Each step creaked as the aged wood took the full weight of my gear until I reached the bottom landing. Wooden tables and chairs rested off to the left with a few travelers having their breakfast, and a few fresh ones having their dinners. The inn’s hall was silent as everyone ate quietly to themselves. I stepped across the cobblestone floor to the reception desk that doubled as the bar and serving counter. A young girl, a few years younger than me, swept away the dust that had accumulated behind the long counter that stretched from side to side to accommodate drinkers.
The girl had lush blonde hair, slightly tanned skin, and dark freckles that graced her upper checks just below her eyes. She wore an undyed linen dress with an apron over it and a thin leather belt that wrapped around her midriff under her budding breasts. Her figure was alluring and slightly graceful. She certainly was a pretty girl, but… “H-How can I-I help you…?” The moment she saw me, she turned into a frightened mouse that had been backed into a corner, at least, she didn’t flee like yesterday. It hurt a little when the cute girls ran from you.
It had been four days since the raid on the guild and the subsequent execution of the Third Order Knights within the Settlement 13.
The first day, the settlement was sent into a state of confusion over the sudden power shift. Then the second day came around and the story of what happened burned through the settlement like a forest fire. I only use to get strange stares from my outfit, now, people looked at me with a mixture of fear and curiosity. I wasn’t treated like the scourge of the earth, but I think they just didn’t know how to deal with me. That may have been my own wishful thinking, however. The Adventurers either avoided me outright or glared at me whenever we crossed paths.
My choices that night managed to leave me on the bad side of both factions. The ones who loved the knights, and those who loved the Adventurers. There was a neutral faction though, the ones who just wanted to live in peace. Those were the ones whose interactions were slightly awkward with me – the only interactions aside from Heather, Rock, and Arnold. I had undertaken a lot of sentry shifts- without pay – to cover the lack of security the settlement had now and today, I was no longer required to do so. Enough adventurers had entered the town and returned from their quests. I could finally explore the outside world now.
“I’m just returning the key, I’ll be back again tonight.” I said with a soft smile, trying not to scare the poor girl anymore. Her eyes scanned me as I slipped the room key onto the counter along with a few coppers. I retracted my hand and waited a moment for her to look over the items. She didn’t touch them and kept her back against the back counter. She nodded timidly and I took it that she had accepted the items. I smiled again, nodded and turned to leave. I saw the girl’s father watch me from the kitchen entrance, checking to be sure I wasn’t bullying his precious child.
I nodded at him with a smile and he returned it in kind. He wasn’t a bad guy and neither was his daughter.
I opened the inn’s door and the cold, humid, air wafted into my face. Rain poured heavily and the clouds had cast the world into a strange monotonous state. I stepped out into the rain, but my boot slipped in the loose mud. I managed to grab the door frame in time to catch myself. I twisted around and managed not to get completely muddied. A soft giggle broke out from inside the tavern as the innkeeper’s daughter covered her mouth, her eyes smiling. She froze once our eye’s locked, but I smiled and laughed with her.
I picked myself up and closed the inn door. My face burned hot with embarrassment, but I reasoned it was good enough to hear a cute girl giggle. Gain some, lose some. I pulled my hood on and made my way out the muddied inn courtyard. A shaved branch fence, held together by twine, made up the courtyard perimeter with a single opening that twenty-feet from the inn’s door. A painted sign hung over the door with the local dialect. I couldn’t read it, but Rock had told me that it said “Drunken Kobold Inn” with a roughly painted lizard and a mug. It was one of two Inns in the settlement, and the Kobold was the only one that would allow me in and so happened to be the cheapest one.
I made my way through the town and came to the Northern Gate Square. The blood had long been washed away by the rain and the bodies had already been buried, but the damage from the raid had been left untouched. The guild building had been vacated and Arnold moved the operation to the second largest building in the square – which was a large store that the adventurers had frequented. Now it had been purchased by Arnold on the behalf of the guild. The merchant had been all too willing to sell the building after the fight that had taken place. We later found out that the merchant believed that the adventurers were going to extort the settlement dwellers even more than the knights did.
That remained to be seen, but the settlement had not delved into chaos and business still went on as usual from what I’ve heard from Heather.
I stepped through the new guild’s building, my muddied boots slapping against the creaking floorboards. The inside wasn’t as nice as Arnold’s old building, though it had a rustic charm too it. Tens of adventurers were inside at the counter to accept their requests for the day. A few glared at me, while a few stiffened up and kept their eyes forward. Heather then appeared from behind the counter. “Arnold is waiting for you upstairs.” Her soft voice was only seconded by her cool intellectual persona.
I nodded to her and circled around the queue. I stepped through the personnel-only doorway and found the stairs quickly. Rock was sitting by it. “Hey, pretty boy. ” He nodded and went back to flipping through a book that rested on his lap. “What’re you reading today?” I didn’t bother to glance at it. “I don’t know.” I chuckled at that. I learned early that Rock was more brawn than brains, but he was definitely a teddy bear – unless provoked. He wasn’t smart, but his brother-in-law, Arnold, insisted that he at least try and read something every day when he rather than lounge around.
I gave my partings to him and went up the stairs to the only door on the second level. It was open and Arnold was flipping through a few parchment papers. “Heather said you were waiting for me,” I said as I stepped into his office. The room was smaller than his guild room. Crates lined the walls to my left where his books had been stored while his couches had been pushed against the other wall. He didn’t say anything to me as he flipped through another few papers. Two chairs sat in front of his desk and I picked one at random. Arnold was a man who liked to do things on his time, as I’ve come to know full well.
A few minutes passed as I flipped through my store out of boredom and then my inventory. Then a knock sounded from the doorway behind me. I looked up and saw Healer step in, and take the seat next to me. My eyebrow raised as my curiosity was peaked as to why we were both here. A few more minutes passed as Healer looked unbearably comfortable. His insistence on not meeting my eyes and his avoidance of me was slowly grinding my gears these last few days. Now, he was stuck in the same room as me. “Hello Omri, long time no see,” I said with as much passive aggressiveness I could muster.
“Hello, Isaac.” His tone gave away how reluctant he was to speak to me. I wanted about to ask why he exactly he was avoiding me, be it me killing the adventurers or killing the knights. Maybe both, but I just wanted to know. It was something that I didn’t take well, being ignored, and I just wanted a straight answer from the man. Hammer, I knew all too well that he viewed me as the enemy. Though, sometimes that was questionable with how he looked like he wanted to talk to me in the streets a few times. Then we would just go our separate ways quickly – mainly me.
I’ve been able to come to terms with the deeds I had done over these last few days. I was haunted by them sometimes, but I couldn’t have changed the outcome. Not without having changed the events leading up to the massacre. No one contested that I was the catalyst that had boiled the pot over, but from what Heather had explained, it was bound to happen before the Mayor came back with the Royal Army.
I heard Arnold tap the papers on the desk to align them, catching both our attention. His eyes were cold and calculating, something I was only used to seeing in my father’s eyes. “How are the girls?” Arnold asked, referring to the ones that were brutally raped that night. “Physically, they’ve recovered. I wasn’t able to soothe their minds though. I’m sorry.” I rested my hand on my palm as I watch their interaction. The blame in Arnold’s eyes was clear as day before they switched to me. I felt a chill run down my spine, but I feigned nonchalance.
Arnold stared at me for a few moments as if he was awaiting my word. The awkward staring contest continued for a few more seconds before he sighed and pulled out a parchment from the top of the pile he had neatly put aside. “The guild had pardoned your actions, given the circumstances – however- this will be your only pardon from us. You can still join the guild, but your actions have been recorded at every guild in the lands.” He placed the paper on the desktop, turned it and slide it with two fingers to the edge in front of me.
I didn’t understand a word on the parchment, but it held a wax stamp with a small ribbon underneath it. “You will join the guild, however.” Arnold ordered resolutely. “Says who?” I shot back. It had been the normal interaction between us these past few days. At first, I did whatever he told me I was to do. Then I learned he actually couldn’t do anything to me, at least, not officially. “Says me. We’re shorthanded on adventurers since the Third Order is gone and we had to cover their roles within the settlement. So, as I said, you will join the guild and you’ll be taking a few scouting requests on the Kingdom’s behalf.
I felt a ping of guilt momentarily. Then it slipped away. Arnold had been using my guilt these past few days to the point I don’t think it the event mattered to me emotionally anymore. While I consider what I did bad, the overall outcome benefited everyone. I rolled his words around in my head for a second before I chose to accept it. Just not immediately. “Only if you say please,” I said as I lifted my head up. “Please.” Arnold said without blinking.
I blinked at it, not expecting the most demanding person I had ever met to actually say please. “W-Well, alright then. I’ll join the guild.” I wasn’t going to go back on my word now and a small smile floated on Arnold’s lips as he pulled something from his desk and placed it on top of the parchment. It was a small silver tag, like a dog tag but with runes etched into it. “You’re giving him a Silver tag?!” Healer gasped. “Yes. He’s already proven himself capable, and I could only assign scout requests to silvers.” Arnold answered without looking to the man. “What’s silver?” I asked. I knew the metal, but I guess they weren’t talking about the color or metal.
“Silver is tier three within the Adventurer Hierarchy. There is Copper, Bronze, silver, gold, and then platinum. The coding divides individual power into manageable tiers that we can assign requests based on what’s needed. Teams are calculated by total power, which could remain the same tier or move up one. You can now turn in monsters you kill into the guild. Don’t fuck it up.” Arnold explained with a hint of impatience. “Now, go see my wife. She has the request’s details. I have business with the fallen healer here so close the door on your way out.”
. . . . . .
The rain beat even heavier, if it was possible, as the northern trail was slickened from the hours of rainfall it had to endure. I stepped off the road and into the forest, careful to mind the shadows as the canopy lessen the amount of rain that battered my against my hood as I quickly pulled out the permanent squad summon card and examined it for a moment. Being stuck within the settlement, I had agreed I wouldn’t be calling in my drop pods and loot boxes within the settlement limits to avoid scaring the folks. I agreed and said I’d keep them out on the ridge like usual – something that Arnold could care less about. Though his wife, Heather, was kin on seeing the process herself.
My cloak parted from my chest on down as the WASR 10’s barrel and handguard slide out to a low ready position.
I made my way through the forest until I found the goat path that led to the ridge. After some time, I broke through the tree line where an old scene of a battle graced my view. It was where the bodies had been burned. A few dead knights laid rotten on the path where a team of adventurers where cleaning up the other dead from the clash with Aeneas. From the report I had been told, Aeneas had gotten into a verbal fight where the Officer swung the first blow – which escalated the entire fight into what happened that night. In hindsight, I never got to know if Aeneas was a bad person after all. From what I had heard, he was generally well-liked compared to his wife and peers.
The adventurers looked at me uneasily with their hands gripping their weapons, but I held up my silver tag and they all relaxed and went about their jobs. I continued up the path until I spotted the Black Hawk. I picked my way across the slicked ridge and finally managed to make it onto the large gash in the side of the slope. The trench was flooded with murky brown water. I followed it up to the belly of the bird. I wasn’t going to go inside, not today. Today’s objective was to summon my new teammate.
I pulled the card back out, the golden card gleamed from the rain that perspired on it. Just like I had done with the Healing stone, I channelled mana into the card. It was difficult and time-consuming to do as I lacked any training. Finally, after a few seconds, the card glowed and dispersed in a shower of glittering lights before it faded into soaked soil beneath my feet. “Drop-pod inbound, unit has located a suitable landing area.” I watched the laser that a few feet from me slowly pan away into the distance until it disappeared in the flurry of rain.
Then I heard the familiar sound of the drop pod breaking the speed of sound and saw the clouds part as a flaming ball came barreling downward. Unlike the others, soon the fire died away as bottom jets fired to slow the velocity of the pod. A few seconds later, it crashed at the head of the trench of the crash site. Mud and water were flung tens of feet in every direction, covering me and the surroundings in a fine layer of brown water, and mud. “Ha, I forgot to remind you that would happen.” Lily’s voice chirped merrily over my headset as I turned back to look at the drop pod sizzling in the rain.
“Ugh…” I looked at my cloak that was covered in mud, but I was thankful I turned around enough that I didn’t get a face full of mud. “That was hilarious.” Lily chuckled and I rolled my eyes at her as I went to greet my new comrade. I minded every step beside the trench, its water reduced by half as it sloshed back and forth. The pod hissed as the vacuum seal around the door was popped and the door raised just as I reached it.
“Meet your new squad member.”