The two young men froze and I briefly considered making an example out of them so that anyone else would think twice before going after me. But then I saw the bear.
A barrel-chested beastkin was standing right in front of us with his hands on his waist. The fur on his upper lip had been shaped in a mustache and he wasn't wearing any armor, just common pants and a light shirt that did nothing to hide the definition of his muscles. His arms were like logs of fur covered wood and his mere presence seemed to mute all the sounds of the city.
I had no idea when and how he had gotten so close, and that was enough to make me not want to anger him any more than he obviously had been.
“How shameful!” he roared. “Two adults warriors ganging up on a single wounded kid? You should have let him lose his head, at least he would still have his honor!”
The two men stood in front of him with their fists clenched and heads lowered.
“Boss,” the young tiger started. “I was jus-”
“I saw it all. You don’t need to tell me that you were just about to get yourself killed by a brat ten years younger than you, even though I only asked you to figure out what was going on.”
He then turned his ire to the half goat.
“And you, Dorak. I know you think saving him was the right thing to do. But in these lands, honor is more important than life. If you truly wanted to help your friend, you would have let him die as a warrior.
Not interested in whatever was going on, I was about to simply leave when I heard footsteps coming my way.
With a sigh of relief, I saw Ardos exiting the tunnel with a female instructor in tow. I couldn't remember her name, but all that mattered at that moment was that she was the one with the healing aura.
Finally, something going right.
Ardos frowned when he saw me and said something to her. But the other side was already wrapping up.
“... should banish both of you for dirtying the guild’s name. You’re both stripped of your ranks and responsibilities. Now get out of here before I do worse.”
The two warriors left and I was left with their leader who was glaring at me.
“Now you...” he said as he walked in my direction. But Ardos was already standing next to me with a hand on my shoulder.
“He is one of us, Bokwen” Ardos said. “And I would appreciate it if you could leave him alone. His wounds need to be looked at.”
The bear paused and narrowed his eyes. I noticed he was missing two fingers on his right hand.
“If it isn’t the knight from the temple,” he said. “Fancy seeing you here, Ardos, but this boy isn’t going to just leave. I saw him fight. He is clearly from the Pearl, and that makes him one of mine. He will have to explain his presence here.”
"Don't know what you're talking about," I said. "But I'm not related to you in any way."
"Oh is that so?"
"It is," Ardos said.
Men wearing the same emblem on their gear had appeared behind him, and though some of them were yawning, there was an electric air around them that made it clear that they were on a different level than the two idiots who had just left.
The situation was getting worse by the second, and no one seemed to be willing to back down.
I was evaluating our chances of making it out of the situation while protecting the healer when Ardos spoke.
“He was actually recommended to the temple by Laure,” he simply said.
“Was he?” he said with a doubtful expression. “I fail to see how...”
His gaze fell on me again, and his eyes got wide with sudden understanding.
“Oh... Oh. So you were that kid!” he said while hammering a fist on his open palm. He looked at Ardos with a grin, “I see, I see... She was wondering what happened to the new waiter, but I can see that he’s been quite busy.”
His whole demeanor had changed and even his men could tell. They dragged their feet as they left with annoyed expressions aimed at their leader.
“Yes, he was,” said Ardos. “And while I understand that you might be interested in him, we’ve been delaying long enough.”
The bear waved a dismissing hand.
“You can’t possibly be saying that you want to bring him back in his current state, are you? Isn’t your temple full of sleeping children?”
I was once again the center of attention but I was far from being in the mood to entertain them. So I ignored them both.
“My arm is broken,” I said to the instructor through my teeth. “Think you can help with that?”
But instead of doing so, or even answering, she took a few steps back with her hands raised in protection.
“What’s going on with you?” Ardos asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve apparently been projecting killing intent since I left the dungeon. I’ll figure out a way to stop it, but I’m sure it would help to not have a fucking broken arm.”
"... You've been doing it since then?"
I moved closer to the scared woman, “Look, I’m not going to hurt you, alright?”
But I probably wasn’t convincing enough since she created even more distance between us. “Please, just- Just stay away for now,” she said with a trembling voice.
“She can’t help it,” Bokwen said. “Most people’s instincts will have them avoid or fight anyone producing that much killing intent. And it won’t stop until you put an end to your dance.”
I gave him an annoyed glance.
I had been feeling strange from the moment I had consumed all that ether back in the mine until now, and I was starting to have a headache. A pressure on the side of my head.
“You may not realize it, but you’re still in the trance," the bear continued. "All your movements are dictated by it, even your breathing. It’s an impressive feat recommended for quick progress, but it has taken its toll on you.”
“He was originally from Nashran,” Ardos said. “You can trust him on this subject.”
“You’re doing it subconsciously. So the first step is to find your triggers. Put away your sword.”
I looked at the sword in my hand. She had been silent since our fight with Dylarel, but I knew that we were closer than ever. I could tell that she disliked Bokwen for his suggestion.
Everyone around me felt like they were in danger, and maybe they were right. After all, I was just now realizing that my recent thought processes had been pretty odd. Hadn't I almost slaughtered those kids in the mine? I was still in the same “mindset” as the one that helped me defeat the pale creature without losing myself in the dance.
And of those standing in front of the tunnel, I was the only armed person.
“I understand,” I said. “I can see how I could still be technically performing the dance.”
The bear raised a brow, “You do? That’s pretty un-”
“But if I really am in a trance, I can’t break free from it just yet. My body is probably in a worst state than I assume it is, and I can’t afford to pass out here. Ardos, we need to go back.”
The headache was quickly getting worst.
“We can’t,” he said. “Bokwen... is right. If I bring you to the temple like this, you’re going to put the children in shock. We can probably find a place to spend the night in the lower layers.” He put his fingers on the bridge of his nose, “We will have to make a public apology tomorrow. I don’t even want to think about the commotion you’ve caused.”
As if to confirm his suspicions, lots of noise could be heard from the lower layers. The city was wide awake, even though there had been few people on the balconies during my ascension from the mine. I could hear angry voices asking for the identity of the one who had disturbed their sleep.
The bear opened his arms with a gallant smile.
“How about you come with me? The guild is quite comfortable and our members aren’t so green that you can disturb their sleep... and I’d like to have a chat with you.”
“You’re the reason why I can’t afford to pass out here,” I bluntly said.
He laughed heartily and wiped a tear on the corner of his eye before saying, “I guarantee your safety as long as you are under my hospitality.”
I looked at Ardos and he nodded.
Seems like his words carry enough weight.
“Very well,” I said.
“You’ve chosen well, junior of mine.”
I had thought that the first floor of Bunker was mainly used as an entry in the city and a way to access the lower layers. But it seemed that it was more than that.
As Bokwen guided us past guards who seemed in charge of keeping people away from the upper network of tunnels, I noticed how different things were.
Not that anyone seemed to be living lavishly, but there was no denying that they all seemed in better health, with more meat on their bones.
The colors of their furs or scales were less faded. Their weapons were of higher quality.
They even had shops that were still open, which said a lot about the level of expected security.
And no rats. No group of kids wandering the wide passages.
However, as opposed to what Bokwen had said, people were still affected by my presence. They just made it less obvious. A threatening glance here and there, a tightened grip on their weapon or a whisper to the person standing next to them.
Everything was much more covert and made me even less comfortable.
I wasn’t feeling any better but did my best to move one foot in front of the other.
If this is how I feel right now, I don’t want to know how it’s going to be when I’m back to normal.
Even if I probably was safe, simply knowing that I technically was still underground made me feel worse. I was tired of tunnels, torches and stale air.
I wanted to be under the wide starry sky and fill my lungs with pure, fresh oxygen.
“We should hurry,” I heard Bokwen said on a jovial tone. “He’s getting out of it.”
We soon arrived to a large square that seemed to serve as a junction between several tunnels, even though it probably was the most deserted place of the floor.
Elegantly made emblems were proudly displayed at the front of the few establishments I could see. At its center was the majestic statue of a winged woman. Her four wings were spread out and she held great swords in both her hands, but she didn’t look like a warrior.
She had a thoughtful look that made me wonder what exactly had been the artist’s intent.
I turned around to ask Ardos if it was another terminal when I realized he was still standing at the end of the tunnel with a bored expression on his face, even though the female instructor was terrified. There was another woman next to him, and she held a sword with the blade laying on his shoulder. Which probably wasn’t a comfortable position to be in, since he was much taller than her. But she looked menacing enough.
Bokwen was standing next to me with the same smile on his face.
My fault for being so naive, I thought as I started drawing my sword.
“Calm down, my young friend,” the bear said. “Why don’t you check your notifications? I had to make sure that you really were the one Laure had told me about.”
There indeed was a notification I somehow hadn’t noticed, probably due to a combination of my mental state and him rushing us.
You have 1500 glory. You have been deemed worthy of entering the Delving guild of an abandoned city.
Ignoring the strange bit about how the city was abandoned, I noted that, apparently, answering those questions wasn’t as important as I believed.
I don’t know how much glory is needed to enter this place, but now they know I at least have that much.
I glared at the man in charge.
“So? What now?”
“Now,” he said as he waved at the woman next to Ardos, “we can go.”
She pulled her blade away and the tiger brushed off his shoulder.
We were guided to large red double doors with an emblem representing a "X" hanging over them with Bokwen leading the group.
The modicum of trust I had for him was long gone, but I couldn’t see any other option.
My head was killing me.