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“Heya, sweetheart. Why don’t you come inside and I’ll show you something special?” said the coarse, foul smelling, middle-aged boarkin at the door of the closed tavern.

“Thank you for the offer, sir. But I’m afraid I’m still on the job.” said Eloise. Smiling a polite, professional smile. Keeping all the disgust she had for the man hidden.

It had been a month, maybe a month and a half, since the fall of Debica and loss of her home. The experience had been traumatic, and terrible, and the days that followed had been little better, for the former-guardswoman and the handful of Debican’s who’d survived the raid.

Yet life moves ever onward even when we’d rather it stand still. Thus the former denizens of Debica had to find new homes for themselves in a town a few territories over, and the former-guardswoman found a new career for herself. Taking up the mantle her garbage fire of a father left behind and becoming an Adventurer of Azotou’s Adventurers’ Guild.

Eloise was currently an iron-badged Adventurer. The badges went from stone, to bronze, to iron, to silver, to gold, to platinum. Being an elite progressing between the upper-tiers of the soldier-rank and the lower-tiers of the expert-rank meant she got to start a little higher up on the rungs than the average person.

In terms of work, that meant that she got higher paying gigs than she would have been qualified to do otherwise.

The worth of the goods carried when she travelled between the towns, cities, and villages as a courier were higher.

There were more security jobs open to her if she were inclinded to use the skillsets she’d learned as guardsman, and babysit a building, a caravan, or group of travellers.

Finally, she was able to get access to the hunter board. The board of bounties that held the names and last known locations of monsters and criminals that various authorities within the land wanted killed, or captured.

She’d been dismayed, but not surprised, to see it there. The black hound was listed on the board as a target for elimination. Eloise imagined that it was all but inevitable, from the rumors she’d heard the creature had been killing soldiers on both sides and disrupting the war.

Eloise was hunting the creature to...but in another way. If she were being honest with herself, she’d have been forced to admit that it had become something of an obsession for her after she’d lost her home. Something her mind had fixated upon after her world had been torn apart.

Luckily for her, Eloise wasn’t an honest girl. So she told herself that she’d just wanted a chance to say thanks.

The creature might not have purposely saved her and her fellow townsfolk, but the spells of healing it cast on them, and the hint of its aura that it left behind before disappearing within the swirling black and red pool it emerged from, was no accident.

Thanks to the healing, no one else died that day. Thanks to the aura, no beasts or monsters dared waylay them.

That’s why she was here, in the city of Belinda. A beautiful city in the northern end of central Azotou. Belinda sat on a river delta, and was home to numerous clans and groups. It was a city where the gold flowed like water. The city also happened to be known as one of the biggest dens of inequity within the continent.

Whether it was murder, thieving, slaving, gambling, or narcotics. If it was a vice, you could assume that there was likely some manner of trade associated with it that was taking place within the walls of Belinda.

Due to its wealth, and the presence of a certain dragon that slept within the mountains that formed the city’s northern wall, neither Dytika or Antoli, interfered with what took place here. On the contrary, the two nations, and their subordinate nations, all used the independate city-state as a safe habour for many of their own unsavory doings.

The net result was that in the last few days and weeks, more and more Adventurers had been filtering into the city. The two rulers of the eastern and western halves of the continent had placed a massive bounty on the black beast’s head.

Despite Antoli and Dytika’s progandists and state cryers trying their best to control the narrative, there were enough people like Eloise walking around that it was now well known that the beast only showed in the presence of great evil. Belinda was a city where bad things happened every day.

Thus rather than run around trying to chase a beast that could vanish at will, and whose lair could not found, many a hunter, adventurer, and glory-hound noble, had elected to camp out in the city and wait for the inevitable to happen.

Naturally, Belinda’s leaders were less than pleased with the presumption, but all the business owners and merchants were making the best of a bad situation by charging at a premium for all their goods and service.

*************************************************************************************************************

Up in the mountain’s that formed Belinda’s northern wall, a beast was rousing. This wasn’t the beast the people in the city below were waiting for. This beast was the lord of the Azotou’s Dvoriki mountain range. This beast a was beast that the rulers of Belinda knew all too well.

This beast was Ejder, the white drake of Belinda, and in this already hectic period, the city’s draconic lord was rousing from his slumber. Waking up to receive his decennial, and to collect the payment the ‘ants’ that lived in the city below owed him for their continued existence.

*************************************************************************************************************

“Hey...Hey...Girl, are you still in there?” said voice. Sharp and distinctly accented giving away its speaker’s Anthraka origins.

“Huh? Oh...Yeah. Sorry, Del. What were you saying?” said Eloise.

“I was saying we should probably meet up with the rest of the party and see about heading into the wilderness soon.” said the lizardkin woman.

Adventurers generally operated in parties, or in guilds. You’d scarcely ever see an adventurer working by themselves for long. The only cases when this was not so, was when the adventurer was either superbly skill, or on a job with little to no risk factor. Otherwise, most would take advantage of the safety that came with working in a group.

Delara Shirazi was a member of Eloise’s party. The lizard woman stood at roughly six-foot-four, taller than most human women within the continent and many men. She was muscular to the point of being slightly bulky.

Her eyes were red and slit-pupiled like most reptile-kin. She had pearlescent pink-red scales and matching pink-red hair. Her scales were more widespread, along her limbs, and around her back, neck, jawline, and temples. There was something in the bony ridges along her spine and brow that hinted of a faint relation to one of the draconid races.

Delara was the party’s tank. A broadsword, nearly as tall as she was, sat leaning against the table, and she had a massive kite shield strapped to her back. Delara was also the person Eloise was closest to within the group.

Part of that was just the fact that the group as a whole was fairly new and Del and Eloise just tended to spend a lot of time together, compared to the other members.

There was also a great deal that could be blamed on the moderate amount of xenophobia shown by the rest of the group. The party was made of Dytikans, despite being just as multicultural as Antoli in terms of demographics, the holy kingdom’s politics had clear human supremacist leanings.

Lizardkin like Delara weren’t seen on Azotou too often, so they didn’t enjoy the begrudging tolerance that the rest of the nonhumans on the continent got. While the others weren’t offensive in their interactions with the lizardkin woman, they weren’t particular warm or inviting either.

Eloise and Delara ended up being close because Eloise was half-sidhe. Part fair folk. A rusalka to be precise. Another race that wasn’t seen too often in Azotou.

It hadn’t been an issue when all she’d had to deal with was the isolated city of Debica, so she’d never really had to think about it before, but she soon found that the rest of the western-Azotou didn’t look on elves, especially those of the more ‘foreign’ variants too fondly.

The fae kingdoms were staunch allies of the empire and there numerous fae, and elven half-fae, nobles in the Antolian government.

The treatment from her fellow Dytikans was such that, even if she hadn’t wanted to be an Adventurer it was likely the only job she would have been able to get. The Adventurers’ Guild was one of the few groups that didn’t look at race, nationality, or background, when hiring.

“Why do we need to meet up with the others in the wilderness?” said Eloise.

“Uh...Maybe because work we can do in the city has been drying up as more and more adventurers show up, and there’s still plenty of easily nabbable monsters beyound the city walls that we can slay to collect bounties.” said Delara.

“Fair enough, I guess.” said Eloise. Shaking her head and still feeling a little out of it. A part of her wondered if all the courier jobs she’d been doing lately was catching up to her.

“Goodie...I’ll tell the mage and he’ll tell the swordsman and his little rogue girlfriend, and the five us will meet up outside around noon.” said Delara.

“Nh...Sounds like a plan, Del.” said Eloise. Yawning. Deciding that if they didn’t have anything else planned today, she’d just go upstairs to the room she was renting from the inn and restraunt they sat in.






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IndigoSharpe

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