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 No4:Not a Coincidence

Now sitting on a stone bench in the main plaza, Tessa sat with her head in her hands. The shadow from the building at her back covering her. After being kicked out of the Heroes’ Guild, she absentmindedly wandered back here and cried from the shattering of her dreams. But once the tears had dried and the puffiness of her eyes had mostly subsided, she decided this wouldn’t be the end of things. I’m not done. Not yet, at least. I will become a Hero, no matter what it takes! However, she still didn’t have a clear idea of how to do that and was back to square one. Leaning her back on the building and staring at the space between the sky and the flowing fountain before her, Tessa tried to come up with ideas that would force the Heroes’ Guild to acknowledge her and open the doors to welcome her as a member. I could try finding work here as a waitress or something, but I don’t think that’ll get me very far. It also doesn’t help me get around needing recognition from an existing Hero to join the Heroes’ Guild. Maybe try applying for a staff position in the Heroes’ Guild? I’d have a chance to meet and talk with a Hero! But, even then, I’m probably still a fresh memory in the mind of the Guild. Tessa thought every which way she could. Head down and eyes closed, racking her brain one way and then another. But every time she came up with one idea, it seemed to end up sounding too crazy, or desperate, heavily reliant on her already-bad luck, or a completely dead end. And just as her brain began to fry its last circuit, a pair of footsteps walked past her. The set closer to her was metallic and lightly clinked with every step on the cobblestone, and the further pair were heavy yet soft on the stone. Tessa wouldn’t havebarely noticed their presence at all if not for a brief brushing of one of the more armored feet brushing against her shoes. Quickly looking up and around for any sight of the two people who’d just passed by her, Tessa couldn’t find anyone nor hear anything similar to what just passed by. What, or who, was that? And then, now feeling something in her hand, realized a flyer was now in her possession. Whether it’d drifted over, fallen by chance, or placed in her hands, she couldn’t tell. But looking it over, it was a kind of help-wanted-ad. It read: [REQUEST APPROVED] ACTIVELY SEEKING HEALER Active adventuring party, currently consisting of two fighters and one ranger, desperately seek the aid of any available healer willing to accompany us on quests. All rewards will be divided up equally regardless of individual specialty and skill. Keep an eye out for a green half-orc near the fountain in the main plaza around mid-day if interested. We’re a very welcoming and open-minded party that always aims to take home the glory! - Burf R. Once she’d read it through, Tessa relaxed again. Her head resting on the cold brick wall behind her as the advertisement lay in her hands. This is too good to be true. It has to be! What are the chances that something like this falls into someone’s hands, both literally and figuratively? But… what other choice do I have at the moment? All other potential options seem beyond my own capabilities, or are too risky to gamble on. Tessa stared at the fountain in front of her, wondering if this was the only actual way of getting back on track. The academy trained her to be a healer, and this opportunity is likely to be the best chance given her circumstance. Yet it felt like there was something not quite right. It felt unnaturally convenient. And not just that, it felt like something about this opportunity was just wrong. The paper itself felt dangerous in her hands, but she couldn’t figure out why. While Tessa contemplated away, a party of three people approached the plaza. Turning her attention to them, Tessa saw all three were wearing combat-ready gear and weapons. One was a human wearing a mix of leather and chainmail with a sword at his waist and a shield on his back. The second was an elvish woman, taller than the rest, with blonde hair and a bow. But the last one was green-skinned and wore a near complete set of plate armor; a spear in hand while the tip rested on his shoulder. At seeing his green skin tone, Tessa immediately reread one line in the advert and then looked back at him. That must be… The green-skinned man addressed the elvish woman. “Do you have to scare off every healer we come across?” She pouted in response. “It’s not my fault every healer we come across is a cute girl.” The human behind both of them chided her under his breath. “Yeah, that’s because you’ll bite the head off any male healer who even gets close to you…” The elf turned on her fellow party member, a furious look in her eye as she ground her teeth. “What was that?! Care to repeat yourself?!” He held up his hands in surrender, trying to avoid any unnecessary infighting. “Nothing, nothing! I swear I didn’t say anything Ms. Handsymaiden.” The elf reached for her bow, the look upon her face scary enough to make even a demon fearful, but the green-skinned man intervened. “Cool it Evera, we already have enough trouble as it is working as a three-man party. I doubt making a pincushion out of Puff will make things any easier.” “Hmph!” Pointing her nose to the air, Evera moves ahead of her party members. Leaving the two to their own devices as she cools off at the fountain’s edge. Moving beside his teammate, Puff asks, “Considering Evera’s… ‘tastes’, what are our chances of finding a healer before the next quest, Burf?” “You mean one that Evera won’t string up as bait in the middle of the night for not meeting her ‘standards’?” “Yeah, pretty much.” “Next to zero.” Puff sighed, groaning over their party’s misfortune, “Thought so…” Tessa continued to watch from her seat in the shadows, finding their group dynamic to be humorous in its own way. But now that her opportunity was standing before her on a silver platter, she couldn’t help but be apprehensive about approaching them. Would this be her ticket to becoming a Hero? Or was this something that would lead her in a completely different direction? From the looks of it, they seem to be experienced. And the flyer mentions adventuring, rewards, and glory. But it all sounds too convenient. Is there no better option? Gripping the paper tightly, and seeing no other way but the one before her, Tessa stood up and approached the three. Mustering up her courage and hoping they wouldn’t reject her. “U-um, are you Burf?” Tessa spoke directly to the green-skinned man in near-complete plate armor. Burf replied, “Yes, I am. Do you need something of me?” Tessa gripped the handle of her staff tightly with both hands, the icy gaze from the Heroes’ Guild’s clerk still fresh in her mind. “I came across your flyer, requesting a healer, and wanted to ask if I could…” Tessa bit her tongue, her nerves getting to her, when she suddenly bowed and stated everything she wanted to say at once. Hoping it would be enough to be accepted. “I-I’m a cleric of Aeon and specialize in healing and support miracles! Will you please allow me to join your party?” Burf stood there in stunned silence, unsure of how to handle the girl before him. She was definitely what they were looking for, but he could tell she was far too green. Everything from her introduction screamed “beginner”, yet she was also what the party needed. Trying to decline her offer politely, Burf responded, “Thank you for responding to our request, b-” Evera interrupted, literally and figuratively sticking herself between the two’s conversation. “Yes! We’d love to have you join us!” Burf immediately tried to turn on Evera, but found himself muffled by her hand tightly gripped around his mouth. For an elf, she was unexpectedly powerful right now, and he struggled against her grip. Pulling at her hand to speak his piece. He needed to object. Then Puff joined the conversation, siding with Evera. “Unfortunately, I have to agree with her, Burf. Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. Fortune rarely smiles upon us, so might as well take what we can get. Right?” Burf’s eyes opened wide out of concern for Puff, but he couldn’t argue against his points. Finally getting Evera’s hand out of the way, he relented. Sighing, Burf accepted Tessa’s offer. “As you’ve heard from my teammates, we’d be glad to have you join us. So, what’s your name?” Burf extended a hand in greeting to Tessa. Taking it, Tessa introduced herself. “I’m Tessa. Tessa Vivuk. Thank you for allowing me to join you.” “No problem. I’m Burf Reardist. Half-orc, leader of the party, and fighter who specializes in the spear.” Burf gestured to his fellow party members as he introduced them. “The elf is Evera Autumn, our ranger and resident expert on all things nature-related. Your fellow human, there, is Tiberius Puffin. A fellow fighter and specializes in battlefield manipulation with his sword and shield.” Evera excitedly greeted Tessa, “Hello!” Puff followed up, “Hey!” Tessa’s face lightened up, the stress of getting rejected falling away as her new party members introduced themselves. They felt like nice people with a relaxed air about them. She even found it silly how a piece of paper had intimidated her so much. Evera excitedly jumped in place as Tiberius also shook hands with Tessa. Though there was something he was curious about. “Real quick, Tessa, what plate rank are you?” Tessa’s head tilted to the side, confused. “‘Plate rank’?” Burf had been wondering the same thing, but wasn’t sure about asking until now. “I don’t see a plate anywhere on you, are you not registered with the Adventurers’ Guild yet?” Tessa found herself even more confused now. She’d never heard of an “Adventurers’ Guild” before. She knew Adventurers existed, but never had she heard of a guild for them. Maybe it was because they were never really necessary in Solis, and it wasn’t a profession anyone at Unity Academy considered before. “N-no, I’m not. Is that a problem?” Worries about herself being kicked out of the group swirled around in her mind as her hands began sweating nervously. But Burf quickly reassured Tessa, giving her a stiff pat on the shoulder. “Not at all. We’ll have to get you registered, but that’ll only take a moment.” Puff chimed in, “Follow us and we’ll show you the way to the Adventurers’ Guild.” The two moved on ahead of Tessa, leading the way around the fountain and down one of the city’s different main roads. Tessa curiously looked about, searching for any kind of large guild building as they moved. But on this road, there was nothing of the sort to the left, right, or down the center. Instead, it was a bunch of homes and businesses. None of which resembled anything like the Heroes’ Guild. Is it hidden or something? I think that would give it an advantage over the Heroes’ Guild. Maybe it’s underground or behind a secret bookcase or wall or something! Evera embraced Tessa from behind, tightly wrapping her arms and intruding in on Tessa’s personal space a bit as they walked. “I can’t wait to have you on quests with us! It’ll be so much fun!” Tessa smiled nervously, trying to recall the ways she handled Sylvie. Except Sylvie was a lot less aggressive than how Evera is now. “Yeah, same…” But as the group continued forward, Tessa watched and followed as Burf and Puff stepped away from the well-lit main road and into the alleyways between the city’s streets. What were easily navigable buildings and streets soon quickly changed into a mess of tall buildings and businesses near haphazardly strewn together. Shadows grew longer and darker, yet Burf and Puff walked further into the urban jungle of structures without a moment of hesitation. All the while, Tessa grew more and more nervous the further they got from the plaza and Heroes’ Guild. And the occasional appearance of hooded figures with roughed-up armor in the back corners of the city didn’t help. Each group speaking in hushed tones or giving the evil eye to any curious passerby. However, Tessa’s concerns quickly grew to include more than just the people she was with and passing by. All over these back streets and alleyways were deep cuts and gashes carved into the cobblestone, all complimented with the occasional large point of impact from a blunt object or scorch marks outlining a humanoid shape. Tessa wanted to speak up and ask about the mess she now found herself in, but Evera was talking her ear off with rather prying questions. Questions Tessa preferred unanswered and could only reply to with vague or short answers. It wouldn’t be for much longer though as Burf and Puff came to a stop before a large, wooden building that seemed ready to collapse in on itself at any moment. All along its structure were makeshift repairs with long-since-dried wood glue and steel plates installed every which way imaginable. The pair of doors guarding the entrance were far from grand. Instead, they looked like a termite colony made them their home twenty years ago and then sold at a flea market as “antiques”. What windows she could see on this side of the building were small and square, with no concern for the aesthetics of matching the wooden frames to the wood of the building. It all looked more like an old inn or tavern taken over by some kind of gang or criminal syndicate thirty years ago. But they were so far in debt you’d think there were still down payments required on the interest alone. The only thing that stood out to even identify the building was a long-since-weathered sign that read “Adventurers’ Guild”. And not even the paint on each letter of the sign was all there. Most of it had fallen away already, chipped off and blown away with a casual breeze. This… is the ‘Adventurers’ Guild’? Suddenly, a bottle of near-finished liquor came crashing out of one of the building’s windows. Smashing into a puddle of ruined alcohol and glass on the cobblestone behind Tessa. Tessa couldn’t help but let out a small squeak of fear as the bottle flies by her head, just barely missing due to Evera pulling her out of the way. Then came the scolding voice of a woman from inside. “You’re paying for that!” Maybe this place is worse than a criminal hideout. Maybe this was an insane asylum Faethun’s guards long since abandoned and now is a gathering place for psychos and the depraved… As Tessa’s imagination began getting the better of her, wilder and wilder thoughts about what was lurking inside quickly flooding her mind, Burf put his hands on one of the front doors. “Welcome to the Adventurers’ Guild, Tessa. Make yourself at home.” Pushing it open, Tessa shut her eyes. Bracing herself for something like flying knives or a wayward fireball to be thrown at her. But nothing came. Slowly opening her eyes, a warm, orange glow welcomed her. Inside there were people laughing, drinking, and having a good time together inside. Evera gave her a nudge from behind. “Don’t worry, we don’t bite.” Puff was quick to counter Evera, though. “Well, most of us don’t.” Walking up to the door, Tessa entered while Burf still held the entrance open. And engulfed by the warm light, she could now see everything that was going on inside. Off towards what looked like a kitchen was an animal being roasted over an open flame. Hot grease dripping from the meat and stoking the fire now and then. Over to the side was a large gathering of people around a table, all watching and laughing over a sudden wrestling match that’d broken out. Both competitors were in proper adventuring gear, but the lankier of the two had cards, dice, and chips falling from his wrist. Seems someone was trying to cheat a Dwarf out of his gold. And in the far back of the building was a band of bards playing melodies and tunes at random with no concern for anyone’s tastes. All of them just aiming to play something they enjoyed. These are… ‘Adventurers’? Where the Heroes’ Guild was prim, proper, pristine, and prestigious, the Adventurers’ Guild was anything but. There wasn’t a place without a stain, but it was full of life, entertainment, and people. It bewildered Tessa that such a place existed, and yet she’d never heard of it until now. Following her in, Burf, Evera, and Puff guided her further into the guildhall. Soon enough, she was at “front desk” of sorts within the Adventurers’ Guild. And then Burf called out to someone. “Hey! GC! Got someone who wants to register!” From behind a door to the side of the desk came a woman’s voice. “Yeah, yeah, gimme a sec.” Isn’t it disrespectful to call out for service like that? The lack of formality surprised Tessa, but it was probably the least astonishing thing all day. Given all the shocks she’s had today, perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that she hadn’t collapsed or had a heart attack yet. But as they waited, Tessa looked around the guildhall. Noting all the different people here. It seemed everyone was wearing some kind of armor or protective garment. Even those that looked like spell casters had some form of defense, either on their body or as an accessory. Also, the sheer number of different races here was unlike anything she’d seen before. Sure, she’d seen a fair amount of elves and dwarves at Unity Academy, but here there was so much more. Dark elves, half-orcs, dragonlings, half-men, and even a few races she didn’t know the names of were all getting along here. Just what ‘are’ Adventurers? As Tessa got distracted by looking around the guildhall, a young woman in her mid to late twenties appeared. Is this ‘GC’? “So, you finally found a healer, Burf?” “Took a while, but fortune finally smiled upon us.” From what Tessa could see over the counter, GC is a human with braided long, pale-orange hair and even paler white skin. She wore what looked like an assigned uniform, a custom made blue blazer and white scarf with what looks like a badge on her left shoulder. It probably denoted her as part of the Adventurers’ Guild’s staff. “Introduce yourself Tessa.” “Oh! Yes! Hello, my name is Tessa Vivuk. I’m a cleric of Aeon, but not registered with the Adventurers’ Guild. I came across the member request Mr. Reardist made and asked if he’d let me join. But I just need to register here to be a part of his party, correct? GC eyed Tessa up and down before shooting a concerned look at Burf. He knew what she was thinking, but all Burf could do was shrug in response. Knowing the Adventurers’ Guild’s policy, GC wasn’t able to turn away applicants unless they themselves stopped it and reluctantly sighed. “Alright then. Good day to you and welcome to the Adventurers’ Guild, Ms. Vivuk. My name is Clarice Valentine, but most people just call me GC. To get you registered, I’ll just need to ask you a couple questions and have you fill out some paperwork for me. It’ll just take a couple minutes of your time. But before we handle that, do you have any questions regarding the Adventurers’ Guild? I’d be more than happy to answer them for you.” Tessa thought to herself for a moment. Uncertain at first, but came up with a few. And reasoned that if she had any more questions later, it’d just be a matter of asking GC again. “Yes, I’d like to know more about what an ‘Adventurer’ is exactly. Is it a particular title or something?” “‘Adventurers’ are people who accept pre-made requests made by just about anyone. As you can see,” GC gestured to an enormous book that a party of Adventurers was already looking through, “all requests are held in that book and are available to be accepted by anyone who meets the prerequisites, should there be any.” “What do you mean by ‘prerequisites’ exactly?” “Some requests that come in can be too difficult for just any Adventurer. For example, you are a cleric and can heal via miracles, correct?” “Yes, I can.” “Because of your abilities, you could accept requests where people need to be healed via magic or miracles. Whereas someone who specializes in fighting or offensive magic would have great difficulty trying to clear that kind of quest.” “Got it.” “There are other kinds of prerequisites as well, such as a required number of party members and or a minimum plate rank.” “‘Minimum plate rank’?” “It refers to the ranking someone is within the Adventurers’ Guild. Think of it as a broad reflection of your abilities as an Adventurer. And as you can probably guess, those of high rank can take on requests much more difficult than those at lower ranks. Simply put, it’s a means to keep quests that are too dangerous out of the wrong hands and reduce the risk of people getting hurt.” “Okay, I think I understand.” “Then let’s proceed with getting you registered. Feel free to ask any more questions you have as they arise.” Bending down and disappearing below the countertop for a moment, GC pulled out some forms, a quill, and some ink. Readying her quill, GC started off by asking some basic questions. All the while, Tessa hoped she wouldn’t get asked for some proof of ability or such again. “What is your full name, age, gender, and date of birth?” “Tessa Vivuk. 16. Female. 13th of Shindor.” “Class and specialty?” “I’m a cleric of Aeon, and specialize in both healing and blessing miracles.” “A dedicated support-type, huh? You’ll never be short of work here.” A brief silence fell upon the two as GC swiftly filled out the form, her eyes darting up and down. Quickly scanning Tessa from head to toe as she wrote as many details about the girl before her as possible. And, soon enough, GC had next to all of the sheet filled out with only a few spaces left blank at the bottom. With her work done, GC turned the form and quill over to Tessa. “Alright, just fill out the things at the bottom to the best of your ability. If you can’t, don’t worry about leaving it blank. When you’re done, sign on the dotted line and you’ll be all set.” Taking the inked quill, Tessa read the space left blank for her to fill. It read: Locations and Sources of Previous Experience or Training. Somewhat understanding what it meant, Tessa wrote “Unity Academy - Miracle Division”. It bothered her a bit that there was nothing else she could really write, but it was at least something. After that, she signed the bottom of the document with her personal signature and handed it back. Giving it a quick look over, GC saw Tessa’s connection to a formal education. “That’s rare.” “What is?” “It’s unusual for people like you to join the Adventurers’ Guild. Usually we just get the dropouts.” “I-is that so…” GC laughed, intending her comment as a joke. Tessa, however, laughed nervously. She would rather it stay secret that the Heroes’ Guild rejected her. While she wasn’t necessarily a “dropout”, it wouldn’t be too far off from an apt comparison. With everything done, GC mumbled to herself a bit as the forms and such were tucked away beneath the desk. Then she pulled open a drawer and took out what looked like a bronze dog tag strung with a leather cord, as well as a small needle. “Ms. Vivuk, would you mind extending your index finger for me?” “Uh, okay…” Following GC’s instructions, she waited to see what would happen. GC held the bronze tag beneath her finger while the needle was getting close to pricking it. “This will sting only for a moment…” Slowly inserting the needle, GC drew a bit of Tessa’s blood and deposited it on the bronze plate. Near immediately, the blood soaked itself into the metal, and soon the metal began engraving itself with Tessa’s basic details. Everything from her height and age to her class and current attire. While her finger hurt a bit right now, the magical engraving silently stunned her. “Alright, and that takes care of just about everything.” GC held the plate out with both hands for Tessa to take. Assuming she it was like a necklace, Tessa took it by the cord and placed it over her head. The metal plate now hanging around her neck. “Welcome to the Adventurers’ Guild, Ms. Vivuk. We hope your journeys will be grand and your rewards be plentiful.” “Th-thank you.” Burf chimed in, “Good to have you officially with us now.” Tessa nodded, but then a question came to mind. “Um, Ms. GC, you mentioned rankings. Does that relate to the color or material of the plates?” “Correct.” “So, if this is the one for just joining as a new member, what are the other ranks?” “From lowest to highest, the ranks are: Bronze, Iron, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Mithril, Adamantine, Orichalcum.” “I see…” Tessa fiddled with the bronze plate around her neck, marveling at it. “I wouldn’t be too concerned with understanding how things scale as the ranks get higher, at least not right now. Instead, why don’t you and your party members figure out what quest you want to go on. I’ll handle the remaining paperwork to have you registered as part of their group.” Tessa nodded, a little excited, and walked over to Burf and the others. Burf taking the lead on the matter while Tessa watched for now. Though, she read that the massive tome’s title was The Big Book of Quests and couldn’t resist giggling to herself quietly. Little on the nose, isn’t it? The four deliberated around the book, wondering what kind of quest would be good while considering Tessa’s lack of experience. Prioritizing simpler missions that were iron-ranked at highest, but preferably bronze-ranked. Burf asked, “Do you have any issues with violence, Tessa? Fighting living creatures specifically.” “I’m not really cut out for fighting myself. I know a couple of offensive miracles for self-defense, but I focused most of my abilities around healing and support.” “Gotcha.” Puff made a suggestion, “How about a gathering or item retrieval quest, then? It’d be easier than a hunting quest.” Burf agreed, “Agreed.” Tessa wasn’t fully sure of what they were talking about, but she understood the gist of things. The keywords being more than enough of a clue. However, she noticed something. It wasn’t something about Burf or the others. Nor was it regarding the book itself. From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something small and dark was moving. It darted from between people’s feet and under tables, moving ever closer to her group. Rubbing her eyes, Tess tried to notice it again. But this time she couldn’t. I’m probably just imagining things. Putting his hand on the book, it opened itself and scanned through countless pages of quests. Quests flipped by with every page, and then Tessa saw the shadow from before moving again. And before she had time to even fully recognize it was there, it darted into the book itself just as the pages calmed. When the pages stopped moving, Burf read out the quest’s basic details. “Let’s see here… ‘A thief stole my pendant and hid it in a cave not far from Faethun. The thief has been apprehended, but refuses to say where it’s stashed. Please enter the cave, find it, and return it.’” Burf rubbed his chin with an eyebrow raised, “Sounds simple enough. It’s bronze-ranked and has a surprisingly large reward of 500 gold valins.” Evera agrees, “The nearest cave system I can think of would be just southwest of Faethun. The only natural barriers between the city and the caves would be a fairly dense forest.” Puff asks for more information, “Do you know anything about the animals in the region? Any creatures that could pose an issue?” Evera quickly replied, “Aside from wolves and foxes, there isn’t much there. Any larger animals don’t stray far from the river in the West, and wolf packs usually avoid confrontation with people. Assuming you stay out of their territory.” Burf inquires about the caves, “What about inside the cave system?” "There might be large insect monsters, but it’s likely too dry for them to survive in those caves. Some bats and other small nocturnal creatures may be there, but nothing that should pose a significant threat.” With the matter settled, the party agrees on this quest as being the best choice to help Tessa get used to things. Reaching around the page to grab the individual sheet of paper, Burf tore it from the book seamlessly and held it. However, Tessa thought she saw something like the faded shadow of a hand leave the book and slink into the darkness and disappear out of sight. And, at the same time Burf pulled the page out, the book seemed to flip another page on its own before closing. I think I’m going to need a long rest after today is over… Walking over to the front desk, GC had been waiting for Tessa, Burf, Puff, and Evera to return with a quest in hand. Handing it over, Burf confirmed that they’d be taking this one. GC agreed with their choice, “A simple enough one. Shouldn’t be too difficult for the four of you. I wish you the best of luck.” Burf nodded, and the group began walking to the main entrance, but GC pulled Tessa aside for a moment. Calling to her specifically. “Tessa, do you mind waiting for just a moment?” Turning to face GC, Tessa wondered what the matter was. “Of course. Is… something the matter?” “Nothing of the sort. I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be preparing some starter supplies for you while you’re gone. They should be ready for you once you return.” “Oh. Thank you very much.” “No problem. It’s something we do for every new member. I wish you good luck with your quest and look forward to your triumphant return!” Tessa smiled, happy that she’d found good people after such a horrible start to her journey. Perhaps it was just Fate working in mysterious ways. And with that, Tessa and her new party members headed out on their quest. The wooden doors creaking ever so slowly as they closed. Not letting time go to waste, GC continued her duties as a member of the Adventurers’ Guild’s staff. Filing away papers and handling the addition and removal of quests. The sun even took its time across the sky on this average day. Now, taking a break with the day’s affairs sorted, GC watched as Adventurers came and went from the guildhall. Somewhat eagerly awaiting Tessa’s return. But then she got a weird sense that something wasn’t right. Watching the entrance much more closely, she waited to see who it was that would enter the building next. And as the doors creaked open, an icy shiver ran down GC’s spine as she smelled the familiar combination of scorched steel and rotting roses. Across the guildhall, the raucous Adventurers quickly silenced. It was as though an icy wind had blown out every candle and flame in the building. No bard played another note, every gambler set their hand down, and all drinks soured in their tankards as every Adventurer turned their attention to the main entrance. Taking slow, deliberate steps into the guildhall, entered a pair of the Adventurers’ Guild’s most infamous members. One was much shorter than the other. A battle scarred dwarf smelling of charcoal and sulfur with a full, brown beard that measured over a foot in length a good foot or so. The ends of every hair burnt and frayed. And with every step he took, ash and soot fell behind him with the accompanying jingle of metal. The other had ears nearly as long as an elf’s, but the ends rounded much sooner than ending in a point. His face looked to be sculpted by Firlorn herself, a masterpiece never to be rivaled, yet his eyes held a depth akin to an endless abyss. On his lips was a smug smirk that seemed to almost never disappear, and hair kept in a high ponytail pinned with a golden crown. The half-elf’s armor was black with gold gilding, but had a subtle green shimmer to it when under the right lighting. And each step he took clinked and tinked with an unnatural softness, as though his full plate armor was but an illusion. The presence of these two snakes was not one any in the guildhall particularly enjoyed, but tolerated to the best of their ability. Thankfully, at least for most everyone but GC, the two walked directly to the front desk. Looking to the Adventurers for help, they all couldn’t meet GC’s gaze. She’d have to handle them alone again. “W-welcome back… you two. I assume your quest went smoothly… again?” The half-elf bastard was more than happy to confirm this. “You make it sound like everyone would’ve been happy if we failed.” His words always came across in a sing-song and heavily sarcastic tone. Seemingly always aiming to either charm, offend, or both. “I-I see… Would you mind presenting the ‘proof of completion’ so the guild can verify it?” GC hoped, with every fiber of her being, that these two had not completed another impossible task. Pulling out a large sack from a satchel at his side that could never hold such a large amount normally, the dwarf handed over the “proof of completion” as a green liquid dripped out of the bottom. “Right here! Fresh manticore heads.” Disgusted but knowing it’s her job to handle it, GC took the bag behind the door to the side of the desk for processing. Reemerging from the side room, GC choked out the gratitude the Adventurers’ Guild had as part of their policy. “Th-thank you for your… hard work. It’s… appreciated.” The forced smile she wore felt like it would crack her face in two if she had to hold it any longer. Placing his elbow on the front desk, the half-elf leaned in to get his face closer to GC’s. She leaned back, doing her best to keep what distance was possible. “I always appreciate your thanks.” GC’s stomach churned at how such a beautiful face could be so rotten underneath. Praying to the heavens above, she wished for today’s “flirting” to end quickly. But, as if the gods had responded, the usual conversation changed course. “By the way, while we were on our way back, we discovered an encampment of bandits in the southwest.” At hearing this, GC immediately panicked. Then, it slowly turned to dread. She demanded to know, “Are you sure there’s a bandit encampment there?!” “Would I ever lie about something that could put people in danger? Well, I could, but that would be against my contract.” “Oh no… oh no, oh no, oh no…” “Something the matter? Someone didn’t happen to take on a quest in that direction or something, did they?” The half-elf rested his back on the front desk, leaning into it while using his hair as a partial means of covering his face. All while the dwarf chuckled under his breath. “We’ve got a big problem. A new member and her party left for the area some time ago on a quest. And if what you say is true, then…” “Then they might be dead and it’d be all your fault?” GC didn’t want to confirm it, instead biting her tongue. “How about this? We’ll go and ‘handle’ the matter and return with the unfortunate Adventurers in tow. No one gets hurt, some bandits are ‘taken care of’ before anyone really notices them, and things continue as normal?” “What’s the catch?” His offer would solve everything before it gets out of hand, but she couldn’t help shaking the feeling that he was up to something. This character was rarely, if ever, charitable. He always took full advantage of any opportunity to the last drop, even if he hadhas to turn it upside down and shake the last coin from it. But GC didn’t have the time to organize a rescue group or such without alerting people to the matter and having everything take more time. “I’d just like another date with you, that’s all.” “That’s all?” “That’s all.” GC bit her tongue, her stomach feeling sick now with how she had to accept a devil’s deal. “Fine. But all four of them better come back in one piece.” “Don’t worry, they will. And none will be any the wiser.” Standing up from his resting position against the desk, he left with the dwarf cackling away behind him. However, before disappearing into the streets, he blew a kiss to GC. “I’m looking forward to our date, Clarice.” And then they were gone. Not a moment quicker than any of the other Adventurers had hoped. The guildhall slowly rose back to life. But then, somewhere in the far back of the guildhall, someone asked what everyone else was thinking. “Bets on how long they’ll take?” GC sighed before being the first to put her own bet down. “20 platinum valins on before dawn.” Suddenly, the roar of entertainment came back to the Adventurers in the guildhall all at once as everyone rushed to place their bets. GC, however, pulled a bottle of dwarven spirits and a glass from beneath the counter. Looking at the glass, she put it back before takingand took the top off of the bottle and began drinking it. She was definitely taking the next day off regardless of scheduling, but at least she’d be winning tonight’s bet.