Keep ‘er Steady
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
We once again gathered in the inn’s lobby early the next morning, fully refreshed and ready for whatever the day had in store.
“You’re both rather tanned for a pair that’s only been out for one short afternoon…” Carlotta gave us a bit of an exasperated smile.
“Yeah, we had lots of fun.”
“I-I’m sorry… I know we came with a real goal in mind, but I let myself get caught up in having fun.”
While I was happy to respond with a toothy grin, Nell seemed to feel ashamed of herself for letting loose while on a mission—even in spite of the fact that we’d stopped after just an hour of frolicking about so as to not tire ourselves out for all that was soon to come. After that, we changed, headed into town and aimlessly wandered about, taking in the sights, before finally deciding to have dinner at a restaurant on the beachfront. Once we were sated and full, we promptly returned to the inn and got ourselves a good night’s sleep.
All in all, it’d been a day fun enough to go down in the books. Man… it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to destress like that.
The dungeon’s atmosphere was great. But it was a much louder, noisier place. That wasn’t a bad thing, of course, but I’d always found it a bit hard to find enough time to kick up my legs and relax. And basking under the sun had fulfilled that exact need.
“There’s no need for you to apologize,” said Carlotta. “I was the one who told you to rest up. If anything, I’m glad you were able to cut loose.”
She gave the girl a kind smile before clearing her throat and switching to the rigid, serious expression one would expect of someone in her position.
“It’s about time for us to head to the Adventurer’s Guild. Are you ready to leave?”
“I forgot to ask you this yesterday, but why are we heading to the guild anyway?” I asked.
“The dungeon that we will be invading is under the guild’s supervision. As we are holy knights, and not adventurers, we will need to check in with them before we depart for it,” she explained. “We’ll also be borrowing a group of individuals that happens to know about the dungeon’s layout.”
“So what you’re saying is we’re grabbing us some guides…”
It was a good idea, and we were certainly going to be better off with them than not. While I knew my dungeon like the back of my hand, I knew next to nothing about the one I was about to march on. Any bit of information we could glean was likely going to help.
“We’re ready,” said Nell. “We sorted everything out before coming downstairs.”
“Good. Then let’s go,” said Carlotta.
The building we’d entered was more or less the archetypal guild. It had a quest board, a reception desk, and even a bar to boot.
“Good morning. How can I help you?” The receptionist, a young lady in her twenties, greeted us as we approached.
“We’re with the Faldien Order,” replied Carlotta. “We would like to speak with the guildmaster as per the letter we sent in advance.”
“Oh, the paladins! We’ve been expecting you. Please wait just one moment. I’ll be out with the guildmaster shortly.”
She left her desk and went up the stairs in the back. When she returned, we found her accompanied by a man whose age didn’t really seem all that appropriate given his position in the organisation’s hierarchy. He was young, slender, and wore fancy clothes that more than vouched for his sense of fashion.
“Welcome, paladins. I’m Jay, Poezahr’s guildmaster. Sir Abel has already filled me in on everything I need to know,” he said. “Thank you for coming all the way out here to help us.”
“There’s no need to thank us. As I’m sure you’re aware, we’re only here because this is mutually beneficial.”
“I’m glad you see it that way,” said Jay. “In that case, I’m not going to bother wasting any more time on small talk. Give me just one second.” He stepped past her and raised his voice. “Griffa, Reyus, Lurolle! Get over here!”
The shout caused three of the adventurers at the bar to react in the order that their names were announced.
“You called?” The first to respond was a man equipped with the classic sword and shield combo. The fact that he was in front seemed to indicate that he was most likely the party’s leader.
“Comin’,” said a lightly armoured man with a bow.
“The two of you are being rude. Can’t you at least pretend to respect the guildmaster?” The girl in the party, whose light cloth armour seemed indicative of her status as their mage, chided both her companions before turning to the guildmaster. “We’ll be right over, sir.”
They were considered mythril, which meant there were only two additional ranks for them to climb before reaching the system’s apex. Their stats seemed to suggest that this rating was not unjustified; their numbers were very much akin to those of the paladins’, minus the two exceptions, of course.
“…It looks like you’ve brought out your elites,” muttered Carlotta, who had also, one way or another, determined that they weren’t just small fry.
“These three were part of the original party that we’d enlisted to eliminate the demon lord. They were the only group to come out uninjured despite playing a proactive role in combat. I’ve no doubts that they’ll be of use to you.”
“Impressive, certainly impressive,” said Carlotta as she turned to the party’s leader. “I’ll be looking forward to working with you.”
“Y’all ain’t needing to talk us up like that. We ain’t actually all that tough. We’ve just got a cautious streak ‘cause we went and almost got ourselves killed in the Wicked Forest not all that long back, y’know?”
The guy with the swordsman brushed off the praise in a mix of humbleness and self-derision. He spoke with a bit of an accent, like the kind you’d hear from someone that grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Wait, did he just mention the Wicked Forest? I guess they must be one of the groups that heads into the outskirts to gather rare materials every once in a while, huh? I remember making a note of a few others doing just that.
“That’s enough pessimism out of you lot,” chided the guildmaster. “You three will be representing the guild as a whole while you’re out there, so stop lamenting your failures, perk up and give it your best shot.”
“Ain’t nothing to worry about when it comes to that. We was still planning to give it all we got anyway,” said Griffa, unenthusiastically.
That was when it finally clicked. Carlotta’s comment about mutual benefit finally started really making sense. I get it. This isn’t actually just about beating up some demon lord. The church is sending people ‘cause it wants to prove that it’s got enough power to actually protect the people, while the guild’s doing it because it doesn’t want to lose face. The whole guide thing is just a goddamn pretense.
Thinking about representation also led me to recall that, while I had yet to do any quests whatsoever, I was technically an adventurer myself. Both Lefi and I had signed up in order to make it easier for us to get through the gate. I could have easily flashed my card and shown the guild’s guys that, in all technicality, I was one of them, but I realized that it was probably better not for me to mention it.
I’d registered under my real name.
I didn’t really see any point in hiding my name from Carlotta, of all people. I felt that she was trustworthy given the frequency with which we’d worked together and the manner we interacted each time we did. But it seemed a bit awkward to suddenly bring up. What am I supposed to say? Do I just be like, “Oh by the way, I was lying about my name this whole time,” or something like that? Yeah, Iunno. I mean, does she even really need to know my name? She pretty much just calls me Masquerade all the time anyway. Eh… I guess I’ll bring it up if any less awkward chances ever come up.
Once we finished working our way through a few more formalities, we left the guild and headed towards the pier. The wharf we ended up stopping at featured a particularly large, wind-powered ship.
“Woah… Is this how we’re planning to get there?” I gasped as I looked at our ride. I had no idea what it was according to this world’s classification system, but its sheer size and reliance on sails led me to internalize it as a sort of galleon—not that I’d ever seen a galleon before. Hell, this is the first time I’m ever seeing anything that actually runs on sails, period. Closest thing I’ve ever experienced was that one shitty cruise I went on a few years back. And unlike that boring old modern contraption, this thing actually fills me with a sense of adventure. Sails are love. Sails are life.
The “galleon” was so big that it needed a crew several dozen men strong just to get it up and running. Sailors were going up and down the ramp leading onto the boat nonstop, hauling large, assorted pieces of luggage with them as they did.
“So uh… I know this is coming a bit late, but why exactly are we getting on board a ship again?”
My question, which reeked of how poorly informed I was, was answered by the girl standing by my side.
“Oh… that’s right, I guess we haven’t told you all that much about the dungeon yet,” said Nell. “We need a ship to get to it because it’s at sea.”
“At sea? Really?”
Does that mean there’s just like a random cave in the middle of the ocean? …Nah, that can’t be right, can it? It’s probably on an island or something, right? Wait, does being on an island count as being at sea? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t…
In my confusion, I decided to resort to calling a friend instead of trying to worm my way through all the different choices. Looking at said friend for an answer led me to realize something that I hadn’t caught onto from just hearing her voice.
“Wow uh, that’s one unhappy frown. You’re pretty much making the same face Illuna makes when she sees that we’re having green peppers for dinner,” I said.
“That’s… a really easy example to understand.” She giggled, then began to explain. “The dungeon we’re heading to this time is well uhm… a haunted ship.”
Nell explained that the dungeon was first discovered because undead monsters, such as wraiths and skeletons, had begun appearing not too far from Poezahr. The people sent to investigate discovered a ship stranded at sea. They approached in order to search for survivors, only to end up hightailing it out immediately upon being attacked by a wave of undead monsters. Additional investigation eventually revealed that the ship, or rather, ships, were a part of a dungeon, one responsible for the sudden surge in the undead.
The reason that we needed such a large ship was because it needed to be able to function as a resupply point and base of operations. It could have, in all technicality, been possible with a smaller ship if one were to happen to have dimensional pockets like yours truly, but such abilities and items were rare and not always necessarily capable of storing as much as one would like.
“So uh… you think you’re going to be okay?” I asked. “Iunno about you, but I’m not sure that having someone as easily spooked as you exploring a ship full of literal ghosts is a good idea.”
I’m totally looking forward to it though. She’s so cute when she’s scared shitless. Straight up adorbs/10.
“I-I know I’m a bit a bit of a scaredy cat, but work is work…”
She turned her eyes on the horizon in an attempt not to focus on what the foreseeable future had in store. She has a point too. Work is work. You can’t just ditch ‘cause you don’t like something.
“I accepted the mission without thinking because I heard it was one that had to do with clearing a dungeon,” she groaned, regretfully. “But then I started hearing all the details, and now I really regret it…”
She allowed her shoulders to slacken and her head to hang as she heaved a long, deep sigh.
“Try not to worry about it. It’s not like you have to go at it alone.” I plopped my hand on her head. “I’ve got your back, and I can fix just about everything other than your complete and utter lack of courage.”
“That would’ve been a really nice one liner if you left out the last part…” She pouted at me, unamused.
“My bad, my bad. It’s just, you know, I’ve fallen so deeply in love with you that teasing you has become one of my raisons d’être.”
“That doesn’t make me the slightest bit happy. In fact, I’m almost shocked by how unhappy it makes me.”
She puffed up her cheeks as she said that in a bit of a confused tone, which led me to break into laughter right as we began boarding the ship.
“All aboard!” A few minutes later, the captain, a man that was somehow even larger than the rest, barked a few commands in a loud booming voice. “Raise the sails!”
“Aye aye! Cap’n!”
“And hoist the anchor!”
His men repeated his shouts to ensure that communication was established all around the ship. Before long, the ship’s sails were unfurled, the ropes tying us to the pier were reeled in, and we were on our way.