Chapter 4:

Interlude - The Hero's Agony

I am but a Cloud, Floating from Place to Place


“What…the hell…is going…on?!?” I huffed between the ebbs of pain. Every part of my body burned. Lighting shot through my muscles when I tried to move. My eyes could barely focus; my legs buckled under the slightest weight. I was stuck in eternal torment.

Why?

That question echoed through my head. I hadn’t done anything wrong. As the hero, my party and I dealt with beasts, saving people from harm. Sometimes a beast called themself a person, but they could never be one. After all, they still pillaged and destroyed our towns, killing people if it was convenient.

Recently, we managed to track down the leader of a nation of beasts: the Beast Queen. According to the Adventurer’s Guild, the Beast Queen’s castle had appeared near the center of the wasteland. It was strange, but if she actually managed to harness the mana there, she would be unstoppable. We ventured out and luckily managed to find her before she could escape. We would finally be able to take out a major threat to our people.

“Agh!”

“Bring…towels…” Voices echoed somewhere beside me, but I had no idea from whom. Everything felt distant as my mind slowly clouded. I couldn’t feel my hands anymore.

Why?

My armor was made of adamantite: one of the strongest metals in existence. It could protect against any physical attack and block most spells by repelling the surrounding mana. This armor saved my life multiple times and allowed me to travel through the wasteland without coming to harm. It was fit for a hero, and yet it did nothing to stop my pain. Honestly, it felt like the armor was making it worse.

Everything was fine until the moment I resolved myself to attack the Beast Queen. I jumped across her meteors, dodging any coming directly at me, until she was only a swing away. My next attack would end it, but something unexpected happened.

It started to rain.

The wasteland was a mystery in many ways, but everyone knew that nothing could survive there. Its barren land was infertile. There was not a hint of water to be found. The abundance of mana would kill almost every living thing instantly, as if cutting the strings of a puppet. Even the shadows didn’t move, making the wasteland look as though it was frozen in time.

And yet, it rained: an impossible situation. Water fell from the sky, drenching us both under a cold torrent. The rain wormed its way through the insides of my armor, weighing me down just enough to miss my swing and fall.

I should’ve thought more about the situation, but after I landed gracefully on the ground, my body felt light and powerful. It was as if I was overflowing with mana; everything felt strangely right. Even as the Beast Queen made her escape, I was able to keep pace. I would’ve caught up easily, but my party was quickly being left behind, so I stopped pursuing her. We headed back to a nearby town to come up with our next strategy.

And then, my body collapsed in pain.

Why?

I didn’t understand what was happening, but it didn’t make a difference at this point. I could no longer feel anything. My body deformed, becoming a wisp floating on the air. My mind was adrift among the sea of clouds. I had no idea where I was or where I was going.

And yet, it felt as though something was pulling me, taking something that was mine. I looked around, but I couldn’t see anything. Then, I looked down.

Something like a cord was tied around my formless waist. It seemed to stretch out in some direction before disappearing into the clouds below. I tried touching it with my hand.

“Ah!”

When I touched the cord, more of that something was pulled from me at an alarming rate. I tried to pull my hand away, but it was strapped to the cord, or that was how it felt like. Only after pulling with all my might did my hand pop off. It was concerning, but now I knew what was being taken:

My mana.

Everything started to make sense. Someone was stealing the mana in my body, draining me to the point of deprivation. Everyone used mana unconsciously in their daily lives: casting spells, swinging a sword, or even walking. Without mana, your body would cease to function as your mind fell into a coma-like state, slowly wasting away until you died: just like how I was.

Whoever’s doing this had to be in the wasteland when I fought the Beast Queen. However, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. The Beast Queen was acting normal too, so she probably didn’t notice anything either. That must mean they’re a fairly powerful mana user.

I don’t think they’re allied with the Beast Queen either. The rain fell on both of us, so I can assume the Beast Queen is in a similar state. Still, I have no idea why this person would fight both humans and beasts.

Either way, using their power to attack anyone indiscriminately means they’re a threat to the world.

I couldn’t do anything at the moment. I was only a formless construct trapped in a sea of clouds, feeling the occasional prick as more mana left my body. Instead, I focused my attention on the cord connecting me to this person. With enough time, I should be able to tell where they were.

Then, when I could finally move again, I would end them with my own two hands.

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