The armed men now standing in front of the Winter’s Guardians wore armor that was nearly made entirely of metal. With the man in front wearing full plate with the exception of his helmet. Cloaks of red and black fur covered them, and the symbol of a black boar was clearly shown on their chests.
Rainer heard Erik beside him swear under his breath, “Damned Baron Lodran’s men.”
Using[Appraisal] on the group, he noticed they all had the class of [Soldier]. Other than the one in front, all were level 3 and below. None of the group were particularly young, looking as Rainer’s seniors by at least 15-20 years.
[Human, Male, Soldier lvl 9]
I suppose it's quite common to see people stuck at the levels where the experience needed is multiplied greatly.
The level 9 [Soldier] seemed to be the leader of the group and also the oldest with his short gray hair.
Rainer could right away tell this was going to be annoying and he immediately made his armed bolts return to their brighter form that shone strongly amid even the midday sun. Though soon after, he gave the situation no more thought, realizing his lack of words would be just as useful, if not more, given the status of mages. In truth, he just wanted to appraise the rest of the townspeople within eyesight while this discussion went on.
Yet to the leader of Baron Lodran’s men the bolts had a much larger effect than intended. Leaf was the first to speak up after a minor staring contest.
“How can we help you lovely boys? You’re looking a bit grayer since last I saw you, Lance,” He said, referring to the full-plated man.
One of the men stepped forward before being immediately stopped by Lance. He gave a pointed look to the man before wondering how someone with combat experience couldn’t understand the situation in front of them. Lance gave a quick glance over to the new mage of the Winter’s Guardians before the objective of their visit completely changed.
“We merely wish to remind you to behave, even if the Hunter’s Guild has set up here, you are still within Baron Lodran’s territory.”
Leaf gave a cheeky smile understanding the situation and with an exuberant bow responded back, “Of course us Winter’s Guardians are the most upstanding members of society.”
Lance just gave a sigh and ordered his men to make way. As the Winter’s Guardians walked towards the Hunter’s Guild, their earlier killed boar in tow, Lance called out once more, this time towards their mage.
“If you require any assistance while in our territory Lord Magus, you may find us and in a few days our lord within the manor over there.” Lance said while pointing towards a half-built mansion.
Rainer just gave a simple wave, not wanting to offend either side. He had no idea what kind of forces a Lord would have. And so, he saw no reason to make an enemy.
Seeing he neither accepted nor rejected his offer had actually pleased Lance. Whatever debt the mage had with the Winter’s Guardians, it didn’t extend to being an enemy of their enemy. Lance could see no other way they could attract someone who gave off such a feeling of power with a simple looking spell other than a debt of some sort.
“Captain? What was wrong with you being respectful to that household conjurer using a light spell, our orders were…”
A single stern look from Lance shut him up. Lance soon realized that no one other than him felt exactly how big the energy was coming off that magic. Though he lacked an ability to sense mana, years on the battlefield left a sixth sense in relation to magic.
If he was just a random rogue mage with a few cantrips to his name that was one thing and not too uncommon in Monster Hunter groups. But those bolts were most certainly not a simple light. He had to be from a guild or clan and whatever debt he had with the Winter’s Guardians to help them Lance decided to wait it out until it was over.
Or better yet, they die with the purpose they came here for…
Rainer, now entering the Hunter's Guild, had given little thought to the encounter. No one around him seemed eager to explain either. Remembering the classes and levels he saw, he realized that apart from those [Soldiers], everyone in this town had either no class or a non-combat one. Things like [Mason] [Laborer] [Architect]. Though, that changed as he looked around the Hunter’s Guild.
While Rainer still didn’t see any rare classes within the guild, there seemed to be several other groups that came with the same purpose as them. There was a single [Physician] behind the counter, but he didn’t seem to be a part of any group. Out of the dozens, there were only 3 that had reached level 4, if you counted the level 6 ancient looking [Physician]. One also being an old and hagged level 6 [Hunter] and another a level 4 half-elven [Archer].
Rainer imagined this was a concentration of talents for a newly opened dungeon seeking a greater fate, and most of the population likely resembled the workers outside.
He had also momentarily gotten excited at finally seeing an Elf, but it seemed that half part was far less than a half. Other than a young face his ears were pointed, but not enough to be really considered inhuman. No one other than Rainer may even know he was a [Half-Elf, Half-Human].
The group split off, most going to help sell the Monstrous Black Boar along with other goods, with Kara doing some heavy lifting. Leaf led Rainer over to a counter where a middle-aged bald man presided. Currently, he organized some paperwork.
“Hey Riv what’d you do to get shipped out here?” Leaf spoke out familiarly.
Riv gave a small glance to Rainer’s now dimmed armed [Arcane Bolts], but, like to most, they only looked like a strange light spell.
“Looks like you finally found someone to perform some minor dungeon spells for ya. He need to register?”
“You didn’t answer my question Riv,” Leaf in his usual form joked around.
But Riv simply disregarded him and went to the back to likely grab whatever was needed for a new member to join.
“I’m not sure antagonizing the person who can make us spend all day here waiting is the best idea Leaf.”
“Nah, he’ll want me gone as soon as possible. Besides, he’s a friend.”
“Leaf, those two things are mutually exclusive…”
But Leaf just continued leaning on the counter waiting for Riv to return. Coming back quickly, Riv returned with a contract and two metal plates. One of which was on a chain.
“The Hunter’s Guild has numerous functions. One of which is handling wills and helping groups enter dungeons together without being separated. That's what these plates are for. They’ll show your class and your level and they’ll show when the holder has been killed. And the important feature is that they’ll show which group you belong to. They'll only work for those officially approved by the guild, and stealing them is a capital crime in most countries, including this one.“
Rainer gave Leaf a confused look before Leaf guessed what the problem was.
“Ah, but don’t worry, the class shown is only general. It’ll list you as either a Fighter, Magic-Caster, Support, or Ranged.”
Rainer was going to use [Appraisal] on it either way. While reading the contract, he used the skill.
[Hunter’s Guild Identification Plate: Allows one to join a group of 15 or fewer members in Raiding a dungeon. In special circumstances more than one group can also join together.]
[Hunter’s Guild Validating Plate: Allows the holder to determine whether the partnered card’s user is alive or dead as well as validity of partnered card.]
He wanted to ask Leaf how you would enter as a group without these, specifically because there was no reason to limit it to 15 unless it was an inborn dungeon limit. Riv, seeing Rainer now focused on the two plates, explained with a bit of pride in his voice.
“Impressive aren’t they Magus? There is magic that can have the same effect that you can learn from a World Tree Dungeon, but most never bother ever since the Skyborn Mages Guild started selling these to us quite cheaply. Likely the only enchanted item most of us lay people will ever hold.”
Rainer inspected them a little longer, but he saw nothing to suggest tampering. He also had no idea how to register himself to it.
“Just place your thumb on the plate with the chain attached and allow it to see your level.” Riv timely said.
Similar to how he shared his status with Luna, Rainer instead very carefully made sure to only share his level, but he soon felt a tiny tug on his mind reaching for more. It was the tiniest of tugs, most may have dismissed it or not even noticed it. But Rainer noticed.
Mobilizing his mana and the traces of Arcane Energy within it, he fought against the strange force that increased as he defended against it. Riv and Leaf watching only saw Rainer taking longer than usual to register. Soon the force resided and failed to accomplish its task as Rainer received a message. The metal plate now displayed the intended information [Magic-Caster lvl 6].
Riv couldn’t help but exclaim seeing Rainer’s level.
“Well hell Leaf, you might really have a shot at this unlike these chumps here with this Magus of yours. Or is it Lord Magus?” Riv said to the displeasure of the people around, that could very much hear him.
Rainer looked at the two now understanding how Leaf considered Riv his friend.
“Lord Magus shall do,” Rainer said figuring it would keep anyone from bothering them.
He hung the metal plate on his neck and, after a full read over, signed the contract as there didn’t seem to be any magic in it. The contents simply stated they weren't responsible for your death or harm.
“Alright, then Riv, me and Rainer here be heading over to the Inn. You’ll have to tell me how they stuck you here later tonight. Just put Rainer’s registration fee on the Winter’s Guardians tab.”
Following Leaf as he walked out of the guild, Rainer furrowed his brow as he stared at the message that appeared.
[Skill Gained: Mental Resistance lvl 1/10]
He was furious, to say the least. Prior to this message appearing, he had been about to lose. He didn’t know what was the enchantment contained in that plate, but it definitely wasn’t related to just his level and class. The only thing that calmed him down was that he benefited from it.
“Rainer,” Leaf suddenly spoke, no longer jovial as he was before.
“Before the rest of the group gets to our rooms in the inn, let's have a talk, yeah?”
“Lead the way,” Rainer guessed it might be related to who he really was. He could understand not wanting to trust your back to someone you didn’t really know.
The inn was more representative of a boarding house, likely containing dozens upon dozens of rooms. Rainer was truly impressed at how fast all this was built. Perhaps being a high-level laborer truly had an effect?
Walking up to the counter, Leaf received 7 room keys having sent in a reservation with the Hunters Guild the moment it was heard that a dungeon was discovered here. Then after putting down a silver looking coin, he received an eighth key Rainer assumed was intended for him.
“Come on, I got you a room right next to mine, we can talk in there.”
Heading up the stairs and down a long hallway, Rainer revised the real story he would tell, mixing in as much truth as possible in case Leaf had any talent for detecting lies. Within the room were 2 beds on opposite sides and nothing really else besides its wooden floor. Rainer entered and, after closing the door behind him, waited for Leaf to speak first. Said man currently staring out of the window.
Leaf breathed out a bit before he began speaking, still facing outside, “I’ll get right down to it, less the rest return early. I need to know your actual background, Rainer. Dungeons are a dangerous place, far more than you realize, especially one that has little information available on it. All of us have accepted we might not come back,” Leaf turned around to face Rainer.
“But if you don’t come back what happens to us or our families? Is there going to be someone very displeased with such a case? You haven’t exactly hidden your presence in this place, it wouldn’t be hard to track you here.”
Rainer sat on a bed, half faking and half truly mourning as he finished planning out his story.
“I had gone along with you all considering me being a Lord Magus but in truth, I am but a homeless wanderer. My master…” He said recalling his grandfather that he may never see again, “Had passed and I left seclusion to go out into the world through a magic portal at the now empty tower I stayed in. I know not where I came out from, but soon I found myself within that forest. Then I had run into the rest of you. There is no one expecting nor searching for me, not any in this world.”
Rainer’s guess that Leaf could discern lies was partially true. But Rainer’s half-truths had mostly convinced him.
“I’m sorry for your loss lad, and I’d advise keeping this to yourself unless you want one of the boys to get drunk and blab about how we have an unaffiliated mage of insane talent. Then you’d have the mage guilds looking to recruit you or kill you if you join their enemies.”
Rainer put on a smile glad there weren’t going to be any issues.
“So why exactly is an unaffiliated mage so valuable?” He had some idea but he’d like to confirm it.
“You asked the right person lad, my older sister actually was recruited by a minor Mages Guild. Though she mostly does simpler work in a lab all day, hardly a mage compared to you.”
“Work in a lab all day huh…” Rainer thought a bit wistfully. He quite enjoyed travel but at the same time, he’d love to take a break and just study magic.
“Put simply, most magic is controlled by the various guilds, clans, and royalty. When it comes to guilds, betraying your guild instantly makes you a pariah at best, a criminal at worst. Anyone who officially hires you would be making themselves an enemy of all the mage guilds who operate in the open. Same with trying to spread any of the magic you learned from them. Of course, retiring to a court mage or similar position is common. But without the approval of your guild, spreading anything you learned there would result in being heavily punished,” Leaf continued on a bit grimly, “It was only 6 years ago actually that the former Kingdom of Talon challenged this. As you can guess by the former it went about as well as anyone expected. They gathered many of these outcast mages and attempted to create a powerful force. Not only did all the neighboring kingdoms invade, all the nearby mage guilds assisted. It was an unprecedented massacre.”
“That isn’t to say there aren’t organizations and mages outside of this, but it's a rare thing and they are often filled with mages that practice the not so savory kinds of magic.”
Rainer thought a moment before speaking, “Yeah, it’s best no one ever finds out.”
“Not the type to do well with authority?”
“So when we leaving for the dungeon?”
“Everyone here is likely playing chicken, waiting for the first group to go and then buy their information on it. We’ve already decided to enter the day after we got here. The rest of the group will be purchasing supplies after they’ve sold the boar. I’ll keep your share for ya till we leave the dungeon.”
“Before I forget hand me your plate I’ll add you to our group,” Rainer handed it over and soon received a message.
[Join the Winter’s Guardians? Y/N]
Rainer hit yes.
[Winter’s Guardians. Slots filled: 13/15]
“Just use our tab you should be able to get anything you need from Hunters Guild related places. You got any issue with going tomorrow morning?”
“None,” Rainer said a bit of excitement in his voice.
“Good, I’ll tell Kara where your room is, maybe you’ll have a late night visit.” Leaf said back to his usual self.
Rainer stood and headed to walk out but not before giving a reply. It was no secret they spent their nights together, though not doing what Leaf insinuated.
“Speak in such way about my teacher and I won’t forgive you,” He spoke in mock seriousness before heading to his room. His was similar to Leaf’s having two beds with little space, though Rainer had it to himself.
After locking his door, Rainer sat cross legged on the left bed and thought over new spells to create. Manipulation of elements and energy was truly a wonderful thing, and likely a rare thing, lest mage guilds likely wouldn’t exist. At least not in their current form that depended on monopolizing spells.
Rainer would use [Sleep Learning] on [Weightless Blade Mastery] and [General Blade Mastery] once again. He didn’t believe that a dungeon would truly be dangerous for him as it was for others and opted to keep his magic spells and skills available for gaining experience.
As he was thinking over what spell to create, Luna fluttered out of his pocket rubbing her eyes before sitting down on his left knee.
“Ah, it’s been so long since Luna talked to Rainer.” She said while stretching her arms.
“We talked last night. And every night before I went to sleep…”
“It's not the same, Luna doesn’t like being so quiet.”
“So whats up?”
“Mana!” She said while reaching out her arms towards Rainer as if he was going to use them to pick her up. But of course at only 7 inches, he just scooped her up in his palm.
He had given mana to her several times after the first but he finally noticed a minor change.
“Did you grow a little taller again Luna?”
“Luna did! Luna is amazing right? Soon Luna will be bigger than Rainer and can do whatever she wants to Rainer.”
“Is that supposed to happen?”
“Luna doesn’t know. It's never happened before since...” She paused a moment before stopping.
“Anyways Luna doesn’t know. Rainer’s mana is just tasty and special.”
Rainer wanted to ask about her past, but didn’t feel tonight would be the right moment anyways.
“Luna, before we start, can I take you with me into the dungeon?”
“Oh Rainer means the group limit? It's no issue since Luna is Rainer’s.”
He assumed she meant their familiar bond. Like before, Rainer began channeling mana into a relaxed Luna. She laid back, a bit more comfortable about it than before. Looking at her enjoying herself, Rainer jokingly wondered if this was similar to romance for fairies hence her being annoyed by Kara. After a final loud breath and slight moan, she had finished receiving mana.
Then again it could just be her personality…
Luna ended up falling asleep at the end of it and Rainer gently slipped her into the padded pocket in his coat. Still sitting cross-legged, Rainer focused all his attention on a space in the middle of his palms. Slowly he gathered Arcane energy and formed a ball of it as best he could, not using a containing field like with an [Arcane Bolt].
Rainer took the time to make sure it was stabilized before he began using mana to manipulate fire onto the surface of the Arcane energy. Slowly but surely, the ball of fire and arcane formed, Rainer now controlling it a bit away from him. As it was now, it wasn’t really anything. The fire would likely snuff out and the bolt itself may not even reach the target before collapsing.
Yet this was only the first step. Maintaining the fire and energy for a while, Rainer pondered over which of the new runes and spell formula he gained would cause this phenomenon. Everytime he created a new spell with Manipulation, the system gave him the formula for it. It becoming intuitive actually made it difficult for Rainer to use it to make new spells, however.
Getting a few ideas of how he would replicate this odd ball of fire and arcane Rainer dissipated it. Rainer reached into his pocket and grabbed a few scrolls of paper Luna had made for him prior. He only needed to use the tiniest bit of mana on his finger and he could write on them. Erasing was a similar affair, only the intent differed.
He spent the rest of the night trying to create the spell formula for that first step of his grand spell before falling asleep. Ever so slightly disappointed, he didn’t get a night-time visitor.
The Winter’s Guardians stood outside the grand shrine-like entrance of the dungeon. They had opted not to take any baggage carriers with them on the simple premise no one was willing. Most of the group each carried a decent amount of supplies with the exception of Rainer and Kara.
The entrance itself stood over 50 feet tall and seemed to coalesce to a void-like black doorway at its very end, the true entrance. Slowly climbing up the steps, Rainer stood in the center of the group with the [Archers] and a single [Warrior] behind him. [Warriors] and [Hunters] in front of him with Leaf and Kara at the very lead.
One by one they entered, their plates magically connecting them, and soon ventured into a world beyond their own.