately regained their calm and composure.
“...It’s here.” Leo muttered.
It was then that it happened.
A single wooden spear with its tip made of stone came flying out of the dark, passing through Leo’s left instantly.
“Huh...?” Leo uttered a sound of confusion as he slowly turned his head to the side.
A man was lying down on the ground way back behind him. A spear was fixed on his abdomen. The crimson-covered tip was visible from his back.
“Oga!” Leo was about to go to his side when he spotted the enemy. A black monster standing at around 3 meters showed up. The monster had a pair of horns on its head and pulled a giant ax through the ground in such an easy manner.
Everyone's face was pale.
“Tsk, Shion, please check on Oga! Aron, we’re going to attack it. Rui, support us from the back with fire magic!”
The intensity of Leo’s voice made everyone else run chills through their spine. This was the first time they heard Leo like that. But it wasn’t the time to stay on the ground, idly standing.
“Right!” Aron immediately followed up and assumed his battle stance. Rui readied her sword and prepared her magic in a way that she could release it instantly once given the signal. As told, Shion immediately checked up on Oga who was laying on the ground with blank eyes.
Light vanished from Shion’s face as soon as she went up beside Oga. she nervously checked his pulse.
After checking for his pulse, her hands dropped, and remained motionless.
The bitterness from her voice reached Leo and the others’ ears.
Aron looked down.
Rui gasped, her hands against her mouth.
Leo bit his lips until it started to bleed. He gripped his sword tight.
“Oga... no... “ Rui muttered.
Suddenly, the monster in front of them roared. It was so loud that it blew the air around.
Pulling them back to the situation, Leo took a step forward.
“Let’s kill this bastard.”
No sooner than later, Leo kicked off the ground with his sword forward. Aron followed up.
Aron increased his speed by wrapping himself with wind magic. Because of that Aron was the first to strike. He swung his sword from his side vertically with a powerful force. Leo immediately followed up with another slash.
However, the monster used its giant ax to barely block the attacks. The sound of two metals colliding reverberates through the air. The monster glared at the two with intimidation, its crimson eyes pierced through Leo and Aron as they still hung up in the air.
Despite that, Aron’s face was serious while Leo was expressionless, unaffected by the monster’s gaze. Soon after, a tail of fire passed through them. As soon as they felt that, Leo and Aron jumped off and gained their distance.
The fire reached the monster unable to avoid it and as it did, an explosion came out. Bursting crimson fire engulfed the monster completely.
Rui didn’t hold back.
She had unleashed her full power on that attack. She took her breath from the exhaustion of expending a large amount of essence necessary for unleashing that powerful magic.
They watched the explosion take place silently until it dissipated.
However, that was just a temporary moment of luck.
A giant ax came out from the outburst of the fire. As it did, all the fire around was absorbed in an instant and gathered in one position.
“Magic?!” Leo widened his eyes in surprise.
There wasn’t a recorded monster that can use magic!! Or so he thought.
Soon, flames that came out from the magic’s output, burst out rapidly. The flames were wide and fast. There wasn’t time to completely avoid it.
“Shion!” Leo shouted.
Without the need of a response, Shion raised her flamberge up and pointed towards the approaching flames. Within a second, a stream of water rapidly came out from the tip of the sword. It was the same size as the flames.
It was like two dragons about to face each other. Water and fire. Both mutually destructive. The results were undoubtedly big. Leo, Aron, and Rui immediately jumped off several distances to avoid getting caught in the attack.
As soon as the two magic attacks made contact, a cloud of mist was created, immensely.
The mist was so thick that they couldn’t see anything.
Since it all happened so fast, Leo wasn’t able to think it through. This is bad!
Leo heightened his senses. Without a proper visual of things, he had risked himself and the others.
Just then, he heard the thunderous sound of something heavy on the ground. Leo noticed where it was and made a panicked voice as he shouted.
That was then he saw.
The ax of the monster swinging rapidly in the air in front of Rui. Rui’s thoughts weren't able to catch up to the situation. H-huh…?!
As soon she realized, she gasped.
Leo immediately kicked off the ground and pushed the monster away with his sword.
Aron fell on the ground, blood spilled out from his stomach and mouth.
“That was the first time you called me brother.” he was oddly smiling while he uttered his final words. Soon, his eyes lost their light.
“N-no... “ Rui cried. She looked down, tears overflowing. She couldn’t hold her emotions back anymore. She is vulnerable right now. At this rate...
“Rui! We need to get away here right now! At this rate…” However, Rui didn’t budge. She remained there in a daze.
Leo was then suddenly thrown into the air and landed on a tree. “Guh... !” Blood spilled out from his mouth.
Shion watched with a grim expression on her face. “Rui, if we don’t help Leo and get away, we’re all gonna die! I know how you feel but right now we need to move, Rui!”
Rui slowly looked up to Shion with tearful eyes.
However, it seemed that they ran out of time. The monster noticed Shion and Rui and lunged itself with unimaginable speed unbefitting of its size.
“Tsk, please get away now. I’ll buy some time.”
Shion pointed her flamberge forward then rapidly shot out bullets of water to the monster. While it only managed to scratch the monster’s skin, it did slow it down. Shion increased the rate of water bullets while the monster continued to charge.
Realizing it wasn’t gonna stop, Shion made her legs move, and ran forward towards the monster. Within its attacking range, the monster swung its ax vertically. Because of the difference in size, it was difficult for the monster to swing its sword in any direction other than vertical.
Shion took that chance. She bent her body and smoothly slid towards the monster’s back. As soon as the monster had its back exposed, Shion kicked off the ground and was about to stab its back with her flamberge.
For some reason, the monster made a faint smirk on his lips.
It was too late.
The monster made a quick 180 and swung its ax. It was undeniably unexpected.
In exchange for its size, the ax’s edges weren’t exactly sharp. However, it was enough to send anyone who got hit flying into the air. Shion heard her bones break as the ax tore through her body.
She was flying in the air until she fell completely into the ground with a thud.
There was no escape from reality.
Rui watched as Shion lifelessly fell on the ground.
Meanwhile, Leo remained on the ground. Blood running from the top of his head. His vision turned crimson.
As he opened his eyes to the situation, he saw a scene he didn’t wish to see. His face lost light.
He then noticed the monster slowly approaching Rui who remained in a daze. I need to save her... !
Despite what he saw, this wasn’t the time to lose himself. If he did, then he truly would lose everything.
He steadily stood on his feet. There was some distance between him and the monster. In order to lure it away from Rui ,he had to use something that could get its attention from his position.
Leo raised his arms. Focusing all his thoughts, he controlled his essence. Light formed on his hands. As it did, he made a fireball and unleashed it towards the monster. That was all he could right now with magic.
He was never good with magic which is why he only used it sometimes. But that single magic was enough to get the monster’s attention.
The monster looked back seemingly annoyed.
“Rui, run away now!”
Rui looked towards Leo’s direction. “Huh? Ah, but…” Rui tried to open her mouth wordlessly in shock.
The monster charged towards Leo with a roar.
“Tsk, come here you bastard!”
Leo intensely charges towards the monster as well. The monster swung its ax towards Leo who barely dodged. He bends his body and manages to get under the monster’s huge torso.
He was within the monster’s vulnerable spot. In this position, the monster wouldn’t be able to hit him with its ax because that would mean hitting itself too. The monster had to regain its distance.
Leo wouldn’t let that happen.
He took his breath.
All those years of training with the sword culminated at this moment.
There wasn’t really a special move with his attack. Leo simply slashes his sword in the air. That is how it looked to him. However, from the outside, his sword disappears in mere seconds as it makes a loud slashing sound.
Blood rained down from above.
The monster’s belly was cut off. The monster remained still for a moment with what seemed to be a look of surprise on its face. But...
It’s still alive?! How unfortunate.
The monster was still able to move despite its wound. The monster already made its distance and instantly swung its ax towards Leo.
Leo was unable to move nor dodge.
Ah. Am I gonna die?
Leo closed his eyes like he had accepted his fate.
—The sound of a sword piercing something mixed with a dull thud.
Leo opened his eyes, hesitantly.
Rui simply smiled.
Her sword pierced through the monster’s belly. However, the monster’s ax tore through her body.
That last attack had finished off the monster.
The monster fell, turned into particles and floated up in the air. The monster they had been fighting so much, disappeared like nothing happened at all.
Rui fell right after.
“Rui!” Leo caught her in his arms.
It was like the world was watching.
As soon as the battle ended with so many of his friends fallen, the clouds completely covered the blue sky. Water fell on his head.
Suddenly, it rained.
The world was cruel. Much like this inescapable reality in which Leo found himself in.
“I’m glad you're alive.”
“Yeah.” Leo said, ruefully.
The sound of rain continuously beating the ground was loud but they were close enough to hear each other. Feeling helpless and the fact that he can't do anything suffocated Leo.
How could he let this happen?
Leo bit his lips in frustration.
“I’m sorry.” That was all he could say.
“Why are you apologizing?”
“If only I were stronger... This, this wouldn’t have—”
Rui’s eyes were wavering, struggling to keep them open, she locked her gaze on Leo.
“All this time, you were trying so hard. You’ve worked so hard… I… we know. You’ve shouldered all the burden.”
“I’m the one who should be apologizing. I couldn’t just leave after all.”
He had seen with his eyes the death of his friends. Friends he grew up with for a long time.
“Be stronger and stronger…” she said “Strong enough that you can protect anyone...”
Leo felt the faint warmth on her palms as she tried to reach his cheeks. He held her hands tightly to not let them go. He was afraid... that it would disappear the moment he let go. That was how Leo felt.
Suddenly, Rui’s eyes moved as if she had just remembered something.
“Ah, I almost forgot. I was planning to tell you this when we get back to the village... it seemed you also forgot, Leo” she said, with a faint chuckle.
Leo silently watched with a bitter expression.
“Happy birthday, Leo.” Rui said, weakly. “...I love you.”
Leo still remained silent. Rui simply smiled faintly.
“It’s a shame I wouldn’t be able to hear your answer... but I’m tired... I’m gonna take my rest now. I’ll be waiting for you. So, even for just a little longer...” It was as if she was about to go to sleep. A long sleep. Her eyes slowly closed.
“...please stay alive until then.” Just like that, her hands completely lost their energy, and her eyes finally lost their light.
He couldn’t do anything.
He couldn’t say anything.
The only thing he could hear right now in this world was the sound of rain. Leo held Rui’s lifeless body into his arms and hugged it tightly.
Was he holding it back?
As soon as he realized that he couldn’t hear her voice anymore, tears started running down to his cheeks.
Please... please, not like this... If there is a god out there, anyone, please grant me this wish. Just one time... even if I can't do anything, even if I’m useless til the end, I beg you…
He looked down and closed his eyes, tears overflowing.
Give me another chance...
In his state of despair, light gathered around Leo. Due to his state, he couldn’t register what was happening. It’s like the world has stopped for him.
However, unbeknownst to him, the world did stop. The rain that had continuously beat the ground suddenly stopped, water floated in the air without motion.
At the same time, light particles appeared out of nowhere and floated from the ground.
An ethereal voice echoed from his back.
“O, forsaken one. O, helpless, one. I hereby answer to your wishes.”
Leo remained unmoving.
“On this day, from the dawn of this world. Until its final night. I have found it.”
The light particles shone brighter. Then, a circle appeared under Leo. What was currently happening was something Leo couldn’t easily ignore.
“...What is this light...?” he muttered weakly.
Sensing the indescribable presence behind him, he looked over his shoulders.
A woman was standing there with beautiful long blonde hair floating in the air. Her skin was white as snow, like it was transparent. Her figure and air was so light and delicate.
“...Goddess?” Leo opened his mouth, wordlessly, in shock.
But the mysterious woman simply smiled at him warmly.
“I grant you power. O, moon. give this one light. O, divine, bless this one. You who’s power reached no one. You ,who're lost in this world, I beg you to wait.”
Leo looked down and saw the circle of light grow beneath until it had engulfed him completely. Light pierced through the sky.
“Endless pain. The sound of cries. I will grant you everything. In exchange, you’ll be this world’s light. A world which had lost its light.”
The mysterious woman stared at Leo covered in light.
“Leo, please end this world for me. For us who had forsaken this world.” she muttered softly.
Then the woman went behind Leo’s back. She entered the light without concern. Then, she engulfed Leo with her arms.
“As one of the nine gods, I give you this permission. I hereby use my authority and position as an additional price. This is…”
“—The birth of the hero!”
The light intensified like it was about to vanish everything around. That was the day Leo lost everything and gained something.