The day I realized I was nothing was the same day I destroyed the one thing I worked my whole life to find.
My mind was still foggy, as it had always been. I was still mindlessly working, searching for fire stones, as if nothing was wrong.
Nothing had changed, and only then did I realize that nothing ever would.
I walked obediently in a single-file line, standing in the very back because I was the smallest, the one least likely to be successful. There weren't many children in our village. In fact, there were three. None were younger than thirteen. The entire village, from the elderly, down to me, were in the same line. The strong young men stood at the lead, the fathers and mothers behind them. Finally, there were the two young boys and then me, the only daughter in the group.
We all carried heavy mining tools, enchanted to be able to break through any stone. Everyone ahead of me was looking around like hawks for the one thing that they were trying to find: the cave of fire stones. I didn’t fully understand what the fire stones were, and come to think of it, I don’t even have the slightest idea why we are searching for them. For some reason though, that didn’t matter.
My scrawny arms never got tired under the weight of the tools. No one ever needed to sleep, or eat, or drink, but none of this ever crossed our minds or stood out as strange to any of us.
“Stop!” The head of the line announced to us. Everyone stopped at once at his command. “Mine here.” The same young man yelled back to the group, pointing at a small mound. As if right on cue, everyone started forming a circle around the hill, making it so everyone had an area to hit.
I raised my pickaxe above my head in time with everyone else. I closed my eyes, mustering all my energy, and struck the sharp edge down into the cold, hard earth. The impact caused the pickaxe to fall out of my grasp, a mistake that never happened before. Before I could even grab the tool again, a hand grasped my shoulder and pulled me back, out of the circle of mining villagers.
I screamed and yelled in shock, trying to get myself out of my captor’s grasp. I looked to my fellow villagers, seeing if anyone noticed or heard my screaming, but they simply spread out a bit to close the empty gap.
“What…? No!” I strained in the grasp of my captor, but their grip was too strong.
Once my village wasn’t able to be seen through the dense trees, whoever was grabbing me finally let go.
I scrambled to my feet and whipped around to finally have a look at who dragged me over here, “What do think you’re-” I froze. I was expecting to look up at a huge, scary man, but instead a young boy, my age, stood in front of me. I screamed in shock at seeing another person as young as I was, but I was soon silenced by the boy putting a hand over my mouth.
“Stop! I’ll explain, but you need to stay quiet. There are things in this forest that you don’t want tracking you.” he said.
My mouth snapped shut.
“Where do I start?” the boy mumbled to himself, then looked back up at me. “How would you react if I told you that everything you ever knew was wrong and you actually don’t exist because someone is controlling all you do and think?”
I took two steps back, worried the boy was mental.
“That's what I thought.”
Before I could run, the boy grabbed my arm.
“Hear me out.” He said seriously, “If I’m so wrong, then what's your name… actually, what’s this world even called anyway?”
I raised an eyebrow, “Well, duh, it’s…” I froze, then held my head as if I was having a bad headache. Of course I knew what the very world I live in is called!
Except… I didn’t. I stopped trying to run, curious to hear the boy’s explanation.
“Exactly. It’s called nothing. Everyone here is nothing. You're under a spell; the reason it was so easy to snap you out of it was that you're a kid, so the curse is less potent.” He motioned to the darkness of the forest.
Before I could ask what he was doing, kids my age, and younger started coming out of the darkness one by one, shocking me with each young face.
“Each one of us,” the boy continued, gesturing to the children, “came from your village. I’ve been working hard to free the children from the curse before it was too late. We-”
It was too much for me. “Hold it! Back up! What on earth are you talking about?! What curse?”
“The curse was cast so that the very universe has complete control over you; you were hardly human, just their minion ready to do their bidding.” The boy paused, “The fire stones, what you and the rest of our village were looking for, are the source of the curse. If your… if our village finds it, then the curse will take complete hold and we will no longer be existent at all, not even under another’s control.”
“No. No, this can’t be true! That means… that means that this whole time, I've been searching endlessly for something that will be the end of this world as we know it?!” I was stunned.
“Precisely, we need your help to block the fire stone cave before they find it. I already tried multiple times to free the other two children in our village, but it seems they’re already knee-deep in the curse.” the boy said sadly. “So will you help us?”
I was still confused, my mind was overflowing with the new information, but I nodded. “But… How will we even find the cave? Our village has been searching for ages… and they’re adults! We’re just a bunch of kids!”
The boy looked worried, as if just realizing they don’t have much time, “We already found it.”
“The problem is, it’s in the exact location that our villagers are mining as we speak!”
“Why didn’t you lead with that?!” I shouted at him as the whole group started running back through the trees.
By the time we got back, the villagers had already made their way very far into the mound that I just recently left. Glints of red were already glowing through the dirt and stone. One of the villagers, a huge man, was mining very quickly, at his rate it wouldn’t be long before he hit the fire stones.
“What can we-” I started but was cut off when I saw the boy pull a sword out of my abandoned tool belt and jumped in front of the large miner, crossing his weapon with the man’s pickaxe and causing his fast progress to stop.
The man was stunned for only a moment, then raised his pickaxe and started dueling with the young boy, trying to get back to his job.
“Don’t just stand there!” the boy yelled at me, throwing my old pickaxe in my direction. “Do something!”
I shakily reached down and grabbed my tool as a miner started charging towards me. I realized I was standing in between him and the fire stone mine. I dodged his attack and let my mining instincts take over, helping me fend for myself.
The attacking villager recovered from his miss and struck at me again, this time I met the blow with my own pickaxe, pushing him back. Suddenly my eye caught on something, a small trickle of water was spilling out from between two rocks and running down the hill to where a group of fire stones were gathered. Each fire stone that was splashed with the water turned black and lost its red glow. That gave me an idea.
I pressed my pickaxe hard against my attacker’s own weapon, forcing him to back up. When he had backed up close enough to the source of the water, I released the pressure on his pickaxe and used the moment of his confusion to strike my pickaxe down onto the rocks that were blocking a stream of water to spill out. Immediately, the rocks broke and water poured out of the hole, drenching me and many others.
The water splashed ferociously down to the fire stone mine. I watched as it hit the uncovered fire stones, turning them black one by one and taking a bit of the curse away with them. The blackness spread until the entire hill was covered in it.
All around me, villagers dropped to their knees, dropping their pickaxes and causing the children fighting them to look up in confusion. When they saw the mine, their faces turned into smiles.
“What… happened?” The villager who was attacking me earlier asked, “Who are you? Who… who am I?”
“You're free!” I said happily, “They’re free; we're all free!”
“What are you saying? Where am I?”
I thought for a moment, “You're in Zumari, land of the curse-breakers.”
It sounded right the moment I said it.