By the time the party had managed to retrace their steps to the entrance of the 32nd floor and reforge their path to the transfer circle for the next floor(guided this time by Anya), the sun had risen outside, and thus the Dungeon became far too dark to navigate. Having barely completed the transfer before the darkness completely fell, Gorin cursed.
“Damn. Dayfall. I was hoping to at least explore some of the 33rd floor today, but I suppose that plan’s out. And I wonder who we have to thank for that.”
If there had been enough light to see, one would have been treated to the amusing sight of Gorin glaring at Enya, and the elven girl cowering in response.
“Well, if we’re going to have to camp here for tonight, the first thing we should do is get some light. <<Lumination>>.”
Christopher, always one to take things in stride, snapped his fingers, creating a small, magical flame, floating in the midst of the group. It generated heat, yet did not burn, illuminating the faces of the surrounding members of <<Battleforged>>. He took an arrow from his quiver, touched its back end to the fire, then stuck it into the ground. In the midst of the darkness, the fire burned softly, providing light, yet without consuming the wood of the arrow.
Without a word, the five party members crowded around the fire and sat down, leaving Lily standing there, wondering at their unison. Quietly, tentatively, she sat down next to Hina. With the dungeon as dark as it was, they wouldn’t be able to explore for at least until the next night.
The group sat in a comfortable silence for a while, enjoying the warmth of the fire. Then, Lily broke the quiet atmosphere.
“So, uh, how did you all get together as a party, in the first place? I know Hina joined you all a bit later, but I heard from her that the four of you started adventuring at the same time?”
The four others broke into smiles, looking at each other. Hina herself leaned back with an expectant expression. She enjoyed hearing this story.
In unison, the four adventurers lifted their clothes and exposed their bellies. There, just above their navels, was a strange burn scar, in the shape of a magic circle flanked by wings. Lily started, her hand covering her mouth.
“A slave brand, yes.”
While Gorin confirmed her impression, the four lowered their clothes again.
“It’s a long story, and not a pretty one, so I hope you don’t mind.”
“Ah, certainly. Please. If you’re okay with it, of course.”
Gorin closed his eyes, as if reminiscing the past.
“We were all slaves belonging to the same person. A rich noble in what used to be the Kingdom of Quazit, rather eccentric, who had a lot of money and not much to do with it. I was employed primarily for physical labour and as a bodyguard. Christopher was a gardener. The twins, maids. I was bought as a grown man, the twins were bought when they were children, and Christopher was born into slavery within the household. Over time, we began to speak more to each other in the slave quarters, and eventually developed a friendship. It was a hard life, but it was a stable life. There wasn’t the risk of suddenly dying to some unforeseen monster, or losing a friend. It would be too much to say that we were content, but we were… accustomed. We understood what was demanded of us, and simply carried it out. We had thought we would live out our lives as slaves, in service to the lord and his descendants, until the day of our death. And for many years, that looked to be the case.
And then, one day, revolution came. Riots broke out, rebels occupied cities, nobles were forced out of their homes and publicly executed. Naturally, our master was no exception. In his foolishness, he decided to run out and try to use his authority to stop the rioting in our city. He ended up captured, bound and impaled on a stake at the gates. The streets ran red with the blood of soldiers and rebels alike. Meanwhile, we, and the other servants, had barricaded ourselves in a storeroom, waiting out the unrest.
Within a week, the Kingdom of Quazit had become the Free Republic of Quazit. 3 days after, order was restored to the streets. It seems that one of the first things done by the new government was to revise the regulations on slavery, outlawing the enslavement of anyone without a criminal record. As a result, the four of us had our brands removed, and were liberated from our slavery. The servants went their own ways, but the four of us decided to stick together, since none of us had any homes to return to.
See, “freeing the oppressed” had a very nice ring to it, but it failed to account for a very fundamental economic concern. With the liberation of almost half of the slaves in the country, there was a sudden influx of unemployed people, with not enough jobs to accomodate them. As a collection of grown adults with very specific skillsets, it was going to be hard to find a good job that would allow for a stable life.
And then we decided: if a stable life was impossible, then why not take on the unstable life of an adventurer? Surely, the work was dangerous, but it promised a lifetime of excitement, and it was not unheard of for adventurers to make a name for themselves and retire rich and famous. With this resolve in mind, we went our seperate ways for a short while.
Each of us took on low-paying, but simple jobs. I hired myself out as a mercenary, I hear Anya and Enya were very popular as waitresses, and Christopher used his connections to some of the friends he had made as a gardener to secure a job in an apothecary. It took a long time, but eventually, we met up again, with enough money in tow to both get some basic education in magic and to register with the Adventurer’s Guild.
With that money, we had our affinities assessed, and started learning basic magic for each of our affinities. When we finished that, we started adventuring as a party. And that’s the story.”
Lily was intrigued. Surely, their reasons for becoming an adventurer were far less flashy or idealistic than most, but… she could not help but feel that the practicality of their decisions simply fit the party perfectly. It was a simple story, without drama, without some huge dream, but it was a story that embodied their dedication to hard, honest work, and that impressed her.
“Ah, I see. But, what about the name <<Battleforged>>, though? I’m rather interested as to how you came up with it.”
Gorin laughed heartily at her question.
“Ah that, I think Enya should explain it.”
“Go on, Enya, explain why our party is named Battleforged.”
“…Uuuuuuuuuu~ You won’t ever let me forget that, won’t you? I already said I’m sorry.”
“And we already said it’s fine, but it’s still a funny story.”
“…Uwahhhh~ Anya~ Gorin’s bullying me again~”
At Gorin’s redirection, Enya had started sobbing into Anya’s lap, while Anya stroked her head in consolation. Meanwhile, Lily simply stood there, imaginary question marks floating around her. Seeing this, Christopher chuckled and explained.
“Well, it was supposed to be <<Battleforced>>, as in ‘forced’ into ‘battle’ through circumstances, to reflect our own lives, but when Enya filled in the guild application sheet, her handwriting was so bad that the ‘c’ looked like a ‘g’, so we were registered as <<Battleforged>>. It’s possible to change it, but it was a funny story, so we decided to just roll with it.”
Lily giggled at the silliness of the carefree answer. Again, she felt the intimate closeness of the party members, and felt a slight tinge of jealousy. She had very few people in her life that she could admit to being as close with. In fact, Hina was perhaps the only one.
“Alright, that’s enough of storytime. We should all get some sleep to prepare for tonight. There’s 6 of us, so we’ll take three shifts. Who’ll take first watch?”
Gorin interrupted the warm atmosphere with a dose of pragmatism. Hina raised her hand.
“I’ll take first shift. I’m not sleepy yet.”
Seeing Hina volunteer, Lily spoke up as well.
“Ah, then, I’ll take the first watch too. I want to catch up with Hina, too.”
The two girls looked at each other, eyes crinkling in a smile as they made eye contact. Their hands twined together.
“Alright then, we’ll leave you two lovebirds to it. Second shift will be the twins, in about 4 hours, and then Chris and I’ll take the last shift.”
“Uuuuu~ this atmosphere… I’m jealous~”
“Alright then, off to get some sleep. Remember to actually watch out for things other than each other, you two.”
With these remarks, the other four members laid down around the fire and started to drift to sleep.
Lily inched closer to Hina, feeling the other girl’s warmth at her side, and squeezed her hand. Hina responded by leaning into Lily’s shoulder with a soft smile.
It would be a long, but enjoyable 4 hours.