Tails never did much care for waiting. Unfortunately lines rarely had the habit of offering alternatives. He had discovered over the years though that if he barely shuffled his feet forward, at the pace of the line’s movement, he felt much less impatient than if he simply stood still. Thus he moved forward like a racing snail.
The shadow of the Wall chased them hot on their heels as the red sun rose higher overhead. Thankfully the line was moving just fast enough to keep them in the cool shade else they would start sweating bullets similarly to those behind them. Its a wonder they didn’t fall over from dehydration.
“What would our family’s think if they heard we were hunting down a pack of rats?” Wolfe asked Ort. He imagined his father’s potential expression with a rather dismal face of his own.
Shortly after Wolfe’s sixteenth birthday a few weeks ago, the three of them had decided unilaterally that now was the time to become Adventurers. After informing their parents of their decision they left their households to become independent.
Ort chuckled. “Nothing good for sure. How’d your father take you leaving?” Luckily Ort’s parents understood his desire to separate from the Sable family and respected his decision. Admittedly they weren’t too pleased but at least they weren’t angry. They had originally hoped that he would stay with them and help reclaim their family’s lost honor but Ort had shown them long ago that he held no interest in doing so.
Wolfe was another matter. He belonged to a long line of successful merchants. According to his family’s tradition, when his father retired his first son Wolfe would replace him. As such Wolfe had long been in training to fill his father’s shoes. Up until recently they had been quite pleased with Wolfe’s progress and anticipated great deeds from him.
“Naturally he was furious.” Wolfe was at somewhat of a loss at what to do in regards to them. He had never intended to anger his family and he would by all means prefer to remain close with them but… he wasn’t sure that was an option anymore. “Very furious,” he repeated with a shudder.
Wolfe felt rather bad for his younger brother. He knew with some confidence that his family would disown him and erase him from their family tree leaving his younger brother as the new first son. Of course as the first son he would now be raised to replace their father.
His brother had never been much of a people person though. As challenging and suffocating as Wolfe had found the atmosphere, his brother would only find it worse. Unfortunately Wolfe couldn’t, despite his best attempts, find an alternative to improve the situation. He sincerely hoped his brother would turn out alright but Wolfe knew that he personally had no choice but to leave. Wolfe could not live chasing his father.
“That is unsurprising,” returned Ort. Ort knew that Wolfe was understating the situation but he left it as is. Ort had always seen fear within Wolfe’s brown eyes whenever his father was mentioned.
Tails was left out of the conversation. Ever since he could remember he had lived together with his grandparents. Perhaps because they had never had the energy to keep up with Tails, Tails was left free to do whatever he wanted.
Tails had long ago decided that he would become an Adventurer. When he told that to his grandparents they neither seemed surprised nor worried for him. Instead they supported him in his decision. Tails’s talent for magic was discovered around that time. Unfortunately they were a relatively poor family and couldn’t afford a magic tutor to teach him properly. His grandparents did the next best thing and bought him some books on magic.
Wolfe and Ort both knew what Tails’s grandparents would say about him leaving— “So soon? Well alright, be safe.” If the three of them weren’t such close friends, they might even be jealous of him.
“I’m surprised how simple the class ‘D’ quests are though,” spoke Wolfe again. “Who would’a thought that we’d be going to slay some rodents on our first day? I certainly wouldn’t have.” A sigh escaped his lips.
Tails looked up to survey their faces. “It’s just a start,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll be doing something epic not too long from now.”
“Oh yeah?” Asked Wolfe amusedly. While he might be the main pillar of the group, Tails always worked hard to keep their spirits up.
The line continued to move along readily. They were almost to the front now.
Tails grew up mostly alone. He had never had many friends to play with and the few that he did always seemed to be busy. With an abundance of free time and the guidance of his grandparents, Tails discovered his love for reading. From that point on Tails spent most of his waking hours in Malnore’s only library. That library happened to be one of the many casualties of the Revolution. Few books survived the burnings.
Tails loved stories about Adventurers. They were among his favorite reads. Rather than books of histories and politics or finances and mercantile, Tails always read about the old legends. When Wolfe or Ort escaped their studies, Tails raced to meet them.
They played games of hide n’ seek, and tag, and card games until the sun hung just above the horizon. By then even Wolfe and Ort would hurt from keeping up with Tails’s vibrance. When they collapsed, back against stone wall, panting heavily, Tails would stand before them as if nothing happened, still bouncing like a spring. Before long that leg motion transferred to his mouth and his mouth moved without pause for response.
Tails spoke eagerly, eyes sparkling, of Adventurers and their grand quests, of slaying dragons, and fending off disasters. He talked about how many lives they saved with their noble and righteous actions and how others looked upon them as heroes, as knights in shining armor. Tails wanted to be an Adventurer like in the stories and he convinced Wolfe and Ort to dream of it as well. Freedom— what they longed for.
Tails persuaded them in the last couple years that they could become Adventurers, that it did not have to remain a dream. The two scoffed at the idea originally but slowly grew to embrace it as their home lives deteriorated further.
Tails felt some responsibility for leading them unto this new path. While Wolfe and Ort expected little and hoped for freedom, Tails wanted questing to fulfill all their greatest desires. He did not want to disappoint or mislead his friends. He desperately prayed those books held truths.
Wolfe opened his mouth again, “It’s always such a confusing sensation this breeze.” The three of them stood behind only six people. From here the outer district could be easily seen and, well, smelled. A gentle wind blew here continually to ensure that. “The coolness feels so good but the smell…” No sewage system existed in the outer district, clogging the streets with unpleasantries.
Tails chuckled and breathed deeply through his nose, “You don’t fancy the smell of nature?” He asked with his best intellectual air.
“Surely this must be the smell of death instead,” returned Wolfe. Like most residents of Malnore, the three of them never voyaged far from the city limits and only empty plains awaited them there.
“Nature is full of death. I doubt they bother to wear different perfumes.”
“Just wait ‘till we reach the forests out west,” Wolfe rebuked. “Then you’ll see.” A land covered in trees, ridiculous. They had seen trees before, but a land covered in them? That seemed too crazy to be believed. They had only ever known these flat plains.
Tails smiled at his enthusiasm. “That will be quite something.” But my patience is wearing thin, he thought to himself, we’ve waited so long. “Speaking of waits though—”
“Next,” called one of the two bored guards beside the Wall Gate. The guard who spoke was a blocky figure about Ort’s height with a scratchy beard growing. He donned well-polished armor, which would undoubtable shine brightly if the sun happened to be shining upon him instead of the shade, and he stiffly held a spear about his own height within his left hand. The man’s right arm was cut off at the elbow and his right ear barely remained. A short stump. Suitably his expression was glum.
The other guard wiped away the sweat beading on his forehead and sat down against the Wall. His only remaining eye appeared lifeless and dull and he precariously stretched his legs ignorant of the crimson skirt, the Army’s uniform, covering him. Perhaps people would care if not for their current heat stroke.
Malnore was at war with a southern nation. As every able bodied soldier was needed on the front lines, the soldiers remaining to guard the city all possessed severe injuries devaluing their combat use.
Malnore was nearly void of capable men. Women outnumbered men drastically and found themselves needed in even traditionally male dominated businesses. Thankfully women were taking brilliantly to their new roles.
Still, some jobs, like Adventuring for instance, severely lacked workers. Adventuring had long been in decline in popularity and the war only accentuated that point. Unfortunately the amount of guild work has not decreased comparatively.
Monsters were not, after all, so inclined as to stop their assaults on man once society struggled. They never had much valued fairness.
The increased demand for Adventurers has risen quest pricing though, leading more experienced Adventurers to be quite pleased with the whole situation.
The Wall itself was constructed of large dark grey stone. The two guards waiting at the Gate, one of many such Gates leading out of central district, stood one at each side. In case of emergency they would signal up above for the Gate, and its massive iron bars hanging by tether, to be dropped closed. They signaled to either of the two turrets just further along the wall. Emergencies such as this though were nearly nonexistent. About the only thing these guards ever fought off was the call of sleep, and they commonly lost that war. A scarlet banner flowed slowly down the side of each turret beneath which was a solid wooden door.
Wolfe and Ort stepped forward after being called. Tails skipped.
“There really needs to be a faster way through these lines,” sighed Wolfe. He wondered if a less popular Gate would be worth the extra travel.
Ort nodded in agreement.
“You three together? What are you doing—?”
Tails skipped up to the man and hugged him. “You smell worse than nature,” he noted with a grin.
“What the hell? Get off me!” He tried to wiggle free of Tails’s grasp but failed. “Hey, Ralf! Wake up!” He called to his companion who watched on in amusement. “Ralf!” But Ralf made no signs of motion.
Tails reached out to touch the man’s spear. “Quite a nice spear here,” he terrorized. Despite his troublemaking, Tails’s face remained innocent and naive in its appearance as if he knew not what was wrong.
The guard struggled harder and finally broke his arm free from the tight hug and moved to swing his fist at Tails. “Damn brat,” he groaned.
Tails released the man and stepped back, avoiding the punch. “We’re here on business for the Adventurer’s Guild,” he nonchalantly pointed to the paper in Wolfe’s hand. “Thanks for letting us past,” he said with a slight bow before starting through the Gate.
“Wait! You can’t just do that!” The guard’s hoarse voice was nearly a shout. “Stop!” He commanded. No one had ever been so outrageous to him in his time as a Gate guard.
Tails obeyed turning back to face him, and then he spread his arms out again and skipped back as if to hug the scarred man once more. “You still want more hugs?” He asked.
“No! Stop!” He shouted again and raised his spear to point at Tails though Tails ignored it and continued coming closer.
Ralf spoke out, “Hey, just let them through. Since when have you cared so much about this silly job anyways?” He shook his head while laughing. The Guards never found anything suspicious to report regardless.
The man glanced in Ralf’s direction then back at the approaching demon. “Fine, you win! Just go… Leave me alone.” He lowered his spear to the ground and turned partially back, keeping Tails in his peripheral, to the long line of people.
Tails nodded, “I knew you’d understand!” He lowered his arms and strode through the Gate unblocked.
Wolfe and Ort blinked at each other, clueless. Then they chuckled.
“Well, okay,” shrugged Wolfe. They followed Tails passed the guards. “You know it’s probably not wise to pull a stunt like that on armed men, right Tails?” Wolfe questioned loudly as he reached Tails’s side.
“Eh whatever. I doubt they’d be brave enough to stab an innocent fourteen year old,” he batted his glittering eyes towards them. “Besides, the crowd was on my side!”
“Perhaps,” Wolfe said with a smile, “but did he really smell that bad?”
“Really bad,” Tails responded immediately with an upturned nose. “Much worse than these streets.”
Central district resided on the only hill around on these otherwise flat plains. The Wall surrounded the base of the hill leaving the outer district on flat ground. The further away one travelled from the hill, the worse the city became. Originally clean stone streets became slicked with, hopefully, mud. The two story stone buildings were replaced by burnt remnants. Few houses stood intact, though ashes and partial walls marked where buildings once were.
Colorful mushrooms, bright green, and red, and purple, and blue; sprouted all over the place. They matched well with the colorful sack clothes everyone wore out here.
As if that amount of color was not enough, where the ground lacked the charred corpses of former housing, tents had arisen of their varying bright colors as well. Malnore made the rainbow jealous.
“Ooopss,” Tails screamed and raised his arms out to regain his lost balance. “The rocks are loose out here,” he mumbled in explaination.
Wolfe rolled his eyes, “It’s not your first time here. You’re still stumbling around? Anyways,” he turned to the request paper, “Servitude should be over this way.” Wolfe lead them off the main street into a narrow alleyway. The alleyways linked the main streets together, which could be found at regular intervals, as if in a spider web.
They shuffled through mud surrounded by ash.
Soon Servitude entered their vision, a pale violet monstrosity towering overhead. They entered into its murky shadow and continued until they came across the Crimson River.
Supposedly the Crimson River once ran red with blood but now it ran brown. Perhaps the River shimmered red at sunset, but that was hours away and the three of them couldn’t be bothered to care.
“Now where do we go?” Asked Tails.
“Hmmm, let’s ask somebody I suppose…”