Drunks & Fanatics - 5. Adventurers

Rightie set Tessa down gently just outside the Heroes’ Guild, holding her only until she was on her feet. Rightie and Leftie had seen many like Tessa before. Looking at each other Leftie was about to try and give Tessa some hope, but Rightie stopped him and shook his head in disagreement. They’d tried to in the past, it didn’t work then and it wasn’t going to work now. Leftie started to raise his hand and speak, but Rightie was right. Establishing false hope in Tessa could lead to something worse. Sighing, they let their heads fall slightly before returning to their posts.

Tessa kept her face hidden, her hair covering her eyes as she slowly walked away from the Heroes’ Guild. Tears dripped down her face as she left, not wanting to be any more of a bother than she had been. She’d bet everything on becoming a Hero, she was in the place of her dreams, but now it didn’t matter. Her dream of being a Hero lay shattered. Tessa wondered, did this place even need someone like her? There were probably several others with skill sets matching hers already here. She was nothing impressive, the Headmistress proved that to her during the graduation, and how would someone as average as Tessa get even a bit of a Hero’s attention without being a damsel in distress?

Returning to the main plaza, she rested on the first bench she saw near the fountain. She’d have to find some way of surviving here. Even if she wanted to return to Solis, Tessa didn’t know when or if there’d be a caravan headed towards Solis. Putting her head in her hands, she tried to think of something she could do. But the cold rejection from the Heroes’ Guild’s clerk left her mentally exhausted. Ideas came to her, but they either sounded crazy or entirely luck based. In the library back at the Academy there were plenty of stories about characters suddenly experiencing a change of fate. They were either picked up by some existing Hero to join them on their journey, or found out they were some chosen one all along with a hidden power they hadn’t unlocked yet. Tessa’s world had all kinds of magic in it, but a twist of fate on par with those tall tales only existed in fiction. Even fairy tales before bed were more plausible than the cookie-cutter stories about suddenly being entrusted with the fate of the world.

Tessa stared at her reflection in the fountain’s water as it rippled. Cupping her hands she dipped them in and splashed her face with water. The cool water was refreshing and she also slapped her cheeks a couple times to start picking herself back up. She needed to find some way to bridge the gap between her and becoming a Hero, this wasn’t the time to give up. She just had to think...

“Do you have to scare off every healer we come across?”

“Not my fault almost every healer in the city is a cute girl.”

As Tessa strugged to come up with a new plan, she took a curious look behind her to see who it was arguing.

“Maybe you should try to find a girl who doesn’t mind receiving so much affection.”

The woman had her nose up in the air, she was elvish with long ears that ended in points and hair that shimmered like gold. Tessa noticed how she was also much older than Sylvie by comparison. If Sylvie looked like a human teenager at forty, then how old was this elf? She wore leather armor, with bits of it accented green, while riveted chainmail guarded her joints.

“Or, and hear me out on this one Evera, keep your hands to yourself so you don’t end up nicknamed the ‘Handysmaiden’ again.”

Evera puffed her cheeks, ignoring her companions’ comments, “Hmph!”

Two men followed after Evera, the first was green-skinned and wearing heavy armor with a small pair of tusks peaking out from his bottom lip. Tessa hadn’t seen one before, but this definitely a half-orc. He wore a mix of plate, riveted chainmail, and padded cloth. Aavron had a name for this, what was it? Tessa tried to remember the different kinds of armor Aavron would go off on complete tangents about all the time. Half-plate! This half-orc was wearing half-plate! She was happy she could remember, the memories of being lectured by Aavron alongside Sylvie comforted her slightly.

“Puff, what are our chances at finding a healer that Evera won’t scare off?”

“Considering Evera’s ‘tastes’ and the nickname ‘Handsymaiden’ already spreading throughout the guild…”

“Nearing zero?”

“Nearing zero.”

Puff carried a sword on his hip and a shield on his back, he was human and wore a set of riveted chainmail with a white tabard on top and padded cloth beneath all of the metal. He seemed to be more relaxed than the half-orc, hands clasped together behind his head and leaning against a wall as the half-orc blamed his own misfortune for being stuck with this mess of an elf.

“And here I thought elves were the most in the closet about their desires, shows what I know about elven psychology…” The half-orc sighed, cursing his bad luck.

But Tessa was confused, why were they having trouble finding a healer? This was Faethun, heart of the continent, people and professions of all kinds congregated here. Even she could announce herself as one!

And then a thought occured to Tessa, but wasn’t this situation all a bit too convenient? Here was a group of people who needed a healer, and here she was wanting to make use of years of training and studying. This had to be too good to be true, right? But Tessa needed a way, any way, to even start bridging the gap between herself and her goal. Scooting herself closer, Tessa tried to figure out what they were talking about.

“Why’d you accept that quest by the way Burf?”

Evera piped up, “We’ve been iron for too long, and I’d like to finally have my own place. It’s hard enough trying to invite someone over when we’re all stuck in the same room you know.”

Burf tried to be sly under his breath, “Like you’re the only one…”

“What was that?” Evera glared at Burf.

“Nothing, nothing! Nothing at all!”

“Anyways...what was the quest again?”

Puff explained, “It’s a bandit hunt.”

“The reward’s been increased since no one’s accepted it over the last three months. If we complete it, the payout would be as if we were Heroes.”

Tessa couldn’t make full sense of what they were saying, but if the quest they accepted was as rewarding as they just said then Tessa might have a shot at getting things back on track much sooner than she expected. If managed to join up with these three as their healer, maybe she could ask for a letter of recommendation from a Hero in place of valins or other treasures.

Tessa slowly approached them, taking careful steps, but they all were preoccupied arguing amongst themselves, “Um, e-excuse me. I overheard that you needed a healer?” Her voice cracked a bit as the butterflies she’d felt at the Heroes’ Guild returned. The three looked at her, confused at how she seemed to be conveniently there.

Puff spoke up first, “Yes...we are in need of a healer,” he looked Tessa up and down, noticing her clothing and staff, “Am I correct in assuming you are one?”

“Y-yes. I’m a cleric of Aeon and specialize in healing miracles and blessings of the light!” Tessa bowed deeply, sweating bullets and hoped she wasn’t making a fool of herself.

Burf was more cautious, “The offer is appreciated, b-”

Evera cut him off, covering Burf’s mouth with her hand, “Yes we’d love to have you with us!”

Burf’s eyes went wide and his words were muffled, trying to raise immediate concerns.

Evera whispered to Burf, “Don’t ruin this for me!”

“I’m with Evera on this one Burf, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. Who knows, she might even end up being the reason we complete the bandit hunt.”

Burf looked at both of his companions and relented. He had a feeling that the girl before him wasn’t used to combat, and Evera was literally drooling as she looked at the girl, but Puff was right.

“If Evera and Puff are already in agreement...we’d be glad to have you with us. What’s your name?” Burf reached out his hand to Tessa.

“I-I’m Tessa. Tessa Vivuk. Thank you for accepting me.”

“No problem, and I’m Burf. Burf Reardist. The elf is Evera Autumn and that’s Puff.”

“Tiberius Puffin’s my actual name, but I go by ‘Puff’ for short. Also, I don’t see a plate on you, guessing you’re not registered with anywhere in particular?”

Tessa wasn’t sure what Puff meant, was he asking if she was registered with the Heroes’ Guild? And what was a “plate”?

“N-no, I’m not...I’m sorry.” Tessa was preparing herself to be suddenly rejected, her hands tightly gripping her staff.

“That’s not a problem. Follow us and we’ll get you set up, won’t take too long.”

Burf gave her a welcoming pat on the back, “We’ll cover the registration fee for you since you’re helped us out.”

Puff and Burf went on ahead, giving Tessa the signal to follow after them. She felt like things had taken a turn for the better, but Evera attached herself to Tessa in a tight hold. Sylvie’s bear hugs still haunted Tessa and she’d like to not get squeezed to death by another elf.

Evera excitedly mushed her face against Tessa’s, arms draped around Tessa’s neck, “Ooo! I can’t wait!”

The four of them walked together, around the fountain, but Tessa watched as Burf and Puff walked down a street opposite the Heroes’ Guild. And where the Heroes’ Guild had a pleasant and clean opening that led up to it. But the street Tessa started to turn onto was...not.

The backs of tall buildings lined the street and blocked out most of the afternoon sunlight, everything covered in shade as Puff and Burf walked down this dark street without a moment of hesitation. Tessa gulped, wondering where she was being taken as the Heroes’ Guild’s white pavilion slowly faded into the distance. Every step she took towards wherever they were leading her made Tessa more and more nervous. She started to see people in dark cloaks and rough armor appear around them, all of them talking to each other in hushed tones.

All over the street she saw cuts and gashes in the street. Tessa looked around to see if there was any way to turn around and escape, but Evera had an unrelenting hold on her. Right now, Tessa just wanted to know what kind of mess she'd found herself in. And it really didn’t help that Evera tried to ask all kinds of private questions Tessa preferred to not tell someone she’d only just met.

Soon enough Tessa found herself in front of a run-down wooden building with a set of massive doors at its entrance. The windows glowed and dimmed with an orange glow. This place looked more like an old inn or tavern that’d been taken over by a criminal syndicate, was this some kind of hidden crime den in the heart of Faethun? Was the “quest” Burf and the others mentioned just some kind of bait for people looking to go on adventures, and Tessa was just too blind to see it for what it really was?

All of a sudden, a chair was flung through one of the building’s windows. The crash was immediately followed by laughter and then someone yelling, “You’re paying for that!” The shards of glass skittering across the street.

Maybe this was worse than a criminal hideout, maybe this was some insane asylum Faethun’s guards had long since abandoned and was now used by its former occupants as a place to torture the city’s unsuspecting citizens. Was the orange glow from tamed, fire breathing monsters who were fed the corpses of expired test subjects?!

As Tessa got lost in her imagination, Burf put his hand on one of the front doors, “Welcome to the Adventurers’ Guild Tessa. Make yourself at home.”

Tessa’s imagination came to a full stop, “Adventurers’...Guild?” Looking above the entrance was a heavily weathered, scratched, and asymmetrically hanging sign that read, “Adventurers’ Guild”. Tessa had never heard of a place like this existing in Faethun. What was the Adventurers’ Guild?

Opening the door to the Adventurers’ Guild hall, Burf chuckled, “Don’t worry, we don’t bite...well, most of us don’t.”

Nudged forward by Evera, Tessa dreaded what awaited her inside. The orange glow she saw through the windows flooded her vision as she saw inside...and it wasn’t like she’d expected at all. Instead of some fire breathing monster, it was just a crackling fire with some kind of animal being roasted over it. The laughter was coming from a massive table in the middle of the hall, a crowd around it all watching an intense game of Aces & Sevens with the last two at the table wagering every last one of their valins on a final hand. The weird music was from a band of bards playing in the back with a bad note or missed beat coming through every now and then as every one of the people here ate, drank, and made merry with one another. Except for one of the guys playing Aces & Sevens who, immediately after winning, stood up just a bit too fast and several high value cards fell out of his sleeves. The crowd laughing and putting bets on the newly formed fighting pit.

This place was the exact opposite of the Heroes’ Guild. Where the Heroes’ Guild was pristine and empty, this was filthy but full of life and entertainment. Going off the place’s name, were these all Adventurers? Tessa just became more and more bewildered, staring at what this place was like and what kind of people these “Adventurers” were.

Following Burf farther in, Tessa was soon at the front desk of the Adventurers’ Guild. Tessa still vividly remembered the cold attitude of the Heroes’ Guild clerk, hoping this wouldn’t be a repeat of that.

Burf yelled at a door that led to a back room, “Hey, G.C.! We got a newbie that needs to get registered!”

A woman’s voice replied, yelling back loudly, “Yeah, yeah, gimme’ a sec!”

The lack of formality surprised Tessa, wasn’t it disrespectful to yell for service like that? Tessa’s head was getting dizzy from all of these sudden shocking changes. While they waited, Tessa looked around the guild hall and took note at all the different people here. Everyone was wearing armor or protective clothing, their weapons always on or near them at all times. Compared to the Heroes Tessa had heard of, everyone here was much rougher with battle scars everywhere. It was hard for Tessa to see armor that wasn’t chipped, a cloak that wasn’t torn, or an eyepatch somewhere in the hall. But what surprised Tessa the most was the immense diversity of races. As far as she could tell, there were dwarves, elves, half-orcs, dragonlings, half-men, and more, even some races she’d never even heard of let alone seen.

A few moments later, a young woman came out, “So, you finally found a healer Burf?”

G.C. was human with long, pale-orange hair braided to keeping it out of her face as she worked. She wore a blue blazer and skirt with a white scarf, a mark on the blazer’s left side to denote she was part of the Adventurers’ Guild’s staff.

“Yep, and she’s right here,” Burf gestured to Tessa, still locked in Evera’s hold, “Tessa’s not an Adventurer, yet. I’ll also cover the fee for her.”

G.C. eyed Tessa up and down before shooting Burf a concerned look. Tessa looked like the only combat she’s ever seen was against standing targets, and they wanted to bring this girl with them on a bandit hunt?

“You sure you’re taking her along with you for the quest?”

Burf shrugged, “We’re in a tight spot trying to find a healer that meets our party’s...standards, and Tessa came up to us on her own. Puff and Evera were the ones who convinced me to take Tessa up on her offer.”

G.C. had already heard the rumors about the Handsymaiden’s tastes, narrowing her eyes at the picky elf, “I see...well, I’d just like to verify with Tessa herself before we move forward. Mind letting Tessa go for a moment so I can properly register her.”

The elf clicked her tongue and released Tessa from her grasp.

“Welcome to the Adventurers’ Guild, I’m the main guild clerk here but most people call me G.C. for short. You wanted to register with us and then join with Burf’s party on their quest, correct?”

The butterflies started to stir in Tessa’s stomach again, though not as intensely this time. G.C. was much friendlier and welcoming than the Heroes’ Guild’s clerk, “Y-yes!”

G.C paused for a moment, “Alright...Then I’ll just need you to answer a few questions. Give me a moment to prepare some things and then we can get started.”

Just like with the Heroes’ Guild clerk, Tessa watched as she pulled out some papers, ink, and a quill. Dipping the quill into the black ink, G.C. had a form at the ready.

“What’s your full name, age, gender, and date of birth?”

Tessa hoped she wouldn't get asked for a letter of recommendation all over again, “Tessa Vivuk, 16, female, and 13th of Shindor.”

“What’s your class and your specialty?”

“I’m a Cleric of Aeon, and I specialize in healing miracles and blessings of the light.”

“A dedicated-support-type, you’ll definitely be in high demand here. Moving on, do you know anyone in the Adventurers’ Guild aside from Burf, Puff, or Evera?”

Tessa’s face paled, a cold sweat slowly forming on the back of her neck, her words started to stutter while tightly gripping her staff, “N-no...I don’t know anyone else.”

“Alright, do you have anything or anyone who can vouch for your skills?”

“Wh...what do you mean by ‘vouch’?” Tessa started shaking in fear, her eyes shifting all over the place. It felt like she was experiencing her worst nightmare a second time.

“Gotcha...Though, your robes look rather formal. Did you come from a temple or something? Most clerics around here don’t usually wear stuff like yours.”

Tessa’s started to calm down as the conversation shifted slightly, “I-I recently graduated from Unity Academy. I don’t have much else to wear at the moment...I’m sorry.”

Instead, Puff chimed in, “Your kind’s rare around here, good to know you were actually trained to be a cleric.”

Tessa’s mind went blank for a moment. They weren’t upset that she attended an academy? Rather, unlike the Heroes’ Guild, they were impressed by it?

“I-I wasn’t top of my class or anything, b-but I did do well enough that they awarded me this staff and a few other things...I-I have my diploma with me if it means anything.”

G.C.’s eyes perked up, “Yes, I would like to see it if you wouldn’t mind.”

Tessa timidly opened her satchel and took out the rolled up certificate. Unfurling it, G.C. scanned it over. Tessa was a formally trained healer, and the diploma had been magically enchanted as means to prevent forgeries.

“Oh my!”

Puff was curious, “Guessing this girl’s more than we expected?”

Burf was taking a peak at the diploma over G.C.’s shoulder, “One of the top students in her class actually, I’m glad I took your advice Puff.”

Evera’s eyes started to sparkle and got an excited glint in them, but Puff held onto her by the back of her cloak so Evera wouldn’t suddenly trample Tessa.

G.C. returned Tessa’s diploma, “We would love to have you as part of the Adventurers’ Guild Ms. Vivuk. Your skills will definitely be highly valued here. Thank you for verifying your abilities.”

Tessa took back her diploma, confusion overwriting her panic and distress. Were her skills really that amazing? And thinking back to what Burf, Evera, and Puff mentioned about not finding a healer, were people with similar skills to Tessa’s actually that rare? G.C. continued to fill out the form and Burf handed over a couple gold and silver valins.

While this was going on, Tessa took another quick look around to see if she could spot any symbols of the gods. Of those here she could count on both hands the number symbols of the gods, along with some she didn’t recognize. But overall there didn’t seem to be many faithful people here. Are Adventurers not all that pious? If clerics like Tessa, or even paladins, were few in number it would make sense that healers were actually fewer in number than she expected. At Unity Academy there were well over a hundred of both classes at the graduation, but here it looked like they were a lot less present.

G.C. pulled open a drawer and took out a small bronze rectangle that had a hole on one side with a leather strap strung through and tied into a loop.

“Tessa, would you mind holding out your thumb for me?”

“Huh? Oh! Yes!” Tessa moved her hand over the desk, thumb outstretched and wondering what was going to happen now.

“This will sting for a moment...” G.C. used a small needle and pricked the center of Tessa’s thumb, “Now please put your thumbprint on this form and on this if you wouldn’t mind.” G.C. pointed out a spot on the form that was still blank and then gestured to anywhere on the bronze plate.

Tessa used a bit of force, trying to get a good mark on both of them.

“Alright, now just give it a moment…”

Tessa watched as the bronze plate seemed to absorb Tessa’s blood and thumbprint before suddenly engraving itself, a bright blue light shined through the metal from inside as the bronze became mystically engraved with Tessa’s information and details. Tessa watched in amazement as it was all perfectly accurate, she could see that it listed her class, specialties, even her hometown of Solis all on the bronze plate.

Once it finished glowin, G.C. held out the bronze plate, “Here you are, you’re now a part of the Adventurers’ Guild Ms. Vivuk.”

“Umm, Ms. G.C., what exactly is this thing?”

“That is your plate, anyone who sees it will know that you’re a part of the Adventurers’ Guild and your rank within the guild. It’s also bound to you by your own blood, so if someone asks you to verify your identity all you have to do is drip a little of your blood on it and it’ll shine that blue light again.”

Tessa looked at the plate, flipping it over and scanning both sides, wondering how such a minor trinket was so useful.

“Thank you, but why is it made out of bronze? I noticed that Mr. Burf, Mr. Puff, and Ms. Evera have ones made of iron.”

Evera, finally escaping Puff’s grasp, interjected herself, “What your plate is made of reflects how skilled you are in the eyes of the Adventurers’ Guild! In order, the ranks are: bronze, iron, silver, gold, platinum, mithril, adamantine, and orichalcum.”

“I see, so because I just joined I’m starting at the bronze-rank, correct?”

“Yes, and that makes you my cute little junior!” Evera embraced Tessa tightly. Tessa tapped Evera on the shoulder, signaling that it was too tight. Evera relaxed her hold a bit so Tessa could breathe properly.

G.C. cleared her throat, “Your rank not only reflects your skill, but it also affects what quests you can accept. As a bronze you may accept up to iron level quests if you so choose, but as you are helping Burf and his companions you may join them on their silver quest.”

Tessa looked at G.C. curiously, she wanted to know more about how the Adventurers’ Guild worked and started thinking that if she got her rank higher and higher she would have undeniable proof of her abilities. Maybe if she became a silver, gold, or even a platinum ranked Adventurer, Heroes might take an interest in her.

“Alright, but how do you move from one rank to another?”

“Your rank increases when you complete a required number quests above your current rank. In your case, you would need to complete fifty bronze-ranked quests and then you’ll be tested with an iron-ranked quest. Burf and his companions have already completed the required number of iron-ranked quests. If they complete this silver-ranked quest, they’ll be ranked up. If you complete their quest through their invitation, your rank will be increased to iron however.”

Evera burst into the conversation again, “And as your rank increases, the guild also takes less of your completion reward. So you get paid more at each higher rank.”

G.C. continued, “To explain more in-depth, the Adventurers’ Guild will always take a portion of your quest rewards as collateral in the case you should fail as all clients pay up-front. In your case, Ms. Vivuk, 50% of your quest rewards would be claimed by the guild. This amount will decrease as you rank-up, so we do hope you will become a successful Adventurer.”

Tessa eyed her plate a bit more. She now had a way of earning valins through her skills, and with Burf, Puff, and Evera offering a quick jump in rank maybe her dream wasn’t as far away as she thought. While Tessa couldn’t be a Hero as soon as she wanted, becoming an Adventurer instead allowed her to test and train her skills for more practical uses. It might take a few years to gain some recognition, but her support-type skills definitely made things easier for her.

“Before you head out with Burf and his party members, did they explain what quest they’re on exactly?”

“Hmm? Oh, uh, I’ve only heard mention of it being a ‘bandit hunt’. But not much other than that.”

G.C. shot a glare at Burf, “Let me get the full details of the quest.”

Pulling out a massive book, G.C. quickly flipped through its pages quickly until it came to the aforementioned quest.

“The quest is to eliminate the bandits camping out in a cave on the southern fringes of Faethun. The quest’s rank hasn’t changed but the reward has been increased from 50 GV to 15 PV by the client as the bandits are still causing issues for all travelers and merchants heading out from and coming in to Faethun from the South. It’s also noted that the bandits, while individually not much stronger than the average adult male, are very high in number.”

“Is there anything else Ms. G.C.?”

G.C. looked over the quest as much as she could, “There isn’t any other available information from what’s here. However, I would like to ask you again if you’re certain you wish to join Burf and his party for this quest. There’s nothing wrong with backing out of a quest before you start it.”

G.C. was suspicious of this quest, it sounded too simple to her. A bandit hunt like this was akin to taking care of a den of goblins, but the lack of detail in the quest was unusual. There would normally be an established number rather than just “very high in number”, even if it was just a guess. However, once a quest was accepted it was up to the Adventurers to retire early.

Tessa looked to Burf, Puff, and Evera, all of which gave her signs that they were ready to take on this quest.

“I think I'll join them. I was the one who asked them to let me join, so it’d be rude to back out at the last minute.”

G.C. was hoping Tessa wouldn’t go, but she didn’t have the influence to stop her, “Alright, but before you go, take this.” She pulled out a backpack, “As a new member of the Adventurers’ Guild you’re entitled to a set of starter supplies, but you’re responsible for maintaining them and resupplying.”

Tessa took the bag from the counter and slipped it on, “Thank you Ms. G.C., I’ll do my best to be responsible for myself!”

With Tessa registered with the Adventurers’ Guild, Burf patted her back as they all turned towards the entrance to leave. G.C. wondered whether Tessa would return from this quest in one piece. G.C. hoped this wasn’t going to be the last time she’d ever see Tessa in the guild’s hallways.

As Tessa, Burf, Puff, and Evera left the building, G.C. watched as the doors slowly closed. Sighing as she returned to her work. Getting out some forms G.C. got to work filing the paperwork necessary to list Burf’s party taking Tessa into their group and also listing the bandit hunt quest as “accepted”.

Time passed by slowly, the sun slowly moving towards the horizon as Adventurers came and went from the hall. Some turned in early to start at dawn while others awaited their own party members Some came to report quest completions and others left after accepting a newly posted quest. G.C went about her time keeping things updated around the Adventurers’ Guild, all the while worrying about Tessa.

Eventually her worry came to a head and G.C. opened the book filled with quests to the one Tessa was on. Everything was as it was before, but G.C. was looking for the client. She wanted to know who had made the request since this kind of work was usually done by other groups like Heroes, guards, or the local militia. Bandit hunts were good ways of building up your reputation, but it was uncommon for them to be dealt with by Adventurers. Adventurers dealt with more messy situations either due to politics around a target or the target being difficult to handle with normal means; such as dragons, goblins, slavers, etc. But bandits were straightforward, black and white, criminals that could be taken out for good public relations.

G.C. looked at the listed client’s name, but all that was there was “Anonymous Merchant”. A merchant making a request was normal, as it built good relations between the Adventurers’ Guild and trade associations, but why was this one anonymous? Anonymous clients weren't uncommon since sometimes there were targets people wanted handled quietly, but there wasn’t any mention of wanting things kept hidden. If there was no way to lose face when eliminating a bandit threat, why was the client hiding their identity? There was also the matter of the large reward. 50 gold valins was good pay, but it was upped to 15 platinum valins. Something wasn’t adding up here...

Taking a look at the previous times the quest was accepted, it looked like previous Adventurers always retired with the stated reasoning: Unable to find target. Adventurers differed in skill level wildly, but to not be able to find the target...This didn’t add up at all, especially since bandits loved to openly raid or extort people. Who was this “Anonymous Merchant”?

As G.C. wracked her brain trying to think about what was going on with this quest, the front doors creaked open. G.C. was lost in thought, but the Adventurers in the hall all started to quiet down like candles getting blown out by a wave of cold air. No bard played, every dicer stopped rolling, and all drinks were left sitting in their tankards as every Adventurer stared at the two who just entered.

The two took slow steps into the Adventurers’ Guild. The shorter of the two was a battle scarred dwarf smelling of charcoal and sulfur. A full, brown beard came down from his chin a good foot or so with burnt ends all across it. With every step he took, soot and ash left fell behind him. Yet the most unusual part of him was the weirdly shaped stick of metal and wood holstered across his back that smelled of fire and death. The other one had ears nearly as long as an elves, but rounded at the end instead of pointed. His face looked as though the goddess Firlorn had personally sculpted a masterpiece, but his eyes held a depth akin to an endless void that stared back. A smug smirk rested on his face with his long hair kept in a high ponytail with a golden crown and pin keeping it in place. The half-elf’s armor was black and sharp, gilded with gold, but had a very subtle green glow just under the metal. Each step the half-elf took clinked and tinked, but his footsteps sounded like they were missing the weight of his full plate armor. The presence of these two snakes soured every drink and sapped every gambler’s luck. Not even the flames from the fireplace wanted to illuminate their faces, dimming in their presence.

G.C. was still trying to figure out the suspicious bandit hunt quest as the two approached the front desk. It wasn’t until G.C. smelled the sickly sweet champagne and strong dwarven ale that she noticed them. She didn’t like that she had to raise her head just to greet them.

G.C.’s face contorted into a pained smile, trying to greet them as best she could, “W-welcome back, Adventurers Hei and Torgrak. I assume your quest is complete?”

The half-elf bastard spoke up first, “It’d be better to say it went off bloodily well~.”

“I-I see. You wouldn’t happen to have ‘proof’ of completion...would you?” With every fiber of her being G.C. hoped these two hadn’t completed another impossible task.

The dwarf pulled out a large sack from his satchel that, by all known laws of physics, shouldn’t be possible, “Right ‘ere wee lassie. Yer manticore heads, still fresh from th’ hunt.” Manticore blood dripped out of a spot on the sack where the blood pooled.

Unhappily, G.C. took the bag of heads and set them aside to be processed, “Th-thank you for your hard work…” It hurt on a physical, mental, and emotional level to even choke out the words “thank you” to these two. G.C. hoped that along with Tessa returning in one piece, she’d never have to meet these two in her entire career as an Adventurer.

The half-elf leaned in towards G.C., closing the gap between their faces as he looked her dead in the eyes, “Your thanks are appreciated…~”

G.C.’s stomach churned as the half-elf started flirting with her all over again. How she wished she’d said no to him years ago, but her face blushed while remembering back to how this one half-elf had ruined any future relations she could ever have. She was hoping he would get his flirting over with quickly.

“But would you mind telling me about the quest you have open here?~”

Hei had his finger on the page G.C. had left the quest book open to, the bandit quest was in full view. Hei eyed the quest over and smiled, as Torgrak cocked an eyebrow and quietly chuckled to himself.

However, G.C. was confused. This silver-tongued bastard was asking about something completely unrelated to him, by choice. Even the smirk had left his face and turned into a disgustingly normal smile from ear to ear. What was Hei up to? Actually, what were the two of them up to? Hei having a normal smile and Torgrak chuckling to himself wasn’t normal in the slightest! But G.C. brushed her concerns away for now, remembering that these two had a contractual obligation to the Adventurers’ Guild and Tessa was definitely in danger if Hei and Torgrak were taking an interest in the quest.

“We’d like to accept this quest, if you don’t mind Clarice~.”

G.C. felt like she was going to vomit as she heard her name called through the half-elf’s lips. It felt like she was being fed sugar laced with poison as the flustering memories made her blush. She shook her head violently, getting the frustratingly embarrassing memories out of her mind so she could focus. Tessa was definitely in danger, and G.C. knew how to bail her out...unfortunately with the help of these two.

“Excuse me for a moment, gentlemen, I need to contact the Guild Master.” Yep, she was definitely going to vomit after they were gone.

Stepping into the backroom of the Adventurers’ Guild, G.C.’s quiet mumbles could be heard through the door. G.C. would say something, followed by silence, and then say something again. The pattern repeated for a little while. Then G.C. said something that was immediately responded to by the Guild Master, his voice echoing furiously and loudly through the guild hall, plates and drinks rattling violently for a moment. G.C. apologized profusely as things quieted down but eventually the muffled chatter stopped and she returned to the front desk.

G.C. looked at Hei and Torgrak, their faces smirking with unparalleled smugness, “As you two have shown interest in this quest, the Guild Master has deemed it too dangerous to be accepted by anyone else for reasons that shall not be disclosed. As per your contracts, you two will be sent to rescue the adventuring party who has already left and will complete the quest in their stead effective immediately.”

Hei’s and Torgrak’s shadows stretched behind them in the darkness. G.C. had a bad feeling about what was to come, but Hei took a bow that sent a chill down her spine.

“Of course, m’lady~. We’ll make sure to return with the Adventurers in tow after handling the bandits~.”

Torgrak chuckled to himself, gold coins clinking pleasantly in his eyes, “O’ course, ah cannae guarantee any o’ their gear will come back wi’ them tho’.”

G.C. sighed, the two of them giving her a migraine as she planned for her next sick day to be tomorrow, “So long as the Adventurers return alive and in one piece, you may do as you wish. Those are your only restrictions.”

Torgrak cackled to himself as he started towards the door, Hei looking back and blowing a kiss to G.C. As if a poisonous, disembodied, cartoon heart were floating towards her, G.C. found herself becoming literally floored by it and struggled to pick herself back up as she blushed unwillingly.

“I’m looking forward to a future date with you, Clarice~.”

The two left just as quickly as they had appeared, as everyone stared and hoped they were gone. The fire slowly came back to life to bring a glow to the room. And then, from somewhere in the far back of the guild hall, someone broke the silence.

“So...any bets on how long they’ll take?”

G.C. sighed and put down her own bet, “20 platinum valins on less than a day.”

And suddenly the roar that was present in the guild hall came back with people rushing to put their bets down while G.C. went into the back room and came back with a bottle of spirits and a large tankard. Pausing for a moment, G.C. instead threw the tankard out the window a chair had gone out recently and just drank straight from the bottle. She was definitely taking tomorrow off, but she’d be several valins richer at the least.