The Fall of Winterria
Flames. Fire. Smoke. The sky was blanketed by the darkness. Homes made from wood and straw burnt before the families who inhabited them. The streets were crowded - but not with the living. The bodies were piled on top of one another. No-one had been able to escape. Daemons sat there, feasting on the dead. It was as if Hell had risen from beneath and taken over. Winterria had fallen.
Nicholas stood at the gates. “Leo!” He cried out. Months had passed since he’d met the boy but he hadn’t forgotten him. Nicholas made his way through the streets, in search of the boy. Fire engulfed everything around him. It was scorching. As he rushed through the streets, he swung his head from left to right - quickly looking down each side road for any possible signs of life. There was none. “Leo! If you can hear me, follow my voice! Leo!” Nicholas spun around, desperate to find the young boy he’d promised to help. He couldn’t see him, or anyone who was alive. He was surrounded by daemons, who were circling and watching him. He noticed this and unsheathed his blade. His face told a story, as he readied for battle. It was the face of a man who’d failed everyone he’d ever tried to help. It was a face of defeat and loss. Nicholas closed his eyes and inhaled. The daemons all dived at him, almost in unison. Nicholas performed a pirouette, and brought his sword along with his graceful spin. It sliced through the throats of the daemons and left each of them, who’d thrown themselves at Nicholas, headless. He exhaled and opened his eyes. More were coming his way, and he was itching for a fight. He charged at them. An unusual move for a Slayer as they prefer to fight defensively - it’s what they’re taught. Nicholas sliced upwards through the first and as the blood was still flying through the air, brought the blade down and through another. He followed his swift sword movements with a fierce kick to the chest of the next daemon. “You better not have killed him! I swear!” Nicholas yelled at the daemons, even though he knew they wouldn’t respond or even understand him.
He continued his path of rage-filled vengeance, killing all the daemons who stood in his way. He only stopped as he saw movement. Not from a daemon, léfmann or other monster but from a human. From a child. Nicholas rushed in their direction, “Leo! Leo, is that you?!” His voice echoed through the empty, burning wreckage. He chased the child, unable to catch up to them. “Stop! I’m not here to hurt you!” Nicholas called out and the child stopped. They were at opposite ends of the same road. Nicholas put away his blade and the child turned to face him. Their young face looked aged and weary. Their face wore the fire’s soot like a mask; it concealed the identity of the child that was beneath it. Nicholas called out to them, “Listen, I’m not here to hurt you.” He began to slowly inch closer, and this time the child let him, “I’m here to help. What happened here?” The child remained silent as Nicholas got closer, “Who did this?” He crouched down before the child and looked them in their eyes. They were familiar but Nicholas couldn’t place them. “Please, speak.” He begged the child for a response but got none. He lifted up his hand and wiped the soot away from the child’s face and stumbled back. “What…” He couldn’t get any words out. Any that mattered, “What… what is this?” The child grew before him to the size of an average man. “What is this?!” Nicholas yelled as his old teacher stood before him, a fiery wall behind him. “Nicholas.” Robert spoke, “You need to find the boy.”
“Help!” Nicholas turned his attention to a distant voice: Leo’s voice. “Help! Someone!” Nicholas looked back at his deceased teacher. “What’s going on?” He stammered as he got back to his feet. “Find the boy.” Nicholas watched, desperate for more answers, as his teacher faded away and the flames grew higher around him. His eyes grew wide in disbelief.
“Leo! I’m here!” Nicholas called out as he ran in the direction of the call he heard moments before. As he turned a corner, he saw him. Leo. He sat in the street, besides his mother’s corpse. “Leo!” Nicholas called out as he raced to the boy. He stood up and ran into Nicholas’ open arms. “She… she…” Leo tried to speak but couldn’t. Nicholas held him tight and close. He didn’t know why this boy was so important but he knew that he was. He knew that Leo was the future. He was the one he’d promised Robert, at his grave, that he would train. Nicholas scooped the boy up and carried him towards safety. They walked towards the gate, when Nicholas felt uneasy. It wasn’t a sick feeling, no, it was a feeling that something bad was about to happen. Yet he carried on. He marched away from the flames and to the gates. “We’re almost there Leo. Almost.” He whispered, to keep himself going. He looked down, to check on the boy, but he was gone.
Nicholas’ eyes darted around, but he couldn’t see the boy.
The black sky emitted hopelessness. Nicholas felt lost in a city he’d grown up in and trained in. He felt afraid for the first time in a long time. The fires began to die down as Nicholas wandered the body-littered streets. He had just had the boy. He had held him in his arms, he’d carried him. How did he lose him?
Leo walked alone. He stepped over countless bodies, as he wandered Winterria. He was lost. He was alone. He was scared. Nicholas slowly patrolled the streets, searching for the boy he somehow lost. “Mummy…” Leo dropped to his knees as he reached his mother’s half-burnt body, “Mummy, please wake up.” Nicholas turned the same corner he had just moments before, and he saw the boy again. “Leo. You can’t…” He trailed off. He saw the boy giving his mother a final hug, and didn’t want to interrupt the moment.
After his final goodbye, Leo walked back to Nicholas and together they left the city. Nicholas helped Leo onto his steed then mounted it too, sitting behind Leo - wrapping his arms around him. He spurred his horse and they began to trot away from the city’s smoking remains…
As they rode down the dirt path, Nicholas’ vision slowly became more blurry. He wiped his eyes but it didn’t change. “We’re going stop for a moment, okay Leo?” The boy nodded and Nicholas pulled his horse to a stop.
He knelt down by a nearby stream and splashed his face with water. Perhaps it’s just tiredness, he thought. The water will freshen me up. But it didn’t. In fact, his vision began to fade to black with each splash. “Leo!” Nicholas cried out as his vision faded. He could see the boy before him, and reached out to him. As his vision faded completely, Nicholas was no longer able to feel Leo. He couldn’t feel anything. He couldn’t see anything.
Then there was a jolt.
He darted upright and panted, rapidly gasping for breath. “Leo!” The smoke from the campfire filled the air, as the final embers died out. It was early morning and, as Nicholas looked around, he realised he wasn’t in Winterria. He wasn’t even close. He was at the Idovian border. He looked at his horse and it was where he’d tied it up the night before. He’d fallen asleep. It was all a dream. A very vivid, specific dream. Nicholas got to his feet with haste and tied his scabbard around his waist. He kept silent as he rolled his bedroll back up and tied it to his steed. Then remained silent as he mounted it and spurred it onwards.
As they trotted down the dirt road, Nicholas couldn’t help but think about his dream. It was so vivid and real. He began to think it wasn’t a dream but rather a vision. Maybe not of the future but he knew there was a message behind it. He knew that he had to go now and find Leo, and train him as a Slayer. He wasn’t quite sure why, it was never clear why in his dream. Nicholas rode the path silently, contemplating his next move. Leo, as far as he knew, was safe and sound in Winterria with his mother. This was a fact, as far as he knew. But did he really want to go off of what he knew? Knowledge that was almost a year old. He didn’t want to risk it. He’d take the week-long journey from the Idovian border to Winterria, to find Leo. That was his plan. That was what he did.