Fiora pulled the straps of her armor tight as she inspected herself. After reading the reports left by Jare and his brothers, it was now her turn to enter and investigate the dungeon. This was a special opportunity to increase her guild rank from C to B, and if she failed it would be some before she would have another chance.
She took a calming breath, “No need to be nervous, I’ve been in this dungeon before. I have all the notes up until the 25th floor, and I have a good team. Nothing is different.”
A knock at her door broke her trance. “Who is it?” she asked.
“It’s Nat; we’ve been summoned,” Nat called through the door.
Curious, Fiora went to the door and opened it, revealing the confident face of Nat. She was also dressed if full adventuring attire, her trusty great-sword on her back.
“The guild-master wants to see us,” Nat explained to Fiora, “Everyone else is ready and waiting on our leader.”
Fiora smiled wryly as she clapped Nat’s shoulder, “Well, let’s lead over to the guild then. Can’t keep Guild-Master Mary waiting forever.”
“Shouldn’t we call her guild-mistress?” Nat wondered out loud as the two headed down the stairs, “I mean, she is a women right? Why not change the title?”
“It’s because if it were changed to mistress, then it would make her different in the eyes of the public,” Fiora explained, “By being called master, she is asserting herself as being equal in power to the male guild masters. At least, that’s what I’ve heard anyway.”
“Pah,” Nat scoffed as they reached the ground-level, “Forget all that posturing and politics; let’s just have women rule the world. Then everything would be peaceful.”
“Are you saying women never fight with each other my love?” Jonas spoke up playfully from the table where he was sitting with Gran, “Because I’ve seen women fight before, and female assassins are much scarier than male assassins.”
“What about female berserkers?” Nat asked playfully, poking Jonas in the arm with her finger.
“Those are very scary,” Jonas nodded in agreement, “Wielding swords twice their size and screaming bloody murder, who wouldn’t be afraid of them?”
“Enough,” Fiora waved her hand in bemused annoyance, “We aren’t law-makers or church-folk, so let’s leave these issues to them. Focus on what we can do, like killing monsters.”
“Yes ma’am,” Jonas and Nat saluted to her sarcastically, to which Fiora rolled her eyes.
Gran chuckled, “Oh leader, you have displayed an elegant use of the vernacular of humans as expected.”
“Oh bite be you tree-hugger,” Fiora snapped at him.
Gran scratched his head in confusion, “I do hug trees, why should I bite you? Are you itchy?”
Fiora ignored the laughter of the peanut-gallery as she led her four companions out the door into the busy streets. They dodged workman carrying lumbar and stone as they made their way through Iron Town toward the adventurer guild. When they reach it, they were greeted with loud calls and cheering.
“Long live the fiery leader!”
“Look, it’s the Fire Squad!”
“Burn my hand!”
“I love you Nat!”
Nat held on to Jonas before he chased after the cat-caller. Fiora couldn’t hide a grimace as they left the crowd behind.
“Who started calling us the ‘Fire Squad’? That is one of the worst names I have ever heard for an adventurer group. Let’s just advertise our strengths and weakness with that name shall we?” she angrily muttered.
Gran patted her back in comfort, “It’s fine Fiora. After all, you and Jonas rely on fire-based attacks, and Nat’s berserker ability can create flames. Even I can create basic fire spells. It is to be expected that we would land with a name that reflected that.”
Fiora kept frowning, but stopped complaining. Nodding to Ally the receptionist, Fiora led her team into Mary’s office.
Mary rose and offered a smile in greeting. “It is good to see all of you,” she said, “Come, sit with me.” Mary led them over to some new couches, which sat on either side of a small table perpendicular to a single chair, which Mary sat in.
“You must be wondering why I called you here when you all were so close to leaving for the dungeon,” she began, “The reason I have called is because I am postponing your quest in favor of another, more urgent one. As you have heard before, the crown prince replaced his brother Sir Ken in the last moment for the official royal delegation to our Dungeon Town. Since he is soon to be crowned king, we have orders to increase security in every possible way. I am authorized to offer you this security job as a B-ranked quest, with an equivalent reward.”
Nat gave a low whistle of appreciation; a B-rank reward was not cheap, no one their group would be normally entitled to. A C-rank reward would be worth a small village, but a B-rank reward could be equal to a normal town.
Fiora’s mouth twitched, “I see. When would this job begin then?”
“Today, likely in a few hours,” Mary considered, “His carriage is due to arrive soon, if communication is to be believed.”
Fiora sighed, “Okay, but why ask us? We are adventurers, not body guards. We have served as guard to merchant convoys before, yes, but that is different from protecting someone of such high importance.”
Mary sighed and bowed her head down for a moment.
“There is a situation back at Duren,” she admitted, “a week past, Lord Rotch escaped his house arrest right before he was taken into custody for conspiring with the cult that killed the princess Diana. Not only is it suspected that a member of the council aided him, but the escape was performed by demons.”
The four adventurers tightened their fists at the news. Nat was particularly angry, her face morphing into a guise of hatred. Jonas held her hand to calm her.
“What kinds of demons?” Gran asked calmly, the only member of the party with a semblance of emotional calmness.
“Most were easily summoned, but they were led by a strong demon of sloth. Its power weakened the guards and they were easily slaughtered. With his history and temperament, Lord Rotch will like be coming here to exact a price for the death of his son, even though we are not responsible. It’s also very possible that he will try to use his demon allies to attack the prince while he is in town. You four are some of the few in town with experience fighting a major demon; we need that.”
Jonas patted Nat before turning to face Fiora, “Leader, this could give all of us a chance to put our inner struggles to rest. The dungeon isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we.”
Gran nodded to Fiora, and Nat jerked her head up with resolute eyes. Fiora sighed and grinned savagely, “Fine, we’ll take the job.”
“Excellent,” Mary clapped her hands in joy, “You have no idea how much stress this relieves me of. If you four would follow me to the town gate, we should be just in time to meet our guest of honor.”
“Whoopee,” Fiora said unenthusiastically.
Mary frowned, “No apprentice of mine will display herself with such vulgar countenance. Show some moxie!”
Fiora drew her sword and roared, “Yes Mistress!” She blushed afterwards, because this was a reflexive move beaten into her over the course of years. She glowered at the sniggering of her companions.
“As expected of my apprentice; let’s go.”
Mary led them out of the adventurer guild and toward the western gate of Iron Town. There, the town militia was in full force: making carriages and carts head to other gates and keeping the townsfolk away. The captain of the militia bowed to Mary and allowed the through the gate to the plains.
“There they are, right on schedule,” Mary said as she lifted her hand to shape her eyes from the mid-morning sun. In the distance, a carriage was being escorted by cavalry in tight formation. The royal flag zipped through the wind on the top of the carriage.
Fiora frowned, “That cavalry is too close to the carriage. It’s would be easy for saboteurs to cause trouble at that distance.”
“Indeed,” Mary frowned at what she saw, “This can’t be right; the leader was properly informed of what formation to use at each leg of the journey.”
“That only works if your leader didn’t get replaced at the last moment by a blade,” Fiora turned swiftly, “Captain, we need horses!”
The militia captain turned over four stallions to the adventurer group.
“I’ll stay here just in case someone tries something here,” Mary told Fiora, “Be careful and victorious my apprenti . . . my daughter.”
Fiora smiled softly and whispered, “Thanks, mother.” She kicked her horse, and the four adventurers raced toward the carriage, with Nat holding the white flag of peace.
As they approached, however, it was evident that their presence had flushed the assassins out and into action. Men cried out in alarm as their former comrades began to turn on them. Gran loaded his bow and began to unleash deadly accurate arrows on the perpetrators. Each shot struck a fatal point on their targets.
Jonas grimaced, “My best magic is fire based, which could set the carriage on fire. I won’t be much use here.”
Fiora nodded, “Just stick with melee combat with your staff or fire sword. Nat and I will do the same. Gran, you keep firing away with your bow.”
She took a deep breath, “CHARGE!”
The four fell into confused group of horses just as the carriage was set aflame. Fiora cursed as her sword slit the chest of an assassin, his voice gurgling as he fell.
“I have the prince! Keep them off me!” she ordered. Then, she leaped off her horse onto the roof of the carriage. Stabbing down, she cut the roof and fell inside.
Once in, she thrust forward and stabbed the mouth of a very surprised assassin. He died choking on her sword. Fiora turned to the two other occupants.
“Are you hurt?” she prompted.
The two shook their heads. In their current clothes, which were damaged by the fight and smoke, she couldn’t tell which one was the prince. There was enough room in the carriage to get up and move to the doors. Fiora tried to open the doors, but they were magically shut and locked. She frowned at the situation.
“Hold on to me!” she yelled at them. The two men jumped and hugged her with all their strength. Fiora held her breath and took a sword stance.
Meanwhile, on the outside, Jonas and Nat smashed their way through their enemies. Jonas formed a sword of fire that burned as it cut, and Nat’s massive sword crushed bodies into the ground. Gran was picking off targets with his bow, before he was forced to duck as the entire front of the carriage flew at him at high speed.
Fiora, with the two men holding on to her, leaped out of the burning vehicle as a fireball exploded behind her and landed safely on the ground. Her sword slashed from left to right, decapitating two assassins who had been standing in front of her.
She sighed, sheathing her sword. It appeared that every enemy was dead.
“Nat, Jonas, Gran; are you three all right?” she asked.
“Minor cut, no poison,” Nat announced.
“No injuries,” Gran reported.
“As good as I’ll ever be,” Jonas shrugged.
Fiora let relief appear on her face before she turned to the two men she saved.
“Now, which one of you is his highness?” she asked tentatively.
The man on the right brushed soot off his face, revealing an older face that seemed to be twitching between annoyance and gratefulness. It was actually interesting to watch.
“I am the royal adviser, and this is his highness Prince James. I thank-you for your rescue, but I must insist that you address his highness with more respect.”
“It’s fine Alfred,” Prince James waved him off.
“Alfred?” Fiora said, startled. She took a close look at the adviser.
James chuckled, “No need to be surprised Fiora; this is the Alfred from school. He just aged quickly.”
Alfred sighed in despair, “I’m 25 years old.” Everyone gave him a sympathetic look.
James turned to face Fiora, “It has been some time Fiora. Thanks for the help.”
Fiora shook her head, “I’m just doing my job. Come, let’s get you to the safety of the town.”
“Lead the way,” Prince James smiled, “We have much to discuss.”