The next few weeks were completely uneventful. Nothing worth telling, in any case. All I did was head in the direction the old man pointed me in. Then I would bring back whatever it was I was lookin' for. Day after day, same routine. There wasn't much to fight those few weeks, either. The raptors and hounds that had bugged me before were nowhere to be found, save for a lone beast every now and then. Nothing to fight, nobody to talk to, no idea what I was even collecting. It would have been an understatement to say I was going a little crazy. I got into a fight with the old man one morning before he sent me on my way. Never thought I would ever yell at him the way I did, but I did. Little did I know, that wasn't the only thing that would make that day stick out in my mind.
Sedge grumbled to himself as he walked along, cutting down the overgrowth furiously with his pole-blade as he went. The old man went and sent him off in this direction, telling him that there were a few books in the library of the town he would find. He failed to mention what the books were about, of course. Even after he let the old geezer have it about keeping him out of the loop.
As he reflected on the argument, the old man's face came to mind. Sedge angrily swung the pole-blade so hard that it got caught in the trunk of a tree. No expecting that, he'd kept going and found the blunt end of the pole-blade sticking hard into his abdomen. With a grunt, he was stopped and thrown to the floor out of surprise. He grasped at where the pole-blade's blunt end hit him and gasped for the breath that had been robbed from him. When he regained the ability to breathe properly, he cursed loudly and kicked the tree from his position on the ground.
He laid there for a while longer, staring at the shaft of the pole-blade sticking out above him. Eventually, he used it to pull himself to his feet and freed the blade, after an annoyingly long time shimming it from the hard wood of the tree trunk.
"Today is not my day." He groaned, slicing his way through the forest once more.
Finally, he cut through to some civilization. A ranger training camp, by the looks of it. Sedge walked the few feet from the treeline to the fence of the training yard. He placed the pole-blade across the fence before hopping over it himself.
If someone had told him that the only reason nobody was training at the moment was that everyone was out for lunch, He'd have believed them. That's how untouched this place was compared to other towns he'd been to. Of course, if someone was here to tell him that they would probably be telling the truth. Since seemingly nobody else survived the calamity and all.
He took it all in as he walked across the grounds. The training dummies, some slightly askew and one that an animal had knocked over and torn at for a while judging by the rips and tears it bore. The sword propped up against the wall, as if to be reclaimed any second by rangers returning from a break. The repair bench that housed two broken long bows in the middle of repair and the one doing the repair work standing where he was frozen.
Sedge crossed to him and found he wasn't alone. Two others stood nearby, watching him work. The two who broke their bows, probably. Sedge stopped to stare at them a while before eventually shaking his head and moving along. He hoped the other fence the same as the first and started down the cobblestone road. The first of the village buildings were in sight. A large monument struck up above them a ways back. It didn't look so tall right now, but Sedge knew that it would be massive when he was standing at the base of it.
He arrived at the edge of town and stopped before entering. He looked around cautiously for any sign of danger. Taking in the house on the left, with blooming flowers still thriving in their planters across the second story window and the slightly cracked stone street leading further in. Nothing out of the ordinary. He nodded, satisfied, and strolled into town.
Collinsburg was a ranger town through and through before the calamity. Blocks of weapon shops, taverns, inns, and large barracks dotted the whole town, making up what was probably half of the buildings there. Sedge had been here often in the past and easily made his way through it's familiar streets, checking the many supply and weapon shops for anything worthwhile as he went.
He found the center of town soon enough. Turning a corner, the monument caught his eye. The crown of Collinsburg, a tribute to warriors and soldiers everywhere, rose higher than anything else for miles and miles. There used to be stories told around the country, that lost caravans or groups of travelers were able to right themselves using the monument as a guide.
The monument itself was a simple, granite and marble pillar that was built at the center of town with what used to be a lively fountain covered in ornate carvings. It always looked newly built, even when homes and shops fell into decay. Now, the water was still and the monument wore scars in the forms og large, winding cracks from the base moving up. Both it and the fountain were now the home of mold and algae. Sedge felt a twinge of sadness as he crossed into the town square, but immediately stopped where he was after he did.
A high pitched ringing screamed in his ears, but at the same time no sounds entered them. It was deathly quiet. Unnaturally quiet. He stood there for several minutes, wide eyed and incapable of moving. His hand gripped the pole-blade tightly as his mind raced. The minutes passed into double digits before he realized what was causing his uneasiness.
It had always been there, providing minimal sound at the least, but was completely absent from the town square. There was no wind. Not even a light breeze. The air here was completely dead. The lack of the wind and the unnatural light casting it's usual dull glow on everything made the abandoned square seem menacing. He became aware once more that the light cast no shadows. He'd thought he'd gotten used to that by now.
The seeds of panic in Sedge grew and blossomed with a vengeance. His breathing became pained and came in short, erratic intervals. Dread filled him as he noticed the light getting dimmer. His mind blanked and instinct took over. His head darted to his left, pole-blade coming up out of habit. Nothing was there. Did he imagine it? Again to his right, Sedge did the same thing and nothing rushed toward him. It was seconds after that, that the sky above cracked loudly and rumbled.
Sedge fell to the ground, pole-blade pointed up, as the rumbling vibrated his very core. He stared up, hoping against hope to see the sun simply being overrun with clouds to at least explain the dimmer than normal light, but was greeted with the usual dull green mist. Then it hit him.
Literally, it hit him. Right in the center of his forehead. A cold nip that sent a slight shock through his head and neck. His hand reached up and touched the spot. A drop of water, signaling the start if a storm. Soon, the air was filled with the sound of water droplets pattering down to earth. Sedge calmed down as he lay there, soaking in the welcome return of sound, not caring he was getting soggy in the rain.
He allowed himself to lay there for several more minutes with his eyes closed. Unfortunately, now was not the time for rest. There was a library only a few block from here that he had to get a couple of tomes from and lying in the rain wasn't gonna make that happen. He pushed himself up and off the ground, pushing his episode from his mind and getting his bearings.
He crossed to the monument and climbed onto one of the sides of the fountain. He placed a hand on the monument, something only soldiers were allowed to do. He felt a small satisfaction doing something he had been forbidden to do before. Also sadness as he ran his fingers over one of the many cracks forming on the monument.
"Stay standing just a little while longer. I'll repair you once more." He said out loud. With a nod, he hopped off the fountain and continued past the center square down one of the streets. He grinned, relieved, when he felt the familiar touch of the wind push against his body.
The library came into sight, just down the street. Sedge began making his way toward it. Stuck between two weapon specialty shops, it stuck out like a sore thumb. Sedge once again had to laugh at the irony, since the librarian who'd been in charge came from a line of pacifists and had been one herself. The laughter cut short, however, when he spotted the librarian herself sitting in a chair on the deck leading up to the library doors. She was laid back, reading a book like she always was. He felt a twinge of sadness and stared up at her and the library from the bottom step of the stairs leading to the deck.
He could almost hear her humming her favorite tune...
No, that wasn't humming. And he could definitely hear it. Sedge moved his entire body right, in the direction the singing was coming from. He strained his ears against the increased pattering of the rain and listened closely for a minute. He caught hints of the singing again and broke off in that direction, completely forgetting about his main objective.
He only stopped once more, to verify he was getting closer by listening for the singing again, and after hearing that it was getting louder he ran full speed ahead. Jumping over a fallen sign post and cutting through a building with broken windows he ran. He ran until he was able to make out the voice singing as female. A block or so later, he could pinpoint the voice as coming from right around the next corner. All caution forgotten, he broke out into the street and immediately locked eyes with the singer.
The singing stopped the second she caught sight of him. Behind black hair, soaking wet and sticking to her face and neck, her dark green eyes bore into him. The girl's feature were pleasant, cute even, but Sedge knew she was a seasoned fighter. could tell she was a seasoned fighter. Her relaxed form transitioned into a combat stance in seconds. Lightly toned muscled stressed as they went for two curved knives sheathed on either side of her waist.
"Wait a second-" Sedge began to say, but couldn't finish as he was charged and found the girl directly in front of him. Reacting quickly, Sedge brought his pole-blade up in defense and managed to deflect both of the knives. The girl dashed backwards and rolled right before attacking again. Not wanting to hurt the girl, Sedge backed up a bit as she charged again. He deflected her the same way once more and she, again, dashed back and rolled to the right. Twice, three times, four times, this happened.
After the fifth time, she changed it up. As she came forward, Sedge brought up his pole-blade to defend in the same way he had been. One knife came forward like it had been, but the other veered off course and made contact with his right hand.
Cursing loudly as the knife sliced into his fingers and hand, Sedge threw his blade forward. The girl dashed backwards and rushed forward again, not giving him even a second to recover. All he could do was grip the pole tighter as it became slick with blood and ignore the pain shooting up his wrist and forearm.
Not too happy with nearly having some of his finger slashed off, he went on the offensive this time. He blocked one knife and and sallied left as the other knife reached for his other hand. He used the blunt end of the pole-blade to catch her at the feet and whacked her hard in the shin. She made no noise, but rolled away and visibly faltered as she righted herself. She didn't charge forward this time, choosing to circle to his left. Sedge could tell she was testing her shin to see if she could take the pain of walking on it. He turned with her, keeping a weary eye on her footing.
"I don't suppose you'll take a moment to talk with me." He ventured, stealing a glance at her face. No answer.
"C'mon. I heard you singing and I wanted to meet you." He said.
The girl's footing didn't change. Once or twice her ankle faltered a bit, but she seemed able to use it just fine. She seemed to realize it, too, as the next moment saw her feet flying forward. Sedge sighed and braced his feet, forgetting that the ground was currently not fit for such stances. When her knives came down onto his blade, the force caused his feet to give out and he fell forward onto the girl.
They toppled, but he was thrown off as they hit the ground. Sedge flipped as she shoved him off and landed on his feet. He used the slick ground to his advantage this time and slid back around to face her, crouched and pole-blade forward. She, too, was on her feet. She charged forward and made a pained face as a high pitched, what Sedge could only call a squeal, came from her lips. She fell forward and only just managed to save her face from smacking the ground.
Sedge dropped the pole-blade and rushed forward. He put a hand on her back, but fell backward to avoid a knife slashing up at his face.
"Hey! Come on now, this is enough. You got hurt, yea?" He said, scooting backward and sitting up. She remained where she was, hiding her face.
"My weapon is over there now. I don't wanna fight."
Still nothing. The rain started to come down harder. Sedge watched the girl uneasily, his own injury already numb from the cold of the rain. He did a once over on it and found it wasn't too bad. Nothing a few stitches wouldn't fix and it wasn't bleeding that bad. He looked back at the girl. As he watched, she tried to stand up and failed. She fell to her knees and let out an audible sigh.
"Are you okay?" He asked. It was obvious she wasn't, but Sedge didn't know what else to say. The girl was silent. Sedge felt a twinge of annoyance.
"I asked you a question."
It was silent for another minute before she spoke.
"I think you broke my ankle." She mumbled. Sedge's brain jolted.
"And you almost made off with some of my fingers." He said back, but he grinned.
"You startled me."
"You were singing."
Silence returned, but Sedge grinned. He stood up and pushed some hair from in front of his eyes. He walked over to the girl. He noticed her fists tighten around the handles of her knives and eyes them wearily. She didn't try to attack, though, so he reached his good hand down and offered an open palm to her. She looked up, dumbfounded, staring at his hand.
"Take it. You can't walk, yea?"
She nodded, sheathed her knives, and took his hand. He pulled her up and and grabbed her other shoulder as she reached across his neck. She pointed her head at a wagon in the street. Sedge nodded and helped her over to it. When they reached the wagon, she let go of him and used the sides of the wagon for support. Inside, Sedge was shocked to find two stone people.
"What are these two doing here?" He wondered out loud.
"No reason. Hands off them!" She shouted at him as he reached out to touch one of them. He looked at her strangely.
"This is your wagon?" He asked. He hadn't noticed it before, but it was sitting right behind where she had been when she attacked him.
Sedge looked at the people again. A wave of sadness rolled over him.
"Your parents." He stated. Her silence confirmed it. Sedge nodded in affirmation and smiled, looking at the girl.
"Well, hop in. I'll take you somewhere safe."
"You heard me. I have to stop at the library first, though." Sedge grabbed the two handles of the wagon and lifted them up waist high.
"Look, you can't walk and I need someone to talk to sometimes. Let me help you." He looked back at her. She looked down and smacked her lips. Sedge grinned and shook his head. He looked forward and felt the wagon shake. When it stopped, he braced himself and pulled the wagon forward. It was surprisingly easy.
The girl didn't say anything as he pulled them in front of the library and she was still there when he got back almost an hour later with the books, wrapped in several raincoats he'd found inside. He waved to the librarian as he handed the books to the girl, who took them reluctantly, and retook the wagon in his hands.
"Why do you need these books?" She inquired a few minutes later.
"Dunno. The old man won't tell me."
"Old man? Are there others where you're taking me?" Her voiced sounded hopeful.
"Nah, just the old man. It's been me and him for the past few months."
"Oh." The hope fell from her voice. Sedge almost felt bad for letting her down. He was elated to have found another survivor, but his instinct were returning and his introverted nature was starting to come back.
"What's your name?" He asked as he started to take a detour around the town square.
"Does it matter?"
"Not really. I just want to know what to call you," Sedge groaned out. So far, more than half of the things this girl had said grated on his nerves. She was difficult compared to the old man, who was practically an open book, "Mine is Sedge."
"Sedge..." She said slowly. Sedge nodded.
"Thank you for the help, Sedge. You can call me Riz."
Sedge nodded and tried to ignore the strain already becoming an issue in his shoulder and back.
"Well, Riz, get comfortable. It's a long way home."
It would be a long time before I felt as many emotions in such a short time frame as I did that day. Uneasiness, elation, fear, thrill, disgust, sadness. I felt them regularly, but never in a single day before. And while it is as I said, that I wouldn't feel that many emotions at once again for a long while, I would feel them again. But that's still a long way's off and a lot happened between now and then. Now sit back and get comfortable. Things start to get interesting from here on.