As it sunk in that she was no longer in that weird void, Tessa looked around the room. It had a familiar feeling to it, reminiscent of the nurse’s office back at Unity Academy. There was a cabinet filled with medical supplies, clean beds yet to be touched, and a closed door opposite to where she was lying. Raising her hand to shade her eyes from the morning light, Tessa glanced out the window next to her. Outside she saw people walking about, handling their day-to-day activities as though Tessa’s brush with death never happened.
As Tessa held her hand up, she noticed the pale blue sleeve of her new clothes. She was wearing a patient’s gown, and likely in an infirmary. Her head was slowly clearing as she woke up. Trying to get a better idea of her surroundings, Tessa tried to sit up. But the moment she tried, a sharp stinging pain made itself known in the side of her chest.
Then she remembered. The explosions and blood, the chaos and destruction. But if that all actually happened, how did she get here? Wasn’t she supposed to be dead?
Before it all went black, Tessa remembered bleeding out on the cave floor. The boots of those two callous monsters in in front of her, talking to themselves. Grabbing the side of her chest, Tessa grit her teeth and continued to try sitting up. An icy burn pulsed in and out, spreading out for a moment before a surge of cold retracted it all back. Tessa tried to power through the pain, hoping it’d fade once she was back on her feet. Then the infirmary’s door clicked open and G.C. entered.
Quickly running to Tessa’s side, she helped Tessa lay back down, “I know you want to get up, but your wound only recently was healed with magic.”
Laying back down, Tessa felt the pain fade away. Seeing G.C. confirmed that she was in or near the Adventurers’ Guild, and that everything that happened wasn’t some sadistic nightmare. But it felt like Tessa was forgetting something, something related to the Adventurers’ Guild. The Adventurers’ Guild… Adventurers… My party members!
Fearing for their lives, Tessa panicked, “Wh-where are my party members? Where’s Burf? Evera? Puff?”
Tessa looked up at G.C., reaching out her hand desperately. It’d been one bad thing after another for her, and she needed good news to balance out the hell that’d been the last 24 hours. G.C. cradled Tessa’s hand, comforting Tessa.
“They’re recovering at the moment. Unconscious, but recovering. Their injuries weren’t as life threatening as yours was, so with enough time they’ll be back on their feet.”
“That’s a relief.”
Tessa relaxed, staring up at the ceiling. Knowing that her party members were alive and safe brought her some peace. But it was those three that deserved to be awake and moving right now. All she did was stay behind them the entire fight. Even if what she did was what they brought her along for, it didn’t excuse that she couldn’t help them when it mattered most. If they’d had a real healer who could support them properly, things would have gone differently. Maybe they wouldn’t have even failed at all if someone better had taken her place.
G.C. could see that Tessa was sinking into her own pit of despair. She’d seen many other Adventurers blame themselves for a quest’s failure, whether it was actually their fault.
“Hey, since you were unconscious, I’m guessing you’ve got some questions you’d like answered?”
G.C. hoped to distract Tessa. It was painful to watch the girl beat herself up over things beyond her control. Tessa gently turned her head to face G.C. and nodded. G.C. tried to keep herself from slapping some sense into this girl, but then it might slip out that Tessa’s party members came back in a wheelbarrow. Stripped of anything they had worth a decent amount of valins by a gold-obsessed dwarf.
“What would you like to know first?”
“How...am I alive?”
“The two sent to rescue your team brought you all back in the middle of the night. A nearby hospital took your friends in because of their wounds being less severe. I’m not sure why they did not also send you to the hospital, but they insisted on handling your wound themselves.”
“They didn’t let anyone see much more than a crack through the infirmary door, but it looked like some kind of ointment or potion. Seems it did the trick and your injuries healed up in what could have taken weeks or months.”
“If they had something like that one them, why didn’t they also help my teammates?”
“All they said was that it was only for emergencies. They left it at that and attempts to press for more information were unsuccessful.”
Tessa resumed staring at the ceiling, hoping it wasn’t those two that saved her. G.C. sighed, she could tell Tessa had witnessed Hei and Torgrak first hand. Anyone who saw those two in the field came to fear them, hate them, or both.
“Do you have anything else you’d like to know?”
Tessa thought to herself for a moment. They’d danced around who actually saved her and her friends. However, it was wrong to never try to thank the person who helped her. Even if it was who Tessa suspected, she would need to face them, eventually.
“I’d like to know… who it was that saved us.”
“The two who saved you were,” G.C. kept herself from cursing them, “Hei and Torgrak.”
Tessa spoke lightly under her breath, “Hei and Torgrak…”
She didn’t like it. Rather, she loathed the fact that they were her “saviors”. But it was the truth.
“Why were… they sent to rescue me?”
“Hei and Torgrak are special...”
“They’re contractually bound members of the Adventurers’ Guild, Custodians. They handle quests other Adventurers don’t normally accept, often because the quest is too difficult, too unrewarding, or ‘special’.”
“I’m guessing this was one of the special scenarios?”
“Yes... and no. Actually, it was Hei who noticed the illusion and suggested the rescue.”
Tessa’s face immediately turned skeptical. How did he notice what others didn’t?
“I’m not able to explain it perfectly, but Hei has an ability called ‘True Sight’ and it allows him to see through magical illusions.”
Tessa thought to herself. If that one small detail wasn’t noticed, things could have turned out much worse. It was a stranger’s kindness that’d saved her. She appreciated the result of what they did. But if they had the capacity for kindness, why were they so cruel?
“Where are… they right now?”
“At the moment, Hei and Torgrak are in a meeting with the Guild Master. They’re debriefing him on what happened last night.”
Suddenly, a furious roar shook the building. The glass in each window rattled. The cabinet full of medical supplies vibrated and shook. And when it was over, there was dead silence, and then raucous laughter.
“Is that normal?”
“Unfortunately. I’m not sure when it started, but it’s been happening since before I started working for the guild. Whenever the Guild Master has to meet with Hei and Torgrak, you can expect that to happen. That was probably the end of their meeting, so he should be on his way to meet you soon.”
“The Guild Master wants to meet me?”
“Yes, he wants to discuss what happened with the quest.”
That’s right. The quest she was on failed. Tessa believed that because it went so wrong, even with extenuating circumstances, an appropriate punishment was necessary. Outside the door, G.C. and Tessa heard footsteps approaching. Tessa prepared herself for whatever punishment the Guild Master found appropriate. She’d face it head-on. Her own weakness had gotten her into this mess, but she’d claw her way out tooth and nail if she had to.
Suddenly, the door shot open, and Hei stepped through first. He brazenly greeted G.C. and Tessa with a smile too bright for even the morning sun.
“Good morning, you two~. And it’s so nice to see your pretty face again, Clarice~.”
The Guild Master, with a hand to his forehead, and Torgrak followed Hei. Hei and Torgrak stood off to the side in one corner of the room while the Guild Master took a seat on the bed nearest to Tessa. The Guild Master was a gruff-looking man, a mustache and short beard around his mouth with long, messy, brown hair tied behind his head. His eyebrows were as thick as his hair, and all the years of abuse from Hei and Torgrak had forced his mouth into a natural frown. The Guild Master’s ears denoted him as a half-elf, but his skin tone was akin to that of an oak tree. His body was broad and muscular, yet he had many creases on his forehead. Breathing deeply and letting out a heavy sigh, the Guild Master faced Tessa. His gaze was intense, but warmer and more welcoming than any she’d seen before.
“I’m glad to see you awake. Injured,” the Guild Master glared at Torgrak, “but alive.”
Putting his hands on his knees, the Guild Master lowered his head to Tessa.
“I would like to apologize for the Adventurers’ Guild’s incompetence and ask for your forgiveness.”
Tessa stared in stunned silence before responding, “... I-I... It’s okay! N-no need to apologize to me, I got in over my head. It’s my fault… really…”
“Thank you for your forgiveness, but don’t blame yourself.” He raised his head, his eyes meeting Tessa’s, “Due to what happened, the Adventurers’ Guild is implementing a training program to train new Adventurers. All to prevent something like this from happening again.”
This surprised G.C., but happy for Tessa. With something like this, Tessa could learn how to be a proper Adventurer. It would also would increase both the average survival rate among new Adventurers and improve their overall image and attract new clients. It was a win-win for everyone.
“However, as this is a new means of training Adventurers, you’ll be the only one mentored for the moment, Ms. Vivuk.”
G.C. got a sparkle in her eye, but then a sinister feeling crept into her moment of happiness. Slowly, she turned her head to look at Hei and Torgrak. Dreading that they’d tainted this good idea. And there they were, wicked smiles upon their faces. G.C.’s eyes slowly widened as the Guild Master spoke again. Quietly G.C. chanted “no” to herself repeatedly, her face paling.
“Regretfully, we do not have anyone with abilities similar to yours available or willing to teach you. But…” His voice held back a deep-seated hatred, “Hei and Torgrak are interested in teaching you themselves.”
Tessa’s face froze. She was glad to be getting a mentor, but the two who’d scarred her for life were now also going to teach her how to be an Adventurer. Was this really happening?
G.C. tried to reason with the Guild Master, “There has to be someone, ANYONE, that could teach Tessa better than them! Please Guild Master! There has to be some other option than them.”
The Guild Master’s face turned sour, eyes staring at the floor, “There isn’t... And their quest-completion-rate remains perfect. You know this. There are no better veterans to teach Tessa available.”
For as much as G.C. wanted to argue back, she knew he was right. Many wished for Hei and Torgrak to one day leave and never come back. Time after time, the Adventurers’ Guild would send Hei and Torgrak on the most difficult quests available. But even then, they’d always return like a pair of iron beetles. No matter how much you tried to stomp them out, they’d never die. If you really wanted to train someone to be just as stubborn at surviving, there weren’t any better options.
“But… how did they even get chosen to be Tessa’s mentors? Surely someone else would have volunteered if you made a public announcement!”
“The two of them proposed the idea themselves... I… couldn’t argue against it.”
Tessa’s head slowly turned to see Hei waving at her with a massive smile. His teeth showing and eyes half open. Those monsters were to be her instructors…
“I’m as much a fan as you, Ms. Everburn. And while they’re the most unbearable people have to share the mortal realm with, Tessa would undoubtedly become stronger through them. She may even end up becoming a means of rivaling the Heroes’ Guild.”
G.C. relented, and the Guild Master got back on his feet. With the matter settled, the Guild Master took his leave and Hei and Torgrak left their corner to approach Tessa’s bedside.
“We’ll take over from here Clarice~.”
G.C. wasn’t about to leave these two alone with Tessa, but Hei always knew how to have his way. Tessa watched as Hei leaned into G.C.’s ear, blowing into it teasingly. G.C. blushed from ear to ear, and then Hei whispered something to her.
Tessa couldn’t fully tell what was going on, but what she overheard was: “... I’ll punish you~.”
What kind of evil things has Hei done to her?!
Running for the door, her face red with embarrassment, G.C. shouted at Hei, “I’ll get you back for ruining my life, you bastard! I swear I will!”
“I’ll be looking forward to it~.”
The way Hei talked was disgusting to Tessa, but in a way different from how he taunted and fought. It made Tessa uncomfortable, and she hoped Hei would never talk the same way to her.
Torgrak scoffed, laughing at how people were always so easily manipulated by their vices. Walking over to the medical cabinet, he pulled out some fresh supplies; fresh bandages, clean gauze, and rubbing alcohol. Cleansing his hands first, Torgrak then walked over to Tessa’s bedside.
“Alright, let me see tha wound.”
Tessa tried to protest, “Th-that’s really unnecessary. I’m fine, just need time to h-!.”
Torgrak forced Tessa’s arm away and moved her patient’s gown out of the way to inspect her wound himself. Tessa blushed, embarrassed as she’s let no one other than Sylvie see her bare body.
“What are you-?!”
“Hit me an’ I’ll make sure not ta ‘miss’ next time.”
The dwarf, for as much as she didn’t like it, made a compelling argument. Torgrak went about removing the previous bandages and changing them out for fresh ones. Cleaning the injury with the rubbing alcohol and checking for any changes in the wound’s state.
“Don’t worry, Torgrak is a surprisingly effective field medic regardless of how he appears. We need to know how long before you’re ready for combat training.”
Tessa looked at Hei confused, “Combat... training?”
“Yes, combat training.”
“Oh… but I’m a healer, not a fighter… I meant to fight… And what happened made that clear…”
Torgrak wraps Tessa’s chest back up, “It’ll be a few days, three at tha most.”
With her injury checked on, Torgrak went about putting things away and cleaning his hands again. Hei smiled, glad to hear it.
“Then it’s set! In three days you’ll begin learning how to fight.”
“W-wait! I said I’m not built for fighting!”
“I heard what you said, and I’m rejecting it.”
Hei closed the gap between himself and Tessa, his face now less than an inch away from hers, “I’m going to guess you only learned the ‘basics’ at school, and never strayed from them. You practiced your hardest and never experimented.”
Tessa didn’t like it, but he was right. She’d only ever done what she was told to do. It was all to keep up with everyone else. She never strayed from the path or looked to find a different way. Maybe that’s why she never stood out compared to her peers back at Unity Academy…
“Even if I learn how to fight, how is that going to help me Mr. H-?”
Hei cut her off, “Never address me, or Torgrak, as ‘mister’. You’ll call us by name. Is that understood?”
“As for what you’re going to learn, we’re going to teach you things you normally never learn in school. While it won’t all be useful immediately, it’ll come in handy more often than you think.”
Tessa didn’t understand what he meant. What did they offer when compared to her former professors? Unity Academy employed former professionals. Each one teaching subjects they specialized in. What would an Adventurer like Hei or Torgrak have over them?
“Also, you’ll accompany us on missions to make use of what you learn.”
So Hei and Torgrak were going with a more practical form of teaching, and they’d give her the opportunity to practice in the field. With them defending her, she should be relatively s-
“However, we aren’t going to babysit you.”
“You’re going to have to sink or swim when you’re with us. We’ll keep you alive and, relatively, in one piece. But you’re going to have to adapt to the pain and suffering on your own.”
“Isn’t that incredibly dangerous?!”
“Yes, very much so. But gems aren’t made without some pressure. And if you can’t adapt, you’ll never be able to protect anyone. Let alone yourself. You’ll forever be stuck behind someone else, cowering as you tell everyone you’re just a support. ”
Tessa was about to retort his statement, but she couldn’t.
“Now! With that settled, I’ll be taking my leave.” Hei started towards the door, “We’ll start your magic training tomorrow, Torgrak is your tutor for today.”
With that, Hei left and Tessa wondered what exactly she’d be learning from them. If Hei was going to teach her “magic”, what would Torgrak have to teach her?
“So... Torgrak. What will I be learning today?”
The dwarf let out an evil chuckle, then reached into his bag and pull out several supplies. The first thing was a standing blackboard, and on it he wrote: The Basics of First Aid, Equipment, and Alchemy.
“I’ll be teaching ye all o’ this, an’ how ta use it practically.”
Tessa kind of understood why she’d be learning first aid, but not the rest. None of them would be things that strengthened her, magically or otherwise. So why would she need to learn them?
“What about equipment or alchemy would be useful? Wouldn’t physical training or practicing my miracles make me stronger?”
“Aye, they wou’ strengthen ye, but power doesn’t win every battle. Proper preparations can turn tha tables on anyone or thing. An’ tha’ss what ye’ll be learning from me. Ye’ll be practicing your miracles with Hei, but ye have other things ta learn first.”
Suddenly, Tessa found herself in school again. Maybe this time she’ll actually learn something.