Alan groaned and noted that he was still alive.
His body felt sore, very sore, but he was not in as much pain as he had imagined he would be. Stretching his arms, he realized that he was absolutely covered in blood and his clothes were ripped in odd places. He stared at his outstretched hands. He had been sure his arm had broken during the allocation drawback, he had seen it twist at impossible angles before he had blacked out. Leaving that mystery aside for the moment he checked his surroundings.
It seemed as if he had fallen down from the rafters above onto a large stack of hay breaking his fall. Perhaps he had his new somewhat drastic increase in Luck to thank for that good fortune but he wasn't going to count on it. Looking at the yellow light filtering through the stable ceiling he figured it was mid-day, meaning not too much time had passed. Meaning there could be Goblins still around and he should be very careful and stay quiet.
The thought brought him back to reality and he felt ice run through his veins.
Shocking in its intensity, fear and sadness crashed back into him. The power of it took his breath away and he closed his eyes and braced against the onslaught. His muscles tightened and he clenched his hands, his body physically unable to contain or process the feeling. Alan lay in the damp hay, eyes closed, quietly trying to understand the enormity of his situation. The wave passed as quickly as it had come on and suddenly he could breathe again.
He remained sitting there, a dark-haired, dark-eyed adolescent of normal height, bordering on the skinny side, covered in a thin sheet of drying blood now turning a shade of dark brown.
He should probably try to run away, or figure out the situation, or at the very least head back up to his hiding place in the rafters. Instead, he did not move. He tried not to think too clearly. He felt guilty and sad and a million other emotions, but more than anything he felt empty. He didn't know if it was him, or if he was just not processing things normally, but it was a bit worrying.
His family was almost certainly dead. Everyone he had known likely gone.
Streaks of sunlight filtered lazily through the ceiling, passing slowly through the bright, depressing summer sky.
He sat there in silence. The hay poked at him uncomfortably through his clothes. He began to sweat and noticed the summer humidity and heat for the first time. His mind moved slowly and he couldn't seem to be able to focus on anything. He figured it would be best to wait, to make sure there was no one left behind to finish off any unwary people that came out of hiding. More than that, he didn't want to move. He didn't want to get up and deal with the reality that existed outside the stable doors.
He knew he should go check on his family. He knew that.. but he was scared. He didn't know what horrors lay outside, and he was too afraid to go check. Instead he felt a crushing guilt and didn't move from his spot in the stables.
So he waited there sweating in silence upon the damp hay.
The day moved onward, afternoon making its way to evening. He waited, shifting every so often to find a more comfortable position. He knew he was hungry, but could not be bothered to deal with the problem. There were moments where his chest tightened and he began hyperventilating unable to get enough air, unable to breathe. Those moments passed and he focused on remaining calm.
He was alone. He wanted to curl in a ball. He wanted to be held. He wanted to throw up. Taking one breath in and the next breath out, over and over and over and over.
Time continued onward.
The sun was lower in the sky now, and the purple haze of a sunset hinted at the coming night. Around this time some of his normal curiosity returned, after shifting in the hay, he decided to check his Stat window again to see what had changed since his overzealous Skill allocation.
|Human Male, Age 14|
|HP (health): 109/156|
|MP (mana) 60/76|
Hidden Items: *none*
Well, this was new. He knew that certain Skills provided extra abilities, but he was not familiar with Hidden Items. More surprising were the extra points in Intelligence, Dexterity, Strength, and Vitality which had seemingly appeared on their own. After doing some rough math, which he reminded himself to check later, he noticed that the growth of his Hit Points and Mana Points were both a bit higher than they should have been.
It was common knowledge that Intelligence and to a lesser extent Wisdom increased MP. While Vitality and to a lesser extent Strength increased HP. Luck must increase both or either in some way he did not know. He knew the basics, but hadn't studied allocation in depth too much since it was a topic most took up a year or so before the standard allocation at age 16. His knowledge of the subject mainly came from asking his parents or from overheard conversations.
His immediate boost to level 4 in [Hide] was spectacular as far as he knew. While earlier levels came easier than later ones, even early on people trained months for a single level increase. By the time you got to level 10 it could take a year or more to raise it to the next level depending on the Skill. Then again, even though his Skill was at level 4, he himself had very little clue on how to maximize its use. A Skill was only as good as the person using it no matter the level.
The angry huff of a horse behind him jolted him from his musings.
Turning towards the noise, for the first time that day he noticed the restless and upset horses around him. Their stalls opened into a fenced-off yard, but the fact that they were not knocking over their doors after having been left alone for a day went to show how well Eric's dad had trained them. Somehow the restlessness of the animals seemed more pressing than his own hunger or problems, so he picked himself up and went about the task of feeding them. He wasn't ready to go outside just yet.
He looked at the tools and bags around him searching for food, as well as a brush and a shovel. Finding what he was looking for, he walked down the hallway, occasionally petting one of the horses as he walked past. He started by grabbing a bag of horse feed and emptying it into the feeding trough that lined the stable pens. As the horses moved towards the food he went into the first stall to begin the task of cleaning it out. The simple task occupied his body and he let his mind go blank as he worked. Going stall to stall he then went to brush each horse wondering why the Goblins had not bothered taking any. At the very least wouldn't the Goblins eat them?
Eventually, he finished with his task and noticed he was still covered in a patchwork of dried blood. He sniffed at his clothes and could not help the expression that came over his face. He needed a bath but somehow wasn't ready for that yet. Smelling none too pleasant, Alan found his way in the dark back to the pile of hay he had woken up in and went promptly to sleep.
The next morning he couldn't avoid it any longer. He had to check on his own home. He had a sick feeling in his gut, and dread hung around him. He scratched at a rough patch of skin and brushed the hay from his hair. He took a deep breath and began to put his plan into action.
He had decided to not leave through the main doors of the stables in case they were being watched and instead he moved into one of the horse stalls going out into the yard where they were allowed to roam. Trying his best to be silent, he hopped over the fence and turned towards the direction of the town square.
He would take a roundabout way. Around the edges of the town square were a few routes that had good cover that he knew of and eventually lead to his house. It was close to the town square, which Alan was afraid to explore just now, but it was the route with the most hiding places and cover.
The stables were, by nature, somewhat open to the elements but even so, it was his first time really being outside since that horrific night. He knew he was shaking, but he forced himself to keep going forward. The dry grass crunched under his feet as he moved through the yard.
His family was almost certainly dead. Everyone he had known likely gone.
As he made his way towards the center of town, he hoped that [Hide] would help him out if needed. If the progress till the next level increased, he could be reasonably sure someone was out there looking for survivors. If that happened, he would give up for now and head back to the stables. He had no idea if that logic was sound, but it couldn't hurt so he continued to sneak towards his home, praying no one was watching and keeping a mind's eye on his [Hide] Skill.
The first thing he noticed as snuck around in the dim morning glow was that he didn't see any sign of bodies as he expected. Even the pile of bodies that the Goblins had created was gone. In its place, a dark stain on the earth, flattened grass and dried blood marking the spot where it had been. He didn't dare get too close and risk exposing himself, but he proceeded with more caution from that point.
Most of the townsfolk lived in various farmhouses directly outside of the town center. The town center itself consisted of a single long paved road stretching off into the distance. It was a part of Strength Road, or "The Road" as it was commonly referred. The Road spanned the entire length of the territory and was maintained by the kingdom itself. This section of it also doubled as the main street around which his town was based.
Small, thatch-roofed, and one-roomed houses were grouped about both sides of the single, narrow street. The two largest buildings were easily recognizable: the Mayor's manor and the brick Market building where merchants and artisans bought and sold their wares. The other houses consisted of a few small businesses and the residences of the more wealthy families.
Willowbrook was not a large town, but it had been reasonably prosperous and was well known in the territory for its pottery and other mosaics. Several prominent families passed down Skills that somehow gave the pottery they produced a durability and vibrancy that was unmatched in other parts. The Market itself held a massive mosaic covering an entire wall that people across Strength traveled to come and see. Alan wondered if it had been destroyed in the raid.
Walking through town, everything looked just as Alan had remembered it. As he crept from shadow to shadow in the early morning light, he noticed the signs of a struggle around the houses and walkways. Shattered windows, smears of blood along the dirt paths, and wreckage among the houses and doors. Yet what was most noticeable was the silence. He had always associated the area with sounds and smells and noises, yet as he passed through now all was quiet.
His family was almost certainly dead. Everyone he had known likely gone.
He made nerve-wrackingly slow progress and paused in various places as he looked around watching for movement. Eventually, though he neared his family home.
His house came into view shortly and he couldn't help but pause at the scene. The house looked just as it had all his life. It was made up of the tell-tale rock-lined walls and a thatched roof that mimicked so many other houses around the town. As Alan got closer, the subtle signs that made it unique began to appear. Scratches on the side of the house where he had measured himself growing as a child. The flowers his mother had liked to plant lining the dirt path leading to the door. The welcome mat they had made together as a family out front.
He pushed it down.
He walked up to the front door not hesitating or bothering to hide anymore. His heart pounded in his chest. His dirty hands hung loose at his side as he stood silently in the entrance way to the house. The door hung off the hinges and Alan pushed it aside stepping into the front hallway. He walked down the dark corridor which held too many memories and turned off into the kitchen where he had last seen his parents.
There were signs of a struggle everywhere. The same signs he had noticed on his way over in many of the households by now. A knocked over table. Broken dishes and furniture. Dark stains of blood on the flooring. But as always, no bodies.
He didn't bother with it.
He didn't even bother with any of his things, he had no use for them anymore. He went to where he knew his mother hid the money and took the silver that was stashed away. Efficiently as possible, he quietly searched the place to make sure there were no signs of survivors. Hope battled with reality as he went room by room, calling out to his mother and father. His voice sounded small and weak in the silence.
"Mother? Father?" He called as he went from room to room. He even risked searching around the property in case they were hiding outside.
He was scared and lonely. Each time he called out his heart beat faster. He knew what to expect... he knew it.. but each time his mother or father didn't answer his call his heart constricted. It hurt to breathe, he clutched at his chest as he continued searching.
Soon he found himself in the hallway again, the property and every room had been checked.
He recalled his mom chasing him around the house playing hide and seek as a child. He recalled his dad's stern lecturing after he had broken some expensive decoration or other. He remembered a time when he caught his parents kissing on the couch in the living room. He had groaned loudly and thrown a pillow at them to make them stop. Feigning outrage, his mom had smiled that particular way she had and then gathered up even more pillows throwing them back at him. One had caught him right in the face and his dad's unbridled laughter had boomed throughout the small home. He and his mom both began to throw pillows at his dad and before he knew it all three were laughing uncontrollably.
He stared at the ground for a time. Noticing the knots in the wooden floor. He squatted down, still clutching his chest in one hand, running his other hand over the smooth polished surface. Just staring into nothing. The wood was a dark brown and he dug his nails into it. His face contorted into a grimace. Loss and fear and pain showing through the dirt that covered him.
Like an unstoppable tide, it rose inside him. Sadness. Loneliness. Pain. Not the torturous pain of his Skill allocation, but an all-encompassing despair that blurred his vision in its power. He crouched there in the empty hallway and let it wash over him. He wanted to scream and cry and pound the ground with his fists. Instead, he grabbed his head, clenched his teeth and tried to hold it in. He was utterly alone, everything and everyone that mattered to him gone in an instant.
He had no idea how long he stayed like that. Eventually, he dropped his hands to his side and took a step forward. The despair was not gone, not even diminished, but at least it was exhausted for the moment. He was spent. He could just lay down and die. Let his body sink into the ground. End it.
And then he got up and left. He was either too strong or too weak or too tired to kill himself and he had no reason to stay.
He made his way back to the stables. He had the sense of mind to be careful and sneak back, but he barely remembered the journey.
His body worked on autopilot and soon he was back in the stables. He began to mindlessly take care of the horses once again before silently laying down in the pile of hay he had woken up in.
He stared up at the ceiling until mercifully he fell asleep.