The Surface, three days since the trollish encounter- The Narrator
The city of Octaal was alive with rumors and gossip this morning, according to rumor, the famed team of ruin divers was returning to their home city and the rumors weren't wrong.
Early in the morning, a well dressed and armed group of individuals made their way through the city moving past the winding slums, the bustling market district and arriving before their goal.
The adventurers guild.
A confident party of four pushed the guild doors open, self-confident smiles upon their faces, each member hoisting a colorful dead bird over their shoulders.
The entire guild hall noticed the entrance of this group and some even wolf-whistled or cheered. such was the fame of this group of four, they were a quickly rising party of celebrities.
Some older members of the guildhall grumbled and jealous onlookers muttered, but for the most part, people cheered or smiled.
This was the steel ranking team 'clairvoyance,' a quickly ascending crew of youth and one older man, with great potential and much renown in the city of Octaal.
The team was composed of four members each proficient in their own way
At the back of the party stood Ulric the Wall, a stoic man of few words and even fewer blows, not many could survive a single hit from his great axe.
Ulric's strength and quiet resolve were a thing of legends, he was huge standing over two meters tall and heavily muscled, so much so that people mistook him for a troll at times, his skin was ebony and he was shaven bald, a line of tattoos running down his jawline marking him as Kahdarran, one of the tribesmen of the far western desert, the markings depicting a swirling amalgamation of white lines forming a wyvern, a creature considered almost sacred to the tribes.
His tribe heritage was plainly decorating his half-plate cuirass and leggings, the studded metal worn from use was covered in tribal symbols and bone carvings.
Ulric was holding three large dead birds compared to the rest of his companions who were only holding one smaller bird each, however, he didn't look at all troubled by the extra weight at all as he steadily eyed his surroundings with impassive, pure black eyes.
In front of Ulric to his side, a dainty slim figure held her own bird, her pointed fluffy ears flicking on top of her head as she held her bird out at arms reach, as far away from herself as possible, her slitted sapphire eyes narrowed but still soft.
Ferra the pyre cleric, Ferra was a Jacouat, a race of feline-like abhumans, one of the more commonly accepted abhuman species, they resembled humans with cat ears and tails, sometimes claws as well.
Ferra pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes, her ginger shoulder length hair braided on one side, as she walked beside Ulric the giant.
She was wearing a chain mail coat overlayed with an ornate red mantle that ran past her waist, where she was wearing a long armored dress made primarily of Ilumanatium, the slight glow of the metal giving it away, her ginger tail poked out the back of her garb swinging side to side as she walked.
She was famous for the rare ability to manipulate fire, even able to heal small wounds with little effort utilizing fire, a truly amazing ability considering fires inclination towards destruction, she was famous for another reason as well.
Ferra was also a cleric meaning she could call upon the miracles of her god, gifts of healing and blessing being her domain.
She was a powerful ranged attacker and potent support.
Ferra continued holding her bird at a distance wrinkling her nose even as she smiled at some of the people catcalling her, waving cheerfully at the audience.
To Ferra's right another woman stalked, a long thin blade strapped to her back, she was wearing pale almost lavender leathers, that covered only her upper torso, waist and forearms, leaving her shoulders mid-drift and ankles exposed, she would have been showing a lot of skin if it were not for the dark cloth wrapped firmly around her figure, the only part of the woman not hidden under the form-fitting cloth was her head, the cloth running even along her slender neck.
This was the scarlet Storm, the beauty, Jadiiri.
She was a beloved and respected fighter many men had a raging crush on, she fought primarily by imbuing her blade with the fury of storms, striking her enemies down with distinctive ease in a blinding flash, she could even at times call the very heavens to rain down its wrath upon her foes.
Brilliantly red hair billowing like an open flame, she glanced around, her emerald eyes regarding everything with a hint of disdain. before lifting her head high and strutting forward, her waist-length hair flowing freely like liquid, her delicate and picturesque features contorting slightly as she grimaced, many people calling out her name.
Standing taller than all in the party save Ulric she was a true amazon of a woman her wide hips and long legs giving her a height advantage over most.
Jadiiri ignored the numerous wolf whistles and whoopings directed her way, even ignoring the few crude gestures that were spread out here and there.
She held a bird as large as one of Ulrics and looked like she was trying to phase out the audible clamoring that was building around her.
Lastly but not least, to Jadiiri's side but at the front, a man somewhat overshadowed by his tall companions jauntily walked, a spring in his step, his magnificent golden mustache quivering, its polished immaculacy, wobbling like a jelly.
Violet eyes twinkling with a dapper light, the man weaved and greeted his way through the gathering crowd exchanging jokes and merrily chortling at even the weakest of jests as he moved toward the guilds main counter.
This was Kale or 'ser Kale Foostgoft Luchidor the 3rd', often called big K by his friends, his fame name was Kale the flickering blade.
Kale was the leader and founder of the party known as clairvoyance and was perhaps the finest fencer to ever grace the Labarynth city of Octaal.
His strikes were lighting fast and his accuracy unnerving, he had never missed, or at least no one had ever seen him miss.
Kale wore a fashionable leather trench coat that was modified with stitched in plates of Chronaal, the metals pitch oil-like film glinting darkly under the guild lights, atop his head a wide-brimmed hat sat snug, two cords with good luck talismans hanging from the hat.
In general, it would appear to a person of the earth, that Kale was wearing some sort of medievalised version of a modern suit that had been combined with a set of plate mail, he even had a bow tie, it was fairly stylish.
Kale, as he shook hands and socialized searched for his goal, trying to spy it through the gathered crowd, his eyes coming to rest upon a stressed looking desk attendant.
Eyes set on his target, he slowly pushed his way through the crowd until he broke through.
Kale stepped forward arriving at the counter, his crew just behind him, occupying the crowd while he spoke to an old friend.
"Jolly good morning to you Tomavin," he said smartly in an accent many would blink at, rapping the tired-looking desk attendant on the head with the familiarity only those with a long history would share.
Tomavin, who was deeply concentrating on the contents of a paper looked up startled.
"Hmm? Oh! Ha Ha! Kale!" The two men embraced warmly and slapped each other on the back before splitting apart," It has been quite some time since I saw you old friend, what have you been up to?"
"It has indeed been quite some time," kale said cheerily, "Two years I think," Kale said massaging his chin before looking at his friend "I have been traveling, Looking for it."
"It?" Tomavin said looking aghast "you're still trying to find that myth?!"
"It's not a myth Tom!" Kale said indignantly, but also with a slight grin, "I have found proof, and you know where this trail led?"
"No I do not Kale," Tomavin said apprehensively, playing along, "why don't you tell me."
Kales grin grew very wide and he said heartily, his eyes lit up with enthusiasm, "Why right back to this city! here in the dungeon!"
Tomavin raised his brows, "Really? I would have thought you cleared this place out years ago"
"Ahh," Kale said tapping on his nose boldly, "but you see at the time I did not know what to look for, that no longer rings true."
Putting down his bird on the desk for a second, kale reached into his coat and pulled out a small well-preserved scroll, peeling it open in front of Tomavin.
"And what is this?" said Tomavin exasperated, looking at the meaningless scrawl of symbols and markings.
"Why the proof, of course," Kale said smugly "It is the riddle and writings that led me back here!"
"Yes but what 'is' it," Tomavin insisted "I don't recognize the symbology."
"Ahh that," Kale scratched at his chin before answering "mmm it makes sense you don't recognize it, around here no one would know it, because it's actually some sort of tribal etching."
Tomavin nodded and kept listening as Kale elaborated the golden lustrous plume under his nose wobbling prodigiously.
"I only figured this out because our silent friend Ulric decided to tell me," Kale lifted his palm up to gesture towards the silent Ulric who nodded in response, the large man now holding all the dead birds save for Kales which was still flopped over Tomavins counter.
"Apparently it's an ancient form of writing his people used to use before they switched to the imperial method."
"If this 'riddle,'" Tomavin emphasized, "was in an ancient tribal dialect, where on Guiettes green world did you go to find it."
"Oh nowhere too bad," kale said nonchalantly "I found these hieroglyphs in the ancient ruins of the deep city."
"The deep city!?" Tomavin spluttered incredulously, "By Salaar! you went down into the deep city! are you mad?!"
The deep city was a subterranean collection of branching tunnels and caverns that extended throughout the continent, it was so vast and so full of unknown dangers that less than a predicted 2% had been documented.
Tomavin strove to calm himself, his voice growing too loud before he managed to collect himself and calmly say.
"How? are you not dead?"
Kale chuckled but said brightly lifting both arms to point at himself and his teammates.
"Heh you know me, skill, a healthy dose of luck and a jolly good mixture of comradery, still," said Kale tilting his head to one side in thought, "that place was quite the test of will and endurance, the dark spawn were everywhere."
"As I'd imagine," Tomavin shuddered, images of thrashing Pitts of worms filling his thoughts, "Being that deep in the earth you're lucky you didn't run into a devil."
"Yes, that's something I'm glad about too" Kale agreed sagely.
Regular dark spawn was bad enough but devils were far worse, the difference between a lizard and a dragon being an accurate comparison between the two dark spawn.
A lull in the conversation occurred and during that lull, Ulric stepped forward wordlessly and placed the birds down on top of the one already on the counter.
Having finally taken his eyes off Kale Tomavin studied the corpses "Are these?..."
"Hoax phoenixes?" Kale said with a slight smile "why yes they are."
Kale continued casually "we came across a whole nest of the little birds, so we snagged a few."
Leaning out from behind Ulric's wide frame, ears flicking, Ferra said cheekily.
"Mmm! The feathers and meat fetch a decent price I believe," Ferra's soft but audible voice sounding for the first time since Kale initiated the conversation.
"Oh that they do," Tomavin said his half-smile deepening "how are you doing my dear?"
"Hi Tom," Ferra said coyly still mostly hidden behind Ulric as she peeked out from behind him "I m doing well."
Ferra didn't say anything more and Tomavin did not mind, he knew how Ferra was, much like Ulric she preferred not to speak much.
'It was no wonder the two of them got along so well,' Tomavin thought as he watched her cling to Ulric's side ' I wonder if they are in a relationship.'
Tomavin shook away the inappropriate images that popped into his head and glanced at the pile of birds, then at the notable pile of documents next to it, a feeling of despondency rising in his chest.
Tomavin sighed before looking up at the adults he had taught so long ago.
"Well, my friends," Tomavin said slowly "This does look quite the haul but remember I'm not the one that handles goods transactions, talk to Karren over there if you want to exchange them for pay."
Kale looked surprised, "Huh last time you allowed us to-" Kales's eyes scanned Tomavin and his desk coming to rest on the large pile of documents that were titled with 'extermination'.
Sensing his mentors stress Kale carefully spoke, keeping his voice low and quiet "whats that there that has you so wound up my friend? can I help?"
"Its nothing its..." Tomavin said about to brush his friend off, then stopped.
Kale and his team were just what he needed for those hairy problems roaming the sewers, they were ideal.
Stopping mid-sentence, Tomavin backtracked, "Umm actually this is something you might be able to help me with."
"Oh what is it," Kale said quizzically "Are the nobles on your back again? Is it that crazy madmen or his scheming brother again? if they are I can have a word with them." Kales's normally friendly features turned cold as flint upon mentioning the troubling two.
"Uh yes- no, no," Tomavin finished awkwardly, "I did have an issue earlier with nobles but that's not what I meant to talk about."
Tomavin paused took a breath then began again.
"The problem is trolls, likely a whole brood of them, that have set up in the sewers," Tomavin explained "we have already confirmed the capture of one girl, may she find peace when she passes, so very soon we might have an explosion of young trolls" Tomavin ended his words solemnly.
"Ohh..." Kale exclaimed frowning at the mention of trolls "yes... I see your reason for being so wound up, they are nasty beasts," Kale fingered his perfect mustache, "The boys and girls around here would be hard-pressed to take those down, especially a brood den."
"Yes," Tomavin confirmed, relieved, "that is why I need your help Kale, currently your team is the strongest in the region, if you were not here I would have to send an army of iron ranks down there to ensure those horrible trolls were exterminated and even if we did that we would take heavy losses and the nobles would never-"
"No need to continue my friend," kale interjected raising a hand, "I will handle this predicament. I need this place to still be in one piece, after all, if it crumbles how would I conduct my investigation."
"Thank you Kale," Tomavin said with genuine gratitude.
Kale waved both hands bashfully, a rosy glow growing on his cheeks "Pay it no mind Tom we are friends after all."
Tomavin watched Kales entertaining reaction and wasn't the only one to notice.
With a snicker Jadiiri said pointing up at her own cheeks before, in turn, pointing at Kales.
"By Salaar 'K' you have always been terrible at accepting compliments or thankyous." Jadiiri chortled, "You swell up like a toad every time someone flatters you, here let me handle this one."
With a gentle shove the gargantuan women pushed the occupied Kale aside, coming to lean on the counter before Tomavin, taking Kales place at the head.
"Heya Tom," Jadiiri said lightheartedly, her face only a foot away from Toms own.
"H- Hello Jadiiri" Tomavin replied with a shaky grin, he was always slightly uncomfortable with Jadiiri when she was this close, even if he had known her when she was still only five feet tall.
And Jadiiri obviously knew this because her smile only widened as she sensed his discomfort.
Jadiiri was an interesting individual, she only liked to flirt with those who were reluctant to mingle with her, and typically avoided those seeking her or those who wanted to flirt with her in turn, she was weird like that, and Tomavin found it disconcerting, he was married and much older than Jadiiri.
Even while she was pressuring Tomavin, she kept her words to a professional topic.
"Now," Jadiiri said her hot breath tickling the hair on his head, "even with our team on the job we will still need the support of a few iron teams."
Relieved that she was at least not trying anything beyond what she already was, Tomavin replied eagerly.
"Yes, that is what I thought too! they could help you maintain a perimeter once you find the trolls brood den."
"Ohhhh that's good, you've already handled that then," Jadiiri said coquettishly, leaning in a little closer, 'too close' a bead of sweat developed on Tomavins brow, Jadiiri was towering over him her shadow casting over him.
He was afraid she might accidentally squish him, he might have taught her once, years ago, but now she thoroughly outclassed him.
Unable to think of anything to say to chase the frightening women away Tomavin continued gracelessly, "Ummm...Teams Headcase, Phantasm, and Utility have already agreed to participate in the extermination... I will inform them soon of who will be leading..."
Tomavin was leaning as far back as his chair would allow, but It wasn't nearly enough Jadiiri was still in his face and only getting closer.
"Ohh mentor of mine, still a prude I see" Jadiiri chuckled seductively, green emerald eyes locked onto his own.
Without warning, she pulled away giving Tomavin room to breathe again.
Nonchalantly as if she had never pushed the issue at all, Jadiiri said casually leaning on the wooden beam next to the counter, "I wouldn't want to make Sendra mad for ruffling up her husband, she is much too kind of a friend for that."
Jadiiri still leaning against the beam reached forward away from Tomavin and clapped Kale on the back before saying to the still puffed up and muttering Kale.
"Time to wake up K, we need our 'jolly good' leader."
"Heh uhh? yes I'm here," Kale coughed coming back to himself and being pushed forward by the amused Jadiiri.
"Uhh is there anything else?" the still unsettled Kale said breathlessly.
Tomavin was about to say no then he recalled an earlier promise.
"Actually yes, I almost forgot but young lord Joel of the Graftof family would like to talk to you since you are now leading the request."
Kale instantly snapped out of his bumbling state.
"Graftof?" he said questionably in a harsh voice, his eyes hardening.
Tomavin responded promptly, seeking to placate his friend "The youngest one yes, he isn't a bad boy..."
"-But he is a Graftof," Kale spat gruffly, "what does he want with me?"
Kale didn't dislike the kid himself but his household was a bunch of corrupt scum, especially that crazy uncle of his, and the fruit often didn't land too far from the tree, especially in the Graftof household.
Tomavin rushed to inform his friend, even after Joels attempted coercion He still liked the large lad, "Probably to join you on the extermination," Tomavin said reassuringly "his teammate Lescar Gestalt was the girl who was captured by the trolls."
Instantly Kales ire and aggravated demeanor faded "Ahh I see... poor girl."
"Mmm, I thought it quite sad," Tomavin said, glad that his friend understood but beginning to feel the well of guilt spring up again. " I hadn't really known her very well but she seemed like a nice enough girl, too young still in my books for this kind of life..."
Kale feeling Tomavins sorrow spoke up knowingly, he had a good idea what Tomavin was so glum about, it had happened before.
"It was the girl's choice to join Tom, you cant stop youth from being youth," Kale said gently before adding promptly., "I thought you would know all about that having taught me in my earlier days."
Kale looked at his old mentor, time had not been too hard on him, but the grey was definitively beginning to creep into his hair and a few wrinkles were more defined and obvious.
His friend had lost some of that fire he had possessed in younger days but his kind heart remained.
Despite Tomavin's soft and aged look, he had once been a local celebrity himself, even reaching the rank of steel before taking a crippling blow, that rendered his adventuring days a thing of the past.
Tomavin had been known for his gentle disposition and honest nature and also his skill with a rapier.
Even now in his greatly weakened form he could certainly teach and instruct with the best of them in the ways of adventuring.
Still, his great empathy and heart had always gotten the better of him, he let too many things bother him that were ultimately not his fault.
"Don't go down this road again,"Kale said bracing his friend's shoulder in an iron clasp, "this life is a harsh one and no one is spared from its cruelties, not even the young."
Kale locked eyes with his old mentor for a few moments before his mentor looked away.
"Ahem" Tomavin coughed reigning himself back in, "yes you are right as usual Kale," he said ruefully "where does all that wisdom of yours come from?"
Kale's voice became sly and he stroked his stupendous mustache " why it comes from fortune cookies, yourself and Jadiiri's constant nattering."
"I heard that."
The red-haired amazon of a woman glared fiercely at the two men with an irritated if entertained look, her gaze hot enough to melt iron, but neither man felt at all threatened at this point, both had known her since she was little more than a fledgling and her gaze could do little more than tickle the two, this was not the case for the surrounding people.
Some froze up, some gripped their weapons tightly, but most simply backed away from the mildly annoyed warrior women.
Kale and Tomavin continued chuckling as an annoyed-looking jadiiri glared at them.
"Enough of serious fares how are the kids doing," Kale said brightly changing the topic.
"They are doing very well and Maddi has become an apprentice enchanter," Tomavin responded just as brightly.
For a time, Kale told the happenings of the wider world and Tomavin exchanged stories of family life, the two discussed many things, the difference in their respective lifestyles making no difference to their pleasant talk, things were good.
After perhaps 15 minutes of delightful vocal exchange, Kale stepped away with a wave turning towards a different counter with a small woman manning it.
It was when Kale moved away to hand in the hoax phoenixes that he heard a deep if friendly voice above all the others.
"Hello Lord Kale Foostgoft Luchidor," the deep but smooth voice rumbled.
Kale turned and looked at the person addressing him, it was a large man- no boy with copper brown skin a muscular build and swarthy good looks, Kale knew instantly who he must be.
The resemblance between him and his father was uncanny, it made Kale want to punch him in the face almost immediately, but he reigned that impulse in.
Lustrous mustache drooping ever so slightly, Kale addressed the boy.
"Greetings lord Joel Nethethar Graftoft," Kale said evenly, careful to hide the instinctive dislike trying to creep into his words, "how can I help you?"
Joel had been sitting at a table watching the blonde mustached man he knew was called Kale talk for over 30 minutes now and he was growing slightly impatient, the man was a famous adventurer and explorer and Joel was certain he would be the one to lead the attack on the trolls.
The jolly mustached man left the desk where Tomavin was sitting with a cheery wave before instead moving over to a second counter where a slight woman in a plain but well-made dress sat, his whole party following after him.
Joel watched as the man and his party traded in the dead birds for a sack of gold coins, Joel didn't care about the money, he was waiting for an opportunity to get the older mans attention.
Beside him sat Tiaahn and Tiaahn alone, Sereth had returned to his household, his father wanted to see him apparently, Joel was just glad his own father hadn't wanted to see him yet he was perfectly fine with things the way they were.
Tiaahn sat next to Joel, manipulating a small stream of water, coming from a flask on her hip as she brushed her golden hair with a silver comb, wetting her hair before carefully combing it straight, the levitating stream of water being pulled from her hair afterward leaving it dry.
She was entirely unconcerned about the arrival of the famous team 'clairvoyance' unlike Joel.
After the red-haired giant of a woman let off an aura of menace most of the crowd had dispersed, Joel himself had felt the strength in her aura alone and it was formidable, it had even made Tiaahn stop combing her hair as she blinked up at the source.
"Hmm," she said distractedly "What was that?"
"It was our targets chasing away the riff-raff," Joel said simply, his eyes focused on the red-haired woman before darting to the mustached man at the front.
"Ohh is that all," Tiaahn said unperturbed before returning to combing her hair.
She still wasn't interested after even that.
Sighing in his mind Joel rose from the chair he was sitting on, he would not be getting any useful help from Tiaahn, she was very stubborn when it came to her hair, she didn't even let servants touch it, preferring to brush and manage it herself.
A very strange trait among the nobility, most enjoyed the opportunity to show off their status with servants and other hired labor.
Leaving the busy Tiaahn behind, Joel strode towards the man he knew as the leader of clairvoyance, it was a given that this man would lead the attack on the trolls that could be spawning even now, and Joel wanted in on that operation.
He had to make sure things were cleaned up, he didn't want to have to tell his father why the family name had been besmirched by a street rat, Joel felt the scars on his back tingle unpleasantly and shivered.
He had to make sure otherwise the consequences could be dire.
He hoped that Kale the flickering blade wasn't nearly as hostile to his family as he'd been told if that were the case his endeavor was doomed and he would have to leave his fate in the hands of chance.
He did not like that one bit.
Arriving behind the lean form of Kale, Joel being the only person daring to come close as the others were still pushed away by the angry warrior womans ire, he spoke languidly.
"Hello Lord Kale Foostgoft Luchidor,"
The mustached man froze then turned slowly, the talismans on his hat dangling.
Joel saw a flicker of recognition in the man's eyes, it wasn't a good flicker.
"Greetings lord Joel Nethethar Graftoft," the mustached man said flatly not a shred of that earlier animated friendliness visible, even his ordinarily trembling mustache was still.
"How can I help you?" Kale said dryly, his voice not hostile but not showing any signs of goodwill either.
Joel's mood plummeted but he kept that from his face, it didn't look like he would be able to convince this man but he would still try.
"I have come to make a request ser Kale," Joel bowed keeping his head low, humility while looked down upon by nobles, in general, was a powerful tool.
Joel understood that nobles hated bowing to others, but humility was very disarming, it made people more likely to trust you and that currently was what Joel needed.
"Is it true that you will be leading the extermination against the trolls?" Joel inquired politely, head still bowed but his eyes staring at Kale, gauging Kale's response.
"Yes, it is," Kale said shortly, a single brow on his head rising as the other remained still as he speculated out loud.
"So let me guess, you want to come with us on this extermination request," Kale said wistfully looking Joel up and down, his eyes narrowing as he folded his arms.
"Yes it is, did Tomavin tell you," Joel asked curiously, lifting his head.
Kale ignored Joel's second question, something that was very rude even among fellow nobility and looked Joel up and down trying to identify a certain quality he felt the boy was giving off.
After a second of observing Joel, Kale lost the hard edge to his stance, his voice softened, arms unfolded "Is this for your lost friend" the well-dressed gentlemen said more solemnly, his gleaming facial hair drooping.
"Yes, I am doing this for Lescar," Joel answered immediately.
He was not lying. he was doing this for Lescar but not in the way that Kale was thinking.
Any hostility that had been carried in Kales posture melted away as he heard Joel's words and the jolly noble returned to being animated and full of boundless merriment, clapping the large Joel on the shoulder to which Joel had to lean down for him to accomplish, Kale said with a look of understanding.
"Avenging the dead my boy, a righteous cause." Kales mustache wobbled "I hope you find some sense of peace after we have put the rabid dogs down"
Joel felt that pang of guilt again at Kale's genuine words, pushing it down once more Joel replied.
"Yes, I will make sure Lescar's ghost rests peacefully knowing her killers were destroyed," Joel said with no hesitation.
Kale walked back toward his party a hand around Joel's shoulders as he introduced Joel to his companions.
Joel was in, he could confirm Lescar's demise now and his father would never know how close he came to shaming his household.
Tiaahn joined him by the party of clairvoyant, also introducing herself even as she continued brushing her hair.
Now, this whole debacle could be cleaned up, Joel's relief was palpable.
After a round of introductions, the enlarged group of adventurers agreed to exterminate the beasts the next day.
Bloodshed was fast approaching.