Who was left?

Alan looked up through the crack in the wooden wall at a hazy sky. The morning sun was just peeking out over the horizon, lighting a world in which there was no longer balance.

He watched thin wisps of clouds swirl high above in the breeze above his small town. The gentle mists moved with no intention and in no noticeable pattern, flowing in sweeping circles creating a thin veil yet to be burnt off by the red morning light.

Taking a deep shaking breath, Alan shifted his gaze down towards the corpses of his family and friends. His heart beat faster as his eyes adjusted, the red light above meeting the bloody red scene below.

Was he the only one left alive?

He strained to get a clearer picture through the crack in the wall, sucking in a sharp breath and forcing himself not to look away. Bodies were stacked haphazardly in a large pile in the distance at the edge of town. He was too far away to make out faces, but still he watched, eyes glued to the wall, as green shapes dragged more and more lifeless bodies into the pile.

He felt empty. Too much to process in one morning, he forcefully stifled the sobs that threatened to escape and never stop. Fire, blood, and destruction had so quickly changed the familiar scenery he had grown up with these 14 years of his life.

He had tried to count the bodies at first, after he had woken to the sounds of screaming and killing. Woken to the reality of his peaceful world transformed into one of death and violence.

Was his family there? Had they escaped? Had Eric known this was going to happen?

As time went by, he no longer took notice of his surroundings. He lay there watching the bodies, watching the red ground below them, watching the green figures in the distance scurrying around like invading ants. Tears fell silently from his unblinking eyes. Sorrow and fear and anger and a million other emotions on the edge of perception engulfed him and threatened to overwhelm him. He tried to let the emptiness fill him instead.

Fighting down the rising tide of emotions, he focused on his breathing. Focused on remaining absolutely still and silent. Focused on anything other than processing the scene in front of him. Willing himself, for the moment, not to feel.

He closed his eyes. Felt the straw around his hands. Solid and real. Smelled the earthy scents of the stables around him. Not a good smell, but somehow comforting in its normalcy.

As the wind shifted outside he caught the scent of burning coming from the direction of the town. He opened his eyes as he heard the horses shifting nervously in their stalls below. Some of the creatures were beginning to panic as the smell of smoke grew. He took another deep, shuddering breath. Nestled in the rafters above the town stables, Alan did not know what to do.

He took in his immediate surroundings. It was still dark, the light from the rising sun had yet to pierce the solid wooden walls of the building. As he crouched in the rafters above, Alan could just make out the hallway below and the horses in their stalls. Hay covered the floor below and various tools and sacks of feed lay scattered about, somehow both seeming haphazard and organized at the same time. The horses began to settle down as the wind outside shifted and it felt almost calm. Screaming echoed in the distance dispelling the peaceful illusion. How had he come to this?

Yesterday had started as a normal day. Not a particularly good day, but normal. He had gone to school like normal. He had sat, stuffed into the same classroom with the other town kids. He had focused on taking notes and keeping to himself. Like normal. How was it that everything could change so completely in so short of a time?

His childhood friend Eric had asked him to sleep in the stables the night before. Eric was the stable master's son, and he and Alan had been close as children. Alan had been suspicious of the odd request, but his friend had been persistent and he had eventually agreed. That night he had waited till he was sure his parents had fallen asleep and snuck out to the stables. It had been late, he had been nervous, and he had regretted agreeing to the request at the time.

This morning he had woken up to the sounds of screaming and panic. Woken up to his world changed forever.

Could Eric have known about this? Is that why he sent him to sleep here? Impossible. He would not have been so calm if he had known. But why else?

Alan opened his eyes and continued to spy on the outside. He listened and he waited. Fear. Horses panicking. Fire burning. Shrieks in the distance as the day continued to brighten. His body started to shake against his will. Dust and hay from the rafters drifted towards the ground as he struggled to control himself.

Then he saw someone in the distance.

He recognized her. It was the lady that ran the bakery at the corner of town not too far from the stables in which he currently hid. He didn't remember her name, but he knew her. He had bought sweets from her shop on several occasions. When he had visited in the past, Alan couldn't help but notice she was pretty. Her hair was long and red. She was mature and charming in his memories.

Now her long red hair flew behind her as she ran across his field of vision in the distance. A brief glimpse of her face clearly showed the terror she was experiencing. It made her look young and afraid. Suddenly, a dark green shape ran up fast behind her and knocked her down. Alan sucked in a breath but couldn't look away as the creature forced itself on top of her pinned her with his legs. She struggled in vain against her attacker, small fists beating uselessly against the bulk of the large Goblin on top of her.

Alan clenched his jaw. He wanted to close his eyes to the scene in front of him. He wanted to go out and help. He wished he had powerful Skills to go save her. But he had nothing. He was afraid for his life. Even though he knew anything he did would be in vain, he still felt like a coward. Instead of going to help, he pressed his face harder against the hole in the stable wall and dug his hand into the wood below as hard as he could. Tears of frustration streamed down his face.

The Goblin was toying with her. He ripped off her shirt and punched her in the face when she screamed. Alan imagined he could feel the impact of that punch. She lay still after that. The Goblin continued to tear off the rest of her clothes and unbutton his own pants.

Alan noticed the girl's hair piled around her on the ground. A bright red blanket flowing over the dirt and rocks. He banged his head against the wall as the moment continued. Harder. He needed to feel pain. If for no other reason than to share in some of the unspeakable agonies that were being showcased in front of him.

He watched as the large goblin positioned itself above the unconscious baker girl, its pants were around its ankles, and large canine teeth jutted out of its mouth. It seemed in no rush as it opened the girl's legs and moved closer. Alan stopped breathing.

Suddenly the girl moved. She had not been unconscious after all. A hand shot out and she grabbed between the Goblins legs.

Alan thought he could make out a fierce and determined expression on the baker girl's face. The Goblin howled. Even from a distance, Alan heard the roar. It backed away and slammed its powerful fist against the girls head. But the girl held on even as she was battered mercilessly.

The battle continued with the Goblin raging and battering the baker girl. The girl holding on between its legs twisting and squeezing. Alan thought there was no way she could hold on much longer, or even live much longer after taking such a beating but she somehow did, refusing to be subdued. And soon both were laying on the ground unmoving.

The girl slowly got to her knees and crawled over to the Goblin which Alan assumed had passed out. She rummaged through the belt around its ankles and pulled out something. A knife. She stabbed down. Once. Twice. Three times. Over and over and over. The Goblin's body was soon a bloody mess but still she stabbed at it.

Watching the scene, Alan remembered to breathe again and... suddenly something flashed through the air and before he realized what had happened the girl fell over on top of her attacker. A large ax was wedged in her back. Alan's jaw clenched even tighter. Why was this happening?

Another even larger Goblin stepped into view and unceremoniously put his foot on the girl's body, pulling out the ax. Without hesitation and in a single, swift motion it swung the weapon down separating the girl's head from her body. Almost lazily, the creature ignored the bodies and walked out of view. The girl was dead.

Alan had done nothing but hide. He tried to understand what was happening.

Before he could even process what had just happened, the stable door burst open causing him to almost jump out of his skin. Instantly the surreal situation became very real. Panic consumed him. He felt as prey must feel. He was on the verge of bolting but somehow caught himself. Instead, shaking, he peeked down from his hiding place towards the end of the hall where the entrance stood open.

A dark face poked through the doorway, followed by a thick green hand holding a short but deadly looking ax. The ax was streaked with gore and glistened red in the morning light. Alan could not stop looking at the bloody slick red dripping from the ax.

With the girl's death still in his mind, he finally looked up to the visage of the large goblin as the creature stepped fully into the stables. The Goblin's face was small compared to the massive body. It had a wide nose and a thin dark mouth. Its skin was wrinkled and oily, a deep green color almost black in its darkness. Thick, viscous saliva dripped from its wide lips. But most of all Alan noted the eyes of the creature. The wide eyes were a bright golden color with oblong pupils that seemed alien and dangerous.

He had never seen a Goblin before that morning, they were not supposed to be able to come so far into the barrier, but like every citizen of Strength, he knew of them. Strength was one of the territories facing the Mana Expanse, and as such the border towns of the kingdom were no stranger to Goblin raids. As soldiers passed through towns so did stories of the atrocities that the creatures had performed.

Mothers liked to scare their children with nighttime horror stories about the creatures. They warned that naughty kids who snuck away in the night would be caught and eaten by Goblins. The irony of those stories and his sneaking away in the night to sleep in the stables were not lost on him.

Just as the large Goblin walked further into the stables to look around, he noticed a smaller Goblin enter behind it. The smaller goblin was roughly the size of a human child and unlike the larger one, its eyes were small and dark. They were still far away from his hiding place, but he could make out the deep commanding voice of the larger one as it pointed and sent its companion scrambling to do whatever task it was set to. The language was unrecognizable, but surprisingly musical and fluid coming from such a monstrous visage.

Alan made himself small as possible and moved out of sight completely. He listened to the pair walking down the hallway and saw the flickering of torchlight against the stable walls. He breathed shallowly and focused on remaining still, trying to keep his body from trembling. It sounded as if they were searching through each stable, poking the stacks of hay and looking under feed bins, occasionally talking or shouting back at one another. Sounds of the massacre continued in the distance, though the noise from the horses had oddly enough calmed down.

He firmed his resolve. He did not know who was still alive, but he still had a chance. Very carefully he moved, almost trance-like, positioning himself back to where he could observe what was happening with the Goblins.

The pair were closer now, still checking the stables. His body shivered and fear clutched at the edges of his perception. The baker girl's struggle and the pile of bodies being stacked up in the distance rid him of any illusions about what they would do if they found him. Slowing his breathing he continued to focus on making himself have as little presence as possible. He imagined melting into the wood. Becoming invisible. Unnoticeable. A window popped up.

You Have Been Granted the Skill "Hide" Level 1. Do you wish to accept?

Shocked at the sudden event, for a second Alan just stared.

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