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The Guild [RP Thread]


Phantom Thief
~ The Guild ~

“Citizens of Grand Capitol. Keepers of the mighty fortress Bastion. Representatives of all races, tribes, kingdoms, and peoples. It is my honor to accept this responsibility and this title.

I do not do so lighty.

No, though you may know me as the Magician, the Trickster, the tengu who delivers every strike of the blade with a strike of the wit, I assure you that I will devote my all to the good of this, and every land where a Guild hall stands. I will uphold the honor and dignity with which my predecessors have served before me. But most importantly, I will not seclude myself away in those tall towers.

You are my people, and I am your champion! And I will continue to walk these streets, travel these lands, and lend my blade to the most difficult of quests so that you may not see me as another monarch, but as the Guild leader you have known me to be all along.

So continue to do as you have done. I will lend my ear to your pleas for help. I will raise my blade in your service. And I will always bow to you, my people, and not the other way around.

May the winds be ever behind your backs. May the sun never cease to shine.”

- Impromptu inaugural address given by Nivini Liu, the current People’s Champion, upon his acceptance of the title which was immediately followed by the single largest festival ever held beneath Bastion since the Guild’s founding.


It has been nearly three years since the last champion retired from their service and Nivini took on the mantle of People’s Champion. A tengu of the Kurasu tribe, Nivini made his name as a peerless slayer of rogues, tyrants, and monsters alike, but earned his rank with his faultless attention to keeping those around him safe.

Though Nivini is especially beloved by the people of Bastion, his short tenure as champion has seen many changes come to the world at large.

There are some among the nobility who find Nivini’s brash, rabble-rousing behavior to be an affront to the dignity of his title. But beyond that, they find his eagerness to dismiss their concerns in order to relish in the praise of the common citizenry to be both threatening to the long established order as well as a personal insult to their status. And though they dare not make a move in public, in private tensions are high and subterfuge is the game of the day.

Beyond the bubble of Bastion’s politics, something much more ominous is brewing. It started small. The sun seemed to rise a little later in the day or set a little earlier in the evening. What had, for as long as anyone could remember, been an even split of day and night had begun to waver. And not in the way everyone might have hoped. The sun, the luminous miracle that chased away the eternal night, was slowly conceding its time to the dark. And though at present, the difference is measured in minutes, those with their eyes on the sky are starting to fear the day when minutes might become hours and hours might become endless.

But the nights are not simply growing longer. The winds from the edges of the world are blowing in colder. Winter arrives days ahead of schedule and spring delays its first blooms.

And with longer nights come more of the night’s spawn. Monsters are appearing more and more frequently, coming into territories long since believed to be safe. And with this new threat, comes displacement. Fear breeding envy, strife, and chaos on the fringes of civilized lands.

But all of these dangers and omens are yet in their infancy. Strange enough to notice, but not strange enough to spread panic. So long as the monsters stay in the outskirts, so long as tensions and rumors of war don’t erupt into growing flames, so long as the sun continues to rise and time continues its normal course, the world will continue likewise.

And it is, perhaps, the work of the brave and talented adventures of the Guild that keep the world running.

One quest at a time.


~ The City of Estvalm ~
- Late Summer -

Estvalm was something between a sleepy riverside hamlet and a proper city. It lacked anything one might call fortifications, but the buildings were sturdy and made of stone and solid timbers that aged well and held up to the elements. The streets were wide and paved with cobblestones, the only city in Valm that could claim both, and since most of the farming was done in Junne or Rivervale, the streets were relatively free from mud or the constant wear of field-born horses, wagons, and carts.

It was, in a phrase, just enough of the city to feel welcoming to folks from up north, but still country enough to feel like home to the locals.

There was the ring of stables, workshops, blacksmiths, and other such places that surrounded the city. The outer streets lined with hovels, taverns, general stores, and the occasional inn. And main street, dominated by a large clock tower, the only noble’s court in all of Valm, squares for hosting harvest time sales and festivals, and of course, the local Guild Hall.

A simple two-story building, the Guild Hall in Estvalm was like many such halls dotted across the land, built to accommodate travelers, adventures, and passerby of all types and sizes. Every door was big enough for a titan to walk through. Every dining hall equipped with chairs of varying heights. And a service desk and quest board just high enough for most to comfortably access.

The building itself was as sturdy and well built as any other in town. The doors were big and heavy, but swung in easily on masterfully balanced hinges. Above these doors were etched the Guild’s motto and creed. “For the good of all, by those who are able.”

The entire first floor was mostly devoted to a large room filled with tables, chairs, corner work desks, and an assortment of stations for weapon or armor maintenance. There was also the quest board and service counter, the latter of which was manned by a guild clerk at all hours of the day and well into the night. Behind the counter was a room reserved for the guildmaster’s office and a room that housed the hall’s scrying orb. While off of the main open space was the kitchen.

The second floor of the hall was devoted to spare rooms to lend out to those in need of a place to stay the night, a room that served as a mail room and a roost for the Courier Crows that took messages from one end of Valm to the other, as well as a library full of reference material for those in need of information on the area.

Out back, behind the guild hall, were the baths, a training area for sparring or practice or settling the occasional dispute, and a place to stable mounts, pets, or other familiars for the night.

As the sun went down in the sky and the last signs of daylight hovered over the distant horizon, the busy streets of Estvalm slowly emptied out as many citizens returned to their homes for food, rest, or to prepare for some nightly activity unrelated to the day’s work.

For adventures, or anyone who wanted cheap but filling food and a passable bed, it meant the Guild Hall’s tavern was now open for business. Now was the perfect time to make your way back to the hall, report any completed quests, order a tray of food and drink with your well earned coin, and relax before going about whatever business you had in the late hours or turning in to prepare for another day’s questing.

While some guild members might make enough coin to live a relatively lavish lifestyle, for most, these services the hall provides are indispensable and anyone seeking to stow away coin for future plans will almost certainly take advantage of them at some point.

And though several familiar faces are out of town to answer the summons to Bastion, tonight is no different from any other night.

The hall is full of adventures fresh from their travels or quests, the smells of various foods fill the air, a local bard plays a harp in the corner collecting tips and taking requests, and there's a whole line of questers waiting to collect their earnings at the counter.

No matter what brings you to the guild hall tonight, the place is alive with activity and the sounds of barely controlled chaos, as newbies and veterans alike discuss the days events or unwind from a challenging adventure.


~ Estvalm - Guild Hall ~
- Dusk -

The guild clerk looked over the quest report with a barely concealed grimace. Like many in Valm, she was human. And a young one at that. But even she, who barely knew the pointy end of a sword from the handle, could probably have done this quest with ease.

Across the counter from her stood a pair who would be familiar to anyone who frequented the Guild Hall. Bramble, an earnest and stubborn spriggan who carried so many throwing knives it was a miracle he could still fly, and Thorn, a Kurasu tengu who refused to go by his real name and spent most of his time muttering snide comments.

“So,” the guild clerk started.

“Yes?” said Thorn.

“How much did we earn? You can break it to us.” Bramble said as he leaned forward on the counter.

The guild clerk took a deep breath. “The quest at hand was a wood-ranked quest. Help with a berry harvest.”

Thorn nodded proudly. “Quite beneath our skills.”

Bramble punched him on the shoulder. “Totally boring.”

To her credit, the clerk kept a calm, professional tone as she continued. “Yes, well, that may be the case. But it says here that you only completed half of the allotted work. What’s more, an entire bushel of berries is unaccounted for. How do you account for this failure?”

“Failure?” Bramble spread his hands as though he had just finished delivering a speech. “My good lady, we had to protect the harvest from encroaching monsters. Surely that not only falls under the purview of accomplished adventures as ourselves, but is in fact our sworn duty.”

“The quest giver did note that a run-of-the-mill slime was lurking about the area.”

Bramble joined Thorn in his nodding. “Yes, you see? A dangerous monster lurking about a farm? We had no choice but to intervene.”

“Our only option.” Thorn added.

“Yes, well,” the clerk brandished the paper and cleared her throat before reading aloud “It is with resignation that I can not report this quest as having been completed. The Guild members assigned abandoned their duties and nearly scared my dear Puhi to death. I would like for the quest to be reposted, but would request that the Guild not only refrain from assigning those two to my farm in the future but review their qualifications for Guild work in general.”

Bramble huffed and shook his head. “That is patently absurd. We were only doing our duty to protect the farm.”

“From a slime?” the clerk said.

“Yes, from the monster.”

“But the slime escaped, didn’t it.”

“Slippery little bugger.” Thorn muttered.

The clerk sighed and pushed her glasses up. “Let me get this straight then. You showed up late, left the job incomplete, ‘misplaced’ a basket full of berries, and failed to catch a slime that you considered to be a threat. Does that sum up the job results accurately?”

“Well, when you put it that way it does sound bad.” Bramble admitted with an extremely misplaced sense of pride in his voice.

“Quite. And, I have one more question for you.” the pair leaned in towards the counter. “Are you two aware that slimes can be tamed?”

“Not sure what that has to do with anything.” Thorn muttered.

“Exactly.” Bramble said, “You said it yourself, the farmer’s kid was scared.”

“The farmer doesn’t have a young child.” the clerk said flatly. “Puhi is the farmer’s pet.” The pair stared blankly at the clerk as she slammed the paper on the desk in front of her. “If you two had actually read the quest form, you’d have known that the farmer has a pet slime! Honestly, what in the world are we going to do with you guys?”

“Not fire us?” Bramble said hopefully.

Thorn nodded vigorously. “We are but poor, hapless fools, lost on the road to glory.”

The door behind the clerk’s desk creaked open and Durmmond, the elderly titan who ran the Guild Hall, stuck his head out. “Linessa, what’s all the commotion out here?”

The guildmaster took one long, quiet look at the spriggan and tengu duo both waving happily on the other side of the desk, let out a long defeated sigh, and closed the door without a word.

Linessa adjusted her glasses with her finger and leaned back in her chair. “This is your third offense in two months.” Her tone was all business now. Any pretense of playing along with Bramble and Thorn’s story was gone. “Per the Guild code, which you agreed to when you were issued your medallion, we are now entitled to dismiss you from your service to the Guild and strip you of all associated benefits that entails. Do you understand your situation?”

“Yes miss Linessa.” the two said in unison.

“Good.” She filed the quest report into a bin on the side of her desk for Durmmond to review later and turned back to the pair. “I’m giving you one more chance. If you fail to complete a quest to the complete and total satisfaction of the client, and I do mean complete, before the harvest season is over then I will have no choice but to abide by the code. Are we clear?”

The two nodded, dejectedly.

“Excellent.” Linessa smiled and clapped her hands together, jolting the two to attention. She continued, her voice warm and cheerful again. “Now, the sun will be going down shortly and it would be remiss of me to throw you out on the street with no coin for the night. You are free to stay in one of the spare rooms here at the Guild Hall, but only for the night. Tomorrow morning I expect to see you picking a quest from the board and working it properly.”

Bramble pumped his fists. “Yes. You won’t regret this. I swear on my sword that-”

“You don’t have a sword.” Thorn muttered.

“It’s an expression.” Bramble cleared his throat. “I swear on my sword that I will not let you down.”

The two nodded thankfully and wandered off into the hall. More than likely to find a table and order whatever food they could afford. Guild Hall food might be cheap, but it wasn’t free.

After a moment, the door creaked back open. “Are they gone?” Durmmond asked cautiously.

“Only off to buy food.” Linessa crossed her arms and leaned over the back of the chair to face the guildmaster. “I gave them one more shot. Also, they’re using one of the spare rooms tonight.”

Durmmond grumbled something unintelligible. “You’re too nice. Should have fired them.”

She leveled an accusing finger at Durmmond. “You’re the guildmaster aren’t you?”

The titan only chuckled to himself. “They don’t pay me enough to deal with those two.” He paused for a moment. “Make sure they clean up after themselves. I’ll start charging them rent if they make a mess of the place.” The door started to close, but it stopped halfway. “Also, make sure they don’t bother the other members. Wouldn’t want them to get on anyone’s bad side.”

Finally the door shut.

Linessa pouted at the closed door. “I make less than you, you know.”

A tap on the desk snapped her back to attention. “Ah, yes, sorry. What quest did you have to report?” Linessa asked automatically as she turned back around. Her work for the evening was far from over.


OOC: Alright everyone, we have officially begun. To start off, just post a normal evening for your character. Hang out at the hall, interact a bit, or otherwise do your thing for now. Once everyone has checked in with an intro post, I’ll get us rolling.


Dancing Prince
OOC: Yay! It's up! Hopefully this post was okay. Feel free to interact with them.

Tematia "Tia" Hycinthius
Pixie - Wood Rank
Estvalm Streets -> Guild Hall - Dusk

"Thank you again for helping us, Tematia," said Mrs. Gabe, a woman of sixty and so years and owner of the produce store she stood in front of, said. "I didn't think we'd be able to stock our shelves in time for tomorrow with Larson's leg broken."

Tia gave a smile and a rather sloppy salute. "No problem, Mrs. Gabe. Always glad to help."

"Here's the report for the request," said Mr. Gabe as he came from the back.

Tia took the paper and rolled it with care. "Thanks, Mr. Gabe. I'm gonna go now. See you!"

"Good-bye, Tematia!" they said as they waved.

Tia waved back at them for a bit before she zoomed her across the streets, as fast as she could without bumping into others. She was determined to try and be as early as possible to report her quests of the day without waiting in that long of a line. And as arrived the ever familiar Guild Hall, she couldn't help but silently celebrate her hope had come true, as the line was relatively short all things considered. But as she took her place in it, she frowned wondered if she should've waited just a little bit longer because right in front of her were a surprisingly infamous pair.

Brumble the spriggan and Thorn the kurasu tengu.

Okay, admittedly Brumble wasn't that bad and Thorn was just snarky, or at least trying to be. But apparently, they were terrible at their jobs. Not that she knew the details really. But as she heard the pair give the report to Linessa, who then went on to question their actions, her opinion only got stronger. Though she would admit that it took a lot to not laugh at the Guildmaster's reaction to seeing the cause of the commotion.

When the two were done, and thoroughly chastised, she couldn't stop herself from puffin her chest and, carefully, taking three reports on the desk.

"Here Linessa! Here to report for the missing cat quest, the quest for delivering some cutlery and Mr. and Mrs. Gabe's request for assisting with restocking."

"Ah, yes...those three," the human clerk said, taking them all.

Thankfully, Tia didn't have to wait too long for her to finish reading them all.

"Complete and to the clients' satisfaction," she said when she did, giving a small smile as she moved to get some pouches. "Here are the rewards for their completion."

"Thanks Linessa!" she said, nodding.

Tia took the pouches of money before floating to one of the number of tables littered around the first floor. She counted the coins in the sacks, not necessarily to check, but more to pass the time as she occasionally glanced up to see if Grandpa would be back today from his latest quest.

. . .

Grace Clemens
Human - Silver Rank
Guild Hall's Kitchen - Dusk

If there was one thing Grace loved about being Silver ranked, was that she had a little leeway in being allowed into the Guild Hall's kitchen to cook her own food. It certainly helped that she had a good reputation in the making of food, so the regular cooks in the kitchen were more than happy to let her use the facilities...which was good, because what she wanted for dinner was something a little bit of home, a simple hunter's stew, or bigos as her mother would call it in an old tongue, that would have to simmer for an hour.

So, in the mean time, she helped the cooks with making meals for all the other Guild members. Of course, they didn't let her near any of the new ales and brews that were brand new, but Grace didn't mind. Especially since in the time it took to make several meals for quite a number of Guild members, the stew was finished and Grace put it in a bowl, ordered some of the few ales that were actually good in this hall, and made her way to the actual part of the Guild's Hall that was considered a tavern.

"Hey! Grace! There you are! Come on over here!" a lowborn sand colored drake called out from one of the tables.

The brownish-black haired girl smiled before making her way to him and plopping herself beside him and his friends, making sure her staff was out of the way but still in her reach.

"Hello Draganoff, something the matter?" she said, smiling.

"Heh, nothin' up. Where've you been though? Thought I woulda seen you here by now."

Grace pointed her thumb in the general direction she came from. "I was just making dinner for myself in the kitchen. Nothing more than that."

"You made that?" one of Draganoff's friends, a young man probably a good nine years younger than her, said.

"Indeed. A simple recipe from my mother, if that is what you're curious about."

"It looks great! I wanna eat it..." another similarly colored drake, also a lowborn but this one a female, said, licking her lips.

"Oy, knock it off, Sis," Dragonoff said, though his amused smirk told otherwise.

Grace shared it as she said, "Are you willing to pay for my usual fees?"

"Oh come on! We're friends, aren't we?" Dragonoff's sister said, but she too had a teasing smile.

"Precisely why I will not allow you to have a free meal when you are well off as is," Grace said as she started to eat.

"Is her food really that good?" the young man said.

"Yup," Dragonoff said, then realization passed his face. "Oh right!" He turned to her before he continued. "Grace, this here's Clint Freemont. He from Rivervale and just joined today." Here, he turned back to the newly introduced Clint. "Clint, this here's Grace Clemens, best connersir on food and drinks in all of Valm."

"You mean connoisseurs, bro!" Dragonoff's sister said before she started laughing.

"Oy! That word's hard, ye hear?"

Clint blinked. "Really?"

Grace chuckled and said, "I thank you for the praise, but I am just particular with my food and drink is all. If others happen to share my tastes and pay for it, than all the better for me."

At that, she grabbed her drink and rose it in thanks before she began to drink it.

"Hey, she ain't a Silver rank for nothin'," the sand scaled male said. "So? How's your day been? Maybe you could give Clint a few tips, like we were."

Grace raised an eyebrow and her mischievous smile returned. "Oh? You were giving the young man advice? And here I thought you invited him to show off your prowess and what little knowledge you have!"


The group, which included a garuda and a spriggan that had not spoken yet, laughed at that. Then they spent their meal talking of the day and past adventures, the mood light and cheerful, just as Grace liked it.

. . .

Bebeltel "Teltel" Hycinthius
Geist Elemental - Platinum Rank Decorated
Road from Rivervale to Estvalm -> Estvalm Streets -> Guild Hall - Dusk

Teltel kept a close eye on the surroundings as he escorted some merchants bringing their goods from Rivervale, playing all the while one of the many songs his fingers have memorized. They were now on their last legs of their journey, the outline of Estvalm o the horizon. But even with the familiar sight of home, his unease wasn't rid of from seeing it. The sun had set when it usually did, but it had set about a few minutes sooner than it usually would...yet again.

He wished that perhaps the magic in the land could tell him something, anything, but he was not in tune to nature and even if he was, there was a part of him that sounded like one of his descendants, the very skeptic Daisy, telling him that it wouldn't give him the answers he sought.

So when they finally made it to one of the bigger shops in the city, he simply accepted the report before heading towards the Guild Hall, eagerness for home pushing his steps faster. Thus he made it to his destination in little time. He did, though, have to wait as many other Guild members--some as highly ranked as he, some not--reporting their own quests. Since he would have to be patient, he glanced around in search of Tia and, just as he hoped, found her counting coins by one of the tables.

He played the notes on his lyre, each a higher note, and that made the muscular pixie look up.

"Gramps! You're here!" she said as she whizzed right towards him, somehow not dropping any of the pouches in her hands. "How'd it go?"

Teltel gave a silent chuckle before he placed his lyre in his bag and said, "It went well, Granddaughter. Only a few monsters last night appeared on my way here."

The pixie pouted and visibly sagged. "Aw... I thought you had a new adventure..."

Teltel laughed silently once again. "I have a good amount of adventures, Tia. Whether that meets your standards or not is up to you," he signed.

"Yeah, yeah...anyways! Are you gonna stay here to play after dinner? Or are you coming home?"

He gave it only a moment's thought before he said, "I will be returning home."

"All right! Oh hey, you know I was able to complete ten quests since you left?"

"Is that so? Would you like to tell me about them?"

And so Teltel listened as his great granddaughter by several generations talked of her "exploits" while he awaited his turn to report.


God of Monsters
~ The City of Estvalm ~
- Late Summer -

He rose from the bed in a single purposeful motion, not because of any sense of urgency or purpose, but simply because that was the way he'd always moved. Move quickly, quietly, swiftly, and you'll survive longer.

Lance pulled on his undershirt and stretched his shoulders and stared out into the horizon. The sun had set not too long ago, and the large bay window flooded the room with darkening red-orange light. The hot summer air had finally begun to let up - it was still something he was trying to get used to, that heat. The Highlands never suffered this same crushing summer weather.

He stretched, wincing as every joint and ligament from his back to his shoulders all the way to his fingers made cracking noises that seemed far too loud for someone his age. But beatings and arrows and blades and broken bones had a way of making you feel older.

"Sure you have to leave so soon?" purred a voice from behind him. The lady of the manor lounged idly on the huge bed, sheets draped across her waist, one long leg exposed.

"We both know your husband will be back soon," Lance pointed out.

"You're afraid of him?" she teased. "We could be quick."

Lance gave her a pointed look. "Does that sound like me?"

She shrugged. "How will we ever know if you keep leaving like this?" she asked with a smirk. "Can I do anything to convince you?"

"You could call your lady's maid in," Lance said as he fastened his sword belt. His voice had a scratch to it, a gravelly sound beneath each word. And yet he spoke smoothly; words dancing from one to the next so quickly that the gravel sounds beneath seemed to go on even after he'd finished speaking.

"Heavens no!" the woman laughed. "After last time? She hasn't been able to look me in the eye since!"

"What did you do to her last time?"

"Me? Nothing. Just a bit of this-and-that," she waved her hand around and her fingers danced in the sunset shadows. "What did you do to her?"

"Just 'this and that,' my Lady" Lance mused with a cutting smirk. He'd forgotten the woman's name almost immediately after meeting her, and had instead taken to caller her "my Lady." He knew she found some ironic pleasure in it. He turned back towards the open windows and the huge stretch of manor land beyond. "You'll get used to it."

"What's that?"

"Not looking you in the eye," Lance explained. "You get used to it."

"Yes, I've noticed," the Lady said, her gaze sharp on him now. "They rarely hold your gaze for more than a heartbeat, do they? It's a wonder dear Brigitte even joins us at all."

"I don't think that has anything to do with me," Lance said in that same clipped, gravelly voice. He gave her a pointed look.

The woman sighed and drew the sheet up to her chest. "That does seem to be the case, doesn't it? Physical intimacy tends to lead to emotional entanglements."

"I hope you're not implying that's what's happened here," Lance said, gesturing to the two of them.

"No," she admitted with that same sly smile. "You and I are cut from a different cloth."

"You have no idea." But that was the answer he'd hoped for. It was a fun arrangement they had, and he'd have hated for something as tedious as emotions to complicate it. Emotions tended to make things so very real; so very unlike him

"How true," she said. "You could tell me, of course."

"And ruin this perfectly crafted mystique?" Lance chuckled. "I don't think so."

The woman shook her head and rested her chin in her palm. "Normally if I invited someone into my bed it would be because I wanted to. Because I knew I had something they wanted. Some part of this," she motioned to the huge manor around them. “And it gave me--"

"Power," Lance said. And for a moment he spoke in a very different voice. The gravel was gone, replaced by a smooth rumble.

And there was a chuckle, low and throaty and condescending, from the passenger behind his eyes.

"Hmmm," the woman hummed with a nod, then her eyes fixed on him. "But not you. I'd never felt less powerful than when you walked into that ballroom and your eyes first met mine."

"I imagine not," Lance turned away so she couldn't see the wide and wild grin break across his usually-collected face; the Passenger's excitement cutting through his carefully-crafted mask. It took a moment, but he wrested control back. "And that was something new entirely, wasn't it?"


"You're not alone in that," Lance said. Most people felt some degree of powerlessness when they locked eyes with him. Especially those who lived mundane lives; but even those who lived like he did could find their hearts racing when his Passenger rose up and filled the dark spaces behind his eyes. "But in this world it's a rare sort to seek it out."

"Thank you," she laughed at his unintended compliment. "I don't even know your name."

That makes two of us, Lance thought wryly. "Well what was it you were calling out just now?" he smirked. The woman went bright red from her hair to her toes and buried her face in her pillow. "'Stranger,' was it?"

"You heard that?" her muffled voice groaned.

"I think everyone did."

She extracted herself from the plush white pillow and sent him a glare that died almost as soon as she met his eyes and settled into a playful frown. "I can't even pretend to intimidate you."

"You can keep trying," Lance laughed as he walked towards the door.

"Tell me, Stranger," the woman said with a grin. "Am I the only one who gets such attention from you."

Lance chuckled. "Of course not. I'm headed down to the kitchens to see your cook next." He closed the door to the sound of her laughter.

The manor was mostly empty as he left. The woman had sworn her house staff to secrecy, and those she couldn't swear had been ordered down to the village for errands. Not that Lance particularly cared one way or the other. But it did mean fewer eyes on him. Those that remained hadn't even yet lit the hallway lamps for the night.

He could feel the excitement from the thing within. They liked the dark. The dark was safe, because if one stayed there long enough one's eyes adjusted, and pitch black became a world of grey, and everyone else was blind, but he could see. He, and his dark thing, that sat behind his eyes in the back passenger seat of his mind. The thing was king of the dark, of the pitch-black. It and it alone ruled that shadowy world.

He found Serra waiting by the front gate, smoking a long pipe with one of the footmen.

"Took ya long enough," she said, handing the pipe back to the young man and blowing a glowing blue ring of smoke around his face. "What have you started talking after a booty-call?"

"I taught you that phrase, you can't use it against me," Lance pointed out as he brushed past her. The footman grabbed the pipe from Serra and scrambled out of his way.

"Keep telling yourself that," Serra said. She flitted into the air, flipped over Lance's head, and landed gracefully, walking beside him. "I still don't understand why you have to come all the way out here."

"Jealous?" Lance teased.

"Of her?" Serra scoffed.

"Of me," Lance said, and Serra's jaw snapped shut with an audible click. "I'm sure if you wanted you could find some nice fancy lord or lady to add to your bed notches."

"Wouldn't have to try all that hard if the amount of effort you put in is anything to go by," Serra shot back. “Maybe I’ll steal this one from you.”

“That’d be a sight,” Lance smirked. "And that's why you came out all this way?" Lance gave her a quizzical stare.

"That footman also grows his own dreamleaf in the manor greenhouse," Serra said, flitting through the air around Lance.

"You can't grow your own?" Lance asked.

"Too cold and dry down this way," Serra said with a shrug. "Frogsong doesn't quite have the right soil and Rhys's Thicket is too far off to tend to. I can give that dork whatever I need him to grow for me and let him keep 20 percent of the crop." She gave him a look. “It’s just the two of us now. You can stop with the whole ‘carefree playboy’ routine,” Serra admonished.

“Doesn’t sound very fun,” Lance said back. “Why'd you really come out all this way? Just to check in and make sure I’m not taken advantage of?”

“More making sure you don’t kill some poor servant and give that woman a heart attack,” Serra said.

“I’m surprised you think so highly of my skill set.”

“What? Ew, no,” Serra blanched. “Come off it already and be serious.” She glared at him. “We’re out of money.”

“Because your idea of ‘essentials’ needs reworking.”

Serra ignored him, “So unless you’re going to start taking payment for your visits here—”

“Do I look like a whore to you?”

“Well you’re certainly pretty enough,” Serra shot at him. “We had to max out the credit account to buy food and supplies this month—“

You don’t have a credit account, Serra.”

“I said the credit account. I didn’t say my credit account. It’s your credit. But tell me you won’t be psyched when you get those reward points. Either way rent is due so we need to take a job with the Guild.”

Lance rolled his eyes and grunted under his breath. "Let's head back to the Hall."


~ Junne - Outskirts ~

The big beasts screeched and slashed the dirt with their talons. Long tail whipped back and forth angrily as Darigaaz squared off. Black and white striped fur rippled over thick muscular haunches. Huge mouths hung open, dripping and drooling with each ragged breath. Between the beasts lay the eviscerated remains of a massive buffalo. The three beasts spread out, two to either side of Darigaaz while the largest, loudest one kept his attention in front.

The large one shouted and howled, and for a split second, Darigaaz allowed his attention to focus solely on it; it was all the opening the other two needed to spring upon him. And against any other prey it might have worked. But with a flick of his wrist, Darigaaz unleashed the Undrjarn, and a sword-whip sliced through the air like a razor-edged ribbon. The two were cut down in the blink of an eye, and the larger third was skewered by a sudden spearpoint before it realized what was happening.

Darigaaz ripped his spear free from the beast's ribcage and it recoiled and reformed into bracer on his right wrist. The three slavering creatures limped away and began circling him once again. The three lowered and prepared to charge; no longer driven by hunting instinct but rather anger and primal rage. The three beasts leapt through the air, but Darigaaz was ready; a spell on his lips.

"Atarka," he said, in a voice that rumbled low just beyond the edge of audible sounds. Fire and force exploded from his core like an erupting volcano and slashing through the three beasts in midair. The inferno ripped through them and dropped them to the ground in smoking heaps of charred flesh and hair.

"Well I'll be damned," said the farmer. She'd climbed up into a nearby tree when the beasts appeared. She was tall -- for a human, at least -- with short-cropped blonde hair and the thicker frame of a woman who'd worked the fields all her young life. "Looks like you got 'em! That'll teach them to pick off my herd!"

"Your not out of the woods quite yet," said Darigaaz. He pulled a cloth from his waistband and wiped the blood off his arms and face. "Those were leucrocuta. They're pack animals, typically seven or so to a pack. There'll be a den nearby. And if these three know there's food to be had and have been bringing fresh kills back to the rest of the pack the others will be back."

"So get those, too!" the woman said with a frown. "I paid--"

"You paid for the elimination of these three," Darigaaz cut in. "But send a request to the Guild at Estvalm and I'll make sure it's marked a priority and have it fast-tracked for approval."

"I can pay you direct--"

"That's now how things are done," Darigaaz said, cutting in once again. "I'll let Durmmond know to expect your next message." He glanced down at the three smoking leucrocuta remains. "In the meantime, take the offal from these three and spread it around the border of your property. The smell will keep the rest of the pack from getting too close and also keep your livestock from wandering off. Then leave the remains in a pile outside the border as an offering to the rest of the pack if they do come close."

"They'll eat their own?"

"They're cannibals and scavengers when they need to be," said Darigaaz with a shrug. He wasn't 100% certain, of course, but he had enough experience with monsters and wild beasts to say so with some confidence.

The woman glanced at the remains with a look of trepidation and gave a sigh. Then, with a half-roar and a shout of excitement, Darigaaz's wings erupted from his back and carried him into the sky.


~ Estvalm - Guild Hall ~
- Dusk -

It wasn't long before Darigaaz made it to Estvalm and the Guild Hall. He settled down quickly in a nearby alley, hidden by the shadows and the setting sun. He'd long since realized the benefit of being assumed a lowborn drake - everyone tended to underestimate him without his wings -- and withdrew them into his back, activating the spell that his father had placed on him those many years ago. He shivered at the odd sensation, the wings left a ghostly sensation behind as they disappeared.

He left the alley, rounded the corner, and made his way towards the Guild Hall. It had already begun to get louder as the various Guild adventurers made their way back to the hall for the night. With a large local tavern across the street and easy lodging, the Estvalm Hall typically made the city center a good deal louder. There were always some new travelers making their way to the South to tell tales of their exploits or find new adventures.

Durmmond was leaving Linessa at the clerk's desk in something of a flustered state; she called back to him: “I make less than you, you know.” Darigaaz walked over and drummed his clawed fingers gently over the desk. "“Ah, yes, sorry. What quest did you have to report?” Linessa asked automatically as she turned back around.

"Farmstead in Junne," Darigaaz said, handing over the quest paperwork he'd taken with the farmer's signature. "Turns out they've got a pack of leucrocuta in the area. I took care of the three that she'd reported, but there are probably some more in the area so I gave her some preventative measures to take to keep them off for the time being. But she'll be sending in a request to clear out the den." He scratched his jawline thoughtfully. "Might want to mark that specified for someone with more monster-slaying history. Not sure if I'd know where to start tracking down a leucro den."

As he spoke he noticed a larger number of Guild members within the hall than usual.

"What's going on here?" he asked.


Knight of RPGs
Aali Tahir
Estvalm Guild Hall

Aali nursed a drink in the corner of the hall, regarding the gloomy room. It was homely, he supposed. Lanterns lit a throng of people, drinking, carousing and celebrating with great mugs of ale. On the next table, a group of spriggans admired their mugs, one crowing about a pint of ale as though the concept of a pint was unfamiliar. On his other side, a drake and a geist were rolling dice in a game he didn't recognise, occasionally cheering or groaning after a roll. He continued gazing around with sharp eyes at the crowd of adventurers. Many boasted of their exploits, some with arms slung around conquests won through tall talk. They weren't like the warriors who'd fought to depose Malika alongside him, he mused. Those Guild members had been serious and composed, their anger at the tyrant's atrocities honing them to a fine edge. But none of them had been here to greet him when he had arrived a night before, coming into town with dusk nipping at his heels. Not that he feared the night. He was a beacon in the darkness, a torch of light and fury that could banish any nightmare. His khopeshes hung sharp at his side, held in place by the strange orestones one of his comrades from the war with Malika had gifted him long ago. Not enchanted, as far as he understood, but by some property of the metal itself the steel of his blades was gripped firm in place when he pressed them against the stones.

His wandering gaze was drawn to a new entry to the tavern, a black-haired woman with eyes the hue of blood. Unusual indeed for a human. He wondered for a moment if she was his quarry. His inquiries about a woman who could break bone with the tap of a finger had given him the name "Layla" accompanied by sagely nods. But she was out of Estvalm, from what he had heard, departing for Silverdock the morning before he arrived. She should have been back at this time. He had considered going to Silverdock after her, but the locals he had talked to suggested he simply wait instead. After all, he might well miss her on the road, and whatever business he had could wait, they had said.

He had to bite back a sharp retort there. Years of chasing ghosts and rumors, of being haunted by misshapen corpses in his dreams, and they wanted him to wait? But in the end he had had to concede they were right. He had already told Durmmond that he had business with Layla and laid out at least some of the detail, much to the titan's disbelief. Layla was standoffish, quiet, kept herself to herself, Durmmond had said. But a killer in hiding?

The titan's doubt did nothing to calm Aali's suspicions. This was the strongest lead he'd found in a while. The art of the Order of the Eclipse had been kept a guarded secret, depending on anatomical knowledge and strict training to achieve its lethality. The odds of someone independently reproducing it seemed too astronomical to be true. This Layla must have been trained in it.

Stirring from his musing, Aali rose to his feet, meeting the gaze of the red-eyed woman. She smiled at him across the room, disarming him somewhat. Durmmond had mentioned that Layla was a geist, he recalled. Odd though the red-eyed woman was, she was clearly human. Regardless, his mug was empty, and so he made to return it to the bar. The woman was heading there and even if she wasn't his quarry, she seemed interesting, and perhaps she would know more.


Friede Brandritter
Estvalm Guild Hall

Shrugging off the oncoming chill of night, Friede swept into the Guild Hall. She had reported her completed quest for the day earlier, a fairly straightforward case of putting down wolves worrying a farmer's sheep, and her afternoon after that had been spent browsing shops. But with the day coming to an end, now she just wanted to drink and mingle. She swept her gaze across the hall as she passed the queue for the desk, taking in the people. Familiar faces popped out, each receiving a grin and a wave. Then Friede found herself smiling at a new face in the crowd, a tengu with pale blue feathers and a piercing gaze that felt chilling to meet. What was his story?

She couldn't wait to know, and as she made her way to the bar, she saw him get up and begin heading for the same point.

"Hey there, drake girl," the barmaid said with a smile as Friede approached. The red-eyed woman offered a warm smile and a chuckle in return. "Good day?"

"Hey Elsa," Friede replied. "Good enough." She produced her coin purse from the pouch at her belt, letting the money inside jingle.

"The usual then?" Elsa smiled, turning to find the bottle immediately. As the barmaid poured a glass for her, Friede glanced to the side, seeing the tengu she had noticed stood there. Strange blades hung suspended at his hips, their blades curving like sickles, and he wore leather armor that did nothing to constrain his movements. One of his feathers brushed her arm as she turned, soft against her skin.

"I haven't seen you around before," she said, meeting that intense gaze. "New to Estvalm?"

The tengu nodded. "Aali Tahir. I'm here on business." She tried to pin down his accent, for it certainly wasn't the Valm accent. It sounded close to one spoken by a trader from the Sandsea she'd helped a few months before. "I'm looking for a woman named Layla. Would you happen to know her?" She did indeed, the white-haired blue-eyed geist sprang to mind immediately, though their interactions amounted to the odd 'hello' 'hello' here and there. Layla had never seemed one to talk much and Friede wasn't really one to pry.

"Vaguely," she said as Elsa turned back to her, taking her wine before handing the other woman several coins.

"I think everyone knows her 'vaguely'," Elsa laughed. "She's just a vague person."

"Yes, I'd heard that," Aali mused. "I'll be interested to meet her myself." There was something odd about the way he said it, as though he was concealing some other meaning beneath the pleasant statement.

"What sort of business have you got with her, anyway?" Friede wondered as she took her first sip of wine. It was indeed the usual, a lovely local vintage she'd gotten quite attached to. Back at home she had drunk the finest wines in the land and yet somehow they paled in comparison to this.

"Ah, it's rather personal," the tengu replied hazily. He turned his gaze to Elsa. "Thank you for the drink. It was excellent."

"You're welcome, Aali," the barmaid smiled. "And I hope we enjoy your custom more in the future."

The tengu nodded, but Friede could tell by his manner that he simply didn't want to admit he thought his business in Estvalm would be done soon. "Farewell for now Elsa, Friede." He inclined his head to each in turn, his hands clasping. "May the light shine upon you." And with that, he walked away.

"What's his story?" Friede wondered aloud.

"He arrived yesterday," Elsa explained. "Came to ask me if I knew about Layla, I told him she was out in Silverdock and she'd be back today. I wonder what the deal is between them."

Friede gave an absent-minded nod. "May the light shine upon you," she echoed. She hadn't really put much stock in the faith of the light. Some held that it was a benevolent, divine power which guided all life and sheltered the faithful in their time of need, but she had never truly believed. Oh, her adoptive parents had taken her to the local chapel regularly to pray, and she was certain they believed, but she put her faith in the world she could touch. In messy complicated but so lovable people, and in mighty and beautiful monsters.

"May it shine indeed," the barmaid said warmly. "Duty calls, Friede." She bustled away as more patrons approached, and Friede turned back to the room, sipping more wine. She debated what to do for a moment before picking out a familiar face beneath brownish-black hair with strands of platinum blonde in it, surrounded by what looked to be a warm conversation. Smiling, she made her way through the crowd to the table where Grace sat


Estvalm Guild Hall Stables

The wind was cold on her skin as she left the stables. The ride back from Silverdock had been more eventful than she would have liked, for some rather foolish bandits had decided to try holding her up. Their reward had been a broken neck apiece, but she had had to deal with the corpses. Now the dark closed in, but it was an old friend and she did not fear it. People loomed as she walked, enough to make her tense in preparation, but they were all hurrying home or to the same place as her. Checking that the quest paperwork was still in order, she strode across the courtyard towards the hall proper. She would hand the paperwork in, receive her reward, and then head to bed, she thought.

The quest in Silverdock had been simple, at least. A marauding serpent that had ended its life broken, not leaving so much as a scratch on her. She took some pride in that.

As she entered the guild hall, she regarded the packed room warily. A few new people stood out here and there, but one in particular caught her eye. A tengu with a curved beak and pale blue feathers, dressed in leather armor. And two khopeshes hung at his belt. Layla glanced him over, then forced herself to look forward towards the counter where Linessa worked through the queue.

Nura pondered beneath. Khopeshes were the preserve of certain groups in the Sandsea, she had never known them used by others. They had a certain flexibility, but equally they came with additional complexity that made them unappealing compared to a straightforward longsword. Whoever this tengu was, he was certainly from the Sandsea. Could he be here for her? She had always prepared carefully for that eventuality.

Layla waited in the line, steeling herself in case the tengu came toward her.


Well-Known Member
Thilfey - Geist Monk
Estvalm Guild Hall

Today, Thilfey had taken up a higher level guild mission that cropped up. There was a wild boar lurking at the edge of town and it seemed like a decent quest for her to exercise her abilities. Though it took nearly all morning and part of the afternoon, she was able to hunt and kill the monster that had been a cause of concern for the town. It was a satisfying feeling to complete a quest knowing it would help the locals. She went in early to report it so the carcass could be taken care of which was fortunate. After she bathed, she did some meditation and spent time re-braiding her hair, a full hours endeavour in itself. Then she arrived back at the Guild Hall and shuffled through the crowd, greeting familiar faces as she went.

The line was long as she walked past the clerk’s desk, and she was secretly grateful she had her mission turned in earlier. Crans was a touch more cheerful and inviting than Linessa was. Thilfey instead veered towards the tavern section of the hall and joined the masses there. Many people were joyfully discussing their days work over a drink and some food, some were more successful than others. Thilfey nodded to a group of fairies and picked up her share of meat and potatoes. Normally she might sit around and socialize, but her excursion today left her more tired than usual. Instead, she moved to the far corner of the hall with her food and sat herself near the harp player. A drake, he was fairly talented and often took up a seat here on busier days. Thilfey was enchanted by his playing and always made a point to sit nearby while he played. The harp was an instrument she had not had any luck learning, but she adored the huge range of tone in a gentle timbre, especially after a long day of hard work.

“Jesyk, how are you doing today?” Thilfey struck up a conversation with the bard. He smiled while continuing to play and nodded in acknowledgement.

“Doing well, the tips are generous tonight. How are you, valiant monk? I saw you here earlier to turn in. A prosperous day?”

“Yes,” she replied. “A fight with a boar that ended in victory, else I would not be here to hear your graceful music. Now what melodies are you fancying tonight?” Thilfey and Jesyk talked for awhile about his songs and she threw him a bit of coin for his skillful entertainment. She enjoyed the liveliness of the Guild Hall tonight and simply sat in the atmosphere of it all. Though not her normal form of meditation, she found peace being here around so many people willing to help. True, some had selfish intentions or came from spotted backgrounds, but she felt at home here.


Phantom Thief
~ Estvalm - Guild Hall ~
- Dusk -

Linessa's face blanched just a bit when she saw it was Darigaaz who had tapped on the desk. Of course it would be a gold-rank who'd caught her goofing off.

She took the quest papers from the drake and went about checking the report while he summarized the mission. It checked out with what was written. An amicable job, as always.

"Leucros?" she said with a shiver. "Terrible beasts. Gave grandpa a hard time with his herd too." She stamped the form and dropped it into the nearby tray, then grabbed a quill and marked down the note for Durmmond and set it aside. "I'll be sure to let him know once he's done filling out paperwork for the newbies."

The drake seemed to take a look around the room while she counted out his reward. "What's going on here?" he asked.

Linessa passed him a neat stack of guilders. "Busy night. Harvest season is coming up soon and that always brings out the wood ranks who just want the part time work." She tapped her cheek with her finger. "Come to think of it though, we've got an unsuual amount of silver-ranks rolling into town over the past few months. Some real strange characters too, not the usual rabble." she said with a laugh. "But they're sticking around for now and with Valdez and his crew off to Bastion I'm not complaining if they want to lend a hand."

She leaned back in her chair. "Anyway, was there anything else I could do for you?"

Once she had finished with Darigaaz, she moved on to the next person in line. A few minutes later, she was face to face with a familiar geist.

As Linessa took the paperwork, she leaned in casually, being as subtle as she could manage. "Layla, got a blue-feathered chap asking after you. Don't know what for, but I thought you should know." she said quietly.


Dancing Prince
Grace Clemens
Human - Silver Rank
Guild Hall - Dusk

"And then what happened?" Clint said.

"And then--" Dragonoff began to say.

But then his sister intruded and said, "Then he fell flat on his face."

"Oy! That wasn't the only thing I did!"

Grace and everyone else laughed at the siblings' banter. His sister quickly joined them and Dragonoff made a show of being annoyed, pouting and crossing his arms, but his facade was soon broken as he too added his own mirth to the group. When it died down, Grace took a gulp from her ale as Clint said,

"So what really happened?"

"Well, as I saying before Sis flew in..."

"But that was the best part!"

The Silver ranked member chuckled and glanced around, having actually been there when Dragonoff and his sister pulled off the first time they did their signature technique, "Tag Cross Claw", on a giant cockatrice before it could petrify any more of the Guild members that were with them that weren't the usual team. It had been quite a sight and she knew they would tell it well. Better than her anyway since she would've likely digressed to talk about the actually technique itself than the story behind it.

She was glad she looked around when she did however as she spotted a familiar human Guild member not too far away. In fact, she seemed to be heading their way. So she smiled and waved with the hand holding her cup and said,

"Friede! A pleasure to see you today. Come join us."

Everyone on the table blinked, but only Clint was left to look confused as everyone else greeted the human with smiles and words.

"Hi Friede," the spriggan said, giving a short and small wave.

"What's up, Fri?" the garuda said, doing a two-fingered salute.

Dragonoff's sister outright moved and patted the free space beside her. "Yeah! Sit with us and introduce yourself, Friede! We got a new recruit with us who's pretty good with magic!"

Grace did a mock hurt gasp, clutching her heart with her free hand. "For shame! I thought I was your group's best magic user... To be replaced by a new face... How fickle are you!"

"Oh come off it, Grace!" the female drake said, laughing and slapping her knees. "You aren't being replaced!"

Clint just rubbed the back of his head, sheepish. "And I'm not that good at magic..."

"Oy, don't sell yourself short, Clint," Dragonoff said, turning slightly serious. "Sure, you always gotta improve yourself but you also gotta be confident in your skills, else you'll be pushed around. Haven't seen a lot of people able to enchant their weapons with different things on the fly and quick, especially arrows since that's going to be shot at stuff."

"If you say so..." Clint said, clearly not convinced but chose not to protest.

That, however, wasn't enough for Dragonoff as he went on to give a lecture on self confidence...only for his sister to point out some of the flaws in said lecture and they were soon back to their sibling banter as they squabbled over the subject of pride and how much one should have before it became arrogance. Flanders and Savir, the spriggan and garuda respectively, just shook their heads and went back to their meals, while Clint, bless the poor boy, was rather confused and unsure what to do.

Grace just laughed at her friends' antics and finished her ale before turning to their new arrival.

"Well, with that out of the way for now... How fare you, Friede? I do hope you are fine with my company." she said, adjusting her goggles. "I believe you've not been properly introduced to them, yes? Would you like for me to do so?"


Knight of RPGs
Friede Brandritter
Estvalm Guild Hall

Friede just smiled as everyone greeted her, before taking a seat where Dragonoff's sister had indicated and crossing her legs. She raised her glass in a warm toast. "It's a pleasure to see you too." She wanted to continue and introduce herself, but the rest of the table got embroiled in a massive lecture on self-confidence directed at the obviously humble Clint so she busied herself sipping her wine instead. Occasionally a particularly amusing remark would see her chuckling. As she listened, she glanced around the room to see Aali's striking blue feathers. The tengu was stood leaned against a wall, staring intently at what she thought was Linessa at the desk before she worked her gaze back to the queue. First was a lowborn drake she'd seen around a few times but never talked to, and behind him was Layla, the geist's shoulder-length hair and ashen skin immediately identifying her.

Grace snapped her from her curiosity.

"Well, with that out of the way for now... How fare you, Friede? I do hope you are fine with my company." she said, adjusting her goggles. "I believe you've not been properly introduced to them, yes? Would you like for me to do so?"
"I've been well," Friede replied. "A straightforward quest and then just browsing the shops, my friend. And I'll always be fine with your company." She gave Grace a warm smile. "Ah, yes please." She glanced around the table.


Estvalm Guild Hall

The guildee in the line ahead of her finished and was gone, and Layla stepped forward with her quest paperwork in hand. She curtly passed it to Linessa for inspection, businesslike as usual, the shadow of the tengu across the room only sharpening her edge more. But Linessa leaned closer in a way she never had before.

"Layla, got a blue-feathered chap asking after you. Don't know what for, but I thought you should know." she said quietly.

She nodded. "Thank you," she murmured back, just as quietly. It confirmed her suspicions. The tengu was after her. She completed the hand-in, receiving her guilders and turning to head up to her room. Before she could take more than seven steps, the blue-feathered tengu was there. Her gaze took in his muscular body, the khopeshes gleaming at his belt, the pendant around his neck.

Layla met his piercing eyes, ice blue against sky blue. "I don't think we've been introduced," she said, curtly. She imagined he'd have heard about her personality from the others. Be consistent with his expectations. Don't betray your vulnerability.

"I am Aali Tahir," the tengu said in the accent of an Alshams native. His voice was deep and fierce. "You are Layla, correct?"

She nodded. "Correct."

Aali nodded with satisfaction. "You are a hard woman to find," he chuckled humorlessly. "Forgive me. I have come a long way to meet you."

She blinked, feigning surprise. "Why me?"

"Perhaps you have heard of Alshams?" he said in answer. His hands were lingering by the handles of his blades, she noted.

"In passing," she replied. "Traders pass through every now and then."

He regarded her with those sharp eyes like he was trying to penetrate her skin and get right to the heart of her. "It is my home. I seek a woman from my city who wronged me, a woman who can shatter bones with the gentlest of touches." His eyes grew harder and fiercer, his hands tightening. "I am told that you possess such an ability."

"Forgive me," she said, bowing her head. A part of her rebelled against the forced meekness, but she quashed it. Play the innocent. Here was the moment to defy his suspicions. "The woman you speak of... I think you mean my mentor?" The tengu's eyes widened.

"Mentor?" he echoed in disbelief. Deep down satisfaction flared like a fire. How many times had she rehearsed this story just in case his like came for her?

"Yes," she said, maintaining her meek tone. She did not worry that they would be overheard, Linessa was still busy behind her and the rest of the room rang with drunken buzzing chatter. "Nura?" The name brought a spark of recognition to his eyes. "I met her, oh, five years ago now. West of here. She came into my home starving and wounded, so I fed her and healed her as best I could." The tengu stared impassively, his surprise fading. She couldn't read him now. "When she recovered, she wished to pay recompense, but all she had to offer were her hands and her skills. So she helped me throughout the days and trained me in her art."

"Why would she train you?" Aali asked, scepticism sharpening his tone.

Layla shrugged, keeping her head down. "Perhaps she wanted the company? I do not know for sure."

"I would very much like to ask," the tengu murmured.

Now the trickiest part. She forced sorrow onto her face, looking up to meet his gaze. "I am sorry, but that is no longer possible. Nura is... dead." And Layla lived.

Aali stared without looking. "Dead?" It was like she had ripped the bottom out of his world.

She nodded slowly, maintaining the expression of mourning. "A hydra threatened my home. I wanted to just run but... she insisted on fighting. Said she owed me too much to let my home be destroyed. She... she..." She let her head fall again. "She killed it... but its venom... I couldn't get to the Guild in time...."

The tengu stood like a statue, his gaze hollow. "Dead...?"


Aali Tahir
Estvalm Guild Hall

It couldn't be true. It couldn't.

He couldn't have come all this way for nothing.

"Forgive me for asking," Layla said, so meek and sorrowful. "But what did she do to you? How did she wrong you?" Aali stared at her face, into those cold blue eyes. He remembered broken bodies and the darkness beneath a pyramid.

"She killed my family," the tengu whispered.

"But I think you know that," his mind added. The geist's eyes were wide, her face a picture of horror. A pretty picture, so real-seeming. But he didn't trust it. No matter how exquisite, he couldn't bring himself to fully accept the words Layla had spoken and see her sorrow as true.

"I'm so sorry," the geist said, extending a hand, but he stepped back. Feigning weakness, he kept his distance.

"Forgive me," he said, forcing the scepticism from his tone. "It is a terrible shock. For six years I have imagined justice, and now I find a monster has robbed me of my prize." He pushed out hollow laughter. "You have given me much to reflect upon, so I must take my leave." He turned away, glancing back at her. "May the light illuminate you, Layla."

He strode away, not letting her see how his eyes had hardened.


Dancing Prince
Grace Clemens
Human - Silver Rank
Guild Hall - Dusk

"Excellent!" Grace said at Friede's agreement. Then she faced each and every one of her friends before she continued. "My good friends, shall I start off with your introductions?"

The drake siblings stopped on cue, with the brother blinking owlishly.

"Wait what?"

Then he was promptly bomped (because no other word could possibly described the sound Grace heard from the impact) on the head by his sister.

"You rock! We didn't introduce ourselves to Friede!"

"Don't she know us though?"

"She knows Grace, not us."

The sand colored drake blinked. "Oh." Then he smiled and bumped his fist against chest as he said, "Then I'll start! Name's Dragonoff! I'm the Sandstone!"

Everyone did a "pfft", even the newly joined Clint, at the title.

"We really need to get you a better name than that, Bro."

"Oy! Knock it off!" the Sandstone said, crossing his arms. "I like it! And if others think I'm weak 'cause of it, then fine by me. Love seein' the look on their faces when they're wrong."

The group just snickered before his sister said,

"I'm next then. Name's Drakanaff, the 'Granite'. Drago's my bro."

"We're from the Sandsea," Dragonoff said.

Then Drakanaff said, "And we do mean the Sandsea."

The Sandstone continued. "Yeah. We're from a tribe of nomads. Travelled all over the Sandsea and visited the capital a few times."

"Really? I didn't know there were nomad drakes. I thought they all lived in well..." Clint said but then trailed off as if he felt that he might be coming off as prejudiced.

Drakanaff waved it off though. "Nah, it's fine. We're one of the last, if not the last of those tribes."

"Are they still fine?"

"Oh yeah," the Sandstone said. "We just wanted to look for other places besides home's all."

"How did you get here then?"

"That's a story for another time," the Granite said. "I think we should go on with names, yeah?" Then she pointed at their spriggan friend. "I say you're next."

"Oh, well...my name is Flanders. Not much to me really," he said. "Lived in Estvalm all my life. Originally wanted to be a merchant, but well..."

"You're really into makin' poisons," their garuda friend said.

"Savir!" the spriggan said, looking absolutely mortified before covering his face.

Grace couldn't help but laugh along with the drake siblings. Clint, however, looked like he'd been slapped out of nowhere.


"Look what you did! Now he's going to think I'm some sort of...closet psychopath or something."

"Ain't we all a bit psycho?" Drakanaff joked.

"I very much agree," Grace said, raising her mug. "We are all a little off in some ways in this line of work. I mean, after all, we would have to be somewhat crazy to risk our own lives for others."

"Not helping Grace..." Flanders said.

"Then I'm next then," the garuda said. "Savir and I'm from Grand Capital. And I totally came here 'cause I wanted to."

"Hah! Not! You came here 'cause you lost a bet!" Dragonoff said.

The garuda laughed. "Got me. Yeah, I lost a bet," she said. "Don't mind though. I'm pretty I'm I did now really. Wouldn't change it for a thing."

"And now for our newest member..." Grace said, gesturing to the young boy.

Who seemed to have been caught off guard, likely from how they easily included him already despite his short association, but nevertheless, after some shuffling and throat clearing, he said,

"Oh, I'm Clint. Clint Freemont. Um... I'm from Rivervale and I...came here so that I could get some money to help my sister with her farm."

"Ah, so that is why you are here?" Grace said. "Well, I wish the best of luck to you then. But know that, should you need it, you may ask for our assistance and we shall heed your call."

"Yeah!" the group said, at varying levels of intensity.

Once again, Clint was surprised, but then he smiled at them as he said, "Thanks."

"You are welcome. Now! I shall end this round of introductions with my own... Ahem. I am Grace Clemens, Silver ranked Guild member of the Estvalm Guild for ten years and counting. It is a pleasure to meet you, Clint," she said, with a flourish of her hands. "And I believe that ends our introductions, yes?"

But then the Sandstone said, "Hey! I still didn't get to say our team name!"

Grace and the others' answer (sans Clint)?


Which of course left Clint very confused and somewhat unsure at the sudden mood shift.


The Reforged Soul
Bjorne Kjarr (Titan)
Decorated Platinum - Emerald

Estvalm- Guild Hall
Late Summer

The Hall’s large door swung open easily on greased hinges. A dark-brown skin titan with stiff forest green hair, dressed in various animal skins and furs, stepped across the threshold into the noisy hall. The grizzly bear head of the titan’s cloak hung down his back for a change.

Bjorne whispered a word of power, deactivating the runes visibile on his bare arms with a brief white glow. Living in and caring for Frogsong Forest, the forest titan’s rune magic, for silencing his movements, was always active without a second thought. However, since his reinstatement back into the Guild just weeks prior, several guild members had complained about Bjorne’s tendency to scare the living daylights out of people when approaching them from behind. So, he always made sure to ‘make some noise’, when he returned to headquarters.

Bjorne surveyed the chaotic and noisy hall with interest, lucky only a dozen heads turned in his direction this time. The quiet forest titan was slowly becoming a familiar sight. A large dark canine appeared beside him. The massive black and gray dire wolf nudged Bjorne’s knee with it’s nose, giving the titan a plaintive whine.

“I know, Timber, bare with it for a while longer,” Bjorne said reassuringly, understanding immedaitely that the commotion bothered the wolf’s sensitive ears. Normally, animal companions, pets, or familiars were housed in the stables out back, but Timber’s presence tended to make the other animals extremely nervous.

“Would you move your bulk out of the doorway already,” a gravelly voice snarled behind the titan. Bjorne barely had time to move aside, before a black and red winged drake brushed past him. While the drake didn’t physically push Bjorne aside, the matter of disregarding another’s personal space was quite rude. Timber growled at the presumptous drake in warning.

“Windrush, the reports still need to be processed,” Bjorne called out to remind the frustrating drake. The Highborn drake waved a clawed hand over his back dismissively, not looking back.

“You have senority, you deal with it.” Windrush growled with obvious irriation. He paused to look back over his wing. “And Tell Linessa to set my portion of the earnings aside. I’ll collect it from the pixie in the morning.”

Bjorne shook his head, but otherwise said nothing. The drake had been more or less cooperative with Durmmond’s conditions for continued employment with the guild and accompanying Bjorne in his work throughout Valm. So far. The forester decided to give the retreating drake a break, since their quest was techincally over.

He joined the long line of adventurers waiting their turn to the service counter, Timber following at his side. A pair of stone-rank guild members scooted foward to give him and the dire wolf room. The human male and female stared at Bjorne in wonder, before sheepishly looking away when they noticed his platinum with emerald gemstone medallion hanging around his neck. Bjorne rumbled with a low chuckle to himself. New faces appeared all the time in the Guild Hall, though ones of his placement were certainlly more rare.

Bjorne frowned, after several minutes, when he noticed the line had scarcily progress forward. Indeed, the hall was busier and fuller than normal, but he hadn’t realized the number of jobs being sent in to the Guild were higher than usual as well in the week he had been gone. Certainly didn’t help they were short handed with Valdez, a low-born drake and the Guild’s most skilled caster, and two other platinum members currently off on a vague mission to Bastion. For as young as she was, Linessa handled the service counter admirably, though she appeared a bit flustered the moment.

Leaving his place in line, he joined Linessa behind the service counter. Bjorne’s shooed Timber into the quieter space of Durmmond’s personal office with much grumbling to be heard from the Guildmaster at the intrusion.

“Let me know, if you have any questionsw with our Quest Review procedures, since you the process can vary between Guilds.” Linessa whispered to the titan, aware that Bjorne only became more active within the Guild more recently.

“Durmmond and I were originally members of the Guild in Granite Falls. I doubt he’s changed his methods, since he took charge here.” Bjorne replied with a slight smile. “I believe I will manage.”

Bjorne proceed to accept Bebetel’s report and go over how the job went with his fellow Platinum rank guild member.


Windrush “Windy” The Windless (Drake)

Guild Hall Tavern→ Back Alley behind Guild Hall
Late Summer

Windrush stomped between the occupied tables and chairs. The claws on his feet dug into the worn wooden floor. His posture was tense with irritation. A shorter tengu darted across the tall drake’s path.

“Out of my way, birdbrain!” he hissed, sending the tengu scrambled away. Windrush flared out his wings a bit for good measure to warn away any other busy bodies. He hated people getting into his personal space.

The drake was in a fouler mood than usual. For the past week, he’d been trudging through Begger’s Bluff and the foothills south of the Scrub tracking a group of thieves to their hideout after robbing a merchant caravan. He’d spent the whole job miserable with a mirgraine, since he wasn’t allowed to drink on the job and this was longer than usual between his binges.

The only two good things about the job was the better-than-usual pay that he usual got for his contract with clearing vermin at the Dust End Mine, and the fact that the titan ‘babysitting’ him didn’t bother him with jabber. All thing’s considering it wasn’t really that bad, but Windrush was not in the mood to appreciate it. No, he just wanted something to drink.

“Windy! My least favorite drake in all of Valm!” The Hall’s bartender called out with a less than friendly tone. “I was starting to think I’d been blessed by the light, when I hadn’t seen you in the past week.”

Windrush just snarled at the Undine Bartender and tossed a stone guilder onto the counter.

“My, my, you must be desperate if you’ve lost your capacity to speak,” the undine replied, picking the guilder and making a show of slowly examining it.

“Spare me, the ridicule,” Windrush answered with a leer, grabbing the procured stein from the bartender’s hand. He immediately turned away from the bar with his tail sweeping aggressively back and forth.

The highborn drake went out the hall’s lesser used rear door and into the back alley, taking a seat on a storage crate. He chugged back his drink in one go, the alcolhol burning down his throat. Windrush leaned with his head back against the building for several minutes, barely even feeling a buzz.

After a moment, he cursed and carefully massaged his right shoulder with a low painful hiss.
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Phantom Thief
~ Estvalm - Guild Hall (Mail Room) ~
- Dusk -

A single bird flew silently through the dimming sky.

It's dark purple feathers were almost impossible to make out against the twilight above, but it moved with purpose and flew straight as an arrow deviating only for the winds. The bird passed over the country side, over the outskirts of the city, and over the still emptying streets of the town center. It flew until it reached its destination, a tiny hole just big enough for it to slip through in the top right side of the Estvalm Guild Hall.

The Courier Crow squeezed through the hole, pulled the string to open the latch, and hopped inside where it passed several of its crow fellows and approached a curious looking device. With one well trained tug, it undid the string that tied its precious cargo to its leg, one carefully rolled up note destined for Durmmond's desk. The Courier Crow grabbed the note and dropped it into the slot. A moment later, a bell chimed and a snack was dispensed as a reward for the crow's hard work.

While the messenger busied itself with its well earned treat, the bell had alerted the mail room staff who retrieved the note from its slot and carefully unfurled it. His eyes ran over the note once, then twice. His face paled, and before the crow could finish his meal the attendant had bolted from the room and towards the stairs.


~ Estvalm - Guild Hall ~

While the rest of the room was busy with the night's activities, the mail room attendant descended the stairs in a quiet hurry, walking fast and purposefully across the tavern and towards the front desk. Linessa caught the look on his face before he said anything.

"What happened?" she asked. The attendant held up the note and Linessa frowned. She knew by now what that meant. Something bad had happened somewhere. And at this late hour? She shuddered, but forced herself to return to the dwindling (thanks to Bjorne's help) line of returning questers as the attendant made his way into Durmmond's office. A few minutes later, the door creaked open and the guildmaster himself stepped out.

Durmmond nodded to Linessa and Bjorne and said quietly, "Emergency quest." before making his way towards the tavern. Even in his advanced age, Durmmond was still a titan and he didn't have to try hard to get the room's attention. His footsteps alone reverberated through the wooden floor and he towered above most of the other occupants of the guild hall, except for Bjorne. By the time he had taken his usual spot near the corner of Linessa's desk, word was already spreading through the tavern and by the time he had cleared his throat to speak the room's chaotic din had fallen away to be replaced by the quiet murmurings of expectant adventurers.

"Your attention please." Durmmond said with a bit more boom in his voice than usual. "I have received word from Dust End. Earlier today, there was a tunnel collapse in one of the new digs at Dust End Mine. An entire shift of miners is trapped deep within the mountain behind the collapsed rubble." he paused to catch his breath. "However, there is graver news. The on-site rescuers have not returned from the tunnels. The owner of the mines is suspecting this may be the work of a monster attack but, since no one has returned from the deep tunnels, we have no intel to go on."

The guildmaster held up a piece of parchment, a hastily written quest form. "Listen up! This is hereby an emergency quest. The client has promised payment of one full platinum guilder to any who accept this summons, with an additional reward upon completion of the quest. Given the unknown nature of this incident, I'm ranking this quest at Silver."

A chorus of groans rose up from a table full of low-ranking guild parties in the back, but Durmmond held up his hand. "This is a serious situation with very real danger. The last thing we need is inexperienced rookies getting themselves or anyone else hurt. If you want to take part in this quest, you'll need to convince a higher-up to let you join the party. The rescue team at the mines were trained by some of our our guild members, and yet they seem to have fallen victim as well. Let that serve as a warning of the dangers you may face."

Durmmond looked around for the highest ranking members he could spot. "Bjorne, Teltel, I'm nominating you as party leaders. If you have any objections I'll hear them now. Otherwise, assemble a capable party and report to Linessa for the official paperwork. Since this is an emergency quest, I'll be waiving all fees for your travel. Should you need a mount or an inn or supplies for this mission, tell them to bill us here at the hall." he passed the quest form to Linessa, who immediately began completing the sections Durmmond had skipped. "I know it's already sundown and traveling at night has its risks, but you'll be expected to leave immediately. Though you may rest in Junne should the need arise, time is of the essence here."

"If there are any questions, ask them now." Durmmond stood eyeing the crowd, his speech completed.


Dancing Prince
Bebeltel "Teltel" Hycinthius
Geist Elemental - Platinum Rank Decorated
Guild Hall - Dusk

It had surprisingly taken a while to actually get his quest processed, to the point that Tia was finished telling him of all the quests she had been doing as of late. It wasn't until a fellow Platinum member, a titan named Bjorne, helped with the young receptionist deal with the high number of quests being reported did he get the chance to do the same. It was quick and simple but still Teltel signed,

"Thank you."

"Finally!" Tia said, dipping from the air slightly before back to her typical "floating" height.

Teltel just chuckled and was ready to leave for home...when a message, panic written all over his face, came in and gave a message. It wasn't long before its contents were revealed to the rest of the Guild as Drummond, the Guildmaster, came out and said,

"Emergency quest."

Then he went on to explain the details of the quest. Teltel couldn't help but frown and tense somewhat as he spoke, while Tia was reacting much as he expected, with disbelief and a big "WHAT?!". He didn't like any of this. What had happened in those mines? The collapse shouldn't be too much of a surprise, accidents happened and tunnel making was always a precarious job, even with the assistance of magic. But the rescuers not returning? That didn't bode well and Teltel could only hope it was only his age making him paranoid.

He put that aside however as Drummond then said, "Bjorne, Teltel, I'm nominating you as party leaders."

The geist turned to the titan and stood straighter as he continued.

"f you have any objections, I'll hear them now. Otherwise, assemble a capable party and report to Linessa for the official paperwork. Since this is an emergency quest, I'll be waiving all fees for your travel. Should you need a mount or an inn or supplies for the mission, tell them to bill us here at the hall."

He paused to give the quest paper to Linessa, who went on to scribble more things that were needed for it.

"I know it's already sundown and travelling at night has it's risks, but you'll be expected to leave immediately. Though you may rest at Junne should the need arise, time is of the essence."

Then Drummond changed his attention from towards the crowd gathered around them. "If there are any questions, ask them now," he said.

Teltel knew what was going to be asked so he signed to his great-granddaughter.

"It will be dangerous, Tia."

"I know that!" she said, somewhat pouting. "But do you really think I'm just gonna let you go there by yourself?"

The old geist couldn't help his slight smirk and said, "I will not be by myself, Tia."

The pixie huffed and said, "I know what you mean!"

Teltel returned serious as he said, "They will accuse me of nepotism, Tia. Especially since you are Wood-ranked."

"But I could help! I could keep any pillars or walls reinforced so that they don't collapse on you guys while you're doing a rescue! Besides, you need an interpreter. And I promise to stay right by you. No fighting unless something hits me first."

The geist just raised an eyebrow. "Truly?"

"Oh come on, Gramps! Please! I promise on my weapons!"

Teltel dwelled on it for a moment. He already had his decision, but he couldn't help but say, "You would've followed me anyway if I said 'no', correct?"

Thankfully, the young pixie had the decency to be sheepish and blush as she mumbled, "Yeah..."

Teltel just sighed. "Very well. But if you make any mistake, I will not allow you to join in any of my missions that I would normally allow for three months."

That, as he had thought, made the girl tense and do a salute, her eyes filled with both determination and a tiny bit of fear. "Right! Promise!"

Teltel allowed a small smile for a brief moment before returning his attention to the task at hand. He went to the his fellow Platinum member and signed,

"Do you have any members in mind?"

"Uh... Gramps is askin' if you have anyone you want in the team, Mister Bjorne. If you didn't get that."

. . .

Grace Clemens
Human - Silver Rank
Guild Hall - Dusk

Grace had been having a great time. It was good to be around her friends, making new ones and introducing other friends with each other. It was one of her favorite things about being a Guild member. Along with the satisfaction of doing good work of course, and discovering new methods of magic. She wouldn't trade it for anything. Thus it came as no surprise when, all of sudden, a message was carried out by a panicked courier, only to be stopped momentarily by the receptionist, Linessa, before going into the Guildmaster's office. Said woman frowned but soon the old titan walked out of his room to tell them what it was.

She paled though as soon as she heard it.

"Emergency quest," he said. "I have received word from Dust End."

He told them about one of the new digs in the town's mine had collapsed, leading to miners being trapped. But that wasn't the worse part.

"The on-site rescuers have not returned from the tunnels."

The only reason she didn't volunteer immediately was experience to hear the entire request before doing anything. However, she wasn't sure whether she was glad to hear it or not. Drummond told that not only had the mine collapsed, by the initial rescue hadn't returned. Grace grit her teeth, trying to keep her dinner down as she knew she was getting pale.

"Wait...Dust End? Ain't that..." Dragonoff said but it seemed distant.

Drakanaff finished for him, and just as soft. "Where Grace comes from? Yeah..."

Clint said, "What?"

But Grace didn't pay any more heed beyond that. There was only one thought in her mind.

Her parents could've been among of those rescuers.

Her father was a skilled caster, having mastered control over many elements, and not many actual warriors or Guild members were stationed there. And her mother was good in healing. What if emergency first aid was needed on any survivors they found? In Grace's mind, there was no doubt they would go to help, with her father making sure whatever other rescuers were safe while her mother was there to heal any injured, especially survivors. And not only that, she had a few friends from Dust End who worked in those mines. If the rescuers hadn't returned...

She had to go. She had to make sure they were all fine, especially her parents if they did indeed assisted.

Thank goodness Silver rank was the minimal rank otherwise she was going to bug whatever higher member she could to have them join.

Grace stood, taking deep breaths, but she didn't even get to pick up her staff when a voice said,

"Hey Grace!"

She turned to see that Dragonoff and his crew stood up.

"You forgettin' somethin'?" he said, smirking.

Grace blinked and then laughed, long and hard. Perhaps inappropriate considering the dire situation and the possibility of her parents being, well, dead, but it felt good.

So when she stopped, she gave a small but warm smile and said, "Thank you. Words cannot describe how much I appreciate your support."

"Course Grace! We ain't gonna let you go alone," Dragonoff said. "Come on gang! Let's get runnin'!"

Everyone gave their shouts of affirmation before Grace turned her heel, picked her staff and pulled up her goggles, her friends behind her as she made her way to the party leaders, Bjorne and Teltel.

"Sirs?" she said. "Grace Clemens. I wish to volunteer, along with my friends. I am a Silver ranked member and I specialize in healing."

The elder geist just stared, not speaking, until he made movements and symbols with his hands. Thankfully, from her time with some deaf and mute patients, she actually understood it.

"Are you from Dust End?" he said.

Grace gave a wry smile. "You know, Sir?"

The geist returned it with his own. "Yes. And I know you're stubborn too. So I'll allow it. But follow orders."

"Thank you, Sir."

"Call me Teltel."

"All right, Teltel," she said.

"Uh...what just happened?" Dragonoff said.

Grace glanced at them. "We're in."

"Now excuse us, we have preparations to make," Teltel said.

"Want us to arrange transport?" Grace offered.

The geist thought on it. Then said, "I would appreciate it. I believe a caravan is the best for now, since we don't know how many will join us."

"All right. I'll get to it," she said. "Guys, let's go."

Her friends gave their own confirmations before heading off to do as she had suggested. It was then Grace remembered that Friede had been with them, so she went to her and said,

"Heh. My apologies for the interruptions. I will be going right away, if possible. I..." She took a deep breath. "...perhaps you could surmise yourself, but I hail from Dust End. I have to make sure the people there are safe." Then a thought came. "Perhaps you would like to come along? I know you are not the same rank as I, but if you wish to join, I can make an argument to Sirs Teltel and Bjorne."

She wouldn't mention the possibility of her parents being in danger. Not until she was sure.


Knight of RPGs
Friede Brandritter
Estvalm Guild Hall

"It's very good to meet you all," Friede said with a bow of her head, smiling as she looked back up at the table. Ah, she missed this when she was out questing. Helping people felt good, but she loved having wine and good company all at once.

"Ain't we all a bit psycho?" Drakanaff joked.

"I very much agree," Grace said, raising her mug. "We are all a little off in some ways in this line of work. I mean, after all, we would have to be somewhat crazy to risk our own lives for others."
"Hear, hear," Friede chuckled with a raise of her glass. She idly wondered what they would think of her dream if she divulged it now. She had to sip more wine to hide her chuckle at that thought. There was psycho, and then there was outright insane, she supposed. Once the other introductions finished, she looked around.

"I am Friede Brandritter," she said warmly. "Bronze-ranked member, scholar and adventurer."

Before they could all continue, Durmmond came out, voice booming across the room. Friede listened intently, taking in the details with concern. She overhead Dragonoff and Drakanaff murmuring about Grace, and glanced at the other woman to see her looking paler than before. She stood before Friede could reach out a hand, and as the rest of the table rose, Friede stood with them, leaving her empty glass. Durmmond's warning didn't deter her in the slightest. People needed help, a friend clearly needed it too. She wasn't going to sit here meekly and have to worry about Grace and the others. If there were monsters to fight, they would find her claws ready.

She followed the group over to Teltel, who she recognised, and Bjorne, who she didn't, waiting patiently as Grace and the others petitioned Teltel. Part of her wished that she had pushed herself more in the past, so that she could walk freely up to them now and declare herself part of this quest, rather than having to ask Grace to support her. She was doing this to help Grace as much as those trapped in Dust End, she didn't want others to have to vouch for her. Even though she understood the danger, it felt redundant. As Grace had said, they were all willing to risk their lives here.

How different from home, she thought. And she wouldn't have it any other way.

"Heh. My apologies for the interruptions. I will be going right away, if possible. I..." She took a deep breath. "...perhaps you could surmise yourself, but I hail from Dust End. I have to make sure the people there are safe." Then a thought came. "Perhaps you would like to come along? I know you are not the same rank as I, but if you wish to join, I can make an argument to Sirs Teltel and Bjorne."
"Of course, Grace," Friede said, looking right at her. "I want to help them as much as I can, even if I'm not as skilled as you or the others. I couldn't bear to just sit here and worry about you all." She paused, still looking at Grace. "And I want you to know that I've got your back."


Estvalm Guild Hall

Before Layla could escape the guild hall and sort her twisting thoughts, Durmmond's voice boomed out. She stopped immediately. If he was making an announcement so late, it must have been important. And indeed, a mine collapse and missing rescuers.

And more relevantly, a promising reward. A platinum guilder, plus an additional reward upon completion. She mentally counted her coffers. She could use the money, certainly, and whatever the extra reward was, surely she could find some use for it. As she regarded the mood, sampling disappointment, excitement, anticipation and concern in equal measures, her gaze found Aali. The tengu glanced at her and she met him with Layla's gaze as she wished him to see it, the innocent student unaware of Nura's past. She had painted him such a pretty picture that she hoped he accepted it, but she wasn't certain and until he departed she didn't dare let her guard down.

The death of one's family. Hers had been stolen too young for her to taste the bitter drink called vengeance, but she could tell Aali was drunk on it. She doubted he would let go of the scent so easily.

Nura considered it pragmatically, as was her way. The platinum guilder would be a welcome boost to her small reserves. The unknown reward could well be valuable in its own way. And if she readily stepped up for this task, it would reinforce the image she wished the tengu to see. And if he didn't join the quest, it would mean he was preparing to leave as soon as possible.

Layla took those reasons and found herself thinking that on top of that, perhaps she could save some lives rather than ending them. It was an oddly wistful thought and she quickly banished it as she made her way to Bjorne. She hadn't yet managed the knack of Teltel's sign language through lack of communication with the other geist, and so the titan seemed more approachable.

"Layla, gold rank," she said, presenting her medallion as proof. "Monster slaying is my speciality. I wish to join the quest."


Aali Tahir
Estvalm Guild Hall

Their gazes met, sky blue eyes against ice blue. She still looked meek, still with the echo of sadness on her face. Aali looked away, watching guild members come up to the party leaders to declare their wish to help. Friede was among them, he noticed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Layla walking purposefully over. So she wanted to help?

The sceptic in him debated that. He didn't know enough. Perhaps if she was Nura, she had had some strange change of ways. There were plenty of stories of grim assassins who had seen the light's grace and come to atone for their sins. Part of him had idly wondered what he might do if he found Nura playing that part. He would still kill her, he had always answered bitterly. He had lost too much to do otherwise.

In any case, he had felt the call to arms. People were in need of help. And he had always wanted to help those in need, when he was a cleric, when he took up the sword against Malika, and even when he stalked the land as the spirit of vengeance. Her decision had simply made his simple. He stepped in behind her, then moved over to the geist the woman with Friede had talked to. Once those ahead of him had finished, he stepped forward and produced his guild medallion.

"I am Aali Tahir," he said. "Silver ranked and once a cleric, now a warrior. If there are monsters to slay, my blades are ready, and if the wounded need healing, I am prepared by the light's grace."


The Reforged Soul
Bjorne Kjarr (Titan)
Decorated Platinum - Emerald

Estvalm- Guild Hall
Late Summer - Dusk

The forest titan watched silently as the attendant entered Durmmond’s office. He took another quest form from the member next in line, all the while, waiting and listening. Bjorne didn’t have long to wait. The ominous creak of the door gave way as Bjorne expected. Durmmond, his old friend and mentor, emerged from his office with the piece of parchment in hand. Timber slipped out behind the Guildmaster, resuming his place at Bjorne’s side.

"Emergency quest,” the older titan whispered to him and Linessa as the Guildmaster made his way intently to the front of the tavern. Old man Durmmond always put forth a professional demeanor in these sort of situations, it was why he was the Guildmaster after all, but Bjorne was familiar enough with the old titan to recognize the deep concern that Durmmond carried. Since Bjorne’s return, their private conversations of the many ill-tiding of late came to the front of his mind.

Bjorne leaned a hip against the service counter with his arms crossed as Durmmond made his announcement. The news was grim indeed. Mine workers were trapped deep within the mountain and no word back from the initial rescue party. Then Durmmond locked eyes with him and the mute Geist, Teltel.

"Bjorne, Teltel, I'm nominating you as party leaders. If you have any objections I'll hear them now. Otherwise, assemble a capable party and report to Linessa for the official paperwork. Since this is an emergency quest, I'll be waiving all fees for your travel. Should you need a mount or an inn or supplies for this mission, tell them to bill us here at the hall." he passed the quest form to Linessa, who immediately began completing the sections Durmmond had skipped. "I know it's already sundown and traveling at night has its risks, but you'll be expected to leave immediately. Though you may rest in Junne should the need arise, time is of the essence here."

The forest titan hadn’t led a party in nearly thirty years, much less one the size he expected this party to reach. However, thirty years didn’t carry the same weight for a titan as it did for other races. Besides, he’d let go of his reluctance to become actively involve in Guild affairs, when Durmmond returned Bjorne’s Guild medallion to him.

"If there are any questions, ask them now." Durmmond stood eyeing the crowd, his speech completed.

“Who is our contact at Dust End? The Mine’s owner or do we already have a Guild member stationed there to update us of any changes upon our arrival?” Bjorne asked the first question that came to mind. Shortly after Durmmond’s reply, Bjorne’s attention was diverted as Teltel, the other party leader, signed to him.

"Do you have any members in mind?"

"Uh... Gramps is askin' if you have anyone you want in the team, Mister Bjorne. If you didn't get that." A younger pixie chimed in, standing next to the older geist.

The forest titan nodded towards the pixie, a soft expression in his eyes. “Yes,” He replied, also giving the hand gesture for ‘yes’ to Teltel. “Single gestures or short sentences and respond in kind. Longer sentences are more difficult.” Bjorne gestured what he spoke to Teltel to demonstrate his skill level with the sign language. When he still traveled, the titan and his party often used various gestures to communicate, when a quest required a more stealthy approach.

Bjorne had never met Bebetel directly before how, however, he was familiar with the geist’s music as it carried up the river to Frogsong and inquired with his wife on the source of the music. During the holidays, he’d wait at the forest’s edge watching from a distance as his children played with the orphans and come back to him sharing delightful stories of their new friends and the geist playing music for them. After his children’s first meeting with the orphans, Bjorne began carving wooden toys for Alrurus and Riahia to take with them and share with the other children. The forest titan laid aside his reminiscing, “I do have someone in mind-”

Both party leaders were interrupted, when a handful of guild members already step forward to volunteer. A mixed race party, led by a human female, approached Bebetel first. Bjorne missed the exchanged between them as another geist, a female, called his attention.

"Layla, gold rank," she said, presenting her medallion as proof. "Monster slaying is my specialty. I wish to join the quest."

Bjorne nodded in acknowledgment, searching his recent memories of the guild’s roster. Details on Layla were sparse, though her rank credentials spoke volumes of her skill and ability to handle herself. A monster slayer, huh? He could believe it. Though they only just met, Bjorne noted the way Layla carried herself. Her steps were light and her moments were minimal, much like how a hunter stalks their prey. Even Timber watched Layla with intense interest as though recognizing someone of like nature.

“Indeed, your skills will be valuable in our quest, if the reason for the missing rescuers does prove true.” Bjorne said, accepting Layla’s request to join. “Take this time to gather any supplies you may need for the journey. I believe arrangements are being currently being made for us to travel by wagon, unless you prefer your own mount.” He’d overheard bits of Teltel’s conversation with a human healer and her friends. Bjorne then spied the individual he was looking for sulking back at the bar.

The forest titan realized many guild members were not overly familiar with him yet, since he’d only been reinstated with the Guild recently. He would need to rely on Teltel to help fill in his knowledge of some of the party members and trust the geist’s judgement. Bjorne stepped forward to join Durmmond at the front of the tavern, gesturing for Teltel to join him.

“I’m Bjorne Kjarr, caretaker of Frogsong Forest, you’re already aware of the potential danger.” Bjorne’s voice didn’t boom like Durmmond’s, but his low, even toned voice carried easily enough. “I’ll take into consideration any volunteers for the quest, even those of lower rank within reason. Isn’t that correct, Windrush?”


Windrush “Windy” The Windless (Drake)
Stone Rank

Estvalm - Guild Hall Tavern Bar
Late Summer - Dusk

Windrush dropped onto a stool by the bar. He’d come back inside, when he realized his first drink was quickly gone. The sour drake lazily tossed another coin onto the counter and pulled a bottle for himself, since the undine bartender was still serving another guild member. He snarled at anyone that might take one of the seats on either side of him and taking full advantage of the space his wings occupied to make it inconvenient for anyone to pass by. He started to fold his wings around him to mantle over his drink and block everyone’s view of him entirely, but a slight twinge of pain protested the movement. The black and red drake immediately returned his wings to their folded position on his back.

All the while, a hush fell over the tavern, Windrush didn’t care for the why. No, he took a long swig or two from the bottle in his claws, until he finally felt the alcohol beginning to take the edge off his migraine. He secretly sighed with relief, when the slight tremor in his claws also ceased. (His claws had begun to shake a few days into his quest with the titan, Bjorne. He’d done everything he could to hide his withdrawal symptoms, until they finally returned to Estvalm.)

The drake was in the middle of another long swig, when Durmmond dropped the news of trouble at Dust End Mine and possible monsters. Windrush nearly choked on his drink. Impossible! He’d just clear those tunnels just two weeks ago of any troublesome vermin. There shouldn’t be trouble again so soon! The highborn held his aching head. If the drake was in any state to be reasonable, he should have been more concerned on ensuring the security of his ongoing contract work and income at Dust End Mine. However, Windrush didn’t give a damn at that moment, even with the temptation of a platinum guilder. He only wanted to finish his drink and return to his room for a few days. Let the silver-ranks deal with the emergency.

At least that was Windrush’s plan, until Bjorne called him out and volunteered him in front of the entire guild.

“I’ll take into consideration any volunteers for the quest, even those of lower rank within reason. Isn’t that correct, Windrush?”

Anger flared in the drake’s eyes as he suddenly rose with a snarl. He verily nearly told the titan to f*ck off, but he felt the eyes of everyone in the hall focused on him. Windrush gritted his teeth with seething anger, wanting nothing more to refuse out of spite...but his drake pride would not let him turn down the silent challenge Bjorne gave him, when their eyes locked. The former gladiator rose to his full height.

“Windrush, Stone rank, requesting permission to join this, oh so, this noble quest.” Windrush growled out with obvious disdain. “I know the mine’s layout and where the vermin normally cause trouble. Though the miners and rescuers are more than likely to be dead by the time we get there, if they aren’t already, assuming this supposed ‘monster’ is worst than what I usually deal with there.”
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God of Monsters
~ Estvalm - Guild Hall ~
- Dusk -

Lance and Serra made their way through the Guild Hall, and with each step, the gap between them grew. Lance fell back behind Serra; she drew attention away from him and he faded into the crowd. Anywhere else they would have both made a scene, but in the Guild Hall Lance was but one of a few dozen rugged and bearded monster killers. Everything that made him stand out was on the inside.

But Serra was different; she always had been. She radiated - and Lance wasn't too proud to admit that. Everything she did was purposeful: every strand of hair, every choice in clothing, was set deliberately; today was a blue day. Thigh-high leather boots and dyed leather shirt of brilliant cobalt. Skin-tight navy pants and a "traveling" cloak (that alone cost more than all of a typical Valm citizen's wardrobe) of the same. Each article of clothing was ornately and intricately stitched, embroidered with light metal filigree of shimmering silver and set with bright blue magic-sensitive gemstones.

It was all chosen to draw attention towards her and make her memorable. Something to remain behind in either admiration or jealousy when her short life was spent. In that way she was Lance's opposite. It didn't mean he couldn't appreciate her efforts, however, or the effect it had on those around him, allowing him to be forgotten. He stepped back and watched gazes dart to her, watched the flurry of emotion flash across faces as some glanced quickly away and others lingered.

Lance made his way to the bar and ordered his usual ale, still a few good spaces away from Serra. She made her way there more slowly, stopping to make conversation with acquaintances and learn any goings-on she'd missed since their last stop-by a few days prior.

Lance usually assumed nothing interesting ever happened when he wasn't around. And to his credit, he didn't find much interest in anything that excluded him. So when Durmmond called the attention of the room Lance was understandably intrigued; to think he'd almost decided against showing up.

"Lance Donovan. Silver. Yada yada. I'll tag along if the money's this good," he said, but even as he did so, the Passenger began to rear its incorporeal head and whisper softly in his ear. A shiver of suspicion and distrust. "And Serra, too."

This shook Serra from her little game just as she ramped up her flirting with one of the Gold-ranked Guild members that was a little too drunk to be paying attention.

"What?" she sputtered and dropped her drink. "Me? Underground? In a mine?" She glared at him and wheeled around, all previous gaming forgotten. "Do you think I've got a bunch of moles in the bow?"

"And what am I supposed to do? Stab the cave?" Lance shot back. "You said it yourself. We need the money." There was a brief look of panic that crossed her face, an instinctive fear most fae held of the underground where they couldn't see the sky, where the air was stifled, and the earth closed in all around them like a tomb.

But Serra fought through that rush of unbridled emotion and regained control of her expression so quickly that if one weren't looking for such a particular reaction, one wouldn't have noticed at all. It was nearly seamless. And Lance was ever-so-proud.

"Darigaaz, the Sky Asunder, Gold Rank. I'll join your quest," announced a booming voice. A shimmering white-and-gold-scaled drake stepped through the crowd and stood at attention. Not that he needed to, however. He already towered over everyone other than the titans.

"I thought I smelled self-righteous," Lance smirked at Serra. Darigaaz growled low and shook his mane of scales around his neck in annoyance.

"Maybe you're just jealous," Serra shot back, still apparently annoyed with him as well. What was the point? It had been almost a full two minutes since his jab. How long was she going to hold that grudge?

"You keep using that phrase. Are you sure you know what it means?" Lance asked.

Serra gave him a pointed look, glanced around, and seemed to weigh responding or not. "I know someone doesn't like when anyone else so easily commands the attention of the entire room."

Lance shrugged. "But 'jealous' though?"

Serra shrugged back mockingly. "It seemed more polite than 'nervous,'" she said. Lance gave her a narrow-eyed glare. "Touch a nerve?"

"Just get our gear," Lance sighed. "You can flirt with the drunks when we get back."

"No," Serra sighed as well. "None of these are very interesting this evening. Would've been a really dull night." She stole a wayward glance at the gathering group of volunteers. "I think this group might be my best bet."

Monster Guy

Fairy type Trainer
Tikaani Aput
Wood Rank
Estvalm - Guild Hall Tavern Bar

Tikaani had taken on some low level missions all day. They were pretty simple missions. Helping the locals with simple tasks, and every now and then fighting a monster that was causing trouble for others. They may have been low ranked, but Tikaani enjoyed having something new and exciting to do every day.

He had finished his tasks for the day, and had went into the Guild Hall to have a drink, and relax for the day. He had only just started sipping his drink, when Durmmond made an announcement. Miners were trapped in the mountain, and the rescue party hadn’t responded. Now it was up to them to save the trapped miners. Fun! He then nominated two of the senior members of the guild to be the team leaders. Several other guild members followed suit.

At last, a real mission. Bigger than anything he’s ever done before. Immediately, the young man took his chance. “Tikaani Aput.” The young man said to the titan, standing up straight and giving a salute. “Wood Rank, also requesting permission to join, sir. I think my magic can be useful, and I could use the experience if you’ll have me.”

Before him, a Stone Ranked Drake had also “volunteered” to be a part of this group, and didn’t look too happy about it. The Drake was much taller than Tikaani himself. It was rare occasion when the young man had to look up to speak to someone. “Aw, cheer up Windy. It’ll be fun!” Tikaani grinned and gave a thumbs up gesture.

“Ah, yes, asphyxiation is a fun time indeed, when a tunnel collaspes.” Windrush said, scathingly. “You end up choking on your own spit and dust in a desperate attempt for-”

“That’ll be enough, Windrush,” Bjorne cut in, before the drake could finish his statement. Windrush rolled his eyes, before going back to the bar. “What sort of magic can you utilize, Tikaani?”

Before Tikaani could reply, a woman interupted the conversation. "And Let's not kink-shame, drakey. Some of us aren't so close minded."

"Thank you... for enlightening us, Serra, " Bjorne replied. Bjorne wasn’t at all amused by her comment though.

Tikaani giggled at the Drakey nickname. It was nice that someone in this group saw the glass as half full. Even if it wasn’t quite the way he intended. In response to the question, Tikaani smirked. He was more than happy to demonstrate his skills for anyone that asked. I’ll show you.” He grabbed his drink. He waved his hand over it a few times while the liquid rose out of the cup. In a moment, he had his entire beverage floating over his head. “My specialty is water magic. Water is very versatile. It can be use for all sorts of things. Like combat, or even healing. I have no doubt there will be sick and injured miners there.” With another wave of his hand, and the drink flowed back into the cup. He resisted the urge to splash some of it in Windrush’s face. The last thing he needed now was to make enemies with a highborn drake. Especially not with Bjorne in front of him judging his qualifications to be in this mission. “Ta-da!”

"Very well, Tikaani," Bjorne nodded with approval. "So long as you heed mine or Bebetel's instructions should the situation turn for the worst. "

Tikaani’s eyes widened, and he threw a fist up in the air. “Yesss! I promise I won’t let you down, sir!” He was going to play with the big boys tonight!
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Dancing Prince
Tematia "Tia" Hycinthius
Pixie - Wood Rank
Guild Hall - Dusk

Things quickly became, well, hectic as many races came up to volunteer, a few Silver and higher, but more ranks lower than that. Still, Tia was a little startled to see a pretty big group to be the first to come up and it was only when the speaker of the group well...spoke with Grandpa did she remember her. It was Grace Clemens, one of the more well known healers in Estvalm. Tia would know since she would occasionally cause a ruckus in the guild hall.

Grace and her varied friends agreed to have transport be arranged, leaving to do just that, though not before the healing caster asked for another friend of hers, a girl named Friede who looked to be the same age as the blonde woman, to join the party. Grandpa, unsurprisingly, just nodded and signed his agreement. It was only then did she leave to catch up with her friends.

More joined, though they, funnily enough, went towards the titan leader of the party. But then again, at least Bjorne could talk properly as opposed to Grandpa. The only one to talk to him specifically was a dharma named Aali Tahir.

"We'll be glad to have you, Aali," Grandpa Teltel signed. "Transport is currently being arranged so I suggest to get anything you need before leaving."

Since she wasn't sure if he knew sign language, Tia then said,

"Gramps is happy to hear. And we'll have a ride soon, so get ready."

That made her great-grandfather turn to her and sign, "Speaking of...Tia, could you go and tell your parents we will be leaving?"

Oh crap.

"Gah! I forgot! I'll do that right away, Grandpa!"

And off she went out of the hall and out into the night of Estvalm.

. . .

Bebeltel "Teltel" Hycinthius
Geist Elemental - Platinum Rank Decorated
Guild Hall

Teltel shook his head in amusement, smiling at the speed which his great-granddaughter left. With her gone, he knew that even fewer would speak to him for permission to join the emergency party so he took out his lyre, plucking its strings to make sure it was still tuned. Satisfied it was, he decided to observe as more came to join, for the same reason he pulled his totem out.

He couldn't, however, stop his frown at the drake that seemed to be under Bjorne's supervision, and reluctant to join. Teltel understood his cynicism on the chances of survival of those in the mines, but still, he was glad Grace was gone for now. It wouldn't do if the blonde heard this drake speak of the people from her home that way, and when they were possibly in danger no less.

Still, as far as Teltel was concerned, Bjorne was trustworthy. His children were quite a delight whenever they came to play with the orphans, so he'll give him a benefit of doubt as to why he had this drake, Windrush, join them.

When another drake came by, however, he decided to deal with this one since Bjorne was busy with a young man who was a Wood ranked who wished to join. He remembered him, Darigaaz, or rather, the Sky Asunder. He had seen many drakes before but he had seen few, if any, that had white and gold scales. Just that alone drew the eyes of bystanders, if not for his height.

He signed to the Sky Asunder, his lyre under one arm, "And we will be glad to have you."

In case he didn't understand, he then quickly played a tune from the scene of a common folk song where a young man thanks a faerie for their kindness, the closest he could think on the spot to "translate" his words.

As he waited for whatever response the warrior may have, he glanced at Bjorne and smiled slightly at the enthusiasm the boy showed at being accepted. Well, good to know that Tia will be in good company.

. . .

Grace Clemens
Human - Silver Rank
Estvalm -> Guild Hall

The bright side to having a diverse group of friends was that it wasn't too much trouble for them to find who they needed. With Flanders' old connections with merchants, and Clint's background in working on the farm, they found both someone they could rent three large wagons from, as well as someone to with just as many horses they needed. And Clint making sure said equines had the temperament that wouldn't mind more raucous and/or large passengers.

So it was in about a few hours, give or take, that three wagons that could easily house at least one titan and three other humans, were just outside the guild hall. The horses huffed and clacked the ground as they stopped.

"Think we should get supplies too?" Drakanoff said as he and everyone else got off.

"I believe we should have the party leaders handle that, especially once they see the transport we've acquired so they can decide if we should bring some now or acquire it later," Grace said.

"I'll keep an eye on the horses then," Clint said, stroking the main of the horses at the back most wagon.

"Nah, just have Grace go," Drakanaff said. "She'll tell 'em and we'll make sure these horses are ready to go?"

Flanders groaned. "But can we please have Drakanaff, Dragonoff and Clint do the driving...? I swear by the light that I was going to die from your driving, Savir..."

The garuda did a mock gasp with a hand over her heart. "How dare you!"

And that soon devolved into banter between the spriggan and the garuda, making everyone chuckle.

"Very well, I shall make my leave," Grace said.

And so the healer went back inside the guild hall. After a few moments of searching, she found the geist and titan leaders of the party and made her way to them. Once she was before them, she did a slight bow as she said,

"Teltel? My friends and I have acquired out transport. It is just outside. Are we to depart at the moment?"


Phantom Thief
~ Estvalm -> Dust End ~

Once the party had fully assembled and the wagons had arrived outside, Linessa handed Bebeltel the quest forms and passed Bjorne a small stack of promissory notes bearing the guild seal. "In case you need to charge the Guild's tab." Linessa said, reading the Titan's expression. "Pass them one of those and they'll come collect their payment from us later."

With the preparations out of the way there was nothing left to keep them. Durmmond wished them well, Linessa waved, and the Guild members left behind for one reason or another gave a chorus of encouragements as the party set off towards Dust End.

Night had fallen across the land. The sun and its light had vanished but, though it was nearing the new moon and thus the darker nights of the month, the well traveled roads would be safe enough. Especially with a group this size.

The party piled into the wagons, fitting as best they could, and then the caravan set out. The horses hooves clacked in sync with the creaking of the wagon's frame and the rhythmic turning of the wheels was enough to lull some off to sleep before too long. As the wagons left Estvalm far behind them and passed the rough tangle of The Scrub, several party members keep a quiet watch over the dark bushes and patches of tall grass that could conceal a waiting threat. Luckily, the night passed without incident and the wagons had passed through Junne before the sun had returned to the sky.

Now the road got much rougher. As the wagons made their way from Junne and towards Dust End, the terrain started sloping gently uphill. It wasn't long before the ever-visible mountains on the southern horizon dominated the sky and the road ahead drew ever closer to the shadowed canopy of Dusty Woods. Grassy hills gave way to rocky flats which gave way to cold, snow covered ridges as the thin, scraggly trees of Dust End started to close in around the caravan. Blessedly, the sun had risen by this point and the trip through the woods was cast into sharp relief by the bright, clear light of the early morning. By the time the wagons arrived at Dust End, the horses drained from the quick pace of the trip, the sun was shining high in the sky and lunchtime was drawing near.


~ Dust End - Mine Operations Office ~
- Noon -

The clatter of hooves and the ruckus of creaking wagons snapped Yenn out of her focus. The sprite sighed and dropped her brush into the glass of ink-stained water on the corner of the desk and frowned at the half-completed blueprints in front of her. Three days of work on this pulley system and she still hadn't completed it. The real thing was in pieces across the wall in front of her, each piece pinned perfectly in place, countless strings connecting them, and every one labeled. She had to copy this entire mechanism in detail so the parts could be mass-produced and assembled properly.

The scroll itself was already four times as long as Yenn was tall and was stretched across three desks. Two of them were her own, one was borrowed from the records room down the hall. Yenn sighed. Sometimes, she missed the Guild life. Taking on this open-ended quest was basically like taking a separate job entirely. But if her future was going to consist primarily of sitting in stuffy rooms and drawing gears all day she might not stick around much longer. The money was good though. The money was always good.

Yenn made her way out of her workroom, down the narrow hallway, through the welcome center and outside just in time to see the last of the reinforcements from the Estvalm Guild Hall disembark their makeshift caravan.

The Mine Operations Office wasn't much to look at. The whole of Dust End wasn't much to look at, so at least it blended in. It had started as a simple wooden shack the mine's owner had bought for next to nothing and, rather than tear it down and build something reasonable on the lot, he elected to add room after room after room to the place until it looked like the someone had crafted it from the spare parts of twelve other buildings. Thaddeus Munn was a cheap bastard after all. He never shied away from paying his workers their dues but he cut every other corner he could cut.

Speaking of the owner... Yenn spied the large yellow-skinned titan front and center, welcoming the new arrivals. Thaddeus was a titan's titan. He spoke calmly but firmly. Dressed to the nines in a spotless white suit that had never seen the inside of his mine and with enough jewelry dangling from various parts of his body to open a boutique with, Thaddeus cut a sharp figure that stood out in this town in every way his office didn't. The titan was well known to the Guild. He was after all one of the largest suppliers of quests and jobs in all of Valm.

"Bjorne!" Thaddeus called cheerfully, "Always good to see another titan is these parts. And Bebeltel, always a pleasure." He craned his neck towards the back of the group. "Windy! Back so soon?" he laughed. "Looks like you missed something on your last clean up."

"Is now really the time for quips?" Yenn fluttered to a stop near the titan and nodded to a few of the guild members she was familiar with.

Thaddeus scratched the back of his head. "Plenty of time for doom and gloom after the pleasantries, my dear."

Yenn narrowed her eyes at him. "Of course."

"Anyway," Thaddeus said, "I'd roll out the welcome mat for you all, the full guest experience, but present matters have priority I'm afraid. So that will have to wait until after the miners are back safe and sound." He motioned towards the group and they headed past the Operations Office and towards the mine itself.

Dust End Mine was a few minutes walk past the office building. It was little more than a giant hole in the side of the mountain, at least from the outside. There was some scaffolding, more for show than providing any actual support to the mountain of stone above it, and several huge piles of gravel, scrap rocks, spare parts, and other junk that sat collecting rust, snow, and dust in equal measure. Off to one side was a large series of buildings that was clearly used for processing whatever came up out of the mine. Several lines of mine-cart tracks led out of the first building and down into the mine. Normally, it would be a bustle of noise and activity but today it was cold and quiet.

Across from the processing area was a series of tents and canvases set up as a makeshift aid station. The aid station was the only place that seemed to be staffed, with several fairy, human, and geist workers going about their business organizing the huge piles of supplies Thaddeus had arranged. It was at this aid station that the group assembled. While the staff produced rations and water for the Guild members, Thaddeus and Yenn explained the situation.

"The cave in occurred in a newly excavated tunnel of the mine." Yenn said. "Work has been ongoing on the new dig site and though its deeper than anything we've dug before the mineral seams looked promising."

"Tell them about two days ago." Thaddeus said.

"I'm getting to that." Yenn took a deep breath. "Two days ago, we had a worker go missing in that dig site. But before we could arrange a rescue party he came wandering out of the tunnels looking like he'd been down there a week. Never got much out of him but it spooked the rest of his shift quite a bit."

"The next two shifts go by without a hitch." Thaddeus said. "Then yesterday afternoon we get reports from our guys a few tunnels over that the new dig's caved in and trapped our guys. Same shift with the guy who went missing."

"He wasn't down there though." Yenn said. "That guy is still at the local healer's. When the news of the cave-in came in we got our rescue team together and sent them in. Cave-ins happen. Its a mine. And the rescue team has some quality earth movers among them. But..." Yenn trailed off.

"They never came back out." Thaddeus finished. "Twenty-eight years I've run this mine and that has never happened before. So that's where you come in." he motioned to the party. "All of our crews carry supplies to last a few days with them on deep digs, just in case of situations like this. So if the miners survived the cave-in then there is a chance they are still alive down there."

Yenn nodded. "I've prepared a map of the mine shafts for you to-"

"You should go with them."

The sprite looked at the titan in disbelief. "What? I couldn't possibly..."

"You're a guild member too, right? They could use a guide. The last thing I need is a guild party getting lost in there. and you know the tunnels as well as any of the miners."

It was true, in theory. Yenn had been into the mine several times. But always with guides. She was a map-maker, not a miner. And mapping out the sprawling tunnels of the various dig sites was her primary job here. She hated the dark, the cramped feeling of being deep underground. But a job was a job and she could brave it out when her livelihood was on the line.

"I suppose-"

"Excellent!" Thaddeus cut her off before she could protest. "Yenn will accompany you and show you to the new dig site. There's three objectives for you all. Find the missing rescue team. Find the miners. And deal with anything that gets in your way, be it rock or monster." he motioned to one of the human staff who brought over a small box. Thaddeus opened it, revealing a stash of neatly stacked platinum guilders. The contents of that box alone could buy you the finest manor in Estvalm. "If any of you wish to back out now, that's fine. You'll still get your platinum guilder and you can be on your way. But return my workers to me safely and this entire box can be split between your group."

By Yenn's math, that was around four or five platinum guilders per person present. Including herself, of course. If she was going into the tunnels then she was getting paid the going rate. It was an absurd amount of money for a single quest, but money couldn't buy reputation. If word got out that an entire shift of miners went missing in those tunnels, the mine might never recover.

"I'm included in that offer as well?" Yenn asked.

"Of course."

For a moment, Yenn was tempted to take the titan at his word, grab a platinum guilder from the box and go back to drawing her diagrams. But that moment passed as quickly as it came. Something in Yenn's heart was excited to have an adventure to go on even if if it was underground.

"Very well then." Yenn bowed respectfully to the party leaders. "I am Yenn Rimeux. Bronze-ranked guild member and proficient caster. It looks like I'll be joining you for this quest."


Dancing Prince
Bebeltel "Teltel" Hycinthius
Geist Elemental - Platinum Rank Decorated
En Route to Dust End

Teltel couldn't sleep that night. Not even as he played a soft tune to have his granddaughter sleep more soundly as they went through the plains, he couldn't. It wasn't healthy, he knew, but they had quite a few low ranked members in their group, Tia included, and he could put off one night of rest to keep an eye on his surroundings.

However, just as he was about to repeat the lullaby, the driver for the wagon he was on said,

"Uh...hey, Teltel, right?"

The elemental turned to the sand scaled drake who looked somewhat sheepish. Draganoff was his name, if Teltel remembered correctly.

He nodded in response.

"Mind playin' something more upbeat? Don't want the driver conkin' out, right?"

Teltel blinked before he gave a sheepish expression as well. He nodded once more and gave a brief thought on what to play when an idea struck him. He began to play a soft but more up tempo tune about the desert, the winds and travelling, one he was sure the lowborn drake would know. As he hoped, the young drake's eyes widened before his smile followed suit.

"Ahaha! I guess they don't call you the best bard in Estvalm for nothin'," he said, his grin toothy. "Thanks for that."

Teltel returned the smile with his own without breaking stride in his playing. The drake then returned his sights to onward, keeping grip on the reins, as he started humming to the song. It always made Teltel swell with joy and pride whenever his music cheered the soul of someone, even a stranger, and this time was no different.

He might not be sleeping tonight, but he would still enjoy it.

. . .

Grace Clemens
Human - Silver Rank
En Route to Dust End -> Dust End Mines

Even though a lot of her didn't want to, Grace forced herself to rest for the night once they left Estvalm. When she woke, they had already made it past Junne, which had her asking a few questions out of Clint, her wagon's driver, while they had breakfast on the road. But she could barely keep track of conversation as her mind kept drifting back to her fear for her parents...and the miners of Dust End Mine in general.

Despite that anxiety, she couldn't stop her smile from forming as the familiar silhouettes of both her home town and the mountains surrounding them came to view. As such, once they got to the town proper a couple of hours later, she couldn't help but say, with a flourish of her hand and knowing a few of their crew had been before,

"Welcome to Dust End, my fellow companions."

As expected, Dragonoff and Drakanaff snorted, Flanders rolled his eyes on the wagon the female drake was on, and Savir snickered behind her.

Thankfully, it wasn't as long to Dust End Mine because she was very much tempted to just rush onwards, but not only would that be unprofessional, not to mention rude, it also would be unsafe. So Grace, with all her will, went along with the rest of the party as they got off their wagons and were greeted by one Thaddeus Munn. Grace tried to keep her face neutral, but that was a bit hard to do when she knew the titan liked to cut corners in everything but workers' pay, which made those cut corners all the more dangerous in her eyes as some wouldn't want to complain against good pay.

Still, she thinks she managed as they went to one of the aid stations near the mine. They settled around in one of the briefing rooms and Grace thanked the staff who gave each and every one of them something to eat while listening to Thaddeus and Yenn--well, more the latter really--explain the situation, including about their reward. Grace was a little surprised he was offering an out, especially with this amount of platinum guilders, but perhaps that was just him being a smart businessman, knowing that the more altruistic Guild members, herself included, wouldn't back and those tempted to do so will have a stain on their reputation.

Either way, they got yet another member for their party and Grace was about to say something when Teltel started to sign, Tia--his who-knows-how-greats great-granddaughter--paying attention to "translate".

"We'll be glad for another guide, Miss Yenn. We could possibly split the group in two that way if we wish, with you and Windrush guiding," he said.

"Gramps--uh, Teltel says he's happy to have you. We can have a split group if we need to with you and uh...Windrush leading the way," Tia said for those who couldn't understand.

"Before anything else though..." Teltel then said before turning to her, a very slight but very amused smile on his face. "Grace? Could you and Tikaani check on the miner at the local healers? See what you can learn from him, if possible."

Somehow it felt like it was her father being aware of her intentions and subtly hinting at that knowledge while making her do something in relation to it.

That just all the more made her wish to go in the mine but if the miner was as spooked as Thaddeus and Yenn described him, well...call her boastful, but she was confident she could at least calm down the man.

Though she wondered about Teltel's choice on Tikaani, she wouldn't question it as she stood, having finished her meal, and, with a two fingered salute, said,

"Very well, Sir Teltel. I shall be on my way if that is the case."

She walked towards the room, motioning for Tikaani with her hand, as the geist went back to planning role allocation with Bjorne and his pixie granddaughter translating for him.

. . .

OOC: Feel free to have Tika talk to Grace, Mon, while they're walking there. I'm thinking of having them arrive at the local clinic/whatever after you post.


Knight of RPGs
The Road to Dust End

Layla did not sleep as the wagons rolled their way along the road, every rut and stone of the road communicated to her by the wheels. The geist let the shadows smother her like a blanket, hiding her from the gaze of Aali, who sat a few people away. She did not meet that gaze, instead watching the landscape with eyes honed by years of missions in the dark. She could almost see better at night by this point, the pale moonlight more than enough for her to pick out detail. Sometimes she noticed movement, but it was always just an owl swooping for prey or some other nocturnal creature stalking in the bushes.

As the wagons continued, Layla found herself reminiscing. She remembered Alshams under the moon, its buildings of brick that became so cold to the touch when the desert sun was lost below the horizon. The torches that lit safe paths for those citizens with business after dark, safe paths that she always avoided. The darkness was her ally. She was a light in the shadows, but the shadows were her cloak, so she had been taught. The shadows would serve her against the enemies of the light. So she had crept like a spider down walls and across rooftops, worming her way through windows and doors with grim intent.

And always, the snapping of bones and the rattles of death soon joined her in those dark homes. So many times those noises had struck her ears and made her feel the satisfaction of fulfilling her purpose. A lie. A sham. It was not the light she had served, but the tyrant. The red-scaled dragon with eyes of fire. Layla knew her name. Nura had known it too. But the tyrant was more than a woman, she had been a force.

Layla let her gaze wander to Aali and her eyes met his. Taking it as an invitation, the tengu crept closer, careful not to disturb those who slumbered.

"Will you not sleep?" Aali asked.

Adopting the mannerisms of the innocent girl, Layla gave him a shrug. "Perhaps soon. I just wanted to keep watch." She kept her voice low as he did.

"You seemed deep in thought," the cleric mused. "I apologise if I stirred painful memories." Nura scoffed behind her face. The tengu seemed sincere, but she doubted it. He had conspicuously chosen the same wagon as her and so she could only suspect he suspected her. But then she hadn't quite expected to deceive him so easily. All she had to do was continue to play her part.

She turned her gaze back to the landscape, feigning grief. "No, I understand. Nura... I cared for her. I miss her still." Was there truth there? Sometimes she missed Nura's clarity and focus. Playing the part of Layla left her with the keen pain of betrayal, where Nura had had zeal and dedication. "I thought she must have done some terrible thing, from the way she acted. I felt like she wished to make amends. But I never thought..." She let her sentence trail off into silence.

Aali too was silent for a time. "If she repented in some fashion then perhaps she was not entirely the monster I thought her to be. But nonetheless, she fled justice up until her final moments." She glanced at him to see him glaring with disappointment. "And had I found her alive, I would have seen her pay for her crimes in blood."

"And what right have you to do that?" Layla said quietly. "Did some magistrate sign a writ for her execution and dispatch you to carry it out?"

The tengu's eyes narrowed. "The courts believed her dead. Happy enough to consign her to a grave they never witnessed." He paused. "I was the only one with the will to hunt her down and make certain that she was no longer a threat."

The geist met his eyes, pouring indignation into her tone. "The woman I met had left killing behind. She only taught me her art so that I could protect myself better. If the hydra hadn't killed her... if I had convinced her..."

"Then she would be sat next to us now?" Aali retorted with a sharp tone. "You have not read the records of her atrocities, Layla. You do not know how many people died with their bones in splinters because Nura served a tyrant without question. Without remorse." She did. She remembered the sound of those bones shattering and people dying from but a touch of her hand. She would never forget it.

"And you did not meet her as I did," Layla answered just as sharply. "You did not nurse her back to health and see the joy in her eyes." She wasn't entirely lying. Escaping Alshams and coming to Estvalm had brought her moments of joy. The taste of new food, exciting compared to that which the tyrant had served her blades. The freedom to wander as she pleased, as she had so much at first before the need for caution made her restrain herself. Perhaps she missed Nura's certainty, but Layla had felt such things that Nura would never have been able to under the tyrant's thumb.

"I think," the tengu replied, "that you are a better person than Nura, Layla. After all, without hesitation you joined this quest. It does us no good to quarrel now, I think." He offered a smile of sorts, an attempt at a truce. "It is late and perhaps we both ought to rest."

She forced her own smile, burying her own thoughts. "Perhaps. What lies ahead is still a mystery." She paused. "Sleep well, Aali."

"May the light watch your slumber," Aali answered, and returned to his original position, laying down and resting his head on the pack of supplies he had brought. Layla watched him for a moment, waiting to see if he turned to watch her in turn. He did not, and so she turned back to the passing countryside. She watched for another ten minutes before finally conceding that Aali had made a good point. Laying herself down, the geist curled up beside her own pack of supplies. Somehow the hard wood floor of the wagon felt more comforting than the soft bed that awaited her back in Estvalm. It reminded her of the stone on which the tyrant had made them sleep, to make them unyielding, so she had said. Lulled off by the rocking of the wagon, Layla surrendered to slumber.


Friede Brandritter
The Road to Dust End

While Layla and Aali had remained awake, Friede had excused herself to Grace and curled up to sleep. She wanted to make sure the other woman was okay, but equally tiredness tugged at her and she knew she needed rest for whatever lay ahead. But that rest was anything but peaceful, for she tossed and turned, her body driven by turbulent thoughts.

A roar resounded through the air, dragging the girl's gaze upward. Across the fields and the cluster of buildings that was the village, the creature swept in. The sunlight caught it as it flew, dark green scales glistening, mighty wings spread wide as the wyvern glided in. It crashed down with another roar, Friede's eyes pinned to it. The wyvern reared up, crimson eyes glaring, wings folded against muscular arms that ended in wicked claws. The girl couldn't move, paralysed by awe and terror.

People were screaming and running, but a torrent of venom from the beast's maw sent them falling to the ground, choking and clawing at themselves. A sweep of a mighty tail tore through a house, hurling stones flying through the air as the wyvern turned. It pounced, its claws snatching up someone before smashing them against the ground. Friede fell to her knees, the grass brushing her skin beneath her dress as she watched, captivated. The wyvern rampaged, tearing human and building alike with the same terrible ease. Some tried to flee from it, but the wyvern slew them with jets of venom or a terrible pounce followed by raking claws or snapping jaws.

She couldn't scream. She couldn't stand. She couldn't look away. The little girl watched with wide eyes, seeing every death, soaking in the carnage. She saw the wyvern's raw power, the grace as it killed, the mesmerising beauty of such a predator at work. So powerful, so beautiful.

When the killing was done and the village was rubble, she thought for sure it was coming for her. It turned slowly, scanning for more prey, and its crimson eyes passed over her. They pierced right through her as she knelt and

snapped awake.

Fingers clutched, finding her own leg as the wagon bumped over a stone. Her face was crushed against her pack of belongings, forcing her to draw back as she stilled herself. She rested a hand on her breast, feeling her heart pounding as though the wyvern was right there before her and not merely in her memories. A flute played nearby, so peaceful that she felt her heartbeat slow.

It had been quite a while since she had dreamed of the wyvern, she thought. Had the fear of the unknown brought it back to her mind? She looked around, seeing Grace and the others asleep, all at peace. Evidently their dreams were more restful than hers, she mused with a smile. She rested her head back down, retrieving her hat from where her thrashing had thrown it and covering her face with it to block out the moonlight. She let the wagon's rocking lull her back to sleep, hoping she could find the same peace as her companions.


Aali Tahir
Dust End

Aali drank water graciously accepted from the mine staff as he listened to Thaddeus's explanation of the situation. It certainly sounded troubling, and while money was never something he had cared overly much about, he could tell that the substantial reward being offered spoke much of the titan's desire to have the problem resolved. His own purse was admittedly depleted, for he had found that vengeance paid little in the way of gold, and he had been too worried about missing Layla to take even the simplest quest while he waited in Estvalm. The titan's reward would at least keep him in pocket for some time.

A human woman he hadn't been introduced to left after receiving a flurry of hand signs from Teltel, and as the tengu glanced around he saw Friede stood near where the other woman had been. Layla was behind him, he knew, and though he disliked having his back to her, he trusted that she was not foolish enough to attack him in the midst of the group. He played their conversation from the night over in his head. She had spoken passionately, for certain, and her condemnation had given him some pause. But dreams of broken corpses had only piled kindling on the flames of his resolve. No. He would see this to the bitter end. If the blue-eyed geist was Nura, then he would end her flight from justice with his own hands.

But for now, all he could do was wait and watch and play his own part.

While he disliked being passive, he knew that he was a stranger here, knowing nothing of the mine. As such, he waited patiently for Bjorne and Teltel to make their plans for entering the mine.