Call to Action (Aurora)
It was finally over. I swear I could have broken the neck of that Junin Duchess. This morning, the Duke and Duchess were arguing about what to do with that stupid kid of theirs, and since they seemed to have forgotten about me, I went back to the guild.
I was trying my best to not feel bitter about being sent on such a silly mission, but the more I thought about it, the harder it was to not be angry. My skills were being wasted if all I was going to do was help settle domestic disputes.
I had killed spies, assassins, and even abyssals, and now I was sent to “get to the bottom” of some mysterious haunting that just turned out to be a bratty daughter going too far to scare her mother.
I didn’t even bother sticking around while they figured out the girl’s motive. I already knew the reason would just be some version of her being a bored noble who felt like her parents didn’t “get” her.
I unclenched my fists and repositioned my backpack. My palms were white where I had been unconsciously digging my fingernails in. I sucked in and heaved out a few deep breaths, watching as they dissolved in the cold air in front of me.
Watching my breaths led my eyes to gaze at some clouds as they floated by. My walk was slowly becoming more relaxing. It would have been easy to teleport back to the guild, but I knew I needed to calm down some before I ran into Master Kayuki again.
As the path came near a rock formation, I jumped on it and cloaked myself with more magic to resist the cold. The cold turned these usually lush fields into a vast decaying plain, and the quiet here was the sort reserved for graveyards. I shivered.
It would be a cold winter, and I wondered if those lands would survive until spring. I had heard from the villagers that the Duke had pleaded with the Church of Nature to lend him a hand, and in exchange for the favor, he authorized them to build a Temple of Nature inside his Duchy’s capital. It was the wisest decision given the harried state of his lands.
I hurried my steps. As a god-touched, the place I would be safest was the mountain, which was sacred land. Nature would be lush, and the God of Nature would not condemn me for hunting in his sacred grounds for food.
The desolation on the plains reminded me of my hometown, the city-state of Odille. After the incident, the land was scarred, as if an abyssal had planted its demonic hand on the ground and left its fiendish marking. I shook my head to chase away the thought. It came to haunt me every time I saw any kind of desolated area. A bad habit.
Silvermore was my home now, and it was a beautiful sight. All of the faiths had their main temples there. Even the little-known God of Mystery, my God, had his main temple there. That our guild, Sanctuary, had established its headquarter there was no wonder. Along with the main temples, almost every guild of repute had its headquarters there, too.
Hey, how come people can’t see just how terrifying our guilds can be? I guess I do have the insider knowledge of exactly what deadly acts they commit in the dark, but still. Feeling that I was digressing into some strange reflection again, I quickly shook my head and redoubled my pace toward the mountain.
The first part of the climb wasn’t too strenuous. I made good time. I pushed onward, determined to make it as far up as I could before nightfall. Before long, there was even some active snowfall at that height.
Halfway around a large bend, I stopped for a moment to take in the amazing view of the valley below. I was high up in the mountainous territory, and the snow-dusted banks below were an astonishing sight. Birds of prey circled over the small forested patch, looking for something to sustain them through the winter.
I crouched down for a moment to take it all in. Then I turned full circle, taking note of my surroundings. Yes, it seemed like a fine place to make camp. A loud rustle caught my attention, and I jumped into a battle stance.
A moment later, some small rodent scurried out from under some brambles. I was surprised such a small thing could make so much noise. The raptor cawed behind me, and I worried that the little critter in the brambles wouldn’t be long for this world.
But this wasn’t my mountain. I didn’t get to decide how nature took its course. That didn’t mean I wanted to stick around and watch the rodent get plucked up, so I left the area and decided to make camp a little farther away.
I found another suitable spot not far from there. This one seemed to be critter-less, at least as far as I could tell. There was a nice, flat spot for a tent; there were no bushes anyone could hide in nearby, and there were enough stones around to set up a safe campfire. It would do nicely. I recited the incantation to start setting up camp.
“I call upon the gods of hell and heavens, see the power that I hold in your name, you that send scourge and swords at the heretic, and you who bless and purify the virtuous, raise a servant for your faithful!”
There was a rumbling, and moments later, a golem rose from the nearby stones. It already understood its orders and began collecting and piling rocks in a ring. I summoned a fire spirit to ignite the campfire and warmed myself there as the golem set about gathering more things for camp. Within a few minutes, I had a tent, a sleeping bag, and some delicious roasted meat.
The sunset over the far side of the mountain, and I watched as its last rays sneaked over the top and down into the valley in front of me. As the noises of nighttime predators began echoing around the rock faces, I decided it was time to go to sleep.
I crawled into my tent, bundled up in my sleeping bag, cast a ward of protection around myself, and relaxed. Sleep came for me like it usually did: quietly and quickly.
Right at dawn, I awoke slowly. It was downright frigid outside, and I had no interest in jumping out of my sleeping bag before the sun was fully up. There was no rush really, except for my growing desire to take a shower. I could have summoned a magical one, but I was really craving a nice, hot shower back in my room at the guild hall. That drive finally got me out of the sleeping bag.
The golem was still there, sitting on a log as if he dozed off. I had a quick breakfast sitting next to him and then recited an incantation to get rid of him and any trace of my camp. It was time to move out. I grabbed my backpack and returned to the trail.
Around mid-morning, in the distance, I could see a group of travelers. They were behaving as if they wanted to be stealthy, but none of them were any good at it. I spotted all of them as soon as they crested a hill in the distance. There were four on the path and a fifth one who seemed to think he was very sneaky as he proceeded a few feet off the path.
From the scent of their aura, I could deduce that two of the men were believers of the God of War. All five of them were regular humans, so I wondered if they had discerned that I was a god-touched. I let it slide. Even if five armed humans attacked me, it’s not like I had anything to fear.
I walked along the road, adjusting my backpack so it rested properly on both my shoulders. They were still trying to be stealthy, which made me roll my eyes. If it was a fight they were looking for, it wouldn’t be much of one. Groups of highwaymen might scare humans, for they were quite violent, but in my eyes, they presented about as much of a threat as cloth dolls.
Stupidly, they still came toward me. One was clearly leading them now. The others didn’t seem to be as assured, though. The leader ramped up some blustering speech, which I didn’t bother to interrupt, although I didn’t really pay attention either. I was making sure my sword was still okay. It was getting old and had been through its fair share of enemies.
I felt like maybe the grip needed to be looked at. I wasn’t sure, but the weapon seemed a little imbalanced. Maybe the tang had made its way lose inside the grip. Eh… I wasn’t going to figure it out on my own. I’d need a professional to take a look. It was still serviceable for the moment, at least.
Yeah… for this kind of encounter, I didn’t need it to be at its best. The leader was still babbling away as I inspected and debated what to do with my sword. Finally, he advanced in a wild flurry. I swung my blade. The man fell dead immediately, his sword sailing away from the force of the blow.
“Any other volunteers?” I asked, looking each of them in the eye.
They ran as if hell was at their heels. I felt that getting back to the guild was more important than pursuing them. That and I wasn’t getting paid to rid this road of bandits. My seniors got mad enough last time I did something for free, too.
Since they left me alone, I went on my way.
On the road, I met two or three more groups of would-be pillagers. Foolishly defying the gods’ messengers… Not the smartest idea. Like with the first group, I only had to take care of one or two before the rest scattered. Letting out a sigh, I pictured my suite at the guild, and the shower I would finally be able to take. The thought lifted my spirits.
As I arrived at the large wooden gates of the Sanctuary Guild, I stretched and yawned. The gates were reinforced with warm bronze and strong, lightweight mithril. The light of the setting sun played off the metal parts of the gate.
Besides physical defenses, the entire perimeter of the guild was also protected by an anti-magic field. No enemy was likely to penetrate the Sanctuary Guild’s defenses.
For me, however, the gates parted. I made my way through the arch overhead and entered the courtyard. In the spring, this entire place would be full of blooming trees, shrubs, and flowers. For now, it was blanketed in soft snow, patiently biding its time.
Thinking of the plants sleeping through winter reminded me of my own exhaustion. “I’m dead tired,” I said. “I hope I’ll be able to rest a few days.”
I had barely passed through the guild’s gate when Genji appeared out of nowhere and jumped at me. I tried to push him away as he began to rub himself against me. I was grossed out and told him to go die somewhere, but he laughed.
Stopping suddenly, he oozed the air around me. “You smell like blood,” he said, looking at me somewhat surprised. “Wasn’t your last investigation safe inside a Duke’s palace?”
As expected of Genji. As a Saint of the God of Nature, his sense of smell was second to none. Or perhaps only second to Saint Miwa-sama, a member of our guild’s Saint Guard, who was also a Saint of the God of Nature.
“A bunch of highwaymen tried to loot me,” I explained. “They were as relentless as they were stupid.”
“Eh… I’ve seen bravery,” he said, “but no bandits brave enough to actually put their hands on a member of the Sanctuary Guild yet.” He was clearly annoyed, but so was I.
“Isn’t that stupidity more than bravery?” asked Leon. He had been following behind Genji, it seemed, but he hadn’t broken into a full-speed sprint to reach me. “It’s not like Aurora-san is a bottom ranking fighter of our guild…”
Leon was a Saint of the God of Love, so most people assumed he would avoid conflict at all costs. But they would be dead wrong. I, for one, wouldn’t want to face him in combat for all the state’s budget.
I glanced at his iron fans and thought about how I definitely didn’t want him to ever demonstrate his proficiency with them on me. He was an excellent fighter, with a particularly refined style that could put a dancer to shame.
“Oh, Miss Aurora-san, here you are.”
We immediately stood at attention. Lord Toshio-sama had just arrived. He was an esteemed member of our guild: co-leader of the Holy Guard, our second-most elite unit; a Saint of the God of Faith; and also one of the eldest members of our guild. That he had survived three hundred years in our line of work spoke volumes about his skills.
“I have to go on a mission in the Empire of Clar so I can’t take you to him, but Master Kayuki is looking for you,” Lord Toshio-sama explained. “The Saint Guard is on a mission in the Kingdom of Sunsa, and they will need your expertise. Please, don’t make Master wait. He seems very impatient today.”
I bowed to him quickly and entered the guild, with Genji following sheepishly behind me. He must have sensed my arrival, as Master Kayuki-sama was upstairs looking at the common room. He glared at me with severity but said nothing at first.
“Take this,” said Master Kayuki, suddenly breaking the silence and throwing me a teleport stone. “Join Kenten. He’ll tell you what the mission is.”
The stone he threw at me would take me directly to Saint Enkha Kenten-sama’s location. It contained condensed magical energy and was usable even by people with low magical ability. That definitely wasn’t my case, but it was never a bad idea to save some energy.
“You’re still here?” asked a voice from the stairs. Master Kayuki-sama was obviously extremely annoyed and impatient indeed. I activated the orb as asked, and within moments, was teleported to parts unknown.