The aged corio sat down at his desk with a groan, leaned over and placed his palm atop a gem studded filing cabinet.
They were in a cozy little office with a handful of trophies from a life of adventuring. The bearskin rug was a bit bristly under Garth’s feet, and he played with it while the Corio searched for the right file.
With the Bark Skin spell and Temperature Resistance, what was the point of wearing shoes anyway? Garth had recently come to realize this after taking his shoes off for the exam.
The only concern Garth had was that he might root in place at some point, but that was a distant fear.
There was a flash of light from the gemstone on the side of the cabinet, then the man brusquely drew open the cabinet and retrieved the first file.
He read through the folder for a moment, before clearing his throat.
“Garth Daniels, phytomagus.” He glanced up at Garth. “I saw a bit of your test, very talented for a phytomagus.”
He flipped to another page. “Sandi’kuthala Dakuum, berserker.” He raised a brow. “Very impressive. I question why your parents would choose that particular class for their child, especially one so dangerous.”
“It’s actually less dangerous.” Sandi spoke with practiced ease. “The Berserker class gives a bonus to resisting strong desires, like anger and hunger. Most berserkers use it to bottle up their anger so they don’t hurt people when they shouldn’t, but Succubi get it to resist the impulse to eat their friends. It’s a very common class for us.”
“Interesting.” The corio said, adjusting his shell-rimmed glasses as he made a note on Sandi’s paper before flipping to the next page.
“Your party, Tax Shelter was registered with three members, including one Itet’chi’zzt, a Tzetin spellblade. Where is she?”
Didn’t know we’d be getting the third degree, Garth thought.
“She went home to her hive.”
The Corio grunted and made a note before flipping back to the front.
“It says here you were suspended for fighting in the adventurer’s guild and causing property damage six months ago.” He said, glancing up at him. “You don’t strike me as the rowdy sort.”
“The long and short of it is somebody who tried to kill me a couple times showed up and I started a fight with him,” Garth said.
“I see.” He closed the folder and fixed them with a flat stare. “I don’t appreciate tourists.”
“Huh?” Garth blinked.
“You have no work history, an unsafe number of members in your party. The only history you do have with the guild is a brawl, then you dropped off the radar for half a year. Forget about getting gold rank, I’m not even sure we should keep you in the books as a party.”
“Oh,” Sandi said with a frown. “Maybe this wasn’t a great idea after all.”
Garth reached over and pinched her butt when the corio looked away for a moment.
“In addition, there was a request to enter the Perianore dungeon with a rather unique reason. So unique in fact, that I just had to hold onto it.” he reached into his desk and retrieved two letters.
“Here’s a typical request: “UnderEarth party wishes to enter Perianore, Five days expected stay. Deposit paid to Guild accountant, ticket #58132. All members currently in good standing, gear updated to reflect new changes in guild policy, Insurance current on all members.”
“Then there’s this one,” he said, flipping to the second letter, reading it in a childlike voice.
“My name is Sandi and I’d like some Sanatite so I can make some pretty seashell jewelry that I can give to my babies. My boyfriend and I haven’t spent much time together recently, and I wanted to do something fun with him.”
Sandi was turning red as the guild master continued in sing-song.
“I want to do something special for him, since he’s given me aaaall the happiness in the world, so it would be great if we could become gold rank adventurers, since they get citizenship. He worries about it affecting his business a lot. Can we please go in the dungeon and mine some Sanatite?”
He directed his gaze back to Garth and Sandi.
“Like I said,” He spoke with a scowl, setting the letter aside. “I don’t like tourists at the best of times. Especially not a dim-witted succubi and whichever man they happen to be using as a chew-toy at the moment. That letter was a joke. Almost as amusing as the idea that I might allow you fools to become gold rank adventurers and set foot in my dungeon. We have standards here, and you two clearly do not meet them.”
Well, he’s not wrong. It is the right decision. Garth thought, glancing over at Sandi. Her eyes were beginning to brim up with tears. But let’s fuck up his world anyway.
“Agreed,” Wilson said from the corner, his spike standing a little straighter as he eyeballed the guy.
My dungeon? Sounds like he’s personally invested. I can work with that.
“Agreed what?” the Guild master said, glancing at Wilson.
“My familiar and I think this could be resolved with a donation to the guild.” Garth said, putting his finger on the table and using his status band to manifest a ten thousand credit gold coin underneath it.
The guild master looked down at it and scoffed. “A bribe? You think-“
“The difference between a bribe and a donation,” Garth said, lifting his finger as a stack of coins grew beneath it, channeled out of his Status Band. Once he reached a million credits at about a foot high, he started a second stack.
“Is a matter of scale. Don’t you think?” Garth asked as he began working on his third stack of coins.
“Yay, we’re gold ranked adventurers!” Sandi said, jumping for joy on the newly paved street outside the Guild hall before her mood did a one-eighty and she turned mournful. “I’m so sorry that you had to pay that mean old man five million credits.”
“Oh, Pfff.” Garth said waving his hand. “Drop in the bucket.” Not exactly a drop in the bucket, but affordable. “In the meantime, why don’t we take the Guildmaster’s suggestion and hire a group of adventurers to babysit us? It would make things a lot safer.”
“But I wanted it to be just us…” Sandi pouted.
“What if we both get hurt at the same time? Or separated? That would put a damper on this little honeymoon pretty quick. Let’s at least take a group with us for the first run, just so we can get a feel for how dangerous it is without making orphans.”
“Okay,” Sandi relented, deflating.
Garth watched the old man stuff the five million credits into his personal account through his Floating Eye. Looks like he took the bait.
“I promise you’ll have a good time,” Garth said, dismissing the spell with a grin.
Time to find the right people.
Grok Urden was cleaning his nails with his favorite knife. The blade was stubby and worn down nearly to a nub, and had long since been replaced with a better version, but Grok still liked to carry it on him. He’d gotten it from his father to celebrate coming out of his first delve alive, and with a profit, a man. He used it for nail care and opening packages and letters now.
The rest of his party, the three women and two other men packed their bags and checked their equipment, getting ready for another day of scouring the Perianore dungeon for Sanatite.
It was a cushy gig despite the price of Sanatite being one-third its market value in this dungeon town.
Each thumb-sized crystal they pried from the dungeon walls was worth a month’s pay. On average, they brought back six or seven crystals a week. The danger level was minimal to an experienced party like their own. It was less adventuring and more saving for retirement for them.
There was a knock at the door, before their landlord’s voice came through the heavy oak slab.
“There’s a gentleman down in the lobby who wishes to have a word with you. It sounds like he’s offering a job?”
Grok met the gaze of the rest of his party who’d halted their work, sending him a curious glance. Grok hadn’t put their names out there, so where had this fellow come from?
“I’ll be right down.” He said, pocketing his knife and standing. “Keep packing, I’ll go tell this guy where to shove it.” they nodded and returned to their work.
Grok opened the door and headed down the narrow oak stairs, walking into the beams of light in the main room.
There, in the center of the room sat the most beautiful orc woman he’d ever seen, and…a purple…man?
He wasn’t an orc, since he lacked tusks, and his nose and forehead were off. The shape of his face was all wrong to be a hornless corio. Maybe a half-elf, But purple?
Intrigued, Grok sat across from them at the table. He glanced at the orc woman, obviously in heat, when he felt a displacement of air behind her, from something big.
Ah, a succubus. He thought, returning his gaze to the barefoot purple man in shorts.
“What were you asking for? Grok asked as a formality, still fully intending to turn them down.
The purple man put his arms on the table and smiled.
“I’m looking for a team that can get my girl and I to the bottom of the Perianore dungeon.”
Ah, a tourist.
It happened sometimes, a rich city brat wanted a really expensive sword or armor, but they were determined to gather the ingredients themselves. A point of pride, or some such nonsense.
“Any team could take you in a couple times and get you enough to make whatever fancy toy you’ve got in mind.” Grok said dismissively, starting to stand.
“I said the bottom of the dungeon. I want to see the Core chamber.”
Grok frowned. The core chamber was kept carefully starved of air to slow the rate of growth of the dungeon, so they could continue to harvest it’s resources for as long as possible.
“Well, the deeper you go, the more likely you are to find Sanatite, aren’t you? Have you ever wondered how much you’d find at the dungeon’s very center?”
Grok shook his head. “There’s fifteen floors, and they each take an increasing amount of time and effort to navigate. We only go down to the eighth regularly. After that, logistics becomes a problem. We also don’t have a healer. We simply don’t have the resources to babysit two amateurs down to the bottom of the dungeon.”
A knife appeared in the purple man’s hand, and Grok tensed for an instant before the man slashed his own palm. The wound closed in a matter of seconds
“Oh, look, I’m a healer.”
Like a trick of legerdemain, the purple man reached out and plucked a carrot and an arrow out of the air.
“I’m pretty good at logistics, too.” He said, stabbing the wooden arrow through the oak table and taking a bite of his carrot.
“May I?” Grok asked, pointing at the arrow.
The purple man grunted and nodded, taking another bite of his carrot.
Grok easily pulled the arrow out of the table with a harsh squeak and crackling of tortured wood, inspecting the all-wood arrow, with delicately carved wooden feathers emerging from its sides. Grok tested the tip on his finger and cut himself. Definitely not an illusion.
Grok put the arrow over his knee and pulled with all his might, trying to snap it like kindling. The arrow deformed under the Orc’s great strength, gradually folding over his knee as he exerted all his strength.
When Grok let go of it, the arrow snapped back into shape as if it had never been bent, nearly removing a finger.
“Bulad would love these.” Grok said, turning it over in his hand.
“You made this?” he asked.
The purple man nodded and held up a finger, putting his carrot in the side of his mouth like a cigar before rubbing his hands together and blowing above them, aiming toward the empty side of the common room.
A swirl of dust motes appeared above the man’s hands, then those motes became a storm of tiny trees whose bark turned to ash, leaving a swarm of thousands of hurtling arrows that buried themselves in the floor, ceiling and wall, covering every exposed inch of the wooden common room with bristling, carved feathers.
“Kolath’s balls!” the landlord said as he emerged from behind his desk.
Grok eyed the arrows, and the purple man paying off the landlord, who shut his mouth upon receiving generous compensation.
Powerful magic and money. Some points make him seem like a clan member, while others… he glanced over the man’s simple garb and lack of pompousness.
“What was your name again?”
“And you ma’am, what can you do?”
“I’m Sandi! A gold ranked berserker!” she said, showing him her obviously fresh golden dog-tags.
“A carnophage berserker? I can’t think of anything scarier.”
“We’re all berserkers.” Sandi huffed, crossing her arms under her generous breasts. “Why don’t people know that?”
Grok blinked in confusion a moment before he leaned back in his chair, twirling the arrow in his hand.
“All the way to the bottom?”