The days slowly passed by. It was going to be a little while longer before Tessa arrived in Faethun since the caravan had multiple stops along its southward journey. And then Tessa had an idea. Checking her coin purse, she had some valins to spare and purchased a diary, some loose papers, ink, a quill, and a small satchel from the merchant heading the wagon she was on. She came up with the idea of chronicling her adventures. Heroes go on lots of journeys, so keeping a diary to keep track of her adventures and growth made sense to her. Who knows, it could even be fun to look back at the start of the diary some years down the line to see how far she’s come. Tessa also needed to write back to her parents, so this purchase was knocking out two birds with one stone.
Starting with the diary, Tessa opened it to its first page and marked today’s date:
5 Valnir, 756 of the Aeonic Calendar. Year of Bryndor.
It’s a sunny Iboraday with some slight overcast, as I’m riding along with the caravan headed for Faethun. It’s only been a few days since the graduation last Feohtereday and I still find it hard to believe that I’m no longer a student at Unity Academy. It was a long 6 years there, but I do feel a bit sad when I see one of my fellow graduates hop off. It makes me miss my days as a student, even though I know I’ll never want to return to being one. Hopefully I’m able to keep as many memories from my time there as I can, but I’m looking forward to making new ones once I join the Heroes’ Guild.
It’s hard not to think about what Sylvie and Aavron are up to. I wonder if they’ve already gone home or are already starting their journeys instead of seeing their family. At least twice in the last few days I’ve thought of getting onboard a transport headed back North, just to see my parents again. Father is currently on a scouting mission and mother’s busy with work. I hope everything’s alright back in Solis, but maybe the next time I return it’ll be just like when the Heroes appeared 10 years ago. The idea that I could be the city’s next big hero would be an amazing homecoming wouldn’t it?
I’m hoping everything goes smoothly in Faethun. I’m writing this diary to hopefully remember the little things, but I’m already starting to forget some of my time at Unity Academy. Maybe Sylvie and Aavron remember more than I do. Honestly, I'm a bit sad that I won’t be able to walk by Sylvie practicing her shots at the war division’s archery range anymore. Or see Aavron hammering away at some new project in the scholar division’s forges. I hope the two of them are doing alright and that I’ll get to see them again soon.
With her first entry complete, Tessa put the diary aside and put her focus on the sheets of paper. She needed to let her parents know that she was alright and where she was headed:
5 Valnir, 756 of the Aeonic Calendar. Year of Bryndor.
Hello Mother and Father,
I graduated about four days ago as of writing this. Thank you both for your letters and I hope you’re both doing well. My diploma is with me as I’m headed for Faethun to join the Heroes’ Guild. I’m sorry that I couldn’t come home immediately, but the first chance I get after becoming a Hero I’ll be on my way back to Solis to see you both. Maybe I can take you both out to that fancy restaurant we went to before I left for Unity Academy, but I do really miss father’s homemade black lizard steak sandwiches and mother’s firebird pie. If all goes well, it shouldn’t be long before I’m able to visit.
Father let me know he’s doing reconnaissance with his fellows guards at the moment, hopefully he’s staying safe. And hopefully you’re not having to deal with too many customers this season Mother. I don’t think the merchants would be able to survive without you. It’ll probably be a few days before I can send another letter, but I’ll let you know where I’m staying first chance I get.
With the diary entry complete and the letter written, Tessa tucked them away in her satchel for now and relaxed as the wagon continued on. The sun and clouds passed by quietly as the wooden wheels continued to creak and turn with the occasional rock giving the wagon a slight shake. She resumed her thoughts about what it was like to be a Hero. She knew that there would be plenty of glamorous rewards awaiting her, but she’d also have to work her hardest to earn them. In anticipation of what awaited her, Tessa started to think about what exactly she’d have to face as a Hero.
There would be plenty of monsters Tessa would have to slay or capture, some would even be stronger than the wyverns who attacked Solis 10 years ago. The thought that she might even capture one of those beasts herself made Tessa reach her hand out to the sky, imagining a wyvern that she could capture with just her hand. Letting her hand fall, she started to think about all the monsters that weren’t obvious. Not all monsters were aggressive beasts that attacked with sharp claws or fiery breathes. There were monsters who lied and laid in wait, waiting for a chance to exploit your weaknesses. These monsters liked to manipulate, steal, and hold innocent lives hostage. Tessa thought about how she eventually would have to make an impossible choice. It wasn’t always possible to protect everyone. As a child she dreamed about being the ideal Hero. Someone who saved everyone without reserve! But reality didn’t work that way, Heroes can’t always save everyone. So what would she do in that situation? Would she even be able to handle that kind of impossible situation where someone has to lose for others to win as she was right now?
Doubts clouded her mind, Tessa’s eyes slowly glazing over as thoughts of how someone would have to pay a high price just to preserve the safety of the whole. But as those thoughts creeped into her mind, Tessa slapped her face with both hands. She was going to be a Hero that did the impossible, she would save everyone even if others doubted her. Sitting back up, Tessa opened up her diary and started writing down all the things she would do as a Hero and how she would do them down to the very last detail she could think of.
Tessa spent the coming days thinking and writing about all the things she’d do as a Hero, fantasizing about the memories she’d make. Eventually, Tessa slowly woke up as the wagons were passing through a checkpoint. Each one coming to a stop as a guard checked each individual merchant’s papers before letting them move forward. Things moved slowly for a while, the morning sun changed from being on the horizon to about half-way to high noon. It’d been about four days since Tessa had written in her diary, so they had to be much closer to Faethun now. She was giddy with excitement as the wagon creaked forward, changing from the bumpy dirt road to a smooth, paved, brick road. The horses’ hooves went from a soft clop, clop, clop, clip to a hard tak, tak, tak, tak.
Staring out the back of the wagon, eyes sparkling, Tessa looked to see every bit of what Faethun was like. The wagon moved along one of the side roads, following along with the other wagons ahead of it, but the limited view she had intrigued her greatly. She wasn’t in Solis anymore.
From what Tessa could see, Faethun had main roads that led straight to the heart of the city-state with several smaller offshoot streets. She was able to catch a glimpse of one of the main streets, shops and stalls were strewn throughout it while living spaces were kept to the offshoot streets. Scanning through the roads, Tessa could make out what looked like craftsmen workshops grouped together. If there was a blacksmith’s workshop it’d be accompanied by a jeweler’s workshop next door. Or an alchemist’s workshop sharing space with a florist’s shop. Tessa grew more and more eager to explore as soon the wagons all came to a stop.
“Alright missy,” The merchant heading Tessa’s wagon called out to her, “Final stop, Faethun. Time to hop off.”
“Oh! Just a moment, let me grab my things and I’ll be out of your way.”
“No worries, take yer time. I gotta check ma’ inventory, so no need to rush.”
Tessa gathered her stuff, putting what she could in her satchel and taking hold of her staff before hopping out of the wagon. Tessa took a couple steps away from the wagon to stretch. The ride had been a bit rougher than she expected, but now she was in Faethun and had enough money to rent a room at a local inn as she got situated. If everything went according to plan, she’d be able to rent a room near indefinitely or maybe even get her own place to stay. Checking her coin purse, she had around 10 gold, 4 silver, and 7 copper valins. Back in Solis this would be enough to pay for up to two weeks of lodging, not including food or other things, but Tessa was hoping she wouldn’t have to spend that much.
Thinking of her hygiene for a moment, Tessa remembered that she’d been on the road for longer than she expected and most of her things were still back at the Academy. She’d be able to send a delivery request to Unity Academy for her things to be sent over, but that’d need a place to receive them first. Thankfully the Academy did give all departing graduates a small charm that cleaned you up once a day. It was a small pendant shaped to look like a flower. When pressed it would clean you and your clothes, and made you smell like a basket of flowers.
Pressing it, Tessa felt the water and wind magic wash and dry her in just a few moments. She wanted to at least be clean before walking up the steps to the Heroes’ Guild. Though Tessa could feel her mother’s judging gaze from afar, disapproving of the use of magic to solve such a small problem. But now that she was freshened up, she had to figure out where the Heroes’ Guild was. There weren’t any obvious street signs, so she approached the merchant who’d be manning the wagon.
“Um, excuse me? Could I ask you for some directions, sir?”
The merchant had a board in his hands, the top was bent slightly to hold a vial of ink, and already taking inventory, “Hm? Where ya’ wantin’ to go lassy?”
“I’m looking for the Heroes’ Guild. Would you happen to know where it is?”
Resting his quill on the board, he stroked his bushy beard, “Lessee here...Go down the road o’er there and you’ll be on one o’ da main roads. Once yer on it, head to’ards the fountain. Once yer there, look for a white building. Tha’s the Heroes’ Guild!” He was pointing down on of the lesser streets with houses on both sides.
“Thank you sir. Have a good Feohtereday”
“You two lassy!”
Tessa started down the road, walking and looking at everything. Ahead of her, a dwarven woman was sending her children out for the day. Tessa was glad that there was an abundance of other races here. While Unity Academy had different races intermingling, most of her peers were humans just like Tessa. Elves like Sylvie or dwarves like Aavron were a minority, making up about two to three percent of each class.
But here in Faethun, Tessa was seeing dwarves, elves, dragonlings, halflings; all kinds of races everywhere. Tessa was amazed to even spot a dark elf working as a waiter, taking orders and transporting food and drinks with a smile. As she rounded a corner and found herself on one of the main ones, Tessa saw a blue dragonling in a black vest, white button-up, red tie, and black slacks flipping a tavern’s “closed” sign to “open”. Looking to see the tavern’s name, a sign above read “Bear’s Butler Bar'' with a little blue bear wearing a monocle and top hat while holding out a small glass of wine. Peering inside, Tessa saw a well furnished bar with the dragonling cleaning glasses with a white cloth as he waited for customers.
Tessa couldn’t help but keep looking around to see more, staring in awe at all the different shops. Soon enough she came across an armorer’s shop with a set of “mithril plate” for sale in the display window. Tessa scanned it from its helmet down to its greaves, her eyes stopping at the listed price: 50 platinum valins.
“Holy Aeon above! That armor must be amazing!”
With her face pressed against the glass, Tessa admired the craftsmanship of the armor. It had a faint magical glow about it, as if a veins of blue magic were floating just beneath the armor’s surface, while the sunlight reflected off of the armor and gave it a blue sheen. Tessa daydreamed about what it would be like to wear something so incredible. She knew she’d never be able to afford something like this, but the idea of her standing atop a demon she’d felled with this armor on made her squeal about how cool that'd be.
Tessa pulled herself away before she ended up spending all of her money on a piece of armor, but just a moment later found herself looking at bracelets, earrings, chokers, and more in the store literally next door. The sign above read “The Enchantress: One Stop Shop for All Your Enchanted Accessory Needs”, and Tessa couldn’t help but be pulled to the display pieces. Their price tags starting as low as 60 gold valis and increasing: 90 gold valis; 10 platinum valis; 100 platinum valis; 250 platinum valis; 1,500 platinum valis. Tessa wondered if she’d ever be able to afford these kinds of things, even as a Hero. If there were enchantments this expensive, what kind of money would she be earring as a Hero? It had to be a pretty hefty sum if there were items like these, right?
Tessa’s stomach growled and she looked around for a food stall, running over to the nearest available one.
“Good afternoon to you missy. What can I get for you?”
“Hello! I’m not really from here, so what would you recommend?”
“Not from around here? Let’s see…” The man thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers, “How about a ‘hidden hoard’?”
“‘Hidden hoard’...” Tessa liked the name of it, “I’ll take one of those, but what is it like?”
The man opened a compartment on top of his stall, a rush of warm air hitting Tessa in the face along with the smell of something sweet but savory, “These are Hidden hoards!” He held out what looked like some white, uncooked bread dough, but Tessa could see the steam coming off it, “They’re buns filled with freshly butchered boar meat that’s been marinated in a sweet and spicy sauce before being steamed. I’ll give you the first one on the house, so how about ordering two or three?”
Tessa thought he was trying to pull something, but she was hungry and it wasn't polite to turn down such a nice offer, “Alright, I’ll take two. They smell divine…”
The man laughed heartily as Tessa seemed to be drooling, “Two hidden hoards coming riiiiiight up!” Taking out a small brown bag out, he dropped the two piping hot hidden hoards into it with a plop and a crinkle before them over to Tessa, “That’ll be 1 silver valins.”
Tessa handed over the coin and took the bag into her hands. Touching the bottom, she realized why he’d been holding it from the top. The hidden hoards were incredibly hot as she almost dropped them.
“Give those a little bit of time to cool off, then dig in. Don’t want you burning your mouth now, ya’ hear?” He gave a gracious smile filled with happiness, and Tessa replied in kind.
“Thank you sir! I’ll enjoy them greatly!”
“By the way, what brings you to Faethun if you’re not from around here?”
“Is that weird?”
“Not really, but it is more unusual to see an unfamiliar face rather than one of the many people who already come and go everyday. So what brings you ‘round?”
“I’m here to see the Heroes’ Guild! I came in on one of the recent merchant caravans just today sir.”
“The Heroes’ Guild? Well, I hope that whatever attracted you there goes well.”
“I hope you have a good day as well sir! Thank you for the food and may Aeon bless you!”
Tessa bowed appreciatively, though the man was at a slight loss for word and hesitant to respond, “Aeon bless you too…” She hurried along, the man at the stall looking at her funny as she walked off, “Why does my stall always attract the strange ones?”
Once the buns cooled down, Tessa started to eat them. They weren’t the most incredible thing she’s ever had, but they were tasty. The boar’s meat had been diced up and the sweet and savory flavors filled her up as she trotted on along. Soon enough she’d eaten them both and found herself at the main plaza of Faethun. Approaching the fountain at its center, Tessa saw flowers of all kinds potted around it. The small bits of mist and droplets that flew about in the air created a small rainbow around that fountain that could be seen at all angles.
After staring in awe at the fountain for a bit she looked around for the building the merchant had mentioned.
“...stop and look for a white building that stands out. Tha’s the Heroes’ Guild buildin’!”
Tessa looked around for a bit, but couldn’t see anything too obvious. Narrowing her eyes, she worried she’d missed it somehow. And then she saw it, a massive pavilion made of the cleanest white marble anyone had ever seen. Two sets of white stairs leading up to a pair of birch doors guarded by two people in ornate steel armor with gold gilding. Between the staircases was a fountain with a garden filled with seven different kinds of flowers. As she got closer, she started to notice that there was a statue behind the fountain. It was kneeling with both hands on the handle of its sword, the tip of the sword stabbed into the base of the statue. A brass plate at the foot of the statue read: In memory of the first Hero and founder of the Heroes’ Guild. Felzan the Righteous. May his spirit forever guard the people with Aeon’s guidance.
Tessa was finally where she wanted to be. She drew her arms into her chest before suddenly shooting her arms out to the sky and spinning in circles, “Yes! I’m finally here!” Squealing with glee until she ran out of air.
With her excitement at its peak, Tessa ran up the steps leading to the Heroes’ Guild front door. Now being closer, she could see that the windows were held in place by gold fittings with drapes and curtains that looked like they’d been spun out of gold and silver thread as they shimmered in the sunlight. White marble pillars held the upper floors and a high relief sculpture of the six gods of light, and their respective champions of below each one, decorated the entrance.
As a child Tessa had dedicated the pantheon of good gods and their first champions to heart. In the center was Aeon, god of light and justice, and his first champion Felzan. Beside to Aeon’s right was Myrin, goddess of protection and earth, and her first champion Gala’Cea. To Aeon’s left was Valgor, god of trade and deals, and his champion Bragza. To the right of Myrin was Hassir, god of the night and wind, and his champion Lucielle. Lastly were the twins Solari and Firlorn, the god of fire and craftsman beside the goddess of water and artists, with their champions Solstice and Eclipse.
The guards gave Tessa a weird look as her eyes had a seemingly unnatural happiness shining out from them. Giving a look to each other, and taking a careful step away from the girl towards the doors, the two guards tried to signal the one another to talk to her and figure out why she’s here without alerting the embodiment of sunshine in front of them.
The guard on the right tried to point his head towards the girl with quick, leaning movements, “You figure out why she’s here!”
But the guard on the left shook his head and pointed at the other guard to get him to talk, “I handled the last crazy one! It’s your turn now ‘Rightie’!”
“I’m the one who had to haul them away the last time, Leftie!”
The two went back and forth with their gestures and movements, silently arguing with the occasional clink and tink from their armor.
Tessa piped up suddenly, the guards immediately returning to attention, “Um, excuse me? May I go in? Please?”
Rightie responded first, “Ah, yes!”
Leftie, following up, “Please, do.”
Tessa watched as the two guards opened the wooden doors before her. A red carpet led further in as Tessa just stared at how everything was so pristine. Expensive looking furniture was being dusted and cleaned around by floating broomsticks, feather dusters, and more. Floating spirits wandered about as sunlight filled the room. Walking in, she immediately noticed that the temperature was different inside the Heroes’ Guild Hall; it was climate controlled. This was expensive and rare magic that even kings had to pay a high price for! To Tessa, this place felt more like a palace than a guild hall. If Heroes got to live this luxuriously, then this was the pinnacle of success in the world!
Walking further in, Tessa saw a clerk of Heroes’ Guild’s front desk. Approaching him slowly, she saw him taking care of paperwork for the guild lightning quick! His hands quickly shifting and filling out forms rapidly, not even noticing her as he completely focused on his work. Forms filled out one after another in a blur of his hands, ink, and thrown perfectly to where they needed to be.
Clearing her throat, Tessa spoke up, “Um, excuse me?”
The clerk’s hands came to a dead stop, slowly shifting his gaze up from the desk. Adjusting his glasses and leaning closer to Tessa, he asked what she was her for, “Yes?”
Tessa shifted uncomfortably, her stomach full of butterflies, but wanting to make the best first impression she could. It felt like she could throw up at any moment with how the clerk’s eyes seemed to pierce straight into her soul.
Eyeing the girl up and down, he was confused as to what she was doing here. She didn’t look familiar and no one had given him notice to anyone coming by today, “Well, what is it? Speak up now.”
“U-uh! Yes! I...I! Uh…” Tessa stammered and muttered to herself, trying to find the right words to say after being put on the spot, “I-I-I’m here to join the Heroes’ Guild!” Tessa stood at attention, her arms straight along her sides and standing as straight as she could.
The clerk leaned back and adjusted his glasses, perplexed by this stammering girl, “I see. Just a moment, let me check something.”
He pulled out a large book from underneath the counter and started to flip through the pages until it came to today’s date. Scanning the page and taking a look at an hourglass on his desk, there weren’t any appointments scheduled.
“It seems you don’t have an appointment for today. Well, that’s not a problem, give me another moment to ready some things.”
At the same time, something was eating away at the back of his mind. This specific situation felt incredibly familiar, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it. Something about this girl, on this day, didn’t sit right with him. Putting away the book of appointments, he took out a form and readied his quill.
“Let’s begin again then. What is your name, age, gender, and date of birth?”
“Tessa Vivuk, 16, female, 13th of Shindor.”
“Class and specialty?”
This girl’s appearance especially ate away at him. He felt like there’d been people just like her before, but why couldn’t he remember? Her clothes seemed ceremonial, even for a cleric, but looked mass produced.
“I’m a cleric of Aeon, and specialize in healing miracles and blessings of the light.”
His hand continued filling out the form until it got to a large box at the bottom. His eyes were more focused on the paper and what he’d write next than on the girl before him.
“And who was it that recommended you?”
The clerk froze in place, wanting to beat his head against the wall. All of her responses felt uncomfortably familiar. What was it he wasn’t remembering?
“Yes, which hero or former hero recommended you to the Heroes’ Guild?” He outstretched his hand, palm open waiting for something to land in it, “If you don’t know their name, do you have a letter, memento, or equivalent instead?”
“I...I don’t have any of...those.”
Turning his attention fully to Tessa, he asked his question again but tried to make it clearer, “Were you given anything by a past or present Hero to ‘present to the Heroes’ Guild’ specifically?”
Tessa was confused, she didn’t have anything like that. All she had with her were ceremonial crown, graduation robes, cleric robes, Staff of Aeon, and other miscellaneous things like her money with her. No one had given her anything like a recommendation or equivalent-thingy.
“N-no. Sir. A-all I have are what’s with me and my diploma from Unity Academy.”
Once Tessa said “Unity Academy” it all made sense to him. This hadn’t happened in the last few years so he thought the matter had been fixed, but apparently it skipped a year or something and now there was a new wannabe Hero in front of him who didn’t know how becoming a Hero worked.
“Do you mind me asking if you are a recent graduate of ‘Unity Academy’?”
“Y-yes. I am. I graduated roughly a week ago. Sir.” Tessa started to grow nervous as one of the clerk’s eyes twitched.
Gripping his quill between his index and middle finger, he snapped it in half, “So...you have no form of recognition from any Hero?”
“N-no, I don’t, sir.”
Putting the broken quill dripping with ink down, he took a deep breath and massaged his, “Why didn’t I figure it out sooner…”
Snapping his fingers and the two guards outside came in on command, “You called for us, sir?”
“Yes. Please escort this young lady out of the building.”
Tessa didn’t understand what was going on, the guards approaching as Leftie put his hand on her shoulder, “Come young lady, it’s time to leave.”
“W-wait! What's going on?”
The clerk turned his annoyed attention to Tessa, “You’re just like every wannabe Hero who thinks they can just march in here and apply to be one.”
“B-but I came all the way here from Solis and the Academy! C-can’t you give me a chance to-”
“‘To’...what? You said yourself that you have not been recommended by an existing or past Hero, nor have any physical proof of being recognized by one. I’m guessing that as a child you saw a Hero do some incredible feat and grew up thinking that if you worked hard enough you could be a Hero too, yes?”
“Y-yes…” Tessa was panicking, desperately trying to figure out what was going on. Was a recommendation from another Hero that important? In the back of her mind, the image of being a hero started to crack like glass, “B-but I made sure to enter the best school av-”
“‘Best school available, that should be enough, right?’ Listen and listen well, you can only be a Hero if you were chosen by one of the six gods above, or a past or present Hero is recommending you. And you meet neither of the prerequisites.”
“B-but...Please at least give me a chance to prove I’m capable enough to be a Hero! Isn’t there some kind of exception that can be made?!” Tessa’s dream cracked again, dread and despair filling her mind as the starting line she thought she was now kept away from her by an impossible gap.
“There are no exceptions. Do you understand, Ms. Vivuk? You are not eligible to be a Hero.”
Tessa stared in horror at the clerk, her knees giving out as she fell to the floor. Her dream of being a Hero shattering inside her. She was so close to being a Hero, and all because of one small detail she never knew about.
“Now, you two, take her away. I need to get back to work.”
“Come now miss, it’s time to leave,” Rightie took a knee beside her and put Tessa over his shoulder, pitying the poor girl as Leftie kept the door open for them.
Tessa could only watch as she was carried out of the building. She cried and could only watch as the clerk went back to work, acting as if crushing her dreams were nothing. Her hopes and dreams lay in fragments before her. She’d spent all that time learning and training, and now it didn’t even matter. A piercing ringing started in her head that only seemed to get louder as the gentle sunlight seemed to sting her broken heart. She reached out desperately to be allowed back in, but couldn’t find any words that would reason with the Heroes’ Guild Clerk.
His words echoed in her mind as the doors to the Heroes’ Guild closed in front of her:
“You are not eligible to be a Hero.”