Chapter 1:

Chapter 1: Frostbound Encounter

Zero to Hero

Snow. Pure, icy, and frigid snow stretched as far as I could see while I walked slowly among the giant trees, lost in my thoughts about nothing in particular. With each breath, I exhaled a mist of fog, and with each step, my foot left an imprint six inches deep. Even after almost five years, I didn’t think my body could ever get adjusted to the freezing winters of Chelmswell.

After hours of wandering through the maze of the forest in this frozen snowland, I was content with my catches for the day and ready to return to my hut, away from this numbing cold.


Amidst the wintry landscape, did I just hear someone scream for help? The second cry confirmed it. No matter how much the wind roared, I was certain it was time to hasten toward the voice's direction.

As I dashed through the thick forest, I stumbled upon a clearing and discovered the source of the cry: a girl engulfed in flames, a fascinating winged wolf, and a gigantic bear-like monster. An unexpected sight on this brutal wintery day.

The monster, three times larger than a typical grizzly bear, was covered in pure white fur, blending perfectly with the snow. How had I never encountered one before? Did they change color with the seasons or blend in somehow?

As I marveled at the gigantic beast, movement caught my eye in the corner. In that fleeting distraction, the beast unleashed a roar and swiped at the cowering girl, cornered against a tree.

Without time to cover the distance, I teleported between them, intercepting the blow aimed at the girl. Halting the giant paw with sharp claws, my sudden appearance startled the beast, redirecting its fury towards me.

"I know your children are behind that brush. We have intruded on your territory, but you're no match for me. Let us leave in peace, or I will be forced to end your life."

Comprehending my words, the giant bear-like monster turned and retreated, reuniting with its cubs. Watching them vanish beyond the brush, I was satisfied that the encounter ended peacefully.

"Are you alright? Luckily, I heard your cry for help," I said, shifting attention to the pair.

The wolf was unique, to say the least. Black fur covered its back, white fur covered its chest and belly, a red flaming mane, a watery blue tail, and a pair of giant white wings. I was completely mesmerized and totally forgot the existence of the girl.

"Thank you for saving me," the girl replied, her voice grateful yet exhausted. Her words snapped me back to reality.

Her bright red hair, once aflame, settled neatly down her back. Smooth, flawless light chocolate-colored skin was visible beneath her insufficient coat for the bone-chilling winters of Chelmswell. As her bright pink eyes met mine, my heart skipped a beat, a feeling I hadn't experienced since that dreadful incident.

"Ken?" she questioned, as I was preoccupied with suppressing the sudden lust that had overcome me.

"Didn't think anyone still remembered me," I replied with a small chuckle, surprised that this beauty still remembered me from my glory days when I was the center of attention and on top of the world.

"You don’t remember me, do you? I’m not some random fangirl… I know it’s been years and we only met that one time for a few days but I thought you had a thing for me," she said, her disappointment evident.

"Sorry. Freezing weather isn’t doing wonders for my memory," I lied, hesitant to open up to a stranger I’d likely never meet again.

"Let's get somewhere warm first. Even for a fire fairy like myself, I'm struggling in this cold," she requested.

"I can teleport us back to my hut for tea before you continue your journey," I offered.

Without a word, the girl seized my arm, her other hand clutching onto the winged wolf, and I whisked us away to the cozy wooden cabin I called home.

"This pup seems to have taken a liking to you! I never expected her to be so calm after fiercely fighting me earlier. It's peculiar! She must consider you her savior for protecting us from that monster," the girl observed as the wolf settled contentedly by my side while I prepared tea and snacks.

"Apologies, the food options are limited. I have some dried fruits and jerky," I said, offering her the provisions.

"I'm just glad to be out of that situation and away from the bitter cold," she replied, happily accepting the dried fruit, while I poured herbal tea.

"What an impressive-looking wolf you have," I remarked, petting the serene creature beside me.

"She'll fetch a fortune for me to aid my village! She's not just a winged wolf, one of the most sought-after pets; she embodies all five basic elements and carries a blessing," the girl explained, her excitement veering into realms I struggled to comprehend.

As she animatedly spoke, memories of my past in Darrumburgh and Vespera surged back, flooding my mind uncontrollably.

"Candace, right? I remember now that I'm warmed up," I fibbed, diverting my attention to her.

"YEP! Knew you couldn't forget this beautiful face!" she exclaimed jubilantly, startling the wolf.

"Why are you living in this dilapidated shack in the middle of nowhere? Got tired of the swarm of girls, so you opted for a solitary escape?" Candace teased, a smirk playing on her lips, despite the wolf's growl for disturbing its rest.

"I've been alone here for almost five years. Enough about me, why are you here in the middle of nowhere during winter?" I deflected, hoping to steer the conversation away from my past.

"Don't evade the question! What happened? Last I heard, you were being hailed during the tournament as the youngest to reach the holy level. You were destined for stardom. How did you go from being fawned over by princesses and nobles to dwelling in this cabin?" Candace prodded, veering directly toward a topic I sought to avoid.

"I'd rather not talk about it. Circumstances led me here, and here I am," I replied, hoping she'd let it drop.

"Because of the witch, right?" Candace persisted, disregarding my attempt to dodge.

Speaking to someone after five years, memories of the very reason I'd fled and secluded myself surged forth. No matter how much I yearned to evade and forget, I couldn't elude fate indefinitely. She'd eventually come for me.

"What happened five years ago? I reside in a secluded village, and we only caught wind of hearsay from passing travelers. The tales were wild, almost unbelievable," Candace shared, prodding me to unlock some of my tightly sealed emotions.

"Why don't you share the rumors, and I'll fill in the gaps? Even though I've been secluded," I offered, sensing a need to unburden some of my concealed emotions.

"To sum it up, a lunatic supposedly responsible for our world's state ten thousand years ago woke up, loathed her creation, and decided to end it in twenty years. She concocted new beings and monsters with her powers," Candace narrated dramatically.

"Sounds about right," I chuckled, finding solace in her vibrant demeanor, momentarily eclipsing the darkness of the past.

"Isn't it bizarre? One person wielding the power to shape our world's destiny? Yet, without her, my race wouldn't exist. I suppose I owe my existence to this lunatic! The even crazier part—the witch was supposedly deeply in love! But her lover turned out to be a womanizer, much like you! Some believe, had he not broken her heart, she might not have wanted to end the world, birthing those bizarre monsters," Candace elaborated, undeterred by the weight of her words.

"Are you not worried about the world's end in fifteen years?" I inquired, intrigued by her carefree demeanor in the face of prophecy.

"Call me naive or overly optimistic, but I doubt a single person could bring about the world's end! Sure, she might possess considerable power, but we have folks like Zishell, Julius, and others—enlightened and blessed individuals!" Candace dismissed the prophecy cheerfully.

"What do you mean by enlightened and blessed? I've been out of the loop," I admitted, captivated by her spirited storytelling.

"Instead of scattering her power like she did ten thousand years ago—the Great Reset— the ten heroes who maintained the world's balance received most of her soul and power. Seeking a challenge, as she deemed us all too weak. Result? Each of these heroes now possess enough power to end the world, if they were evil, just like the lunatic! Moreover, ten thousand individuals or creatures gained a portion of her soul, granting immense power, and they're called the blessed ones."

"So, this wolf is a blessed one, right? Yet, she seems so young. How could she gain this blessing years after the incident?" I interjected, ignited by a newfound curiosity after years of dormancy, briefly interrupting Candace's narrative.

"People soon realized the power could be inherited! Much like my ancestors' souls merged with fire, birthing my race of fire fairies, these incredible powers could pass down to their descendants. Though the success rate is low, most of the ten heroes are attempting to have children, hoping to birth the next enlightened one—unsuccessfully so far," Candace explained, unraveling the complexities of inherited power.

"Seems like much has changed when all I did was stay in my own little world in this wintry forest," I remarked, striving to mask the resurfacing memories of a past I'd sought to erase.

"Come on, Ken. Spill the beans! How did you end up like this? Where's the confident guy who challenged the king of Yelwreak, the mightiest kingdom? Unable to compete without a slice of her power?" Candace persisted, peeling back layers I'd carefully buried.

"What a tenacious girl," I thought, considering the best approach to respond.

"That womanizer you mentioned, the one who awoke this witch and altered our world—well, you're looking at him," I confessed, leaving Candace momentarily shocked.

"I suppose finding out your lover's a mass murderer and the catalyst for our world's upheaval would alter anyone's trajectory. But it's done. You need to move forward, Ken. Someone of your talent shouldn't be confined to this hut!" Candace urged, attempting to rekindle a spark within me.

"Ever thought about joining the Guild of Justice? I was planning to sell this wolf to hire their members and cleanse my village of monsters that appeared five years ago." Candace suggested, hoping to lift my spirits.

"Never heard of this Guild of Justice. Sounds like a pretty lame name," I retorted, eliciting a cheerful giggle from Candace, pleased that my mood had lightened slightly.

"Five years back, the magma rocks we mined turned sentient, transforming into what we now call magma golems. They aren't harming the village when left alone, but they've deprived us of our livelihood. The village elder tasked me with hiring someone to rid us of these creatures, or we'll have to relocate," Candace explained, revealing the dire situation her village faced.

"How about this? You take this remarkable wolf pup, worth thousands in gold coins, if you'll assist my village in eradicating those monsters," Candace proposed, her smile carrying a subtle allure.

"Always dreamed of having a winged pet ever since I soared through the sky on a pegasus," I mused, petting the content wolf cub nestled next to me.

"Creating that much gold would take me ages, but I can offer you a thousand gold coins' worth in diamonds if you're willing to sell the wolf to me and use the funds for your mission," I suggested, resisting the allure of an adventure outside my secluded abode.

"Ken, please! Just come with me and help my village," Candace implored, her captivating eyes refusing to release mine, though I tried to divert my attention, warding off any emotional entanglement.

"Not being among the enlightened or blessed, and having stagnated in strength for five years, There are numerous capable individuals who could better assist your village. Let me know your destination, and I can teleport you within a five-mile radius from here," I offered, eager to sever the conversation and stave off emotional involvement.

Despite my efforts, the disappointment flickered in Candace's eyes as she gazed at me, urging me to reconsider.

"If I can't convince you to help my village, then at least escort me to Darrumburgh City. I'll head to the guild headquarters and recruit members to expel the monsters plaguing my village," Candace conceded, her tone tinged with disappointment.

"Candace, how did you end up here? You realize we're on the Vlayria continent? Darrumburgh City's a world away! You won't ever reach it on foot from here, and without a high-tier teleport artifact, even a year's journey wouldn't get you there," I clarified, recognizing the enormity of her presence in Chelmswell and the disruption it posed to my tranquil life in hiding.

The girl I'd met in Darrumburgh, from the opposite side of the world, now stood in my secluded corner of Chelmswell, heralding an upheaval I hadn't anticipated.