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A note from Kyfe

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Reivyn and his two adventuring mates leisurely rested along the side of the road as they watched the horsemen come closer and closer. The cavalry unit was exquisitely precise in its horsemanship. Each individual horse was in step with the others at a trot in perfectly dressed columns, a feat that surely took a lot of practice and a fairly high level of Ride and Horsemanship.

Aside from the bannerman out front acting as the Guide, there were several other horsemen not in formation overseeing it. Reivyn turned his head and scanned the countryside and sparse woods in the area, but he didn't spot any scouts.

They are either supremely confident in themselves or their leaders are too arrogant. If there's anything I've learned so far, it's that one shouldn't get complacent.

Reivyn shook his head at his thoughts. Just because they were in a low Tier region that was populated by small bands of goblins and weak beasts, that didn't mean there couldn't be surprises. Reivyn knew for a fact that there were still roving ferocious beasts from the mountain range lurking about, but he didn't know how far they had managed to travel away from the mountains at this point. The mounted men might be high level, but their horses weren't, and ferocious beasts were just as likely to make a meal out of a horse as they were out of a man.

"Who do you suppose they are?" Reivyn said between bites of his ration.

"Probably the military branch of some church," Teilon replied. He leaned back against his pack and relaxed his body as much as possible. He was the last one to have unlocked the Forced March Skill, so he was the most exhausted of the trio.

"They have the Sunburst Standard, so they must be from the Church of Mierna," Kimberly supplied.

Reivyn inspected the standard carried by the Guide out front. He had recognized that it was a sunburst emblem when he had first spotted it, but upon closer inspection, he was able to see that it was the official symbol of the Church of Mierna like Kimberly said. As the horsemen drew closer, Reivyn could see that their shiny, silvery armor was also decorated with gold-plated trim and patterns.

"The Goddess of Light, huh?" Reivyn mused. "That settles it then, they're obviously on their way to investigate the demon incident." His two companions nodded in agreement.

One of the horsemen not in formation cantered up to the trio. He had a frown on his face as he inspected the three youngsters from top to bottom.

"Make way!" He commanded. Reivyn looked at his two friends. He observed the distance between them and the road before looking back at the man. Even if they didn't move, they were sufficiently far enough away from the road that they wouldn't be in the way of even the supervising horsemen who weren't part of the formation.

"We did make way," Reivyn began.

"Insolence!" The man shouted. "You dare talk back? I didn't ask for excuses, I told you to make way!"

Reivyn gave the man a flat look through his lashes. "And? I'm not one of your subordinates. You can go around."

The man's eyes nearly bugged out of his head at the response, and he was momentarily stunned. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword as his expression turned furious.

"You dare to disrespect Mierna, the Goddess of Light?" There was a dangerous tone to his voice.

"No, no, no," Reivyn said with a shake of his head. "I don't dare to disrespect the Goddess of Light... I dare to disrespect you." Reivyn pointed at the man to emphasize his point.

Reivyn wasn't worried that the zealot would make good on his implied threat and actually attack the three of them. He was clear on the law. While the church was granted the authority to have an independent military, they had to abide by the laws of the kingdom, not the other way around. The three of them were just sitting on the side of the road, and they each had proof of prior military service and identities of sanctioned Adventurers.

"Josn!" A loud shout came their way as the man started to bare the steel of his weapon. Reivyn rolled his eyes at the theatrics. The man was clearly trying to bully them for some reason.

"Sir!" Josn replied as he shoved his sword back into place and turned his head to address the older man who trotted up to the small group. The other men of the cavalry drew abreast of the resting youngsters and continued along the road with their eyes remaining straight ahead, and, as Reivyn had determined, they were nowhere near close enough to impede the soldiers.

"We have somewhere to be, Josn," the older man said. "Are you going to slow us down to interrogate some random kids sitting on the side of the road?"

Josn stiffened in his saddle. "I suspect them to be Heretics, sir." Reivyn looked at his companions and guffawed.

"On what basis?" The man's stern gaze inspected the three teens. His eyes lingered on the flower crowns adorning their heads, and he assumed a thoughtful look.

"Three 'kids,'" Josn used air quotes on the word, "dressed in armor and wearing druidic artifacts on their heads, plus the proximity of demonic activity is very suspicious."

Reivyn gave his two companions a look, and the three of them retrieved their two tokens and displayed them to the two men. Josn urged his horse forward and leaned down as if to take possession of Reivyn's tokens, but Reivyn smoothly deposited them back into his inner breast pocket with a smirk.

"I understand your zeal, young Josn, and it guides you well," the older man said. He gestured with his head for Josn to accompany him as he turned his horse aside. "But we don't have time to waste, and they have shown that they're members of the Adventurer's Guild. Having magical items isn't a crime."

The two men made their way back to the side of the formation, Josn shooting the three teens one last hostile look.

"Geeze, that commander needs to put a tighter leash on his dog," Teilon complained. He was obviously loud enough for the two departing men to hear as Reivyn saw Josn stiffen in his saddle for a moment. The older man didn't pause in his departure, though, so Josn was forced to keep up with him.

Reivyn looked over at his smirking friend. "You think he was just some zealot who was overreaching his authority?"

Teilon tilted his head as he looked at Reivyn. "What else?"

"Nine times out of ten, the older guy told him to come investigate us. He might not have told him to be a jerk about it, but he knows what kind of person his subordinate is. They were just putting on a show to try and trip us up and give ourselves into their authority. When we didn't lash out and just calmly identified ourselves as Adventurers, that's when the commander backed down."

"Why did you antagonize him, though?' Kimberly asked with a frown.

"If I had tried to outright deny any disrespect at all, he could have kept up the connection to his deity and used that as a bludgeon, but admitting I was being disrespectful towards him, specifically, I broke his narrative."

Kimberly tapped her chin and looked up with a thoughtful expression. "That makes sense. If we let him keep up the thread that we were disrespecting Mierna or the church directly, he might have been able to detain us, and who knows what could have happened then?"

"Well," Teilon began with a smile towards Reivyn, "Who knew you had it in you. You're always so silent in these kinds of situations."

"What do you mean, 'I'm always so silent in these kinds of situations?'" Reivyn asked in confusion.

Teilon unstrapped himself from his large pack and got up to begin stretching as he said, "Well, you know, we heard about your run-in with Ren and that Assassin, but you never really said anything about it." Reivyn and Kimberly joined their friend in stretching their muscles. The last of the church cavalry passed by as they were doing their exercise. Probably two hundred or so men, Reivyn mused to himself before turning back to his friend.

"What would you have had me do? Throw a tantrum?" Reivyn rolled his eyes. "That first incident with Ren, I was basically unconscious when everything went down afterward, and he was already punished. Was I supposed to round up my squad mates and go beat him up with numbers? Was I supposed to yell and shout and make a fool of myself?

"And the assassin was killed by that adventurer, and he cut Ren's hand off. Ren was thrown in the stockade and received a court-martial when we got back to Magron. I didn't need to make a fuss over any of these instances, and if I had, I would have only reinforced in everyone's mind that I was what I appear to be: a child. I think I acted appropriately for the situations."

"When you put it like that, it makes sense," Teilon said with a nod. "There were a few people who were saying you were just rolling over and taking it."

"Pfft, what else was there to do? The situations had already been resolved beyond anything I was capable of doing. Those people are just idiots who can't see beyond what's right in front of their eyes."

"Alright, alright, calm down," Teilon said with a chuckle. "I never doubted you, I just didn't know you were so quick-witted, was all." Reivyn playfully shoved his friend.

The three of them bantered back and forth while playing around during their stretching. Once they were done and good and limber again, they each, in unison, stopped and looked at their packs. Teilon threw his head back and let out a loud groan.

"This is going to suck," he complained. "How did I let you and your dad convince me this would be a good idea?"

"Because we didn't give you a choice," Reivyn said with a smirk. "C'mon, let's get this over with."

Reivyn reached down and gripped his pack on either side. It was on its back and upside down toward him. He squatted down and heaved it up and over his head, shooting his arms through the straps as he did so. The pack settled on him sitting right-side up. He attached the hip straps to focus the weight onto his lower body versus bearing all of it on his shoulders.

This was the proper method Refix had shown them to don a heavy pack. If they had tried to put the pack on from the ground, they wouldn't be able to stand up without much greater effort, and the pack was much too unwieldy to try and swing it around to the back like a normal, lighter-weight pack.

Teilon and Kimberly soon followed, and the trio once more set out on their journey.

 



Reivyn and company spent several days longer on their trip to the mountains than they had when Marching with the military. The Forced March Skill greatly helped them reduce the time, but it was a gradual thing. It was still incredibly taxing to walk with the overweight packs in the beginning.

The Skill didn't reduce the weight or make them stronger, but it did reduce the strain they felt and their Stamina consumption. The strain was still there, however, and it still accumulated to a point that the three would nearly collapse each time they stopped. It was getting longer and longer between that point, though, as the Skill increased in Level.

They kept the Laurel Crowns on their heads, and they proved invaluable. During one of their breaks, a mountain lion came waltzing out of the tree line, but it simply gave them a glance before flopping down in a sunbeam like an oversized house cat. It was uncommon to see a mountain lion prowling about down in the plains and forest, but Reivyn figured it was probably caught up in the beast tide and hadn't gone back to its home because of the increased human activity in the area.

After a brief moment of panic, the trio kept quiet as they regained their strength. It wouldn't have been a fatal encounter if the mountain lion had decided to attack the teenagers, but they were so tired from their Forced March training, it would have left at least a few nasty injuries before it could be driven off.

Reivyn watched the large, predatory cat with contemplation.

With the effect of these crowns, it might be possible to gain the trust of a mountain lion like that. It looks and acts just like a big, aggressive cat. Surely there's a Skill for Taming. He shook his head. Maybe one day I can experiment, but we don't really have time to be diverting towards such a thing at the moment.

The three of them didn't have any more run-ins with predators, man or beast, but the traffic flowing in the same direction as they were picked up as they made progress. The other people traveling the road were mostly other adventurers by this point, most on foot but some on horseback. There were varying levels of quality to the gear they were sporting, and Reivyn's group sometimes exchanged greetings with some of the younger teams.

They would need to either bolster their own ranks or join another team once they arrived at their destination, as at their current Levels, it wasn't a smart idea to challenge the Dungeon with just the three of them. Sure, they could go in and garner some level of success, but it would be nearly impossible for them to clear the first floor, and it would be incredibly dangerous.

Reivyn also kept his goal of exploring further into the depths of the Dungeon in the back of his mind. He had been contemplating how he could go about doing such a thing. He didn't want to abandon his friends to go off on his own and leave them to fend for themselves, but he also didn't want to drag them into a situation they clearly weren't prepared for.

Best case scenario is to, at one point, join a higher-level party with all three of us, one that intends to go deeper. We can strike a deal where they let us handle the first floor for the most part, and then I could go with them to the next floor while Teilon and Kimberly retreat back to the surface. Maybe we can make a deal where Kimberly and Teilon could go in and mine the silver and other ores throughout the remainder of the week and apportion some of it to their team. I would have to do my own part or compensate them somehow, though, as that would be unfair to them.

The three young adventurers finally staggered their way up to the walls of the palisade surrounding the base.

Skill Leveled Up!
Forced March (13)

The settlement had already gone through a tremendous change since they had left. The palisade had been extended several times further out than the initial one constructed to encompass the military, and several stone and wooden structures had already been constructed.

The paved road had been expanded and leveled out significantly to increase the quality, and new roads had been built throughout the area expanding out in the general layout of what the new town would eventually look like. It hadn't been all that long since they had left, so not a ton of buildings had gone up, but it was definitely a far cry from when it was just rows of tents.

Teilon moved off to the side of the road after passing through the gate and dropped his pack onto the ground with a loud thump. He bent over to catch his breath after the several miles long hike up the mountain ridge. Reivyn and Kimberly joined him in taking a break. They had progressed enough in their Skill that they weren't at the point of collapse, but walking up an incline, even one that wasn't very steep, with a heavy load still exhausted the three of them.

Reivyn had high enough Stats that he recovered very quickly, and while his two companions were still resting, he surveyed the area around him. The streets weren't abandoned, but there wasn't nearly as much foot traffic as could be found in a properly established town. Most of the people out here were adventurers, and their occupation, obviously, was to adventure in the Dungeon, so it seemed perfectly reasonable to Reivyn that he wouldn't see throngs of them lining the streets.

Some of the actual buildings that had been erected already also included taverns and inns. The people getting in at the beginning were smart enough to realize that such a town would house many transient adventurers for a long time before more established families moved in to be actual citizens of the settlement, upgrading it to a town or city.

Reivyn's eyes scanned outward, and he could see a team of engineers and masons laying the foundations for a wall much further out than even the expanded palisade. They hadn't noticed them on their trek up the road because they had had their heads down, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. There were a few people who gave them sidelong glances, but as independent adventurers themselves, they knew that others like them sometimes went to strange lengths to temper themselves or train their Skills.

There weren't just the new taverns and inns located near the central region of the settlement, but there were also some shopfronts already constructed and areas with obvious construction set aside for expansion and allocation of commercial buildings. Small houses were also on the outskirts forming a design that mimicked the other towns and cities from the county that Reivyn had seen: commercial districts in the center surrounded by residential interspersed with other, smaller shops. There was also a stone building near the Dungeon that was obviously the new seat of government for the budding camp.

Reivyn had briefly met the new commander of the guards for the area, but he was pretty sure that man wasn't going to be in charge of the civil affairs. Considering the presence of the civil engineers and masons he had spotted, it made sense that a team of civil officials would have made their way here to take charge of those matters. Until it was a properly-recognized town, though, any civil official wouldn't have a title like mayor, and they would have to share or derive any of their authority from the guard commander.

The Commander didn't come off to me as someone who was interested in becoming the mayor or whatever it would be for this place, Reivyn thought. Granted, I only met him briefly and don't know much more besides the first impression I had of him, but he didn't seem like an administrator.

"C'mon," Reivyn said as he saw Teilon and Kimberly catch their breath enough to also stand up and begin observing their surroundings. "Let's go find some lodging first and ditch these ridiculous packs. Then we can get reacquainted with the surroundings."

"Sounds like a plan," Teilon replied. "Just.. ugh... give me a second longer." Teilon looked at his pack with obvious reluctance. Reivyn clapped him on the shoulder with a chuckle.

"The sooner we find a place to stay, the sooner we can say goodbye to these packs." The three of them psyched themselves up briefly, and then, donning their packs once more, continued on into the heart of the camp.

Reivyn had initially planned on going to the government building to see if there was anything in there to lead the three of them in the right direction as there were no obvious signs other than the ones displayed on the outside of the taverns and inns. It might have seemed like a good enough idea to simply get a room at an inn, but they were probably constantly full, and Refix had given him a little extra money in order to pay for more secluded accommodations.

As he entered the main square, though, Reivyn spotted another, smaller stone building kind of off to the side that he couldn't see from when they first entered the camp. There was a signboard hung above the door that read "Adventurer's Guild," so Reivyn steered his companions towards it. The Adventurer's Guild wasn't just a place where people could find missions and quests, it also served as a hub to provide assistance or guidance to any of its members in the area.

The three of them dropped their packs outside the entrance to the branch building. They weren't worried that someone would come by and steal their packs, as they only dropped the heavy ones filled with rocks. Sure, the packs themselves were valuable, but anyone who attempted to empty them of their contents would require the time to do so, and Reivyn was confident they could react in time to stop them.

This branch of the Adventurer's Guild was incredibly bare, and it didn't have anything other than a couple of receptionist desks and a notice board. Reivyn had expected any branch of the Adventurer's Guild to have other accommodations attached to it, like a bar or something, but after some careful thought, he realized that it might in the future, but this building was extremely new, and there were already taverns outside that people could go to, so there was no need to provide such a service as a priority.

The three walked up to a desk with a young man sitting behind it. He was flipping through a book, as there were hardly any people inside the establishment at the moment. That wasn't to say that it was empty, there just weren't enough people lined up to cause Reivyn and his friends to have to wait.

The young man placed his book aside, marking the page, as Reivyn walked up to the desk.

"How can I help you?" He asked with a smile. Even though the man had been sent out to man the desks of such a bare branch in a hardly established area, he maintained a professional attitude. He might actually be happy to get in on the ground floor in a place that will obviously one day be important, I don't know.

"We just got here, and we need a place to stay," Reivyn said. "We want something more exclusive than just a room at an inn."

"Certainly, we provide private courtyards. You're lucky that you got here relatively early, as there are only so many spots we were allowed to purchase. As we're just getting settled in, though, we only have one form of courtyard available for everyone. They're little four-bedroom houses with a small kitchenette and living space. Will that be acceptable?"

Reivyn looked to his two companions, and receiving a nod from them both, he turned back to the young man. "That would be perfect. What's the price?"

"Since these aren't anything special, they're not too expensive, but, at the same time, there aren't too many of them. It will be 3 silvers per month."

Reivyn pulled out the coin purse his father had given him and pulled 12 silver coins. His father had given him 50 silvers, enough to pay for an entire year, but Reivyn had no idea how long they would actually be staying here on this stint, and an entire year seemed like a long time for someone who had only spent 10 years alive so far. He also didn't want to squander the money his father had given him, and he wanted to return as much of it as possible.

"We'll go ahead and pay for four months," Reivyn said as he handed the coins over.

"Sure thing, just give me your adventurer tokens," he held his hand out for all three of them to hand their tokens over. Once he had them, he took out four different forms. He placed one token each on one of the forms, and for the last one, he placed all three tokens. Once done, he gave the tokens back while putting the coins away. He handed a copy of the forms over to Reivyn. "These are the contracts stipulating that you are the ones staying in the courtyard. Here," he produced a key from somewhere. This is the key. The courtyard you have is number 7. Just head out, turn left, and it's the fourth one on the left side of the road."

"Thanks, you've been a big help," Reivyn said as he took the key. "Is there a copy for them?" He indicated his companions with a tilt of his head.

"I'm afraid not. That's the only key at the moment. While you could get copies made yourselves, you'll need to do so through the guild branch, and there will be an associated fee."

"It's fine," Kimberly interjected. She looked at Teilon and Reivyn in turn, "It's not likely that we'll be in a situation where we'll be separated and unable to get in." Reivyn nodded at her words.

"You're right. Something to consider for the future if such a situation seems likely, though." Reivyn waved at the young man and took the papers and key, "Thanks again."

"No problem. Have a nice day."

The three regained their packs and made their way to the courtyard that was indicated. The guild building had been to the right of the square as they entered from the main road, so turning left had them heading back towards the outskirts on the other side of the camp.

Having said that it was the fourth building on the left made it seem like the courtyard was just right there near the central area, but that wasn't the case. There was a large open space where a building would obviously be built sometime in the future, but there was nothing there yet.

The three of them spent several minutes walking to where they could see the courtyards in the distance. Each of the houses was built exactly the same. They were small, square buildings with a chest-height wall built around them. There was space inside the walls for a short yard and training space, and there was enough room to drive a single cart in between each wall.

They made their way to the fourth building, the one with a prominent "7" displayed at the gate of the wall - the even-numbered buildings were on the right side of the road - and Reivyn used his key to gain access to the building. There was a wooden gate that could be closed at the wall, but as it stood empty, it had been open.

"Ahh, our new home," Reivyn said as he walked into the little living quarters. There were two small rooms off on either side of the central area, and the living space and kitchenette were also fairly small. All in all, the building was about a quarter the size of his parents' house in Magron.

"It's a little cramped," Teilon said with a skeptical look. The building came furnished with one couch, and there was one bed and a chest of drawers in each room.

"More room, and, more importantly, more privacy, than a room at an inn," Kimberly remarked as she also followed them inside, closing the door behind them. "Don't think that I don't know what you've been thinking all the way here," she said with a knowing smirk towards Teilon. "Remember what my parents said to you before we left Haluville."

"Whaaaat? I've been nothing but a perfect gentleman this whole time. Back me up, here, Reivyn."

"Hmmm? Oh, keep your hands to yourself," Reivyn said. Teilon looked at Reivyn in shock with his mouth agape.

"Why does everyone assume I'm the bad guy?" Teilon said with mock hurt.

"Because you are," Kimberly said. She quickly left the two and headed to the room in the back left that she had claimed for herself. "I don't know why you're just standing there in the doorway. You were the one complaining the whole time about getting rid of these packs."

"Oh yeah, I forgot," Teilon said. He dashed to the room next to the one Kimberly went into with a glance at Reivyn.

Reivyn just chuckled at their antics as he moved to the back right room to deposit his things.

Home, sweet home, he thought.

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Kyfe

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