Raithe awoke with a sudden pressure to his stomach, like someone had pounced on it. He let out a huge, gasping breath, before squinting a tired eye open to see who it might be. Mika was sitting there, staring at him with wide, excited eyes. Raithe glanced toward the window to see moon rays enter in through the drapes.
“What... is it Mika?” he asked drowsily. What could possibly be so important that the kid would wake him up, so early. The moon was still in the sky for crying out loud!
“You have to see this!” Mika said and then hopped off the bed.
“Not until you tell me what is going on,” Raithe said adamantly.
Mika stopped by the door to his room and look back. “It's something... that you just have to see for yourself. So get off your lazy butt and come.” then he exited the room and his hurried footfalls echoed down the corridor.
Raithe rolled his eyes and shook his head, all he wanted to do was to sleep. Would the kid come back and wake him again if... ? Nodding to himself, Raithe flopped back down on the bed and covered himself with the blanket. He listened, waiting for a time, but the boy did not return. Eventually his eyes closed and he fell back into a peaceful slumber.
“Raithe!” Mika yelled.
This time when he awoke, the drapes were open, flooding the room in a warm, yellow glow. “You came back,” Raithe said groggily. He sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Of course I did,” the kid said. He looked none too pleased with Raithe.
“You know Mika,” he said. “I don't appreciate having been woken up at that hour. Was what you wanted to show me so important that it couldn't wait?”
Mika looked down. “Well no.” he said and looked up again, more determined. “But it is important.”
Raithe sighed. “If it can wait, then let it wait.” he climbed off of the bed, lifted the mattress and pulled out his dagger. He took the money pouch and fastened it tightly to his belt, before walking to the door. Mika stood there, watching. “Well?” he said. “What is it you wanted to show me?”
Mika seemed to lighten up a little at that and left the room. “It's the big tree,” he said in the hallway. “It's changed.”
“Okay...” Raithe said and followed the kid as he ran down the stairs and into the inn's main lounging area. Comfortable couches and chairs were set up to allow people a peaceful place to gather. They also had a kitchen. So food could be ordered as well. The smells of fresh bread and cinnamon rolls met his nose, making his ears twitch. Raithe stopped and looked toward the counter, mouth salivating.
“Oh come on!” Mika said impatiently. “You can eat later.”
He smiled and walked up to the counter, Mika could wait a little longer. When the store clerk approached him, he ordered two cinnamon rolls and handed one to the boy. “There, now we can go.”
“Um... thank you,” Mika muttered under his breath, but not so quietly that Raithe couldn't hear. “F-follow me.” he ran out the door, the bell jingling behind him.
Raithe followed him down the main road which would take them directly to the tree. The tree in which a strange, magical door had opened, allowing him and his friends in. They reached the wooden platform surrounding it and Raithe stopped a few feet away. Sitting on the steps, with a cane between his legs, was the man named Wish, The asshole who forced them to jump off a ship and into an ocean full of sea monsters.
Wish looked up at them. “Oh... you're here,” he said in a flat tone.
“Come on,” Mia said. “It's not him, it's the tree.”
“Alright,” Raithe said as he followed the boy up the steps. He stood at the base of the wide trunk, staring at it. Nothing seemed unusual to him, so what was it that Mika wanted him to look at? Raithe eyed him, curiously.
“You don't see it?”
“See what?” Raithe asked.
“Look at the light brown portion of the trunk, where it meets the black.”
Raithe did and he still had no idea what the kid was going on about. “I don't see anything wrong with it.”
Mika sighed. “Its grown! See?”
He looked a little closer. When he had come through the doorway, he had noticed this. How the light brown came up to his waist. Now it was just a little bit higher, not by much though. The difference between now an then was so minuscule, that most people probably wouldn't even notice. “I don't see a problem with it,” he said.
Mika frowned. “No, it's not that there is a problem. It's that there isn't... wait... I mean... the tree is getting better.”
“Mika,” Raithe said. “Why is this so important you had to tell me?”
Before the boy could speak, a quiet tapping on the wood revealed Wish climbing the stairs. When he stepped onto the platform, he stared at the tree for a moment and then turned to Raithe. “Every time one of those creatures is beaten or killed, whether they are in a dungeon or outside of one, a sliver of light will return back to Willow.”
Willow? That name sounded familiar somehow.
“She is the life of this world and its protector.”
Narrowing his eyes, he faced Wish. “What do you want?” Raithe said in an annoyed tone. Wish had explained to them why he did what he did and it was reasonable enough... still, that didn't mean he had to like it. Who would after being forced to swim in an ocean full of sea serpents? Not to mention that dangerous island and the dungeon which followed.
“Just for you to... understand,” he said solemnly.
Wish turned back to the tree and remained quiet for a time. Then he looked back to with and there was a hint of sadness within them. “Anything you do here, whether it be good or bad... will effect this tree. If she dies, then we all die.”
Raithe was about to open his mouth and say something against that, tell the man he was wrong. How could a single tree hold so much power over them anyway? But he couldn't. Deep down, Raithe knew the man to be right. There was the healthy part of the tree's trunk that had risen. How had that happened? Well... someone must have defeated one of those monsters. The tree looked dead otherwise and Raithe couldn't see how it could possibly recover from that without... supernatural help.
“I think I do,” he said finally.
“Good,” Wish said. “Because I do believe that you can make a difference.”
Why him? He shook his head, “a difference how?”
“Not just you,” Wish clarified. “There are others who I have high hopes for also. You as well as them, will become leaders in this world, rescuing it from hopefully, a terrible fate.”
“Wait wait wait,” Raithe said, taking a step back. “I am not a leader.”
Wish looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “You are,” he said. “You just haven't realized it yet.”
“And even if I was, what makes you think they would accept me?”
“Oh them?” Wish paused. “They are... misguided fools. They believe because of your appearance and strange abilities... that you are one of them. So I suggest, that you prove them wrong.”
It was Raithe's turn to raise an eyebrow. “And how do I do that?” he asked as he crossed his arms.
Wish smiled, he paused looking Raithe up and down, then he nodded. “Come with me tonight. I want you to join my team and see what this is all really about.” he glanced toward the plaza. “We'll meet over there, by the fountain.”
“Waith,” Raithe said, dropping his arms. “You... explore dungeons.”
“But... your leg...”
“This?” Wish asked, raising his injured limb. “Faking. It's perfectly fine.” he paused for a moment before adding in a whisper, “but don't you tell anyone, alright?” then the man turned and proceeded to limp down the stairs. Whistling while he did, of all things!
“Whoa,” Mika said seemingly awed by what had just happened.
“What is it?” Raithe asked.
“Well... that guy doesn't take just anyone into the dungeons with him and his team,” he said. “You must be special.”
Raithe rolled his eyes. “Come on,” he said, placing his hand on the kid's head. “Let's go find Felix”
They left the tree and explored the city, while they attempted to find her. Raithe was sure that they must have explored every corner, every building and every street, but the cat was nowhere to be found. He even whistled a few times, hoping that she would hear it and run to him. That method didn't seem to work any better than actually looking. How could someone as big and black as her, hide so well during the day.
“Raithe!” Mika called. “Over here!”
He ran to where Mika was looking and there she was. Sitting on the pier, moving her tail and looking down into the deep blue. “Felix!” Raithe called.
She looked up at him and meowed.
“You and I,” he said, kneeling down beside her. “Will be going on a quest later tonight.”
Felix gave him a high pitched, half purr and nudged him in the arm.
“I know, I know.” from his new satchel which he had bought with the teroes that were given to him, Raithe pulled out a couple of raw fish and placed them on the ground in front of her. He knew she would be hungry, so he had picked those up for her as well.
“What about me?” Mika asked.
“You're not coming,” Raithe answered.
Raithe shook his head. “We don't know what the dungeon is like, where Wish is planning to go and by the sounds of it, it will be dangerous.”
Mika frowned. “I can go as your... retainer.”
“My retainer?” someone had mentioned that when he first arrived at the hall of heroes. They hadn't actually explained what that was though. From the way they were talking, it sounded like an awful job only given to slaves, servants or people they just didn't like.
“They probably asked you if you were one and made it sound worse than it actually was,” Mika said. “Well... it's not. It's probably one of the most respectable jobs.”
Raithe listened as Mika went on to explain the retainer's roles and duties they were now a part of. It was a job given primarily to children, new heroes or retired heroes who still needed some way to make money. A retainer would follow their team through the dungeon while trying to avoid any of the dangers a hero might have to face. They were in charge of carrying loot and items used for healing and if the heroes got in over their heads, it was the retainer's job to run for help.
“There's only one thing,” Mika said. “I have to register as a retainer before I can join you in dungeons... your retainer I mean.”
“Alright,” Raithe said, standing up. “At the hall of heroes I presume?”
Mika nodded. “Yes... but... I don't know if I can register in time. I think... they require the retainer in question to... do some kind of test.”
Raithe nodded. “Let's go see then,” he said and left the pier, allowing Felix to eat in peace.