Chapter 1: Vale

Sunlight flowed freely from the cracked, wooden ceiling. Lifelessly the light descended through the stagnant air catching only on the countless specks of glittering dust before it disappeared into the floorboards.

Three teens stood proudly upon these floorboards amidst the sea of ever-falling dust. They stood before a tall, planked desk behind which another man gazed down upon them menacingly.

“What are you runts doing here?” he asked with a voice like grinding metal. His head rested firmly within his muscled hands and his eyes, surrounded by scars, were dark as death. His face expressed no foreignness to this gloomy appearance leading Wolfe to believe that this might be his default state. Sweat trickled intermittently down his rough face no doubt caused by this humid heat.

“This is the Adventurer’s Guild, correct?” Wolfe responded with a generous smile lacking the tension of age. Of course he already knew the answer.

“That is so, which is why I repeat— what are you runts doing here?” His grating voice left the three unfazed apparently unaware of the man’s displeasure, or at least not bothered by it.

They had visited the Adventurer’s Guild many times before though they had never met this particular man. Each time they had visited they would watch from a corner of this empty room observing the Adventurers in the room next over. The entrance sat beside this desk. An unblocked gap in the wall beyond which a bar could be seen, and heard, strumming with activity.

Despite their desires the three had never walked past this room. Only Adventurers were allowed entry into the bar. They simply sat in the corner watching and listening to the Adventurers as they spoke and told their grand and tall tales. As if breathing in their legend. But this time was different.

“We have come to register our party!” The jolly smile never faded from Wolfe’s face as he spoke excitedly barely restraining himself from bouncing around the room. Tails hid his emotions worse as his legs began quaking from a mixture of nerves and joy. Even Ort had a smile creeping across his face.

But the man was not influenced by their eagerness. In fact his face distorted further into a grimace as he surveyed the three youths before him. “Don’t you runts know that Adventuring is not like the stories you hear in childhood?” He had seen faces like these before, the animated faces of ignorant teens who had spent far too long dreaming of Adventuring and not enough time in the real world. His experience marked these sorts of faces as belonging to those who would soon die. Die a miserable death from underestimating this gruesome world around them.

“Let us be the judges of that,” replied Wolfe regaining some calmness after witnessing the man’s somber expression. Wolfe felt as if that man’s cold and dark eyes reflected countless deaths and unending sorrow. This man surely has history as an Adventurer, and an experienced one at that. Not that that would stop the three of them though. They had already waited so long for this day.

“Runts, you are still too young. Leave for now. Come back in a few years of training. This guild will still be here.” He let out a long and tired sigh. This wasn’t the man’s first time arguing with anxious youths nor would it be his last. He already knew how this argument would end but he still felt he had to give it a shot. Unfortunately the entry requirements into the Adventurer’s Guild were quite loose.

This time Tails spoke up. “We aren’t runts you know! We are full-fledged adults and we have been training to become Adventurers for a long time!” When Tails mentioned being an adult he shifted to his tippy-toes in an attempt to look the man more in the eye. Still, Tails was desperately short even if including his wild brown hair.

He was the shortest and the youngest in the group. Though he claimed to be an adult, in all manners this was a lie. He was only fourteen years old after all, two years from the age of adulthood. On the other hand Wolfe and Ort were both, at least officially, adults so Tails felt no guilt in his lie. He had always hung out with those older than him anyways.

“We might even be stronger than you,” Tails said with a shallow smile. He felt rather frustrated with this man calling them ‘runts.’ He wished adults would treat him with the respect he believed he deserved. He wasn’t a fool.

“Runts or not, Adventuring is still dangerous. For your own sake, train a few more years before joining. Don’t rush towards death, its already fast enough.” The man saw the end of the conversation. Another lost cause. Still he felt better for the attempt.

“We will take your advice into account.” Wolfe saw no reason to be rude toward him, he only meant the best. “Nonetheless, we will still be making an official party. What do you need from us?” Wolfe’s smile returned in full force.

“Not much,” the man said turning to the mess of papers spread across the desk before him. “Party formation, party formation,” he sighed while looking around. After a few seconds he found the sheet he was searching for. “What are your names?” He asked while grasping a pen clumsily in his hand.

Tails spoke first, “I am Fennic Tallis! My friends call me Tails.” The tremor in his legs had died down somewhat though his face still expressed utter joy. His vibrant green eyes seemed to glow beneath the shadow of his messy brown hair. Around his narrow shoulders draped a cheap magician’s robe, the type worn by many apprentice magicians, though as Tails moved his peasant’s clothes could be seen underneath. Between his cloak and his general lack of muscle, Tails was clearly a magician.

“You are a magician, yes? Where is your staff?” Nearly all magicians carried a staff of some description for assistance in magic channelling. Magic channeling, along with event visualization, built up the basics of magic casting. While event visualization had no tools of assistance beyond repetition, magicians had long since developed the staff as well as chants to help ease the mental strain of magic channeling. To most magicians these two tools were of vital importance to their magic casting. Together they greatly reduced the amount of focus, time, and magic required for casting allowing magicians to cast more reliably, faster, and for longer.

Quite frankly Tails disliked using any staff. He had grown up dependent upon himself and therefore felt ill at ease relying on a chunk of wood for help. At least this was the reason he had given when others had asked him about it. The real truth was that Tails felt casting magic without a staff looked cooler. Still this was far too selfish of a reason to not carry around a staff, especially as an Adventurer.

Tails moved his hand into a pocket sewn poorly into the inside of his cloak. A small staff commonly called a wand about the length of his forearm rested there. This was his compromise. Staffs held few requirements for size though the size did influence the degree of assistance they would offer. In this regard bigger was better hence most staffs found themselves the size of walking sticks. But not all magicians desired to carry around a walking stick with them all the time especially noble magicians living in a city like Malnore, leading to a minor market of small staffs called wands. It should be noted that wands are still classified as staffs.

Fluidly Tails withdrew his wand to show the man. Like all staffs this one was carved with complex symbols covering its surface. These symbols granted staffs their magical abilities. They were also why larger staffs were more powerful— they held more complex and intricate carvings.

“A wand eh?” The man groaned. In his eyes this was but more proof that these youths were inadequately prepared. Wands were considered useless by most magicians as the assistance they provided was so much less than normal sized staffs. They were the toys of nobility not the tools of Adventurers. He felt almost certain now that this trio would soon die. “Shouldn’t you purchase something decent? Too poor?” He asked after glimpsing Tails’s attire once more.

“No,” Tails responded as he had thousands of times before, “I simply don’t need anything larger!” His eyes rolled, “I practice magic without such crutches.” He packed the wand back into his cloak’s pocket. Luckily Tails possessed incredible magical talent or else he would not be able to speak such arrogant words. Few magicians these days could cast magic without assistance.

Of course the man did not know of Tails’s talent so he settled for just shaking his head disapprovingly. He did not believe the child before him but there was no arguing with ignorance so he decided to move on. “And what about you? What is your name?”

“I am called Elend Wolfe,” replied the next. Wolfe stood at the center of their group as if it was the most natural thing in the world. His bearing held a degree of arrogance and pride but not to an overwhelming level. Since they were young he had always been the pillar of the group, the responsible child.

His features were handsome especially when besides the scrawny Tails. His hair was a dirty blond which matched well with his murky brown eyes and a natural smile lit his face which positively oozed out charisma. Wolfe was neither very muscular nor not but rather a lean balance. Likewise his clothes were not those of nobility but they certainly weren’t low class.

“That sword on your back, don’t tell me you plan on using that?” The man continued being skeptical at their every step. Nonetheless, he had a point. The sword Wolfe carried had seen much use and the edge appeared dull. More over this sword was the type originally designed not for actual combat use but for practice only. It could be hardly classified as a blade.

“That is indeed my intention.” Wolfe understood his meaning but he believed in their abilities so he remained confident. They wouldn’t be allowed any great quest at the beginning anyways so this was more than enough.

“You know most swordsmen, if that is what you are, purchase a new blade before theirs break right?” The man sighed again. He wondered how he had ever ended up so low as to be giving this advice to such ignorant children.

“I will purchase a new blade when I need to. You do not need to be so concerned for us.” Wolfe continued his smile.

“Is that so?” His advice yet again went in one ear and out the other. “Well whatever. And you are?” He turned to Ort who had remained silent up to now.

“My name is Ortelius Sable,” Ort replied. His voice was gentle like a refreshing wind. His silky dark hair nearly covered his violet eyes as it flowed down to his wide shoulders. Ort was the oldest of the three. He was seventeen, a year older than Wolfe and three older than Tails. He was also the bulkiest of them being considered large even among fully grown adults. Despite his muscle, Ort’s features almost seemed pretty in comparison to the handsome Wolfe and youthful Tails. Interestingly, his dark and dingy clothing felt more like a testimony that he did not care what others thought of him rather than an expression of poverty.

“Sword and shield huh?” The man felt surprised. Unlike the other two youths Ort’s equipment was fairly decent among low class Adventurers. Honestly if Ort had joined with some other party members he would have expected great things from them. “Aren’t they,” he motioned toward Wolfe and Tails, “going to slow you down? Why would you join with them?” He asked with genuine curiosity.

“No, they are strong.” Ort’s face remained nearly expressionless though if one paid close attention his little smile faltered momentarily. Wolfe and Tails were his close friends. They had grown up together and when most abandoned him they remained. He appreciated their friendship greatly to the point of being somewhat protective towards them. He cast his eyes somberly to the ground, “In a few years I may be the one slowing them down,” he said barely audible.

Wolfe choose to ignore his statement while Tails did not notice. His attention had already been drawn in by the activity in the bar beyond.

“That so?” The man spoke while scratching his head. Ortelius Sable, he felt like he had heard that name before. Sable, the family of Sable. “Ah,” he recalled, “the fallen noble family? Have they actually fallen so low that they are becoming Adventurers now?” The thought amused him quite considerable and a cold chuckle escaped his lips.

The Sable family had been charged by the Kings with the guarding of the Inner Castle for generations. As such they served as the King’s last line of defense, guarding His own home. Being nobility they had lived comfortable and proud lives dependent upon the country’s tax revenue. Perhaps some citizens already disliked them then for that alone but at the time they were never hated. The Sable family never mistreated the citizens nor abused their authority. They remained diligent in their duties.

But times were different now. The Inner Castle went by a different name, Lier’s Last Stand, after being torn down brick by brick until none of it remained. Likewise the Sable family was in ruins. This was their first time failing the King though that was not the reason for them being shamed by their countrymen. Rather the family had remained too loyal in their duties. At the peak of the Burning Revolution the Sable family alone remained loyal to their King.

Even with the chaos being over the people did not forgive them. Perhaps they had been lucky enough to not all die besides the King and his heirs but the people made sure to remind the Sable family that they had chosen the Lying King over them. They were shunned and many of their former allies abandoned them.

As of a few years ago, the end of the Revolution, Kings no longer reigned in Malnore. These days the Church of Life stood in their place and the people were glad for it. The Church had been the guiding force of the Revolution though they only arose in the days prior to it. While the Church had not been ruling for long these were some of the happiest years in the history of Malnore.

The sword and shield Ort carried on his back were some of the few things remaining from the Sable family’s noble years. Formerly this equipment had been used as practice equipment not fit for active duty but after their fall this was some of the best gear the family possessed.

“Indeed I am from that Sable family,” replied Ort flatly. He didn’t enjoy discussing his family’s history. A few years ago they had been a proud family but no longer. Still Ort felt no reason to deny his heritage.

“Well it certainly explains your equipment and build,” the man laughed. His shoulders raised in a shrug, “Probably why you are Adventuring with them too. Well whatever,” he said with his eyes narrowing, “we all have our embarrassing mistakes.”

Ort smiled slightly at the man’s words but did not respond.

Wolfe raised his voice, “Is there anything else you need? Or are we officially a party yet?” Tails also returned his attention to the man behind the desk his smile still fully intact.

“Ah one more thing,” the man grinned dimly, “what would you like your party to be called?”

The three had settled this before coming today. Unhesitatingly they said, “Vale.” Nice and simply they thought.

 

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