Side story: The hero
The young man wiped his brow as he milked the fat cow in front of him. It didn’t look like hard work, but everything on a farm was hard work. At least milking the cows was preferable to shoveling dung. Cows didn’t smell great themselves, but some parts were even worse.
Eventually, all of the cows were milked. That didn’t mean he was done, though. There were still other things to do. There was always more work to do on the farm. Or perhaps more correctly, the same work. Everything was the same week in and week out, and it would be that way forever. At least… it seemed that way.
The family got a bull. It had seemed docile at first, but it turned ornery. It wouldn’t obey, and constantly tried to escape. They had to keep it restrained. At least it hadn’t yet hurt anyone. However, it was disruptive to everything. They couldn’t afford to get rid of it and get another one, however. The young man took it upon himself to tame the bull. He managed to get a lasso around it, but was just dragged behind it like a sled. It was same the next day, and the next. Yet, the young man still managed to finish all of his other chores, and the bull at least wasn’t causing any more trouble than it had been. His parents just let him continue.
After a few weeks, he kept his feet. However, he would still get dragged along. There wasn’t much that could be done. Then, slowly and almost imperceptibly, he moved less, until he didn’t move at all.
At the end of the year, the bull didn’t seem to be unruly at all. Certainly, it might pace around nervously, but its wildness was gone. If there ever was a time it acted up, all it took was the young man calling its name, or sending it a look, and it would be as docile as a kitten.
One day the young man was out plowing the field. The bull was pulling the plow. Certainly, an ox might have served that purpose as well, but most of the time the bull wasn’t producing anything for the farm, and that was unacceptable. There was no reason to get another animal to fulfill a similar role. He reached the end of a row, and prepared to turn. Off in the distance, he saw smoke. He looked at the bull, and told it to stay. Then, he ran off to the house, to warn his parents.
The next village over had caught fire. It wasn’t the closest one to them, but that didn’t mean they could just ignore something like that. The young man, his family, and some from the nearby village gathered together and headed over to help. After all, even if they didn’t live there, they traded there and had friends there. That was even ignoring the fact that the fire could spread through the fields to their own.
However, they never made it to the other village. About halfway, they saw a battle. They had heard about the war, but mostly through rumor. However, here it was happening right in front of them. Demons were attacking. Knights were fighting locked in combat with them. Nobody approached any closer. They all just watched in stunned awe. The demons were so powerful… yet the knights fought them off.
That impression remained in the young man’s mind. After the demons were gone, the villagers went to help the survivors from the other village. Fortunately, many had escaped, and not all of their homes were burned. The young man had a friend in the village. His friend was alive… but the young man couldn’t help but feel that wasn’t good enough. Other people’s friends and family weren’t.
The young man returned to the farm. He went to the bull standing out in the field, and told him to be good for his parents. Then he went to his parents, and told them that he was leaving. He was going to join the fight. His parents didn’t know what to say. Certainly, they needed him on the farm, but they could see that the country needed him too. However, the deciding factor was the young man himself. They knew he was going to go. He had made up his mind, so he would succeed.
The young man joined up with the army. He would have preferred to be a knight, of course, but he didn’t have the training or the money required for that. So he joined the army. There, he learned to use a sword. That was all, but that was enough to take up all of his time. The other recruits didn’t spend as much time training as he did. He could always be found training. Well, almost always. He would still take time to socialize with the other recruits in the evening. However, then he would be found training late into the night, swinging his sword.
Many of the others had lost friends or family, so they understood his drive. They asked him who he had lost. His answer was simple. Nobody- yet. He was going to keep it that way. So he trained.
Finally, the day of battle came. A recruit’s first battle was always the hardest. In this case, it was against demons. Though the humans outnumbered the demons ten-to-one, it was a hard battle. The demons had strong bodies, and magic. Ten men could usually defeat one demon, but that didn’t mean ten men could necessarily reach one demon to fight it. In these fights, formations were key. Each squad was to work together, switching out tired and wounded and wearing down a demon, before finally killing them. The young man’s squad engaged a demon wielding a large spear. The young man played his role as well as he could, swinging his sword. He did his best to protect his squad mates… but they all fell. One by one.
Just the young man and the demon were left. Then… just the young man was left. He spotted another squad who were engaged with two demons. That wouldn’t do. One squad, one demon. The young man moved to engage the demon. He swung his sword at it. That one made the mistake of ignoring a single soldier coming up behind it. The young man moved around the battlefield, assisting squads that were in trouble. He went up, and swung his sword. It was nothing special. It wasn’t an impressive style, yet it still cut where armor was weak, slicing into demon flesh. Then, his sword broke. Fortunately, there were many strewn around the field. He picked up another, and continued. He continued until there were no more demons on the battlefield, at which point he collapsed to the ground, covered in wounds.
The next morning, nobody could find him in the medical tent. He was gone. The nurses, knowing nothing about him, thought that he might have deserted. The officer who had been over his squad knew better. He went out to the training field to find the young man, swinging his sword.
The young man was recommended for a promotion. However, instead of becoming a squad leader, he was taken over to knight training. There, he learned how to properly fight in armor, to use a shield, spear, and other weapons, and to ride a horse. Though, the young man already knew how to ride a horse… or even a bull, if he wanted to.
The young man learned how to do everything required of a knight. He learned how to train his body to go beyond what normal people could achieve, far beyond. When he didn’t have anything else he needed to do, he would practice new skills. He would also continue to swing his sword.
He found himself in another battle, this time as a knight. Although he had been involved in defeating demons before, this was the first time he defeated one in single combat. His armor was merely made out of strong, heavy metal. There were no magical enchantments on it, so when the young man was hit by a fireball, he was still scorched. The metal even became uncomfortably hot. Shortly after that, the demon’s head sailed through the air. The swing hadn’t looked like much, but it was fast and powerful.
The young man continued to battle, slaying many demons, both by himself and with the help of others. He couldn’t be stopped. Until, at the end of the battle, he once again collapsed from his wounds and exhaustion.
Nobody was surprised that, when he came back to consciousness a week later, the first thing he did was get up to train his skills. He swung his sword, and practiced deflecting with his shield, and angling his armor for best effect. This pattern continued for a time. He would go out and fight, wherever there were demons to combat. He fought alongside knights, wizards, and even warriors from other countries. During the battles, he never stopped.
More people began to recognize the young man. He was no longer just some new recruit, or an aspiring knight. In fact, though he didn’t take up any position of leadership, many people looked up to him. He was a hero.
One day, a noble came to the hero with an important mission. The Demon King was up to something. Nobody knew what. A group was being sent into the demon lands to find out, and stop it. The hero was one of those members.
So, he went. Along the way, they fought with a number of magical beasts. Their party was rather small, but everyone was skilled. Thus, magical beasts thought they might be easy prey. They were wrong. A large number of magical beasts were defeated, many of them being beheaded by the young hero. Some of those with more than one head lost all of them. Beasts in the air found themselves pierced by spears- or destroyed by the magic of some of the hero’s companions.
The group continued on. There was a reason there weren’t travelling in large numbers. When they came across demons, if it was a small group, they could defeat them. If it was a large group, they could avoid them, and avoid notice. They continued on, toward their destination.
The fact that they had a destination was somewhat bothersome, both to the hero and his companions. Had the spies managed to reach the fortress they were heading to, only to barely escape with their lives? They weren’t sure. It seemed strange, but they were already well into demon lands when they had considered it fully. It was easier to press forward than to go back.
Thus, they snuck and fought their way forward. Eventually, they reached a fortress. The gates were open, as if they weren’t expecting to need to prevent any entrances. However, it was not completely unguarded. They fought their way through its hallways, growing ever more tired and wounded. Finally, they found it. In one of the underground chambers, a dark ritual of some sort was being performed. The demons in the bloody ritual chamber were trained in magic, and they were a hard fight. In addition, their progress through the fortress had not exactly been subtle, but the hero and his companions didn’t have any skills that would have allowed careful infiltration anyway. Thus, they had to deal with attacks from behind.
Around the hero, his companions fell, though many demons did as well. A demon fell. A wizard. Another few demons. One knight who had been with the hero through many battles. Some of the trained wizards among the demons were slain. Exceptional warriors from the human countries died. Then… it was just the biggest, meanest demon and the hero.
They fought, and the hero dodged magic and weapons, and swung his sword. Then a mace that was within reach when his sword failed. His armor was starting to fall to pieces, yet some of it was still attached to him through various wounds deforming the metal. Then, he picked up a spear. The spear stabbed through the demon’s heart… while at the same time he took a sword to his belly.
The hero looked around, surveying the room. There were only corpses. Demons, humans… and those that were indistinguishable, except for occasional glimpses of skin colors or horns. Nobody was left standing. Thus, the hero collapsed to the ground.
After this happened, another demon who was watching the scene grinned. He went into the room, and found that that the hero was still alive. Perfect. This was just what he needed. He sealed the door behind him, activating the spell it had, then sat down among the pile of corpses, and started channeling a swirl of energy. At first, it seemed as if a gentle breeze blew throughout the room, then it escalated into a violent tornado. However, more than just spinning things about the room, everything was dissolving. Tiny pieces of everything came apart and started to form something in front of the demon. The process was long and arduous, but finally the process was done. The Demon King smiled and reached out to take his prize.
The hero awoke. He seemed to be in the same room, but everything was different. He couldn’t see… exactly. Yet he could. He thought he should feel pain. He did, but yet he didn’t. He didn’t feel anything, and yet he ached. He couldn’t feel his hands. His feet. He didn’t even feel any of the wounds he had received, and yet something ached. In this room with him… there was only himself, and a single demon. A demon was still in the ritual room. They could activate whatever vile spell was here. They had to die. He moved to draw his sword, but couldn’t find it. He couldn’t even see it, nor could he see his hand. However, his body moved forward.
He found that he was grabbed by the hand of the demon. That wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t let this happen. So he had no arms… fine. He would kick him. Except, he had no legs. However, he had something. Himself, whatever that was. He threw himself at the demon, wrenching out of his hand. It wasn’t particularly hard. The demon seemed tired, perhaps from attempting to activate his vile magics.
However, the demon’s body was as hard as steel. The hero barely managed to do anything. He himself wasn’t hurt, so he threw himself at the demon again. And again. The demon retreated to the door. However, he was unable to open it. Confusion grew on his face… but the hero didn’t care. He struck again. And again. He wasn’t sure how long the demon remained alive, but it was tenacious. At one point, he thought it was dead… but he wasn’t sure. So he continued. Only when there was barely a trace of its form left did he stop.
Then, he looked around the room. There was nothing. Only himself, and the remains of a demon. No weapons, no armor, no bodies. Not even his own. Thinking about himself, he realized. He wasn’t himself anymore. Inside his head, there were things trying to get him to do something else. He hadn’t really thought about it, and just ignored them. However, his body… wasn’t here. Instead, all he got was the sense of a crystal. A large crystal, the size of a staff.
Well. He didn’t know if he could do anything about that. No, he knew he couldn’t. So, he didn’t worry about it. The voices in his head… wanted to take over his body. However, this was his now. So he didn’t let them. They tried, and he refused them. They scrabbled for control, mentally clawing at him, and he mentally glared back. Eventually, they stopped. He wasn’t sure how long that took. He couldn’t see if the sun had moved or not. He wanted outside. However, the door wouldn’t open. So he hit it.
He hit the door until it opened, but he didn’t break through. Instead, it was opened from outside. He was wary. Was it more demons? No, they seemed like humans. He didn’t recognize any of them. He wasn’t sure if he could recognize them. Heck, he wasn’t sure if he could recognize himself, at this point. What had he looked like again? Umm… That was a problem. Well, not much he could do about it.
Someone grabbed him. He didn’t like that, so he hit them in the face with… himself. They let go. He thought he heard talking. Hmm… something about something. Then, he saw something behind them. A demon! He tried to chase after it, but it slipped around the corner. He wasn’t very fast. It was long gone by the time he got to the corner. Well… that was fine. He was pretty sure he was done here. He was almost certain he had accomplished his goal. As the humans were leaving eventually, he hopped in one of the carts. That would let him go faster. He was pretty sure they were going home. Wherever home was. Well, he should at least get closer.
People kept trying to touch him. He didn’t like that, so he hit them. He couldn’t talk, so that was about the limit of his responses. They kept saying things, but honestly listening was really hard when you were a crystal staff. He moved around to various places. However, since he didn’t know where he was going, it was rather a bother. He decided to follow some wizards. He had always wanted to try to learn magic. Eventually, they put him in a nice case- after he broke out of a big metal box. Well, he supposed that was alright. He was a staff after all. He wasn’t really sure what to do, though, so he just sat around, waiting for something. He heard various people talking. Apparently, he was cursed. Well, that made sense. He was pretty sure he hadn’t been a staff before. Then, after some time had passed, a boy pressed his face up against the glass, and spoke. For some reason, he wanted to listen. So he did.