“Now Fred,” Anadine smiled sweetly, “As one adventurer to another, you know I’ll do the very best I can to take care of your daughter and ward don’t you? Leave their care and protection to me, and do not concern yourself with what they are doing while under my care. I promise you on my guild membership, they will be safe.”
Fred raised an eyebrow at the brown skinned adventurer before him, and then turned his head slightly to gaze at his daughter, who was eagerly nodding her head.
“Tell me again how you met my daughter?” Fred asked, trying to shake an odd fog that seemed to be covering his thoughts.
“Of course sir,” Anadine gave Milly a subtle wink, “I met your daughter during one of her classes at the guild. She showed remarkable ability, and we became friends. Upon my return from that horrible mission, I was asked by the guild master to watch your daughter and her friend. I needed the peace and quiet after . . .” Anadine paused dramatically and sighed.
Fred rubbed his eyes, “Uh, yeah I understand. Heck of a thing that prince made you do. Having also this odd sense of trust in you, I leave their safety in your hands.” The two shook hands, Fred noting how firm, yet oddly soft, the other’s hand was.
“Poppa,” Milly spoke up sweetly, “Now that the adventurers are back, you should prepare a drinking contest for them! Look, Anadine and I have finished setting up a cask for it.”
The two ladies gestured dramatically at the large wooden barrel newly placed at the back of the bar. It had a few spigots for pouring ale, and a large hose traveling up the ceiling into the back practice area.
“Does this have anything to do with that drink you gave me last night?” Fred asked in concern, “because dear, as good as it tasted, no one is going to want a drink that knocks them out on the first sip.”
“No, no,” Milly reassured her father, “That was the control drink. See, Anadine helped me to set up this magic pump from the well so that this cask is always producing the booze with the right amount of watering down.”
“When did you have time to make all this?” Fred gleamed from the fog over his mind, “I was only out a . . . night? When did we have a well in the back?”
Milly gestured to Claire, who was hiding on top of Fred’s head, to keep her spell working. Anadine, in the meantime, discreetly glared at the tentacle forming on the cask, which was actually a well-disguised treasure slime. The “well” was actually the hidden passage back to the dungeon, where water slimes were constantly sending the needed water down the tube to the waiting booze slime inside the cask. The metal spigots were real, pilfered from the newly rebuilt pantry. It had taken Doc only a few minutes to calculate the necessary ratio of booze slime to water to create a drink safe enough for adventurers to consume without falling at the first sip. Of course, Claire was working extremely hard to lower Fred’s awareness of the amount of time needed for these projects to have been completed and Anadine’s slightly lackluster past.
“Did you forget poppa?” Milly asked pointedly, “You were always complaining about having to carry water back to the tavern or spending money on water crystals correct? Well, Rowen and I have been hard at work making that well in the back to help you out. He’s there now, um, working himself almost to death so that the well is finished properly. You should really spread the word for the drinking party later tonight; I’m sure everyone would enjoy it.”
“Spread the word, yeah I should,” Fred mumbled and scratched his head, “Alright then. Miss Anadine, take good care of my little girl and ward. I’m off to spread the word.” With that said, the tavern owner stumbled out the door, Claire leaving him to fly back to Milly.
The pixie girl panted softly. “That was tough,” she stammered, “Your father has some very high mental resistance; it wasn’t easy to dampen his logic. There’s a good chance he’ll realize something’s wrong in a few hours, so I’ll have to stay behind to cast my spell again.”
“Does that mean you won’t come with me to the dungeon?” Milly confirmed.
Claire shook her head, “No, we really can’t risk your father figuring out what we’re up to. As a former adventurer, he’ll likely be very hostile to us dungeon monsters. Learning that we’ve been messing with his head won’t go over well either; adventurers always hate it when others do that. Just leave The Twins with me and go with Anadine.”
“Playdate with momma!” The Twins chorused happily, causing the other three girls to smile.
Anadine saluted Claire, “I’ll make sure Milly reaches the dungeon, you can count on me Claire!”
Claire’s eyes flashed with an unknown emotion as she nodded in confirmation, “Alright, I trust you. Milly, all I can say is have fun in the dungeon, and try not to die.”
Before Milly had time to react, Anadine scoped her up and flowed swiftly out the backdoor. In the back, the “well” sat in the back corner with the water hose coming out of it, wide enough for two grown me to walk down into. Milly cheered as the slime girl carried her down into the darkness.
“You’re so fast!” Milly observed as the two sped down the tunnel toward the dungeon, “and I don’t feel a single bump!”
Anadine snorted. “Don’t compare me to a cart; my body is pure comfort until I attack.”
“I believe it!” Milly giggled and cooed as she slunk herself deeper into the slime girl’s embrace. The two stayed silent for a few minutes as Anadine continued to move through the tunnels.
“Hey,” Milly spoke up, “shouldn’t we have reached the dungeon by now? With your speed, the distance between the tavern and the dungeon entrance should be short.”
“It’s a concession Doc made after Claire discussed this new entrance with him,” Anadine explained, “Using his spatial control, this tunnel has been enlarged by several thousand times to dissuade adventurers from trying to reach him. Think of it the distance as the same amount if you added every floor in the dungeon together.”
“That’s a neat trick,” Milly agreed, “Though, with the size of the tunnel as it is now, they could always just bring a horse and carriage down here.”
Anadine pondered the fact. “I’ll inform Doc about it. He’ll likely either decrease the tunnel size or add some slime monsters to guard it. Thanks for your help Milly.”
“No problem,” the adventurer in training grinned, “so, since we have all this time, want to talk?”
“What about?” the slime girl asked, “Oh, do you want to hear more about the dungeon? This will be your first time entering the dungeon correct?”
“No,” Milly shook her head, “I want to talk about you.”
Anadine said nothing.
“I’m not that interesting,” she spoke evenly a second later, “My only interest is serving my lord.”
“That’s not true isn’t it?” Milly poked the slime around her, “I’m a chosen of the goddess of desire, remember? An ability I don’t often speak of is that I can see the level of a person’s strongest desire. Frankly, yours seems to have . . . dimmed since your return from the guild.”
“My loyalty to Doc has never waved!” Anadine spat in annoyance.
“You misunderstand,” Milly soothed in apology, “When I say dimmed, I don’t mean the amount of desire itself, but rather its intensity. Before, your desire burned forth like the sun. Now, that same desire is pulsing evenly like the waves of the sea. At least, to what I imagine what waves look like? I’ve never been to the ocean.”
“Anyway,” Milly digressed, “You learned something in the adventurer guild didn’t you, princess?”
With a shrill scream, Milly was launched into the air as Anadine froze. Her momentum carrying her, the teen barely managed to get her balance before skipping across the ground on her feet, her arms waving rapidly. With a sigh, she plopped onto her butt and rubbed her legs.
“That hurt,” she complained, “At least warn me next time!”
Anadine unfroze at Milly’s complaints. “I’m sorry,” she apologized.
“Don’t be,” Milly waved her off, “I’m getting used to people freezing after I reveal some secret. Rowen, Claire, Master Mary, Sir Ganus, really everyone I’ve met recently seems to think freezing is the best way to express shock. Do you all have some sort of secret agreement or something?”
The joke, while weak, was enough to cause Anadine to chuckle, breaking the tension that had started to rise. “No, I don’t there’s a conspiracy against you,” Anadine grinned, “Though, as long as you keep growing in strength, I’m sure someone will start one.”
“Great,” Milly rolled her eyes, “What every adventurer wants, politics. Why can’t we just leave that stuff behind us?”
“I know right?” Anadine fold her arms and frowned, “Someone always needs something, and eventually their desires will conflict with someone else’s. After that, one must either compromise or start a conflict. That’s why I like serving Doc; there isn’t any need for nonsense beyond just living and fighting.”
“So, you do remember your past life,” Milly glanced backwards toward her companion, “I mean, I was incredibly surprised when Claire told me who you used to be. I couldn’t even begin to compare you and the previous you, but I suppose a life started with minimum intelligence and few responsibilities would change anyone.”
Anadine giggled, “Well, that’s one way to look at it. I really don’t see it as anything more than a former life; I’m still processing all these new memories. It’s very odd, as if seeing them through someone else’s eyes and not quite feeling what they felt.”
“Do you miss any of it?” Milly asked.
Anadine smiled sadly, and shook her head. “No,” she admitted, “As I said, even if they used to be a part of me, those memories are not mine. I died in the dungeon and was reborn as someone new. I could have lived my entire existence without those memories and been fine.”
“How can you say that about your precious memories,” Milly grumbled at the slime, turning around to glare at her, “Even if you say they’re from a past life, they are still your souls aren’t they? I can’t believe you don’t feel any emotional attachment to them, especially given how defensively you acted when I said your old title.”
Anadine shrugged, “What can I say? I’m a slime, and I’ve mercilessly killed and devoured my master’s prey. I no longer possess the morality of a human, nor the desires or fears your kind are plagued by. I go into battle fully expecting to die, knowing all the while that I’ll respawn later. Why should I limit myself to your petty existence, no offense.”
Milly grunted. “Fine, but what about the people? Do you not feel anything for your friends, family?”
“I . . . I can’t say that I do not miss my family,” Anadine admitted, “However, if they came into the dungeon, I would still kill them without a seconds thought. Perhaps however, I would grant them a swift and unexpected death to prevent them from feeling pain. I might spend a little more time on that foolish older brother of mind however; what was that idiot thinking sending all the adventurers away?” Anadine continued to mutter angry, choice words under her breath.
“And what about Master Mary?” Milly finally asked, “I know she misses you dearly, her and Adventurer Fiora.”
“We’ve wasted enough time,” Anadine ignored the little adventurer, “Come on, let’s get you to Master Doc. He’s very eager to have your try out his newly readjusted traps, courtesy of Rowen’s help.”
Seeing she would get nothing else from the slime girl, Milly let herself be carried down into the darkness of the dungeon.
“Report,” Mary ordered. She felt an odd sense of deju vu, except this time she was waiting outside her office instead of at her desk.
“We have confirmed magical traces left behind,” Bella confirmed, “A magical creature has indeed been inside your office. Nothing appears to have been taken, but a certain ‘file’ was heavily examined. The trail ends at the guild entrance; it appears it just walked out.”
Is it you? Mary wondered in her mind, Did you come to check on me? Maybe to spy on me? . . . Are you doing well?
“Is there anything that can be done to track down the culprit or at least learn of its identity?” Mary asked out loud.
Clara poked her head out of the room and shook it. “No ma’am, it hid itself almost flawlessly. If it hadn’t left such a mess, I doubt you would have easily noticed someone or something had been inside. We’ve added additional security glyphs and wards however, so the intruder won’t have such an easy time if it returns.”
“Alright, thank-you girls,” Mary dismissed them. She strolled inside her office as the two receptionists left. Mary bent down and gathered together the contents of her folder, taking great care to return them to the box and stow it back on the shelf. With a loving caress, she rubbed the box and wiped a tear from her eye.
“Master Mary, Master Mary!” Clara ran into the office, “Quickly, you must come to the entrance! It’s Fiora!”
Mary turned and practically flew out of her office and down the stairs. There, surrounded by adventurers who were moving the wounded, Fiora stood tall with her team of adventurers. With them were many other adventurers and members of the ranger corps, including an unconscious Prince Ken and Leo. While everyone was wounded in various severity, Fiora and her team of three looked the worst. They were burned, scrapped, cut, and even held a few arrows still stuck in their armor. Fiora looked barely conscious, but refused the healers. Her dead eyes lit up at the sight of Mary.
“Mission . . . Accomplished,” she croaked, and handed over two small seals into the hands of her master. Her job done, nothing held the broken adventurer as she collapsed, barely caught by two healers.
“Quickly, get them to the infirmary!” Mary roared out, startling everyone in the room, “And someone run to every merchant and store that sells medicine! Buy it all and bring it here, use the Adventurer’s Guild’s name! Save their lives!”
The guild master dropped the seals into her pocket. With a quick flourish of her hands and a muttered spell, Mary’s eyes turned a bright red as she took control of the blood of every wounded adventurer and stopped it from bleeding out. Straining from the effort, she looked around at the shocked adventurers.
“Didn’t you all hear me? MOVE!”