“I call to order this emergency meeting of the town council,” Mary announced, punctuating her voice with the sound of her hammer hitting the wooden table. Unlike the previous meeting, the atmosphere stank of anger and sadness. Mary herself was fighting to keep her fury under control, as her eyes couldn’t help but glare at the prince.
Prince James sat alone at the table, no adviser behind his back. He looked haggard, as if his princely face had aged a few more years in the span of a few days. Mary felt no sympathy towards him after reading and hearing the reports from her adventurers. Her surviving adventurers, that is.
In place of the head temple knight Orso, Priest Horace sat looking thoughtful and worried. His hand was clutching an icon of what looked to be a symbol of Duran. His aid, Friar Henry, stood respectfully behind him.
Forcus, Stevens, and Grecian were also present in their respective seats. Only Helen, who had sent a runner citing ‘research breakthroughs’ as her reason for not coming, and Representative Gran were missing. Gran’s empty seat made Mary’s heart lurch in sadness.
“First order of business,” Mary’s icy voice betrayed no sentiments of pain, “the results of the city expedition formed by the prince. I leave it to you, my prince, to announce the results.”
James shuddered, as if waking from a deep trance. He coughed and stood up, drawing all eyes to him. “Last meeting, I was granted permission to begin conscription for the armed forces. With my permission, every adventurer was conscripted into the army and put under the command of my younger brother, acting ranger-general Kenneth.”
The room was filled with quiet murmuring.
“Prince,” Priest Horace spoke up,” correct if I’m wrong, but my liaison did not hear you ask to conscript the adventurers in the last meeting. Was this decision made on your own?”
James inwardly winced as he nodded his head, “That is correct Priest Horace. Upon the conclusion of the previous meeting, my generals and advisers drew up a plan in order to reclaim specific artifacts crucial to our nation’s future. Upon the testimony of the adventurer Fiora, it was decided that the mission would fail without the support of the adventurers. A call was put out to forcefully recruit all adventurers.”
“By artifacts, are you referring to the royal seals used to create the country’s currency?” Grecian spoke up.
“Yes,” James answered. The room was once again filled with a dull murmuring.
“Continue,” Mary said, her voice almost growling. The room fell silent once again.
“A few days ago,” James continued, “I sent off the ranger and adventurer task force to the former city of Duren. They were to infiltrate the city without being noticed and retrieve the seals. If possible, they were to also retrieve the city’s gold reserve.”
“However,” his voice shook in pain, “Our plan was apparently foreseen by the enemy. According to the testimony of the survivors, upon breaking into the secret room where the seals were previously kept the rangers encountered a large horde of fleshling monsters. They were set upon, and communication was lost. At the same time, the adventurers at the base camp were assaulted by a mix of summoned demons and warlocks. The attack was sudden, and many magic users were killed before they could regroup. As a result, the task force split and splintered as they ran for their lives in complete retreat. Survivors began appearing last night at the gates, and a few more have been appearing every few hours. It’s my regret to announce the mission as a complete and utter failure.”
Mary gripped her hands into fists beneath the table. “Prince James, your actions have resulted in the destruction not only of your ranger corps, but also my precious adventurers who, in all rights, had to business being a part of this suicide mission. Why don’t you clarify to this council exactly what YOU WERE THINKING!” Mary’s voice roared out at the end, shaking the entire room with the ferocity of her tine.
James bowed his head, “Master Mary, I have no words to express my grief. I never meant . . .”
“No, you didn’t mean for this happen right?” Mary chuckled sarcastically, “I just want to know two things: how do you plan on justifying the conscription of adventurers and what was your reason to attempt such a suicide mission?”
Reflexively, James’s eyes darted behind him to the empty spot where is adviser once stood.
“Oh no,” Mary grinned like a cat, “I had your adviser locked out of this meeting. He can puff all he wants, but his reputation is not welcome here. I want to hear from your own mouth why YOU did what you did.”
James looked around the table, and found no sympathy or support. For the first time in his life, he was all alone. He immediately deflated as his eyes turned hollow.
“After Grecian’s report in the last meeting, I was told repeatedly how important it was that the country has a starting point for when we return to rebuild. I believed that we needed the seals and the treasury in order to continue being . . . that without it our people would be scattered through the winds and Nehatra, Duren, would be no more. I couldn’t bare to imagine such a bleak future; to think that the sacrifice my parents made would be for nothing.”
“The adventurers were the key,” James continued morosely, “I trusted Fiora’s speech to my generals, even though many said it would be foolish to rely on undisciplined mercenaries. I countered my advisers and decided that the loose definition of who I could conscript would be enough to take every adventurer into my army without violating any law. In the end, however, I appear to have doomed both groups.”
Mary released a heavy sigh she seemed to be keeping inside her. “Prince James, you’ve committed a grave folly not only to your people, but to yourself as well. You undermined the powers this council gave you in the misguided belief that currency makes a nation. Not only that, but you put your trust in the wrong people.”
Prince James sat up and gave her a puzzled, questioning look.
Mary shook her head, “While I am indeed . . . disappointed with your actions prince, this council was not convened to set a punishment for you. We will speak in private later about such matters, a curtesy you owe me.” She glared at the prince, who could nothing but nod in agreement with her.
Mary returned her attention to the other members of the table, “Suffice to say, the failure of the mission has created more complications. Everyone is aware of this disaster, and I expect riots to soon begin. I convened this council so as to discuss future actions against the Empire’s forces, the beheading murderer, and our own people. Have you all read the reports?”
“I have Master Mary,” Priest Horace began, “and I wish to pose a question. Are we certain the beheading murderer is a slime from the dungeon? If this were true, then we would be facing an enemy within our walls and an enemy outside our walls.”
“While the evidence conclusively points towards a slime, I have yet to see solid proof that the dungeon was involved,” Mary answered, “However, the revelation that the dungeon has hidden entrances into Iron Town is suspect, showing that the dungeon has designs for this town.”
“Master Mary,” Grecian spoke up, “Is it not true that the dungeon participated in the battle with The Tomb of the Forgotten King? Perhaps these holes are remnants of that fight.”
“It is possible,” Mary acknowledged, “my mages have informed me that the holes themselves are composed of dungeon rock, meaning that the dungeon has not spread its influence into the town itself. However, the holes connect directly to the dungeon and were made sometime after the tomb’s invasion.”
“May I ask, in the master’s opinion,” Forcus interrupted, “Which is the greater threat; the demons or the slimes? We enchanters can only assign a single type of bane enchantment to copper and iron weapons, otherwise the metal will break after a few uses.”
“I believe the prince has been working with the Witch Helen on this matter,” Mary eyed the silent prince to her left.
James rubbed his forehead, “Helen has claimed her work to be on the edge of a breakthrough, in that she is close to creating the perfect dungeon-bane enchantment. If she does complete it, then the weapons we have can easily be re-enchanted into the perfect weapons to attack the dungeon. She has even claimed to have created a large stockpile of demon-bane enchantment potions to be used after dealing with the dungeon to return our weapons to their previous form.”
Stevens and Forcus exchanged a confused look. “We have heard no such thing from Helen,” Stevins explained, “in fact; she and her witches have seemed to have disappeared mostly from their workplaces. The few witches I have seen recently have been incredibly distracted . . . I suppose they could have been hard at work creating a stockpile of demon-bane potions. However, those potions are not meant to be permanent enchantments but instead temporary enhancers. It is slightly odd for her to claim the potions could be used to return a weapon to its previous form.”
“Not only that,” Forcus continued next to Stevins, “but at this point in time the dungeon has not been proven to be the aggressor. Her work may be viable now, but it won’t help us survive a demon invasion.”
“If I may,” Priest Horace interjected, “I would like to hear more about our forces. Without the rangers and adventurer, who else can we bring to arms?”
“How many temple knights and priests could you field at a moment’s notice . . .”
The meeting continued. Through it all, however, Mary’s mind kept shifting back to the collapsed adventurer her receptionists had found on the steps of the guild; the one who had looked so like the princess Diana. She resolved to check on her the moment the meeting was finished.
Anadine, wake up.
Please, you must wake up.
Diana, you’re late for practice.
The slime known as Anadine awoke with a start. Her eyes saw an unfamiliar ceiling, and she heard unfamiliar voice around her. Reflexively, she closed her eyes and lay perfectly still; she was a hunter and she would analyze the situation before acting.
Using her slime core, Anadine sensed the world around her. She was lying on a bed, a small but long type and was covered by a blanket. The room she was in was long and filled with similar beds, most of which were occupied by what sounded like injured adventurers. She could hear the crisp sound of their armor, the moans of pain, and gasps of air being inhaled and exhaled. Her area was unique, however, because her bed was shielded by a curtain of some sort blocking everyone’s view.
Her mind told her she was in an infirmary, a medical center. She did not know this word, but she trusted her instincts. They had never lied to her before.
“Anadine, can you hear me?” Claire’s voice rang in her head.
“I can hear you,” Anadine mentally responded, “What’s happened?”
“You disappeared last night and ended up inside the Adventurer Guild. Where are you, and why did you leave?”
Anadine collected her memories and played through them one by one.
“I am currently in a large hall filled with beds, an infirmary,” she reported, “There appears to be other adventurers in beds with a few humans and elves walking around. I am in a bed separated from the others by some kind of curtain. My memories seem to fragment after putting on my last set of clothes. I am still wearing the clothes and appear to have not been examined by magic.”
Anadine heard Claire’s sigh of relief. “Good, if you’re there than they haven’t discovered that you’re a slime monster. They must think you’re one of the adventurer survivors, those in the beds. Listen carefully Anadine; you need to get out of the guild before they discover you are not human. I’m with Milly, and she knows of a secret way out of the guild. You’ll need to listen to our instructions and avoid everyone.”
“Understood,” Anadine murmured. However, she failed to spot herself from uttering the words out loud, and her tremor sense revealed that an elf had heard her.
As the elf physician approached, Anadine adjusted her body to appear relaxed and maneuvered her chest to rise and fall as if she could breathe. She watched the elf poke his head through the curtain to examine her. After a few tense moments, Anadine watched the elf leave and close the curtain behind him.
“I thought she had awakened,” she heard the elf say to a companion, “I suppose it’s my ears playing tricks on me. How are the other patients?”
“Not well,” the human replied, “The majority of them are suffering from extreme fatigue, and a few have life threatening injuries. She’s the only unique one who seems to have nothing wrong with her. Master Mary has requested we physically examine her once the other patients are stabilized.”
“They wish to perform physical examination upon me,” Anadine reported, “I need to escape soon.”
“Right,” Claire agreed, “You were lucky that none of the healers had time to thoroughly check on you before being forced to treat the other adventurers. Ah, Milly says that you can exit the infirmary through an outside vent.”
Anadine used her tremor-sense to examine the upper walls. “They have been sealed with magic of some kind,” she reported, “They seem to be specifically intuned against slimes.”
“The guild must not be taking any chances with that rogue slime,” Claire muttered in annoyance, “In that case, it’s very likely that the other little exits around the building are also warded. You’re going to have to leave the same way you came in, through the front door.”
“Claire,” Anadine spoke up, “I am still wearing the clothes Milly gave me. I cannot change them like I can change my body.”
“You said there were some healers walking around right? Are they wearing anything like a uniform: maybe a sash, or a robe, or a coat?”
“No, they are dressed normally. Should I shed these clothes and form new ones made of slime?”
“You can’t afford to leave any trace behind, otherwise they may track your clothes back to Milly,” Claire pondered, “Is there any way you can use your slime to modify the look of the clothes you are wearing?”
Anadine examined the metal-plated shirt and pants. “I can change the color, but not the design. However, an idea has occurred to me.” With a little effort, Anadine absorbed the metal breast-plate into her body, leaving a standard adventurer shirt and pants. She applied a thin layer of blue slime to the cloths, seemingly changing them from brown to green. The effort required the use of her slime magic, however, and Anadine intuitively sensed she couldn’t keep up the effort forever.
“I can disguise the color of the clothes,” she sent to Claire, “I can also absorb the clothes into my body . . . I believe they have been moved into Lord Doc’s astral bag.”
“As one of Doc’s monsters, that ability is in your purview,” Claire reminded her, “However, you can only retrieve the items you’ve stored or what Doc assigns to your defeat.”
Anadine shifted her clothes away, leaving behind her brown-colored slime body. The slime girl used her tremor sense to create a mental picture of the infirmary. She noted the vents and the torches placed along the walls.
“I’m going now,” she announced to Claire
“Alright,” the pixie responded, “When you reach the front door, we’ll create a distraction for you to slip through. Good luck, and if you get caught kill yourself.”
“Yes ma’am,” Anadine couldn’t stop a small smile from appearing on her face. Once her mind had stopped worrying about her situation, Anadine had begun to think more about her situation. She was inside the Adventurer Guild, the main base of her lord’s prey. She could disguise herself and use her slime body to move around.
A flash of light.
“Don’t push yourself too hard Diana,” the red-haired adventurer lectured her, “Know your limits.”
Anadine’s body felt disorient for a moment, the strange memory playing around in her head. She pushed it away, trying to concentrate on her mission . . . her mission? What did she need to do?
“I need . . . I need to know,” Anadine remembered. The prey were suspecting her master. She needed to find their plans to tell her lord how the prey planned on attacking him.
“Leader, I need to find the leader of the prey,” Anadine realized, “Need to leave first.”
Taking action, Anadine let her human form melt into her original slime form. Silently, quietly, she stretched her body into a snake and slithered down to the floor. She peeked a tentacle under the curtain and, confirming no one was nearby, practically flew across the floor and up the wall to the ceiling. Once she gathered all her slime, she zigzagged across the ceiling to the door, keeping to the darkest parts of the ceiling.
She waited until the door closed before sliding her slime through crack between door and ceiling. However, she discovered that her core was unable to follow her slime through the crack. She retreated back into the room and slung herself across the top of the door, changing color to match the wooden frame. She waited until the door was opened, and swiftly moved her core and a little slime to the other side. Once the door was closed and the healer had left, Anadine recollected herself and zoomed down the ceiling of the hallway.
She was forced to pause as the hallway ended into a large foyer, the main room of the guild. The room was filled with light and activity, hindering her efforts to move through the building.
“Wait,” Anadine realized, “why am I thinking of this building like the dungeon?”
Anadine let loose, and her slime rolled like a wave across the ceiling back to the other end. Using her tactile senses, she discovered a hole in the floorboards large enough for her small core to slip through. Following her mental direction, her body flowed up to the second floor.
The slime girl found herself in an unused room filled with paper. The word ‘records’ echoed in her mind, but she ignored it as she moved a tentacle underneath the room’s door to check her surroundings. There were no adventurers on the second floor to be seen, and her tremor sense did not sense any movement either.
She used a tentacle to open the door wide enough for her core to slip through and closed the door behind her. The second floor held one small hallways, where the room she had been in was, and an L-shaped balcony that held a large door and a staircase.
Leader will be in the room, Anadine thought to herself. She turned back into a thin puddle and slithered out onto the wooden balcony and to the large, oaken door. Anadine sensed magic cast on the door and decided to avoid trying to open it on her own. She used tremor sense to find another entrance.
Thankfully, a former mouse hole was in the far wall to the left of the door, the occupant’s long dead from magic. She entered the mousy hole and zoomed through the corridors until she found the exit into the leader’s room. She easily entered it.
The slime girl was met with the sight of a tidy room with a desk in front of a window and a few bookshelves on the wall. The room was the epitome of organization.
A flash of light.
“Being organized in mind and habit keeps you alert,” an elf adventurer lectured, “Once you have a system, then you can easily find was not belong.”
“Stop it, go away,” Anadine hissed uselessly to herself. Her form almost destabilized form the shock of the . . . she wasn’t sure what it was. She tried to put it aside; it was not important.
Anadine slipped over to the desk and sifted through the papers on the desk. Thanks to her shared connection to Rowen, she had learned to read through his eyes. The papers were worthless to her: reports on food, market confidence, construction budgets, and others. She needed more. Her slime eyes turned to the book shelves.
A flurry of tentacles squirmed into every nook and cranny, each holding her attention as she examined everything her body touched. In her haste, one of her tentacles knocked over a chest. A blue folder fell onto the floor.
A stickler for detail, Anadine shifted a tentacle to search the folder. And she froze.
Her mind analyzed the contents quickly: reports on the wandering boss, notes on abilities and appearance, a chart of the progression of strength, various reports from adventurers who met it, and a magical drawing taken from the mind of a victim. It was her.
“She’s been searching for me,” Anadine realized in shock, “the leader has been tracking me. Why?” The question burned inside her, making her forget her previous goal.
However, the folder held nothing else of use. Anadine hit the floor in frustration. The force tipped the chest over onto its bottom, revealing a picture on the inside of the lid.
It was a picture of two women and a girl. The redhead adventurer and the elf adventurer were on either side of the girl, smiling at the magical painter. The girl in the middle was smiling shyly, holding a sword with a name cared onto it.
Suddenly, the slime girl could no longer hold back the torrent of images that screamed through her mind. She wept, yet no one could hear her.
“Is she ready yet?” Milly asked again.
“No,” Claire answered, again.
The two of them, and the worgs, were waiting in the alley closest to the Adventurer Guild. The two girls were playing a card game on the ground, using an old set Fred had had lying around.
“I win this hand,” Milly declared as she placed her cards down with a smirk.
“Not bad, but I win,” Claire countered smoothly, her face the personification of a smirk.
Milly cursed and muttered under her breath as she reclaimed the cards and shuffled them together.
“Clare, I am ready to leave,” Anadine’s voice sounded through the mental link.
Milly jumped to her feet, grabbing the bag with The Twins in it and placing Claire back safely in her pocket. She rubbed her hands together in anticipation.
“We hear you,” Claire sent back on behalf of Milly, “Get ready to exit.”
She turned her head to look up at Milly, “Are you sure your plan will work?”
Milly gave her a thumbs up, “Don’t worry, this will work.”
With a flourish of her sleeve, Milly produced three of her throwing daggers. Muttering a prayer to Temtra the chosen girl threw the daggers into the street and pointed her palm at them. When they reached the middle of the road, Milly closed her palm into a fist.
A sudden gust of wind buffeted the main road in front of the Adventurer Guild, filling the air with dust and sand. People began crying out in panic as they ran away from the noise and the dust.
“Don’t you think that was a little much?” Claire asked as she watched the confusion unfold, “I mean, my idea of creating fake gold coins to throw around would have been safer. We’ve really poked the hornets’ nest with this distraction of yours.”
Milly shrugged, “The fake gold would have been really obvious. Besides, my new powers limit me to at most three dagger formations and I needed some practice. I didn’t hurt anyone . . .”
She winced at the sound of someone running into the building she was next to. “Alright, I didn’t directly harm anyone. Point is this can’t be tied to me and if Anadine can escape then it can’t be tied to her.”
“I escaped,” Anadine said from behind Milly, startling the young girl into the air with a yelp.
“You scared me!” Milly complained, brushing her clothes off, “Are you alright?”
Anadine nodded with a small smile, “Yes, thank-you for your concern. Shall we get going? Milly, you need to be ready for tonight when you switch with Rowen, and I need to prepare my rouse for your father.”
“Oh right, I forgot about daddy,” Milly perked up, “Since the mission’s accomplished, let’s go home!”
The young girl began humming as she led the disguised slime girl down the road toward the inn.
“Anadine, are you really alright?” Claire sent mentally to the slime girl, “You were in there a long time.”
“I’m fine Claire,” Anadine reassured her, “I just . . . had to relearn a few things.”