Chapter 2:

Chapter 2. Winds of Change

Zero to Hero

The meager light artifact flickered erratically, casting eerie shadows within the hut that trembled against the ferocious winds. The winged wolf, the girl and the cramped space made me acutely aware of my tiny cabin's limitations.

"You're saying I'm halfway across the world from home, and it'd take over a year to get back?" Candace's incredulous shout reverberated, accompanied by a disapproving growl from the wolf. Meanwhile, I struggled to piece together how this bizarre scenario unfolded.

Handing her a steaming cup of herbal tea, I attempted to soothe Candace to a state where she could explain her inexplicable presence on the other side of the world.

"My village elder tasked me to hire help, right? But I was penniless. So, I did the only thing I knew to make money. I ventured into the remote forest near my village, known for its magical wolf population, just like I did years ago. I tried to capture a litter of pups to take to Darrumburgh and sell for gold to get help," Candace revealed loudly, as I sipped the hot tea.

"Phrased that way, aren't you just a terrible poacher? Now I feel sorry for this pup and the ones Ava bought from you years ago," I remarked, gently petting the content wolf that seemed to relish my company.

"What did you expect me to do? Sell my body? My entire village barely scraped by; none of us could conjure gold out of thin air like you! The wolf pups were my only means to secure money and help my people," Candace retorted heatedly, her hair starting to rise, embers forming around her.

"Hey, hey, calm down. I don't need you torching my hut."

"I'm stuck halfway across the world from home, in this bone-chilling cold. Nearly mauled to death by some monstrous bear thing. The guy I admired for so long turned into someone completely different, and I'm branded a terrible person! My day's been a disaster, and I'm on the verge of a breakdown," Candace continued, her voice quivering, eyes welling with tears.

"Sorry, Candace. You did what you had to, and I'm in no position to judge."

"I'll forgive you if you get me back home. This gloomy, depressed vibe doesn't suit you!" Candace replied, her demeanor suddenly flipping, her trembling ceasing and tears evaporating.

Witnessing such a swift and extreme shift in the girl's emotions wasn't something I'd anticipated. But rather than feeling duped or irritated, her personality only intrigued and charmed me more and weakened my resolve.

"Come on, Candace. We've strayed so far off course, and I still have no clue how you landed here."

"It's the wolf's fault! I thought she was an ordinary winged wolf with fire and water because of her mane and tail. But when I tried to capture her, she conjured an earth shield out of nowhere! Then, bam! She shot an air blast at me before teleporting us right in front of that monstrous bear!" Candace recounted animatedly, gesticulating wildly as she narrated her tale, captivating my attention with her charm and beauty.

"Even if this pup was born with all five elements, I don't see how she could teleport you across the world. It takes a holy-level space magic user hours to fill up an artifact for teleportation over such distances. I've never seen or heard of anyone teleporting more than a few miles without an artifact or magic circle as a medium," I said, disbelief laced in my voice.

Given my knowledge of the world and magic, the concept of someone teleporting thousands of miles seemed implausible. I had been regarded as the next big thing just five years ago and had limitations in teleportation confined to a mere five-mile radius.

"Ken, I might be a country bumpkin, but you're like a caveman who knows nothing about the current world. For us fire fairies, our connection with the fire element is primal. My race's mastery with fire magic was unmatched, my elder called it awakened.

“But even without seeing her use fire magic, I knew instantly her connection with the element is as pure as mine. You're no longer special, Ken. Those blessed are on a completely different level," Candace retorted, sparking a chuckle from me.

"What's so funny? Or are you laughing at me?" Candace questioned, suddenly leaning closer.

With her face inches from mine, I averted my gaze, speaking to avoid eye contact. "When I turned 15 and got into Dragonspire Academy, I was a nobody. I trained hard, got thousands of scars, and before my 20th birthday, I became the youngest person in history to reach holy level in all the basic elements and physical enhancements."

"Ken, I knew exactly who you are and what you've achieved! I don't need a rundown of your accomplishments! Just tell me why you laughed at me and why you won't look at me!" Candace's impatience rang through her voice as she attempted to redirect my attention.

"Stop it, Candace! Give me some space!"

It was strange how someone who's experienced intimacy with some of the most beautiful individuals could feel this uneasy around a single girl, but then again, the current me is no longer the person I once was.

"I laughed because I found it amusing. The journey from having nothing, being a nobody, to almost marrying princesses from the most powerful kingdom. Now, I'm back to nothing, a nobody, living alone in the middle of nowhere."

"Stop with the self-pity! It doesn't suit you! You might not have what it takes to reach the top anymore. You might not have princesses fawning over you anymore.But hiding in this small hut in the middle of nowhere drowning in self pity is just embarrassing. Come! Help my village, guide me, and let's get rid of those magma golems!" Candace exclaimed, her words harsh but her intent clear from her expression and tone.

"Thanks, Candace. I needed a reality check. If you think I'm good enough to help, I'll make sure you reach home safely." I replied, her words pushed me to finally wanting to move forward.

"Yes! You're more than capable! So, what's the plan, Ken?" she asked, her mood swinging dramatically.

"Since this wolf pup brought you here, could she teleport us back to Darrumburgh or the Yuwoa continent?" I wondered aloud, stroking the wolf.

"I don't think she understands what she did. She's still very young, maybe six months old, and her power will only grow once she matures. Until she bonds with her eventual owner, I doubt she can do what we need or teleport us to Darrumburgh, even if she has the power," Candace explained.

"She's mine now, right? How long would it take to train her to heed my commands?" I asked, exploring our options and calculating how long it'd take to bring Candace home.

"Perhaps a few years? Wolves are clever and make excellent pets, but it takes years of bonding for them to completely trust you."

"Then our best bet might be heading to a big city and purchasing a high-tier teleport artifact. If we can find a village in between, we could get horses and reach Ostrium City in under a month," I suggested, forming a plan to aid Candace and potentially travel with her.

"Sounds like a plan! I never thought I'd return to my village so soon! But the sooner we rid my village of those golems, the sooner we can journey and explore the world together," Candace proposed, shifting the purpose of her initial request to a shared adventure.

"Since when did 'take me home and help my village' morph into 'let's travel after you help my village'?" I inquired, puzzled by Candace's sudden change of plans.

"Why not? You planning to return to this shabby shack after? I want to explore and escape my dull village! You've got nothing better to do. We should be adventurers and explore the world!" Candace challenged.

"I'm not sure you understand my predicament. I have at most 15 years left to live, Candace. Even if she messed up and the world survives, I'm still no match for her. Once she returns, my days are numbered. I don't know why you're interested in me, but I wouldn't get too attached. I'm not looking to get involved with anyone," I admitted, hoping to deter Candace from getting too close.

"Congratulations on doing your best to annoy me! Is that why you've left all your girlfriends? I feel sorry for them if that's the case."

"It's complicated. A series of events happened, I got overwhelmed, and I ran away," I explained vaguely, hoping Candace would drop the subject.

"Fine. I won't pry further. But for you to give up just because something might or might not happen in the future is beyond pathetic. Stop with this behavior!" Candace expressed her disapproval of my actions.

What did she even know about me, and why is she so interested? We had only met once before anyways. I am no longer the person I used to be, and confidence or will to live seemed beyond my reach. No one in the world could fathom what I'd gone through or how I felt.

Trying to calm myself, I took deep breaths, sipped tea, diverting my thoughts from the past to the present.

"Are we leaving tomorrow?" Candace asked, breaking the silence.

"No. You're right; I need to stop pitying myself and move on while I can. I want to see someone tomorrow and apologize."

As the day melted into night, by the warmth of the crackling fire, Candace recounted tales she'd heard from travelers passing through her village. Her animated storytelling, exaggerated expressions, and lively gestures made me smile and laugh, briefly lifting the weight off my shoulders.

"How are we going to sleep tonight? If you weren't so insistent on your self-pity, I wouldn't have minded sharing a bed, but..."

"I'll sleep on the floor with Yami," I interjected, halting Candace's teasing before she could continue.

"Yami? You've already named her?"

"Absolutely. I want to start building that bond soon, and 'Yami' just fits her," I replied, snuggling with Yami for warmth, preparing for sleep, and resolving to confront some remnants of my past the next day.

Wishing Candace a good night and wrestling with my suppressed desires, I surrendered to sleep amidst the blizzard's howl, my tiny hut rattling in the fierce wind.