It was noon the next day when the trio of adventurers finally made it to the guild, the night before still fresh in their minds.
Ethan was conflicted as they sat in the guild master’s office, the enormous wolf woman sitting at a comically small desk impatiently tapping a padded finger on the wood.
“Well?” She growled; her irritation clear as she looked over the three B-rank adventurers with tired eyes. “I am waiting?”
Ethan swallowed hard as he looked to his companions. Mira perfectly sat still as she stared, seemingly enamored, at a knot in the floorboards while Fiori fidgeted next to her. Fiori stood out the most of the three as Ethan was also doing his best to not look at the guild master, trying his darndest to sink into the hard stool he sat on wishing to be anywhere but here. The cat woman was incapable of sitting still much to her own dismay as she sat with her hands in her lap, her fingers constantly intertwining with one another as she repeatedly shifted her legs.
It wasn’t that the guild master was intimidating… She was, but that was not the current cause of their discomfort. No, it was the report they had to give, one they knew would not be satisfactory to the guild given the guild masters irritation.
The guild master looked tired; her entire body slumped in the chair she sat in as she rubbed her eyes. “I know you three left the city right after her, and that the three of you returned with her early this morning.” She took a deep breath, the exhale coming out more like a snarl causing the three to stiffen more, “what I don’t know is why in the dead of night my husband and I were awoken to a message that she had been, what was it? Eaten by a basilisk? Ring any bells?”
Ethan shuttered at the memory of the enormous man pulling a nearly unconscious girl from the giant lizard, his hands balled into fist as the memory replied in his mind.
After the girl had effectively blinded them and ran off, he had tried to get the two to follow him back to town to raise an alarm about a potential demon in the woods only to be stopped by Mira, who after the girl left, finally collected herself enough to speak. She helpfully informed the two of them that the monster had to be none other than the youngest daughter of the Lapidary family. The icing on the cake was the part in the explanation where she revealed the girl was a saint of all things, meaning if they left her alone in the forest, they wouldn’t just have the nobility breathing down their necks but the gods themselves, though in hindsight that did explain the guards and priests following her into the forest.
Once the girl’s identity was revealed they had no choice but to follow the girl, if anything happened to her while the three of them were supposed to be watching her their lives as adventurers would be over. Sure, the nobility of Crown could ban them while in their borders, even brand them criminals, but they could simply leave Crown and continue elsewhere. But if the damned churches got involved, there wouldn’t be anywhere in the world they could hide from the backlash of letting a saint die.
When the three finally caught up to the girl it was too late, arriving just in time to see the guards engaging the basilisk who had eaten the girl when she “took a nap in the woods” …
Fuckin insane nobles. Ethan thought remembering the girl's wicked smile as she happily told them that she was taking a nap before waking up in the beast stomach.
While the guards fought, the priest arrived, informing the three that the girl had been eaten moments before they arrived. They told them that but the underlying order to assist in the recovery of her body was clear as they engaged the monster themselves.
Assuming the girl to already be dead, they had hoped to avoid punishment for losing the girl if they at least helped recover what was left of her only to find they had drastically overestimated their own abilities once they engaged the A-rank mana beast.
Even with a whole platoon of guards, a handful of dedicated support mages, and the three B-rank adventurers nothing they threw at the beast seemed to do any lasting damage, its acidic blood slowly corroding away their weapons leaving them no choice but to try and fell it using their magic.
Ethan believed they would have killed the beast too, eventually. They fell into a good rotation of a handful of fighters drawing its attention as those capable of ranged offensive magic surrounded it and attacked in turns, slowly whittling away its scaly hide, but it was slow. The size of the beast gave it an advantage as most of their ranged attacks couldn’t penetrate deep enough to deal a fatal blow, and the beast had enough intelligence to keep them from focusing on one spot or pinning it down.
That was until those two arrived, the Lapidarys. Ethan, until this point in his life, had been completely confident in his abilities as a magic swordsman, even boasting that he could be a Hero. He truly believed that since reaching the lofty B-rank, that he stood near the top of the power levels of humans … that perception was shattered the moment that giant of a man appeared before him.
Ethan wished he could say he saw it happen, that he could feel the change in the battle, that the arrival of two fresh fighters had turned the tides and everyone contributed to the fight equally…. He couldn’t though. One moment they were all slowly chipping away at this mountain of a monster before them, the next it was dead, its thick neck chopped clean though as the smell of burning flesh filled the air.
Fiori had told him that the man fell from the sky like a falling star, swinging a massive burning sword that stretched into the sky as he swung it down. The unbelievable story was only reinforced by the smoldering trench that had been carved through the trees as a gust of wind snuffed out any lingering flames.
But the insult didn’t end there, no, there was the woman. The woman who walked through the carnage with the composure of a general who was disappointed they had to enter the field themselves as she walked past the exhausted fighters. She walked right up to the beast as if knowing exactly where what she wanted was located, and with a flick of her sword, cut through the thick hide like butter.
Those two… Ethan was crushed as he watched the two so easily dispatch the creature that a small army’s worth of mages were struggling to keep pinned down. He knew he was far from the strongest in the world, but….
The guild master let out another sigh, breaking his thoughts as he looked up to see her scanning a paper on her desk, her golden eyes glancing up to meet his causing him to finally speak. “We… we failed. There is no excuse.” He resigned himself to whatever repercussions the guild decided on.
Normally failing a request could result in anything from a fine to having your guild card revoked, though such an extreme measure was rare.
“Well thankfully those two girls are ok.” The guild master set the paper down as she slowly massaged her temples with the other hand. “But that still leaves us with what exactly to do with you three.”
“We… We didn't do anything wrong. I mean how were we supposed to know who she was before…” Fiori managed to say before she was silenced by the guild master raising her hand.
“Lady Lapidary is all but calling for blood from everyone who participated in the protection of her daughters last night.” The guild master watched for the three’s reaction, each one of them sinking into their chair as her words struck them. “But Sir Lapidary is calling for promotions as well, trying to increase the reward for everyone who fought... Seriously, those two cannot agree on whether or not the request was fulfilled or not.”
“No offense ma’am,” Mira finally spoke, “but isn’t the guild supposed to be an independent organization? Does the noble family in this city hold enough power to…”
“Both Alastair and Taaffeite are high ranking adventurers.” She let out a snort that honestly sounded like a laugh, “Alastair being the only active SA-Rank adventurer in all of Crown. Taaffeite is no push over either, being a SB-Rank adventurer. So, you can see why their opinions are quite… valued inside of the guild.”
“They were both S class adventurers?” Ethan paled at the mention of the two’s ranks.
Adventurer ranks only ranged from F-A, however, there was another classification an adventure could have that being the “specialist” class.
The S-class adventurers were adventurers who excelled at a specific task or had an ability that would put them apart from everyone else. They’re adventurers who had achievements above their rank in a specific field, a classification that would allow someone to take on requests above their rank in a certain field, or someone the guild could call on for a specialized task.
Ethan had only met one other S class adventurer, a young man on the border of Ecrein who had a rare skill for swimming that would allow him to breathe underwater. He was only a SD-rank however, his specialty for requests that required someone to retrieve items or rescue people from the water set him apart from other D-ranks, but he lacked any actual combat abilities himself.
No, it makes sense, Ethan calmed himself thinking back to the devastating strike that killed the basilisk last night, I really thought the dragon slayer thing was just a rumor but…
“So, we have come to a… compromise.” The guild master stood from her desk and walked to stand before them, leaning her massive frame back onto the desk as her tail pushed some papers to the floor. “Given the girls are ok, you will be paid for a partial completion of the request, the sum of which will be retained by the guild as a fine for a partial failure of the quest.” With what looked like a smile she tossed a seemingly empty coin purse to Ethan, “meaning you make a net of zero. Congratulations, you are the first party in the history of the guild to squeeze a promotion out of failing a request.”
Ethan sat for a long moment thinking about what was said before noticing a lump in the seemingly empty coin purse. He slowly opened it to find 3 golden pins and a single copper pin. “We… we got a promotion….” He took a deep breath as Fiori began pulling on Mira’s arm.
“Finally! We are A-rank adventurers!” She exclaimed excitedly as she shook Mira.
“But… but how?” Mira asked in nearly a whisper only for the guild master to shrug.
“You participated in a high-class protection request, along with your assistance in the subjugation of an A-rank mana beast, the reward of which is down at the counter by the way.”
Ethan sat looking into the bag with disbelief, becoming an A-rank adventurer was his dream, someone who could easily be considered a Hero yet… “It's… we don’t deserve this.” He said, causing Fiori’s celebration to stop as they all looked at him. “I can’t accept this!” he threw the bag down as he sprang from his seat, “we did nothing! We… I don’t deserve this.” He shook as he clenched his fist. “I was useless, I couldn’t even see what happened, moreless… I… I’m too weak.” He sank back into his chair, his head hanging low as he put his arms on his knees.
“Ethan,” Mira placed a hand on his shoulder as he shook his head.
“We don’t deserve this Mira, we failed. We couldn’t protect that girl last night even if we wanted to. Think about it, really think about it. If we hadn’t been there what would have been different?” He slowly picked the bag up, pulling the four medals from it and rolling them in his hand, “that monster would have kept killing cannonballs until she was satisfied and just walked back to town. Hell, even if she did run into the Basilisk, she probably would have eaten it too, or her guards would have fought it before those two showed up… we were useless.”
The guild master crossed her arms as she looked the young man up and down, a slight smirk on her wolf-like face as she did. “You’re right,” her tone was nearly mocking as she stepped towards him, “had the bandits you dispatched made it to her, Hecatolite likely would have killed them,” Ethan looked up to the woman who loomed over him, her golden eyes piercing though his very core as she looked down on him, “hell, had she been awake I doubt even the Basilisk would have stopped her. but” she tilted her head back as she raised an eyebrow, “none of that is what happened is it?”
“Sometimes boy, it’s not what you did or didn’t do,” she plucked one of the golden pins from his hand, “it's simply what happened. Call it luck or whatever you want but the point still stands,” she roughly pinned the gold pin to his collar, “the five of you are now the only A-ranking adventuring party in all of Navratna. Congratulations.” She said with a grin.
“The five of us?” Mira finally noticed the fourth copper pin in Ethan’s hand. She grabbed it and inspected it, “SD-Rank… wait.”
“You three were looking for another member who would be willing to travel to Ecrein with you, weren’t you?” The woman smiled, all her teeth bare as she chuckled, “it just so happens those two girls will be heading there and will need a competent group of adventurers to show them the ropes.”
Ethan’s mouth became dry as he realized what was happening, the true punishment for failing the mission last night, “we’re being enlisted, aren’t we?” he swallowed hard.
“You're welcome to refuse, but” the guild master looked to Fiori who sank back into her chair, “and I quote, “I already bribed some new friends to teach us adventuring stuff.””
“Damn it, Fiori,” Mira glared at the cat woman, “I told you to give that orb back!”
“I tried! She wouldn’t take it!” Fiori hissed her hand going to a pouch on her side defensively.
“That’s it!” Mira yelled, lunging for the bag, the two instantly beginning to wrestle as the guild master laughed.
Ethan ignored the two as they wrestled, instead he looked to the laughing guild master and asked, “you keep saying girls?”
“Oh, you haven’t figured it out yet?” She asked nonchalantly as she held out one of her massive hands, blocking the two fighting women from crashing into her desk, “I won't ruin the surprise. Now then,” She scooped the two women up, holding each of them by the scruff much like one would hold a puppy they were about to scold, “out you go. Be sure to give Amethyst her pin when you next see her.” She effortlessly tossed the two women from her office, turning back to Ethan who quickly hurried out of the office. Only to crash into the waiting arms of the giant man from the night before.
“Oh, if it isn’t the adventurers my daughters took a liking to,” his laugh shook the ground as he lifted Ethan from the floor.
“Try not to scare them off Alastair. We can't really afford to lose our only A-rank party.” The guild master called out as she sat back at her desk.
“Nonsense, Bell,” Alastair tucked the stunned Ethan beneath his arm with the same ease as one would a child, “I simply wish to talk to them about my daughter wishing to join their party.” He laughed, turning to the two girls who had both scrambled to stand, “let's head over to the barracks to talk, the guards who watch over my dear daughter are already there.” He grinned as he began to walk, the two girls left with no choice but to follow the man as he carried Ethan who for his part, put up a valiant but ultimately useless struggle.