Chapter 2:

Prologue

Fortuna: Grand Company of Adventure


“The crew’s all together, then.”


The man sitting at the head of the table gave a radiant smile as he said this, one that quickly spread onto the faces of everyone gathered before him. If the camaraderie suffusing the air had been warm and inviting before, it now billowed like the flames of an open hearth, filling the room with its delightful glow.


The man cast his gaze over his friends – no, his family – whose eyes were now firmly fixed upon him. Including himself, there were nine people packed into the tiny room: three men and six women, all brilliant warriors and among the strongest mercenaries in the land.


Perhaps it had been luck. Perhaps it had been fate. But perhaps, and most likely, it had been some combination of the two that had brought this unlikely group of people together.


They counted among them a young, prodigious spellsword; an accomplished female knight; a renowned healer; a perceptive wood elf ranger; a dragon priest (who happened to be amazing at cooking); a shaman from the steppes; a big, burly snow elf; a warrior from beyond the Eastern seas; and then, of course, the man at the head of the table – their leader and strategist.


They were all looking at this leader now. Everyone’s eyes were expectant, and their excitement was palpable. Today, they would begin the transition from being a band of individual sellswords to a single, organized mercenary company. Such an entity was the first of its kind, and they couldn’t help but feel enthused over its imminent creation.

As if pushed on by the weight of their stares, the leader reached down at his side and, after a brief moment of rummaging, pulled a roll of paper and a fountain pen from his bag. He placed the items down before him and unfurled the former with a single stroke of his hand.


He cleared his throat.


“Everything herein should be written as we’ve discussed. This formalizes our agreement to move forward... to move forward as one.”


He turned the paper around on the table so that it was right-side-up for the others.


“Please read it carefully. I know there are a lot of words, but this is important!”


He picked the pen back up and pointed to the bottom of the document.


“And if it all looks fine, I’d like you to sign your name here.”


He placed the pen on the paper and slid it over to the girl on his right. Wearing a charming expression on her exotic-looking face, the recipient nodded her thanks and oriented the items before her. She took her time reading; it seemed that the local language was somewhat new to her. Having expected this, the others waited patiently as she made her way through the mass of text.


When she was done, she uncapped the pen and signed using her native script. Then, she passed it on.


“Still can’t believe these pictures mean words.”


Someone snorted at this strangely-phrased sentence. The girl sighed.


Snickering, the person next to her shifted their attention back to the matter at hand.


And like so, it went on; the pen and paper made their way around the room, the person at each stop taking their time before carefully giving assent. Soon enough, the paper ended up back where it had started, eight signatures richer for all its trouble.


“And now for number 9…”


The leader hunched over and took his turn, sitting up straight when he was finished.


He rolled his shoulders.


“Now then, it’s time we picked a name for our motley little crew.”


The silence that followed was broken only by the occasional tap or hum. Everyone was deep in thought. Of course, they all already had at least a few names in mind. However, they all felt it was best to first reassure themselves that their ideas weren’t actually stupid, now that the time to share them had finally come.


About a minute later, a girl sitting at the end of the table, the lively ranger, spoke up. She was practically bouncing as she did so.


“Hmm. We’re the first of our kind, right? So we’re pioneers, breaking out into an unknown world! Breaking out… Breakout... Out breaking… Oh! How about calling ourselves the Outbreak Company?”


The room returned to silence.


“Nah, I don’t think so. I’ve definitely heard that name somewhere before.”


Shut down.


A murmur of agreement went around the table. Hearing this, the ranger frowned dejectedly and lowered her gaze. The woman sitting next to her gently patted her head.


The shaman, her blonde hair whipping across her shoulders as she suddenly turned to look towards the head of the table, was the next to speak. Her left eye sparkled brightly.


“How about naming ourselves after Fortuna? In ancient times, she was worshipped as the goddess of luck and wealth, both things I’m sure we’d welcome with open arms.”


The others slowly nodded in affirmation, rather impressed by this idea, though at least one of them had their doubts.


“But wouldn’t carelessly taking on the name of a goddess bring us misfortune?”


“Ha! That’s blasphemy, ain’t it?”


The snow elf was pointing meaningfully upwards with his right hand, and slammed down his mug with his left. Beer splattered onto the wooden table, and a bit of spittle flew from the elf’s lips as he shouted. His expression was a teasing one, though it was clear that his retort was not entirely meant as a joke.


The girl who had voiced her concerns looked down sheepishly as she realized her mistake. The blood drained from her face and her complexion grew pale. Fearing a god that did not exist… Indeed, that had been blasphemy, and blasphemy was not treated lightly before the law…


When he realized the girl had taken his words too much to heart, the snow elf quickly made to try and comfort her, reaching across the room to pat her on the shoulder. Drunk as he was, however, he completely misjudged the distance and fell over forwards.


His head – and then, in turn, his heavy body – caused the table below him to groan in despair. Twice.


Thankfully, the carpenters in the area were reasonably skilled, and the table did not give way.


The room erupted in laughter (and someone quietly muttered “not again…”), though the man sitting closest to where the unconscious elf’s head now lay buried his face in his hands. This king of thing was, indeed, a fairly regular occurrence, and no one there thought any less of the elf as a result of it. Nonetheless, he still found himself feeling quite embarrassed for his dear friend.


He sighed before clapping his hands together. “So, Fortuna it is?”


The group slowly shed their merriment, exchanged looks with each other and, after a few moments of this, reached a silent agreement.


They turned to look at their leader.


“Doesn’t seem like anyone objects.”


No one spoke in opposition to this statement, and their leader, the strategist, eyed everyone one last time before picking the pen back up.


“And so it shall be.”


He uncapped the pen and brought its tip down. He began to write in beautiful cursive script; word came after word, each one breathing new life into the room.


And then – as quickly as one year gives way to the next, where a moment is over before one might expect it – he was done. He placed the pen down and raised the paper triumphantly before him.

“From this day forward, we are Fortuna, the Grand Company of Adventure!”


“Oooooooh.”


A pause.


“Someone make sure to tell him in the morning, eh?”


They all followed his gaze, until their eyes rested on the motionless snow elf sprawled out between them. The group stood briefly in a moment of silence, beholding this glorious figure.


“Wait, he’s breathing, right?”


Someone gave the elf a good punch in the side, and the elf groaned mournfully in response.


“Yeah. He’s breathing.”


A girl’s giggle soon turned into a guffaw, and the room was once again filled with the sound of laughter.


Their leader did not join in, but he was beaming once more.


He turned to look at the woman sitting to his left. Their eyes met. They were brother and sister and, though neither of them were speaking, they shared a tender moment. They each recalled the dark past that they had overcome together, and each silently thanked the other – and the gods – for the joy that they had finally found for themselves.


In that moment, surrounded by their friends and with hope in their hearts, they felt as if the heavens had finally seen fit to bless them for a change.


The future is bright, the two of them thought.


And they were right.


For on that night, in that small, dimly lit room, a legend had been born.