The door shattered inwards relinquishing Wolfe and Ort into the inky blackness awaiting them. Momentum carried them forward a few uncertain steps until a pole, what had been previously blocking the door, tripped them unceremoniously onto the floor.
“Owww.” Wolfe groaned limbs sprawled out. Tenderly he rolled onto his back, hand massaging his face. “That hurt.”
Tails meandered after them calmly eyeing the chaos beyond. The darkness was pierced by strands of light from the rotting ceiling above providing a small amount of illumination.
“You’ll be fine,” he said.
He spotted no movement. The watermill revolving outside had since been disconnected and, as Tails saw, most of the machinery from in here removed. Still the bits and pieces, gears and levers, belts and odd contraptions that remained filled up the majority of the visible space, both on the ground and in the air.
*Whewww* Wolfe whistled. “It’s dusty in here.”
Ort, standing up, wiped his index finger along a conveyor belt. “It’s not all dust,” he corrected.
“Then what is it?” Wolfe leapt onto his feet, forming a shimmering white cloud in his wake.
Ort coughed, twice, then said “Flour.”
Wolfe shrugged. “Well this was a flour mill after all. Makes since.” He quickly scanned the room before asking, “But where are the rats?” He still felt nervous over the possibility of breaking into the wrong mill, though this one had long been abandoned so no one would care. Probably.
Tails followed the right wall with his hand, circling around most of the junk. “There are some barrels in the back here.” He called to them. “Roughly fifteen by the looks. Some rat droppings around them.”
Wolfe and Ort paced over to him, ducking and weaving through the obstacles. The barrels were stacked in two levels nestled by a corner. The tunnel leading outside, now filled in, resided besides them.
“That looks promising,” stated Wolfe.
Wolfe approached a barrel and yanked the lid off— another cloud of white— revealing its powdery contents within. Flour. Half full.
Ort copied his example removing a lid, though more tenderly so, to peek inside. Flour. Quarter full. He rolled it off to the—
In the barrel Wolfe now peered into lay a rat upon its back, belly side up and limbs stretched contentedly. Immediately upon discovery the rat, a monstrous entity nearly half-a-meter long, bolted upright out of its laze, muscles tensing beneath its flour covered fur— it dove through a hole scratched into the side of the barrel, squeezing itself through.
The rat raced off into the darkness before Wolfe managed to react, towards the tunnel, flour dusting off its silky coat into a trail.
Wolfe’s eyes lit up at the encounter. Swiftly he unholstered his dull iron sword and chased after his prey, who itself upon reaching its sealed escape seemed surprised, its startle allowing it to be easily cornered.
Ort and Tails followed after Wolfe, along the flour trail, attempting to block the rat in, closing off its potential escapes.
Wolfe stood at the forefront, sword in hand, Ort slipped in besides him, Tails behind, watching the rat process the events and, feeling threatened— *SQUEAK!*— a call of desperation before facing its trappers.
The rat hurled itself forward, towards Wolfe’s knees, mouth open revealing long, pearly teeth dripping in saliva to which Wolfe dodged backwards and slashed down.
The rat collided, unable to dodge in the air, with the blade to a dull thud, not the piercing of the rat’s coat nor the breaking of its bones, only enough to sway the lunging beast off trajectory collapsing it onto the ground and forcing the air out of its lungs. A shiver ran across Wolfe’s sword, up to his hands numbing them in part.
*Squeak* cried the shadows surrounding them as the darkness swirled into motion coalescing into the forms of five more rats, anger in their beady, hungry eyes.
The lone rat before them— *Squeak!* in response— hobbled back onto its feet and eyed them intelligently, waiting for its brethren to act.
Ort swirled into motion first, turning about foot, leaping forward swinging at the nearest beast which pressed itself against the ground hoping to avoid his reaches, but received a gash nonetheless. A sickly pale blood escaped its wounds, mixing with flour and dripping like glue onto the floor.
Another rat dove, from Ort’s blind spot, at his left ankle bearing its long, gleaming teeth like a scythe— Tails raised his hands toward the charging rat, visualizing a vertical glassy lake like surface and condensing his mana into its plane to form a protective surface that the rat battered against.
Cracks spread out across the hasty sheet and it shattered like thin ice, the noise alerting Ort to the rats existence and buying him vital time to slide his foot around and wave his sword backhanded into the rats thick neck carving through its skin and muscle and cracking its spine, laying the beast immobilized.
Wolfe dashed forward towards the original rat screeching by its lonesome, the rat rushed him in return lurching towards his right hip which Wolfe rounded lithely and batted the rat, its neck crunching, towards its vengeful companions.
Two of the remaining uninjured rats, gaining a newfound caution, deemed Tails to be the weakest of the three and, one on each side of Tails, raced for his heels. Spotting the movement in his peripheral, Tails dashed forward towards Ort— who himself was dispatching the previously injured rat— and, with the beasts gaining on him, again he imagined a sheet of ice casting his magic into a plane, horizontal this time, behind him.
The rats ran onto his magic without hesitation and, with Tails lowering the friction of the smooth surface, he tripped them into an uncontrolled slide, losing their legs out from under them and gaining Tails distance.
He dashed past Wolfe and Ort, who both turned to intercept his pursuers, and positioned himself defensively behind them, standing besides the original tunnel, ready to support them if needed.
The first of the two rats promptly switched targets, leaping with its mighty hind legs at Ort’s unguarded chest making it half-way before Ort maneuvered his shield before him and bashed earthward— skull clanging hard against the metallic shield.
The rat collapsed, dazed upon collision, and Ort’s left shield-bearing arm stung, but he ignored the pain swinging his gleaming sword, blood flicking off it, down into the rat’s neck severing it completely.
The second rat ignored the guarding Wolfe instead slipping between his wide set legs reaching behind their defensive line, still aiming for Tails— Wolfe spun around in chase and kicked at the rat, the rat eluding the swift foot by ducking beneath it and— Tails noting the situation calmly formed another magic barrier, thicker this time— banged against the shimmering magic blocking its progress allowing Wolfe to slice the beast’s midsection and fling it against the wall where it dropped limp.
*Squeak?* cried the last remaining rat, the smallest one, sounding a mixture of both confused and morose. The rat turned its sad beady eyes upon its brethren, appearing ready for tears, before hesitantly turning around and hopping hopelessly towards the sunlight of the front door.
Wolfe and Ort chased after the rat, dodging the bits and pieces of machinery which slowed them far more than the escapee who was slowly gaining distance from them. Unfortunately for the rat, Tails possessed magic. Pointing his arms before it, he visualized thorny vines clawing free from the earth and entangling the fleeing thing. Tails granted his vision the remainders of his mana and the vines came alive.
Instantly the rat found itself caught, thorns burying into its skin as it continued to struggle in vain. Pale rosy blood dripped down the thorns onto the ground puddling.
*Squeak…* lamented the thing still moving despite the pain, begging to live on another day for sake its fallen friends. The struggle only served to deepen the thorns claim.
Wolfe finally reached the rat. He lifted his blade, appearing like an executioner, and swung down upon its feeble neck. *Bang* they collided throwing the rat free from the thorns and against the stone wall.
Feeble and nearly dead but free, it tried dragging itself forward towards the light leaving a trail of blood beneath it. Wolfe approached again, gazing down upon it from on high and waved his dull sword into its gut, *CRACK* the ribs sounded.
*Huff, huff, huff* the three young Adventurers panted and collapsed onto their rumps, grasping after their lost breath. Their first quest was now complete, awaiting being turned in, though fatigue batted down their sense of accomplishment.
“Well that was… more exciting than… I’d expected,” Wolfe broke the silence. “Never thought… killing rats… would wind me.”
Ort chuckled between breathes, “My father would be… ashamed… if he saw that.” He picked up his sword and shield lying on the ground beside him and dutifully returned them to their positions on his back.
“Only rats… we have… a long ways… to go…” moaned Tails.
*Hhuhhh* Wolfe wobbled to his feet. “Do they… require proof? The guild?” He asked Tails.
“Does the request sheet… say anything?”
“Ugh, the request sheet,” he unfolded it from his pocket. “Doesn’t appear to. And Mont didn’t mention anything.”
“Well it doesn’t hurt to be safe,” Tails responded stretching, “Let’s collect their ears to be sure.”
They gathered the rats for Ort who carefully removed one ear from each and stuffed the bleeding bits into his pocket for safe keepings. After stretching the three of them exited the mill, only noticing the copious amounts of flour covering them once they stepped out into the light.
“Do you still want to go for that swim, Tails?” Wolfe asked.
Tails kicked the Guild’s door inwards revealing a tall plank desk behind which Mont dozed. Red light leaked in through a crack in the ceiling granting the dull room a warm glow.
Smiling pleasantly, Tails, with his hair still dripping wet, lead Wolfe and Ort up to the desk. Their movement stirred Mont from his light slumber and he unenthusiastically lifted his head.
The man grimaced and blinked several times to clear his dreams from his eyes before recognizing the youths before him.
“Vale?” He asked questioningly, “You’re back so soon?” The man glanced at what little of the skies he could see as if to check the time.
“The sun’s almost down now,” Wolfe answered, “we finished our little quest hours ago.” He placed the mission details onto the desk and Ort set the severed ears besides that.
Mont rubbed his scarred face with his calloused hands before taking the paper to skim the details. He sighed. “Well, sounds good to me.” He busied himself with the clinking of coin beneath the table surface, counting out the twenty-two penny reward.
“Speaking of which, how’d you enjoy your work? Your very first quest?” His intrigue was genuine, “Was it memorable?”
The three glanced around at each other and laughed.
“Very memorable.” Wolfe grinned widely. “Surprisingly so in fact…”
Mont surveyed them slightly confused. “Well I’m jealous,” he said, “It appears you had a much better time than I did today. Oh well, at least I avoided the swim. Never did much like the water.”
“But swimming is so much fun,” interjected Tails.
“Perhaps for you,” he replied. “Anyways, here’s your profit. Twenty-two hard earned bronze pennies.” He pushed the clattering coin across the desk towards Wolfe.
“Strange though,” the man added, “these don’t look much like rat ears to me… Too large I’d say.”
“Yeah? Well these rats had been bulking up on flour for quite a while by the looks of them.” Wolfe shrugged the comment away. Nothing they could do. “Speaking of which, did we need to bring the rat ears in with us? For proof, you know?”
“Did I not tell you to?” Mont searched them reading their ‘no’ from their expression. “Oops,” he said, “Must have slipped my mind… It happens from time to time, I’m sorry. But yes, it’s a good thing you did. You only needed to bring back one rat ear though.” The man smiled somewhat shallow.
“Better safe than sorry.” Wolfe dropped the pennies into his pant’s pocket and turned to the exit. “Will you be here again tomorrow?” He asked Mont.
The man grumbled below his breath then nodded. “Of course. I’ve nothing else to do anyways.” He rolled his eyes and chuckled cold and grinding.
“Then see you early.” The trio left, the door banging behind them closed.
“Huh,” Mont cursed his fate once more before slumping over and returning to sleep.
The cobble streets of central district had quieted down now that the sun hung scorching red just above the flat horizon. Most folks had finished their daily bouts and families reconveyed in their living quarters to pass the night away.
Lantern light increasingly filled the quickly darkening cityscape casting their odd shadows throughout the city.
The three of them walked in silence listening to the sound of their own footsteps and the echoes of distant laughter. Their day had been long and weariness called out to them entrancingly, though not yet as loud as their stomach’s grumbling.
They passed through several alleyways, dark and dingy, before returning to a main street which they followed to the inn, Five Heads Inn, where they had been staying.