Chapter 17:

The Value of a Life

Reverie's End: Blades of Malice

Date: 6/23/991; Time: 14th hourBookmark here

Miri and Amalia had finally arrived in Charlo, capital of Aegis. It was only called the capital because it was the largest city in Aegis. Charlo had a mere 90,000 residents, a good-sized city by Ethos' standards, but it was no metropolis. Aegis was a free region, not a country governed by monarchs and parliaments. Charlo was just one independent city among many others in Aegis.Bookmark here

"Wow. Is this what a city looks like? It's so big! Look at all those buildings and all these people walking around," said Amalia, as her eyes kept getting wider and wider.Bookmark here

Miri laughed at Amalia's child-like enthusiasm, and remarked, "If you think this is large, wait till you see Fire Keep in Gaea. That's a really big city. I've been told that Gamma in Charon is even larger and grander."Bookmark here

"There's a really big world out there. I wonder if I can find my parents and not get lost and confused," Amalia said with sadness in her voice.Bookmark here

"Cheer up. You can worry about that later when you go to Valis. Information is the key to finding your parents. You talk to people and you figure things out like that. That's why we're here to get information about the Blades of Malice," stated Miri.Bookmark here

The two girls made their way towards the center of the city and entered a large three-story building made of stone. This was the main branch of the "Advent" organization. Miri and Esca had completed many jobs assigned to them from this branch in the past. It was a place where they talked about their dreams and hopes for the future. However, those days were no more; Miri could only stare at the building with her cold eyes of hatred.Bookmark here

Miri slowly open the giant wooden door and walked inside with Amalia by her side. It was a slow day, with few jobs posted, and even fewer adventurers lounging about at the guild bar. Miri went up to the clerk at the front desk, and just stood in silence. The clerk's name was Horace, a middle-aged man, with brown hair, a brown mustache, and brown eyes. He was well-dressed, as is appropriate for his profession. He was a kind man that had helped Miri and Esca find lucrative jobs in the past.Bookmark here

"May I help you, Madam?" He stared at Miri, confused.Bookmark here

Miri looked up and tears started pouring down her face. "She's dead," said Miri quietly.Bookmark here

Horace looked puzzled for a moment and then recognized the Kali girl in front of him for who she really was. "Miri? Is that you? Who's dead? Oh no. You don't mean," he said bewildered.Bookmark here

"Esca was killed by the Blades of Malice in Emerald Village," Miri said as she stared at the ground.Bookmark here

Miri slammed the table in front of her with her fist, attracting the attention of those at the bar. "It was my fault," lamented Miri.Bookmark here

Horace sighed. "These things happen. It's part of the job. But I don't think we will ever get used to it," replied Horace with his deepest sympathy.Bookmark here

Amalia could only look on, unable to do anything to console her newfound friend. Miri regained her composure after a very long minute of silence.Bookmark here

"At least the job was completed that Helim Root can save lives," Miri said while trying to smile.Bookmark here

Horace nodded and said, "Here is the payment: thirty silver coins." He pushed the bag towards Miri.Bookmark here

Miri looked at the bag and hesitated. Thirty silvers was a lot of money; most people only earned that much in one year. However, a life was sacrificed for those thirty silvers. Miri couldn't get the thought out of her head.Bookmark here

Horace looked at Miri and said, "You are still among the living you'll need it."Bookmark here

Miri was usually a rational person but her emotions were hard to suppress at this moment. She reluctantly took the money and handed it to Amalia.Bookmark here

Horace continued to speak in a solemn voice, "And that's not all this last job qualified you for Steel class, so here's your badge. This is assuming you still want to be part of the Advent."Bookmark here

Horace slid the steel emblem across the table over to Miri. The girl had not given it much thought. "Should I remain in the Advent?" was not a thought she had time for. Recently, she had focused solely on surviving. Suddenly, she remembered her promise to Esca.Bookmark here

"Yes. I will accept this badge. We were supposed to be here together. I will wear it for both of us. I will rise to the very top and become a 'Legend'!" she said with the highest level of confidence.Bookmark here

That last statement attracted even more attention to her from people inside the guild; it was not every day that someone proclaimed to have such bold aspirations. Those that achieved Crystal Rank were called "Legends"; they were heroes known all over Ethos.Bookmark here

Horace looked at Miri's determined face with relief and said, "It's good to see that you've regained your spirit, Miri."Bookmark here

Miri looked at Horace and spoke quietly, "I don't care about any jobs right now. I'm after a woman from the Blades of Malice. Her name is Nana. I need to avenge Esca. Do you know anything?"Bookmark here

Horace replied, "Unfortunately, no. But would Esca want this?"Bookmark here

Miri replied after some deliberation within herself, "Maybe this won't remove my pain… but it's a fact that the Malice are up to no good. They have a green stone that's very dangerous; I need to find out what they are scheming."Bookmark here

Horace looked over at the resting area and then at the bar, pointed his hand in their direction, and said, "Perhaps they can help you."Bookmark here

Miri nodded and concurred at the proposition.Bookmark here

Amalia had been listening quietly so far, but now she had questions. She raised her hand, and said, "What does a guild do?" she asked.Bookmark here

Horace looked over at the innocent girl standing next to Miri, and replied, "Clients post jobs on that board, and adventurers like Miri get paid to do those jobs. Hope that made sense, little girl. What's your name by the way? I'm Horace."Bookmark here

"I'm Amalia, a healer from Twilight Sanctum. I just graduated recently and I want to explore the whole world! Can I join the guild too?"Bookmark here

Miri and Horace both looked at Amalia, puzzled at her desire for such a job. Horace replied, "Well, healers are always welcome at any party but are you sure? It can be dangerous sometimes." Amalia reminded Horace too much of his daughter. "She's too fragile and innocent," he thought to himself.Bookmark here

Miri's response was more blunt, "I am opposed to this. You followed me all the way here, but it will be different once we leave Charlo. There will be fights and people will die. You aren't ready."Bookmark here

Amalia looked sad but said, "I'll try hard! Plus, you need me! I can heal you!"Bookmark here

Miri responded, "When Esca joined the Advent a year ago, she was the same age as you. We fought together but I couldn't do anything. Your life is not safe with me."Bookmark here

Amalia declared boldly, "Then I will protect myself."Bookmark here

Miri raised an eyebrow, "With what? You don't even know how to use a sword or a bow."Bookmark here

Amalia looked down at the floor in disappointment.Bookmark here

Horace coughed and replied, "Perhaps… you can get her a proper weapon?", as he looked over at Miri, expecting a response.Bookmark here

Miri shook her head and looked over at Amalia with a stern expression, "Fine. You can join Advent and do jobs with me but I have a few rules that you'll need to follow. If you can't do it, I'll leave you here."Bookmark here

Amalia smiled and jumped for joy. Then, Horace gave her a more in-depth explanation of how jobs were accepted, completed and money was paid. Afterwards, he handed Amalia an Iron badge, the mark of a rookie in Advent.Bookmark here

Afterwards, Miri said, "Okay. Now that we have settled this let's go ask around about the Blades of Malice."Bookmark here

They did not have to do any asking because a young, black-haired man with a scraggly beard, wearing leather armor had overheard them and was walking towards them. "Greetings, my name is Teo. I heard you're looking for information about the Blades of Malice. I may be of some assistance," said the man, casually, as if it was not important.Bookmark here

Miri looked skeptical, but replied, "Okay. What tidings do you bear?"Bookmark here

"A friend of mine says he spotted a group of red-cloaked individuals in the dusk mountains, to the west of Charlo. One of them was carrying a peculiar green stone. They're probably plotting something as we speak!" said Teo.Bookmark here

Miri glanced over at Amalia and Horace, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "It could be worth looking into. I don't have any other leads."Bookmark here

"Let me make this an official job from the guild. Those guys are bad for the guild and the community. Fifty silvers for valuable information about the Malice's real intentions."Bookmark here

"Thanks, Horace. I was willing to do this for free, but we can always use extra money."Bookmark here

"Make those red-cloaks pay!" said Teo happily.Bookmark here

"We will. Thank you, sir," said Miri.Bookmark here

Miri and Amalia said farewell to Horace and Teo and walked outside the guild doors. Their destination had been determined. Miri knew they had to act quick; her Kali powers would disappear soon and defeating Nana as a normal human might not be possible. Miri looked over at Amalia and said, "Remember how I said that you need to follow my rules? I'll only take you under two conditions; you must do both or I won't take you with me."Bookmark here

Amalia froze up and slowly looked at Miri. Amalia was a little taller than Miri, but the latter was certainly more imposing. "What do I need to do?" she asked hesitantly.Bookmark here

"Condition #1: You must learn to ride a horse within the next six hours. Prove to me that you aren't scared and that it won't knock you off. We need to travel quickly, so I can't have you slowing me down. No more walking," announced Miri. Then, she continued by saying, "Condition #2: I am buying you a weapon. You need to learn to defend yourself. I will not always be able to guard you during battles."Bookmark here

Amalia looked at Miri with an overwhelmed expression on her face. "Okay," was all that she could say.Bookmark here

The two girls walked towards the stables across the street, and Miri called out to a tall man that sold horses: "We're going to need two good horses later today. But, before we leave, I need you to teach this one how to ride a horse."Bookmark here

The tall, brown-haired man replied, "Sure. It'll cost you a bit extra, but we can arrange for some lessons for that girl over there."Bookmark here

For the next few hours, Amalia struggled with her horse, falling off several times because she angered the horse and several other times because she got dizzy. Eventually, she finally got used to her horse and the horse learned to tolerate Amalia's constant fidgeting.Bookmark here

"Hurray!" said Amalia joyfully, raising both hands in the air.Bookmark here

Miri smiled and said, "Step 1 is complete. Good job, Amalia."Bookmark here

The girls thanked the man and said they would be back soon to pick up their horses. Miri and Amalia then went to a store on a street behind the guild; the store's appearance was ominous from the outside, everything was black, except for the dusty windows.Bookmark here

They stepped inside and saw a wide array of weapons, shields, and other items designed for combat use. The middle-aged owner stood behind the table, smiling at them. He had dark-black hair, a brown left eye, and a black eyepatch over the right one. He was well-known in Charlo as a blacksmith. He was Madai, the Advent's weapons dealer of choice.Bookmark here

"Welcome! How can I help you girls?" asked the man in his deep and gruff voice.Bookmark here

"Can you suggest a good weapon for my friend here, Madai?" answered Miri.Bookmark here

Madai scanned the young girl from head to toe and replied, "She looks a bit too fragile. Definitely not an axe or lance. Maybe a dagger?" He pulled out a large steel dagger and put it on the table in front of him.Bookmark here

Amalia looked at the sharp object with fear in her eyes. Miri noticed this and said, "You're going to need a weapon. That's the rule." She moved closer to Amalia, leaned over, and put her hand on Amalia's cheek, and said, "It's a cruel world out there. You have to be willing to hurt someone if you want to continue to walk with me. Our enemies won't hesitate to kill you. You must learn to hold a weapon with confidence as soon as possible."Bookmark here

Miri looked at Madai, and said, "Do you have anything built for mages? She was trained at the sanctum so she must know how to use holy magic, even if she has never used it to attack."Bookmark here

Amalia responded, sounding embarrassed, "We learned it, but I was never good at it. I could barely make a small beam of light."Bookmark here

"Well. You're going to have to learn that too; don't stop practicing. Adventurers need to learn all sorts of skills and take advantage of their natural talents. Not everyone can use magic; you must value your gifts, Amalia!" said Miri, trying to motivate her friend.Bookmark here

Madai coughed and interrupted, "Yes, we do indeed have some magical weapons. I think this one would be the most appropriate." He said this as he presented a white rod attached to a steel ball. "I present to you the 'Holy Flail'," he said, admiring the weapon before him.Bookmark here

Amalia's fear now transitioned to the new monstrosity before her. She had never seen so many spikes before. Miri sighed in response to Amalia's behavior and asked Madai, "What does it do?"Bookmark here

"It channels holy energy, growing with the user. In the hands of a rookie, it's weak. But it can potentially become very devastating," responded Madai.Bookmark here

"Do you hear that, Amalia? It's perfect for you," said Miri.Bookmark here

Amalia moved closer to the flail and stared at it, and said, "We were taught not to hurt anyone at the sanctum. How can I use this?"Bookmark here

Miri walked over to her and said, "That type of thinking doesn't work outside the sanctum and you don't have to kill anyone, only hurt them. Use that flail and trip them, break their legs and keep them from moving. That's all you need to do to defend yourself from harm." Miri was running out of ideas to try and persuade Amalia.Bookmark here

Amalia kept looking skeptically at the weapon. She picked it up and held it; the flail was not very heavy. She looked over at Miri, pleading for another solution.Bookmark here

Miri responded sternly, "That's rule #2. Pacifism is not allowed. You might even have to fight dirty. Anything goes if you want to survive. I understand that even better now after returning from the Emerald Jungle." Miri had grown tired of trying to get Amalia to understand.Bookmark here

Amalia shook in fear but tried to maintain a brave demeanor. "I'll do it! I'll learn how to use holy magic and this ball of spikes!" she said, stammering.Bookmark here

"Good!" said Miri, like a proud mother.Bookmark here

"That will be ten silvers," said Madai.Bookmark here

"Expensive, but I know that you charge a fair price. It must be a good weapon," said Miri. She looked over at Amalia and said, "You can pay me once we start earning some money."Bookmark here

Amalia nodded meekly and said not a word. She was anxious to see what the future had in store for them. She was scared, but she wanted to grow stronger.Bookmark here

Miri paid the money, thanked Madai and they both left the store. Then, they returned to the guild and got their belongings. The girls double-checked everything and said goodbye to Horace. All that remained was to get their horses and leave Charlo.Bookmark here

They started riding westward at top speed as soon as they left the city. Amalia had a hard time keeping up but mustered the strength to keep going. After one day's travel, they arrived in the Dusk Mountains. Miri and Amalia needed to hurry; In just a few days, Miri's Kali powers were going to disappear.Bookmark here

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