"Long time no see, Hamza."
Hamza felt tense. And rather annoyed. He recognised that voice. It had been years, but he still recognised that egotistical sneer of his former 'rival' anywhere. The last he had heard of her, of her guild, they had ventured to Etria in hopes of reaching fame and fortune quicker there.
Guild Infamous. A guild of fame and fortune hungry explorers whose egos were as vast as the mighty Yggdrasil tree itself. They were formed as a guild around roughly the same time as Hamza's first guild, and from that moment on, they were rivals.
A rather one-sided rivalry, actually.
Hamza was tempted to simply ignore them, having moved on from that time of his life. However, he glanced over his shoulder when he heard a muffling sound, like someone trying to talk but was being restrained somehow.
"Cedric!" Hamza called as he spun around.
In a male gunner's hold was Cedric, looking pale and very afraid. He had a hand clamped against his mouth, preventing him from talking, only able to utter sounds of distress as he struggled against the burly man. No matter how much he tugged at the man's arm, he wasn't able to struggle free.
"Heard you got yourself a new guild," a female voice taunted. "I wonder what happened to the old one."
Tearing his gaze away from Cedric, Hamza turned his attention to the guild that was holding him hostage. His gaze immediately collided with that of his 'rival'. He felt his jaw tightened.
Anaxarete was her name, a war magus and leader of the guild. She looked childish and harmless, but that was simply a facade. She was older than she looked. She was also as cold and calculating as any veteran explorer could be.
It was almost insulting to think that they were of the same class.
Behind her were two more young females, who were also older than they looked. A landsknecht and ronin. He recognised them, but barely remembered their names. They weren't significant to him in anyway.
There were a couple of new faces in her guild as well. The male gunner and dark hunter was a pair he had not seen before. It made him inwardly question what happened to her old teammates. He, however, held his tongue. In all honesty, he didn't care. Not when that gunner was holding Cedric hostage.
"What are you doing? Release him," Hamza demanded.
Anaxarete simply smirked at him. "No."
"What are you planning?" Hamza asked, making no attempt to hide his suspicion or his loathing.
"You have the Tree Key," Anaxarete said with a sense of superiority in his voice, idly flicking a strand of her long hair over her shoulder. "We know you do."
Hamza gritted his teeth, staying quiet. He wasn't sure how they knew that he held the Tree Key. He glanced over to Cedric, finding his old friend peering at him through one eye, the other squeezed shut in pain. Cedric was gripping at his captor's arm tightly, trying to shake his head. Although he could not talk, Hamza knew what he was trying to tell him.
He was saying no, that he wasn't worth it.
"We'll meet you in the labyrinth," Anaxarete continued as she made a quick motion with her hand toward her guildmates. "Second floor. You know what I'm talking about."
With one last infuriating smirk of superiority, they moved toward the labyrinth.
Hamza felt useless, unable to do anything but watch, his gaze lingering on Cedric until they could no longer see each other. He would not be able to take them all on without the possibility of Cedric getting hurt in the tussle. He wouldn't put it past any of them purposely harming him in order to get back at him.
Reaching into his back pocket, Hamza pulled out a strangely shaped key. It was the Tree Key. He had been carrying it for seven years. He had always carried it with him, to prevent anyone else from misusing it.
To prevent anyone from rushing to their deaths.
Tightening his hand around the key, Hamza steeled himself. He had to get Cedric back. He had suffered enough. He was more important than a key.
Re-adjusting his blade against his back, Hamza spun on his heel and made a direct bee-line to the labyrinth. Getting to the second floor won't be difficult. He knew the exact location of that Tree Door Anaxarete was referring. He knew what was behind that door. He just needed to free Cedric before guild Infamous found out for themselves.
His mind was so focused that he failed to see the recognisable figure that had been hiding in the shadows the entire time.
… … … … …
Tapping his pencil against his book, Lynus silently went over Cedric's symptoms; headache, sweating, respiratory difficulties and an increased heartrate. Some pretty common symptoms...they could mean anything. He needed to do more investigation.
He mentioned something about a monster attack. Perhaps he was…Ah! Maybe he was poisoned and it was still affecting his immune system?
Cedric mentioned seared lungs, so it was possibility that was where the poisoning occurred. Poisonous dust or spores were most likely responsible. Some kind of microorganism seemed more likely.
He might be able to create a medicine to remove and dissolve the spores. If they were in fact responsible for his illness. Another possibility was a toxin injected into his blood stream. A mild toxin, one not to kill him outright, but to slowly cause his organs to suffer.
Of course, it was all theory at the moment.
In any case, a tonic that should improve and strengthen the body's natural immune system would be beneficial for Cedric. He just needed to find the materials that would be useful.
Placing his pencil down onto his notebook, Lynus placed his hands on the table and pushed himself to his feet. He wandered from his room and down the stairs, heading to the first room at the bottom of the steps. The door was open, but he knocked on the door frame anyway, gaining the attention of the sole occupant sitting at the table.
"Tobyn?" Lynus called out before venturing into the room. "Sorry, can I borrow the item codex for a moment?"
Tobyn lifted his head up from where he was studying a series of maps to regard Lynus for a moment before nodding and reaching for the leather bound book. "Sure. After something?"
"Thanks," Lynus said as he took the book in his hands and flicked through the pages. "Working on a possible antidote to long term poisoning. Monster attacks aren't always superficial. Sometimes symptoms won't appear until much later."
Tobyn leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him. "That probably depends on the method of poisoning."
"You're right," Lynus said with a sigh as he lifted his gaze from the book to give Tobyn his attention. "Before I can make an antidote, I need to know the type of monster, don't I?"
He had wondered when Cedric was telling him his symptoms, but there was hesitancy in his voice. He didn't want to go into too much detail and Lynus didn't want to push him. He was holding back for a reason. To demand that he tell him everything would cause him to lose all trust in him.
Trust was more important to him than respect.
"Who's the antidote for?" Tobyn asked as he crossed his ankles and folded his arms over his chest.
"Do you know much about Mr Cedric?" Lynus asked, only to receive a rather blank look in response.
"I see," Lynus murmured with a slight frown. He couldn't help but wonder if Hamza was, well, hiding Cedric from the limelight of being an explorer. Or Cedric was the one who insisted on not having too much contact with the guild.
"He's Hamza's friend," Lynus explained to Tobyn. "Apparently they were teammates before Hamza created this guild."
Tobyn frowned. "I didn't know that…" he murmured, sounding a little baffled.
Lynus gave him a small smile in understanding. "I only found out because I helped Mr Cedric at the hospital."
"Then why hasn't Hamza enlisted him in the guild as well?" Tobyn asked.
"I wondered that, too," Lynus confessed as he lifted a hand to push back his hair from his forehead. He then answered Tobyn's question without giving too much detail. "Apparently, Mr Cedric suffered a serious attack in the labyrinth and Dr Stiles has requested that he gives up exploration."
Tobyn looked surprised. "He's that ill?"
Lynus smiled sadly. "He's certainly not good."
Idly nodding his head, Tobyn held his chin in thought. "I wonder if Jhon or Shen knows of Cedric. They've known Hamza longer than I have."
"I don't want to go snooping, you know?" Lynus said with a slight shrug. "We all have secrets, after all."
"That's true," Tobyn murmured as he dropped his hand from his chin and folded it across his chest again. "I'm sure he has his reasons."
"Hm," Lynus hummed idly as he turned his attention back to the item codex, focusing mostly on materials found in take spots. "More mint leaves and some mugwort might come in handy as a base…"
The two of them fell into a somewhat comfortable silence as they focused their attention back to their tasks and research. A short while after that, though, they were interrupted when Axel, followed by Jhon and Chi-hung, entered the room.
"Hey," Axel said as he made his way over to Lynus and slipped an arm around his waist as he stood next to him. "Have either of you two seen Hamza?"
Lynus frowned and shook his head. "No, not recently," he admitted.
Jhon glanced over to Tobyn, who answered silently with a shake of his head. "That's odd," he murmured as he held his chin, furrowing his brow.
"Something wrong?" Lynus asked, sensing their mild concern. They weren't overly worried as Hamza was a strong leader and knew how to take care of himself, but it was odd that wasn't seen around. Maybe he was paying Cedric a visit?
But what Axel said next made Lynus' concern to increase. "Chi-hung is getting restless."
"Maybe he's out training?" Tobyn offered as he sat up straight in his chair.
But Jhon shook his head. "Lirit and Rahas are in town."
Lynus glanced down at Chi-hung, the white tiger looking noticeably agitated and fidgety. "Is…Hamza in town, Chi-hung?" he asked slowly.
With his ears folded back, Chi-hung whined softly, sounding lost and worried. Immediately, everyone shared a look. If Hamza wasn't in town, then the only logical place for him to be was the-
Jumping at the sound of his name being called, Lynus immediately placed the Item Codex onto the table and ventured out of the room, one red-head, two blonds and one white tiger right behind him.
"Rahas?" Lynus questioned as the dark hunter rushed over to him, he being the one to shout his name. "What's wrong?"
"Something's going on," Rahas said bluntly, looking frustrated and antsy. "Hamza is about to do something stupid."
Lynus reeled his head back slightly in shock. "What-?"
"Cedric, that troubadour," Rahas said in a hurried manner, trying to give a lot of detail while being as short as possible. "He's being held captive by some guild. I don't know who, but they want Hamza to give them the Tree Key, opening the door on the second floor."
For a moment, the small group fell silent, all trying to process the information they just received. It was actually quite a lot to take in. Cedric being taken hostage. Tree key. Locked door on the second floor? What in the world was going on?
"Tree Key?" Axel finally questioned, sounding confused as he had never heard of the key before.
"What's that?" Jhon also questioned. "He's never mentioned anything about it."
"Well, whatever it is, he has it and he's heading into the labyrinth," Rahas insisted, becoming more and more agitated with every second that ticked by.
Lynus gasped. "By himself? Why would he...?" he suddenly trailed off, a look of realisation appearing on his face. Things were starting to make sense to him now.
"Lynus?" Axel gently prodded, pulling Lynus from his musings.
"We have to go," Lynus said as he turned to face Axel, his hand gripping at the front of Axel's shirt. "Cedric is his former teammate. Something must have happened to Hamza's former guild. Something to do with that key."
Axel looked into his eyes, not entirely understanding what Lynus was referring to. He soon nodded his head, though, knowing that there was no time to sit around and talk about possible theories.
"Right, it doesn't matter," Axel said as he placed his hand on the small of Lynus' back, giving him a slight push. "Lynus, round everyone up. Jhon, Tobyn, we need to get ready for battle."