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Cool, fresh air brought with it the scent of water and wildflowers, cherry petals on the wind's current. Evening hung low in the sky as it was lit in an array of purples and grays, with a hint of red where the sun peaked out, from huge and fluffy clouds. And he could hear sounds echoing through the city streets. Music, laughter, people singing. Others were bustling about, finishing their daily duties, so that they too could join in the festivities.

Raithe looked around and he could see they stood upon a large, wooden platform. It surrounded the base of a giant willow tree, not unlike the one they had seen on that stone door. The tree did not look healthy. Almost the entirety of it was black with maybe a sliver, being its own, natural color. That sliver was about the height of his waist. And the tree appeared withered, dry with no leaves.

Then he noticed the buildings. Hundreds of them, all with their own special purpose and as the evening grew darker, lights around them, flickered on. It was like looking into a sea of stars. The only difference here, was that those stars were not in the sky.

“E-excuse me,” came a small voice from below.

Raithe looked down and standing before them was a small boy. He placed the kid somewhere between the ages of eight and ten. The boy was anthropomorphic in nature, with small, rounded ears and a button nose.

“Oh! How cute!” Luna said excitedly as she darted down the stairs. She immediately took the boy up in a great big, bear hug and it was hard for everyone else to either not laugh or smile at that. Even Gin seemed to have trouble keeping his chuckles in. After a moment, she set the boy down and patted him on the head. “Thank you! I needed that!”

“Um... okay...” the boy said.

Still smiling, Raithe descended the steps with Feilix heeling beside him. Sosuke and Gin followed after. He knelt in front of the boy. “What's your name kid?” he asked.

The boy frowned at him as if he was thinking about something. He shook his head a moment later. “Just because you're older,” he said. “Um... don't go acting like you know me or um... you know about this place. Cause you don't.”

“Okay...” Raithe said and went quiet, waiting for the boy to continue.

“My name is Seita and I'm here to be your guide.”

“Guide through the city?” Gin asked. “Thanks but no thanks.”

Seita stood as tall as his little body would allow and scowled at Gin. “I'm supposed to show who ever comes out of that,” he pointed to the door in the tree which seemed to have vanished. “around the ciry. It's my... job.”

“Your job?” Gin pulled the money pouch out that he had found earlier, took some coins from it and placed them in the boy's hand. “There. Now even if they don't pay you, you've still managed to earn something.”

He didn't appear to be very happy at what Gin had just done, but Seita remained quiet anyways as Gin sauntered off. The man raised a hand in a lazy wave, before he vanished around a corner.

“I'm glad he's gone,” Luna said. “That man with his arrogance, was starting to annoy me.”

“Ha! Annoy all of us you mean?” Sosuke said.

Raithe smiled. “You're supposed to lead us around right?”

Seita nodded.

“So then, lead on.”

Compared to what they had seen of this world so far, Galeron was like heaven! It seemed so peaceful and serene. There were many shops around the city proper, mostly spaced close to the giant tree. Further out, there were the housing districts, food stalls and two inns, a tavern and a pub. Walking by all of those and smelling the wonderful foods; fried fish, steak, ramen, soups, deserts and pastries, reminded Raithe just how hungry he was.

His stomach growled ferociously and his mouth began to salivate. “Hey Seita,” Raithe said nonchalantly. “Why don't we stop here and–”

“With what money?” Seita asked.

He pulled out the other money pouch which he had found within the ruins and jingled it.

Seita crossed his arms and shook his head. “You can't use that.”

Raithe lowered the pouch and looked at him questioningly. “I found it in... what was basically a death trap so... why not?”

“Because any artifacts found within the ruins or... any dungeon, must be given up for appraisal.”

That was odd. Why would he not be allowed to keep something that should be rightfully his? “I guess... the finders keepers rule doesn't apply here?” Raithe asked and moved to hand the pouch over, a little disappointed at this particular turn of events.

“Wait a sec,” Luna said, before Seita could grab the pouch. “If we're not allowed to use that, than what are we supposed to do for food and shelter?”

Raithe lifted the satchel up, high enough so that Seita couldn't reach it. “That's a good question.”

Seita now looked to be visibly uncomfortable. “Uh...”

Raithe narrowed his eyes.

“Look,” he said. “I don't make the rules here.” he paused for a moment, before continuing. “The Hall of Heroes. I'm supposed to take you there to get registered. They'll check you for anything unnecessary, and then they will give you a small sum of money. You can use that to get food and rent a room in the inn.”

“Okay...” Raithe said, thinking. “What about after?”

“After?”

Raithe nodded. “And how long will that sum of money last us anyway?”

Seita shrugged.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Sosuke said, butting in. “Aren't you a guide? Shouldn't you know these kind of things?”

“They don't tell me everything,” Seita said and then he tried to make a grab at the pouch.

Raithe moved his hand just a little bit higher, which caused the boy to miss.

“Oh alright fine!” the boy said, frustrated. “They will give you missions to go into more places like the one you came out of. To defeat all the monsters within, gather any artifacts you find and then they will pay you an appropriate price. And... I don't know how much they're going to give you to start with. I think it might be only enough for one night in the cheapest inn and two cheap meals. The rest you will have to earn.”

“We barely survived that first dungeon,” Raithe said. “We couldn't even kill the giant snake that was in the last room. What makes them think we can survive any more of those?”

“Because if you couldn't,” the boy replied. “You'd be dead.” he glanced up at the pouch and then at Raithe. “Now give it!”

Raithe sighed, but relented. As Seita took the pouch, he lifted the dagger from his satchel and quietly slipped it behind his back. He could feel Felix's teeth bite down onto it and remove it from his hand. Then she ran away with it. Of course he couldn't accept them just taking everything, so he allowed Felix to spirit it away. All while the boy wasn't looking.

“Follow me,” Seita said, after peering inside the pouch.

He led them down one of the widest streets they had so far, seen. It connected to a circular plaza, which had a large fountain in the center. The fountain statues were of two sparrows, playing in water. Another path leading away from the plaza, would have brought them to a pier where there were several ships already docked. They crossed the area and entered a long building on the far end.

“Go up to that desk and she'll get you set up,” Seita said. He placed the money pouch on the desk and then returned to the door. “I have to go now.” he walked out.

“So you're the new heroes I've been hearing so much about,” the voice was female, with a rough accent that Raithe just couldn't quite place.

“Heard about us?” Raithe asked as he glanced toward the desk. “How? We only just arrived?”

The woman standing there, was tall, looked to be middle aged and had vibrant red hair. The clothing she wore, was mostly leather and on her hands, she wore fingerless gloves. “Word gets around fast here,” she said. “If you step up to the counter, we'll 'ave a look at ya.”

As they did, a couple men – they appeared to be elves – came around one of the corners. “Spread out your arms,” one of them said.

Raithe, Sosuke and Luna all did as they were told and they were all quickly and thoroughly patted down. The man inspecting Raithe, slipped the jacket he was wearing off and took his satchel as well. Raithe was about to protest...

“These are considered artifacts too,” the man said. Then he turned to Sosuke. “Is he your retainer?”

“Retainer?” Sosuke asked.

“Yeah. Basically, your attendant, someone to go in dungeons with you to carry what you find, a person to manage your chores, things like that.”

“I'm not an errand boy,” Raithe said, scowling. Why would a piece of clothing be considered an artifact and his satchel wasn't even from that dungeon. Galeron seemed like a nice place to be, but already he was beginning to notice a few inconsistencies.

The man appeared uncertain and then looked toward Sosuke.

Sosuke shrugged. “You heard em,” he said.

“Very well. Your choice then,” the man turned around, whispered something into the woman's ear and then they both walked away.

“These are for you,” the woman said and placed three pouches on the counter.

They were different colors. A brown one, one that was dark blue and a violet. Raithe went to reach for one, but his hand was stopped. He looked at her dumbfounded for a moment and then she pointed to the brown pouch. Another problem. Why did it matter what color he took? Why were they different colors to begin with? Raithe sighed and then took it. “Is there a reason for this?”

She nodded. “You'll find out what that is soon enough.”

He thought he might already know the reason. Raithe couldn't ignore the difference in how he was being treated compared to his friends. He opened his brown pouch and peered inside.

“Those are called Teroes,” the woman explained. “Ten of the should be able to get you a night in the inn. After which, you will need to earn more.”

Ten? There were only five in his. That appeared to be just barely enough for a good meal. “There must be some-”

“No mistake,” the woman interrupted. “I'm not the one who makes the rules, I only follow them.”

“Tch! Fine,” Raithe said and turned around to storm out.

“Wait,” she said.

Raithe turned back and put out his hands to catch something she flicked toward him in the air. Another Tero.

“I know that isn't much but it's from my own stash so I can do what I want with it,” she said. “Won't be enough to get you a room, but you should be able to have a good meal at least. All of you look famished.”

They all nodded, Luna more emphatically than the rest of them.

“Oh and one more thing,” she said. “Actually... two more things. You can call me Nazi and tomorrow at about this time, Wish will be arriving and there will be a festival. The food will be free, so that will be your chance to pig out as much as you want, before you will really have to start earning your keep.”

Raithe nodded and then they left the building, into the cool night.

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About the author

Maiz

Bio: An amateur writer who hopes to entertain you all, with my wondrous works of fantasy!

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