The Dungeon Expedition — Part 3
Our trip continued without any particular incident. We spent the night in an inn in a small town and made it to the finish line safe and sound the next day.
I happened to look out the window as we crested a hill not too far from our destination. And as I did, I found myself greeted by a lively, beachside metropolis. The maritime city was beautiful. It wrapped itself part way around what could only be described as a glimmering blue expanse—a large lagoon that led straight out to sea. A dozen or so ships could be seen moving around within it, seemingly coming from and going to lands afar. The scale led me to believe that what lay before my eyes was likely one of the country’s busiest ports.
“Wow…” I muttered. “Now that, that’s a sight.”
“Is this your first time seeing the ocean?” asked Nell.
“Nah,” I said, without tearing my eyes from the lagoon. But it sure has been a while.
The Wicked Forest contained a body of water large enough to be considered a sea. I’d seen it many times, off in the distance, while flying around up high, but I’d yet to pay it a visit. It was deep within the forest’s western subsection, and on the other side of the mountain range that extended down from what used to be Lefi’s home up in the north. I would have to fully equip and steel myself for a journey that would last at least three days if I ever decided I wanted to visit it. In other words, it was my first time being anywhere near any sort of ocean post-reincarnation.
“This is the seaside city of Poezahr,” said Carlotta, as I continued to take in the sights. “It will be our base of operations for the time being. The first task on our agenda is paying the governor a visit. I’m afraid that’s something we’ll have to have you along for.”
“Orders received, commander.”
“I may be a commander, but I’m certainly not yours…”
“You can just ignore him,” said Nell. “He’s just being silly, as usual.”
The brunette’s comment on my personality led her superior to chuckle wryly.
“He seemed much more solemn and earnest when we first met.”
Wow, talk about rude. You’re making it sound like I don’t take life seriously. Just FYI, I always take everything mad seriously. Oh yeah, that reminds me… Despite bragging and shit talking, I’d gotten my ass handed to me when we played Trump. I was, unsurprisingly, not a professional gambler, nor even all that good at card or mind games in general by any right. Carlotta, on the other hand, was one of the big shots constantly engaged in the mind numbingly complicated, seven dimensional chess game known as politics. She had to deal with freakishly intelligent manipulators and attempt to outmaneuver them on a regular basis. So yeah, no shit an average person, er I mean, average demon lord, like me is gonna get shitstomped. Speaking of, Nell has been getting pretty good at Trump lately too. Ugh… goddamn otherworlders. You can never underestimate ‘em without getting burned.
The carriage reached its destination, a checking station just outside the city, as we were busy engaged in conversation. The paladin driving our carriage, whose name I vaguely recalled as Thello, managed to get us through without any hassle after a brief conversation with the guards. And so, we slowly began chugging our way through town.
I took the opportunity to look around and make note of the fact that most of the people out and about were rocking some pretty dark tans, as one could expect given their proximity to a nice, sunny beach. Their clothes were also relatively thin, loose, and cool to match their warmer environment. Nell had started giving me a stare, so I decided not to look or think too much about the female populace, but I had already noted, with certainty, that looking around the city alone was enough to make a man very happy.
Our carriage eventually navigated its way through to a large mansion, the governor’s manor. It seemed that the guards we’d spoken to earlier had already sent word about our arrival, as several servants were standing in front of the building, waiting and ready to receive us.
“We’re here, commander,” said the driver.
“Thank you, Thello. And good work getting us here. It was a long drive.”
“Thanks Thello,” echoed Nell.
“It’s all in a day’s work,” said the knight.
We disembarked in front of the building, and were immediately joined by the paladins that’d been in the carriage behind ours, all of whom stood behind Carlotta in a neat line. Once we’d all gathered up, a young looking butler, whose complete and utter lack of grey hairs almost made him seem unsuitable for the job, greeted us with a bow.
“Good afternoon. You must be the paladins we were expecting. You are, by all means, free to leave your carriages here. One of our trusted valets will have them looked after.”
“Thank you,” Carlotta said, before turning around. “Nazulle, stay here and make sure the horses are taken care of appropriately. The rest of us, you’re with me.” She turned back to the butler. “Lead the way.”
“Pleasure to meetcha. The name’s Abel Lebriad. They call me the governor of Poezahr.”
The man that greeted us was pretty much the embodiment of a stereotypical sailor. He was a brawny, well built individual with a short head of hair, the sides of which were shaved in a manner reminiscent of a soldier. His thick, burly arms were covered with all sorts of tattoos, which were still fairly easy to make out despite his sun darkened skin. The words he used were fairly polite and amicable, but the tone he spoke in was rough. It was like his voice carried the weight of the many years he’d spent at sea. You know, if I met him under any other circumstances, I probably would’ve assumed he was the boss of a mob or something. Like holy shit, dude reeks of kingpin.
“Carlotta De Maya. The pleasure is mine,” said the bigshot in our group.
Once both individuals had named themselves, they exchanged a brief, solid handshake.
“Let’s get straight to business… is what I’d like to say, but I’ve got something on my mind. You mind if I go ahead and ask it?” he said.
“By all means.”
“Who’s that? He doesn’t look like one of the church’s knights to me… Is he…”
The curious, speculative expression on his face seemed to imply that he’d more or less already figured it out, and that he just wanted confirmation. Me wearing my mask was probably a big help as well.
“That would be Wye,” said Carlotta. “He’s here to lend us a hand. I can guarantee that he’s very good at what he does.”
“Sup,” I said, with a casual, lazy wave.
I hadn’t actually thought to wear my mask given the interaction I’d had with Nell earlier, but Carlotta had convinced me otherwise. All the effort I’d spent helping Nell, and therefore the country, had ended up providing me with quite the reputation. The knight lady had wanted to make use of it in order to help people identify me. And it seemed that Mr. Ripped had in fact done exactly that. Welp… Looks like Nell was right about the mask standing out more.
“So this is the man that all the others have been talking about…” His expression hardened for a moment, as if to appraise me, but almost immediately morphed back into a smile as he decided to move the conversation along. “I’m going to be frank. I was wondering what your higher ups were thinking when they told me they’d be sending a small group of men over to help with our demon lord situation. But now, I understand. I was just underestimating you.”
“I was always told you were frank, Sir Abel. It seems the rumours are true.”
“That’s just how we sailors are. We don’t care for pleasantries, so much as we do the objective truth.” He responded with a shrug. “Sailing’s a collaborative effort. We all have to board the same ship and work towards the same goals. If things start to sour, then we’re all sure to die. We have to be upfront and say when we don’t think we can board ‘cause of a lack of trust. Consider this a rite of passage.”
“I take it that means you’ve decided to let us sail with you?” asked Carlotta.
“Naturally. As you’ve brought both the hero and the elusive Masked Meister, I can tell that you’re not just here for the sake of some silly political game. You’re here to give clearing this dungeon a real shot, so it’s only fitting that I see to you with the same upfront honesty.” He grinned. “Welcome to Poezahr, comrades.”
“…I wasn’t expecting the church to put so many of their resources on the table.” Abel spoke in a hushed tone as he watched the paladins leave the premises from the window in his study.
“Aye. You ‘n me both, cap’n,” said the young butler that accompanied him, in a much rougher tone than the one in which he’d greeted the guests. “Sons of bitches even went ‘n lugged in the goddamn hero. That ain’t somethin’ ya just fuckin’ do, innit?”
“She’s a tough one,” agreed the governor. “But what’s got me more shocked is that she has both the Swordmaiden and the Masked Meister with her. That trio’s probably the church’s most effective group of elites.”
“I ‘ear that fuckin’ sketchy masked bloke ain’t actually with ‘em though, eh? He wasn’t wearin’ no damned matchin’ branded suits o’ metal like the rest of ‘em either.”
“His precise affiliation doesn’t matter. The only thing that does is that he’s here. It means that he’s at least willing to help them,” said Abel. “But you’re right. It’s suspicious. I’ve got a whole bunch of questions as to why they’ve brought an outsider with them. And I doubt any of the answers involve much in the way of helping us.”
Both men stayed silent and took a moment to contemplate the possibilities.
“What… d’ya think these church scallywags are really after?” It was, eventually, the butler that broke the silence.
“I don’t know,” said Abel. “It looks like they’re at least planning to do as they’ve said and follow through on conquering the dungeon, and I’d be relieved if that’s really all they end up doing. Because, whatever. Either way, kid, keep in mind that we don’t want the church on our backs,” he said. “Hell, we don’t even want the swordmaiden on our backs. That’d be just as awful. She’s way too shrewd for me to want to deal with her.” Abel sighed. “I already told her we’d welcome her, so go tell the boys to treat her with all the respect they’ve got before anything happens.”
“Aye aye, cap’n.”
“And for the last time, stop calling me that. I’m not your captain anymore. I’m a governor now.”
“Of course, sir. I apologize for breaking rank.” The butler immediately snapped back to his previous demeanor, which led Abel to chuckle.
“Let’s just keep an eye on them for now. The one thing I can say for sure is that they’re a fearsome bunch. If all goes well and they do their jobs, then we’ll be short a demon lord problem.”
With his piece said, Abel leaned back into his chair as he watched the church’s horse-drawn carriages vanish into the city streets.