Guild of Adventuring
Writings of Warriors, Wizards, and Wielders of the Will of the Watchers Within
Before them stood the ivory doors of the Guild. Legend has it they were hewn from the tusks of a beast from another time, a time of monsters. To the eyes of Tibalt and Laren, it looked like any other door painted white. Neither had the acumen of a skilled carpenter so its craftsmanship eluded them, but they each held a deep love of story and myth so the door could have been made of plywood and they’d have believed its mystical nature without a second thought. The door swung open easily as they entered, escorted by the guard posted at the front gate and handed off to the bright eyed gnome at the front desk.
“Hi there, welcome to the Guild of Adventurers. We offer diverse services to all would be warriors, wizards, and wielders of the will of the watchers within. Are you here for a consultation?”
Tibalt was the first to respond, as Laren had been intent on scanning their surroundings. The room was sparse and utilitarian from an initial glance, but further examination showed the quality of its layout. There were solid benches hewn of the same stone as the rest of the building, with ledges carved just within reach for placing handheld objects. The center held a giant wooden table with numerous pockmarks and divets, no doubt created by the placement of mildly corrosive or sharp trophies from wild adventures. The thought of the severed head of a black dragon, oozing corrosive slime from its breath glands and permanently scarring the weathered table crossed his mind as he glanced up and saw his brother navigating the social encounter before them. Perhaps it was the leering viridian eyes that peered down at him, mounted as they were in the head once belonging to a scaled horror that was perched on the wall behind Lazarra, as the gnomish secretary before them professed to be named.
“Alright, well we got word that they’d be sending their bravest warriors within the fortnight, but you two got here quick! I’d hoped for your strongest, but I suppose your bravest will have to do.” She said as she winked, and beckoned them toward a door behind her. Hopping off the stool she evidently had been perched upon, the hurried patter of her steps echoed in stark contrast to the measured footfalls of Tibalt and the shuffled padding of Laren as they traversed the imposing stone building.
“Why is it so quiet?” Tibalt asked, as they traversed down a long corridor to the side of the building. The right wall was lined with clear glass windows, and through them the midday light flickered as it danced through the shadows cast by the trees out front.
“Everyone’s gone. I’m surprised you picked up on that, but I guess they’ve told tales of our rowdiness back in Rodburry Lane! Say, what have they said of us? Anything of Lizarra, the intrepid secretary?”
“Redberry Falls, and yes. They say you are... Well no, they don’t really.” Tibalt shrugged at Laren, and the eldest brother continued. “Why isn’t anyone here? Is everything alright?” The sparkling gnome waved her hand dismissively, and jumped slightly to turn the knob of an ornate door on their left.
“Nah, there’s just a traveling fair in town so everyone’s off buying knick-knacks and testing their wits at the games. If we get you all signed up in time, you might be able to join them!” The door opened, and the office of the guild magistrate revealed itself to them. She sat behind a large wooden desk and glanced up from her work as they entered, quickly moving some papers around with the deft hand of a practiced administrator. Clearing a spot on the left of the desk, she motioned for them to sit in the two chairs that afforded a view of her face through the piles of papers and record books. The door closed behind them, and Laren was surprised to see the secretary had left without a word. They must have been expecting us, he thought.
“Hello, welcome, welcome. I am Patricia Adleven, head magistrate of this adventurer’s guild. I presume you are the couriers from Garth? How fares our investment? I trust the emeralds still flow, yes?” Tibalt tried to protest, but Patricia evidently had no time for interruptions. Already she was carefully pulling a ring bound book from a tall pile on the desk behind her, and with her back turned she couldn’t see him trying to get a word in. With the book in hand, she placed it on the space she’d cleared before, and opened it without hesitation. Tibalt appeared flatfooted, so Laren spoke up.
“Actually, we’re from Redberry Falls. We’re here to enlist.” Without so much as a breath, she deftly spun around and replaced the book, and opened a drawer searching for some document. “Ah, apologies. So, you fancy an early death do you?” She placed a folder on the desk, and peered over her spectacles at the two with a gaze of appraisal. “A very early death, at that.” she spoke to herself. Tibalt bristled at this, but Laren held no weakness in his heart regarding his age. He’d always been younger than his brother, and he always would be. Besides, they weren’t there to prove anything aside from their earnest eagerness and resolve - qualities found in no short supply among the young.
Tibalt stepped into his leadership role with grace, and proceeded to resolve the minutiae of signing their lives away to an organization that peddled glory and bloodshed in equal amounts. Neither treasure nor fame motivated him, but rather a heartfelt love for the people of his village. The kingdom demanded a tax of young souls, to be paid when populations grew. Laren had studied the law alongside him in the course of their studies, but Tibalt could recite them by name - Section 15 Article 4 of the tax code:
Should the population of a regularly organized point of commerce or trade increase by 10 for every 100 persons, a tax shall be levied of one bright soul to be brought before the king’s judgement in exchange for the continued protection of his majesty’s will.
Essentially, pay us in blood whenever your population increases by 10% and we’ll keep your lands free of monsters. And Redberry Falls had just passed 200 persons, hence why the two of them were here, being afforded the king’s justice by the kind words of a middle-aged bureaucrat who’d ushered in the bright eyes of far too many bold young individuals. Eyes that now remained forever closed.
Laren had time to ponder these truths, wonder at his own motivations, and even grew so bored as to guess the names of the two paintings adorning the walls of this large yet cramped official’s den, before finally the business was concluded. There were no windows, and as they left they saw the midmorning light had fallen to a fading orange as the sunset took place somewhere behind the towering roofs of the city that sprawled beyond the windows of their new home.
As they tucked into their bunks, the rest of the adventurers trickled in. Evidently worn out by the day’s festivities, few had much to say to the new kids who occupied the far corner of the rows of bunks and hammocks, but those that did gave them plenty of attention. Their swords, staves, and other implements of death found their way to racks, chests, and holders surrounding their shared housing, and the stripping of armor and sweat stained leather led to a procession of naked battle-tempered bodies toward the steaming baths below. Tibalt and Laren had no need of a bath, and lacked the confident companionship of their soon-to-be fellows, and so contented themselves with plying their bunkmates for information.
They wouldn’t be separated, as they had feared, for the guild was insistent on comraderie. Forming a party with your trusted friends meant you were less likely to abandon them should a deadly circumstance arise, and those who couldn’t find friends were simply given more menial or subtle tasks. Tasks such as building maintenence, administration, and wilderness scouting, each of which were hardly opportunities for monetary gain. “Take it from me, in this profession you want all the gold you can get your hands on.” Said a man who somehow seemed dirty, though he was fresh from the showers. “Gold isn’t the only thing you can find, often there are magical trinkets that give you powers beyond your mortal kin.” Said a tall blue-skinned trollkin girl who couldn’t have been older than Laren. “Find the wrong coffin to plunder, and you might wind up with a curse that’ll follow you to the end of your days. Sometimes beyond!” Said an older woman twirling a dagger between her fingers absentmindedly. “They’ll start you off easy so you have a chance to pick up skills,” said a half orc, vigorously performing her martial forms with the precise grace of a trained warrior. “Don’t forget to practice them, every chance you get.” She said with a wink. “The gold and the glory is all well and good, but what is life without a story to tell your children’s children?” Said a divinely beautiful elf, sitting on a hammock and plucking at a lute. “With a face like that, I’d have a hundred children by now!” Laughed a strapping young man with short cropped hair and a boisterous grin. “Plenty of time for you, young mortal.” The elf said with an air of wistfulness.
“Above all else, your duty to the king comes first. Never forget that, and you’ll ever find yourself with hope.” Said a gruff old warrior as he swung himself onto the top bunk with a grace that defied his receding gray hairs. Tibalt perked up at this, evidently finding words among the breath of these strangers that resonated with him. Laren felt no such calling, and as the other adventurers settled in to a fast approaching rest, Laren saw his own slipping from his grasp as he stared at the ceiling, turning the problem over in his mind again and again.
His midnight musings were interrupted as two people quietly shuffled in to the barracks. In the dark they stepped carefully, but the clink of chain and the scraping of metal on stone drew Laren’s attention. Everyone had fallen asleep, and none seemed to awaken at the disturbance. So strong must their feelings of safety here be, he thought. The two newcomers tried their best to quietly remove their equipment and settle into their beds. As they did, a shimmering light played across the ceiling, and Laren watched it and wondered at its origin - peering over the railing of his vantage point, he saw a boxy satchel placed next to an unloaded crossbow with golden yellow light leaking from its gaps. The two had quieted their movements, and so now, suitably distracted, Laren pondered the new, less demanding question, and drifted off to sleep.
Tibalt shook Laren from his dreamless slumber with an excited smile. Their first day had proven exhausting for both of them, with the travel and rote clerical work, but now they had an opportunity to learn. The dormitory was abuzz with activity as heroes scattered to and fro, some suiting up for battle, others preparing for a long journey, but most were heading toward the cafeteria to fill their bellies before undertaking their assigned tasks of the day. The two brothers followed suit, and after hastily dressing in the only clothes they owned, they trodded after the imposing outlines of their superiors.
The stone corridor stretched forward, and the flickers of runed firelight cast dancing cyan shadows on the walls beside them. Having never before seen these enchanted lanterns, the brothers were fascinated by their inverted projections. The path before them was lit, yet the walls were as dark as if there had been no light cast at all. Aside from the breaks in pseudo illumination that the slowly advancing figures afforded as they waited for their breakfast. It was as if an unseen hand had taken to coloring the insides of their outlines with a blue the color of the mid-morning sky, and forgotten to finish the rest of the painting beyond the boundaries of the shapes they left on the wall. Truly an unsettling sight.
“Magic, it is often said, is strange.” Spoke a soft voice behind them. Turning to look, they gazed into the veiled amber eyes of a girl a bit older than they. She brushed the wispy curls from her eyes and stepped forward in one motion, as the queue progressed. “Are you new here?” Tibalt asked, to which she laughed. “Older than you, little boy. I’ve been here for four hundred days.” Tibalt again bristled at being called ‘little boy’, and Laren spoke up. “Well, we are. Do you have any tips for us newbies?” She flashed a quick grin, and said “Yeah. Don’t go around telling everyone you’re new. They’ll just steal from you.” This surprised Laren. He’d never been stolen from, and he assumed that only bandits were thieves. “... And relax. You’re going to be fine, nothing will hurt you unless you ask for a dangerous job.”
She sat next to them as they ate, and told them about the visiting festival. “There’s carts with food, and sometimes games. The jugglers can keep their balls in the air even if you bump into them. Sometimes I do it on purpose. I’m Zera by the way. Anyway the games are the best part, if you play well they’ll sometimes give you food for free! Much better than this, its something you actually’d like to taste.” She poked her free food around on its plate, clearly never having tasted hunger. Neither had they, but Laren couldn’t help but judge her for her lack of sincerity. He allowed his eyes to play over their surroundings once more, and again noticed the sheer practicality of the space they occupied. The tables were solid hardwood, with generous spacing between them to allow for a sustained flow of traffic. The windows placed near the ceiling allowed light in, but only the faintest traces as it was still morning. The glass was set into the ground as they were in the basement, but were still large enough to clamber out of should escape prove to be necessary. The serving platters were placed in front of them and rotated periodically by servants dressed in nothing but a plain tabard and a thin belt. He caught many a wandering eye subtlely searching behind their folds for a glimpse of some sensual image to cherish on the lonely roads ahead. He locked eyes with one such perverted gazer, who quickly stared down and blushed.
Pushing their food around their plate as Zera had, and they clearly felt ashamed at their invasion of privacy. Curious, thought Laren, what a peculiar dress code. “Ye’ve noticed the skimpy help, have ye?” said a gruff voice belonging to a wide dwarf who helped himself to the seat next to Laren. “Small comforts to be afforded te the ones who’ll die in their stead. If ye’d been here a thousan’ days ago, ye’d ’ave seen me there too. I reckon ye’d be pretty good at it, lad!” With a laugh and a rough clap on the back, he began to dig in to his meal and Laren and Tibalt were left perplexed.
Their first job was as mundane as they come, simply a cleanup operation after the incident of the previous day. Presumably there had been a monster attack right in the heart of the city, as several blocks had been smashed and covered in broken glass and splintered wood. Zera, the girl with amber eyes, was there with them, and the three of them swept the streets as clean as they could. Several others were given the task of repairing the damaged buildings, and after perusing their handiwork for a few hours, Laren began to understand why the buildings that lined the street looked so misshapen. It turns out they were constructed by many more sets of hands than would be expected.
“What made this mess, anyway? Our very first task and all they’d say was there had been ‘an incident on Melligan Way’. Seems a little... Anticlimactic.” Tibalt kicked a broken bottle toward the sewer grates, where it vanished into the darkness.
“Okay first lesson of being an adventurer: Its not that glamorous. I’m sure you have visions in mind of wielding a mighty longsword or dispelling a grand necromancer’s hex, but frankly that kind of thing is likely to get you killed, and even worse when a necromancer’s involved. Doing stuff like this is most of the job.” Laren hoped there was some truth in Zera’s words, because frankly he’d prefer to keep a solid grasp on his own will should the alternative present itself as a possibility.
“But what about... Whatever happened here?” Tibalt gestured around them. “Surely something happened here that necessitated the strength of a great warrior.”
She continued sweeping, and replied without looking up. “Surely.”
A pair of craftsmen were climbing a nearby ladder with a large pane of glass in hand, positioning it such that their colleague within the building could guide it into place as they secured it ever so carefully with their hammer and nails. As the three would-be-adventurers talked, one leaned down and said “It was a troll, lad. Sprung up out of some rotten straw that had been brought in for the festival. Damn things are hard to notice, and have a taste for gold, so they’re far from a rare sight in these parts. And even if ye do catch ‘em, they’ll beat ya to death with yer own arm if y’aren’t careful. Then, they’ll just dissolve into nothing but tufts of moss an’ bone. Always check yer hay ‘afore ye feed yer horses. Tha’s my tip, little one.”
“I’ve never seen one before. A troll, I mean.” The dwarf turned and stared right at Laren then, even as his fellow workers seemed to be moving past him. But he kept looking even still, and spoke with certainty when he said “Pray you never do, lad. And if you do, run as fast as y’wee legs’ll take ye. And if it catches ye, ye best be hopin’ ye got friends behind ya. And if ye don’t... Pray it doesn’t let ye live.” Laren was taken aback, and stammered a reply. “I... I, uh... Thank you...” but the dwarf was already on his way, tucking the ladder under his arm and trundling off without a glance back at the poor young man who was beginning to realize the magnitude of his circumstances.
He was shocked out of his musings by Zera grabbing his arm and motioning him down an alleyway, where evidently the troll had burst through a wooden fence and knocked stone bricks from the walls of the alley. They continued brushing scattered splinters and chips of stone into the depths of the sewer grates that lined the city’s roads and walkways until the lamplighters began their daily circuit through the city. Lighting the various sources of illumination that were scattered throughout the city didn’t seem like such a bad job, he thought, but even still danger lurked behind every corner.
Two glowing red eyes stared up from the sewer grate.
Tibalt was the first to glance across the street, and his gaze locked with the terrible monster that beheld them. Fear wrapped its talons around his heart in an instant, and as he quickly nudged his friends with his broom handle to draw their attention, the eyes peered on. Gazing unblinkingly, the three naturally placed themselves in formation with their wooden tools held before them. Once the moment of contact had passed, an uneasy silence passed over the street as the unblinking eyes faced them down.
Nobody moved, nobody breathed, and no sound was made.
Laren dearly wished he had something more substantial than a wooden stick. As it was, his broom was little more than a distraction to anything that could bear such eyes as those. Should he break it in two, for a pointed edge? Or use it as a quarterstaff? His mind was racing. His heart was pounding on his ears, and his fingers were numb from the grip he held on his meagre salvation.
“What do you think it is?” Hissed a whisper from Zera, “Giant rat?” “Or a giant frog.” Tibalt replied. None of them had moved an inch, and their eyes never left the bright crimson orbs. Their surroundings seemed to fade away, and all that was left was the encounter before them. Sensing their fear, the eyes finally blinked slowly, and disappeared into the inky gloom.
Heaving a sigh of relief, the three turned toward one another another and hurriedly debriefed. “I thought it was going to eat us!” “It sure knew we were scared, of that I have no doubt.” “I wonder why it didn’t attack?” Their teeth chattered in the growing cold they had completely neglected to notice, and the meagre light afforded by the lanterns lit hours ago cast shimmering shadows across their excited faces. Their voices faded as they collectively realized that they still weren’t safe. Hurriedly, they ran home.