A Daytime Chat
It was coming to the end of their shift, and the last few hours had been spent by Lily and Hina regaling each other with tales of their experiences in the year since Hina had left on her journey to be an adventurer, in between smiling and gazing into each other’s eyes. Lily was more than happy to listen to her friend talk about her experiences in various dungeons around the world, but there was one particular story she wanted to hear that had not yet been mentioned.
“You know, Hina, you’ve never quite told me how you came to be adventuring along with the rest of <<Battleforged>>. All you told me in the letter is that you joined them, but you never gave the specifics of how you met them.”
“Oh, I didn’t? Sorry… Well, it’s not a very interesting story, but do you want to hear it anyway?”
Hina adjusted herself to lean more comfortably into Lily, then began to speak.
“Well… I was silver rank at the time I met them, and I had been going solo. I mean, it’s not that I didn’t want a party, but all the existing ones all seemed so tight-knit, and I felt like I would be intruding. So I was running all my quests solo, and travelling around the different dungeons to get more battle experience, and maybe learn some new techniques.”
Lily nodded her head. Hina’s purpose for setting off was, after all, to learn new techniques to incorporate into her family’s traditional sword style.
“So I was in the dungeon, the <<Tower of Saphiz>>, running a few simple subjugation quests in the lower floors. It was a simple quest, I just needed to eliminate a hundred Kobolds. Easy, if a tad tedious. From what I understand, <<Battleforged>> was on a similar quest, having to hunt 100 Lizardmen. It was supposed to be an easy quest, with a good reward. But… well…”
Hina clung closer to Lily, shivering.
“Did you know that the <<Tower of Saphiz>> is known as the worst dungeon for new adventurers? It’s because of its <<Unique Characteristic>>, <<Random Spawn>>.”
Tate’s eyes became a bit distant, as if she were recalling an old memory.
“In the <<Tower of Saphiz>>, monsters from higher levels of the tower will occasionally magically appear in lower levels. The monsters can range from easier common monsters to actual floor bosses. They say you can’t truly assign a difficulty rating to missions regarding the <<Tower of Saphiz>> as the potential difficulty varies too greatly. A two-star collection request can quickly escalate to nine-star difficulty if, say, a <<Chimera>> appeared. People call it a fool’s mistake to enter that dungeon unprepared.”
Hina smiled a little, a cynical, small, half-smile, filled with bitterness and self-loathing.
“I was, therefore, an enormous fool. I was but a Silver rank. I had barely started my adventure. I was alone. I knew nothing about the dungeons. I knew nothing about danger. I was cursed by talent. I was born with natural talent, as you’re well aware; I knew not the lesson of failure. All of these, together, made me a fool, an arrogant fool, and I challenged the <<Tower of Saphiz>> foolishly, bringing along only the bare necessities, thinking it would be an easy job, trusting my <<Clairvoyance>> affinity to keep me safe.”
<<Clairvoyance>>. A unique, rare affinity, said to occur in roughly one in fifty thousand people. The ability to see, vaguely, several seconds into the future; the ability to instinctively predict the outcomes of one’s actions. Truly, it could be considered the ultimate defence: if you knew what kind of attack was coming from where, avoiding it became simply a matter of course.
“I was on the eighth floor, killing the Kobolds, close to accomplishing my goal. I had killed the hundredth, and was about to head back to the guild to claim my reward, when the dungeon shook, and a loud roar echoed behind me.”
Hina hugged her arms around herself, breathing becoming more ragged as she relived the experience.
“I still remember. I remember turning around. I remember seeing those green, slit eyes. I close my eyes, and remember realising that I was facing a <<Dragling>>. I remember the heat of its breath, barely five meters from me. It looked at me… like how one would look at a bug. Not even as food, or prey. As a nuisance. That’s what it felt like. Like I was an insubstantial existence, unworthy of any more attention that what it took to swat me away.”
Lily gasped as Hina named her adversary. A <<Dragling>> was the young form of a <<Dragon>>, widely considered one of the most dangerous monsters in existence. Any request that involved even making contact with a Dragon was automatically assigned a ten-star difficulty; any request that involved actually slaying a dragon was on Guild reccommendation only. Draglings were younger, smaller, and did not carry the same threat level, but Dragling subjugation quests were still given nine-star ratings, and it would be considered suicide for any Gold-ranked or lower adventurer to attempt to kill one solo.
“Of course, my <<Clairvoyance>> triggered. And therein I discovered a horrible truth. No matter how many outcomes I tried to visualise, how many options I tried to project, I always ended up dead. Even though I could see how and where it was going to attack, I lacked the reflexes to avoid it. It was too close, too fast, and I was too weak. All possible futures led to death. I had accepted my death, cursing my foolishness, preparing myself as the dragling’s neck tensed up.
And then, a miracle happened. Just as the dragling was about to strike, a bolt of <<Holy>> magic struck it, delaying its attack. At the same time, a solid barrier was constructed around me, keeping me from harm, wrapping me in light. Having felt Anya’s <<Protection>> several times, I must admit that it was just a lukewarm feeling, barely noticeable; but at the time, it felt like the warmest light I had ever experienced. The next words I heard were, ‘Get behind me, miss’, as a large, armored man stepped in front of me, facing the dragling head-on.
After that, the party had a lengthy discussion, with Gorin holding off the dragling while the twins supported him. They were formulating their plan of escape. Particularly, they were trying to decide how best to retreat while protecting me. That… that angered me. I remember being angry at my lack of power, my burdening helplessness. I spoke up, and asked if they would be willing to help me fell the dragling.
The looks they gave me were incredulous, for sure, but I stood firm. Eventually, they just smiled at me and extended their aid. I am still grateful for that. They were the first group of people I had met on my adventure that seemed willing to be friends with a loner such as I.
We fought for hours. Gorin would take point, drawing the dragling’s attention and withstanding its attacks, while the twins would protect and heal him. I would attack whenever an opening presented itself, and Chris would cover me when I exposed a blind spot.
Eventually, the beast fell. I remember the rush of victory, the exhiliration of conquering that great foe. When we finally returned to the Guild and turned in our quests, we were all promoted to Gold, in recognition of our subjugation of the Dragling. Immediately after, Gorin invited me to join, saying that they were in need of a dedicated attacker. Naturally, having experienced fighting alongside them, having been granted with my first ever invitation to join a party, I had no reason to refuse. I accepted instantly.”
Hina leaned back, her story finished, and smiled warmly at Lily, and at the past.
“We’ve been travelling together since. There were so many times when I would have died if I were alone; I am truly indebted to them. If not for them, I doubt I would ever have been able to meet you again.”
“Oi, oi. The same goes for us. There were so many times where we would have been in trouble if not for your <<Clairvoyance>> and attacking capabilities. We owe just as much to you.”
The individual who interrupted Hina was none other than Christopher, walking up to the pair alongside Gorin. Gorin smiled and pointed behind him, to the pair of sleeping elves.
“That’s certainly true. Now, you two should get some sleep. We’ve got an exciting bout of ore-searching ahead of us tomorrow.”
Lily yawned indiscreetly, blushing a deep red after the fact. She had not realised she had grown so tired.
“Ah, yes. We should. We’ll leave the watch to you.”
Lily and Hina walked quietly over to where the elves lay, and lay down beside each other silently, hands connected, fingers interlocked.
“Hina, I’m glad I got to see you again.”
“And I, you, Lily.”
With those whispered words, the two girls, clasping hands, drifted quietly into a peaceful sleep, unaware that their fates were just as intimately intertwined as their fingers.