As we neared the castle wall, a picturesque environment begins to unfurl, as the forest to our right dwindles away, revealing vast golden fields of wheat and tilled farmland, the golden horizon offering a gorgeous orange tint to the pristine and beautiful land before us.
I must have looked shell shocked.
“Hello?~” Lucia snaps me out of my daze with a light voice, waving her hand in my line of sight as she does so.
“-Yeah – Yeah. I’m here.” I forcefully tear myself away from this heavenly sight. Reality persists, after all.
She smiles slightly as she herself turns her head to the horizon and says in a soft, seemingly melancholic voice “I felt the same way…”.
The atmosphere thickens with a somber mood to accent it, as I look at the profile of a girl whom I had only just met, feeling a deep connection with the feeling of displacement and sense of lostness that her words and body language had just displayed to me, as she stares unapologetically at what truly was, the most amazing thing I have ever seen.
My hand unconsciously reaches out to touch hers, as I too, turn my head towards the land.
Yet, just before my hand reaches her, she turns forward once more.
“Well, we’d better get there before dark.” She says as she looks back over her shoulder at me.
“Right.” Forgetting my last action, I slowly jog to catch up to her, as she had already started walking. “Let’s go then…” I silently mutter under my breath, a smile forming as anticipation wells up in me.
The walk to the castle’s front gate was a misleadingly long distance from where we first observed the land. The path winded further and further down at a gradual pace from the higher altitude, eventually straightening out and leading us down the roads that the wheat and farmland bordered, revealing houses hidden in the cornfields that were not visible from the hill we had been looking from.
As we walked, I took notice of the locals of this world. Nothing dissimilar from the medieval Europe of the world I was from, the people here wore what I assume are woolen tunics, with thin pants and what are definitely leather boots to match. As I noted this, I turned to once again look at Lucia, realizing I’ve neglected to notice her clothing. For a fantasy world, she really is quite well dressed?
Lucia’s top is a silk blouse with a thin layer of fur trimming that goes down past her waist, almost reaching her knees. Her pants are simply stockings with large brown fur boots cutting off the appearance of the white woolen stockings almost as soon as they begin, her boots reaching over halfway up to her knees.
I can’t believe I didn’t notice this until now. She must be royalty? Or at least someone important. The farmers returning home took notice of her too, so that really settles it.
We continue walking, and just a short distance further, the castle wall seems to be getting no closer. I begin to consider voicing my worries about having to camp outside once more, but before I can do that, a small thicket of trees we had just finished passing made way to reveal a scene of sparsely populated buildings, most of which appear to be homes, though I can spot what seems to be an inn a little further past the buildings.
Lucia takes the initiative, heading towards the presumed inn, she expertly navigates this small village, further deepening my curiosity toward her origins.
The door opens as we approach it.
“Hello, travelers. You must be looking for boarding?” An enthusiastic middle aged man greets us with a smile, his bushy mustache providing quite a show as he spoke.
“Yes, how much for a night?” Lucia states firmly. I really do wonder how I would have managed without her.
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“A night is a penny per bed. How many would you like?”
“Two beds, separate rooms.”
“Certainly, I’ll show you to your rooms. Afterwards, feel free to return to the dining area for some leftovers. We’ve just finished serving supper.”
The man guides us through the dining area, consisting of 5 tables and a small bar. There are two burly looking men sitting in the dining area, each donning what is clearly adventurer gear. Walking through the small dining area, we are led to a tight hallway, and shown to our respective rooms, which are next to one another. The rooms are nothing special, just a small closet-like space with a bed and a desk, though I expected as much judging from the smallish exterior of the building. After depositing my rucksack in the room, I return to the dining area as advised by the innkeeper to receive dinner, and more importantly, gather information.
I can’t be led along by Lucia forever, I have to take some semblance of initiative. Besides, this is one thing that remains true in all fantasy stories. Go to the tavern to gather information. Well, I guess in my case, it’s a small dining area of a tiny inn in a tiny town, but, beggars can’t be choosers.
“Bathrooms are outside, you’ll see them.” The innkeeper, now behind the counter of the bar informs me.
I nod towards him and begin to approach the two adventurers sitting at their table. Hesitantly, I force myself to greet them.
“Hello there, my name is Shizo.”
The two men stare at me for a moment, before stealing a glance at one another and forming slight smiles after doing so.
“Hey there Shizo, I’m Tex, this is Hawk. You’re new around here huh?”
It was unexpected that they would assume such a thing. I was prepared for the conversation to unfold like this.
“Yes, I am here collecting information on behalf of my master, who has instructed me to hire adventurers for a special task.” Lying through my teeth, I force myself to maintain a serious expression. If not for my clothing, which to these people appears gaudy, I may not have been able to express such a lie.
Their expressions change, from sly smiles to raised eyebrows, as their tone begins to shift.
“Well it looks like you found the right guys. Hawk and I were just talkin’ about needin’ work. What kind of work was it?”
Hook, line, and sinker. Now to finish it off.
“It’s an escort mission, I will be heading to the guild tomorrow to make the request, though I’ve never been to this city and would like to save myself the trouble of searching for it myself. If you two gentlemen escort me, I would be more than happy to consider reserving two of the spots on the escort quest for you both.” Maintaining a professional appearance in front of these two rough looking guys while I lie about things I have no idea about is wearing me down faster than I expected it to. I hope I didn’t say anything suspicious.
“How about instead of making a request we cut out the middleman and we take the quest directly? After all, the guild takes sooo much of the profit for themselves. Let’s do ourselves a favour here and work together, huh?” The man called Tex begins to lean towards me as I stand there desperately trying to maintain my composure.
“That won’t do, I must follow my master’s orders.” I hadn’t expected any pushback from them. Did I push them too far with the impersonal speech?
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“Come on, you end up paying less, we end up getting more, it’s a win/win!” Tex stands up and puts his arm around my shoulder as he says this while Hawk glares at me with a threatening aura.
“What’s going on in here?” Lucia says loudly as she enters the room, catching the attention of the innkeeper preoccupied with preparing the leftovers in the kitchen. With the innkeeper now paying attention to the situation and Lucia having entered the room, I feel confident enough to push Tex’s arm off me.
“Sir, your brash behaviour is not something my master looks for in a client, consider a more professional attitude next time.” I blurt out, scared out of my wits.
I begin moving towards Lucia as I hear Tex click his tongue from behind me. I take a seat at the table next to the hallway Lucia emerged from and Lucia follows suit, sitting across from me.
“What were you doing?” She asks, speaking silently enough to prevent the two men on the other side of the small room from hearing
“I was trying to gather information. I thought I had it handled.”
“You thought you had it handled? I heard that whole thing, what part of that was handled? You make up a story about offering a quest? What happens when they find out there is no quest? Or they come asking about their consideration for it? You can’t just go around manipulating people like that, especially if you aren’t actually offering anything in return.”
“I.. I don’t know. I didn’t think about that. I just wanted to help.” I say, as I begin to scowl and cross my arms on the table.
She’s right. I hadn’t thought about any of that. I’m just tired of letting Lucia do everything, it feels unmanly, you know?
“It’s ok, I trust you’ll start pulling your weight in due time, but for now, don’t go messing around with guys like that, okay?” She says, reaching her hands out and covering mine with them.
“Just let me take care of things for now, okay?” A pensive look appears on her face.
I suppose she’s right.
If I am the hero, after all, I can’t afford to be getting myself taken advantage of by the first people I interact with simply because I wanted to game them and didn’t know how. How stupid of me.
“Ok. I’ll trust you to handle things.” I say, gritting my teeth. It doesn’t make it any easier to admit, but I know it’s what I have to do.
“Good. Now, what information were you trying to acquire? I’ll use this as a learning experience for you and teach you how to barter.”
“I was trying to get them to guide me to the adventurer’s guild…” I mutter, still irritated at the situation.
“The adventurer’s guild?” She chuckles.
“The adventurer’s guild is the biggest building in almost every city, and it’s almost always along the main stretch of road. It’s made easy to find on purpose, you don’t need a guide!” Her chuckle turns to soft consistent laughter as she explains this.
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“That’s fine though, we’ll go ‘get that information’, alright?” She begins to stand up and walk over to the two men, much to my surprise. I follow her over.
Slamming her hand down on the table, the atmosphere suddenly returns to the tense one I had just been experiencing alone. “Where’s the guild?” She states firmly, revealing a penny on the table where she had slammed her hand.
“Put a few more down and we might be able to help.” A smirk once again appears on Tex’s face.
“Or, you tell us where the guild is, take the penny, and keep all your fingers.” A confident smile shows on her face as she says this.
“I’m startin’ to wonder how much you fellas got. Bein’ so disrespectful you must be from some well off family, huh? ‘Specially with those fancy lookin’ clothes.” Tex stands up once again, revealing a knife under his tunic.
“I’m starting to wonder if your ears work. Last chance big guy.”
“Let’s dance, girl.” Tex reaches for his knife and begins to unsheathe it, but before he can do so, Lucia has already sliced at his hand with a knife of her own. I hadn’t even seen her pull it out. Tex’s hand gushes blood as the back side of it has been slashed thoroughly, while Hawk, reacting to this situation, flips the table towards Lucia as he stands up, but Lucia effortlessly slides under the flying table and swings the handle of the knife into Hawk’s gut, winding him immediately. As Hawk falls to his knees, Tex recovers his knife with his other hand, slashing it towards Lucia. She dodges, and uses an opening in Tex’s lunge to counterattack, effortlessly sliding her body behind Tex’s as she wraps her arm around him and points her blade at his throat.
“Ceasefire.” Tex spouts nervously, dropping his knife and dropping to his knees.
Slowly, Lucia removes herself from Tex’s neck as she kicks him down to the floor from his kneeling position.
“So, how did you feel about that deal now?”
The night passed quickly after that, the men told us the information that Lucia had said was obvious, they got their penny, and I got quite a demonstration put on for me. The innkeeper was appalled at the situation, but due to everyone’s cooperative nature, no one was displaced for the evening. I slept nervously, but I slept nonetheless. It was nice to sleep on a bed after a night of camping. Or at least something that resembled a bed anyway, the mattress really was quite hard.
Waking up in the morning was a breeze, as the morning light shone in from the cracks in the walls, gently reviving me from my slumber. I return to the dining area where I was expecting breakfast, but unfortunately was met with the news that they only offered supper. Despite my disappointment, I still had the option of the dried meat in the rucksack Lucia had given me, so I wasn’t completely out of luck.
As I ate, Lucia entered the room.
“Ready to go?” She asks as she slings her rucksack over her back.
“Yeah, let’s do it.” I nod in her direction. She gives me a strange look, so I guess ‘let’s do it’ isn’t a normal phrase here, but she clearly got the message as she began walking towards the door with me following shortly after.
“So, last night.” She starts.
“What did you learn from that?”
What did I learn? I learned Lucia has even more of a mysterious backstory.
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“I learned you’re good with a knife.” I say, jokingly.
“Well, I was trying to show you you can’t go easy on guys like that. With the line of work they’re in, it’s all about how tough you seem. If you don’t seem tough, they’ll take you for everything you’ve got and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Some sound logic. Though, I’m not sure how I can apply it myself.
“I’m not tough though, how am I supposed to do something like that?” I say defensively.
“You’re not. That’s why I said let me handle things until you’re ready. We all start somewhere Shizo, it’s ok to rely on others. After all, I’m helping you with the hope that one day, I can rely on you to save my homeland.”
I’m convinced. This person is one way or another, exiled royalty. There is no other way someone could be so refined and honourable.
“I understand. I’ll rely on you for now then, and I hope I turn out to be the hero you’re looking for.”
“No hard feelings if you’re not, ok? You’ve at least given me hope, which is something I haven’t had in a long time.” She smiles as she says this, and playfully bunts me with her elbow.
I really hope I can be her hero.
The castle wall grows closer and closer and eventually we find ourselves standing in front of the gates.
“ID.” One of the gatekeeper speaks.
Lucia hands the gatekeeper a small tablet.
“Approved. Now you.”
“He doesn’t have one. He is from a small village to the east. I will vouch for him.”
The guard looks at Lucia’s ID once again, before begrudgingly looking up at me.
“I’ll allow it, but please get him registered right away. I won’t allow him in without ID a second time.”
“Yes, I understand. Thank you.”
We walk through the gates and I take my first steps into my first fantasy town.
Barracks line the castle walls, with horses in stables and long rowed buildings bordering them and the rest of the town. From then, there is a myriad of different styles of houses, all generally following the same outline of mud brick walls, thatch roofs, and a chimney with a few windows here and there.
As we walk further into town, the road widens, offering room for the horse drawn carriages we begin to infrequently see along the street. The adventurer’s guild is as obvious as was described to me, a building many times larger than any of the others around, standing tall over the city adorned with many aesthetic properties such as a multitude of curved roofs, solid clean brick walls, reinforced with wooden beams, and two large grand doors signifying the entrance. There does appear to be a regular sized door within one of these doors though, perhaps as a courtesy to those who may not be able to open the gargantuan doors. Not that that would apply to me, though, of course.
As we approach the entrance, the early morning rush imposes itself on us, as crowds of people are waiting around the entrance, presumably waiting for it to open. It is worth noting that the crowd is leaving a large empty space in front of the doors open, and as Lucia joins the crowd leaving the empty space there, I follow suit wondering why such a courtesy is shown.
“Why is no one lining up in front of the doors at least?” I ask Lucia
“I’m not sure, but I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later.” She replies as she scans the crowd with a slightly expectant look.
I observe the environment too, and notice many different kinds of gear. There are some people wielding staffs, most have daggers or swords equipped in their holsters, a few have small bucklers, and I even spot someone with a club on their back.
As far as the appearance of these people go, it wasn’t anything unexpected. Women were far and few between, the men were all tough looking, save for a few that looked like they were specialized in stealth, and, much to my chagrin, there was not a single beast person. Lucia hadn’t mentioned them to me, and I haven’t found a time to ask about it, but I really am curious as to whether or not there are beast people. After all, it’s a fantasy world with magic and demons, why wouldn’t there be? Disappointed in the lack of evidence of this theory, I remind myself that there is still hope.
The doors to the guild open violently, almost deafening me in the process and blowing me back into the person behind me, causing them to push me back forward.
“Sorry” I turn to face the person I had bumped into.
“Don’t mention it. A gruff voice emits from a dark hood.
I look away quickly so as not to cause any more messes for Lucia to clean up. A small, older looking man with a cane emerges from inside the building.
“Adventurers! I expect good behaviour out of all of you! You all know the drill by now, there will be no roughhousing in this guildhouse! I challenge anyone to break that simple rule!”
Silence fills the air.
“Good! We are now open! Please help yourselves to our quests today, and remember, be civil!” The man says as he turns and re enters the building.
No one dared move while he spoke, and no one dared move until he was out of sight, at which point everyone scrambled inside and rushed to the quest board.
“Well, let’s get you registered then.” Lucia says to me as she progresses forward.
“Mhm!” My excitement leaks as the prospect of becoming an adventurer in a fantasy begins to become my reality.
We enter the building and approach the front desk, passing the groups of adventurers that are looking at the quest boards on either side of us.
“Welcome to Gin City’s Guild HQ, how may I be of service?” A plucky seeming girl chirps enthusiastically from behind the counter.
“I’d like to get him registered.” Lucia pulls me forward and displays me to the clerk.
“We can do that! First, I’ll need you to fill this out.” She hands me a pen and paper.
“Do you know how to read and write?” She asks.
I glance at the paper. Fortunately, it’s English, though the pen is a hollow piece of wood with a pointed tip. That may take a little adaption, but so far so good.
“Yes, I do.” I say confidently as I wield the pen and begin filling out information.
Once I’ve filled it all out, I return the paper to the woman.
“Alright, I’ll get all of this information displayed on an ID card, wait here please!” The woman says as she walks through a doorway.
“How does that work?” I ask Lucia.
“Basically, with all that information you filled out, all they have to do is place an unused magic tablet on top of the paper and a little bit of sorcery later, the tablet has now absorbed the information and will update it as needed. It will also show your adventurer rank based on quests the guild confirms you’ve completed. Nothing too interesting.” Lucia explains with disinterest.
“Oh, so kind of like a photocopier…” I think to myself.
The receptionist returns with the tablet after a short delay.
“And with that, your registration is complete! You will start at Rank F, work hard to reach Rank A, okay? Also, you can pay the registration fee up front, or you can complete 3 quests to pay it off. Whatever you choose is up to you, but just remember, that identification is tied to the guild. Any crimes you’ve committed that are reported to the guild will show up on that, so don’t do anything bad, ok?”
“We’ll pay the fee now.” Lucia says as she drops two silver coins on the table.
“Very well! Did you need any more information then?” She asks
“Not for the moment, thank you.” Lucia flashes a smile at the clerk.
“Alright, good luck, and stay safe!” The girl waves us off as we walk to the now emptier quest board, with most of the adventurers having gotten the quests they wanted.
“So what kind of quest can we do?” I ask, eager to get started.
“Don’t be silly. We’re not doing a quest. You don’t even know how to use the power you have. We only came here to get you registered.”
Disappointment fills my face.
“Aw come on, isn’t there something like picking berries or something we can do? How am I going to learn how to use my power if I’m never in a situation where I need to?” I try negotiating with Lucia.
“We don’t even have a place to stay, how are you thinking about quests right now?” She retorts.
She’s right as usual, but this is something I won’t back down from.
“Come on, just one quick quest, we’ll have time to find lodging after that, I’m sure!”
“… Fine. One quick one, okay?”
HALLELUJAH! I wasn’t going to be able to sleep until this anticipation had been released! Quest quest quest quest! What shall we choose?
I begin scanning the quest board when Lucia calls out.
“This looks like a good one.”
An F-Rank quest, befitting of the rank showing on my new ID card. “Scouting an inactive golem”. Huh, that’s a strange one.
“What’s an inactive golem?” I ask
“Golems haven’t been active for thousands of years, since the times of primordial magic. A quest like this is basically just a field trip for new adventurers to see what they look like under the guise of ‘making sure the golem is still dormant’. It only pays a penny and you can only do it once, so it really is the perfect newbie quest. Are you still interested in quests?” She asks, seemingly hoping to have talked me out of it.
“Yup! Let’s do it!” I say with gusto.
“Alright, just fill out this sheet here with your name and we’ll go.” Lucia unpins the quest and turns the page to what seems to be a sign in sheet. I guess this is how they tell who is doing what quest and when.
I fill out the details, and just like that, we are on our way to complete our first quest. Scouting an inactive golem.