Vacant Throne

by

TowerCurator

008.002 City Under Siege - Knights Solaris

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The guild, these Knights Solaris, had it made. Alyssa admitted it, she hadn’t experienced much of the city. But this building had to be among the upper class structures around. It lacked the decorum of the Observatorium, and the palace—which Alyssa still hadn’t seen up close—was likely far fancier. The guild was a sturdy building, constructed from thick blocks of brownish stone. It almost looked like a castle except for the massive windows that ran from just above the tall door clear up to the ceiling. More like a cross between a castle and a cathedral. If there was one thing Alyssa had noticed, it was that glass seemed to be a rarity. None of the buildings, homes or businesses, in the slums around the Waterhole had glass anywhere on them. In comparison, the buildings near the Observatorium all had at least small glass windows.

There was more to the guild than just the large glass windows. Light flooded out. The vast majority of the city wasn’t lit up. Nothing like modern cities. A few of the streets had dim magical lights like those on the roads outside the city, but the buildings were dark more often than not. The guild had enough light coming from its windows that there really was no need for the little street lamps in the general vicinity.

Just above the doorway, below the bottom of the windows, a symbol had been engraved in the stone. A shield, five pointed with two at the top and three at the bottom. In the center was a simple emblem of the sun. Made sense. Solaris had something to do with the sun. It also was a Latin word, she was fairly sure, which raised a bunch of questions that were probably best not thought about too hard. Little about this world made sense, why should language?

Ipo walked right up to the front door without stopping to gape at the building. Feeling slightly silly, Alyssa caught up with him as he shoved open the dual doors.

For all that she had been impressed with the exterior, she couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed as she looked on the inside. It was a tavern. Much like Yzhemal’s back in Teneville or the main floor of the inn Cid had brought her to. A lot larger of course, but similar all the same. There were even mint leafs scattered about. Around thirty people were divided up between ten or so tables. Builds, sizes, even attire quality varied between them, though everyone was human. They even had a few servers bringing food around to people. Two counters sat at opposite sides of the room. One seemed the fairly standard food and drink bar with people eating and talking around it. The other counter had only a single woman seated behind a desk, wearing a circular set of glasses. Behind her, papers covered a wall.

It was the latter counter that Ipo headed toward. He didn’t move unnoticed. Practically everyone stopped their conversations or their eating and looked over at him. Most returned to their business, but at least one person at each table kept their eyes on him.

Alyssa shirked under their gazes, but kept walking close to Ipo. No one was glaring at her. They were curious. They probably weren’t even looking at her, but at Ipo. It just felt like everyone in the room had their eyes on her.

She really needed to get some local attire. Even if it was scratchy, uncomfortable, and poorly tailored compared to modern clothing. Just something that would keep her from standing out quite so much.

Someone standing in the far corner of the room just about made her stumble. She recognized him! He was the muscular man with the sword who had been standing near Aziz her first night in the inn. His companion! He didn’t have the metal scale vest on, wearing a plain brown tunic instead, but it was still him. She had thought he was a bodyguard, not a mercenary… though he may have been both at the time, she supposed. Having been disowned, Aziz likely wouldn’t have been able to rely on any family retainers to travel with him to Teneville on his pilgrimage. Going to mercenaries made sense in that situation.

He recognized her as well. She could see it by the mild curiosity on his face. But he made no move to approach her, so Alyssa stayed with Ipo. Since she was planning on sticking around after Ipo left, maybe she would go talk to him. Or not… did she really have anything to talk with him about? Maybe, in that case, if he accepted her request for a city escort.

Unless he was really expensive. She had seen some of his gear back in Teneville, his sword and that scale armor in Aziz’s room. None of it looked all that cheap. Even if Aziz had been disowned, he probably still had enough money to hire one of the higher tiers of bodyguards.

“Guardsman,” the woman at the counter said with a pleasant smile, pulling Alyssa’s attention away from the mercenary. “What can the Knights Solaris do for you today?” As she spoke, she pulled over a piece of paper from a stack at her side. Fairly extravagant paper. Most paper Alyssa had come across in this world was… ragged and low quality. This was just the opposite. It wasn’t printer-worthy, but each piece was uniform and had the symbol from the front of the building right at the top.

Looking up, the wall behind her was covered in identical sheets. Except each one of the posted papers had large, loopy handwriting spelling out jobs. Fifteen Deer Hooves Wanted — 12 Medi. Forest Goblins Raiding Farm Silos in Beetlebend, Exterminators Requested — 2 Medi per Ear. Bandits Attacking Caravans East of Lyria, Scout for Bandit Stronghold — 8 Atlus. Daughter Kidnapped by Monsters — 100 Altus for return of remains, 500 if alive, bonus for ears. They went on and on. None went into any specific details. They just listed the basic job and the pay.

“Laria,” Ipo said after a deep breath.

“Ipo? Is that you?” She leaned forward, peering at him. Though he had an open-faced helmet, it wrapped around his head enough to cast his face into shadows even with the light of the room. “Surprised to see you here after last time. I assume you’re not here to cause trouble? What can I do for you?”

“Not for me. The city.”

“Ah. A request on behalf of the city then?” Sitting upright in her seat, she clasped her hands together in a far more professional demeanor.

“Captain Oxart of the Northern Barracks wishes for your guild to be apprised of a situation.” Despite his earlier words warning Alyssa to keep quiet, Ipo spoke in a loud voice brimming with authority. Even the people who had gone back to their food turned to face him once again, though he never looked away from the woman at the counter. “A large gathering of monsters, goblins and trolls, is headed toward Lyria from the desert. The city guard is mobilizing, but Captain Oxart thought it prudent to inform you of the situation in case the city calls upon your services.”

“I see, I see.” The woman—Laria, apparently—didn’t look worried in the slightest. Her hand flew across the piece of paper, writing down all the important points of what Ipo said in the same loopy handwriting. “Number of monsters? Distance? Estimated speed and time to arrive at the city?”

“Scouts have been sent out to determine the exact answers to your questions. The monsters look to be at a significant distance and are walking on foot. It should be some time before your… assistance is requested. Within three hours. I imagine myself or someone else will be along shortly to keep you updated.”

“Payment will be the usual for city defense?”

“That is something for the nobles to determine should they decide to make use of your services.”

Her hand stopped moving. “I see. We normally prefer slightly more details, as I’m sure you are aware, but I recognize the time sensitivity of the situation. If you have nothing else to add…” she trailed off, waiting for him to respond. When he didn’t, she flipped the paper over and started writing in much larger handwriting. “New posting,” she said in a raised voice. Not quite shouting. She didn’t need to yell. As soon as she spoke, the room went silent. All the little conversations died off. The clanking of metal equipment stilled. Even the sounds of people eating crunchy food quieted. “City Defense. Job starts within three hours, lasting until monsters approaching the city are exterminated. Further details incoming as the situation develops. Payment to be determined. Open to all, no limits.”

Ipo gave her a curt nod. “That will be all for now.”

“The Knights Solaris look forward to news of further developments in this situation. It’s always nice to work with our city’s valiant defenders,” she said with a charming smile. “May Tenebrael bless you.”

“Mph.” Ipo turned, glanced around the room once, and started walking. He didn’t even say anything other than that little grunt. Well, he had said that he wasn’t too fond of mercenaries, so maybe that was to be expected. Couldn’t he have been at least a little courteous? He had basically asked these people to risk their lives to defend the city. Judging by Captain Oxart’s words, she was definitely expecting a few of these people to die in service of the city. They were being paid for it, but it had to be difficult to make use of those funds while dead…

Alyssa hung back, staying at the counter. She thought about following after Ipo, but she was already where she wanted to be. Running out with him only to tell him that she was thinking about hiring a mercenary didn’t sound like it would turn out so well. Besides, he had his own duties with the city under attack—which was weird to think about so casually. When she had first spotted the monsters, she had been in a panic. But all the guards were calm, as was Oxart, even this guild was acting like this was nothing out of the ordinary. None of the mercenaries were getting ready for combat. They went back to their meals and discussions.

It was hard to stay agitated when no one else was worried.

Laria clasped her hands together and leaned back in her chair. Was that her whole job? Just to post jobs? She hadn’t been doing anything when they entered the room and she wasn’t doing anything now. Actually, it probably was her job. The literacy rates of medieval Earth had been pretty abysmal. This woman was probably paid quite handsomely just to write things down a half-dozen times a day.

Being a properly literate modern human, Alyssa now knew what jobs to seek out if she ever needed some more cash. A nice easy desk job with potentially tons of time to research magic on the side? And… a number of these mercenaries were probably high level arcanists.

Resisting the urge to ask her for her job, Alyssa stepped up and cleared her throat.

Laria blinked twice as she looked up at Alyssa. “I’m sorry, I thought you were with the guardsman. Did you have a request to make?”

“Maybe. I was wondering if you could tell me the going rate of a guard to escort me around the city. No combat expected, I’m just new to Lyria and don’t know my way around just yet.”

“I see. And I assume this is an immediate request?” she said, pulling a fresh piece of paper over. “About how long do you think this job will last?”

“Uh, how long does it take to walk to the other side of the city?”

“Depending on the detours you might take, walking speed, mounts, exact distance, and other such variables, anywhere from five minutes to five hours.”

“Let’s say three hours then.” That seemed a bit long to find an inn, but better to be on the safe side than to wind up abandoned in the middle of town.

“I see. A three hour job featuring little to no combat within the city. You’ll need only a single individual as your escort, I assume?” At Alyssa’s nod, she pulled out a large ledger and started leafing through the pages. “Similar requests in the past generally start low. As little as a single medi. However, a bonus is generally established beforehand in the event that you encounter less than savory individuals who may wish you harm.”

“Doesn’t that encourage the occasional false ambush? Where a mercenary sets up a few of his buddies to cause trouble? They get some easy combat to show off before heroically driving away the assailants, earning a bonus to their pay in the process.”

The more Alyssa spoke, the more the woman’s smile turned to a frown. “The Knights Solaris have their honor to consider. We act in the best interests of our clients. Any member caught engaging in such… deplorable behavior would find themselves made an example of. Now, if you have an accusation to make—”

“Nothing of the sort,” Alyssa said as fast as she could. “It was just an idle curiosity. I’ll follow tradition and price my request as you suggest.”

She didn’t quite regain her full smile, but she did nod her head. “Very well.”

Alyssa held up a hand. “Before you announce it, is it possible to request a specific person?”

“It is fairly common among regular users of our services. They find people they like who know the way the client likes their jobs done. Did you have someone in mind?”

“Ah, I don’t know his name.” Alyssa turned slightly. Aziz’s bodyguard was standing back where he had been when she entered the room. He hadn’t moved much save to take a seat alone at a table. “The man in the corner with the red hair? Is he available? If not, I’m fine with anyone.”

“Oz? This might be too low a profile job for him, but no harm in asking.” Laria wrote down a few other things on the paper before she flipped it over. A moment later and she cleared her throat. “New posting. Intra-city escort request. No expected combat, standard bonus applies. Immediate job, lasting approximately three hours or until client is satisfied, whichever is sooner. Priority Oz, otherwise open to any. Limit one.”

As with last time, the room fell silent during her announcement. Oz looked up at his name being called, though he had been paying attention. For a moment, Alyssa thought he was going to just ignore it, but he eventually stood up. He had a friendly smile on his face, but the way he moved screamed reluctance. He didn’t even start walking over until he drank the remaining half of his flagon. The sight of him drinking actually had Alyssa a little concerned. Maybe she shouldn’t have requested him. She didn’t really want to be escorted around by a drunk. Around the room, pretty much every single person had an identical drink in front of them. Much like Yzhemal’s inn.

Though slow, he didn’t move like a drunk. No swaying or wobbling. It was more like he was deliberately dragging his feet to give him time to look her over.

“You’re that wench from Teneville.”

Alyssa pressed her lips together. He wasn’t wrong, but he could have put it a different way that didn’t make her sound like a harlot. “At least it was something productive to do that wasn’t sitting around drinking all day and night.” Maybe someone who didn’t recognize her would have been a better option.

He made a soft grunting noise, but still had his smile on. “Got paid to take that kid on a one way trip. There wasn’t anything in the request that said I couldn’t enjoy the festivities before heading back.”

“That might be true… but… whatever. Are you willing to accept my job?”

Scratching at the scruff on his chin, Oz hummed. “At most a few Medi? The city defense will pay far more than yours, even if you’re being hunted by half the city. Escort quests are annoying anyway.”

Ah. That was right. The city guard had a duty to defend the city. The mercenaries did not, but that didn’t mean that they would pass over what was probably a sizable sum for defending it. Assuming that she could poach away one had been folly.

Except, the defense mission shouldn’t be ready for a while yet. “If we hurry, you can get a nice easy job and still make it back in time to fight. Since I know this is an awkward time, I’ll even up the pay to four medi.” She could easily afford that with what she had liberated from Svotty.

That got him humming again. “The combat bonus will be applied on top of this new pay?”

Alyssa blinked. Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t actually heard what that bonus would be. Glancing to Laria, she asked, “How much is the combat bonus?”

“Ah. Forgive me for not informing you. That was a mistake. Combat in a request designated as non-combat typically adds a bonus equal to four times the initial price, though some negotiations can be made.”

Sixteen medi. Plus the regular pay of four, bringing it up to an altus and two medi. Glancing back at some of the boards, that was definitely a high price for what should be exceedingly simple. But, if it actually turned out to be simple, it would only be four medi.

“Alright. I’ll take the risk.”

“You can pay me in the worst case scenario, right? Can’t imagine a tavern wench makes much coin.”

“Of course,” she said with a strained smile. “You’ll take the job then?”

“It seems worth it,” he said after a long moment of silence. “So long as I make it back soon.”

“Good! Let’s get moving then, I’ll explain the specific details of where I want to go as we move. To expedite matters. I’m sure you can appreciate that.”

“Yeah yeah. My gear is in my room. Give me a moment to equip myself.” He trudged off, heading to a door just to the side of the counter. As soon as he disappeared inside, Laria smiled up at Alyssa.

“Payment of the agreed upon four medi can be made here,” she said. “Should the combat bonus come into effect, Oz will inform you of when and how he expects his compensation.”

“Ah. Right. Of course.” Alyssa pulled out Svotty’s smaller purse and fished out four medi, glancing up at the board behind Laria as she did so. How many of them required payment handed over beforehand? An escort such as hers made sense; it would be too easy for a one-way escort to purposefully default on their payment once they arrived at their destination. The guild could probably beat it out of them, but that might tarnish their reputation, making any witnesses view them as thugs. But what about the kidnapped girl job? Did they have several hundred altus sitting behind the counter?

Of course, only a fool would try to rob a place filled with experienced mercenaries. A burglar wouldn’t make it in, let alone out.

Shaking her head, she dropped the four medi on the counter. Laria inspected each piece before making another note on the piece of paper. As soon as she finished, she looked up with a smile. “If you care for refreshments while you wait, the counter opposite of mine can serve you.”

Alyssa glanced over to where a bald bartender was setting out drinks for two men. In truth, she was thirsty. A bit hungry as well. The food here even looked passable. Not quite a two star restaurant, but drastically better than the majority of food she had eaten since coming to this world. Unfortunately, she wanted to get moving as soon as possible. Both for Oz to return for the city defense and for herself to just get someplace she could sit down and take a load off. She didn’t want to be halfway through a meal only for Oz to come back fully geared up and ready to go. Irritating her escort wouldn’t go over well.

“I’ll just take a seat here,” she said with an internal sigh, gesturing to one of the nearby tables. “That’s alright, is it?”

“Perfectly fine.”

Alyssa nodded, did what she said she was going to do and took a seat, and waited.

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