The First Step on a Long and Winding Road
“You have a lot of balls walking in here after what you did.”
The sword armed mercenary stood before a very disgruntled sheriff.
“Hey, a job completed is a job completed is it not?” Responded the mercenary, smugly.
“You destroyed the damn church! If you think I’m paying you your full pay you should walk out of here right now.”
“I recall our contract being 25 gold for killing the beast, 5 gold off for damage to the church and an additional 5 gold for injuries.”
“Aaah…” The mercenary stretched a bit and winced in pain. “I’m feeling a bit sore today…”
The mercenary’s smug face dropped instantly.
“Now now, calm down sheriff, you wouldn’t want the inquisition paying you a visit for denying a holy man his pay.”
The sheriff gritted his teeth as a sour expression enveloped his face.
“You- f-fine, I’ll give you your damn pay, but gather your things immediately. Never return to this town again, and don’t you dare threaten me.”
The mercenary’s near-ever-present smug smile returned to his face.
“Thank you sir, of course, I’ll be sure to heed your advice.”
The mercenary outstretched his hand which was promptly filled with a bag of 25 gold. After counting and feeling the texture of the pieces he found himself satisfied. He walked over to the door, took his belongings, and bowed to the sheriff.
“Have a wonderful day, my dear sheriff.”
He merrily trotted through the streets after leaving the sheriff’s office. Walking at a leisurely pace through the town with the backdrop of a half destroyed church, he was happy. He hardly even paid attention to the few insults that were flung at him from irate townspeople and their hateful glares. He had completed his job and gotten paid, and at the end of the day the monster had been defeated, what more could he want-
Just then, a fist-sized rock was flung at him from a muscular nearby man. On a direct course towards him, the mercenary did not move. In fact, his expression was only that of disappointment despite the relatively impressive rock throw. Like a flash of lightning, he drew an ornate sword and sliced the rock in half midair, a whirring sound echoing from the blade. Many of the onlookers were now agasp at the display, and the mercenary only nodded to the man. There were no more insults or objects thrown after that.
The mercenary soon reached the edge of the town and started walking towards the villages and cities beyond. As the morning sun shone down upon him, his appearance could be clearly seen. He wore dark clothing, tight fitting but comfortable, with its fair share of leather adorning various parts of it to defend him against whatever he may face. A shawl-like covering covered his shoulders and upper torso, also adorned with leather belts, although this seemed less for practical reasons and instead for the aesthetics of the outfit. His body was lean but muscular, strands of hair fell down to slightly veil parts of a face that would not have looked out of place on any imagination of a dashing rogue.
Despite his rakish appearance, he was no typical mercenary, he was a holy warrior known as a dervish. A white metal cross with a circle behind it that was clearly visible below his shawl presented such information in full, the classic symbol of such dervishes. They were not like paladins, they were warriors who unceasingly followed the teachings despite not being blessed with holy power. After his training among holy teachers, he was no longer known by any name he had in the past, he was now Nicholas Red, and had pledged to fight the evil of the world unceasingly.
Throughout the afternoon and morning he continued to trek the roads that connected the various towns and cities, keeping himself occupied with one of the few books he brought along on his journey. If one is to understand the holy teachings, they must read them, of course. At about mid-afternoon, a travelling merchant, equipped with both horse and carriage, slowly caught up to him.
“I see you’re travelling alone, vagrant.” The merchant said without provocation.
“Indeed, I have no need for companionship, and it seems neither do you.” Nicholas responded.
“Mhm, quite so. I find much time to think on these lonely roads.” The merchant glanced down towards the cross hanging from Nicholas’s neck. “Ah, tell me, are you a holy warrior yourself?”
“Indeed, but not a paladin, just a simple dervish.”
“Well dare I say, that makes me feel much more safe.” He laughed heartily. “Tell me dervish, are you trekking these roads on your way to a mission?”
“No, I’ve just completed one, I hope to find more business in yonder towns.”
“If you’re looking for business, the town to the left of an upcoming crossroads has been calling for powerful warriors for a few weeks. I believe it’s called Nilshire, perhaps you’d find a worthy quarry there.”
“Hmmm, powerful warriors… I do like the sound of that invitation, thank you.”
“Haha, no problem! I’ve seen the amazing work you warriors do, I couldn’t be more glad to help.”
If only those in the town I just left had the same opinion. Nicholas thought to himself.
The merchant continued. “In fact, I’m heading there at this very moment, if you’d like to sit in the carriage I’d be willing to oblige. It’s not too comfortable, but it’d allow you to rest your legs.”
“Ah, no, surely it’d be best not to burden you.”
“It is no burden at all! Join me, wayward traveler.”
Nicholas did not need much more prodding and hopped into his carriage. In the final hours of the afternoon Nicholas traveled with the merchant to Nilshire as they continued to make conversion with one another.
Nicholas entered the town by nightfall. After thanking the merchant and exiting the carriage, it was clear that Nilshire was far bigger than the small town he just left. The buildings near the outside were smaller and less developed than an apparent upper class district that slowly developed near the center of the town. Even the buildings that looked old seemed well maintained, and many houses had lights shining inside them even at these hours of the night, which wasn’t all-too-common in smaller towns and cities. People were still moving throughout the streets, carrying things, buying things from shops or closing them up for the night, and some were just conversing with each other. Nilshire was a wealthy city and there was no question that it could afford the “powerful warriors” it was apparently seeking.
Nicholas started wandering through the town, leisurely scanning the streets for a tavern or inn of some sort. Perhaps others who were clear immigrants like Nicholas would be stopped by few-and-far-between guards that lined the streets, but the dervish cross that dangled from his neck made most hesitant to ask questions.
It wasn’t long before he discovered a high class looking inn called ‘Lakeside Sunsets’ as he ventured toward the middle of the city. Killing monsters the previous day had taken a bit of a toll on him, and he hadn’t had much to eat during the day and was eager for some sustenance. Nicholas quickly approached the receptionist at the desk inside the inn.
“Good evening, does this fine establishment have food?” Nicholas politely asked.
The receptionist was a middle aged woman wearing a simple dark brown dress. They looked rather plain; so plain in fact, that Nicholas wondered if she was specifically chosen to look inoffensive. He had heard that more heretics were being arrested in recent years, it wasn’t an illegitimate concern to worry about investigated because you looked strange.
She looked up from a piece of paper she was writing on and smiled before responding to Nicholas.
“Oh, hello, yes! Would you like to order something?”
“Yes, what do y-” Just at that moment, he glanced up and saw the menu helpfully hung up on the wall. They both awkwardly smiled at one another for a moment. “Hm, yes, I’ll have a large beef stew. Thank you.”
She politely nodded as he sat down in the half-full restaurant part of the inn. Nicholas looked around the restaurant at the other patrons. There weren’t the shady types that he was accustomed to in more dangerous areas of the world, in fact, most of the inn was well-lit and difficult to hide in. Could this really be an adventuring hotspot? I suppose the odd person or two may have armor, but this doesn’t seem like the type to have frequent dangers to fight. Was this place just too upscale for adventurers? No way, there were numerous famous and wealthy adventurers.
His thoughts were interrupted by one of the inn’s waitresses bringing him the soup he requested. It was large, perhaps even too much for the average person, but he was accustomed to both eating great deals of food as well as going for long periods without food. It wasn’t long before he had wolfed down most of the soup and filled himself to his satisfaction. The receptionist who had taken his order earlier didn’t take long to notice this and came over to collect her due for the food.
“How was the food?”
“It was wonderful, I’d have no qualms calling it some of the best food I’ve had in a while.”
“That’s very kind of you sir. That will be 20 silver.”
“Of course.” Nicholas took a piece of gold out of the pouch he had received earlier and tossed it to her. “Use the change on a room, if you’d be so kind.”
“A room? I’m sorry sir, we don’t have any available rooms.”
“Really? Surely you can make room for a gold or two.”
“Unfortunately not, we have quite a few notable merchants and patrons in town tonight.”
“I see… any other prestigious inns open tonight?”
“Let me think.” She paused for a moment to think. “Well, perhaps the ‘Pregnant Frog’ has room, down the street and to the left after about 5 houses. It has an odd name but I’ve heard it’s alright.” She quickly got his change out of a purse around her waist and handed it back to him.
He stared back quizzically and palmed the given change. “Well, I shall trust your recommendation. Thank you for the lovely food and have a wonderful night.” He gathered his things from beside his chair and quickly paced out of the building to find the suggested establishment.
When he found it he discovered that despite only being a few streets away, the Pregnant Frog seemed to be smaller and in a much worse condition. He cautiously entered the door before seeing an old lady near the entrance. Unlike the receptionist at the previous inn, she was not so well groomed, in fact she didn’t look too far off from how he imagined old witches and hags. Whereas the other inn was well lit, allowing you to clearly see what was happening inside, this inn was dimly lit at best. It seemed designed for efficiency, not for comfort. It was all so eerie he thought yo himself, but surely there was no need to be worried. He walked up to her shortly after entering the building.
“Hello ma’am, you wouldn’t happen to have a room available tonight would you?”
She stared up at him, but didn’t smile. “Hmmm, yes, but don’t expect anything fancy. 25 silver, second room on the right.”
Nicholas quickly looked around the room for more patrons. He could only peek out the hunched body of an old man in the dining area. He was already becoming skeptical at the quality of this establishment.
“Hm well okay.” He handed her the silver. “Second door on the right?”
She nodded and silently handed him the key before going back to whatever she was doing. At this point, he didn’t care to find out. He had stayed at worse places before, but none of them were advertised as inns and there were certainly none that were named the 'Pregnant Frog'. He made his way upstairs and unlocked the specified room. Using the dim light in the hallway he was able to start the singular lamp located inside the room. All that adorned the room was a desk, a chair, and a small bed. A small painting was also hung above the bed of an older middle aged man with a name scribbled under it. Because of the heavy cursive it was impossible to tell what the name really was though, and it certainly wasn’t any famous figure that he knew. He closed and locked the door behind him before taking off his boots and laying his belongings on the floor. It was yet another day in this life he had only begun a few months earlier. When he had left his training, he believed that it would be easy to find high-paying lucrative jobs that respected the status he had. Reality was not so, he still hadn’t hit it big and was objectively quite a low ranking adventurer in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps this city represented a changing point in his career, but he didn’t really think so. He took off his shawl and armor and kneeled on the ground, looking up into the air.
“Oh Lord, I know you have a plan for all of us, Your children, but… tell me, what is the plan for me? I want to follow the path of your saints and dispel the rampant evil from this world but it seems I cannot find it. Tell me Lord, is the world too good for holy heroes to exist?
My Lord… I…
Please, just guide me along Thy path. Amen.”
After the prayer was done his face rested from the serious expression that had crossed it while praying. He quickly got into the bed and pulled the thin sheet over him. The bed was uncomfortable, but he needed to get to sleep early so he could wake up and find adventuring jobs before others attempted to take up the few missions that may be left. His thoughts were filled with doubt before drifting off to sleep.
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