Chapter 2: Its Always Rats

“Vale? Alright then. With these,” the man handed over three flimsy paper notes, “you are an official party.”

“What’s this?” Questioned Wolfe with a sense of disbelief. The paper had their names, their party name Vale, and an Adventurer’s Guild seal of approval on it. It felt like the moment before a storm.

Tails likewise bore an expression of confusion.

“These are your temporary guild licenses of course.” An evil smile stretched across the man’s gruesome face as he absorbed the fullness of their disappointment. “Expecting more were you?” In his opinion young groups always made the most amusing expressions at this point. This was probably the only redeeming moment of his job. “I told you already that Adventuring is not what it is in the stories. Did you not listen?” Maybe that was one of the purposes to these temporary licenses, bringing dreamers back to reality. A little taste of the truth.

And the three certainly did feel disappointment, though Wolfe wasn’t all too surprised either. “These are our temporary licenses? Then when do we get our permanent ones?”

“When you each pay up fifty brass pennies you will receive your permanent licenses.” Fifty brass pennies was not too much for most of those living in central district, but they were still young and had been living upon their allowances until recently. They had little savings.

“As there are three of you I expect a tin nickel and fifty brass pennies in total.” This amount would normally be enough to feed and lodge them for a for a couple weeks. If they were more money conscious they could easily last three or four weeks upon this amount, but they were used to comfortable living.

For now they could not afford the permanent licenses so they would have to be satisfied with the temporary ones. At least they could work and save up.

“Ah and before we move on these temporary cards only allow you to accept requests from that board over there.” His calloused finger pointed behind them at the back wall opposite the bar. A small half a meter by a meter board hung there with about a dozen papers pinned to it. “In short you are still not allowed access beyond this desk but you shouldn’t mind right? You runts are too young to drink at the bar anyways.” There existed no minimum drinking age in Malnore but beer had long been considered a man’s drink. Children drank cow’s milk instead.

“What!?” They cried out flabbergasted. Finally after years of waiting they had joined the Adventurer’s Guild and they still weren’t allowed access to its facilities. How ridiculous. Not even Wolfe had expected that.

“What do you mean we aren’t allowed into the bar?” Asked Tails frantically. It appeared the man’s insult had slipped below his radar. His earlier smile had all but dried up and his arms had begun swinging as his mouth sped up.

“These temporary licenses allow you to start working for the Adventurer’s Guild but they do not make you members of the Guild. The bar is, as you probably know, for members only.” Tails’s gaping mouth amused him quite considerably. “Nonetheless you can now work for us! Isn’t that what you wanted?” He couldn’t stop his mocking smile. Unconsciously his hands came together in a shallow clap.

The three were clueless on how to respond to him for a few seconds. Wolfe just stood there with a blank expression before mumbling to himself, “One nickel fifty pennies,” while turning around and walking dully to the request board.

The Adventurer’s Guild split all its requests into four categories or classes. Each official party possessed such a class, starting with the entry level ‘D’ class, which determines what level of requests they can accept. ‘D’ class parties are encouraged to take on only the most basic ‘D’ level quests though they are permitted to occasionally accept a ‘C’ level quest, the next step up. After ‘C’ class came ‘B’ class and then the rare ‘A’ class. Rumors also stated than a ‘A+’ level existed beyond that but ‘A+’ missions were never seen upon the mission board so there existence could not been confirmed. Some legends, with there tendency to exaggerate or outright lie, tell of ’S’ class Adventurers in the past.

But this small mission board suspended upon the wall was designed solely for beginner parties so it only hosted a select few ‘D’ class missions. ‘D’ class quests were quite limited in scope. They required their target to be located within or right around the city of Malnore. Naturally then most were expected to be accomplished within the course of a single day. The targets were also required to be fairly harmless. Most ‘D’ class missions consisted of gathering some ingredients or taking care of some bothersome critter.

“These only pay fifteen to twenty bronze pennies,” Wolfe said to Tails after skimming several missions with squinted eyes. The Guild also charged those posting with the amount of board space they used up. As such the font the requests used was tiny to the point of being barely legible, especially the requirements.

“Are these all the missions available?” Wolfe sounded skeptical as he asked the man behind the counter. He expected small missions to start out with, but some of these were just silly. One of them even requested Adventurers to help water plants. Surely there were some more fitting quests for them.

Tails and Ort strode over to Wolfe and stopped behind him to read the requests. If Wolfe was discouraged then surely Tails would be all the more. “Are these seriously ‘D’ rank missions?” Tails face attempted to look more disappointed but it could not.

With their daily expenditure of around ten pennies, saving up enough for permanent licenses would take a fair number of quests.

“They aren’t to your liking?” Asked the man jokingly. “Yes indeed those are the most glorious of the ‘D’ class missions. There are some more inside but those are all the quests you will have access to with those cards.” He shrugged his shoulders. “If you are struggling on affording the permanent ones can’t you just beg your fathers for money? Surely they can still afford a couple of nickels.” He watched Ort’s face but couldn’t read anything from his vacant expression.

“Perhaps so,” responded Wolfe. Though their families might accept that arrangement they did not want to depend upon their families any longer. They desired to be independent. Free. None of them were willing to consider such a plan. Besides, saving up should only take them a month or so. Disappointing, yes. World ending, no.

“Well if they’re all like this then I guess it doesn’t really matter what mission we choose.” Wolfe let out a long sigh. Evidently Adventuring was going to be a longer road than he had originally thought. Oh well. He glanced at the scar faced man, “We can just select any of these right? No more rules blocking us?”

“Correct. But make sure you pick something memorable,” his rotting teeth flashed between his stretched lips, “as this is your first mission.”

“Anything stick out Ort?” Wolfe asked.

Ort rubbed his naked chin in a contemplative manner before speaking slowly, “I think this mission is the best we will find.” He reached out towards a paper in the upper-right corner of the board and unpinned it to show Wolfe and Tails. They accepted it with full attention.

“What is it?” They asked nervously. Tails crossed his fingers hoping endlessly for something decent.

“A request to clean out an old mill located in the outer district. Evidently it has been infested by some rats.” Ort didn’t sound excited, but then again he rarely did. Nonetheless, Ort really didn’t sound excited. He never cared much for the stories unlike Tails and to a lesser degree Wolfe, but he still held some expectations. Despite its failings thus far it still remained a far better option for him than remaining in Malnore working with his family. This was his chance of freedom however lack luster it sounded currently.

“Eh?!” Tails discovered that crossing his fingers did not help.

“Oh thats a fine first mission,” the man’s voice carried through the room, “similar to my first.” He chuckled once again but this time it sounded less like a death threat and more like an old man looking back on his life.

Wolfe couldn’t help but wonder how long ago that was. The man didn’t look that old but he talked as if he was. He supposed it might be like Tails who always claimed to be an adult— everyone believing themselves to be older than they are. Unless they are old. Then that’s a different matter.

Tails skimmed several other missions after crossing his toes too. Gather six waterlilies for one of the cities few medical houses. Sweep an abandoned warehouse south of the merchant district in preparation of its new owners. The rats started sounding better the more he read. At least with them there would be some action. “How much are the rats paying?”

“Twenty-two pennies,” Ort responded. That number was on the high end of ‘D’ rank quests. At least of the quests on this board.

Wolfe faced Tails and nodded his head. “Alright then let’s do it!” Despite the mission contents being as they were, it was still their first quest as Adventurers. Some small amount of energy returned to Wolfe’s smile and voice.

Ort and Tails agreed with another nod.

“Excellent!” Spoke the man. “Please take that sheet with you and be prompt in your mission.” He motioned them toward the exit impatiently, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Lucky for him they obeyed this time having obtained what they had come for. They were now Adventurers, or mostly anyways. As they approached the exit he once more spoke out, “When you finish the mission return to me for payment and record keeping. Good luck and good riddance!” He said with a smile.

Wolfe turned back to him with his hand on the door, “You never told us your name.” If they were going to be working together they might as well know what to call him. Certainly couldn’t hurt.

“Ah, no I didn’t. Call me Mont please. Take care.” He returned his scarred eyes to his tall paneled desk scabbed with papers and began a rough sorting. Soon he had forgotten about the children.

“Mont, huh?” Whispered Wolfe as the door creaked closed, or mostly closed as the door didn’t quite sit correctly on its hinges, behind him.

The great city of Malnore was approaching high noon. In recent years, since the Burning Revolution, the air within the city limits had turned hazy and thick causing the sun to appear a smudgy red as if it were an oil painting. The red glow cast the entire city in a weird light. Their city had always been colorful and cheery with numerous colored tile roofs and everyone garbed in bright mannered clothing but now it was something else. The city looked foreign, even alien in nature.

This was not helped by the great mushrooms towering above which had been planted by the Church once they had conquered the city. The mushrooms were the city’s only vegetation and they had spread wildly. Though they ranged in size the largest of the mushrooms, Obedience, rose hundreds of feet above even the tallest of buildings and its cap shadowed entire city squares. Most of the city found itself buried beneath their expansive caps.

The Church of Life worshipped these mushrooms as gods. Following the Revolution the Church had worked diligently to squash all the other religions within Malnore. Everyone was required to join them in their strange mushroom worship, and for some inexplicable reason everyone seemed happy to. The Church was without equal.

The upraising had caused a tremendous amount of damage. Evidence of conflict existed everywhere one looked, from crashed in rooftops and collapsed walls to the shattered stones of the road network. Fire marks existed in several places but thankfully most of the buildings in central district, where the three of them lived and currently were, were constructed of stone and would not burn. Nonetheless there was a smattering of the charred corpses of the buildings which had burned. The damage within the central district of the city, separated from the outer district by the tall Wall which served to regulate the flow of traffic, was far less than the damage done to the outer district. The outer district was much poorer and hence had used wood far more often in construction and quite frankly this did not fair well in the Burning Revolution. Many of the residents of the outer district were now homeless and people piled into the remaining buildings like coach roaches. Tents had risen sharply in popularity.

Despite this everyone within Malnore seemed to be smiling unendingly. Their rotting teeth reflecting red light could be seen everywhere one looked no matter the occasion. The whole scene was rather eerie from an outsider’s standpoint though none of its residents seemed to notice the wrongness of it all.

They were hardly even working on reconstruction efforts evidently happy enough sleeping on the hard ground without a ceiling to cover their heads. These years were inexplicably the happiest years in Malnore’s long history.

As always the streets bustled with people busy about their day.

“Shall we get going?” Asked Wolfe after reading the entirety of the request. They had already eaten this morning so they weren’t yet hungry and they had plenty of time remaining this day.

“Yes, let’s finish this quickly!” Tails’s energy had surged to its level previous to his disappointment. His arms swung merrily at his sides and his eyes glowed with that strange light they normally did.

“Says here that the mill is located beneath the shadow of Servitude in the outer district. Somewhere along the Crimson River.” Servitude was another of the great mushrooms towering above the city. Though the city maintained addresses to be used in locating buildings landmarks tended to be simpler. The address system had never been too logical in structure and now that the city was in a mess it was even worse.

“That’s not too far,” responded Tails. He moved to the front of the pack and began weaving his way through the crowds. This was one of the few occasions he appreciated his small size. Wolfe and Ort followed him closely though the swell of people buffeted them more.

The crowds became thicker the further they went. The Adventurer’s Guild and its vicinity was not too popular a destination but between them and the Wall Gate rested the merchant district. The merchant district was unsurprisingly always busy and always loud.

“Freshly baked loafs! One copper!” Shouted one salesmen.

“A full can of beans! Just two pennies!” Shouted another.

Some salesmen tried grabbing ahold of Wolfe believing him to be fairly wealthy. Wolfe managed to slip out of their clammy reach before they could even offer their sales pitch though.

The group continued to weasel their way through the streets mostly unabated until they finally entered the massive shadow of the Wall Gate. Here a long line lay in wait of which they voluntarily joined.

 

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