“Ximea…” mumbled Maylin in a warm breath, leaning lightly on her female bodyguard. “I don’t feel so well…”
Sighing, Ximea raised a hand to prop Maylin up, using the other to help her stay standing. “Would you like to use the bathroom, miss Maylin?”
“Mm”, she nodded, eyes losing and regaining their focus.
“Let’s go then, Miss. Take care not to step on your dress.”
Under the watchful eyes of Salom’s high society, the two women slowly made their way to the toilets of the Adventurer Guild, both trying not to let people know exactly how drunk Maylin was. Of course, with all eyes naturally glued on the two alluring women, it was as futile a task as any.
As they stumbled their way through the gala, Maylin was dressed in a flame-red dress, same colour as her loose, long, wavy hair. Ximea, being more discreet, had her own blond hair done in a ponytail, the light blue dress she wore complimenting her eyes.
And actually, of the two of them, Maylin was the one who wasn’t supposed to be here.
She was originally going to be accompanying her father but, with Phac’s inclusion into their plans, she was ditched. She’d whined and nagged, of course, but Makaran had been relentless. They needed someone to get Phac in the gala, and he didn’t have time to find someone else; getting Rain and Meadow inside was already difficult enough.
But Maylin didn’t want to be left out! She already had a gorgeous, red dress prepared, and she was so hyped up about the gala, even Ximea would be there! If she’d known this would happen, she would have never brought Phac to her father!
So she took things in her own hands; using her connections, she had convinced the wife of a family friend to let Maylin come in her place, accompanying the lady’s husband. The convincing was elegant, polite and discreet, of course; the girl’s high Charisma and social skills weren’t just for show.
As for Ximea, she was actually the date of a rich and young dwarf merchant, but she’d politely excused herself as soon as they stepped in the gala; she’d only accepted the man’s invitation to be close to Maylin. She wasn’t into shorter men anyway.
Yet, because Maylin was anxious and took a long time getting ready, they were late to arrive, resulting in Phac - whom Maylin was excited to meet - being gone already.
“Who the hell starts so early!” Maylin had exclaimed in frustration when she saw that the plan, whatever it was, was already in motion. And, in disappointment, she’d started drinking, even though her alcohol tolerance was the lowest of the low. Normally it was Ximea’s job to stop her but, this time, she hadn’t found the courage too. The blond half-elf was actually uncomfortable with Maylin’s infatuation with Phac, given that she’d already flirted with him a few times. But how could she let the young girl know that the man she admired was more interested in her bodyguard, rather than Maylin herself?
Long story short, Maylin got drunk.
“There”, Ximea said softly as they reached the bathroom door. “Go in and do what you have to. I’ll stay here and wait, ok?”
Nodding, Maylin opened the door that read ‘WC’ and slipped in.
Looking around, the place was empty of people, with only one of the four stall doors being closed. Oh, thank god… I’m so embarrassed…
Blinking in an effort to escape the dizziness, Maylin took a second to calm down and began wobbling her way towards the last stall, the furthest from the door. If she managed to puke - because she didn’t really need to, she just wanted to feel better -, perhaps nobody would smell it. Or hear it. Face turning red, Maylin took a few more steps.
But as fate would have it, a sudden wave of dizziness struck her while still walking through the bathroom. Taking a side step to regain her balance, she accidentally bumped her elbow on the closed door of the second stall, grimacing. She’d actually managed to strike that annoying nerve by the elbow, the one that, when struck, makes everything from the elbow to the two last fingers go numb and painfully hot.
Even as she got herself ready for the upcoming sizzling feeling, a voice came from behind the closed door. “Occupied!”
Nice going Maylin, now you made him think you knocked on purpo- In realization, she halted.
“Huh? Maylin?” came the young man’s surprised voice from behind the door.
“Neville!” she exclaimed, her fuzzy mind making the connection. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you with the plan?”
“Shh!” a hush came from behind the door which, with a light clicking sound, opened just enough to let Neville’s blond head pop out.
“Phew”, he heaved a sigh of relief, “nobody’s here.”
“Hmph, I’m not an idiot”, she crossed her hands, looking awkwardly at the side. “But, um… Do you think that maybe you should… you know… close the door?”
“What?” said Neville and, right afterwards, she saw his eyes widen. “What, no! I’m not actually in the toilet!”
“Hm?” she tilted her head, as the young man was obviously in the toilet. “But you are.”
“Well I am, but I’m not!”
“Neville,” she narrowed her eyes, “are you drunk?”
“What? No! It’s just… I am…” he sighed. “Okay, there’s no harm in telling you… Just look.”
And with that, the door opened wider, revealing a toilet stall full of dirt, wood and a gaping hole in the ceiling. “What the…” Maylin’s eyes opened wider, her drunk mind struggling to make sense of what her eyes witnessed.
“Did you poop upwards?” she asked seriously, and Neville looker at her as if he thought her to be completely stupid.
“I’m not stupid,” she added, reddening in embarrasment, “I’ve just drunk a bit more than I should, okay?”
“I know”, he replied, still looking at her weirdly.
“Soοοο, did they go through here?” she asked, looking at the dark hole before turning to Neville, hoping he’d forget about her stupid question. “What’s your job, then?”
“I, uh…” Now it was Neville’s turn to redden. “I’m making sure nobody falls behind.”
“Oh”, Maylin narrowed her eyes again, the drunkenness slowly being covered by adrenaline. “So you keep the toilet occupied.”
“No,” he insisted, “I make sure nobody falls behind.”
“Got it. So let’s go?”
“Go? Go where?” Neville took a step back inside the toilet stall, face paling at the realization of what she implied.
“Up, dummy”, she gave him a toothy grin. “With Phac and the others.”
“What? Nonono, we can’t go!” he waved his hands frantically. “I must keep the toilet occupied!”
“Oh? I thought you were making sure nobody falls behind”, she laughed.
“Quiet down”, he hushed her. “Look, the point is, we can’t go.”
“Well, I’m going”, she insisted, entering the stall and looking at the hole, two and a half meters in the air. “And you’re helping me. I can’t climb by myself.”
“Maylin, we can’t go”, pleaded Neville. “We might put them in danger!”
“Come ooon, we’ll be careful! Besides,” she replied in a sultry voice, “they’ll have already cleared the way. What’s there to be afraid of?”
“That’s… I’m not afraid! It’s just not right!”
“What if someone opens the door? Then we’ll all be in huge trouble!” he protested.
“Oh, that’s easy”, she smiled playfully, fishing out a lipstick from her purse. Going to the outer side of the stall door, she used the red lipstick-made-marker to scramble down ‘Broken ;)’ in elegant, yet shaky handwriting.
“There, that’s settled”, she added, putting the lipstick back in the purse. “Now come!” grasping Neville’s hand, she pulled him into the stall that could barely fit both of them and closed the door behind them.
Right then, the well-oiled bathroom’s door - the one that led to the gala - opened quietly as a well-groomed man in his thirties walked in.
Hm? Broken? he wondered, noticing the writing on the closed second stall’s door. And a wink? Is somebody going wild in there?
“No, we can’t do this!” came a young man’s protest from inside the stall, and the just-arrived man raised his brows in amusement. Oh?
“I’m telling you, it’s totally fine”, came a woman’s slightly drawn-out, sultry voice.
“No it’s not! What if we’re caught?”
“Calm down, nobody will see us.” insisted the woman in a low voice. “Now quickly, put your hands like this so I can climb.”
“Oh God, I can’t believe I’m doing this…” came the young man’s desperate voice.
Hehehe, laughed the man, using a hand to twirl one end of his mustache. How bold… Young people sure are reckless. Have fun, little ones. Ironically, I hope you’re quick, or else you’ll be caught! Hohoho.
Turning back, the man re-opened the bathroom’s door and quietly walked out, where a beautiful, blond half-elf simply stood, probably awaiting her female friend. I’d better pee later, wouldn’t want the noise to spook them. Oh, the sacrifices I make for youth, hehehe...
Hoisting the guard’s unconscious body, the three of them - Phac, Rain and Meadow - climbed the stairs to the third floor, the Adventurer Guild’s highest point. They would have naturally liked to drop the body somewhere but, with no guarantee of it remaining unfound, they had no choice but to carry it with them.
In the final stretch of the pi-shaped corridor that made up the core of the second floor, the outer edge of the pi was occupied by locked lodging reserved for high-end adventurers, while the inner area of the pi was occupied by a storage room, to which they didn’t have the keys. The chef that Phac had a pleasant interaction with, in the kitchen, actually had a copy of the keys, but Phac never thought of getting them.
Climbing the stairs, the three were as careful as could be; their footsteps were silent - with Phac, who had been dumped with carrying the guard’s body, doing his best - and their ears were stretched, while their eyes even more so. There actually weren’t white-flamed torches on the stairs, or on the floor above, so they’d once again put on the darkvision goggles that Meadow had given everyone. She’d also brought an extra pair, just in case, which Rain found funny to place on the unconscious guard’s face. Then Phac had placed his chef’s hat - that he still carried around - on the head of the poor man, giggling along with Rain.
“You’re both stupid”, was Meadow’s response, rolling her eyes, to which Rain had replied that ‘it’s a decoy, alright? Now he looks like one of us’. Truthfully, Phac knew he was joking, but it made sense to him; if the guard wore goggles too, then perhaps he really could be used as a distraction, right? The hat was just for fun. Not that they planned to carry him far, the plan was to ditch the body at the top of the stairs.
But the ominous sign was that, like the stairs, the floor above was completely dark. Is it possible that there’s no one there? But that wouldn’t make any sense…
A pat on his back snapped his attention back to the present and, turning around, he saw Meadow give him a nod. Right. Keep going. Got it.
Continuing their stealthy ascent, the three eventually reached a closed door at the top end of the stairs. They’d seen it in the blueprints; behind this door was a lobby and, behind the next door, Reginald May’s office. Their destination.
But something was off. Getting here had been easy; way too easy.
As they reached the top of the stairs, Rain pulled the guard’s body from Phac’s back and, without removing its goggles, placed it in a sitting position at the top step, as if the man wasn’t unconscious. Then, with a wide grin on his face, he turned and gave the other two a thumbs-up.
What an idiot, thought Phac to himself, but opted not to speak. Who knows what hid behind the door, and how good of a hearing it sported.
Getting themselves in position, the three approached the door, with Meadow leaning in to take a look through the lock. Eyes widening, she stepped back soundlessly, urgently signaling them to stay quiet. Ears suddenly glowing with soft energy, she placed one of them to the door and listened for a few seconds before pulling away.
Two guards, she motioned, raising two fingers in the air. Then she tightened her fist, using the predetermined gesture to indicate their strength. Strong. Then she brought a finger to her ear before turning it into a thumbs-up, signifying that the guards were alert and capable of noticing them.
Phac frowned. With Rain and Meadow being in the 20s range of Levels, strong meant strong. Could they take them?
With a series of quick hand gestures, Meadow indicated the plan. Rain would distract. Phac would sneak by and ambush, taking one by surprise. Then Rain would attack the other. Meadow would be there to assist them both.
Perfect, Phac frowned again, what part of me makes you think I can sneak?
But he complied, because it was Meadow’s job to think of a plan, not his. She was the brains, and also the one with all the information, while he was but a stronger-than-average, crab-themed fighter.
With no time to waste, Rain took position by the door and, concentrating, let a small trickle of water flow from his fingertips to inside the lock.
The wet man can unlock doors? Phac wondered while, at the same time, Meadow’s hands pulsed with a faint purple glow as Phac’s own feet glowed once! Blinking, he took a cautious step. Then, surprised, another. Not only were his steps soundless, they were also faster than usual!
So that’s what Rain had before… Damn sweet!
With another set of hand gestures from the Enhancement Mage, a grey light momentarily enveloped Phac’s whole body, turning his entire being a little more… transparent?
Raising a brow at Meadow, she waved him away; Phac shrugged, remembering this skill, which was actually the only one she had explained to him beforehand. It apparently made him ‘fade away’, whatever that meant besides making him harder to notice. Good.
Right as Meadow finished enhancing Phac, Rain opened his eyes and nodded that he was ready, the steady trickle of water flowing from his fingers going still.
Taking a deep breath, their female leader nodded sharply and, with a finger twist from Rain and a soft ‘click’, the door was unlocked.
“Heyo”, Rain exclaimed jovially as he entered the room, a wide smile on his face, and simultaneously Phac and Meadow stuck themselves to the walls, trying to remain unseen behind the now wide-open door. There was no light, and therefore no shadows to hide in, but the door was narrower than the walls so there was room.
“Who goes there?” came an abrupt growl from inside the room, the voice deep and rumbling, as well as harsh and uneven, as if somebody was blowing sound through a corridor of broken glass.
“Heyo”, repeated Rain, confidently striding into the room, walking towards a side of it to take eyes away from the door. “Calm down, dude. I’m here for the big fella.”
And it was in this moment that Phac, peeking inside, truly admired another man’s balls for the first time in his admittedly short memory.
In the wide lobby was a couch, a few chairs and a desk, behind which stood another chair. The three windows had their shutters closed while, at the far end of the room, in front of an imposing wooden door with red details, stood two hulking, humanoid forms, grey and naked besides a small loincloth, their entire bodies covered in sharp barbs.
Phac had to suppress a shiver as he caught glimpse of the two monstrous forms. They appeared to be unarmed, though their arms themselves ended in three sharp blade-like appendages instead of a hand, and their eyes were locked onto Rain, both of them having their arms extended in a fighting posture.
Heaving a sigh of relief at not being there, and then feeling a clenching of his heart as he realized that he soon would be, Phac actually admired Rain for a moment. The man seemed carefree and easy-going, but he confidently stood his ground against these two humanoid monsters. Phac, as tough as he thought himself to be, wasn’t sure he could have done the same.
“Hush. Drop to the ground”, ordered one of the two forms, while a nudge on Phac’s side let him know that he should get going. Suppressing his fear, Phac took a quick step into the room and Crab Stepped to the opposite side of Rain as quickly as he could, his movement speed helping a lot. Luckily, be it due to Rain’s distraction, Meadow’s spells or his own speed, the monsters didn’t appear to notice him.
Reaching a side of the imposing wide room, Phac stopped to consider his next move. He should be approaching the things to ambush them, true, but he felt… scared. And ashamed of it. In the absolute darkness, where he could only see due to the goggles, he took another look at the two forms. Almost nude, standing over two meters talls and covered in barbs, with blades for hands, the two of them were absolutely terrifying.
For the first time in a while, Phac felt the cold grip of fear coil around his heart, accompanied by a momentary impulse to abandon everything and run away. From the two beings in front of him, he felt… dread. Death. What the fuck was he doing here? He could be in the forest with orcs, or in the gala with Darryl, or pretty much anywhere else. Why the fuck was he throwing his life away like this? And for these cold-blooded people at that, even if they were kind of pleasant?
Shaking his head to get rid of the bad thoughts, Phac exhaled, using his stubbornness as a weapon to break the spell of fear. He wouldn’t allow cowardice to get the best of him. He was stronger than that. He was a warrior. So what if they seemed strong? He would just fight and risk his life, like he had in the past. This was nothing compared to when he’d dared fight the Crab King. When had he grown so soft?
And besides… Even if he died, he couldn’t retreat. He was a warrior, and he would live or die as one. That’s the life that Oreg gave his own to save and, if he ran away now, how could he proudly face the green-skinned warrior in the afterlife?
Honor over life, that’s what Oreg used to say.
Shelving his hesitation and fear, Phac got a grip of himself. He was here now; right or wrong, regrets or not, it was too late to change course. The only option is to fight, so he’d better suck it up and deal with it. The die had already been cast.
Mustering his resolve, Phac’s eyes hardened as they locked onto the two hostile forms. The burst of fear had awoken something in him that had slumbered for far too long, the battlelust, the iron-clad determination to give it all, the desperate resolve that injuries, fear and everything else were inconsequential. Sinking deep into that unfeeling state of mind, where there was no pain or unnecessary thoughts, only the unyielding determination of battle remained.
“Woah guys, I’m only here to deliver an order”, said Rain.
Steel running through his veins, Phac grinned wildly as he clenched his fists. He didn’t know what these motherfuckers were, but he damn well knew what he was about to do to them, and it wasn’t gonna be pretty.
Turning sideways, Phac launched himself at the beasts from the side, Crab Step and Meadow’s spell helping him achieve a previously unthought-of burst of speed.
As he approached, one of the two monsters seemed to have noticed him as, abruptly, it turned its head, its cold, grey eyes meeting Phac’s own. But by then, it was too late.
Killing Intent. Smash.
Momentarily affected by Phac’s killing aura, the monster froze. Pouring half of his stamina points into the attack, Phac’s fist collided with the beast’s face like a missile, launching its hulking form across the room and into the wooden desk that furnished the room, flipping it over.
“Fu-” Phac bit his tongue to avoid shouting; even with Crab Shell, his skin-hardening skill, protecting his body, the monster’s sharp barbs had punctured into Phac’s fist, leaving a few small holes that dripped blood. Pain threatened to flood his system, but now wasn’t the time; now, he would fight.
The other monster opened its mouth to scream but, before it could, a bubble of water formed around its head, preventing the sound from getting through. Rotating its head, its eyes once again locked onto Rain who was already stepping backwards; and then, as if from a nightmare, the monster grinned at him before charging, its sharp, blade-like claws ready to tear Rain apart.
“Quiet”, was all Rain could half-hush, half-shout at Phac, before he began rushing around the room in a speed that the beast was unable to match, while pelting the monster with bullet-like jets of water that didn’t seem to injure it much. The room, however, was too small to properly maneuver, and the beast would soon be upon Rain, seemingly unaffected by the water bubble around its head.
Finally done with stealth, at least when it came to the monsters, Phac Inspected the one who was chasing after Rain as he got ready to attack it.
Spiked Devils are an amalgamation of wariness, greediness and sadistic evilness. One of the bottom rungs of Hell, their constant wariness is often employed in guarding duties, while they are also soldiers to more powerful entities.
Wary my ass, everything is going according to plan… But hold on, Level 21? Does that mean…
Eyes widening in terror, something heavy fell on Phac from behind, the force throwing him face-first to the hard ground as the first Devil landed on his back with a growl. This time, Phac failed to suppress a scream of pain as many sharp barbs penetrated the skin of his back, their sharpness enhanced by the weight of the creature that had him pinned to the ground.
As blood began to pool on the ground below him, Phac grit his teeth, smashing a fist into the floor with enough force to make a dent as he let out a shout. This wasn’t fucking going according to plan!
Still on the ground, his vision went red as every single instinct he possessed kicked in, all at once. He would survive. No matter what. Fuck the plan.