The five people sat around a table and studied each other carefully. They were all warriors, and all but one of them was human. And while some of them were friends with each other, they weren’t here to socialize. This was business, and right now they were all arguing about one thing.
The first to speak was the Minotaur. Calruz, captain of the Horns of Hammerad wasn’t one for waiting at the best of times, and his patience was already stretched thin. He hit the large table in the Adventurer’s Guild lightly—at least in the sense that his fist didn’t crack the wood. Two of the other adventurer captains jumped from the impact as everyone stared at him.
“Have you no spines? Here is the opportunity of a life time and you all hesitate to step forwards! Grab your axes and let’s enter these ruins already!”
The woman sitting next to him shook her head. She was a fair-skinned woman with blonde hair and polished silver armor, completely contrasting against Calruz’s bare chest and impatient nature. But he and she were in agreement.
“Most of us don’t use axes, Calruz. And while you have a point, recklessness is the exact reason everyone else is hesitating. We need to move carefully and I’m saying it can be done.”
The Minotaur glared sideways at the woman, but he was wise enough not to attack his only ally in the room. He subsided back into his chair, grumbling.
“If we don’t get in there first, some Gold-rank team is going to organize an expedition and grab everything before we do!”
One of the captains sitting across the table shook his head. He was an archer, at least from the large longbow resting against the table next to him.
“That’s what Charlez said. He took his entire group in right off and they came back as zombies. Not a scratch on their weapons, but their armor was nearly ripped off. We all know what that means.”
“I don’t. Stop talking in riddles and spell it out for me.”
One of the adventurer captains leaned forwards. He was a burly man with an axe nearly as large as Calruz’s strapped to his back. He glowered at the archer-captain.
This time it was the man in robes sitting next to him that answered the captain.
“What it means, Gregor, is that whatever Charlez and his group ran into, they didn’t even get a chance to fight back before it ripped them to pieces. And then something—it might have been another monster or the same one—reanimated them and sent them back out. That’s a serious threat.”
“And above our ability.”
That came from a scarred man who only wore a longsword at his side. He wasn’t armored like the other adventurer captains, but then, they’d all travelled through the night to make this meeting on time. He folded his arms and shook his head at Calruz and the female captain.
“We’ve all heard of how many Bronze-rank teams and individuals have been lost in those damned Ruins so far. True, most of them rushed in but Charlez was different. He was experienced and he went in prepared to retreat. Whatever got him was deadly. And you’re proposing we go in without knowing what the hell is down there?”
The woman in silver armor shook her head.
“I’m proposing we join together and launch a six-team raid on those ruins. We stock up on supplies, pool our best warriors and fortify along the way as we go as far as we can. We’ll have a far better chance if we work together and the Ruins are practically untouched beyond the first level. I hear Liscor doesn’t want to investigate themselves and is leaving everything up to the adventurers. If we want to get to whatever treasures are buried in there, now’s our chance.”
Calruz nodded emphatically, but the others didn’t appear convinced. The archer-captain leaned forwards and addressed the table at large.
“Why not let the other adventurers go in first and wait for at least one or two to come back for more insight? This isn’t like you, Yvlon. I could see Calruz wanting to go in, but how’d he manage to talk you into it?”
Yvlon, the woman in silver armor, smiled at the other captain.
“Impatience and daring, Cervial. I was excited as the rest of you when I heard about the ruins. But you’re right. I am moving fast, but not because Calruz managed to talk me into it. I heard there’s a team of Gold-rank adventurers who’ve heard of the ruins. They’re travelling down south and they’ll be here in a week or less.”
That caused a stir at the table. The other captains muttered, and not happily too.
“Well that changes things.”
“Does it? Not in my opinion. The Ruins are still too dangerous.”
“But letting a bunch of golds take all the treasure? That’s different.”
“You think so? That’s not all I’ve heard. And my news is more disturbing.”
This time it was the mage-captain who spoke up. He glanced around the table.
“There’s a Named adventurer in the city right now. You might have heard of her. Gazi the Omniscient.”
All the captains fell silent. They might not have heard of Gazi, but a Named adventurer was different.
Gold-rank was as high as most ranking systems allowed for in any continent. As a general rule of thumb, a Bronze-rank adventuring team wasn’t much better than a group of rookies, while a Silver-rank team was more than a match for a small city’s standing militia. The equipment and magic available to a group of adventurers like the Horns of Hammerad meant that they could take on challenges even a large garrison might not manage.
Beyond that, Gold-rank adventurers were experienced, highly-trained groups that could handle most monster threats with ease. At the top of that grouping, teams of adventurers were equivalent to small armies and could affect disputes between nations.
Some countries had weird ranking systems that extended beyond the gold rank into platinum, adamantium, and so on. But functionally speaking, if an adventuring party or individual reached that level of renown they were no longer ranked.
Instead, they were known as Named adventurers because their names were known throughout the part of the world where they travelled. They were living legends to adventurers with short careers like the Silver-rank captains in the room.
The scarred man with the longsword broke the silence first.
“Well, that’s different. Very different. If a Named adventurer is in the city, there’s probably only one real reason why she’s there. The Ruins. But the real question is: why hasn’t she gone in yet?”
“I’ll tell you why. It’s because she’s being cautious. And if a Named adventurer doesn’t want to go in just yet—”
“She might not have any idea what’s down there. It could be fine.”
“Or there could be monsters that would make the High Passes look like a small bear cave by comparison! No! My group won’t take part.”
“You coward. Where’s your sense of pride as a warrior?”
Calruz raised his voice and aimed it at the captain with the axe. The man flushed red and pushed his chair back angrily, but the mage at his side put a hand on his shoulder.
“None of us are cowards, and you’d do well to remember that before tossing around insults, Calruz. But this changes things.”
“Only if you’re taking the worst view of it.”
This came from the archer-captain. He was thinking, stroking the handle of his bow thoughtfully as he spoke.
“I might, might be willing to give this a try. The Horns of Hammerad and the Silver Spears together represents a large fighting force. If I throw in my team, we’d have a party big enough to challenge even the deeper parts of the Ruins of Albez.”
“Don’t be stupid, Cervial. You can’t expect these ruins to be the same.”
Cervial shook his head at the speaker.
“I’m not suggesting they are. But between our three teams we’re at least equal to one or two Gold-rank teams, and if the rest of you joined in it might work. Might.”
Calruz leaned forwards and addressed Cervial.
“If you’re with us, I’ll want your full commitment, not uncertain promises. My team has heard my decision and they are with us. If you lack their spirit, we do not need you.”
Yvlon winced and Lir the mage shook his head. Calruz was no negotiator. But Cervial didn’t seem to have taken much offense. He studied Calruz and then asked a question.
“What does Ceria Springwalker think about the Ruins?”
That caused another pause in the room. All eyes turned to Calruz. The Minotaur’s nostrils flared and he snorted angrily.
“Ceria does not lead the Horns of Hammerad. I do.”
“Yes, but she’s got more experience adventuring than this entire room does put together. If she thinks it’s worth the risk I’ll throw in with this plan.”
Gregor the axe-captain stared incredulously from Calruz to Cervial. He stood up.
“You’re all crazy and whatever’s down there is going to eat you alive. I’m out, and so is my party.”
The woman in silver armor sighed and shook her head. She glanced at the mage captain hopefully.
“Lir? You with us?”
The man in robes hesitated, and then shook his head reluctantly.
“I’m sorry, but Gregor’s right. It’s too risky, and my group needs more space to cast our spells. If we knew for certain what was below I’d join you. Cervial, you should think this through as well.”
The archer-captain paused, and then shrugged.
“I understand, but I’ll trust our resident Half-Elf on this one. If she thinks it’s worth the risk I’ll take my team in, cramped corridors or not. How often do you think we’ll get a chance like this?”
His words went unanswered. Gregor and Lir left the room, shaking their heads and talking to each other quietly. After a moment, the scarred captain stood up and followed after them, leaving the three captains behind.
“Well, that could have gone better.”
The female captain leaned over the table despondently as Calruz glared at the closed door.
“We don’t need cowards. If they lack the courage to risk their lives we were better off without them to begin with. Such weakness would only drag us down.”
“Yes, but now we have to fill their holes with Bronze-rank teams, and that is weakness. I guess it’ll come down to how many freelancers are hanging around the ruins. We’ll need more mages and more front-line fighters. At least we’ve got one team who can detect and disarm traps.”
The archer raised one hand warningly.
“Yes, if Ceria thinks it’s worthwhile. But I believe these Ruins might even be bigger than Albez, don’t you?”
“Then why didn’t Ceria join us and lend her support while we were all arguing? If she had—”
“Bah. She wanted to stay in Celum.”
“She was waiting for a Runner to come back. She made a mistake and gave her mana potions instead of healing potions right before she ran into the High Passes.”
The two other captains blanched. Cervial shook his head sadly, but Calruz was unaffected.
“I told her it would not matter. This Runner is no coward like the others. Mistake or not, she will survive the journey. And meanwhile we have an expedition to prepare.”
“You seem awfully confident about that, Calruz. The High Passes are no joke. If it were there we were going to explore, I wouldn’t feel comfortable even with all three of our teams working together.”
“She will survive. She is a Human worthy of my admiration and respect. She will survive.”
Yvlon raised her eyebrows at Cervial. It was rare that anyone heard Calruz talking about any Human positively, let alone like this.
“This wouldn’t happen to be that barefoot Runner I’ve heard so much about, would it? Was that the one who bailed your group out when you were fighting that Lich?”
“The very same. Her name is Ryoka Griffin and she is fearless.”
Cervial’s fingers snapped together lightly. The other two captains looked at him in surprise.
“I wondered where’d I’d seen her face. That girl—I believe I saw her last night. She ran straight into the city just before dawn. She’s here now, in fact. I saw her entering the guild.”
Calruz’s eyes widened. His mouth fell slightly open. The Minotaur’s long tufted ears went very still. He blinked at Cervial and then turned his eyes upwards to the ceiling.
“Ryoka Griffin is here?”
It was odd. Ryoka was sure she hadn’t burned that many calories with her little light trick, but before she knew it she’d downed a hunk of cheese, half a loaf of bread and quite a bit of meat and an entire stick of butter.
Not separately of course; these came in the form of sandwiches, but it was still disgusting to think that she’d somehow eaten that much food in one sitting.
Ceria downplayed Ryoka’s disgust. She explained being ravenous was normal for someone casting magic for the first time, and mages in general.
“It’s why you don’t see many fat mages—well, at least among mages who actually use their spells in combat. After a really exhausting battle I’ve eaten an entire ham by myself.”
Ryoka blinked at Ceria as the mage blushed. It didn’t even seem possible a ham would fit inside the Half-Elf’s smaller body.
“Aren’t your…people vegetarian?”
Instantly Ceria’s face turned wary.
“Not all of us. I don’t know what you’ve heard, but we eat all the food Humans eat.”
“Oh, of course. Sorry.”
Mentally Ryoka kicked herself. She was really tired, to be making mistakes like that. But at least she hadn’t started talking about Tolkien elves or any of the other stereotypes. Come to that, she didn’t know much about Half-Elves either. She wasn’t a big fantasy fan.
Changing the subject, Ceria fiddled with her wand and pointed to Ryoka.
“You should probably get your first level in the [Mage] class as soon as you take a nap. Hopefully it’ll come with a Skill or a spell, but don’t worry if it doesn’t. After that you can start thinking about what field of magic you’d want to specialize in.”
Another problem. Ryoka sighed.
“Is—is leveling necessary to learn magic? Couldn’t I learn magic without gaining a…a class?”
Ceria looked surprised and had to think about that question for a moment.
“Of course you don’t need levels to learn spells. But it makes everything so much faster. For instance – when I reached Level 18 in my [Elementalist] class I learned the spell [Fireball]. It would have taken me a month of study and the right scrolls to even begin casting that spell otherwise.”
She eyed Ryoka somewhat suspiciously.
“Why? You aren’t one of those types who believes in the Limit, do you?”
“A limit to our levels. Some people—they claim that we all have a set amount of levels in us. If we gain too many levels in a bunch of different classes we’ll eventually run out. Never heard of them?”
“No. And I don’t believe in that either. I just wanted to know if I could study by myself or if I had to—to wait until I leveled to learn more spells.”
“Oh. Well, that’s a common misconception. Mages level from casting spells, but we gain a lot of experience from studying magic. You can’t just go around throwing fireballs and expect to level up quickly.”
And there was another thing. As Ryoka kept talking with Ceria, lightly speculating about what magic she might like to learn, her mind was racing.
Level limits? That sounded like a game to her. But people were treating it like some kind of superstition. How much did they really know about levels anyways?
In Ryoka’s sleep-deprived state, parts of her mind were firing off with questions, but she deliberately did not ask Ceria any of them. She liked and even trusted the Half-Elf, but some things were better left unasked. At least, for the moment.
“You look beat. I’d offer you my bed, but all the other adventurers are waking up. They’ll be thumping around soon enough.”
Ryoka was pretty sure she could sleep underneath a railroad at the moment, but she still declined Ceria’s offer.
“I’d like to talk some more about magic, and look around the Adventurer’s Guild if that’s okay.”
“Of course. I’m free until Calruz finishes meeting with the other Silver-rank leaders. And besides, it’s breakfast and everyone should be downstairs. We can meet them and eat at the same time.”
Ceria didn’t notice the brief look of distaste that flicked across Ryoka’s face. The other girl didn’t want to go down and socialize, but she had no choice. Reluctantly, she followed Ceria down the stairs.
Damn. I hate talking to people. No—that’s not exactly right. I hate talking to people in groups. Individuals are fine. Ceria’s fine, Garia’s fine…Sostrom is fine…
…That’s about it. I’d be absolutely happy to talk to any one of them, but everyone else can go to hell rather than bother me. But instead I get to follow Ceria down and socialize.
I hate that. But I do owe Ceria, not least because she’s helped me learn magic. Me. Learn magic*.
*If I weren’t so tired I think I’d be running around waving my arms and screaming in a high-pitched voice**.
**Probably not. But I’m really, really excited. It’s magic! Magic! I wonder what spells I can learn and—damnit, here come the people.
I follow Ceria down into the main section of the Adventurer’s Guild. The ground floor has an open lobby for people to either submit requests for assistance to the guild or adventurers to turn in bounties and collect rewards like the Runner’s Guild, but it also has more sections designed to cater to the adventuring lifestyle.
A small shop staffed by employees of the city’s guild is the last stop in the small corridor before we reached what I can only describe as a cafeteria. It’s a mess hall, but the way it’s set up immediately screams school cafeteria at me. And this is not a pleasant association.
The cafeteria is essentially one far wall with a noisy kitchen partially exposed to the room and a long counter where adventurers can pay for food without having to make their way to an inn. The Adventurer’s Guild in Esthelm is even big enough to have quite a few rooms for rent like the one Ceria was staying in. I suppose it all makes sense—you can earn even more money feeding the people who kill monsters for you.
As soon as Ceria and I step into the room people turn and look. I guess it’s an adventurer thing—and a Runner thing come to think of it—not to want to be caught off-guard.
But the truth of it is that Ceria and I would probably attract attention anywhere we go. Ceria is Ceria—half immortal and beautiful. And I’m…me. I’ve got bare feet and I’m taller than a lot of the guys here. Plus, I look Asian and this is a very Anglo-Saxon type of place*.
*Seriously. What’s up with that? Is it just a rule that white people are always the colonists who screw over the indigenous groups? I know humans aren’t native to this continent, but does that also mean white—excuse me—caucasian** groups are the dominant ethnic group in this world? Or…is it mirroring our world somehow? Hm.
**Technically speaking, caucasian is also not politically correct since it implies someone who’s descended from the Caucasus region which isn’t necessarily true. Plus, the word literally means white people, just without saying the word white overtly. The correct term here would be European-American, except that it doesn’t apply to people here since there is no America or Europe, which means that white people is the best damn word there is and stop thinking about this—
I’m cut off from my incoherent musings when I hear someone talking to me. It’s a familiar voice, but that doesn’t mean I’m too happy to hear it. Still, I’ve got to play nice. And I do owe these people, even if it seems like half of them are a bit too interested in me as a member of the opposite sex.
So I smile, turn, and clasp hands with Gerial, Sostrom and the other Horns of Hammerad as they get up from their seats. There are several people I don’t recognize, and they nod to me as Ceria and Gerial introduce them.
‘Hey, Ryoka, this is blah blah or someone someone who’s here to hit things or shoot people with arrows.’ I really don’t care, especially since I’m still hungry, tired, and grumpy at having to meet people. But I do owe the Horns so I shake hands and smile and pretend I like them, which is not my strong suit.
I’m just tired. It was a mistake to say I wanted to check out the Adventurer’s Guild to Ceria. What I really should have said is that I want to look around really quickly, talk with her for three more hours, and then go to sleep for the rest of the day before doing anything else.
Instead I’m stuck. And guess what? I forgot that people still hadn’t heard about me going through the High Passes, which means suddenly a bunch of annoying people want me to tell them exactly what happened.
“I ran into a bunch of Goblins, some wolves, some goats, and then some gargoyles. I just kept running and then I got to my destination.”
Gerial made a polite sound of disbelief while Ceria eyes me as she brings us some more food. Cafeteria food for adventurers. Lovely.
To be fair, it’s sausage, barley bread, and some vegetable soup steaming in a bowl. And some weak, minty drink people around here love. And that’s great cooking by medieval standards. A far higher standard of living than what poor people would have eaten all the time*.
*Barley. Barley bread, barley pizza, barley pancakes, barley soup…yeah. They didn’t have many options back then.
I eat it while they pester me with questions. The Horns of Hammerad have their own table, but it seems like a bunch of adventurers just happen to be standing around listening too.
“There’s got to be more than that. What kind of wolves were they? Normal kinds or were they actual monsters?”
I glance up at Gerial. He’s still smiling and trying to be Mr. Nice Guy. Okay, maybe he genuinely is nice, but I still don’t like him as easily as I do Ceria. Probably because he’s a guy and even he can’t resist staring at my breasts once or twice*.
*My eyes are up here. Not that I really want people to stare into my eyes. Over my shoulder is nice, but I’m used to them looking at my feet, too. And at least Gerial doesn’t stare much and stops when he realizes he is. That’s the sign of a semi-decent guy, as opposed to the other guy sitting next to him who can’t stop looking at them.
Okay, I realize what the problem is. I uncross my arms and stop leaning back in my chair. If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it unless you want people to think about touching it. Or something.
“I don’t know. They were a lot bigger than normal wolves. And they had red fur.”
And bodies like iron. Gerial looks around. One of the mages sitting next to Sostrom nods.
“Got to be.”
Several of the nearby adventurers whistle and Ceria looks pained. Oh yeah, she was really guilty about giving me those mana potions by accident. I told her it all worked out but—
“They were pretty bad. They ate up the Goblins that ambushed me and then got torn to shreds by the Gargoyles and goats.”
The adventurers murmur again and look at each other. Gerial shakes his head and leans forwards, this time meeting my eyes.
“See, Gargoyles I understand. They’re terrifying monsters when you find one holed up in a cave or terrorizing a village. But goats? What do you mean, ‘goats’?”
“Probably the flesh-eating goats, the kind with sharp teeth that can tear even Carn Wolves apart.”
This comes from a guy standing among the other adventurers. He’s got a scar over one side of his face and he’s wearing a longsword at his belt. Which means he’s pretty sparsely equipped compared to the rest of the adventurers who’re walking around in chainmail or wearing leather armor even while they eat.
He nods at me as Gerial and the other Horns turn in their seats.
“Hendric, Silver-rank adventurer. You must be the famous barefoot Runner. Were those the kind of goats you saw?”
I eye him. Despite the crowd now forming around our table, this guy is getting a bit of space and he’s not being shoved. Clearly he’s important.
“Yeah. I guess. They had sharp teeth. And they scream.”
The scarred guy nods grimly.
“That’s them alright. Those goats hunt in packs and can climb anything. They’re village killing monsters. Whenever they leave the High Passes they eat everything edible in their wake for miles around. If you outran them, Miss Runner, consider yourself lucky.”
All of the adventurers seem impressed at this. The scarred man seems to have fought the damned goats more than once, and Gerial and the others start asking him questions about them.
I lean over to Ceria.
She pauses, swallows, and glances at the scarred guy who’s busy talking about how to behead the goats properly.
“He’s Hendric, captain of the Swordlock Dogs. A Silver-rank team, more known up north. He was supposed to be talking to Calruz and the others but—”
“Okay, okay. You got through the monsters, but what was waiting for you at the other end?”
Ceria breaks off as one of the newer members of the Horns of Hammerad interrupts our conversation. Rude asshole. He’s also the youngest guy with scruffy brownish hair. He stares at me and demands to know who I met.
“Who was he? Some rich hermit? A mage living in retirement? A shadowy figure?”
Like hell I’m going to tell him, or anyone for that matter. The mystery possibly-elf archmage Teriarch might annoy me, but he’s my mystery.
“No one special.”
While I may not like people, I am good at keeping a straight face while I tell lies*. And at least here I can play the Runner’s confidentiality card so I don’t have to answer any more questions about him at least.
*Lies like ‘oh, I’m so sorry your stupid hamster died’, or ‘I just cannot believe your stupid inbred boyfriend dumped you! How terrible!’ And so on.
“But Gargoyles? I’ve never seen one up close. What were they like?”
“Big. Stone. They spit rocks and try to eat you.”
What the hell do they want from me, a hand-drawn portrait with anatomical references? …Hell, I’d buy a monster bestiary if they had one around here. But all these adventurers want to know is how to kill one, and I’m definitely not the person to ask for that.
“I barely got out alive. It was sheer luck that I got away.”
“I happen to disagree with that. Anyone who can outrun a horde of Gargoyles is clearly not merely lucky.”
This time the clear voice comes from behind the other adventurers. People turn, and stand aside as they do as three adventurers walk forwards. That probably also has to do with one of them being Calruz. No one gets in his way.
Calruz, a guy holding a huge longbow as tall as he is, and a woman in silvery armor walk to the table I’m sitting at. Great. More people, and these ones also look like captains. The woman with long flowing blonde hair smiles down at me and offers a gauntleted hand.
“Yvlon Byres, Silver-rank adventurer. I’m Captain of the Silver Spears, and I wanted to make your acquaintance.”
My god does she look like something out of a movie. I stare up at her with crumbs on my face and then take her hand. One firm handshake later and somehow she and the other captains are sitting at the table.
Great. As if my trials weren’t enough. Now I’ve got Calruz sitting next to me, and a giant, hairy Minotaur is not my preferred seatmate. And now there are four Silver-rank adventuring captains sitting around me, nicely blocking me off from Ceria while a bunch of people stare at me like I’m some kind of amazingly interesting piece of crap*.
*Or something else. Honestly, I could be a golden poodle for all I care. I hate being stared at when I’m not running, and even then it’s not exactly a blast. But at least then I can outrun the eyes.
“Getting through the High Passes alive is something that hasn’t been done in years. Not that many Runners have tried it, but it takes a special kind of someone to do that.”
Calruz snorted and the other adventurers nodded as Yvlon, the fabulously armored and beautiful captain continues lavishing praise on me. It’s actually getting to be more annoying than the questions.
“It was a request. I got it done—half-done. I just need to finish my delivery and it’ll be over.”
This time everyone is interested. One of the adventurers tries to look casual.
“Where to? Whom to?”
Their faces fall. But I don’t think any of them were really expecting to get the truth out of me anyways. But at the mention of the delivery, the ring and letter I’ve been given burn in my mind. I left them in the pack in Ceria’s room. Damn. I should have been more careful with them. I’ve got to deliver—
I blink, unfocused for a second. The spell. For a moment I was about to get up and start running. That stupid mage—
I look up. Everyone’s staring at me. I must have not been paying attention. I try not to turn red, fail, and look at Yvlon.
This is why I hate talking to people. But she smiles as if nothing happened and asks me again.
“I was just wondering if you had any levels in a fighting class, or whether you only had levels as a Runner. Did you enter into any other classes before this?”
Now that is a loaded question that I’m not prepared to answer. I scramble—give up.
“Why do you want to know?”
Yeah, that’s right. I’m about as blunt as a hammer to the face. But Yvlon only smiles.
“Simple curiosity. I’d like to see how well you’d do in a fight. I’m told you’re quite the pugilist despite being a Runner.”
Pugilist? Who the hell uses that term? Oh, right. ‘Boxer’ probably hasn’t been invented yet.
Gerial looks blank. He and the other adventurers at the table exchange a glance.
“What’s a ‘pugilist’?”
Ceria sighed and supplied the answer.
All the adventurers nod in sudden understanding. Okay, maybe boxing does exist in this world and Yvlon’s just a prat. Or someone who appreciates literature. I could respect that*.
*But I won’t. I’m too tired. And pugilist is a stupid word, anyways.
“Who’d you hear that from?”
Word can’t have spread about me laying the beat down on that stupid adventurer in Celum. No way. I literally outran rumor. So how does this woman know who I am and that I can fight?
“I heard it from my aunt twice-removed. She lets me know about interesting people and she told me it would be worth seeking you out.”
All the adventurers seem to understand this, and look at me curiously. But I’m still out of the loop.
“Who’s the aunt? Do I know her?”
Ceria coughed gently, as if I’m making a stupid mistake.
“Yvlon Byres is leader of the Silver Spears, but she’s also part of a noble family, Ryoka.”
I look blank. Ceria sighs.
“The Byres family? Aristocracy?”
Yvlon corrects Ceria with a smile.
“We trade in silver and have several large mines in the area. And we’re distantly related to the Reinharts.”
She says that as if it means something. The who…?
Oh. Ah shit. Magnolia’s last name is Reinhart, isn’t it? That means—
That fucking woman. Even when I think I’ve outrun her she manages to find someone to bother me.
For a moment my scowl flashes across my face and Gerial closes his mouth and sits back. Yvlon eyes me, the smile still fixed on her face.
“I’m sorry if my aunt has bothered you, Ryoka, but she’s quite insistent. And she’s told all of my family—everyone, really, to keep an eye out for her.”
Gerial blinks at Yvlon. Not the quickest on the uptake, and nor are the other adventurers. But the archer-guy—Cervial I think his name was—and Ceria both stare intently at Yvlon. And so does Calruz. I guess he’s pretty quick too.
But if Ceria and Cervial say nothing, Calruz doesn’t have their subtlety. Or any, for that matter. He rests his arm on the table and leans forwards—which is only a little bit since he’s so massive already—to stare down at Yvlon.
“Her business is her own. If Magnolia Reinhart seeks Ryoka Griffin, she should either respect her privacy or seek her outright.”
Yvlon makes a pretty face and shrugs ruefully at Calruz.
“Sorry, Calruz, but no one in my family defies Lady Magnolia. And I wasn’t intending on doing anything to Ryoka. I just wanted to know if she really was good at fighting barehanded.”
“And I suppose you are?”
Again, maybe she’s well known, but everyone gives me a look like I’m a massive idiot. Yvlon smiles.
“I’ve got a bit of a reputation. The Silver Spears are known for fighting with any weapon that comes to hand, and barehanded if need be.”
Sostrom nudges me on my right side and mutters loud enough for me to hear.
“She once defeated five bandits with only her bare hands after losing her sword.”
Wow. Wooooow. And am I supposed to be impressed by that? Beating five guys down with your bare hands isn’t exactly amazing by my book. And it’s less amazing because Yvlon Byres is wearing full-plate armor made out of expensive metal. If she was fighting ‘barehanded’ with those metal gauntlets on against five guys with bad weapons, I’d put money on her too.
Perhaps my lack of any amazement showed*, because Yvlon raised one perfect eyebrow and the other adventurers looked—discontented. Why? Because I’m not impressed by a chump in armor smacking around a few idiots?
*It totally did. I was not impressed.
“I heard that you managed to defeat a low-level [Assassin] with your bare hands and fought a Carn Wolf without any weapons as well.”
This time everyone goes silent. Okay, that’s it. Magnolia has been upgraded from a person I really don’t want to talk to into someone I can’t ignore. The assassin is one thing since I bet she hired him but—how did she know about the wolf?
“I’d love to see your abilities myself. I know you’re tired, but if you have time for a quick match I could give you a handicap.”
There’s no malice in Yvlon’s tone. In fact, she’s been pretty above-board with me about telling me she knows Magnolia and all. And it’s probably a fair offer, considering adventurer levels and all that. Certainly none of the other adventurers – Gerial, Sostrom, etc. are frowning. Only Calruz looks displeased.
But—a handicap. A handicap for me from this woman who looks like a supermodel who got sent back in time? Or one of those Hollywood female knights?
Right, that’s it. I’m tired, cranky, and I’d just ran over sixty miles last night to get here after fighting a mysterious assassin, getting in a bar fight, and managing to cast magic for the first time in my life.
First things first. I’m going to kick Yvlon’s face in, challenge Calruz to a fight, and then go to sleep.
Exactly in that order.
The potion bottle at my waist sloshes gently as I grin with all my teeth at Ms. Perfect Knight-Adventurer.
“Why, I’d love to have a sparring match. Tell me, have you ever heard the word MMA?”
She looks confused.