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The Demon King

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Long ago, when the sky was red and the water was white, people huddled within the walls they built to protect themselves from the last remaining demons. To keep their children safe, they told tales of a creature they called the Wanderer.

“No one knows where the Wanderer came from,” they would say, “but he cannot be killed. He walks the land with no destination and no end, and he brings death wherever he goes. If you go outside the wall, the Wanderer may find you. If you are unlucky, he will follow you home.”

One day, a child did not heed the warnings of his parents. He climbed over the village wall and ventured out into the world to see what there was to be seen.

He did not return when night fell, nor when dawn broke the next day. The villagers debated whether to send a party after him. He may already be lost, and others might perish during the search. As the sun set, the watcher at the village gates cried that a figure was approaching from the west, a black shadow shrouded in a cloak billowing in the fierce winds that swept the wasteland outside the wall.

The villagers were afraid. They set their best archers to strike down the stranger, but every arrow fell short. Those with magic were called to cast it, but none of their spells found its mark. With no other recourse, the village elders dragged out their ancient war machines, but the devices had been claimed by rust and would not ignite. The stranger’s steady progress could not be halted.

The man stopped outside the wall. He was tall and lean. His face was hooded and his eyes shadowed. He drew back his torn and threadbare cloak and laid the missing child in front of the gate. The boy was injured, but his wounds had been dressed and bound. The stranger raised his hands to demonstrate that he was unarmed. He stepped back as the child sat up and waved his uninjured arm to the crowd standing along the wall.

The villagers were ashamed of their fear and distrust. They opened the gate for the stranger and gave him a glass jar of clear water, the most valuable reward they had to offer. After the traveler drank his fill, they invited him to stay. He refused. “I’m searching for something,” he told them. “I cannot rest until I find it.”

“Are you close to what you seek?” the boy’s mother asked. She wished to aid him if she could.

“I grow closer with each step,” he replied. “The path may be long, but one step will be the last.”

“But you will die in the wasteland,” proclaimed the boy’s father, who felt less charitably toward the stranger. “No one can survive beyond the walls for long.”

“I will not die. Survival is nothing more than a matter of practice.”

The villagers allowed the stranger to depart as he wished. Most were happy to see him disappear beyond the horizon, relived to have survived an encounter with a man who must surely be the cursed Wanderer of legend.

Meanwhile, the boy’s mother took the traveler’s words to heart. Any journey, even the most perilous, is little more than taking one step after another. She was emboldened to venture beyond the walls herself, taking her son with her as she struck out for the neighboring settlement across the burning plains.

As she traveled, she learned that the stranger hadn’t told the whole truth. Survival may be a matter of practice, but luck is equally important. Each step can only be taken if arrows fall short and storms blow wide. When the boy and his mother spoke of their travels, they gave honest accounts of the dangers they avoided, helping those who would set out after them plot their course. They spread stories of the Wanderer everywhere they went, telling those who would listen of the good fortune he took for granted, to have a destination worth walking toward.

No one knows if the Wanderer found what he was looking for. He may indeed still be searching, but the blessing “May you have the Wanderer’s luck” is still used to bless travelers to this day.