Nazi leaned over the counter, staring at Mika intently and for a while she didn't say anything. Finally, after what seemed like a very long moment of intense though, she leaned back in her chair. “So kid, you wanna be a retainer?”
Mika nodded eagerly.
She leaned forward again, placed her elbows on the table and looked him in the eye. “You know it won't be easy?”
“I... I do!” he said determinedly.
“Alright then,” Nazi said as she leaned back again. One of her hands pulled open a drawer in her desk and she lifted some kind of form from it, placing it and a quill pen on the counter in front of Mika. “Fill this out. Once that's done, we'll schedule you for the test.”
“Yes,” she replied. “Is there a problem?”
Mika looked down at his shoes, he hesitated for a moment, before nodding his head. “I was... kind of hoping I could take it right now.”
“Hmmm... well that is a problem,” she said. “The soonest you can take it is at sun down. Right now... well we just have so many others.” Nazi leaned back and pulled a pipe out of the drawer, lit it with what appeared to be magic and started smoking. “Is there a reason you are so eager to take it? I mean... why are you so eager? You know the test is dangerous right?”
“Yeah...” Mika said. “But I... I want to go with Raithe into a dungeon. He's... been invited to join some strong adventurers... so...”
Nazi sighed and pulled the pipe away from her mouth. She blew out a puff of smoke. “Sorry kid, but I can't break the rules for anyone. You have to schedule an appropriate time to take the test. Do you still want to do it?”
Mika looked at Raithe, his expression was one of severe disappointment.
“I know you wanted to come,” Raithe said. “But maybe this is for the best. I mean... it will be dangerous.”
“But...” Mika said, beginning to protest.
Raithe held up his hand to stop him. “There will be other times. Why don't you take the test tonight and then when we come out. You and I can choose another dungeon together.”
“Well... fine...” Mika said, still sounding disappointed. He turned to Nazi anyway and nodded. “I want to take it tonight.” he reached out and started filling out the form. When he was done, he set the pen down and pushed it towards Nazi.
“Alright then,” she said and reached out for the form. “Tonight it is then. Don't be late.”
“I won't,” Mika said. Then he turned towards Raithe. “There are some things I need to do before then so... well, I guess I'll see you later!”
Raithe watched the boy as he rushed out of the building. Then he walked to the door and opened it, stepping out into the bright daylight. Felix was standing by the fountain, waiting for him as he approached. “What are you thinking Felix?” he asked. Placing a hand on her head, he began scratching behind her ears. She lifted her chin, purring loudly.
The rest of the day had gone by quickly, as all Raithe really had to do was have a nap. In the same tree he slept in on the first night. He was awoken, on time by Felix's meow and hopped off of his tree branch, landing with a quiet thump on the ground. They then, proceeded toward the plaza where Wish was already waiting. He and three other individuals.
The first was a tall, blonde man with a beard cut short with a sort of, square shape to it. On his back he wore a half cape and at his sides, he carried two, really long daggers. The other tall man in the group, had white hair similar to Wish's. But it was longer and stylized. He wore white clothing, but had no visible weapons with him. On his shoulder, sat a white eagle. And the third person was female. Her garments spoke of someone who was born and raised in cold, frigid climates. She carried a spear as her weapon.
“Raithe,” Wish said, motioning him forward. “There were supposed to be five of us, but unfortunately, our last member couldn't make it. Well anyway, this is the team that will be coming with us.”
Wish pointed at everyone, saying their names and Raithe listened. The blonde man was Azel, the white haired guy, Avyne and his eagle Wisp. The woman was named Fraeda. Then he and Felix followed Wish and company, to the city's edge. He looked outwards to where there should have been green fields and forests. What Raithe saw was dead trees. Grass and other vegetation the same color as that tree.
“We are unable to step onto the black,” Wish said. “Whomever does, dies or... they become one of them.”
“How does exploring those dungeons help with this though?” Raithe asked.
“You saw the tree,” Wish replied. “With every section of the tree that is healed, so will some of the land be.”
“That is why,” Fraeda said. “We all struggle so hard.”
He looked around at the other two and could see the hard expressions on their faces. They had been through a lot and not just here. “Alright,” Raithe said. “Where are we going?”
“The Forest of Shadows,” Azel replied. “This way.
The path they took, followed the black land for a ways. What was once beautiful flatlands and open plains and into a valley. Although color did exist in most parts of the valley, much of the flora was still dead or at least, appeared that way. The group kept going throughout most of the evening, until they came to a thick grove of trees.
“In there,” Wish pointed. “This is the entrance.” he began to push branches aside, squeezing through tiny gaps in the foliage.
The other three followed, then Raithe and Felix came in last. Pushing, squeezing, ducking, they finally cam out into an open room. It... was a room. Trees were growing so close together that it would be impossible to squeeze by them and the canopy above, so thick that climbing was also out of the question.
“Is the whole dungeon like this?” he asked.
“It is,” Avyne said as he stepped up front.
Raithe peered passed him and he could see thick, thorny vines blocking what would be an exit. “Those are...?”
“A door,” Wish said.
They were all staring at something, it was just unclear to Raithe what they were staring at. He walked up beside Wish, with Felix beside him and glanced in the direction Wish's eyes were looking. There, standing in front of them, black against the darkness, were three, large wolves. They all lowered their heads, growling, baring their fangs.
“...Ilmari,” Azel said. His tone was sad, almost regretful. “I am sorry we have to do this.” then he drew his daggers.
“Prepare yourself,” Fraeda said to Raithe as she ran passed, drawing her spear.
Raithe watched as she approached the three wolves, spear in hand. Before Fraeda could reach them, all three scattered. Black mist fell from their paws as they ran around the room. One of them lept onto the wall and bounded off, bringing itself above Raithe's head. He drew his dagger, but before he could make it transform, the wolf came down. The next thing he knew, he was on the ground with Felix standing over him, growling at his attacker.
“Thank you... Felix,” Raithe said as he stood up.
“Watch it!” came Azel's voice as he hopped backwards from an attacking paw. “The dungeons you're going to do after this and even the few you have done up till now, will be much easier. So stay alert.”
He nodded his head and jumped back, narrowly avoiding a set of fangs. Then as another charged toward him, he willed his dagger to transform. It became long with a thin shaft and a pointy tip. A golden spear.
The wolf lept forward, but a fist from above crashed into its skull. It was Avyne and Raithe was surprised to see his fist actually glowing. A light red. He looked at Raithe and smiled.
A howl behind him and a set of snarling teeth, Raithe rolled out of the way as it bounded in. He came back to his feet and lept forward without waiting. Thrusting his spear down, but the creature dodged and then caught the weapon in its teeth, tugging, trying to pull it away.
Raithe pulled back, but the wolf was strong. It was like trying to play tug of war with a horse... just not happening. So he tried the next best thing and kicked the wolf right in its jugular. It whimpered, backing away with its tail between its legs. Behind him, there was a loud Whoop! As one of his team, cheered him on... had they all finished their battles already? He knew they were strong but... geeze! So were these wolves.
One last time, it charged and with a single dodge and a well placed thrust, the wolf was lying at his feet, dead. He turned to the others, panting slightly. “How did I... do?”