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> Writers Note: This story will have a couple of swear words thrown around from time to time, but later on will have most likely a lot of blood & gore among other things as well that aren't suitable for certain ages (depending on your country, Idk I'm just giving a heads up). Otherwise I hope you enjoy it. <

Dawn breaks peacefully over the horizon. The world radiate with light as a new day begins. However, this day is one that is most familiar. The final day before the next journey into a darkened world.

 

The Kingdom of Euphora. A massive enclosure of a humanoid race that had built itself up from nothing over the course of over 800 years. Protected by a vast mountainous region, dense and enclosed forests, a mercilessly heated desert, and finally an exposed field of great plains, the Kingdom sits just before a cliff, surrounded by the open sea. Its people are of a peaceful nature, always working together to improve upon the community, led by the 17th successor of the Rai family, Gillius. The only thing stopping such a flourishing society from continuing on forever is the overwhelming threat of demons that vary from any living creature. Throughout the early stages of Euphora’s creation, countless battles were fought for humans to escape far enough from a constant threat of demon attacks. Over the course of time, the land began to build up, fending off any demonic beings in the area, securing safety throughout the great plains and majority of the desert line. Now, with a thriving economy and strong military force, Euphora focuses its efforts training the best of soldiers, from warriors, archers, rogues, and mages alike to set out every 5 years on an expedition to push even further inland with hopes to eradicate the demon threat once and for all. Unfortunately, no matter how far they managed to push, it never seemed to fade away. It never seemed to show any end. The fear of losing their very way of life just never stopped....until now...

 

The morning had only just begun, yet King Gillius was already pacing tirelessly in the war room. Spread across the table laid a drawn out map of the land, as detailed as what had been explored. He continued to walk back and forth, keeping his eyes trained on the mountains which were hardly drawn in as his soldiers were unable to ever move further.

 

“My Lord, you’re up rather early, as usual,” a man speaks as he enters the room. Gillius stops pacing to look up to him, giving out an exhausted sigh before finally sitting down.

 

“General...you know how I feel about all of this,” he responds, grabbing hold of a wooden sculpture of a soldier. “How does the unit look this time?”

 

“Not good at all. Our current count has us just below a hundred,” the General responds, lowering his head. Gillius drops the miniature soldier, leaning over the table wide eyed.

 

“A hundred?? That’s impossible. A number like that is hardly even a third of normal count,” he exclaims.

 

“Indeed. It would seem the incident from the last expedition has severely lowered the desire for participants. We’ve gone from having our most successful draw to the worst in our history,” the General states, pulling out a scroll and feathered pen, placing them on the table. “I’d advise we change our plan of action for this expedition. Something more cautious, while also increasing the monetary gain.”

 

Gillius can only help but rub his chin from under his beard, looking at the written out plans from his general. “Yes, I suppose we should. Forcing any excelling expectations without the trust of our troop would be most problematic. Can I leave this task to you?”

 

“Absolutely my Lord. Where shall you be in the meantime?” the general asks, collecting his things.

 

“For now I’ll do what I can to make adjustments to my speech, and also try talking to my daughter once more....” Gillius responds, looking out the window to a tower across the castle grounds.

 

“The Princess? Is it safe to assume she has yet to come to terms with your decisions?” the general presses on.

 

“Indeed, she’d kept herself locked up in her quarters for over two weeks now, sneaking out for food to avoid contact with me. If the morale of our nation is the top priority out of this, then I’ll need her to at least make an appearance for the departing troop.” Gillius responds, moving his hand from his chin to the side of his head in frustration.

 

“A most wise decision my lord. I will leave you to your family issues then.” the general snickers as he turns to walk out. Gillius gives him a slight glare, catching onto his tease, but lets it go, knowing the two go way back that it was only to try and help him ease up. He lets out one final sigh before getting out his chair to leave the room as well.

 

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Far off from the Kingdom and its populus, across the great plains and into the desert edge, the Euphorian military trains its soldiers. For those who have volunteered for the upcoming expedition, their day was rather light in preparation for the journey ahead. A young man, dark skinned in complection compared to most of the others, washes his head from sweat after an early morning spar with his peers.

 

“Let’s go Talos! I’m sure you’ve got things to do today just like the rest of us!” a training instructor calls out to him.

 

“Moving sir!” Talos responds, wiping his face and jogging back into formation with the others.

 

“Well boys, that was quite the exhibition you gave today,” the instructor begins, “For most of you, enjoy this early day off before returning in a few days. For the rest of you, who have chosen to take part in the 154th expedition, take this time to have one final day with your family, your friends, and loved ones. I know there are some who have experienced this all before, but for most of you this will be a new, life changing experience. I only wish you the best of luck in your endeavours, and to come back safely to all of us once it’s over. May my blessings ease your curse.”

 

“And may the curse be lifted from us all!” the group responds before being dismissed. Talos quickly rushes back to the barracks to grab his belongings before heading out. Many who see him wish him luck as he passes by, making his way to the mana rails. He steps onto a large rectangular train like vehicle, amongst others waiting to head home as the conductor takes a large light blue crystal from his pocket and locks it into a gear. A large metallic panel motions up from underneath to protect people from falling out as the train slowly begins to move, slowly picking up speed before rocketing off effortlessly back towards the kingdom. Within no more than an hour, the group reaches the massive town that rests before the castle walls, overflowing with life and prosperity. Talos departs from the train with his bag and starts making his way inward, passing by many shops and markets. On his way he makes a quick stop by the liquor store, purchasing a large bottle and placing it in his bag before continuing on into the residential area. Many soldiers were pacing around him, all rushing to get home as they each reached their destination to see their parents, spouses, and even children. Talos continued to move on, rushing by every home before finally reaching a gate that had a dirt path leading into a small estate. He throws his bag over the gate as and jumps up, vaulting himself over the walls. He  squats low into his decent to grab his bag again as he then begins to walk calmly towards the house as many children were in the yard playing. Some looked up from their games to give him a wave, to which he responded with much excitement. Upon entering the home, a young boy runs up to him.

 

“Big brother! You’re back again!” the boy yells out in joy. Talos bends down to pick him up and rests him on his shoulder.

 

“I am, but only for the day this time. Do you know where Ronis is right now?” Talos asks with a smile on his face. The boy nods and points outward, leading Talos through the open halls of the house. All around were many children playing and cleaning, with a couple of adults alongside them for supervision. Talos makes his way towards the back of the Estate, going out into the back yard as he looks out to see an older gentleman sitting in a chair beneath the shade of a great oak, reading a book to a circle of children.

 

“Long time no see old man.”  Talos says walking up, as he places the child down from his shoulder, who runs over and sits with the group.

 

“Ah, you’ve come back once again. I keep telling you not to return unless you wanted to take up a job here.” Ronis chuckles. He places a tab in his book before closing it, getting up from his seat to give Talos a handshaking hug.

 

“I know, but today’s different. I’m sure you know what tomorrow is right?” Talos asks. Ronis gives a small nod of understanding before looking back to the children.

 

“Allow me to finish this story to the children. In the meantime, make yourself at home, get a decent wash and some food. I’ll be with you shortly.”

 

“What and borrow some of your out of style rags again? I’d be better off washing with the stuff I have on now.” Talos jokes, causing Ronis to quickly swing his hand up, backhanding him in the temple. Talos attempts to dodge but still gets scrapped a bit.

 

“You’ve definitely improved, yet you still aren’t fast enough.” Ronis grins. “My home, my rules, now go and get yourself freshened up,” he orders before walking back to his chair. Talos rubs his head, giving back a grin of his own before walking back into the house. He quickly does as he was ordered and takes a much needed wash, then spends most of his time relaxing around, helping out with the daily needs around the estate. Within no time at all, it quickly became late evening. Talos relaxes back into the couch as most of the children go off into their upstairs rooms to rest, while many of the adults leave to go home. Ronis walks into the living room and sits in a chair across from Talos.

 

“That was quite a long story you read to them, huh?” Talos teases, giving out a slight yawn.

 

“Well once they catch an interest, it’s quite difficult to put a book down, wouldn’t you agree?” Ronis replies.

 

“Can’t say I can. Reading was never really something I enjoyed doing, unless it had some pictures to go with it.”

 

“Hymph, naive as ever still. Lack of pictures can lead to the greatest images of all: your imagination.”

 

“You never rest from an opportunity to spout some teacher nonsense, huh?” Talos complains, picking up his bag from his feet and placing it on the table.

 

“You never take the time to process any of it to keep me from having to do so.” Ronis retorts. “In any case, what brings you here on your final day before embarking outward?”

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“What else could I be here for?” Talos replies, pulling out the bottle he had bought earlier at the store. “I can’t pass up an opportunity to kick back with you for once.”

 

“Estus Ale??” Ronis blurts out. “I’d be in a surprised you noticed that’s one of my favorites if I wasn’t already questioning how you managed to pick it up in the first place. You only joined with the military 2 years ago right?”

 

“They gave me a special pass, just this once, considering I’m gonna be part of the expedition team. So wadda ya say, wanna bore me about the stars one last time?”

 

“Ha, that’s assuming you don’t pass out trying to keep up with me. I may have some age on me, but my skills haven’t dulled out yet.” Ronis taunts, getting up from the chair and grabbing the bottle as he walks towards outside before stopping.

 

“Talos.....you didn’t keep this cool at all today did you?” he asks calmly, causing Talos to tense up in his seat.

 

“Well.....you took too long to get back to me I forgot.” Talos complains back. Ronis can only help but sigh before turning around.

 

“Go set up the chairs. Luckily I have a spare down in the cellar. I’ll just place this one down for another time.” he groans. Talos abides by his request and grabs two reclined chairs and carries them outside. Within a few moments Ronis meets up with him, a new Ale and two mugs in hand. They begin their night of relaxation as Talos goes on about the two years he spent in the military before coming back as the stars slowly moved across the sky.

 

“My, it seems you’ve already had quite the shift in experience being out in the desert for so long.” Ronis laughs, taking a large gulp from his mug and pouring some more ale to refill it.

 

“Oh my god, you wouldn’t believe. The difference between hot and cold out there really gets to you. It’s like two completely different environments out there, but the same lack of water!” Talos brags.

 

“Hmph, give a kid half a bottle and he forgets you spent 25 years in the military.” Ronis snorts.

 

“Yea but you haven’t been out there in just as much time also!” Talos retaliates. “Things change.”

 

“Yeah, in your favor. With all the new spells and experiments the magic council has been implementing, your training’s a walk in the park compared to what I had to do. We had to walk most of our way in and out of the desert grounds to train.”

 

“Whatever old man, you’re just losing touch with what’s new and now you’re salty.” Talos continues, overfilling his mug with more ale. Ronis stares at him as he takes a large gulp and gulp and places his mug back on the stand.

 

“Speaking of which I suppose, what made you decide to come back here again anyway?” Ronis questions, as he slowly pours most of Talos’s drink into his own mug while he looks away.

 

“Well where else was I supposed to go? Sitting in the barracks all day would’ve been boring and I needed to come back around town for the King’s speech tomorrow anyway.” Talos responds, placing his hands behind his head and looking up to the stars.

 

“You didn’t make any friends during your time out there to spend the day with them?”

 

“I joined up just as the latest expedition got back from their journey. Many people were hesitant of me and my decision to want to join the next one, so it was mostly kept to acquaintances and association through similar careers. People would praise me for my determination, yet they never really seemed eager to want to know me outside of training.”

 

“Not even the others who wished to go also?”

 

“There weren’t many others to begin with. The only ones in my unit are all veterans at this point and probably weren't in the mood to befriend some newbie. Apparently the numbers for this group are the lowest it’s ever been, and that’s not the only rumor flying around right now.”

 

Ronis thinks for a bit, finishing the last of the ale before laying back down. “Sounds like you just kept to yourself again as usual. That’s all you seemed to ever really do growing up here also.” he replies with slight disappointment.

 

“What was the point? No matter who it was, people would always get adopted in time. Most of the adults would switch out of jobs to try other things. You’re the only one I could rely on being there indefinitely.”

 

“It didn’t have to be that way for you. Many couples and families had an interest in you, but you consistently refused to listen or properly meet with them that they decided otherwise.”

 

“Good for them. It’s not like it was a guarantee that things would have been better anyway.” Talos quickly replies back, leaving Ronis in a long pause.

 

“Is that truly how you feel about things? Avoiding confrontation with change isn’t always the best solution.”

 

“My mind has always been set on going on an expedition to begin with. The real change would be me leaving once I was old enough anyway. If anything, I did them a favor by not disappointing them in the event I don’t come back.”

 

“So then what makes you think I’d feel any different, having raised you from when you were but a young child?” Ronis pushes on. Talos turns over to look at him, slightly falling out his chair from over drinking but manages to catch himself and tries to play it off.

 

“Why wouldn’t I? The amount of people you see come and go from this place, no matter how close you may get to them. It shouldn’t be any kind of issue right?”

 

“Seeing a child or coworker off in the hopes of gaining a better life is much different than having them risk their life in combat for our nation. The demons of our land are not something to take lightly.”

 

Talos looks over again, once more nearly falling off the side of his chair. Ronis leans down to grab a pouch of water and offers it to him. There is a long pause as Talos looks at the pouch.

 

“Don’t make me have to slap the shit out of you.” Ronis says bluntly. Talos accepts the pouch.

 

“You never talked to me about your time in the military.” Talos began, wiping his mouth from water. “The things you saw out there. What these expeditions are really like. You always just brushed it off, saying it wasn’t something I should be concerned about.”

 

“Because you were young and I didn’t want it to be something you needed to be concerned about--but seeing as you’re almost on your way now, I suppose there’s no point in hiding anything anymore.” Ronis speaks, sitting up from his chair. Talos glances over to him, beginning to sit straight up as well.

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“I’m sure by now there are faster ways of travel into unsafe areas. But back in my time, over the course of each expedition, things always seemed to get worse. The desert had already been all but near secured well before I began my enlistment. Most of our journeys began in the major forests before the mountains. They seemed to stretch endlessly... the further we went, the denser the trees got. Thick fog and mist would crowd the baseline all throughout the night and early morning almost every day. There was an ambush every week, if not more often: most of them small wandering groups of animals, some large groups or even herds. What I feared most was that throughout each expedition, whether it was planned or not, it always felt like we were advancing much further into the forest than anticipated. Going in the correct direction was a question left unanswered, but without a doubt we transcended deeper. The demons we faced were changing, from common wildlife to forest and jungle specific creatures. Then, in my final expedition was where I saw it. My squad had been separated by the main group during a surprise raid by a group of ape like demons and were lost among the morning fog. In our attempt to relocate them, we came across a rather peculiar demon.

 

Talos could only hold so much of his curiosity, now sitting straight up as he stared directly at Ronis. “What was so different from it than the rest? Was it not an animal?”

 

“It was, however none like anyone had reported before. It looked almost like us, a human. Its figure was long and thin however, as if it had been starving for quite some time. Yet its movements showed no signs of it. Once it laid its eyes on us, it charged in swiftly, knocking my squadmates out of the way and tackling me to the ground. It held down my arms and stared directly into my eyes, as if it was trying to look into my soul, before finally speaking.”

 

“It spoke to you?” Talos asks surprised. Ronis gives a slight nod, looking back inside the estate to see a few workers wrapping up for the night and turning off all the lights.

 

“It didn’t speak in a full sentence or anything, but spoke only one word in the most desiring tone I had ever heard in my life:heart.”

 

“Heart?” Talos echos.

 

“Indeed. It then released one of my hands, moving towards my chest as it started digging its nail deeper into my skin. The shock and confusion of it all had left me paralyzed, but thankfully my squad members were able to gather themselves after the initial blow and managed to knock it off of me. From there we quickly got up and proceeded to run off as fast as we could in the hopes to find the main group. After what felt like an eternity, we managed to do so; however we had failed to realize one of our members, my best friend at the time, had tripped during our escape and wasn’t there with us. We did our best to locate him after with the backup of the main force, but our search ended in vain.”

 

“What of the demon? Did you ever find it again?”

 

“Not at all. The battle that took place before our separation left us too small of a force to advance any further. Additionally,we had already journeyed far enough to consider valuable information to return with. However, that encounter was one that haunted me for years on end. Its near charcoal burnt-like skin, the abyssal dark eyes with nothing more than a deep bright red circular glowing coming out of them, and tears thick and red like blood that seemed to drain out the moment it laid eyes on me that ran down its arms. Its hunger seemed so overwhelming that it drained me of all power and hope. But most importantly...”

 

Ronis pauses for a moment, removing his shirt and pointing to the top of his shoulder, slowly dragging it down to his heart. “When it scratched through my skins, its “tears” made their way down its arm and into my wound. By the time we made it back to a safe place to set up camp, it had left a large dark scar, a color nearly that of the demon, that seemed to grow throughout my body,. Not matter how much I was inspected, neither the mages or medics seemed to find a solution to its cause. As a result I was left with it.”

 

Ronis grabs his shirt, putting it back on as he finally lays back in his chair once more. “Overtime the scar slowly began to fade away. It took nearly two years, but finally it was gone from my body. However my nightmares continued well after that, through retirement and during my early years of establishing this orphanage. Even through some of the years I knew you. Of course the military and kingdom likes to keep most of the efforts of the expedition hidden from the general public to avoid any worry, but knowing what I know I can only imagine that in my time away they’ve encountered more demons like the one I saw, especially after the last decade.”

 

“The rise and fall of Paladin Lucian.” Talos speaks. Ronis nods a bit.

 

“His hope was just as young and short lived as he was. The young boy who sought to re-break the barrier between mages and warriors. By his second expedition, the team had claimed to discover a secret to the origins of the demons. Then within the very the very next one, him alongside many others were ambushed and lost in the mountains to a vast horde of demons no one had apparently ever seen before.”

 

“That must be the main reason to why we have such low numbers now.” Talos ponders, closing his eyes briefly in thought.

 

“Without a doubt. A failure that large, along with the fear of many who survived and spread word of the incident has left the kingdom in quite a state of emergency. There is doubt and fear that hasn’t been felt in generations. We can only hope the King and his general have a plan for the upcoming departure... Listen Talos, I know it’s too late to stop you from going, so I wish to to gi-” Ronis goes on, however he turns to see Talos completely knocked out and snoring quietly. Ronis can’t help but shrug as he gets up from his chair and throws Talos over his shoulder.

 

“You definitely got a long way to go with your drinking kid.” he snickers before walking into the estate and taking Talos up to a spare room to rest. He drops him on the bed mercilessly, yet it hardly even bothered him as he was well beyond waking up anytime soon.

 

“Best hope you don’t have a hangover tomorrow. I got something left to teach you.” Ronis says to him before closing the door and heading to his own room to sleep.

 

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