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A note from Shirtaloon

This is the longest chapter thus far. I'm writing this at quarter to three in the morning after writing for fourteen straight hours, so I'm coming up dry on a witticism. The tank is empty. Patreon next week. I need a beverage.

The guild district was the region of the Island that contained the Adventure Society campus, along with many other guilds and societies. Occupying the north-west region of the island, the guild district also contained the bulk of the Island’s visitor accommodations. Staying on the Island was a relatively expensive prospect, but with price came quality. Rufus, Farrah and Gary had secured a three-room suite in Sailor’s Watch, an inn at the very edge of the island, with exceptional ocean views.

Having returned from the Geller Estate, Rufus ran into Farrah outside their lodgings as she returned from her own business.

“How did it go?” Farrah asked.

“Well enough,” Rufus said. “Now we just need Jason to finally arrive.”

Farrah sniffed at the smell of fresh baking wafting out of the inn.

“Smells good,” she said. “Should be just about time to get some supper.”

“It should,” Rufus agreed, and they went inside.

Walking in, they headed in the direction of the dining room. There was a doorway leading directly to the kitchen, from which they heard a familiar voice.

“Now, it’s equal parts sugar and water, then flavour to discretion, and I do mean discretion. You don’t want the flavour of the syrup to overpower the cake. Once the syrup is soaking in, there’s no getting it back out again. Unless you can extricate the syrup with magic, somehow. I need to get my hands on a cooking magic skill book.”

Farrah snickered at the exasperation suddenly on Rufus’ face.

“Jason?” Rufus called out.

“Rufus! Excuse me for a moment, ladies.”

Jason wandered out of the kitchen wearing an apron marked with flour.

“G’day,” he greeted them. “Nice little place you’ve found. A bit exxy, but I picked up a decent bit of coin during our misadventures at the Vane Estate. Fighting cannibals is lucrative. I forgot to loot that woman, Cressida, though. Probably missed out on a good bit of coin, there.”

“I still have your share from looting the manor,” Farrah said. “They filched all the really good stuff before running off, but they left enough behind to be worth splitting up.”

“Oh, nice,” Jason said.

“What took you so long?” Rufus asked.

“I took the scenic route through the delta,” Jason said. “I had a good time.”

“There was some talk about someone roaming around healing people,” Farrah said. “Did you hear about that?”

“How did you hear about it?” Jason asked.

"What we heard was that he was doing it for free," Farrah said. "The church of the healer wasn't happy. Did you see the guy?"

Jason looked about shiftily.

“Um... yep.”

“Seriously?” Rufus asked. “It was you?”

“I have that cleansing power,” Jason said.

“What happened to splitting up to prevent drawing attention?” Rufus asked.

“What did you want me to say? ‘Sorry, Miss, but while it may seem that healing your father’s horrifying illness would cost me nothing, someone might notice.’”

“Surely there’s a middle ground between doing nothing and walking the earth, healing the sick and lame,” Rufus said.

“And where do I draw the line?” Jason asked. “Should it be where people aren’t sick enough, or where they aren’t impoverished enough?”

“He does have a point,” Farrah said. “Who looks at the poor and sick and tells them they aren’t poor and sick enough?”

"The church of the healer, from what I've heard," Jason said darkly.

“I’ve seen this kind of thing before,” Farrah said. “The Healer likes to give his worshippers the freedom to make the right choices on their own. The church of the healer is really important in isolated areas like this, though, and more than one church leader has been known to go a bit power mad.”

“The god’s real, right?” Jason asked. “Doesn’t he step in?”

“I’ve heard they do, if they take it too far,” Rufus said. “You always hear stories about churches who lose their way. I’ve never seen it reach the stage where their god intervenes.”

“I have,” Farrah said. “Rufus is a big city boy, but it normally happens places like this, where there’s less to keep them in check.”

“Did you at least go to the Adventure Society before getting to the kitchen?” Rufus asked Jason.

“Yeah, I did the paperwork,” Jason said. “I have some kind of assessment tomorrow.”

“That’s just to clear you of things like restricted essences,” Farrah said.

“Once that’s done you’ll need to go through a field assessment,” Rufus said, “Which they do at the start of each month. The next one is in nine days, but you can take yours the following month.”

“What’s wrong with this month?” Jason asked.

“You won’t be ready this month,” Rufus said. “Training you up to an acceptable standard by the end of next month will be rushed enough. Nine days from now, you wouldn’t come close to passing.”

“You don’t know for sure,” Jason said.

“I’m administering that field assessment myself,” Rufus said. “So I can speak with an amount of confidence.”

“You’re doing it?” Jason said. “Fair enough, then. Having you assess me wouldn’t exactly be ethical. Conflict of interest and all that. Well, I’ll see you at dinner; I have to get back to my cake.”

Rufus and Farrah watched Jason retreat into the kitchen.

“He thinks he’d fail because of ethics?” Farrah asked.

“He’ll figure it out once the training starts,” Rufus said.

***

The guild district was different from the north marina district in which Jason had first arrived on the island. Rather than the large private residences, it was occupied by various organisations, with smaller permanent residences serving the people that worked for them. Other than that, there was a large number of storefronts that seemed to be extensions of the various societies and associations headquartered around them.

Two sprawling campuses dominated the guild district. One was the Adventure Society, and the other was an organisation called the Magic Society. Jason knew Farrah was a member, but only had a vague idea of what they did. From what he could gather, they were something between a magic university and a magic utility company.

By size and centrality, the Forge Society and the Alchemist Association were clearly second to the Adventure and Magic Societies, but still occupied impressive chunks of real estate. Other organisations in the district ranged from occupying large buildings to being clustered into one space with other groups. Some were trade organisations, while others were adventuring guilds; private organisations of adventurers banded together for varying purposes.

Rufus had warned Jason against joining any of the local adventuring guilds. According to Rufus, they were all small-time affairs that took more from their members than they offered, although Jason wasn't entirely convinced. He’d learned enough about Rufus' background to realise Rufus looked down from a very great height.

Arriving at the Adventure Society’s administration building, Jason was shown through to a waiting room. There was one other occupant, a young man Jason estimated to be in his mid-to-late teens. He had the usual olive skin and dark hair of the local population, at least the human part of it. The young man was handsome, tall and broad-shouldered. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was a puppy in his lap receiving a scratch on the tummy.

“G’day, mate,” Jason said, sitting down next to him. “I like your dog.”

“His name is Stash,” the young man said. “Mine is Humphrey, Humphrey Geller.”

“Jason Asano,” Jason said, shaking Humphrey’s offered hand. “Nice to meet you, Humphrey. Stash is an unusual name.”

“It’s short for Velitraxistaasch,” Humphrey said. “He likes ‘Stash,’ though.”

“Velitraxistaasch?” Jason said. “What is he, a shape-changed dragon or something?”

Humphrey’s eyes went wide.

“How did you…?”

“Wait, he actually is?”

Jason burst out laughing, then reached over to scratch the puppy’s tummy.

“Who’s a good little dragon? You are, yes you are. Good boy.”

The puppy transformed into a canary, flying out of Humphrey’s lap to settle on his head, where it twittered away merrily.

“That’s impressive,” Jason said. “I take it he’s still a baby dragon.”

“Yes,” Humphrey said. “Our mothers arranged him becoming my familiar. Or me becoming his person, depending on how you look at it.”

“Your mum knows dragons,” Jason said. “I guess mine does too, although it’s more of a metaphor. Great Aunt Margaret doesn’t literally breathe fire.”

Humphrey laughed.

“You’re here to be assessed for the Adventure Society, I take it?” he asked.

"Yeah, I did all the paperwork yesterday," Jason said. "Any idea of what to expect?"

"They'll just check to make sure you don't have any restricted abilities. There'll be an official from the Adventure Society, of course, but they're only there to oversee things. The actual checking will be done by a priest from the church of knowledge. Don't try to slip anything past them, because there isn't any point."

“Because a god’s involved?”

"Exactly. Then there'll be someone from the Magic Society to record your essences. They'll imply you have to let them record all your individual abilities, but you actually don't. I'm told that the trick is to let them know that you know you don't have to and then do it anyway. Getting on the good side of the Magic Society is always a good idea."

“Thanks for the advice.”

“If you’ve awakened any of your racial gifts, though, keep those to yourself,” Humphrey advised. “They’re very big on those at the Magic Society and you can trade the details in exchange for favours down the line.”

Jason recalled Farrah telling him that humans all had dormant racial gifts that awakened unique powers based on their essences. He assumed the same advice would hold true for his outworlder abilities. More so, if anything.

“Good to know,” Jason said. “Much appreciated, mate.”

“I hope you don’t mind me saying,” Humphrey said, “but your manner of speech is a little unusual. Are you using a translation power?”

“I am,” Jason said. “I’m not local; I just arrived in town yesterday.”

“Where do you hail from, originally?” Humphrey asked.

“Australia.”

“Never heard of it,” Humphrey said. “Best not tell Mother or she’ll harangue my geography tutor. Does everyone there shave their eyebrows.”

“I didn’t shave them,” Jason said. “I lost them.”

“How do you lose your eyebrows?” Humphrey asked.

“It’s been an odd couple of weeks.,” Jason said.

A door opened and the canary on Humphrey's head morphed back into a puppy, its front paws dangling over his forehead. Humphrey lifted it down as a man entered the room. He was wearing what Jason had come to recognise as local business attire, quite different from the equivalent in his own world. The local fashions all went for loose, hanging designs that were more practical for the hot climate.

“Young Master Geller,” the man said to Humphrey, not so much as glancing at Jason. “This is, of course, a formality for you, but the formalities must be observed.”

“I’m just another adventurer,” Humphrey said, getting to his feet. “I only expect the same treatment you would give anyone.”

“Of course,” the man lied transparently. “This way, please.”

Left alone in the waiting room, Jason absently tapped his feet.

“I need to do some clothes shopping,” he said to himself. All his current outfits had been looted, and most of them hadn’t travelled well.

“Rufus dresses nicely,” he mused. “Maybe he knows a place.”

Humphrey wasn't gone long before coming back with Stash, still a puppy, tucked under one arm. Humphrey looked rather disconcerted and was a full shade redder than when he left.

“You alright?” Jason asked.

“The priest,” Humphrey said breathlessly. “She was a priestess.”

“Pretty?” Jason guessed.

“Oh, gods, yes,” Humphrey said. “I’m sure I made an idiot of myself.”

“You don’t have to worry,” Jason said, scratching Stash behind the ear. “You’ve got this little guy.”

“She did seem to like him.”

“Of course she did.”

“I didn’t know what to say.”

“I’m sure it was fine.”

“I didn’t even get her name.”

“No worries,” Jason said, slapping Humphrey on the shoulder. “I’ll get her name; you hang about in the lobby for a few minutes and we’ll grab an early lunch. Sound good?”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Mate, I’m going in there anyway. It’s not exactly out of my way.”

Jason sent the still-flustered Humphrey back in the direction of the main lobby. Shortly after, the man who had come for Humphrey then came out to get Jason.

"Mr Asano?" he asked, all smiles.

“That’s right.”

“Do you know Young Master Geller well?”

“We just met here.”

Friendliness sank from the man’s face like a torpedo had struck it.

“Oh,” the man said flatly. “Well, come on, then. We haven’t got all day.”

The man marched off, not bothering to look if Jason was following.

“Wow.”

Jason trailed the man through a small antechamber, then into another room where two people were waiting. The woman was wearing flowing robes of blue and white, with a sigil of a book sewn prominently into them.

He saw what had gotten Humphrey so bothered as she was quite pretty, although still with the rounded edges of youth. She was around Humphrey's age, maybe sixteen or seventeen, and Jason guessed Humphrey would have to move quick or in a couple of years, he'd have a small army of rivals.

Jason hadn't seen any evidence of cosmetics in this world, but he was beginning to suspect essences were taking up the slack. Except for himself and the blood priest, Darryl, every essence user he'd seen ranged from moderately good-looking to stupidly attractive.

The man next to the priestess was in his mid-thirties, also in a robe. Where the priestess' garment draped down her body with grace and elegance, his looked like a sack held in place with a rope belt. He had stubble, not the sexy kind, and his hair was an unruly mess. Even then, Jason recognised the handsome bone structure underneath. He looked like the hapless man who gets a make-over from the love interest in act two.

The third person was the man who led Jason in. He looked to be around thirty, with the generic handsomeness of a guy who had a supporting role on a teen drama a few years ago, but didn’t break out and is really bitter about going back to his catering job.

“So you’ll be the Adventure Society guy,” Jason said to him. He had the aura of a bronze ranker, although not as strong as Rufus, Gary and Farrah. They were all near the top end of bronze, where he felt more like Anisa, who had only recently moved past iron rank.

"And you must be the priestess," he greeted the young woman. "Jason Asano, lovely to meet you. May I have your name, or do I just call you ‘your worship,' or something. The last priestess I met was bit of a stickler. She did like to keep things formal, but mostly she just didn't like me."

She shook Jason's hand with a laugh. Jason mused over a handshake being common across worlds when it wasn't even universal to his own.

“My Name is Gabrielle Pellin,” she introduced herself, “and I’m just an acolyte, not a full priestess. You can call me Gabrielle.”

“Is it alright just to have an acolyte?” Jason asked. “What if I’m really good at hiding how evil I am?”

“It is unusual,” Gabrielle said, “but my Lady directed me specifically to be here today.”

“Your Lady?”

“The goddess, Knowledge.”

“Is that her actual name? Knowledge? I suppose it would be weird if she was called Beryl or something. Especially if your name was Beryl. It’d make church service confusing, although, I imagine quite flattering, as well.”

He turned to the last person as the other three looked at him strangely.

“You must be from the Magic Society,” Jason said. “Not sure what they do, yet, but they seem very important, so well done, there. Jason Asano; nice to meet you, mate.”

“Er, I’m Russell,” the man said, warily shaking Jason’s hand. “You don’t know what the Magic Society does?”

“I’m not local,” Jason said.

He noted that the priestess, Gabrielle, was holding what looked like a crystal ball, while Russell had a clipboard.

“So how do we do this, then?” Jason asked. “She waves the thing at me and you write down what she sees?”

“That’s more-or-less the process,” Russell said.

“Great,” Jason said. “Fair warning, my essences might come across as a bit sinister, but they weren’t on the restricted list. Not when I checked, anyway.”

“You don’t know what the Magic Society does,” Russell said, “but you know enough to check the restricted list?”

“It’s been an odd couple of weeks,” Jason said. “I’m picking things up as I go.”

“Can we please get started?” the man from the Adventure Society asked, impatiently.

“Yes, sorry,” Gabrielle said. She held up the crystal orb in front of Jason. She frowned at it, giving it a small shake.

“Miss Pellin?” Russell prompted.

"It seems Mr Asano is impervious to the aura reader," Gabrielle said.

“Just call me Jason. Don’t worry, I’m not evil. I’ll cop to naughty, but that’s as far as it goes. Of course, that’s what an evil guy would say, isn’t it?”

“I’m not sure that’s what anyone would say,” Gabrielle told him. “I think you might be a rather unusual man.”

“No,” Jason said. “Common as muck, me.”

“That I believe,” the Adventure Society official said.

Gabrielle tilted her head as if distractedly listen to something.

“After we’re done here,” Russell said to Jason, “could I convince you to discuss the power that shields you from the aura reader?”

“Got lunch plans, sorry.”

“Sorry,” Gabrielle said, refocusing on the group. “The essences were dark, blood, sin and doom.”

The other two turned to look at Jason.

“What?” he asked. “I said I’m not evil, although that could be part of my cunning ruse. Still, not on the restricted list, yeah? It’s not like I can make zombies or something. Kind of played out, where I come from, zombies. Same with vampires. Not as many werewolves, but they haven’t been done well in a while. Probably need the moon essence if I was going to make werewolves, though. My friend Rufus has the moon essence, but he’s more of the swordsman type.”

“Would you please stop talking for five seconds,” the Adventure Society official said.

“Sorry about that… whatever your name is, I didn’t catch it. Is this your only job, or do you do catering on the side?”

“What? Shut up. Russell, record this idiot’s essences so we can get him out of here.”

“Just a moment,” Russell said. He was looking over a blue and white marble tablet of a kind Jason had seen before. Farrah had checked an identical one when they were looking up Jason’s essences.

"Here we are," Russell said. "Dark, blood, sin and doom. Affliction specialist, no restriction. You're all good to go, Mr Asano."

“Thanks, mate.”

“Very well,” the official said, writing on his own clipboard. “You’re cleared for field testing. Should you successfully complete field testing, you will be allowed to take up membership with the Adventure Society, with all privileges and responsibilities that entails. Field testing takes place at the start of every month and you can sign up at the administration desk.”

“There is the matter of registering your individual essence abilities,” Russell said.

“I’m going to give that one a miss, sorry mate,” Jason said. “I would, but I have a friend waiting outside. Lovely to meet you Russell, Gabrielle…”

He turned to the official.

“…guy.”

“How did you know my name was Guy?” the official asked.

“Seriously? I’m on a roll, today. Bye, all.”

Jason sauntered out of the room.

“What an unusual man,” Russell said.

“I thought he was fun,” Gabrielle said.

“I thought he was on drugs,” Guy said. The other two looked at him, then nodded.

“That would make sense,” Russell said.

“Will that be a problem for his membership?” Gabrielle asked.

“No,” Guy said. “If we banned that kind of thing, we’d have to kick out half the alchemists.”

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Shirtaloon

  • Australia

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