Chapter Cover

AUX 1 : Tessa Vivuk - Character Sheet (End of Ch. 30)

AUX 2 : Tolan Morndelen - Character Sheet (End of Ch. 30)

AUX 3 : H̵̱̎͌͜e̶̘̥͙͑̀̈́̈́i̷̺̤̊̋͘ ̸͍͍̠̲͂͛̃̀Z̷̳̑͋̏͘h̴̠͖͚͆̑̔͐a̶̪͎͎͐́͠ó̵̢̒͌ ̸̫̤̮͊̉͂̊-̴͖̿͝ ̵̢͚̌̒̈́͜C̶̢͇̞̣̾́h̸̖̖̦̪̑̔̉̋ã̶͇̲̯̣̽r̶͕̄̍͜ä̴͚͕͓́̾̃̎c̵̣͎͕̈́̔͐͘ͅẗ̸̤́e̶̦̝͓͇̿r̷̦̝̯̐ ̵̠̝͎̬́S̴͕̘̱̃̀̾h̴̛̗̬͜͝e̵̝̞̓̈́̽͛ę̵̞̪̆̈t̵̮͕̦̓

AUX 4 : T̶̬͍̳̳̫͐ơ̵̧̨̜͒͛̒r̸̢͖̥̤̝̟̂̈́͊́̓͝g̷͉̺̹̫͉̥͆̊̓̅r̴̛̺̪̳͖̔̎̿̕͜á̴̖̫ķ̵̨̮͎͎̼͛̈́̀̌̔̈́ ̵̼̱̙͑̑̈́͝͝-̸͓̝͌͝ ̶̨̢͕̦̞̩̿C̶̡̰̗̫̰͙̉͝h̶̛͍͉̞̘͍̣͊̃ä̴̪̍̊͒̂r̵̡̛̻̹̫͈̳̀̐̆̚͝à̶̖̺c̶̤̜͙̗̤̬̊͋̈ṭ̷̣̎̃̎̇͛͝è̴͚̮͜ͅͅr̶͖̦̣̺̝̪͗ ̴͇̳̗̳̾̔S̴̙̞̻͇͘ḥ̵̝͉̘͌́͛̿͋e̷̢̦̰̼̍e̴̩̓͌̑̔t̵̻̗͈͍̩̉̈́

Chapter 0 : The Hero and the Dragon

Chapter 1 : Dreams From Propaganda

Chapter 2 : Running Blind

Chapter 3 : Unmet Requisites

Chapter 4 : Not a Coincidence

Chapter 5 : Kneel to Fate

Chapter 6 : Saved and Sabotaged

Chapter 7 : Apprentice of Bastards

Chapter 8 : New Lessons to be Learned

Chapter 9 : Drilling in the Basics

Chapter 10 : Fanatic Extermination Preparation

Chapter 11 : A Few Moments Before Chaos

Chapter 12 : Never Wanted This

Chapter 13 : A Little Bit of Green

Chapter 14 : The Resistance

Chapter 15 : In Through the Front Door

Chapter 16 : Conversation Between Villains

Chapter 17 : Seeing What's to Come

Chapter 18 : Spark Amongst Flames

Chapter 19 : Everything Starts with a Big Bang

Chapter 20 : The Gun Goes Off

Chapter 21 : Miniboss Meeting

Chapter 22 : The Starting Light

Chapter 23 : A Convenient Opportunity

Chapter 24 : Unapologetically Breaking a Promise

Chapter 25 : No Rest for the Wicked

Chapter 26 : But It Was Me...

Chapter 27 : Second Verse Same as the First

Chapter 28 : Ritual

Chapter 29 : That Lesson Paid Off

Chapter 30 : 30. The End of the First Story

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Chapter No7:Apprentice of Bastards

Tessa’s eyes shot open as she woke up and stared at an unfamiliar ceiling. Then the light coming in from a nearby window just to the right of her hit Tessa in the eyes, blinding her for a moment. But it took a moment for her to realize the most important detail. “I-I’m… alive.” Birds tweeted and sang just beyond the window, and the sun’s gentle warmth ran along her skin. What happened? How did I get here? Tessa looked about the room. It felt reminiscent of the nurse’s office back at Unity Academy. One large cabinet filled with medical supplies. A cheap but serviceable desk with a quill, ink, and some blank papers atop it. Extra beds with minimal sheeting and a single pillow. I’m definitely in some kind of medical ward. But where exactly? Sitting up slightly and raising a hand to shade her eyes from the morning light, she glanced out the window. People were walking about handling their usual day-to-day activities. Children walking with their mothers to the market. A food vendor selling his products on the street. And some guards going on their scheduled patrol. I’m in… a city? Then she noticed the pale blue sleeve of her current garments. Lowering her arm and examining herself a little closer, Tessa realized she’s wearing a patient’s gown. And as more of her surroundings became clearer, only her head remained fuzzy. Putting a hand to her forehead, she tried to sit up when a sharp stinging pain in her chest announced itself. What the…! Her memories of what happened in the cavern then came back. Blood, death, destruction, and a failed attempt to run away before something pierced her chest. I’m supposed to be dead… aren’t I? A burning pain pulsed out from where she was shot, expanding outwards across her abdomen for a couple of seconds before retracting with an icy chill. The feeling repeated itself, quickly expanding out and then retreating. Tessa gripped the area through her clothing with her left hand, hoping the feeling would eventually settle. Yet it only got worse. The infirmary’s door then clicked open as G.C. entered, muttering to herself. Her eyes focused on not spilling a tray with simple food and a glass of water and back to Tessa. “Hopefully the Guild Master doesn’t pop a vein after their meeting…” Upon turning around, she notices Tessa forcing herself to sit up and hurried to her side. “Hey, hey, hey now. Your wound only finished being treated this morning. I know you want to sit up, but you need to rest.” Tessa nodded as G.C. helped her back into bed, the throbbing pain subsiding to a near unnoticeable level. Then, setting the tray down on a low table at Tessa’s bedside, G.C. sighed and pulled up a stool to sit beside Tessa. “At least you came back to us alive. We were worried about you all night.” “I… came back?” G.C. realizes she spoke out loud. “Yeah. You were in rough shape and needed some emergency treatment, but it was a relief to just see you come back alive.” Bowing her head, G.C. apologized to Tessa. “The Adventurers’ Guild didn’t know bandits were in the area we sent you to and thus put your life and the life of your party members at unnecessary risk. The Guild Master will come to see you and apologize properly, but please accept mine for now.” Tessa was stunned. She didn’t expect an apology after what happened. Rather, she thought it was a matter of bad luck; being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I-it’s alright. I’m just glad to be alive.” Suddenly, flashes of her party members appeared in her mind. In a panic, she asked G.C. about them. Her memories of what happened weren’t clear, but she hoped to Aeon that someone had rescued as well them. “Wh-where are the others?! Where’s Burf, Evera, and Puff?!” Tessa’s sudden outburst surprised G.C., catching her off-guard, but G.C. reassured Tessa that they were fine. “They’re recovering at a clinic not far from here. Thankfully, they didn’t have any life-threatening injuries. Some broken bones and bruises, but nothing unfamiliar to an Adventurer. It’ll be a little while, but they’ll be back on their feet soon enough.” At hearing this, Tessa calmed. Her panic fading to relief. “That’s good.” Tessa stared at the ceiling and thought about what had happened. She was glad the others were safe. But it ate away at her that if she’d been better or stronger, she could’ve helped them fight or at least give them more than the weak supporting she had on hand. She was their weakest link, and she knew it. If they’d had someone who could cast better spells or summon stronger miracles than me, things probably would’ve gone differently. Maybe they could have even gone toe-to-toe with the bandits. If only I were stronger… better… Tessa’s right hand gripped while G.C. watched her sink into despair. G.C. had seen many other Adventurers blame themselves for failing a quest, even if it was because of something beyond their control. G.C. needed to get Tessa focused on something else. G.C. asked, “Since you were unconscious until now, I’m guessing you have questions you’d like answered?” Tessa turned her head to face G.C. and nodded. G.C. grit her teeth, keeping her desire to slap some sense into Tessa at bay. Otherwise, it might come out that Burf, Evera, and Puff came back in a literal wheelbarrow. Alive, but stripped bare of just about everything they had on them by that gold obsessed dwarf. “What would you like to know first?” “How… am I alive? I know I was… hit by something, but I can’t remember what happened or how I got here. I remember something appearing and causing chaos, but my memories feel fuzzy and dark.” “I don’t know what’s going on with your memories. But after learning about the bandits, the Adventurers’ Guild sent the most… ‘capable’ Adventurers on hand to save you.” G.C. felt like she’d choked down a vial of poison after complimenting those two. “They brought you back to the Adventurers’ Guild in the middle of the night and taken here for emergency treatment. As mentioned earlier, your party members are safe and recovering at a nearby clinic. You were going to be sent along with them, but your treatment began immediately the moment you arrived.” “Was my injury that severe?” “I don’t know. When you arrived, you’d already received emergency first-aid. However, the one who took care of you after arriving didn’t allow anyone other than himself to treat you. Nor did he allow anyone to see what he was doing. All I know is that whatever he did is just short of a miracle with how bad your injury was.” Tessa turned her head back to the ceiling, staring at it blankly. What should I do now? If not for those that saved me, I may not have come back alive at all. Again, all because of one thing I couldn’t expect happening, my goal is now even farther out of reach. One of her hands began gripping the bedsheets in frustration. Why? I’ve studied and practiced as much as I could, and yet it feels like the world itself is trying to stop me. I want to be a Hero. I want to be someone who protects the weak and saves the struggling regardless of status or reward. And yet… Tessa’s grip relaxed, and her face heated. And yet I’m not skilled enough to be recognized. Nor strong enough to protect myself, let alone defend anyone. All I can do is run away while someone else saves the day. A small, but dark flame lit itself in the depths of Tessa’s heart as she grit her teeth. I need power, and I need courage. But how do I get them?! The memories of how she was stuck on the sidelines while professors praised her peers time and time again slowly creeped their way into the flame, fueling it as it rooted itself in her heart. But then there was a knock on the door that got both G.C. and Tessa’s attention, and the flame disappeared. G.C. responded, “Just a minute.” She got up from her stool and went to answer the door. Tessa watched as G.C. opened it, the door opening inwards and hiding the appearance of whomever was there. Then G.C. turned to face Tessa for a moment, closing the door slightly. “I gotta get back to work, but the Guild Master is here to see you. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” With a smile, G.C. left the room. Then entered a tall man with knife-like ears. His skin was beige and with deep brown hair, and thick eyebrows and a ducktail beard adorning his face. And while he definitely didn’t look old, his emerald green eyes looked exhausted yet kind. The room fell silent as the Guild Master made his way to Tessa’s bedside and sat on the stool. Neither of them said anything. Then he took a deep breath and looked Tessa right in the eyes. “Good morning to you, Ms. Vivuk.” His voice was deep and smooth, but serious. “I would like to, first, apologize for the unforeseen situation you and your party members encountered. While it is fortunate that all of you came back alive and safe, it is still the Guild’s fault for not doing proper reconnaissance.” Putting his hands firmly on his knees, he bowed his head. “Such a mistake falls upon me as the Guild Master. I ask that you do not blame anyone else for this mistake.” Tessa wasn’t sure how to respond. She understood how the Guild Master viewed it as his own fault, but she viewed it as her own fault. Her right hand clenched as her heart sank. It didn’t feel right that the man before her was apologizing and asking for forgiveness. Hesitantly, Tessa tried to speak up and say something, wanting to but unable to find the words that would let her accept the blame. But then the Guild Master raised his head and looked her in the eyes, continuing on to his next point in their conversation. “Recently, and regrettably, many new members of the Adventurers’ Guild have been encountering issues similar to your own. I would like your incident to be the last one, and have created an…” His words trailed off, suggesting something was impeding what he wanted to say. The Guild Master broke eye contact and seemed to stare off towards a corner of the room. “‘Apprentice’ system to help prevent new and inexperienced members from tripping over their own two feet at the start.” The Guild Master’s words were confusing, and sounded forced. It was as if someone else had stuck an idea in his head, and he was trying to convince Tessa to be a part of it. “And I would like you to be the first to be a part of this new… system.” Tessa was uncertain of what to do, but the invitation held her interest. She’d always been the one chasing after something, and this was the first time any organization had wanted her to accept their proposal. It felt weirdly tempting. “Could you explain what this ‘apprentice’ system would mean for me if I accepted?” asked Tessa. “Of course. You, Ms. Vivuk, would become the ‘apprentice’ of one or more veteran Adventurers. They would show you how to handle quests properly and effectively while keeping your overall safety a top priority. Basically, it would be a means of letting you train and develop while under the protection of someone much more experienced.” This proposal sounded more and more interesting to her. It sounded akin to when a fledgling Hero encounters their own mentor and begins training to become the next major force for good in the world. However, there was a nagging feeling that this had to be too good to be true. If the opportunity she found with Burf and his party wasn’t a coincidence, then was this one? Tessa found herself torn on whether or not to accept this deal. The room fell silent as little other than the noise past the window drifted about. Looked down for a moment and then back up at the Guild Master. There were some things she wanted to understand this time, as well as be transparent with. “I… understand, but may I ask some questions before this goes any further?” The Guild Master’s eyes turned from pained to kind, giving Tessa his full attention. “Of course.” She took a deep breath in and let it out. Her hands nervously gripped the sheets, but not as tightly as before. “I… joined the Adventurers’ Guild after being rejected from the Heroes’ Guild. I’ve always wanted to be a Hero since I was a little girl and done everything I could to become one. But after they rejected me, I didn’t know what to do and found myself here by chance.” Tessa paused, and the Guild Master waited patiently for her question. “Is it possible for me to become a Hero through the Adventurer’s Guild, or should I…” It hurt for her to say this, but she needed to know. “O-or should I give up and go home?” The Guild Master leaned back a bit, thinking he was in his usual chair in his office, and fell backwards onto the floor. The sudden crash breaking the tension unceremoniously. “A-are you alright, Guild Master?!” Standing up and dusting himself off, he chuckled for a moment before sitting back on the stool. “I’m alright, just forgot where I was for a moment.” The Guild Master softly smiled. “You aren’t the first person who’s joined the Adventurers’ Guild with that intention, nor will you likely be the last.” This news surprised Tessa as she thought most others chose other paths. But the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Enough to where she wondered how she hadn’t realized it herself. It seemed obvious now that she wasn’t the first to do this, rather that there were probably several others across the continent who have done the same thing. The Guild Master continued, “As you’ve been to the Heroes’ Guild and applied, you now understand that it’s a very… ‘exclusive’ organization. And as this is the Adventurer’s Guild, I cannot say you’ll be noticed favorably or at all.” Tessa’s eyes grew sad, but it was what she expected to hear. The man at the front desk of the Heroes’ Guild did state that she needed a recommendation of sorts to join, and she’s got no idea how to get one. “However, it isn’t impossible.” Tessa immediately perked up upon hearing this. “It is incredibly improbable, due to a multitude of factors, but…” The Guild Master gave a heavy sigh, as if not wanting to recall some long-since-passed events. “You can become a Hero through your actions with the Adventurers’ Guild.” Hearing this, Tessa felt a wave of relief. Her efforts may not work out in the end, but there’d always be a chance she could increase with time. “Then, may I ask if becoming the apprentice of a veteran Adventurer will increase my chances?” Tessa expected it wouldn’t, but better to know now than never. The Guild Master raised his hand to his chin in thought. “If it’s the mentors who volunteered to train you, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities.” Wait… really? Just who could affect my chances so much?! The Guild Master lowered his hand, his brow furrowed. “It’ll come down to your own endurance, in just about every aspect.” Tessa’s eyebrow popped up. “What do you mean?” The Guild Master scratched the back of his head nervously. “The two who volunteered are, without question, the most experienced Adventurers on hand with few others able to even measure up. However…” “‘However…’?” The Guild Master looked Tessa in the eyes, his gaze dreadfully serious. “Their ‘personalities’ are not the most palatable. It wouldn’t be surprising if you came to hate them almost immediately. If anything, it’s better to hate them than be friendly. They’re a pair of characters who rarely ever tell you exactly what they’re thinking, so never assume them to be telling the whole truth. Even when they claim to be.” “And you said these two would give me a chance at becoming a Hero?” “It’d be accurate to say they’re your only considerable chance at becoming one.” “I see…” Tessa gazed down for a moment. It felt like she was about to make a deal with a devil. A true chance at her dream. The only catch being a dance with two shady figures for who knows how long. She could try her hand at working hard all over again, but she did that at the Academy and it didn’t work out in the end. Even the Guild Master said it wouldn’t be likely if she tried going that way. Yet it felt like something incredibly far away was whispering to her to say “no” to this chance. Should she take this chance, or not? Tessa got a determined look on her face and looked the Guild Master in the eyes. “I’ll become their apprentice. My dream is to become a Hero, so hardships are to be expected. I’ll endure whatever it is they throw at me.” The Guild Master, however, didn’t seem too happy to hear her accept the deal. Rather, he looked uncomfortable and very concerned. “Very well.” He said nothing else and got up from the stool. Tessa wondered if he had something he wanted to say, but was holding back for her own sake. Just as he took the door’s handle, the Guild Master turned to Tessa. “They’ll show themselves in, in a moment. And Ms. Vivuk…” Tessa responded with uncertainty in her voice. “Yes?” “Make survival your top priority while under them.” “O-okay…” With that, the Guild Master left the room. Tessa could hear the shuffling of some feet getting more and more distant before everything went silent. Then suddenly, the door shot open with Hei entering first. Brazenly greeting Tessa in a singsong voice accented with condescension, though Tessa felt like there was something slightly wrong behind it all. “Good morning to you, my new student.” Torgrak followed behind him, weapon strewn across his back and his thick beard making him always look ticked off or serious. The door shut behind Torgrak, as the three were now alone in the room. Tessa was uncertain of how to talk to them. Resorting to a neutral greeting to keep the atmosphere amicable. Also, she felt like she’d seen them before as a dreadful chill ran across her skin. Every hair on her body standing on end, but she couldn’t for the life of her recall their faces. “G-good morning, sirs. It’s a pleasure to be under yo-” Hei cut her off, “Drop the formality and never refer to us as ‘sirs’ again.” Hei looked down at his hand, checking his nails over for a moment before looking back at Tessa. “Our names are Hei and Torgrak, and you will address us as such unless otherwise stated. Understood?” Tessa now understood what the Guild Master meant, but she would do as she said before: endure. “My apolo-” Tessa stopped dead in her tracks, fixing how she talked to be less formal. “I understand.” Hei smirked, “Good. Now, Torgrak is going to check your wound.” The dwarf approached Tessa, each step heavy and clinking with metal. Tessa protested, “I don’t think that’s necessary. I’m fine, just need time to hea-!” She held her arms in front of her to try and keep Torgrak a respectful distance away. Instead, he forced her arms away and lifted her gown so he could see her injury. “What are you do-?!” Tessa was about to hit him when he coldly dissuaded her from doing so. “Hit me and ya’ll be stuck in bed vith broken arms.” His words were simple, but he meant it. Tessa allowed the dwarf to continue, her entire body afraid to do anything against him. Torgrak huffed and began his examination of her injury. Looking it over before allowing Tessa a brief respite as he walked over to a medical cabinet to pull out fresh supplies. Hei spoke, “For as rough as he may seem, Torgrak is a surprisingly good doctor when he feels like it.” Tessa asked, “Does he need to be so… aggressive with his examination?” “Normally, no. He’d rather do it while you’re unconscious, fewer distractions that way, but we need to know how long it’ll be before you’re ready for combat training.” Tessa looked at Hei confused. “C-combat… training?” Torgrak walked back and began removing Tessa’s old bandages. Cleaning the wound and applying some kind of brown ointment before reapplying the bandages. Tessa spoke nervously, “Why do I need combat training?” Torgrak interrupted the conversation. “It’ll be a few days. Zhree at da most.” Hei excitedly clapped his hands together beside his face. “Then it’s set! You’ll begin learning how to fight in three days.” Tessa spoke up for herself, “W-wait! I’m not built for fighting, let alone combat!” Her words seemed to go in one ear and out the other as Hei’s smug expression remained despiteunflinching to her protest. “We know, and that’s why we’re doing it.” Hei walked up to her, closing the gap between them until his face was just barely an inch away from hers. “I’m guessing you were the type of student who only did as she was told. Never straying away from the expected and kept risks low to always succeed. You practiced your basics and things taught for exams, but never experimented or sought your limits. Never going beyond the box you created out of fear of failure. Am I right?” Tessa was stuck staring Hei in the eyes. It felt like he was looking right into her soul and knew the things she’d done at the Academy, as if he’d stalked her. All the while, it felt like she was staring into a void in Hei’s eyes. An all-encompassing void without a single sparkle of life anywhere inside. She pulled away from his haunting eyes before admitting to what he’d just said. And now that he’d mentioned it, she felt ashamed that she was so easy to read. “Y-yes. I always focused on my studies and doing what I was told in school. I didn’t join any club or major activities out of fear that they’d distract me.” Tessa had been a wallflower the entire time, especially when compared to her friend Sylvie. And the more Tessa thought about it, the more she wondered if maybe this was why Sylvie was recognized and not her. Turning back to face Hei, who now gave her a more comfortable distance but was looking down at her. “How is combat going to help me, mist-” Hei’s eyes narrowed, but Tessa caught herself and corrected what she was going to say. “Hei. How is your combat training going to help me, Hei?” Hei became elated at her question. “What we’ll be teaching you as your mentors are things you’ll almost never learn going to any school. It won’t always make sense or seem immediately useful, but it’ll come in handy more times than you expect.” “I… don’t follow.” “Don’t worry about understanding now. It’ll make more sense when you’re on missions with us. Have to make sure you put your lessons to use after all.” Tessa was about to speak up, but then she remembered how they would defend her. She thought, Hei and Torgrak seem to be going with a more pragmatic method of teaching. If they’re defending me while I learn, it should be relatively sa- Hei interrupted, “However, we won’t be babysitting you.” “Huh?!” “It’s going to be sink or swim when you’re with us. We’ll keep you alive and, relatively, in one piece. But you’re going to have to adapt to the pain and suffering on your own.” Hei said all this without flinching, his smirk still there and unchanging. “But won’t that be incredibly dangerous at times?!” “Very much so! But gemstones aren’t made without significant pressure. And if you can’t adapt, you’ll never be able to be a Hero for anyone. Let alone yourself. You’ll forever be stuck in the shadow of your own dream, unable to attain it while others move forward.” Tessa wanted to retort, but couldn’t. Instead, falling silent as Hei’s words wormed into her mind. “Now! With that settled, I’ll be taking my leave. We’ll be starting your magic training tomorrow, but Torgrak will be your tutor for today.” Hei began walking to the door. “W-wait! How did you know I wanted to be a Hero?” Hei turned to face her for a moment, the door already part-way open. “Easy. I listened through the door.” With that, Hei left Tessa to Torgrak. She wondered what things Hei would teach tomorrow, but she was much more concerned and curious about what Torgrak would teach her today. At the moment, the dwarf was putting medical supplies back in their respective places. The brown ointment thrust into a bag at his hip. “So, Torgrak, what will you be teaching me?” The dwarf let out an evil chuckle before reaching into the same bag and pulling out a multitude of items. The first being a folded blackboard that magically came out with ease when its physical dimensions would make it impossible to store in any normal bag. It felt like she was witnessing a cartoon right before her. On the blackboard, Torgrak wrote: The Basics of First-Aid, Equipment, and Alchemy “I’ll be teaching ya all zis, an’ how ta use it practically.” (I’ll be teaching you all this, and how to use it practically.) Tessa followed what he said and wrote to a degree. The part about first-aid made sense, but not the rest. What did the other things offer, magically speaking or otherwise? “May I ask why knowing equipment and alchemy will be practical? Wouldn’t practicing my miracles be better?” “In terms of immediacy, aye. But magix, miracles, an’ might don’t vin every battle. Proper preparations can turn da tables on anyone or zhing. An’ zhat’s vhat ye’ll be learnin’ from me. Ye’ll practice yer miracles vith Hei, but ya have ozher zhings ta learn first.” (In terms of immediacy, yes. But magic, miracles, and might don’t win every battle. Proper preparations can turn the tables on anyone or thing. And that’s what you’ll be learning from me. You’ll practice your miracles with Hei, but you have other things to learn first.) Suddenly, Tessa found herself in school again. But with a teacher far removed from what she could have ever imagined.