Chapter 19 – A Bit of Role-Playing

Twelfth of Learning 1142

Veloran considered the three exhausted young royals, and the not so exhausted familiar, bemused. He had chosen a small sitting room in the palace for this gathering, as he felt an informal, relaxed setting was what they all needed, himself included. Eric, Dahr and Chari had been given the day off as “requested”, but the king had insisted if they were going to use veresh, they would have to talk to the high priest first.

“So,” he began after they were all seated. “You’ve all leveled. I know Eric is Level 5.”

“And we’re both Level 4,” said Chari.


Aranya Freesh

“That’s impressive for one night. It’s a lot of power all at once. Did any of you think it might be dangerous to get so many levels at the same time?”

“How so?” asked Eric. He still looked drawn and pale, but a bit of food had tempered the look to some degree. It was clear to Veloran that he hadn’t completely recovered from whatever he had experienced.

“What happens when you level?” asked Veloran.

“You gain skills,” said Dahr.

“That’s true. What else?”

“Skills you already have get more powerful,” said Chari, tentatively.

“That’s all true, but what actually happens? What is leveling?”

They looked at each other.

“So you’re experimenting on yourselves without understanding the boundaries of what could go wrong?”

He had their attention now. Chari and Dahr looked interested. Eric looked concerned. Kalutu looked…like a were-owl. Veloran doubted he’d ever be able to read the familiar’s facial expressions.

“When you level, the goddess touches you. She infuses you with energy. It’s why you often feel energized after gaining a level. It’s like an extra gift from the goddess. It’s an amazing feeling. It can also overwhelm some people. I’m sure you’ve all heard stories of people passing out when gaining a level. It’s not common but it happens.”

“My uncle passed out when he hit Level 6. My father never stopped teasing him about it,” said Chari.

“It could happen to anyone. The energy of the gods can be overwhelming. It’s why we receive so few visitations from them. But that’s not the only danger. Let’s use Eric’s Shield Bash skill as an example. It hits hard. At higher levels, you could do some real damage with it. Even now, it’s pretty dangerous. So, why does it not break Eric’s arm, or dislocate his shoulder?”

“Sheba protects him?” asked Chari.

“She does more than that. As the skill rises in power, Eric will evolve to be able to deal with it. It’s easier for Sheba to modify Eric than to protect his arm every time he uses a skill. As you level, you evolve. Your muscles grow stronger. Your bones thicken. Even your mind gets stronger. You become faster. Leveling isn’t just about getting skills, it’s about becoming more. When you become Tier 2, you’re more than you were. You’re still human, but you’re also more than human. When you hit Tier 3, you’re even more. Still human, but only barely. You can see further, hear better, run faster. For all practical purposes, it’s like you’re more than human. When you hear tales of great adventurers who are Tier 3 or 4, what you’re hearing is about adventurers who are more than they started out to be. It’s why they can do what they do in those tales.”

They all looked at him, stunned.

“What level are you then?” asked Dahr.

Eric and Chari both looked at Dahr in panic, but Veloran laughed. “It’s not really a question you’d ask in polite society, Dahr, but I’ll say this if you promise not to share it with anyone.”

They all nodded, eagerly.

“I’m Tier 4.”

“So you’re at least Level 30,” whispered Eric, awed.

“I am. Milady has been good to me.”

“Milady?” asked Eric. “I’ve never heard that form of address applied to a goddess before.”

Veloran looked uncomfortable, but only for a second. “Sheba is more than just my goddess. We’ve been together so long, she’s more like…a friend.”

Eric’s eyes widened, as if Veloran had said something completely outrageous.

“It’s almost more like we’re married,” said Sheba’s voice.

They all looked at Veloran astonished, and he dropped his face into his hands. All three of them laughed. They had never seen a high priest blush before.

Veloran forced himself back on topic. “Enough. We have important things to discuss. When you level, Sheba touches your body, and it becomes stronger. Most people get their first level in the Other Realm, when a god or goddess touches their soul. That first level alters your very soul. But the body itself remains unchanged.”

“Are you saying that if we get all our levels in the Other Realm, our bodies will lag behind?” asked Eric, worry clear in his voice.

“No one really knows, but it’s been theorized, yes. More than that, no one knows what happens if a god repeatedly touches a soul instead of a body, but I’d have to guess that it alters your soul while your physical form remains unchanged. Remember, leveling in the Other Realm is not something that usually happens, except for that first time. You three are pioneers in a sense. I’d say it’s at least a risk…and it’s not the only one.

“Getting skills is not the same as learning how to use them. We’re taught that getting skills faster without learning how they work, not just alone but together, is often detrimental to the ability to fight. Knowing several skills is not the same as knowing when and how to use those skills. It’s important to practice after you level.”

“That makes sense,” said Chari. “All these new abilities feel overwhelming.”

“Exactly. If your leveling gets ahead of your experience with combat, it can leave you vulnerable. A good warrior levels and practices. My advice is, don’t use veresh every night. Use it, train for a few days, then use it again. If you have any symptoms from using it, talk to me or if I’m not available for whatever reason, one of the other priests. Don’t just keep going. Getting levels is important, but veresh can be overused and can have severe side effects. Also, Eric, I understand you take medicine?”

“I didn’t last night.”

“Good. You shouldn’t mix medications or alcohol with veresh.”

“Understood,” said Eric.

Chari looked worried. “Eric, when you stop taking meds, how long before your nightmares begin?”

Eric smiled, sardonically. “If what happened to me last night in the Other Realm happens every time I go in, it’s not going to matter.”

“And what, exactly, was that,” she asked.

Eric shook his head. “I’m not ready to talk about it.”

Chari looked dissatisfied, but before she could say anything else, Dahr changed the subject.

“I’m surprised more people don’t use veresh to level.”

“It’s because veresh doesn’t help you level, and people have tried. Whatever happened to you three last night, it’s not normal, though why I should expect normal from you lot I can’t imagine. Still, I don’t know that you can expect a repeat of what happened last night whether you return to the Other Realm or not. Training is as important as leveling, even if it is good you got some levels out of it.”

Veloran paused briefly, as if he were considering something, then spoke. “The Other Realm. What was it like?”

“Surely you’ve been there,” said Dahr. “Don’t you know?”

“I know what a tiny part of it is like, but the Other Realm is bigger than the world. No mortal could see it all. Even if you were able to spend all your time there, it would take you thousands of lifetimes to explore even a fraction of it.”

Eric nodded. “Where I went yesterday was nothing like where I went the first time, and neither of those places were the same as the place Chari and I experienced together. They were all substantially different.”

“So to repeat the question, what was it like?” asked Veloran.

“We fought a lot of zombies,” said Dahr. “A LOT of zombies.”

“Are the gods training you to fight undead?” asked Veloran.

The idea had occurred to all of them, but none of them had said it aloud.

“Maybe,” said Eric. “Probably, even. But we can’t know for sure and shouldn’t assume. That’s one thing that Maynor tries to instill into me. Not to make assumptions. He says assumptions will kill you.”

“It’s a valid position,” said Veloran. “So, no one wants to describe what you went through in more detail?”

Eric shook his head, but it was Dahr who answered. “The place where we were didn’t make any sense. It would be pretty hard to describe. Nothing was permanent. Nothing fit with reality as we understand it. I could spend the rest of the day describing it, and you still wouldn’t have even an inkling of what it was like to be there.”

Veloran looked disappointed, but he stood up and found a smile for them. “Very well, I’ll let you all get back to your rest day, just remember to be careful with the veresh.”

“We will,” promised Eric.


Running the Adventurer’s Guild in Pelaro had always been an important position. Officially, the title was guild master, and many women preferred that title, but Aranya Freesh wasn’t one of them. She made it clear she was to be called guild mistress, even though the current trend was for both genders to use the same title.

The word master had certain connotations to Aranya from her past that she wasn’t comfortable with, and so she chose her own moniker, and if people weren’t comfortable with it, she was absolutely okay with them not speaking with her.

As guild mistress, Aranya Freesh sometimes had to make decisions with potentially serious consequences. The current situation was the kind of thing that could have repercussions that lasted years, even decades if she wasn’t careful. As she strode down the corridors of the guild building, she felt old, which isn’t to say she looked old.

She looked about thirty-five with stunning black hair, and an attractive face that would have looked more appealing if it didn’t look ready to bite anyone who came near her. She was a strict, no-nonsense guild mistress, who didn’t waste time or energy. The current situation sounded like a waste of both, but if there was even a chance this was on the level, she had to deal with it herself.

Beside her walked a man she considered indispensable. His name was Jesh Belor, a tall, bald man, who wore a neatly trimmed brown mustache, and was as affable as she was hard. He was a powerful mage, who dressed as flamboyantly as Aranya did conservatively. She wore trousers, a shirt and vest, all in various shades of gray, while he was garbed in flowing multi-colored robes, calling far more attention to himself than he needed to. Jesh Belor looked and spoke like the kind of person you hired to entertain children at a party, not a man who specialized in interrogation techniques. Nor did he ever lower himself to a method as crude as torture. More of a lock pick than a hammer, his finesse would often uncover lies or half-truths that would have remained otherwise hidden.

Neither of them brought up their private thoughts in the open halls of the guild building. Such matters were reserved for secure rooms. If this was real, if… Aranya shook her head. She hadn’t often heard a claim more outlandish.

She stopped at a room, opened the door, and entered. In the small office, three people sat behind three cluttered desks handling some of the bureaucratic mess that accompanied the running of any large organization. Aranya walked up to a giant of a man, who looked every bit the warrior from his braided black beard to his fine chain mail armor and the huge sword leaning against the desk beside him. Aranya placed a hand on his shoulder, leaned close and said one word.


Without an instant of hesitation the man stood up, grabbed his sword belt and followed the guild mistress from the room. The three of them walked down one flight of stairs and stopped at the door of the secure room. There, for just a moment, Aranya paused. Anyone who didn’t know her would have thought she was gathering her nerve, but she wasn’t. She was blanking her mind before entering, so that she could get a more or less unbiased first opinion of the people inside. When she entered, she stood by the door taking them in, observing their reactions to her entrance, which she knew would intimidate a lot of people. This group, however, didn’t seem intimidated. The serpent lord wasn’t, nor were either of the humans, the easiest to read of the lot. She had no way of knowing if the phase shifter was intimidated or not, but the salad looked relaxed and expectant. It was pretty obvious from their gear that they were a Tier 1 team. She didn’t waste more time. She had seen what she needed to. She walked quickly to the head of the table. At once, the group of adventurers and their guest sat up straighter.

Aranya didn’t sit. She asked for Ressssen to repeat the story, and then asked Striker and Merck to tell theirs. The entire time, Gordic and Jesh stood silently behind her. Even without using a single skill, just having them there for the intimidation factor was worth it, though she valued their input. When the story was told, she pointed to Striker.

“You have a pet Kreve?”

“I do.”

“Go with Gordic, then. To the city gate. Summon it. Show him.”

Striker shrugged and stood. “I’ll be back soon.”

She confidently strode out the door. The armored man followed her a moment later.

Then Aranya spent some time verifying details, or thinking of questions she hadn’t asked before, but she didn’t glean much more information. She learned how Merck Vanderoth had swindled the adventurers one night, while they were drunk in a tavern. The incident didn’t fill her with confidence. In her mind it was a strike against them. She learned how they found the merchant and followed him. She learned that he’d changed classes…lost one class, but gained another. This could happen during progression, when a person went through a class transition, trading their old class for a new one, though the god or goddess providing the class never changed, nor were any skills previously attained lost in the process.

Striker had become a Beast Master when she had been a Hunter, both of which were associated with Sheba. But that was only an indication of progression, not what Merck Vanderoth had experienced. Striker had lost no skills in the process. Her skill with the bow would be undiminished. And what about her gaining six levels at the same time? Unheard of. She was a Tier 2 adventurer now. If she was good enough for Sheba, how could she not be good enough for Aranya?

In truth, there was only one decision to make. If there was a chance they were telling the truth, she had to act on it. Was there some angle she was missing? Some scam involved? Something they were trying to accomplish that required the aid of the Adventurer’s Guild? Assassination? That made no sense. They were a Tier 2 guild, and that only in name until she did the paperwork. They had one Tier 2 adventurer. This isn’t the team of assassins any sane person would send.

Could they be trying to sneak into a noble’s home to steal something? Again, it was highly unlikely. Not only the level of the team, but the complexity of the plan. Too much could go wrong. And she trusted Jesh to tell her if anyone had been lying. He’d read their levels. He’d checked their statements. If he said they were telling the truth, they at least believed it. There was nothing she could think of to explain anything about this insane situation more than the truth. Which meant there was a chance, however unlikely, that this Merck Vanderoth could end the undead threat. Take the fight back to the Plains of Xarinos. For the first time, there was hope in her heart. Real hope. And though she knew that emotion was a terrible place to make decisions from, she allowed herself that luxury in this case, because there really wasn’t any decision to make here. She could think of no reason not to help Merck Vanderoth.

Her biggest decision wasn’t whether or not to act, but whether or not to give this sort of responsibility to such a low level team. On one hand, it would protect the Priest by attaching less significance to the matter. On the other hand, it wouldn’t do much to protect the Priest should someone become interested in what he was doing. It was hardly likely they could keep it a secret for long. Once the nobles knew what he was looking for… or did they have to? What if they went in undercover without telling the nobles about the possible ramifications of their visit. Was this team up to it? Probably not. She’d need specialists for that.

There was a knock on the door. Annoyed, she gestured for Jesh to answer it. The bald man crossed the room, opened the door, looked surprised and pulled the door open for someone to enter. The new figure was a tall blonde woman, older in years, but no less beautiful because of it. She dressed in dark blue mage robes that seemed to flow around her like water if you stared at her long enough. She wore her age like a crown, and the moment she entered, Aranya stood. The others followed her example.

“Please sit. I’m not royalty. There’s no need to fuss over me.”

They all sat. Aranya spoke.

“To what do we owe the honor of this visit, High Priestess.”

“You have doubts. Have none. This is the group that must accompany the Priest. Their tidings are real. There is nothing untoward going on here.”

“You’re telling me that this Striker gained six levels in one night?”

The high priestess inclined her head as if listening. “She did. My goddess wishes you to know that this endeavor has her blessing. There is much I don’t know, but I do know this. You will make many decisions in your years as guild mistress, but none will have the lasting impact of what you decide here today.”

Aranya bowed her head. There were days she regretted taking this posting, but this was not one of them. Seldom had she been shown an actual sign she was doing the right thing.

“Thank you, High Priestess Sara. The advice of your goddess is timely. We will do her bidding.”

“May the blessings of Iorana be with you all.”

And then she was gone. She didn’t walk out, she just vanished as if she’d never been there. Before they could close the door, Gordic and Striker returned.

“That was fast,” said Aranya.

“She didn’t have to summon it, the kreve was waiting for us outside the gates at the edge of the clearing. Just out of range of the bows. It’s like it knew where to stand.”

“Of course she did,” said Striker. “I told her where to wait for us as soon as you asked me to call her.”

“No Level 1 Beast Master could do that,” said Aranya.

Gordic nodded agreement.

Could this day get any stranger? What was it about this team? It seemed as if Sheba favored Striker, and the high priestess of Ioranna had gone out of her way to give her blessing to this endeavor. They were, next to Sylinar, the two oldest goddesses. That the two of them both seemed to favor this team was a fact no guild master could ignore.

“Very well, I will approve a contract for the Misfits of Karmenon. You will protect Merck Vanderoth and help him find the boy for whom he searches. You will have the full support of the guild system. I’ll have a contract drawn up as soon as I leave here. The contract will be under seal. What we won’t do is tell the nobles what we’re looking for.”

Ressssen looked confused. “Then why would they agree to meet with us?”

“We’re going to create a fiction the nobles won’t be able to resist. Don’t worry, you’ll get to meet with all the nobles you can handle and then some. She turned her attention to Striker. “How would you feel about a bit of role-playing?”

“I’m not sure you’re my type,” replied Striker, letting a hint of amusement slip into her voice.


Dahr, Chari, Eric and Kalutu sat in the same small salon where they’d taken their dinner the night before. Everything seemed so different now. The tensions and fears of the day before had been replaced by exhaustion, and in the case of two of them, exhilaration. Eric was still too quiet, and not his usual self. Kalutu however, seemed unchangeable. It was a comfort to Dahr that he could depend on Kalutu to behave as expected. Because right now, Chari was being an idiot.

“I know what Veloran said, but we should go back in anyway,” she was saying. “Even if we don’t level, I’d rather train fighting creatures than practice with fake swords.”

Eric shook his head. “You heard what Veloran said. Our bodies might not be evolving if we keep leveling there. We need our bodies to evolve so we don’t damage ourselves using our skills.”

“Do you really think Sheba would give you a level if it left you vulnerable, because I don’t.” argued Chari. “You’re practically her adopted son, Eric. She’s not going to let you get hurt. Honestly, I think you’d trust her more.”

Dahr laughed. “If you’re her son, that makes Veloran your father.”

Eric shook his head, Chari leaned forward and flicked Dahr on the nose.

“Hey!” said Dahr.

“I do trust Sheba,” said Eric. “But I also trust Veloran. And it’s not the only reason he gave. He said we need training to make the levels we get mean something. And that makes sense to me.”

“Eric is right,” said Dahr. “We should be thankful we have the running start we have and focus on how to apply it to real life situations.”

“Do you really not want to level faster?” asked Chari.

Dahr shrugged. “I want to do whatever it is that will help me survive. If that’s leveling fine, but I’m not convinced. It’s sort of like the Book of Lost Wisdom.”

“What is that?” asked Kalutu, ever eager to learn.

“My mother used to tell me stories about it when I was young. Those stories were my favorites. I used to think it was a real book but I don’t anymore. I think it’s a story about greed. People would hear of this book, which is supposed to contain all the wisdom in the world, and they’d go and follow rumors into dangerous situations to find it, which they never do, because it doesn’t exist. Wisdom doesn’t come from books. It comes from the world around you. Your ability to deal with the events in your life and somehow remain true to yourself. We want more and more and more, even if we don’t need it. We keep pushing harder and harder to get more gold, more power, more levels. What we need is the wisdom to use the power we have. Just getting more powerful without that wisdom is a trap. I think that’s what my mother was trying to teach me.”

“You think I’m being greedy?” asked Chari, the edge of anger creeping into her voice.

“I think it’s tempting for all of us. But we need to work on all of it, not just leveling. Veloran thought so and he’s more experienced than we are.”

Chari shrugged. “That’s true, but he’s never faced our situation. We’re heading into unknown danger probably under-leveled. Sometimes, power is the answer.”

Eric held up a hand and both Dahr and Chari stopped arguing, not because Eric was the leader of the group, but more because they were both concerned about him, and it seemed that till now he had little interest in contributing, which made the gesture a good sign.

“I’ll tell you what. Let’s go with Chari’s idea for one more night. We’ll go in tonight and see what transpires. If it’s the same as last night, if we get levels, we’ll stop going in and train until we feel we can use the skills we have effectively. If we don’t level, we still might get some training. I still think we need instruction right now, but it’s a single night. If we learn something, it won’t be wasted.”

Chari nodded her agreement, and reluctantly Dahr agreed as well. But he couldn’t get the Book of Lost Wisdom out of his head.


While Aranya was finalizing her plans with the Misfits of Karmenon, Gordic was talking to an old team member of his, who’d left to join a higher profile team. Bevin was a very good archer with a very bad gambling problem. As such, he’d often find creative ways to supplement the money he made from adventuring. One of those ways was to provide information, mostly rumors, to interested parties.

“I have a bit of news for you,” Gordic said. “I don’t know how much it’ll interest you, but you know, I hear things from time to time.”

“Sure, you work for Aranya Freesh.”

“So get this, there’s a new team in town, the Misfits of Karmenon. Very low level. No one would look at them twice, but I’ve heard that one of the members is a princess.”

“Really? That’s odd. Why would a royal be traipsing around with a low level group?”

“No idea. I know Aranya met with them when they first got into town. She’s playing this close to her chest. She’s confided in no one. But it’s important. And that team had some real success in recent weeks too.”

“Wait, a low level team is actively adventuring with a royal on it? That’s nuts.”

“I know. More crazy than that, one member of that team gained six levels in one night.”

“Six levels!”

Gordic looked panicked and glanced around nervously. “Easy. I’m not even supposed to be telling you this, but I owe you. Anyway she not only gained six levels, but she progressed to a tier 2 class– Beast Master.”

“That’s just not possible. But if it’s true…”

“Oh it’s true. She tamed a kreve. Saw it myself, the thing is huge.”

“A flippin’ kreve? That’s crazy. I bet some nobles would be interested in this.”

“That’s why I’m here. Call it ten percent?”


“I have to get back before I’m missed. Good luck.”

Gordic left his old friend behind and made for another. He had a lot of rumors to spread before he returned to the guild building.


Jesh Belor, well known as the right hand of Aranya Freesh, stood at the foot of the wall just outside the open city gate. A young woman stood beside him. They spoke in whispers, heads close together so no one could eavesdrop, after which he approached one of the gate guards.

“In a few minutes, you’re going to see a large kreve running for the gate. The first person to shoot it gets thrown off the wall by me. Spread the word.”

The guard looked surprised, but did as instructed and five minutes later, Jesh instructed Striker to call her pet. Outwardly it didn’t seem like she was doing anything. The gate guards watched on with interest.

A few moments later, a large kreve, black and deadly, charged across the cleared area heading right for the gate. Jesh kept an eye on the archers on the walls, at least the ones he could see, but they all maintained discipline, not that he thought they wouldn’t.

The kreve bounded up to Striker and sat, looking up at her expectantly. To most people, kreve were monsters, not animals, what with their size and all those extra teeth. Seeing this young woman pet it and lean close to talk to it, astonished those close enough to see.

“Are you sure you can control it, your highn…Trace?”

Striker looked annoyed at him. She then glanced nervously at the guard, but quickly looked away. “Of course I can control it. I’ve told you already. You want proof, bring in one of the guards.”

The guards all managed to step back, but Jesh pointed at one of them anyway. “Get over here.”

The guard stepped forward, nervously.

“Stalker, be nice,” said Striker, then she turned to the guard. “Pet her.”

“Pet her?”

“Yes, you know, with your hand. Do you not have dogs in this forsaken city?”

“Of course we have dogs.”

“Then pet her.”

With no small amount of trepidation, the guard walked to the kreve, who stood silently, looking at him suspiciously. He raised a hand and the kreve’s eyes followed it, but it didn’t react at all when he touched it gingerly on its head.

Jesh nodded appreciatively. “That’s quite a trick. Okay. I’m going to sign a license for you to take your pet into the city.”

“As well you should. I wouldn’t want to have to send a message spell to my father.”

“No one wants that, believe me,” said Jesh. “I was instructed by the guild mistress to provide you with everything you require.”

“Of course,” said Striker dismissively. He felt like she was really enjoying her role. “I’ll need food for her of course, unless you’re volunteering some of your guards.”

The guard stepped away quickly. Striker chuckled, and Jesh had to work really hard not to.

“Let’s go handle that now. We wouldn’t want any accidents.”

The two of them retreated back to the city. Stalker walked beside Striker, keeping an eye out for anything that might threaten her.

They didn’t speak again until they were back in the guild building. This time, she entered with her pet and the adventurers on the first level reacted as if they were being invaded, but Jesh warned them off.

“It’s okay everyone. Trace here is cleared to have this pet with her in the city, as per Aranya Freesh. I would strongly suggest that you treat her and her pet with the respect to which they are entitled.”

Around them, adventurers looked puzzled, curious, suspicious or, in the case of just a few, smug, as if they knew something the others didn’t.

Jesh and Striker ignored them all. Without waiting for an invitation, Striker went upstairs, heading for the shielded room where the rest of the Misfits awaited her return.

Inside the room, Aranya looked at Jesh.

“How did it go?”

“She’s brilliant. They bought it. The rumors will be everywhere in a day or two. And Striker walking around with a giant kreve in the streets will fuel it nicely. I must say, you’re a natural at undercover work,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of practice.”

Several members of her team looked puzzled at Striker’s reply, and Jesh filed the information away for later use. They were putting a lot of trust into a very young team. Learning everything he could about them would be time well spent.


Forward to Chapter 20 – The Other Other Realm Revisited

Return to Chapter 18 – The Adventurer’s Guild



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