September 15, 2020.

Crows, ravens, and buzzards circled around in the fair late summer sky. It was a mixed flock, all congregating at a single spot in the woods.

That can only mean one thing: dead humans.

Again and again, they try.
Again and again, they die.

When the local arrived at the scene, it was as grisly as he expected.

Blood soaked into the forest floor.
Entrails hung from the branches.
Broken bones impaled the trees.
Chunks of flesh and organs mixed into the dead leaves, becoming a buffet for the scavenging birds.

A rounded, forest-camouflage helmet stuck out of the ground, defeating the purpose of its existence. The local picked it up for a closer look.

It's the military again. Didn't seek permission either. They decided to go ahead with their plan without the local guide's expertise. Well, they would have just gotten a 'nope' for an answer anyway.

The local heard a faint shuffle in the leaves. Eastwards. Had the carnage already attracted boars? They're the absolute worst to deal with.

Or… it could be a survivor. That would bring a fresh breath of air to an otherwise monotonous job.

He headed East to investigate. Not too far from the initial site, he found a human soldier crawling across the forest floor.

Although hopeful at first, disappointment soon took over. One look and the local knew that poor human won't be alive for long.

Nonetheless, he decided to be by this dying man's side. Was it on a whim? Duty? Mercy? It didn't matter.

He said: "Hey."

The soldier stopped crawling. "…A… a person?… Thank god… I thought I'm going to be eaten alive. Help me… please…"

"Can't do that," so was the reply. "Your insides have become outsides. Everything past your belly is completely gone."

"…Oh… No wonder. I thought my legs were just broken."

"Can't even feel pain anymore, huh? You're definitely at death's door. Might as well keep you company until you're ready."

The local sat down next to the dying soldier. It's not very comfortable for a human to lie on their front, so he took the effort to flip him around.

The soldier immediately recognized his visitor. With a happy smile, the human said: "Two-coloured eyes… A blue and white hoodie… red scarf… It's you. 'Dust, The Lone Defender'."

Being called by that identity irritated him a bit. "Tsk, is that all I'm known for nowadays? Whatever happened to 'Sans the Comedian'?"

"Who?" There was genuine confusion in the soldier's voice.

The local named 'Dust' sighed. "Forget it. So. Any last words?"

"Are you a necromancer?"

One blink. Two blinks. Then, Dust burst into an amused laughter. "You're dying, kid. And that's your big question?"

"Yeah… Because, I'm a practitioner too."

That was an unexpected twist. "Huh. I thought human society wiped that art out a long time ago."

"…As the saying goes: 'fight poison with poison'… We're kept for special cases…"

It appears that the modern military had always integrated parts of the ancient ways in their ranks. Makes one wonder how many modern versions of 'Warriors', 'Paladins', and 'Mages' exist.

Could that be the reason why there were no corpses left behind? Not important for Dust anyway. His tactics wouldn't change with this knowledge.

Still, he chose to entertain the soldier's query. "Eh, I guess you're kinda right. Assassin-Necromancer combo, y'know. I've specced all of my points into Soul-related skills. Can't do the puppet stuff."

"…That's even better." With a contented serenity, the young soldier said: "Mister Dust… I'm offering my life to you. Please, kill me."

Dust raised a brow. "Funny that you didn't offer your SOUL."

The young man laughed for the last time in his short life. "Haha. No way. A SOUL Fusion is the worst idea. They never end well."

"A method so forbidden that the forbidden arts forbid it, huh? Welp. That's life."

Dust removed the chest armour first. Those things were made to withstand ballistics and any other piercing methods. He could rely on Karma's disintegrating poison, but that would inflict needless pain on the victim.

Then, he stood up and took a few steps back. He summoned a sharpened bone over where the soldier's heart would be. The tool was covered in magic glyphs, a clear indicator that it wasn't a plain old magic attack.

Just to make sure, he asked, "Any extra last words, kid?"

it was the following: "Thank you, Mister Dust. It's an honour to meet you."

"Okay, sure. Goodbye."

The glyphic bone plunged into the heart. Its words shone bright red, converting blood into ribbons of life and magic. Dust stretched his hand to draw them straight into his being.

In three seconds, it was over. The human's remains turned as white as snow. Then, it crumbled to dust. His gear, bag, armour, and clothes were left behind.

Under normal circumstances, humans rot into a putrid mess. But with this life-draining magic, they disintegrate straight into dust. That was one of the many reasons why 'Dust' became his new name.

Perhaps the two species were not that different after all.

He went over to pick up the bag. Solo survival was tough and tiring; he'll need every free food and tools he could get.

Winds began to blow through the woods, carrying what remained of the dead into the sky.

The man looked up towards the clouds.

"Y'know, kid. If I was a better person, friend, and brother… You didn't need to die out here. So, don't honour me."

Hanging his head low, he pulled his hood back into place.

"Don't forgive me either."

In a blink, the Lone Defender vanished from the site of death…