The council hall was bustling with both explorers and locals alike. With the weather warm and inviting, it allowed for residents of Iorys to wander the streets to complete their chores and errands, and for explorers to trek through the labyrinth without concern. So, it was no surprise to find the ever-dutiful Ramus hard at work.
“Morning, Ramus,” Drayce greeted warmly when he and Blayke finally reached the front of the line.
Ramus’ smile seemed to turn from politeness to genuine warmth. “Oh, good morning. I see you have the map completed.”
“That’s right,” Drayce replied with a grin as he handed over a rolled-up piece of parchment that held a copy of his own map.
The original was, of course, kept at the Crescentia. Where it would stay. They would rely on exact copies of the map for whenever the travelled into the labyrinth again. It would do no one any good should something happen to their map.
“Thank you very much for your hard work,” Ramus said, more out of habit, as he retrieved the parchment. He seemed unable to stop himself from wishing to have a look at the map himself, so promptly unfurled it. “Having a map drawn by an archaeologist would be greatly beneficial for the city guards should anything arise.”
“It was a team effort, really,” Drayce said in return.
And had to smile when he thought back to how excited Faelen was to learn cartography skills from him. It was always nice to have an eager learner. Especially on something so vital. If Drayce made a mistake, it was reassuring to know that someone else was capable of drawing up their own map if need be.
He should teach the others the basics just in case.
Seemingly satisfied with the map, Ramus lifted his head up to face them once more. “You will explore the second floor next, yes?” he asked as he rolled up the parchment.
Drayce nodded his head. “Right. We’re full-fledged explorers now. Any hints or tips for us?”
Ramus hummed lightly in thought for a moment. “From what I’ve been hearing from other explorers is that there are quite some fearsome monsters on that floor. Far larger than those found on the first.”
From where he stood just behind Drayce, Blayke snorted and muttered under his breath. “Perfect.”
Drayce couldn’t help but shoot him a grin over his shoulder. “Hey, bigger they are the easier it will be to avoid them, right?”
Blayke didn’t look wholly convinced. Or even a little bit convinced. He just rolled his eyes and folded his arms over his chest.
“There is something I wish to ask of you for that floor, though, if I may,” Ramus suddenly requested.
“Of course,” Drayce immediately replied as he turned to face him once more.
Ramus shuffled slightly on his feet as he toyed with the map in his hands. “As of yet there isn’t an official way to reach the third floor from the second. From what I understand, there’s a strange stone pillar that no one has been able to move. And there doesn’t appear to be any place for stairs to reside. Obviously, there must be some way to reach the third floor.”
A somewhat wry smile appeared on Ramus’ lips and he shook his head. “Well, there is likely to be multiple ways, but I would prefer an official and safer option.”
Drayce had to chuckle. “Totally reasonable. We’ll be sure to poke our noses around and find these hidden stairs for you.”
Ramus’ smile turned genuine again and he nodded his head. “I have faith that you will.”
With a few words of farewell, Drayce and Blayke made their way out of the council building and to their awaiting carriage. The driver had thankfully waited for them, though it was likely because Drayce was becoming a common visitor of the council hall.
“Searching for some stairs, huh?” Blayke commented as they both hopped into the carriage. “Why do I get the feeling it won’t be as easy as simply finding them?”
“Where’s the fun if it was that easy?” Drayce replied as they sat across from each other, Blayke choosing to sit with his back toward the driver. “Besides, after some snooping around we might find other hidden treasures. You never know.”
Blayke nodded his head as the carriage began to move. “That’s true. We certainly didn’t head into the first floor expecting to find the Radiant Moon.”
Drayce grinned. “Exactly.”
Blayke leaned back into his seat and folded his arms across his chest. “So, what do you want to do? Head into the second floor today?”
“Hmmm. Not sure,” Drayce answered honestly. “Let’s just return to the Crescentia for now and work out what to do from there.”
“Fair enough,” Blayke agreed.
They rode the rest of the way to their guildhouse in silence. The ride was a thankfully short one. As soon as the carriage pulled to a stop outside of the Crescentia, Drayce and Blayke immediately hopped out. Drayce paid their driver for their services before wishing him well for the rest of the day.
As they entered through the unlocked front doors, Drayce stopped in the foyer to yell out their return, which was customary for him to do so now. Especially others now residing at the Crescentia with him.
There was the immediate sound of running feet, and from somewhere behind the grand staircase, Faelen appeared.
“Welcome back!” he greeted warmly as he happily rushed over to them.
Drayce smiled warmly at his guildmate as Blayke shut the door behind them. “Hey, you look excited.”
Faelen folded his arms behind his back and rocked slightly on his feet, a grin on his lips. “I was just exploring the Crescentia with Zohar.”
Glancing up from Faelen, Drayce noted that Zohar had appeared from the same area of the Crescentia. He looked relaxed, carefree even. There also seemed to be a subtle sense of amusement in his gaze.
It was…nice to see. Zohar getting along with the others of their guild. Drayce knew he would fit in.
“You do not mind?” Zohar questioned him as he approached.
“Not at all,” Drayce replied. “Find anything interesting?”
Zohar nodded his head. “You appear to have a very interesting basement.”
Drayce blinked. “Wait, I have a basement?”
The corner of Zohar’s mouth twitched, seemingly threatening to break out into either a grin or amused smirk. Instead, he nodded his head again. “Indeed. There’s a fully equipment training room down there.”
Without having to look over at his friend, Drayce lifted his hand to place a finger to Blayke’s lips. He didn’t need to look at him to know that Blayke was just bristling. “Shh, I know. It’s awesome.”
He felt Blayke twitch. Possibly attempting to hold back words of scepticism and disbelief.
Drayce continued to smile joyfully at the two before him. “Training room, huh? Let’s go check it out.”
“This way!” Faelen said cheerfully as he turned on his heel and rushed back in the direction of which he came.
Drayce had to chuckle as he moved to follow him at a slightly slower pace. Though Blayke was likely to complain about the ridiculousness of it all, he also moved to follow.
Reaching Faelen’s side, the Therian pointed to a rather inauspicious door located upon a wall behind the central staircase. Drayce remembered briefly seeing it before, when he made his first sweep of the place. He figured that it was a storage room essentially, since it was located in the nook behind the stairs. He had wanted to inspect it then, but got distracted with other things.
Come on, could anyone blame him? He was in his grandfather’s beloved guildhouse! There were just so many awesome things to look at!
Opening the door, they were greeted by a set of descending stairs. From where they stood, it wasn’t obvious what was downstairs. There was a light on, illuminating the stairs, but that offered no glimpse as what could be down there.
Though, as Faelen hurried down the stairs, essentially eager to show Drayce and Blayke something, it was obvious that there was something truly interesting down there.
As Drayce descended the stairs, he had to admit that he wasn’t quite ready for what was waiting for him.
The room appeared to be about half the size of the library on the third floor. Training mats, training dummies, wooden practice weapons were littered about, clearly in good shape but untouched for a few years. There were even some weights located in the corner of the room. Why, even a punching bag.
Spacious, tall ceilings. Pretty impressive!
“Wow, it’s bigger than I had imagined,” Drayce said as he walked out into the middle of the room, openly admiring everything.
“Quite impressive, I must say,” Zohar agreed.
And as predicted, Blayke sighed as he folded his arms across his chest. “Honestly, this place is just too outrageous for me,” he muttered. While he did sound disgruntled, Drayce knew him well enough to know that he was also impressed.
“Don’t be a party-pooper,” Drayce immediately teased. “Anyway, this means that we can train without the fear of setting the entire garden on fire.”
“Just the building instead,” Blayke immediately returned.
“I don’t know about that,” Drayce said as he turned his attention toward the thick walls around them, noticing something quite interesting. “There appears to be some flame-retardant materials on the walls and ceiling.”
Blayke actually perked up a little at that, and also turned his attention toward the walls. “Eh? Oh, you’re right. Kamali will be pleased about that.”
“He would,” Drayce agreed with a smile. A curious expression soon appeared on his face, though, and he turned his attention to Faelen. “Hey, Fae, where are the others anyway?”
Faelen tilted his head to the side in thought for a moment. “Well, Kamali, Shashi, and Ashton are in the library, cleaning up the place. And Fiorello is in the clinic. Caelem is outside with Nashoba just to look around. I think they’re both feeling restless.”
“With the Moon Legacy no longer draining Caelem of his spiritual energy, it’s no surprise he’s restless,” Drayce explained. “He has a lot more energy to burn now.”
“Hmm,” Blayke held his chin as he mused to himself. “Maybe he would be up for some training later?”
That would be a good idea, actually. They’ve got a training room now, so it made perfect sense for them to actually use it.
“If you guys train let me know; you can go against my Decoy Bunkers,” Drayce suggested.
“Sure,” Blayke said as he dropped his hand to his side, to which he promptly planted on his hip. “Anyway, this is another large room in this surprisingly large guildhouse. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a basement to this basement.”
“Wouldn’t that be awesome?” Drayce returned with a grin, earning himself a roll of the eyes from Blayke.
Faelen laughed into his hand before he folded them back behind his back cutely once more. “Come to think of it we haven’t finished exploring every room yet.”
“You’re right, we haven’t,” Drayce replied. “I guess no time like the present.”
“I’ll get the camping gear,” Blayke muttered, which prompted Drayce to simply laugh as he led the small group up the stairs.
“How about we start with the top floor? We might even have an attic!”
So, the four of them made their way up the grand staircase to the third floor. The stair’s landing led out toward the library, making it the centre of attention of everyone who walked these stairs. While Drayce was indeed joking when he suggested the possibility of an attic, and with the discovery of the basement it was more than likely that they did indeed have one.
But he was actually interested in exploring the third floor. Due to the library and all the goodies within, they hadn’t really bothered to inspect the rest of the floor. It made sense, as they were busy with the safe removal of the Moon Legacy and then the recovery of the Radiant Moon. The library was their main focus point in their research.
So with the Radiant Moon safely within the vaults of the Council Hall, they could finally start focusing on their own guildhouse. With the only focus of the second floor being the stairs to the third, they had time to finally get the Crescentia in order.
As Drayce walked along the land, leading away from the library, a rather unsuspicious door on the opposite end caught his attention.
“Huh?” he uttered as he headed straight over to it. “Has this door always been here?”
“Well, I doubt it popped up overnight,” Blayke said as he followed him closely behind, likely both cautious and curious. “It’s on the same floor as the library, so we probably just overlooked it.”
Yeah, that made perfect sense.
The moment that Drayce was close enough, he reached out to grasp the handle and attempted to turn it. “And it’s also locked,” he stated as he leaned forward to inspect the keyhole.
He could see straight through to the other side, so it wasn’t the same situation as when they first encountered the library. And that meant that there was a light source of some kind. A window more likely than not. So, if it was a window, it would be safe to say that it wasn’t some supply cupboard.
He shrugged, stood back up, and reached into a pocket of his jacket. “No biggie.”
Faelen immediately appeared at his side, a look of interest on his face. “Picking the lock?”
“Yup!” Drayce replied as he pulled out his lock-picking set. “Ashton might actually have the key without knowing it, but it’s quicker this way. It’s just a normal, old fashion lock so it won’t be hard.”
“I could call for Theodore, if you wish,” Zohar suddenly suggested from where he stood on the other side of Drayce. “I’m certain he can enter the room and unlock the door from the other side.”
Drayce paused in his search for the right tool to look over at Zohar with a curious look. “Oh, that’s handy too.”
“Ugh…” Blayke uttered as he stood behind Faelen, easily peering over his head. “I’d rather have Drayce pick the lock.”
The corner of Zohar’s mouth twitched, once again holding back a smirk, but nodded his head nevertheless. “Very well.”
“We’ll call for Theo if I fail miserably at this, kay?” Drayce compromised. He was actually interested in seeing Theo at work, but wouldn’t put Blayke in any discomfort. So, another time. There were sure to be other opportunities with locked doors.
Blayke still didn’t look thrilled by the prospect, though. “Yeah, alright.”
Kneeling down in front of the door, Drayce inspected the lock again before he pulled out his tools. It took him a moment or two to get a feel of the tumblers within. He unconsciously stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth as he concentrated.
Finally, there was that satisfying “click” sound.
“And there we go,” Drayce said with a satisfactory tone.
Slipping his lock-picking tools back within his leather pouch, he pushed himself to his feet and pushed the door open with his hand.
The room held a dusty, stagnant smell. It wasn’t a rotten, decayed smell thankfully. And it was bigger than he had expected. Larger than the drawing room. A large oak desk covered in folders and scrolls sat in front of tall windows there were framed in dark red drapes. Velvet, more likely than not. There were also numerous bookcases with what appeared to be a mixture of documents, folded parchments, and leather-bound books.
“Hey, it’s an office,” Drayce said as he stepped further into the room and made his way over to the desk. “Oh man, awesome, it even comes with a swivel chair. You know what that means?”
“The dramatic chair swivel,” Blayke immediately answered.
Drayce laughed as he placed his hand on the chair, testing its movement. “Exactly.”
“It’s as dusty as the other rooms, so no one’s been here for a while,” Faelen pointed out as he, too, made his way over to the desk.
There was the sound of clawed paws on hardwood flooring. A moment later, Nashoba unexpectedly scurried into the room and over to Faelen. He didn’t look distressed, though, simply nuzzling Faelen’s hand with his nose. Faelen immediately knelt down to give his wolf companions pats and attention.
Not far behind the white-furred wolf, Ashton and Caelem appeared. Ashton looked as relaxed as he usually did, while Caelem looked fidgety.
“There you guys are,” Ashton greeted as he and Caelem step into the office also.
“Hey, Ash, Cal.”
“We were looking for you,” Caelem explained, his hands fidgeting in front of him. “H-have you been here the entire time?”
Drayce walked out behind the desk. “Well, no; we were actually in the training room in the basement.”
Caelem immediately perked up, an expression of excitement on his face. “You have a training room, too?!”
“Surprised me, too!” Drayce said around a laugh, honestly pleased by Caelem’s unapologetic excitement before he indicated to the space around them. “And look at what else we found.”
While Caelem looked around in interest, surprisingly Ashton only gave a curious glance before turning his focus straight back to Drayce. “Appears to be an office. On the same floor as the library.”
Drayce nodded. “Awesome, right?”
Ashton nodded his head absentmindedly. “Well, it’s pretty clear that this is yours now. You’re the leader, after all.” He paused as he gave another curious glance around before he folded his arms across his chest. “It also seems that this is the place where Roux conducted his client interviews.”
“You’re right,” Drayce said as he immediately turned his attention to the bookcases and other shelving units. “I bet these are filled with case files. I should read them later.”
“But don’t think you can hide yourself in here whenever you want,” Ashton quickly chided.
Drayce immediately felt a grin slip across his lips and he turned back to his green-haired friend. “I was totally waiting for you to say that. Ash, dude, you’re getting predictable.”
Ashton simply smiled. “Maybe. But at least I won’t have to travel very far in effort to find you. You’d be either here or the library, especially if you’re working on a project, am I right?”
“Dude, you are like a psychic or something!”
Ashton gave a slight roll of his eyes, but it was obvious that it was with fondness than annoyance. He shook his head, as if to clear it, and dropped his arms from his chest, resting one hand on his hip. “In any case, Shashi would like to get your permission on something.”
Drayce was immediately curious. “Huh? What is it?”
“He and Kamali have decided to move their vast collection of books and tomes into the library as well. For safe keeping and easy access,” Ashton explained.
Drayce folded his arms loosely over his chest as he sat on the edge of the desk. “Ah, sounds good. Having all the information in one place would make things easier in the future. Honestly, you didn’t need my permission to do that.”
“Just wanted to ask,” Ashton replied with a one shoulder shrug. “You’re the leader of the guild and owner of the guildhouse after all.”
Yeah, a guild that was growing. And a guildhouse that appeared to be growing also!
“We’ll get to work, then,” Ashton said. He dropped his hand from his hip and motioned to turn to leave, but Blayke stopped him.
“Need any help?” he asked.
“Sure,” Ashton immediately replied, seemingly happy for the help. “Transportation mostly, though. Shashi will be the one to take on the task for putting these books and documents in their ‘rightful’ place in the library.”
Blayke’s eyes narrowed slightly. “So, we’re just the pack mules?” He sighed at the nod from Ashton and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, alright, I’ll just think of it as training or something.”
“I’ll help!” Faelen volunteered happily.
“I will as well,” Zohar also offered. “I am quite curious about the books that Shashi has accumulated over the years. I will also offer my own to the library.”
“Can never have too much information on hand,” Drayce agreed, also quite interested in the types of books that both Shashi and Zohar possessed. But there was something else that piqued his curiosity more at the moment. “Do you mind if I spend a bit cleaning up the office, though? I’m just…curious about a few things here.”
Ashton turned to look him rather quickly and…almost had this look of hesitancy in his eyes. But Drayce wasn’t entirely sure as a split second later, Ashton gave him a knowing smile and nodded his head.
“Sure. We’ll be travelling back and forth all day, most likely,” he said.
“Wait, all day?” Blayke suddenly piped up. “How many books does Shashi have?”
The smile on Ashton’s lips quickly turned to that of sheer amusement and he turned to give Blayke his full attention once more. “You’ll see,” he replied, his words purposely foreboding.
A look of resided agitation immediately appeared on Blayke’s face, and his shoulders literally sagged with defeat. “Nngh why did I agree to this.”
Faelen laughed good-naturedly as he made his way to Blayke and playfully began to push him out of the room. “Too late to back out now,” he chided around a laugh.
Blayke released another sigh as he let Faelen push him. “Fine…”
Drayce just had to have a small laugh to himself as well. “Have fun, guys!” he called out.
He then watched as Ashton sent him another nod and smile before he, too, turned to leave the room, Nashoba at his heel. When he was out of sight, Drayce pushed away from the desk. But as he did so, he promptly realised that Caelem had remained in the room. And he appeared to restless.
Caelem jumped slightly, as if Drayce had disturbed him from his thoughts, and immediately turned to face him. He wrung his hands nervously in front of him before he curled them into fists and a look of nervous determination appeared on his face. “C-can I talk to you?”
“Of course, Cal,” Drayce immediately replied in a reassuring tone. “What’s up?”
“I-I know I’ve caused enough trouble and stuff…” Caelem begun, but Drayce had to stop him.
“Hey, you haven’t caused any trouble for us at all,” Drayce said in both a firm yet hopefully gentle manner. “Don’t think that way.”
A light flush appeared upon Caelem’s cheeks. “S-sorry. I…”
“Is there something wrong?” Drayce gently coaxed, though unable to hide the worry in his voice.
“No, there’s nothing wrong,” Caelem immediately insisted. “It’s just…I haven’t really told you about myself, have I?”
Drayce blinked before he nodded his head. “That’s true, but don’t feel pressured in telling me anything personal if you don’t want to. I will admit that I’ve been curious.”
“It’s fine, it’s not too personal,” Caelem once again insisted. “Well, not really. Anyway, I’ll start with where I’m from. I grew up in a village that trained Masuraos. At the age of 17, villagers are able to leave to go on a journey to become a Masurao warrior. Because of the embargo on Yggdrasil being lifted, I decided to come here for my training. But…”
“You were…attacked and the Moon Legacy…” Drayce filled in for him, that familiar sense of protectiveness beginning to pool in his chest.
“Y-yeah,” Caelem murmured and his ears flatted against his red hair as he glanced down at the spot of the floor in front of him. “And then those bandits appeared.
Drayce was unable to prevent a protective bristle, to which he actually verbalised somehow. “Hgn…”
Caelem immediately looked up at him, his ears perked up. “Ah? You’re bristling?”
“With protectiveness, yes,” Drayce answered honestly and had to a moment to calm himself down. “I’m just glad that we were able to find you before those bandits could have found you again.”
Caelem continued to look at him for a moment before a soft expression appeared on his face and he smiled. “…Yeah, I am too.”
Drayce returned the smile before he perched himself on the edge of the desk again. “How long have you been on your journey?”
“Only a couple of months,” Caelem replied, the tension and nervousness that had previously made his shoulders ridged, seemingly disappearing the more he spoke. “I left on the day of my birthday. As customary.”
He was only 17 years old. A couple of years younger than Drayce was himself, but that didn’t matter. He was still younger and Drayce was still going to be protective of him.
Despite having just relaxed, Caelem began fidgeting again with his hands. “There’s…another reason I bring this up.”
Drayce tilted his head to the side in curiosity. “Hm?”
Caelem seemed to chew on the inside of his cheek before he began his explanation. “My village…there is a legend of a Masurao warrior. We referred to him as the Turquoise Lotus Father. He was said to have fought against the Earthlain Despot during the Legendary War.”
Drayce felt himself literally perk un in interest. “Ah, really?”
“Masurao warriors all aspire to be like him in skill and heart,” Caelem continued, a small sense of pride in his voice. However, that soon dissipated and he glanced off to the side, almost as if…he was ashamed by something. “But…”
“What is it?” Drayce gently urged once more.
“I don’t know anything else about him,” Caelem answered as he turned his gaze toward him again. “I mean, I don’t even know his real name. And after what you learnt about Aura, I wanted…”
“Ah, I see,” Drayce said, immediately catching on. “Totally reasonable. There’s sure to be some information on him in the library. If not here than maybe we can beg Ramus into allowing us into the royal achieves?”
Caelem appeared momentarily surprised before barely restrained excitement took its place. “Is it all right?”
“I wouldn’t have suggested it if it wasn’t,” Drayce replied with a grin. “Besides, our only goal for the second floor so far is to find the stairs to the third. No harm in doing some research between treks in the labyrinth.”
“Th-thank you!” Caelem immediately responded, even bowing forward to show his gratitude.
“Hey now, we’re guildmates,” Drayce chuckled and pushed away from the desk to stand before Caelem, ensuring that he stood tall before him once more. “That’s what being in a guild means. Besides, your Turquoise Lotus Father sounds really interesting. I’d love to know more myself.”
Caelem’s excitement was palpable. “Yeah!”