THREE LEER
Her body lay unmoving and restful, surrounded by a translucent coat of blue light. Were it not for the fact she was suspended in midair, she may have appeared to have been simply sleeping. A lord approached the girl, his crimson and gold cape fluttering behind his heels.

The man stopped short of the bed above which the girl hovered, examining her. With her milky white skin and long curls of brown hair, she was truly a beautiful young woman. The long, thick lashes on her eyes might have fluttered open at any moment. If her throat had not been slashed.

Smirking, the lord caressed the weeks-old scar with his finger. "Quite ingenious, really," he said, "to root his own magical energy into her body to prevent it from decaying. Where did you learn the magic to save your sister like this, Selwyn Rutherford?"


Nothing but the intelligible howling of the Leer filled Selwyn Rutherford's ears. He acted by peer instinct, almost as though watching from a third point of reference, as he felt his muscles move of their own accord. Selwyn stepped to the side as the Leer swept past him, and swung his sword.

The pounding of the blood in Selwyn's veins returned to normal speed. Selwyn gulped down a blast of frigid air as he spun and saw a sinewy black appendage fly into the air, the Leer's screech echoing through everyone's ears. It leapt back towards the sky, dissolving into a mass of black particles.

"S-Selwyn! Are you okay?" Wendy asked from somewhere behind him.

Selwyn nearly fell to his knees. He leaned on his sword for support, fighting the urge to vomit all over the ground. His hands were shaking. "The hell… is going on here…?"

Yakitori spoke, his voice lacking its usual firmness as well. "No, more importantly… did you guys see what I think I saw in that Leer?"

"Yeah, it was one of the townspeople," said Selwyn, wiping his mouth with his sleeve and standing up straight again.

Wendy looked from one to the other. "What does that mean?!"

"Leer are monsters that are created when a human loses all the mana in his or her body," said Yakitori. "Without mana, the body's composition cannot be sustained, and it devolves into a monster like the ones you see here. But the change is supposed to be permanent. I've never heard of a Leer being able to return to their human form before!"

Yakitori grasped the side of The Chained Thief to help support his shaking legs. "I can't believe it. That was Maria… I'd just spoken to her this morning! How could—?"

"Forget about that for now!" Selwyn shouted. "Right now, we've got some monsters to take down if we're gonna save this town!"

"Right!"

As Yakitori drew a broadsword of his own, Edelweiss drew Selwyn's attention. "Selwyn," she said, "I shall require a tribute if I am to help."

Selwyn sighed. He quickly scanned his immediate vicinity to make sure the coast was clear. "All right. But make this quick. We're kinda standing in the middle of a battlefield here."

Reaching forward, Selwyn swept aside Edelweiss' bangs and clapped a hand to her pale forehead. He closed his eyes, as did Edelweiss, and muttered a brief incantation. Nothing appeared to happen at first, but eventually, a mysterious blue aura began to flow from Selwyn's hand into Edelweiss. After a few moments, Selwyn severed the connection.

"All right. Let's do this."

Edelweiss nodded her head, and opened her eyes. They were now bright crimson. The vampire turned away from Selwyn, but not before giving her partner one last parting glance. "Don't die, Seeelwynnnn."

"Hmph," smirked Selwyn, "I'd return the sentiments, but I have a feeling they'd just be unnecessary."

Despite the clamor of battle, the town had fallen eerily silent. Smoke filled the air as fire claimed Gramburg and the clang of swords rang from end to end of town. The fog made it nearly impossible to observe the entirety of the battlefield.

Selwyn held his sword closely. "Stay close, Wendy," he said. "Just stick to me and we'll make it out of this a—"

His voice withering away into a low rasp, Selwyn peered around. Nobody stood at the doorway of The Chained Thief. Squinting through the fog surrounding him on all sides, Selwyn tried to make out the girl's figure. "Wendy? Wendy! Where did she go?!"

The fog was beginning to close in. Little could be seen outside of Selwyn's immediate reach as he swung around on his heel, searching vainly through the darkness for Wendy. She was nowhere to be found. Selwyn cursed again, his hands tightening around the hilt of his sword.

"Wendy! WENDY!"

To Selwyn's left, a misty figure drifted towards him. The young swordsman raised his sword, preparing to strike down an enemy; instead, Yakitori crept into sight of his vision. Selwyn lowered his guard almost immediately. "Yaks! This damn fog is getting way too thick. Have you seen Wendy?"

"No idea!" gasped Yakitori, clearly out of breath from running. He held his sword straight in front of him, as if anticipating something. "Is she missing? Ah, hell, worry about yourself, Selwyn! That shouldn't be too hard to do, eh?"

Through the shadows emerged another Leer, its grotesque figure and high-pitched screaming claiming all sight and sound. It lunged straight for Yakitori, knocking him off its feet as it threw back a hooked claw and widened its sizable mandibles.

"Yaks!" Selwyn's eyes grew wide as they processed the horrifying image in front of him, but his hands proved much swifter, reacting by instinct. The edge of Selwyn's blade dove straight into the abdomen of the four-legged Leer, unleashing a disgusting stream of black blood into the air.

Yakitori rose from the ground, shakily. Selwyn reached out a hand to help him up. "You all right?" he asked, his own voice unsteady.

"They just keep coming in waves," Yakitori said, wiping blood and saliva off his face.

Before Yakitori could even finish speaking, his words rang true. Two more Leer soon materialized in replacement of their fallen comrade. While Selwyn reached into his jacket, Yakitori's shoulders slumped forward, his jaw growing taut. "There's no end to these monsters!"

Shouting at the top of his lungs, Yakitori sprinted forward, his sword swinging by his side. Seconds before collision with his two dates, however, Yakitori's knees buckled as he changed direction and leapt out of the way, Selwyn's voice ringing behind him.

"Outta the way, Yaks!"

Twin bolts of lightning swam over Yakitori's shoulder right as he pivoted, barely missing him. The streaks of energy flew cleanly through the two Leer, striking the centers of the monsters' masses before dissipating in a haze of golden light particles.

Yakitori looked over his shoulder as the Leer disappeared. "Next time you do that, warn me ahead of time!"

Selwyn returned Yakitori's look with a smirk. He bounced a couple of objects in the palm of his hand; they looked like clear, crystalline stones, cut rather unevenly and nearly transparent in color. Faint orbs of pale blue light glowed in the center of each rock, growing less obvious by the second.

"Root stones?" Yakitori asked. He strode up to Selwyn's side, examining the stones in his friend's hand. "These are pretty large ones. How many do you have left?"

"Not many," said Selwyn. He glanced at their surroundings; the sheer force of Selwyn's magic attack had blasted a hole straight through the fog, although it was already beginning to reassert itself. The howls of Leer surrounding them drew close once more. "Hopefully I don't have to rely too much on them."

More shadows began to creep around them even as they spoke. Yakitori frowned. "Hopefully you've been practicing your swordsmanship."

Selwyn and Yakitori stood back-to-back, their weapons raised. The former smirked, his eyes clawing through the thick plumes of vapor for any sign of movement. "We'll just have to punch through these bastards before I run out, right, Yaks?"

"Y—"

Yakitori's sword fell to the ground with a clatter. A Leer shaped like a massive snake soared through the darkness and lifted Yakitori off his feet. Blood splattered across the floor just as Selwyn turned.

"Yaks!"

While Yakitori's blood glistened on the ground, Selwyn's pounded in his ears. He bit his lip, swinging his sword hard to block a simultaneous assault by two other Leer. The coarse breaths of the monsters blew in Selwyn's face as he held them back with his sword. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the Snake Leer had already coiled itself around Yakitori, and was dragging him off without much struggle.

"God damn it," Selwyn cursed. He pulled another root stone from his jacket. "Eat this, you sacks of crap!"

A blaze of shimmering golden light erupted from Selwyn's hand, shooting forward like a bullet. The attack sent the Leer fleeing, though both of them largely escaped unscathed. Their cries faded away into the fog, leaving Selwyn with a temporary moment of respite.

His breathing ragged, Selwyn placed a hand on the inside of his jacket once more. There was nothing there. "Shit, I'm out already?"

Already, the cries of the Leer were returning. Selwyn sensed them flocking towards him, encircling him within their snare. The feeling was inescapable. Flight was no longer an option, confrontation was inevitable.

In the time that Selwyn stood still, facing the coming onslaught of Leer, the fog around him began to lift. It was still thick as it enveloped the horizon, but Selwyn could now see the road ahead of him, as well as behind him. Yakitori lay on the ground in front, struggling for his life against the constricting body of the Snake Leer. Behind Selwyn, Edelweiss was engaged in battle against three Leer, fighting valiantly but losing ground with each second. Wendy was nowhere to be found.

"You bastards," said Selwyn, glaring directly at the cloud of black particles surrounding him, "what the hell do you guys want? What is the meaning of this?!"

In answer, the black cloud produced a new Leer enemy. The creature had scythes for arms and pod-like armor reminiscent of a beetle, but it stood on two gaunt legs like a human. There was no face, but instead a pair of fangs from which saliva dripped. It darted straight for Selwyn.

Metal sang as Selwyn tested his sword against the monster's scythes. They were not made of metal, but some sort of thick, fibrous material. It felt like mesh, but proved impossibly durable. The encounter had not shaken the Leer at all, but for Selwyn, the brief skirmish had nearly jarred his sword right out of his hands.

"I'm not gonna get many answers, am I?" Selwyn frowned. He surveyed the town-turned-battlefield around him. Either all the townspeople were Leer, or there were none left. Neither thought proved comforting to Selwyn as he braced for another encounter.

"To hell with it! I'll just beat all your asses until you leave or I die."

Selwyn charged. The Beetle Leer ducked. Planting his heel into the ground, Selwyn swung his sword after his opponent had already vacated its position. The sword clanged as it collided with the paved road below. Selwyn clenched his teeth. "Where'd—?"

Flurries of scythes, claws, and mandibles reached Selwyn. He turned as the Beetle Leer lunged at him from behind; Selwyn picked his sword off the ground and parried feverishly left and right as the onslaught continued. Finally, he pushed back against the ground and leapt back, creating some distance between himself and his opponent.

Selwyn examined his sword. Its edge had been chipped beyond recognition, while black steam rose straight from the metal itself. He gritted his teeth again. "This guy's on a completely different level! If I don't do something…"

The Beetle Leer headed straight for Selwyn again, its thin but muscular legs seemingly gliding over the ground rather than running. There was not much time to react. Selwyn looked down at the spent root stones in his hand. There's still a little bit of juice left in these things. If I use them together, maybe—

In a split second, Selwyn made his decision. Instead of using his sword, he raised the root stones against the oncoming enemy. His feet shoulder-width apart, he took up a stance and fired.

The stones fell to the ground like a waterfall, shattered into dozens of tinier pieces. Selwyn's eyes had not even widened before he felt the Leer sweep past him. Rivers of blood streaked down his wrist as a wide gash opened up in his palm.

Impossible… Selwyn looked behind him.

The Beetle Leer slashed the air with its scythes and turned to face Selwyn. In that half-second, Selwyn's entire body froze. Time stood still as he stared into the face of Maria, the mother with the apple basket. How… no, why is she a…?

The moment of hesitation proved costly. A ribbon of blood arched into the air, unfurling in slow motion as the wound exploded across Selwyn's side. Selwyn gripped his stomach as he fell face first, his sword tumbling to the ground like a useless limb.

Dust was all that Selwyn breathed in as he lay on the ground. Around him, everything had grown hazy and muffled in a way that no fog could effect. Thoughts of resistance disappeared from Selwyn's mind. He was only vaguely aware of his own existence.

From the ground, Selwyn heard screams. For a second, he had difficulty determining whether they originated from his mind, or outside it. But in the next moment, Selwyn's eyes refocused. He saw, as he lay on the ground, a couple of girls, sisters by their looks, fleeing for their lives as Leer pursued them.

Selwyn followed the sisters with his eyes. So there are still people left in this town…

One of the sisters was taller and older, tugging along her younger sister's hand as they ran. But not for long. The Leer overtook them within seconds, and they were gone. Blood carpeted the ground, and gave the walls of the town's buildings new crimson highlights.

People left to protect that I can't protect…

Choking blood out of his own mouth, Selwyn tried to move his hands and stand up. But his body would not move; it feebly crashed back onto the ground, blowing up dust and dirt. He pounded the ground with his fist.

Damn it… this feeling again. I thought I was done with this.

Screams rang in Selwyn's ears again, but this time, they came from inside his mind, from the primordial collection of memories hidden there. Nevertheless, the bloodcurdling screeches caused waves of goose bumps all over Selwyn's body. They were familiar. They were his own.

"Shirley! No, Shirley!"

The silver blade of the dagger swam in and out of Selwyn's vision. Cheers from the crowd that had gathered in the square around them rang and echoed, none of the noise making individual sense. Together, the faceless people were all clamoring for the deed that was about to occur.

The man who held Shirley in his grasp sneered. He had sworn to protect her, to make her his wife. Was that not the reason he had imprisoned her in his castle in the first place? He had stolen her freedom, and now he was going to steal her life as well. His red and gold cape fluttered in the breeze as he laughed.

Selwyn watched helplessly as his sister spoke her last words to him: "Don't fret over me, Brother. I shall be fine. Even if we no longer may be in this world together, I will always be with you in spirit."

On the ground, Selwyn's hand clenched. The cloud of black particles was boiling into a fervor again. All around Selwyn, the cries of the Leer were deafening, unbearable. But Selwyn's mind was elsewhere.

All I did was watch.

All I had the power to do was watch.

As my sister was murdered before my own eyes!

I'm sick of this bullshit…

From the midst of the black cloud, a new Leer emerged. This new one was larger, taller, and much more human-like in its appearance than any other Leer before it. The Leer wore heavy, black armor over its body, and in its hand it wielded a lance made of that same fibrous, black material.

The Leer paused and waited as Selwyn stood up. His sword returned to his hands. Using his sword for support, Selwyn looked up at the massive Leer standing before him, defiance gleaming in his eyes.

"I hated it, you know," said Selwyn to the Leer. "That feeling of helplessness. I've had to deal with it all my life, because I wasn't strong enough to change things. All I could do was stand uselessly by the sidelines as everything was taken away from me."

Selwyn exhaled, the very effort of standing up sapping all his remaining energy. "So let me tell you one thing, Leer… I'm done being jerked around! You can all go fuck yourselves!"

The fragile blade rose from the ground, as Selwyn stood with his weapon pointed against his enemy.

In reply, the Leer held its lance parallel to the ground, digging its heels into the ground as if readying to charge. Selwyn's eyes grew round. Gold light began to concentrate around the crown of the lance, gathering momentum with each moment. The Leer was going to finish things in one blow.

Selwyn hesitated as realization hit him. I have no chance against that thing!

"Don't kill him!" Edelweiss' shrill voice reverberated against the cold air as she flew in front of Selwyn's vision. She stretched out her arms, standing directly in the path of the Leer.

Selwyn leapt forward as he saw what Edelweiss was about to do. But before he could so much as take a step forward, the attack was complete. Edelweiss fell to the ground motionless, blood splattering everywhere at Selwyn's feet.

He looked up at the Leer. It stared back, expressionless, silent.

Without thinking, Selwyn gripped his sword with both hands and ran. His legs moved only through sheer will and adrenaline, his feet pushing back against the hard ground with each laborious step. Selwyn held his sword out next to him.

I'm tired of others taking the fall for me!

I'm tired of watching uselessly as they're killed!

I don't need anyone else… I'll win this battle myself! With my own strength!

Selwyn let out a roar that filled the entirety of his lungs, letting out the feelings that had long lain dormant inside his heart. He swung his sword with all his strength, willing himself to cut down the Leer standing before him, willing himself to grasp victory out of the clutches of a hopeless situation.

Selwyn's sword shattered into pieces.

In its hand, the Knight Leer held the top half of Selwyn's sword in between its gnarled fingers. The Leer let the broken blade fall to the ground with a clatter. Raising its lance again, the Leer made its way towards Selwyn, between every stomp of its feet a ringing silence that hinted of laughter.

Selwyn's breaths came in short, painful gasps as he knelt on his knees. He looked down at the broken sword still in his hand. He could see only the bottom half of his face reflected in its shattered blade. The Knight Leer stopped directly in front of Selwyn, who stared back into the abyss of its unreadable face.

Tears threatened the edges of Selwyn's eyes, but he held them back. The Leer gazed silently down at him. Selwyn stood up again, his broken sword rising with him. "Even if I have to tear you apart piece by piece with a broken sword, I'm not losing to you!"

Selwyn swept his fist back to punch the Leer with the remnants of his sword. But he flinched and fell back to the ground as a sound like cannon fire thundered through the town of Gramburg.

The Knight Leer fell to the ground at Selwyn's feet, a sizable hole blasted cleanly through its armored chest. As the Leer vanished from Selwyn's line of vision, another sight replaced it. Wendy cast aside Edelweiss' flintlock pistol and drew a sword instead, her normally green eyes the color of gold.

"W-Wendy?!"

"Don't worry, Selwyn!" she smiled as she pointed the sword at him. "The worst is over now. Just stay still. I promise that you'll be dead within a minute."

Without another word, Wendy plunged the sword through Selwyn's heart.


Footsteps rang in the hall where the girl lay suspended in midair. The lord who was seated beside her bed, a glass of wine in his hand, saluted his visitor. His visitor paused, not saying a word, but watching the lord closely.

"Ah, I'm glad you are here," the lord said. "I was just thinking of Selwyn and his dear sister. Won't you have some wine with me… Edelweiss?"