Zalia entered the room finding a small round table with five seats at it. Three were currently occupied by people, the fourth and fifth she assumed were for her and the annoying shade she was being haunted by. She sat down inspecting each of the people in turn, silent.
The first person was a tall gangly woman in a set of robes that looked styled for battle. They looked as if designed to allow for a good range of movement and inspecting it closely most likely had some form of padding or armour built in underneath. She had short cut brown hair, one side shaved and with braids in, lending a viking-like look to the woman. She had light grey-green eyes but a purple lightning constantly flickered through them.
Sat next to her was a relatively short but sturdy man. He wore full plate armour with a helm on the table before him. He looked to be well built but it was hard to see anything beneath the armour. At his side in a loop was a heavy looking mace and a tower shield was leaning against his chair. While the tall woman's face held a stern look the man looked cheery and in quite a good mood. He had short, spiky hair coloured a dirty blonde.
The last person was another woman in light leather armour similar to Zalias except it had no metal plating. She had what appeared to be a short handled double bladed staff leaning against the near wall. The weapon was about two thirds blade and one third haft. There was also an average sized heater shield leaning against the wall next to it. The woman seemed almost fragile but Zalia quickly reevaluated when she saw her move a little. She would have to remember not to judge someone's strength or resilience based on their looks, the attributes mattering more. The woman had long black hair similar to Zalia but had it pulled back and bound into a single ponytail with a strip of leather.
The shadow that was following her sat down in the other chair as Zalia took hers, not commenting or talking as Zalia inspected each person in silence as they in turn inspected her. The man in the middle was the first to break the silence,
"Good morning, I'm Zenis but my friends just call me Zen," the man said, smiling at her.
Zalia didn't respond for a moment,
"Zalia, pleasure," she replied eventually, looking at the rightmost woman.
"I am Lady Leyra Indis but you may refer to me as my lady or Lady Indis," she said, holding eye contact.
Zalia just shrugged looking over at the final woman.
"Ember," she said.
Zalia nodded once to her,
“While I can figure out some basics from what armour you are all wearing and what weapons you wield, I’d like to know what your roles are,” Zalia said.
“Tank, damage, buffs, front liner and the strength, intellect, resilience, vitality attributes,” Zen said, pointing to himself.
“Healer, damage, utility, front liner and the dexterity, intellect, wisdom, resilience attributes and she is damage dealer, utility, back liner with the same attributes,” Zen said, pointing to Ember and Lady Indis in turn.
“How about you?” he asked.
“Damage, support healing, utility in the form of rituals, poisons, herbs, tracking and mobility. Attributes are all of them,” she replied.
“All of them?” asked Lady Indis in doubt.
“What are your classes?” Zalia asked, ignoring her questioning tone.
“I’m a mage with lightning specialisation,” Lady Indis replied.
“Tank with leader specialisation,” Zen said.
“Healer, combatant specialisation,” Ember said quietly.
“And you?” Lady Indis asked with furrowed eyebrows.
“Hunter and Herbalist with Druid unity class,” Zalia replied.
“What the hell is a unity class?” Ember asked.
Zalia just shrugged,
“Dunno, but it means I have all six attributes unlocked. If I could tell you how to get it I would but it started out this way for me,” she said.
She gave all of them a brief rundown of her abilities and what they all did, each of the others giving theirs in return. It seemed like Indis’ abilities from her mage class were focused around mana regeneration and magic empowerment, while her lightning specialisation was focused on ways for her to direct and form that power. Zen’s tank ability was focused around being able to take more damage and draw attention to himself while his leader specialisation was focused around buffing allies and providing them opportunities. Ember’s healer class was just that, a very healing oriented main class that would make them pretty hard to kill unless done so outright. Her combatant class focused on being able to get in close and deal some damage, some of the effects actually allowing her to more efficiently heal allies.
All in all, it would be a pretty rounded team if they could learn to work together. Each of them had the resilience attribute meaning they would be quite hard to kill in general, Indis probably being the easiest to kill due to Zalia and Zen both having vitality and Ember having an ability in the combatant class that increased her resilience even more.
"I suggest we go on a contract as soon as possible," Lady Indis said.
Zalia thought for a moment, inspecting the woman further. Getting out of the city for a time would be good. She nodded, looking to the two others who quickly agreed. The Hidden finally spoke, trying his best at being dark and mysterious again,
"Excellent, we had a contract prepared in case," he said, dropping a stack of hardy looking papers to the table.
"Reported sightings of a pack of Garrois near Bur, a small town to the north," he explained.
The other three had gone silent, seeming concerned,
"Anyone care to explain what those are?" Zalia asked.
"Garroi are a relatively small Iron rank creature by birth. They are quite weak, but have extremely sharp blade-like protrusions made of bone running down their arms. The fact they are a pack creature makes them quite dangerous. The real issue and probably the reason your teammates are so silent right now, is that if they begin a frenzy they will become larger and stronger exponentially. A small town would be the perfect place for them to become strong enough to become a threat. A frenzy needs blood and well, people have plenty of that," the Hidden explained.
"I see the issue, when do we go?" Zalia asked.
"You've got to be kidding," Zen said, "we can't fight a pack of Garroi can we?"
"I don't see why not, they're only Iron rank," Zalia said.
"You're not even Iron rank!" He exclaimed.
Zalia shrugged, "so?" She said questioningly.
"Go when you're ready, just be quick about it," the Hidden replied to her earlier question.
Zalia thought she might be ok working with these people on occasion. It wasn't preferable but to be in an environment where she could learn from others she had to actually be around others. It was quite the conundrum. Ember was quiet and wasn't chatty, that was a good sign by Zalia's books. Lady Indis was uptight but also didn't talk much either, Zen however already spoke too much for her liking,
"Zen-is bad for my zen," she thought, smiling at her own joke.
"I'll meet you guys later at the entrance, maybe a couple hours? We can leave for the town today if you all want," Zalia said, standing up.
The others agreed, Zen quite reluctantly and Zalia walked out.
Zen watched the woman walk out of the room, closely followed by the Hidden. He turned to Indis,
"So, what do you two think? She seems quite.. abrupt," Zen asked.
"I like her," Ember said.
"She is a little short mannered. Only Tin rank too but if they let her in as a special case below the minimum requirements she must be strong. Three classes, all attributes linked. Hmm, yes she will be a good ally if she doesn't die in the early ranks," Indis said.
Zen rolled his eyes,
"Of course you're thinking about alliances," he muttered.
"Of course I am! I am the future of my house young man and making powerful alliances is quite important thank you very much," Indis retorted.
"Young man! We're the same age," he said back.
"Not that you act like it," Indis replied.
"Can you both please shut up," Ember muttered.
Zalia walked through the confusing labyrinth of stairs and bridges between spires thinking,
"It's a good team, complimentary powers. Besides, working in a team is safer and there's plenty you can learn from them. They're not completely annoying and don't seem incompetent either, at least. There will be plenty of things in your free time by yourself, solo hunts and the sort," She thought.
She continued in the same vein of thought as she walked, trying to convince herself she wasn't going to hate having to work with other people for an entire year.
She got lost a few times in her walk to find the exit but eventually found a door set into the base of one of the spires, leaving the complex of structures. She walked through the gardens trying to settle her mind. Even the gardens were beginning to annoy her, the curated plant life not giving her the same feel as the wild beyond the city. She would be glad to be back out amongst the trees and rolling hills of the nearby lands.
Zalia made her way down to the park she had slept in the first night in the city and began going through her morning routine, sword work before a run before going back to sword work once more, her added Dodge-vine ritual being performed with her magic throughout it all. She only had an hour and a half to train but went back a little early, wanting to find somewhere to wash herself off. Her clothes were self cleaning, thanks to the enchantress back in Alston but she still had to wash herself off. Her armour was kept free of sweat by her clothes, though they needed to be cleaned of dust and dirt sometimes. She was going to get a self cleaning enchantment on the armour when she was back from this contract. She didn't know how much it paid but hoped it was enough to fund a couple small things.
She soon made her way back to the spires, having gained one more level in each mobility and sword proficiency. Her aura observation also went up one level to four as she scanned a strange duck-like creature floating in the park's pond. Arriving at the spires she had about fifteen minutes left before the organised time for their departure arrived. There had been a section of one of the spires that the Hidden had told her was a washroom on the way past. It wouldn't be an equal substitute for a nice cool dip in a half frozen river but it would at least get the job done. After a few accidental detours, she found the place once more and went in. The hallway led off into another much shorter hallway with six doors leading off it. She tried one of the doors and found a small room inside with enchantments on the walls. Unlike the enchantments on her clothes and bag, these were visible which led her to believe they were more powerful. She wasn't entirely sure that was how it worked but it was her best guess. She wasn't an enchanter after all. She stepped in and closed the door, flicking a small lock on the inside. Immediately the runes glowed brighter and she could feel the sweat dissipate off of her body. She could also see the dirt and dust disappear from her armour, along with the blood stained on her bracers. She had tried to scrub those off but hadn't had much luck. She pulled things out of her bag and found them being nicely cleaned as well.
She returned to the main spire entrance and found her newly acquired team waiting for her. She was a few minutes late, the ridiculous layout of the spires mainly at fault.
"Ready?" She asked as she entered the space.
"Waiting on you," Lady Indis said coldly.
Zalia ignored it, containing her annoyance at having to be around people. Glemp had at least been direct, logical and had a good sense of humour. Glemp was also not human. That helped.
Deciding on her course of action, Zalia thought just walking out the door would be best. The others followed as she did,
"Anyone know the town and the best way to get there?" Zalia asked.
"Been there a few times," Ember replied.
Zalia gestured for her to lead and they began their journey.
⪼ ⪢ ℋ 𝒶𝓃𝒹 ℋ ⪡ ⪻
Zalia had immediately felt better when they had left the city, her annoyance fading away to a background chatter similar to the sound of her teammates bantering behind her. Ember had also joined Zalia at the front and was leading them all down a road that was more of an indentation in the dirt than anything else. Zen and Indis seemed quite familiar and had a habit of going back and forth slightly insulting each other, in a friendly way. It seemed to annoy Ember just as much as it did Zalia, but she found it hard to maintain annoyance in the rolling hills and fresh air of the wider world.
They were most of the way to the town of Bur by the time night fell and they began setting up camp. The others pulled out supplies and began eating their own relatively large meals made of travel supplies and rations. The meals consisted of mostly dried fruits and meat, nuts and other similar items. Zalia chuckled quietly at the sight and walked off.
She came back ten minutes later with another one of the small scaled creatures she had caught the other day, quickly and efficiently field dressing, skinning and cooking the creature. She used some basic herbs and a little bit of salt she had acquired in the city to season the animal as it cooked and ate it right off the fire, unbothered by the heat. The others looked enviously at her fresh food as the smell drifted over to them. She decided it was probably best they learn how to hunt and cook themselves, or she would teach them if they asked.
Congratulations! Survivalist and associated skills have reached Tin 16.
Zalia smiled, the skill seemed to passively level as she continued to live. It made perfect sense to her.
After eating, the others set up tents it appeared they had been carrying in spacial bags of their own, while Zalia just climbed up into a tree and lay with her cloak wrapped around her. It was as comfortable to her as a fluffy warm bed was to Lady Indis, most likely. She fell asleep in the boughs of the tree.
Morning came and Zalia awoke as the sun rose, she had to wait for a good half hour before Ember awoke and another half hour again before the other two got up. Each of them had to eat another meal and pack up their belongings as Zalia waited. She refrained from making a snide comment about the wait, as Indis had done. During the wait she instead did her morning routine, practicing sword work, running and practicing once more. Ember actually joined her for the second session of sword work, giving her a few pointers, her sword proficiency going up another level. Soon, they were back on the road and near to arriving in Bur.
After another two and a half hours walk they made it to the town. Saying Bur was a small town was an understatement. There were seven buildings in total, the place more of an outpost than a town. The people there recognised Ember as they entered the small but active town,
"Oh healer, thank the gods you've come back and at a good time," a woman said rushing over.
"Poor Onyl has taken sick, could you spare a moment to care for him? We really don't want it spreading," the woman asked, a pleading look on her face.
"Of course," Ember said warmly, following the woman.
"She'll be a moment, shall we find whoever sent out the warning that the Garroi have been sighted?" Zen asked.
"Yep," Zalia replied.
They knocked on one house's door, the elderly man inside directing them to a house across the way as the home of the man who had seen them. They went to the directed place and knocked once more. A limber looking man in rough but thick clothes opened the door.
"Oh good you must be here to help," the man said, looking over their armour.
"Come, come," he added, walking out of the house and closing the door behind himself.
He led them down the path a little, Ember joining them as she finished up what she'd been doing. Going out of the town, they travelled through a section of thicker forest to where it thinned out into another plains like area. At the edge of the forested area Zalia found some tracks of relatively small humanoid beasts,
"Saw them just here I did, see those tracks? Bunch of ghastly looking beasts I tell you. Horrid business, I'm just a forester not some adventurer or warrior. Will you be taking care of the problem?" The man rambled.
"Don't worry sir, we certainly will be," Zen replied.
Lady Indis looked over to where Zalia was crouched down, running her fingers over the tracks,
"Find anything?" She asked.
"Yes," Zalia said smiling,
"The hunt begins again," she whispered.