2 Asfáleia

Population of Viel: 1467, Number of Survivors: 23." said the knight as they continued walking through the ruins of Viel, adding another tally mark.

"Let's return this group to town. Forsyth, Leone! Keep searching!" shouted a knight wearing a red cape, who seemed to be in charge. "I'll have to make a report to the Marquess. Then I'll have to get accomodations for the refugees, then we need to organise for a priest for the bodies. What do I even do with all of you.. wait…"

He turned, now addressing the people instead using a louder voice.

"Seeing as many of you are now, for lack of a better term, impoverished, how would you like to become Vanguards?"

"What, no way!"

"Mummy, Where are you, mummy"

"A Vanguard, that's not such a bad idea."

"If you want to become monster food, feel free."

The Vanguard. They were a group of soldiers who fought monsters on behalf of the Empire des Huit. They were the first official response to any monster attacks, and while they weren't the premier warriors, they would be able to stem major assaults. They were identified by their signature black armor. However, the position was not as glamorous as it seemed. The fact that they acted as a first response unit meant they recruited people not for skill, but for proximity to threats and willingness to fight monsters. They also didn't receive elite training, with only a select few skilled individuals receiving imperial standard training. Coupled with the fact that their famous black armor was made out of a junk common metal called daramel that a man could punch a hole through, and it basically made being a Vanguard a job with an extremely high mortality rate, and a place to send useless people who weren't too ruined for slavery.

In the group of survivors, Rei quietly marched to the front. He walked until he and the commander were practically breathing each other's air. "I want to be a Vanguard...sir." the boy said with a look of anger in his eyes. "Just one huh... Well, at least it's a child. Less rations." said the commander of the knights. "Alright, let's move!"

The group moved tirelessly, stopping only at night to eat and sleep. In three days, they reached the capital city. "That's our destination, Asfáleia. You guys can set up camp on the outskirts for now. I'll inform the marquess about the current situation." said the commander, the knights setting up while a few of them accompanied him.

"It's a shame. I had great goods in that shop." said the man next to Rei. "Luckily I didn't really have anyone I was that close to. Doesn't seem to be the same story with you, is it boy?". The child looked at him with dull eyes and the man looked away, deciding to ignore him and make merry with the new group of survivors that arrived that night.

Rei sat alone, looking at the stars in the sky, silently and solemnly.

The next day a group of knights rode up to the camp as a leisurely pace, the commander absent. "We've come to retrieve a representative for this group of survivors." said a plump, short man wearing a red coat. He had an expressive dark yellow mustache and his hair was laid back. His skin was a light cream, like most other people in the area.

"May we inquire as to who you are?" said a man who was better dressed than the other refugees in his vicinity. He had a thick beard and a well built body, with an aura of charisma radiating from him.

"I am Viscount Felt Grande. I am the one they have put in charge of allocating the survivors of the dragon attack to a new settlement." said the plump man.

"Then you are looking for me." said the well dressed man. "My name is Demetri. I am the representative of the survivors of the Viel dragon attack."

"Come with me...I shall show you to your settlement." said Felt as he offered Demetri a horse, and the group left south wards. Except for one knight in black armor, who stayed behind.

"I am here for the Vanguard volunteer." the eerie knight said. The survivors looked among themselves looking for any who would step forward. Then they saw a dull eyed boy walk to the knight.

"I am." said Rei.

Upon closer inspection one could see that chunks of armor of the 'knight' were missing and replaced with leather. The helmet was scratched, the claw marks surprisingly deep. His arm was also made of metal, with a few gems in the wrist.

"Why do you wish to become a Vanguard?" asked the recruiter.

Rei's eyes flared to life and he stared at thr Vanguard recruiter. "To kill dragons. To kill them all." he stated, causing the people behind him to murmur.

"...While I don't approve of that, a strong motivation is required." said the recruiter. "You'll live longer with one. Get on."

Rei got on the horse and they headed towards the town. The trail was full of people giving pitiful looks at the two, one had stopped to give them money. The knight accepted it, and kept moving.

"Remember this boy...as a Vanguard every penny matters...you'll need them for your treatments...we tend to get injured a lot."

As they arrived in town, the first thing Rei would notice was a general gloomy atmosphere, and soldiers running helter skelter. The few shops in sight were crowded with soldiers buying all sorts of weapons, but the same kind of black armor was being sold in all stores. There was a shop selling stones similar to the gems on the knight's metal arm, at exorbitant prices.

"Those are mage stones." said the knight, looking at the boy who seemed concentrated on the gems. "They give strength to the wielder. They can make a man faster, stronger, sturdier or even smarter. Only mages can make them...as they have access to the ancient arts."

The pair continued their trip until they arrived at a gray fort with black flags, the flags having a shield on them. As they went through the gates they passed soldiers in black armor training, some with sticks and others with real blades. They stopped to look at the pair, their faces showing signs of mental fatigue and pain. The pair continued until they reached an outpost.

"This is where we keep those who are too young to become Vanguards directly, but have enlisted regardless." said the knight. "You are eight correct?" he asked. Rei nodded.

"After six years of harsh training you will be formally inducted as a Vanguard. I will make you aware know...that the death rate...is seventy-five percent"

Rei looked at the man with a stare of acceptance, and he sighed.

"Welcome Rei Dragã, to the 209th Vanguard squad of Asfáleia. May the hell you go through make you a man of steel...no. Diamond." said the knight, riding away and leaving Rei at the outpost.

"Population of Asfáleia: 27,629. Number of Vanguards in Asfáleia: 1247. Number of Vanguards in the 209th squad: 5."

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