A few days after the drunken shenanigans, Doc found himself humming away as he worked on the dungeon. Due to recent decrease of adventurers, Doc found himself with more opportunities to work on the smaller, less important parts of the dungeon. For example, he was concentrating on a corner on the 5th floor. He was struggling to decide whether it should be smooth to the touch, or sharp.
“Which one would be more ‘dungeon?” he wondered as he switched the corner back and forth. While he was concentrating, Claire flew into the heart room, a worried look on her face.
“What’s up Claire?” Doc asked cheerfully.
Ignoring his greeting, Claire wore a cautious look as she flew around his crystal body, inspecting it. “Hm,” she muttered, “I don’t see any signs of corruption; maybe the evidence is elsewhere . . .”
“Um, Claire,” Doc sputtered, “you’re saying some really worrying things right now.”
“Maybe it’s an external influence rather than an internal change,” Claire continued to think out loud, “After all, I haven’t seen anything incriminating in my home or the heart home.”
“Claire!” Doc yelled, “Hey, you’re really scaring me here! Corruption is a big no-no!”
Startled out of her thoughts, Claire blinked and turned her attention to her partner. “Hey Doc, have you been killing adventurers in town?” Claire asked suddenly.
Doc sent her a startled feeling, “What; why do you ask that?”
“Because every single adventurer who’s come in the last few days have been worried about a series of murders in town,” Claire revealed, “They’re starting to rise in frequency, and it has all the adventurers on edge. Well, they were already on edge, what with the threat of invasion and all, but now they seem to be border-line paranoid!”
“That’s horrible!” Doc exclaimed, “Why can’t they die in the dungeon like they’re supposed to? I don’t get anything if they die out there!”
Claire sighed and placed her hand over her face, “Doc that really isn’t the point here. This is serious, as in we are in big time danger serious! The adventurers think we, the dungeon, are going into town and killing people!”
“But I’m not!” Doc protested, “I mean, I have those pixie tunnels in town, but I never use them and neither do you. I’m not a corrupted dungeon.”
Claire sighed in relief, “Well, I believe you Doc. I haven’t found any evidence that it was you, but I had to make sure. Still, the problem exists; murders are happening in town and we are being blamed for them.”
“Why?” Doc asked, “How can we, mainly me, be blamed for murder?”
“All the victims are missing heads,” Claire explained, “and their necks were melted in a way that resembles a slime devouring a body. You know, the way all adventurers are used to seeing dead bodies in your dungeon.”
“But it wasn’t me,” Doc insisted, “I didn’t do it his time! I mean, it’s a cool idea and all . . .”
“Doc!” Claire scolded.
“Sorry, I really get into the whole ‘kill all adventurers’ mind-set sometimes,” Doc corrected himself, “What I mean to say is that I wasn’t involved this time. Now, what do think about this corner . . .”
“Poppa!” The Twins called through the mental link, “Have you been killing adventurers in town without us? That’s so mean to leave us out!”
Doc felt his spirit twitch in agitation, “No girls, I haven’t been slaughtering adventurers in town. Now can I please get back to my corners . . .”
“Lord Master,” Anadine called out as she squirmed into the room, “I have heard the most wonderful news! You have finally decided to take the battle to the enemy within their borders! Allow me to lead your legions to victory and I will bring you as many heads as you desire!”
“I didn’t do it!” Doc yelled, scaring all four girls, “I just wanted to decide whether corners should be rounded or pointed! I don’t have time to go out and cause adventurers to want to kill me more than they already do!”
A long moment of silence followed Doc’s angry rant.
“Personally, I think pointed corners are only found on adventurer made things,” Claire reasoned, “Rounded corners are more natural and create a more relaxing mood for those who see them.”
“Oh really,” Doc wondered, “I guess that does make some sense.”
Another moment of silence followed.
“So, no glorious town hunting my lord?” Anadine finally pressed.
Before Doc could say anything, Rowen’s voice echoed through the dungeon mental link.
“Excuse me Doc, but I’m having a hard time moving around town now that you’ve been killing adventurers here. I know and respect your instincts as a dungeon, but perhaps now isn’t the best time.”
The girls all winced as Doc’s crystal began to vibrate and shudder in anger, somehow gaining a faint red aura.
Finally, Doc screamed out in frustration.
“Claire!” He bellowed, “You work with Rowen to find out who’s been murdering my adventurers and blaming it on me! I won’t be killed or blamed over something I didn’t do! Find them!”
Fiora stared into the distance using her spyglass. “Fire,” she ordered calmly. To her right, an elf released the arrow knotted in his bow. After a few seconds, the imp scout flying in the distance gave a short scream and died, disintegrating back to whatever infernal realm it had been summoned from.
“Good shot,” Fiora complimented, “Return to your post and keep an eye out for more of them.” The elf bowed and left.
When she heard someone approaching, she turned her attention to the stairs. Upon seeing Leo the elf, Fiora bowed her head in respect.
“Tis late for the second in command of the rangers to be coming here,” she observed, “How may I help you, Commander Leopold?”
Leo shook his head slowly, “Please, call me Leo. I’m quite indebted to you for leading the rescue party that saved we refugees. Not only that , but you are my good friend Gran’s party leader. Let us converse more casually.”
“As you wish Sir Leo,” Fiora responded, “I am glad to speak with you. While Gran doesn’t often talk of those apart of his race, tales of your exploits have reached my ear on occasion. Did you really once ride a griffon?”
Leo chuckled, “That was a long time ago, back when I was a more reckless officer in the elvin kingdom. Unlike these southern lands, the more mountainous surroundings there are full of stronger, more dangerous beast. I personally view riding a griffon as a minor achievement, though I am one of the few to actually live to talk about.”
“Perhaps one day I too will see great beasts,” Fiora wondered out loud, “Truly the dungeon here is the most dangerous place I’ve seen as an adventurer. But, I have digressed terribly; can I help you?”
“Perhaps you can Fiora. I am here to study the town’s defenses,” Leo joined her watch over the distant plains, the sun setting behind them, “Have you heard about the decisions made during the council meeting this morning?”
“A little,” Fiora admitted, “If I understand it correctly, then the city guards have been placed under the direct control of the remains of the Duran army.”
“It is a little more than that, I’m afraid,” Leo cautioned, “Prince James successfully persuaded the other members of the town council into authorizing the surviving army officers to not only take charge of the city guard, but to also conscript any and all adventurers into the army. As such, I am making myself better acquainted with the people and places here in town.”
Fiora moved her head, but failed to hide the frown on her face. “I see,” she said tersely, “so we adventurers are to be treated as army conscripts then. This will not be taken well.”
“Yes, I believe so as well,” Leo agreed with her, “which is why I’ve come to you. There is a meeting happening in an hour or so over what to do next. I was hoping you would accept my invitation to join this officer meeting so we could have your input and support. Many in this town respect you like I do.”
“Hmm,” Fiora muttered as she looked toward the sunset.
“Does this displease you?” Leo asked her, concerned.
“A little,” Fiora admitted, “I’ve never been a fan of ‘hero-worship’, for I believe it limits the mind and makes one blind to the faults of their so-called heroes. Seeing others looking up to me makes me uncomfortable, especially those who would use me.”
Leo gave her a measured look. “While I am trying to solicit your help, I would never think to use you. Elves have never relied on the human’s philosophy that each person is piece to be used and discarded.”
Fiora snorted, “Right, we humans sure are good at that. That honestly sounds like James and Alfred in a nut-shell.”
Leo gave Fiora a penetrating look. “You don’t like the prince?”
Fiora grimaced, “I have a history with him, back to when I was a child. Honestly, beyond that old grudge, I have yet to see anything wrong with his character. He knows how to lead, and he knows what is at stake. My main displeasure with him arises over the character of his advisers.”
“Ah,” Leo nodded in understanding, “Yes, Alfred rubs me the wrong way as well; even his assistants give me a sense of worry. Interestingly enough, I heard Alfred was the one who spear-headed the negotiations on this matter. It was and still is a good idea to consolidate our forces, but the timing still seems suspicious to me. Anyway, from what I’ve heard, James’ other advisers have finished recovering from their injuries while fleeing Duran and will be joining the prince’s entourage from now on.”
Fiora closed her eyes as the images of two figure flashed through her mind. The little girl with the curious smile, Annabelle and the small, timid boy, Josh, winked at Fiora from her memories. Her fists clenched involuntarily.
“I do not trust their collective ambitions, but I will not cause trouble on mere suspicion,” Leo continued, “Please know, however, that I and my people are behind your master completely. I believe that my captain, Prince Ken, is also on your side.”
“We are all going through this together; there is no need for sides . . .” Fiora was interrupted by a scream from below. The two warriors acted swiftly and leaped over the edge of the wall, rolling upon landing. They raced toward the sound of the screaming, and round a corner.
There, they found a crowd forming, split between elves and humans. The elves were gathered around a fallen male elf, who was bleeding from the temple. A bloody stone lay on the ground nearby, and humans were yelling at the elves in anger.
“Give us food!”
“You cursed elves, how dare you hold back when we took you in!”
“Is this how you treat your benefactors? YOU OWE US!”
“We know you’re holding back! Use your blasted magic!”
“HEY, BREAK IT UP!” Fiora roared, igniting her sword menacingly. The men quickly back off under the threat of the flame, but continued to glower at the elves. From the crowd of elves, a girl elf broke through and ran to the injured elf. She grasped his hand desperately and cried. Leo reached down and helped the elf up to his feet. He and the girl had to support the male elf because his leg was injured. With a nod, Leo gave the injured elf to another, and watched as the elf was taken away from treatment.
“What is this mess?” Fiora growled, “Why are you all assaulting an elf?”
“We know their secret!” one of the men called out, “The elves are holding back food when they know we are running out. They are selfishly hoarding grain and fruit within their quarter, even after we gave them sanctuary! They’re thieves!”
Fiora raised an eyebrow. Somehow, this group of men had learned of the elves’ ability to grow food, though it appeared their information was incomplete. Fiora noticed that more and more curious townsfolk and elves were joining the crowd, and tensions were rising.
“The elves have graciously turned over all their food to the town and have devoted their magic to this last harvest season,” Fiora announced over the murmurings of the people both human and elf, “There is no thievery, and no crime being committed here except that of hate and prejudice!”
“Elf-lover,” a man spat at her, “You side against your own kind!”
Fiora didn’t hesitate as she threw her sword through the man’s chest. Gurgling, the dying man looked on in shock as he slumped to the ground and died. People began to scream.
“EVERYONE BE QUIET AND LISTEN!” Fiora roared. She increased the size of her fireball to punctuate her order. The crowd obediently shut up and listened.
Fiora pointed at the dead man, “REMEMBER, our enemies use horrible demonic magic to try to control our hearts and minds. They play on our fears, our insecurities! Not only that, but they’ll bribe anyone to do their dirty work for them, like this man! He was trying to spread their poison, trying to turn our wonderful and strong townspeople against each other! The elves are our allies, they serve nature and abhor the Empire. REMEMBER WHO YOU SHOULD TRULY HATE, OTHERWISE WE WILL ALL DIE TOGETHER!”
With that, she cut off her supply of mana and extinguished the fireball. The crowd settled down upon hearing her words, many nodding their heads in agreement. A few, however, stared daggers at Fiora before disappearing into the dispersing people. Fiora sighed as she realized she had more problems to deal with.
“Good job,” Leo complimented her after handing the injured elf over to his fellows, “This was an explosion scroll situation, and you diffused it with as much grace as one would expect from a town hero. Though, perhaps executing that trouble-maker wasn’t the wisest decision. His relatives are sure to cause problems later on.”
Fiora shook her head, “Perhaps, but it couldn’t have been helped. The man was clearly a racist and would continue to cause trouble in the future. I executed him on the newly acquired authority gained from the united army of Duran.”
Leo’s eyes widened in surprise and pleasure, “I take it then that you will accept my invitation?”
Fiora flung her red hair over her shoulder and smirked, “Sure, why not, especially if I can blame this mess on Albert. You men are going to need a strong woman’s perspective, otherwise you’ll charge head-first into a hopeless situation.”
With a relieved sigh, Leo motioned for Fiora to follow him. He led her through the fading light to one of the newer buildings near the Adventurer’s Guild. A pair of guards were watching the door.
“Commander Leo, the meeting will be starting soon,” one of them said respectively. He cast a cautious look toward Fiora.
“She is with me,” Leo explained, “Fiora is a well-respected leader of the adventurers and is joining me to help bridge the gap between the adventurers and the army.”
“Understood, she may proceed.” The other guard declared. They opened the door for the duo, who entered without looking back.
Fiora waited until the door closed behind them before speaking. “Why did you show those guards so much respect, even going so far as to explain yourself?”
“Those weren’t normal guards,” Leo whispered as he led her down short corridor, “Those were some of Prince James’s personal shadow guards in disguise. While I am not technically under their authority as a ranger, they can do anything they want so long as it pertains to the prince’s safety. Now, I apologize, but I must ask that you remain silent until I introduce you to the other officers.”
Fiora grimaced, but nodded in agreement.
Leo opened the door, letting light flood into the passage.
“Ah good,” a happy voice came from the room, “Commander Leo, come in, come in! We were just about to start the meeting.”
As her eyes adjusted to the room, Fiora carefully examined the room and its occupants. In this large, round room, a large table sat in the middle covered in a map of the area. On it, various small figures were placed, some of humans and many of ugly demons. Surrounding were various important figures: Prince James, Alfred the adviser, Josh the leader of the king’s guard, Anna the spy-mistress, Prince Ken, commander of the Rangers, and a few older men Fiora didn’t recognize. Attendants and other higher ranked soldiers were standing and sitting on the outskirts.
“Hey Leo,” one of the spoke up, “Why’d you bring a wench with you? Save those for after we win!”
Fiora kept her anger under control as the room was filled with laughter.
“I would advise you apologize Commander Dicker,” Leo said in reproach,” This is Fiora, the highest ranked adventurer in town and a warrior who has braved countless fights! She is worthy of respect, not slander.”
Commander Dicker, the youngest looking grey-bearded man at the table, scoffed and waved his hand dismissively. “She’s just another one of those stuck up fools who think you because they can fight a few slimes they’re worth something. Please Leo, don’t bring trash like this into the war room.”
Before either Leo or Fiora could react, Prince James actually took a step forward and slammed his fist down onto the table, startling everyone in the room. His face glowed in anger as he glared at the Commander.
“Commander Dicker,” James said slowly, “While I respect your position and your views, I will not allow your blatant sexism and arrogance to insult both a hero and worthy warrior in my presence! Are you not aware of the countless dangers these adventurers have faced since this town came into being? They have fought . . .”
“My prince, please calm yourself.” Alfred urged from James’s side in a low voice, “You cannot afford to offend the army leaders.”
“I’m sorry Alfred,” James dismissed his adviser, “I value your council above all others, but I cannot allow this. I have conscripted the adventurers for the army in an effort to create a stronger fighting force, not to create disposable and discriminatory targets.”
Alfred frowned for just a moment before relaxing his face. He shared a quick glance with Josh and Anna, who both shook their heads.
“My prince, you are indeed the embodiment of Duran, the city where all are accepted!” Alfred declared to the room, “To think, you’d even give these lesser warriors a chance to prove their worth! The gods will surely bless you and your kingdom for this!”
The room filled with resounding cheers, and everyone rejoiced. Only Fiora, Ken, Leo, James, and a few others frowned, but did nothing else.
Truly, Fiora thought to herself, Alfred’s tongue could charm the gods themselves. Still, I suppose this is all I can expect from a bunch of meat-heads with too much pride in their pants instead of their hearts.
“In any case,” one of the generals continued after the cheers had died down, “What are we to do about the adventurers? Many are outright refusing to obey commands, and a few have come close to mutiny.”
“General, this is the reason why I was late to the meeting. I would like to call forth Adventurer Fiora to say her peace,” Leo announced, “Please, share with us your thoughts about what to do with the other adventurers.”
Coughing, Fiora took a step forward from behind Leo.
“Esteemed veterans,” she called out, “I greet you. As some of you are aware, I am Fiora. I am a B-ranked adventurer who served as Bloody Mary’s first apprentice. While I am not any kind of leader among the adventurers, I do believe I have some sway with them. For many, this conscription has come suddenly and many are very unhappy.”
“Those wimps just don’t want to go to war,” Commander Dicker sniffed in reproach, “They just need some motivation. Perhaps we should build a stocking in town.”
“Commander Dicker, I believe that is a terrible idea.” Fiora said flatly. Everyone in the room instantly grew tense, and the air filled with trepidation.
Commander Dicker’s eye twitched.
“You’re right in some ways,” Fiora admitted, “We adventurers are very different from you soldiers. We do not fight for an ideal or a people, but instead we fight for our survival and the promise of fortune and fame. Freedom is our virtue, and to suddenly take that from us is disheartening. However, instead of using punishments that would further divide this combined force, I advise that you use rewards instead.”
Another general frowned and tapped his fingers on the table, “Are you saying we should treat you lot as mercenaries? That would defeat the purpose of conscripting adventurers in the first place.”
“Do your soldiers fight without the promise for pay and food?” Fiora pointed out, “Many adventurers her have families who rely on them to bring home both. I have not yet heard a word about salaries, benefits, or the assurance that family will be paid if they die in battle.”
The general looked thoughtful as he continued to tap the table.
“If you are conscripting every adventurer, would it not be best to use their unique abilities?” Fiora continued, “While we are not normally adept fighting on the battlefield, each and every one of us is skilled in the art of trapping, tracking, ambushes, and small skirmishes. We go to the places no one else will go, fighting to the last breath just for the promise of treasure. Sure, many call us thieves and plunderers because of this, but to us adventurers we are explorers and discoverers. Use us as such; we can find your enemies where they hide and eliminate targets of interest. I won’t promise you we can be made into a working army, but we are a force to be reckoned with regardless.”
When she was finished, Fiora took a step back and examined the reactions. For the most part, the few generals and commanders seemed to be considering her words. Only a few, like Dicker, were scoffing with disgust.
Alfred whispered something into James’s ears.
James scratched his head in thought as he seemed to be considering Alfred’s words. Finally he straightened up knocked on the table several times to get everyone’s attention.
“Adventurer Fiora’s words ring true. I hereby announce that the adventurers shall have their own scouting division, led by the ranger corps. Ranger Kenneth, do you accept this responsibility?”
Ken stood and bowed deeply, “I do my prince. I shall endeavor to make proper use of the adventurers so as to maximize their strengths.” Leo and Fiora both smiled happily as well.
“Good,” James said, “In that case, now that have a proper scouting division, it is time to discuss their first mission. Alfred, if you would please.”
Bowing his head to the prince, Alfred stepped forward and began shifting figures on the map.
“As you can see,” he began, “the demons and fleshings controlled by the empire’s forces have been keeping a distance away from the dungeon town, but have completely surrounded our forces. What few scouts and magic scrying that have succeeded in spying on the enemy have reported that the empire’s forces are focusing on consolidating their position in preparation for the invasion of our neighboring countries. They believe it impossible for us to break free of their siege, and they are correct. All we can do is hope Father Jonas was able to escape the blockade before it closed off his escape, and prepare the eventual rescue from allied forces. Since we do not know when, or where, they will rescue us from, we must do all we can to survive in preparation for this escape. As such, our first priority is to raid the former city of Duran.”
Muted gasps and mutters began to circulate the room. Alfred held his hand up for silence.
“I know many of you are asking why, and I will explain our reasoning. As I said earlier, we are working on the assumption that Father Jonas made it through the blockade. In order to preserve our country’s identity while we are refugees, we’ll need various important symbols of both our city and nation. To that end, we will be sending a raiding party to sweep through the ruins of the city of Duran to retrieve those symbols. Most important of all are the magic seals used to create Nehatran currency, located in the treasury building. To put it simply, if we have those seals we’ll be able to keep the value of our gold high and use them once the country is restored. Otherwise, we will be forced to rely on the currency of other countries.”
The room was filled with hisses and grunts of disgust. To these soldiers, the very idea of relying on another country’s generosity to rebuild was disgraceful and horrifying.
“So,” Alfred continued, “Thanks to Fiora’s impressive speech, the adventurers have been folded into the ranger corps. As such, the idea is that we send the ranger corps through the elvin forest here to raid the city. Cutting through the forest will save two days of riding and will help hide our forces from the enemy. Not only that, but after hearing of the amazing capabilities of adventurers, I think that they can do this without the need for moving our other troops.”
Leo frowned at Alfred’s proposal. “Adviser, how can you say this? Surely you can’t expect just the ranger corps to accomplish this on their own? While we excel at speed, our forces would be destroyed if we were confronted by a strong army of demons. Can you not send a group of army mages with us?”
Fiora caught Alfred hiding a ghost of a smirk as he shook his head with a forlorn expression, “I wish I could Commander Leo, but our spy reports are quite clear. If you would Spy-mistress Annabelle.”
Anna giggled and stepped up next to the table, “Sorry Commander Leo, but my cute little babies tell me we’ll soon be seeing small groups of demons attacking the town. Those icky monsters are best killed with magic, so we need all the magic users to protect the town.”
Ken stood up now, “Brother, I mean my prince, is this what you truly want my men to do? The city will be crawling with demons and fleshlings, not to mention the Empire’s forces. Any detection on their part, and the entire corps will be destroyed! If these treasures are so important, then we need the proper level of support and personnel.”
Ken looked over at Fiora, “No offense meant towards you and your adventurers Fiora, but few of you are capable of wielding sufficient magic to kill demons without targeting their summoners.”
Fiora shook her head, for she knew he was correct. Most adventurer mages in town were best at attacking slimes, which for the most part lacked innate magical resistance. They were not familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of demons. While the army of Duran had trained to fight demons, it had lost many of its best mages to the fleshlings, who easily slaughtered the mages before they could counter-attack. As a result, the army had precious few mages left.
“What about this town?” Fiora spoke up now, “Adventurers are the source of wealth and security for this town, not to mention the many odd jobs we take to help the townspeople. Also, the beheading murderer is still here and hasn’t been caught yet.”
“The royal guard is prepared to step in for the few days the adventurers are gone,” Josh responded evenly, “We’ll be in charge of any security details you adventurers are normally responsible for. With any luck, we’ll also catch the beheading murderer before you even return.”
“That won’t be enough; what about bringing the wealth from the dungeon,” Fiora insisted.
Alfred smirked, “Have no fear Fiora; I have already set a small division of soldiers to periodically obtain the wealth of the dungeon.”
Fiora stared helplessly over at the prince. James began to tap his fingers on the table with a troubled look. After a moment’s thought he asked “Why don’t we ask the church to send of their Temple Knights?”
“Impossible your majesty,” one of the generals answered, “We need trust-worthy members of this kingdom for missions of this importance. Who would know if they received an order from their leaders to stop the mission from succeeding? Your majesty, we cannot take that risk.”
James shook his head sadly at Ken, “Brother, I’m sorry, but I cannot risk sending our mages. The people are the hope of this country’s future, and we need as many able defenders as possible. I had a long discussion with my advisers over this, and I agree that while we need the seal for our future, it isn’t a large enough target to dispatch a large group. However, I have faith that the adventurers will be able to complete this mission with your rangers.”
With the prince’s final word, Ken nodded his head and sat back down. Fiora sent a glowering look toward Alfred, who smiled innocently back at her. Unnoticed to anyone in the room, a ring on Anne’s finger broke and disappeared.