Chapter 18 – The Adventurer’s Guild
Twelfth of Learning 1142
The home of the Adventurer’s Guild in Pelaro was the largest and most impressive guild building in the country. The structure was made from large sandstone bricks, but the mortar that held it together was the same shade, making it look, at least from the distance, as if it was carved from a single, giant piece of stone. It stood five stories tall, not only the tallest structure in the vicinity, but the most massive in terms of the amount of space it consumed. It dwarfed nearby guild buildings, who looked as if they cowered in the shadow of a giant, which politically wasn’t far from the truth.
Inside were rooms for guests, recovering adventurers, conferences, teaching, designated areas to practice magic and combat, offices to handle the bureaucratic nuances that any large organization had to deal with– even an official office for a young royal, tasked with acting as liaison for the nobility to the Adventurer’s Guild. No real authority was attached to the role, but it gave a prince or princess from one of the member kingdoms some much needed experience in dealing with adventurers, a thing all nobility had to do sooner or later. The Adventurer’s Guild held a vast amount of political power all around the world, but nowhere was that power greater than in The Allied Kingdoms of Karmenon.
Outside, the building was surrounded by designated gathering points, where groups could meet up, or expeditions could organize. Shops huddled around the vast structure, like barnacles attached to the hull of a ship, selling pretty much anything an adventurer could want– potions weapons, armor, camping gear, clothing, riding gear and tack, even diving equipment. None of these shops were particularly large, but they were well stocked. Their parent shops were some of the best to be found in the city, and they paid the Adventurer’s Guild quite a lot of coin to be allowed to set up there. To those who had never been inside, the Adventurer’s Guild Headquarters was an intimidating structure, but to even low level members, it was a home away from home.
The reception desk was positioned immediately as you walked in, right in the middle of the hall. It was a large, polished wooden affair that immediately drew the eye. Around the rest of the large room were tables and seats where adventurers could sit and chat, or even have a snack and something to drink. A woman sat behind the desk, who had probably been chosen as much for her appearance as for her abilities. She was young, probably early twenties, with flawless white skin, full lips, pale blonde hair and the bluest eyes Ressssen had ever seen. The serpent lord didn’t like that sort of thing, but she couldn’t deny that it was more welcoming than say having a salad sitting there.
“Welcome to the Pelaro Adventurer’s Guild, what can I do for you today?”
“I need to speak to someone about a situation of some sensitivity. It’s important so I won’t say more here in the open. We’d like a room that’s shielded from scrying, and someone who can cast a truth spell.”
The receptionist didn’t blink. Her smile never faltered. Damn she was good. “Are you a member of the guild?”
“Yesssss, I am Ressssen, leader of the team the Misfits of Karmenon.”
The serpent lord pulled a metal identification pin out of her pouch and placed it on the table. The receptionist glanced at it and nodded. “Please wait here. I’ll send your request through the proper channels.”
After retrieving her pin, Ressssen moved toward one of several refreshment vendors in the lobby and purchased a pot of hot tea. They acquired three cups, and retreated to one of the tables that sat off to the side, in an area with relatively few adventurers around.
Merck looked around with interest, having never been in the building before, but Ressssen and Garne had both been here several times, and paid little attention to their surroundings. Ressssen poured tea for the three of them, and explained what was likely to happen next.
“You’ll be asked questions, probably quite a few of them. They’ll know if you’re lying so tell the truth. If you can’t answer a question just say that. We’ll pass on the information and see what kind of help we can get from the guild.”
“What if they won’t help us?” asked Merck, concern etched on his face.
Garne shook his head. “They’ll help us. Imagine being the Adventurer’s Guild official that turned down doing something about the…”
Ressssen held up a hand, forestalling him. “Not here, Garne. Too many eyes and ears.”
A few of the people nearby looked disappointed and even some people further away. Merck scowled.
“Were those people eavesdropping?” asked Merck.
Ressssen chuckled. “Of course they were. In this business, information is power, and everyone is trying to move up in the ranks. Well, all the successful teams anyway. If we really have something that needs a shielded room, the amount of interest in us will be quite high.”
“Doesn’t that make us targets?”
“Not as much as you’d think. There are stiff penalties for harming a fellow member of the guild, particularly for something like that.”
“I’d like to point out that I’m not a member.”
Garne chuckled. “Good going. Those that are listening didn’t know that until now.”
Merck groaned and put his head on the table.
Ressssen placed a clawed hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be okay. We’ll protect you.”
She looked around the room pointedly after speaking, just to make sure that everyone who was bothering to eavesdrop was aware that Merck wouldn’t be taken from them without a fight.
King Terrence sat on the throne. At Leata’s request, he had cleared the throne room and closed the door, so that only Treya, Leata and Veloran were present. Then she launched into an explanation of the days events. As the king listened, his face grew increasingly concerned.
“So as I see it, we have two problems,” he said, after hearing the entire story. “The first is that Dahr stole a box of potions from the Temple of Sheba, and the second is that Chari is spending time alone with Eric. One of those problems has an easy solution.”
“And that is?” asked Leata.
“Have a wedding. It’ll be smaller if we have to plan it faster, but it might be worth it to give them both the freedom and cover they need.”
“That was Eric’s solution as well. How do you think King Leonid and Queen Rhea are going to take it?”
King Terrence smiled, wryly. “When I tell them what happened, they might insist on it.”
“That leaves the other matter,” said Veloran. “It’s two matters actually. The first is the theft. The temple is not going to make an issue of it…”
King Terrence cut him off. “Absolutely not. Right and wrong remain right and wrong. No son of mine can change that. Dahr will have to be punished.”
“Are you sure?” asked the queen. “He’s been through a lot lately. I’m not surprised he’s acting out.”
Terrence chuckled. “You’ve always had a soft spot in your heart for that boy. But it doesn’t matter. He has to know what he did was wrong.”
“Unless he’s right,” said Leata, “and he was simply following his god’s instructions. As it was described to me, that’s exactly what his god told him he must do.”
“And,” added the queen, “what Sheba told you to do was to let him.”
King Terrence’s face started turning red. There was a dangerous look in his eye. “This is not what honor is about. This is not something we can just let go. Robbing a temple…”
“Training,” said a voice in the air around them. They all heard it, and they all recognized it.
All the energy went out of the king. He dropped his head. “My apologies to all of you. We can not interfere in Eric and Dahr’s training. If Sheba can accept her own temple being robbed, who am I to gainsay her?”
He said the words but didn’t look happy. The queen reached over and placed her hand on his. “It’s all right, my love. It will be all right. Sheba just wants our sons to survive. If she knew what was going on and accepted it, then there is no victim here.”
The king nodded. “It is so. But there is still one more thing to talk about. You said that Eric gained four levels in one night. What about the others?”
“We don’t know specifics, but they all leveled,” said Leata.
“Are we saying veresh can help you level?”
Veloran shook his head. “It can’t, which is why I was so surprised. Experiments have been done, but veresh itself does not accelerate the leveling process and it can be dangerous if not done inside a temple. That much we do know.”
“We can let them know the risks, but we can’t make decisions for them. Veloran, make sure they know what they need to know to use the potions properly.”
Veloran bowed low. “I will, Your Majesty.”
Striker, Dreek and Borin made their way to the Adventurer’s Guild. The building looked the same as the last time Striker had been there, but no matter how many times she saw it, it still impressed her. The inside, however, was more interesting. She found Ressssen at a table with Garne and Merck.
“What’s the deal with all the adventurers we don’t know?”
“I don’t know,” said Ressssen.
“What happened to the regular guys?”
“They’re all in the dungeon,” shouted out a woman, who was obviously still eavesdropping.
“Dungeon?” said Ressssen. “There’s no dungeon around here.”
“There is now. It’s new.”
Ressssen looked confused, or at least she would have looked confused if you could read serpent lord facial expressions, which was quite a trick. Most humans couldn’t. “How can there be a new dungeon?”
The woman shrugged.
“It can’t be a new dungeon,” said Striker. “Maybe she means a recently discovered dungeon. Her accent is Andaran, so maybe it’s a language issue.”
The woman again spoke. “No, I speak just fine, thanks. It’s a new dungeon, as in one that wasn’t there this time last month.”
Striker blinked. That made no sense. How could a new dungeon just appear? This was something she’d have to check out when she had some time.
Merck cleared his throat. “Ummm, if I may. What is a dungeon?”
Striker raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You’ve never heard of a dungeon?”
“Of course I’ve heard of them. I just don’t really know what they are. I mean dungeons are places with monsters and treasure, but that’s all I know.”
Ressssen spoke up. “A dungeon is a place, usually underground, where monsters and treasure exist together. The dungeons near big cities are usually quite low level. It’s unlikely there’s a new one because building one would be noticed if it were near a city, even a small dungeon.”
“This one isn’t small,” the woman called out, “and it’s not low level either.”
“Will you stop listening to our conversation?” growled Garne.
“Nah. I have an appointment with an official, but he always keeps me waiting. And this is more entertaining than sitting here.”
“Just ignore her,” said Ressssen. “And don’t say anything you don’t want her to hear.”
To Striker’s surprise, Borin took over the conversation.
“Actually I read several books on dungeons. I find them fascinating. While Ressssen’s description was technically correct, there’s more to a dungeon than just monsters and treasure.”
“Oh?” asked Merck.
The entire team turned to Borin in surprise.
“Yes. Dungeons aren’t something that form naturally. They’re deliberately created. It takes years if not decades to build even a small one, and only the most powerful people can do it.”
“Why does it take so long?” asked Striker. “Couldn’t you just create a small area underground and throw some monsters in it?”
“Only maybe a single species, or two that get along, but that’s not really what a dungeon is,” answered Borin. “A dungeon is deliberately created. It has to be balanced. The creatures in it need to be placed in such a way that they either don’t have access to each other, or they breed fast enough but not too fast so they don’t overwhelm the dungeon and don’t get wiped out. It takes a lot of skill and planning, not to mention money and power.
“Some people create dungeons as tests for others. Others create them to protect their own treasure after they’re dead.”
“Are you sure? That seems like a lot of work,” said Striker.
“It isn’t work to people who create dungeons. It’s more like a…” Borin paused so he could choose the right word. “like a hobby.”
“A hobby!” Garne laughed. “This is why you shouldn’t read too many books.”
“It’s true,” insisted Borin. “Imagine that you’re a high-level Mage. Maybe Tier 4 or 5.”
“No one alive is Tier 5,” said Garne.
“That we know of. And we do know there have been Tier 5s in the past when a lot of dungeons were created. Now imagine you’re almost immortal. Not only do you live a long time, but nothing is powerful enough to kill you or even challenge you. You’ve already traveled the world. You’ve created spells. You’ve built yourself a palace. You’re rich. You’re powerful. What do you do to fill your time?”
“Are you saying,” asked Garne, “That dungeons are there simply because some powerful adventurers ages ago decided they needed something to do?”
“A bit more than that. It is an interesting challenge to see if you can get the balance right. Or how big you could build one before it consumes itself due to complexity. Or how complex a dungeon you can make.”
“So if these dungeons were built so long ago, why are there no dungeons of high levels near cities?” Garne was trying to find a flaw in the explanation.
“Because dungeons that are powerful are created in places of power, or near places of power. Which means that people avoid them and particularly avoid settling near them. They find nice quiet places to build cities. Low level dungeons are acceptable, even desirable, because they give cities some fame and often a lot of business when people come to see them. You know, Merck, those ruins in the swamp where we met you are the entrance to a dungeon.”
Merck looked stunned. “They are?”
“Yes. It was cleared out years ago by adventurers in the area, but that doesn’t make it safe. Once a dungeon is cleared, it’s just an underground warren waiting for other creatures to settle in it.”
“Anyway, if dungeons take so long to make and they’re so powerful,” chimed in Striker, “I don’t see how there could be a new dungeon anywhere near a big city. It would have been discovered by now.”
The woman who had been eavesdropping had wandered over now, either tired of using a skill, or tired of shouting responses. She was listening with everyone else. Only Garne seemed annoyed by this.
“Nevertheless it is a new dungeon. There’s a place near town, close even, where sometimes teenagers go to hang out and drink, or they sneak out there on a dare. It’s just a long deep cave. A well known local spot that has only one entrance. It’s big and obvious. Unless a bear decides to sleep in there, there’s no danger. It’s been used for decades. Then one day, it was different. A few teenagers went to do whatever it is they do there, and they never came back. Their friends alerted the guard, and they investigated. What they found was the entrance to a new dungeon. One that had never been there before.”
“That’s extraordinary,” said Borin, still obviously excited. “When did it happen? And did they ever find the missing children?”
If the newcomer was uncomfortable talking to a salad, she didn’t show it. “They didn’t. And it was about a week ago.”
“A week, about the time…” Merck suddenly yelped when Striker kicked him under the table. He was right. It was about the time he had had his vision, but that didn’t mean the events were related. And no one had to know more about their business.
Could this entire endeavor somehow be related to a brand new dungeon appearing out of nowhere? Striker didn’t see how it was possible. Nor did she have time to consider it now, for a guild official was approaching them across the large room.
He was a man of average height, shorter than most of the Misfits, probably about the same height as Merck. He had dark brown hair, matching eyes, and he was clean-shaven. He was thin, impeccably dressed in robes displaying the Adventurer’s Guild insignia. If there was a bureaucrat class, he would have been a prime example. Of course, no such class existed. Imagine a god of bureaucrats. What would that look like? Striker shuddered, then smiled.
People watched as he approached. He said not a word, but motioned for them to follow, and so the Misfits of Karmenon stood, followed by Merck, who seemed oblivious to the curious and avaricious stares that followed him as he walked.
The official didn’t speak until they were up two flights of stairs and sequestered in a room shielded against scrying. The room had a long rectangular table surrounded by chairs and nothing else. The official sat at the head of the table, and gestured for them to join him. Striker wished the chairs had cushions because she had a feeling they would be here for quite a while. It’s likely, she thought, that the reason they didn’t have cushions was to encourage people to get done with their business as soon as possible.
“My name is Nasya Grilla, and I am in charge of vetting requests such as the one you have made. Understand that I am not authorized to make final decisions, so much as verify that what you say is true and pass that information on to others that are above me. Do you understand?”
“Good. Tell me why you asked for this meeting.”
Ressssen’s tongue flicked out for a moment, tasting the air for whatever it was serpent lords sensed for, or perhaps she was just nervous. She had probably never had to do anything like this. When she spoke, it was slowly and deliberately without the extended esses she often used for effect.
“This is Merck Vanderoth. When I met him, about a week ago, he was a Level 4 Swindler. He is now a Level 1 Priest. He transitioned in the Mistmeer swamp ruins several hours outside of Tarlet. He has no idea which god he serves, but he was told one thing. He is supposed to find a boy, and finding him will have something to do with ending the undead threat.”
Naysa Grilla shook his head, and for a moment, Striker thought he was going to ask Ressssen to repeat the bizarre assertion.
“That’s quite a story,” he said finally, after a few seconds to parse the statement. He turned to Merck. “You used to be a Swindler?”
“That is correct.”
“And now you’re a Priest, but you don’t know who you serve?”
“How did this occur?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well you’re telling the truth, or at least a version of events you believe to be true. What is it you want from the guild, Ressssen?”
“We want to take this further. We want a contract to travel with Merck and guard him while he tries to find this boy.”
“And I suppose, Mr. Vanderoth, that you want some compensation for this as well.”
Merck looked surprised. “I do not. I have been tasked with something that I will do with or without your help. I only want to find this boy and help end the undead threat.”
The man nodded. “Again the truth. You were right to bring this to the attention of the guild, but I sincerely doubt that your team will be allowed to go with him.”
“For what reason?”
“I don’t see anything this important being trusted to a Tier 1 team, and your Team is Tier 1. You don’t have anyone even approaching Tier 2.”
Striker interceded. “Your records are old. I am a Level 1 Beast Master.”
Everyone at the table turned to stare at her, but it was Naysa Grilla who spoke.
“You speak the truth. But when you last filed with us, you were a Level 4 Hunter.”
“I was. I went up six levels in one night. I have not been back to adjust my records until now.”
Ressssen turned to Striker. “You did not think this was worth mentioning?”
Striker shrugged. “I’m sorry. It was so strange. Everything about it was strange.”
“And what beast did you master?” asked the functionary.
“A female kreve pack leader.”
Naysa Grilla did a double take. “A kreve? Are you certain?”
“The entire team witnessed it.”
Naysa leaned back in his chair and blew out his breath. “Wait here, please. This situation is beyond my station. I will leave now and return with someone higher up in the organization. If you have any doubts at all about anything you’re saying, I’d think twice about it. You can not hide the truth from whoever comes next.”
“We have no desire to hide the truth. We only want a continue what we have started and play a part in ending the undead threat. Is that so hard to understand?”
The functionary stared at Ressssen. “Everything that’s been said since we entered this room is hard to understand. I don’t know the truth of any of this, but if it’s true, it’s world altering. Please wait here, someone will be with you presently.”
And with those words, he stood, bowed briefly and fled the room. Whatever came of this, Naysa Grilla wanted no part of it.