A distant murmur up ahead flooded my ears as I hid behind the closest tree I could find.
I had just exited the dungeon a few steps ago and right back in the spot that I had left behind when entering the portal. It was some distance off from the entrance gate near the western edges of the First Floor.
I peeked around the corner of the cedar-shaded tree at a group of people trudging through the fields. They looked utterly exhausted, hauling large-grade equipment and supplies on their backs.
Four…five of them in total, they must be in a party together. That equipment looks expensive though, that’s not normal for the first Floor.
The spot we were in wasn’t by any means close to the pathway leading to the next Floor, if anything it was closer to being in the opposite direction entirely. Meaning that they weren't heading in or out, they were exploring the Floor with that equipment.
An emblem over their armour grabbed my gaze, it was the familiar symbol of a knight's helmet surrounded by laurel wreath.
“I recognise that… They’re from Titan’s Helm!” After blurting out my surprise I covered my mouth and forced myself behind the tree.
After a moment of anticipation expecting someone to come after me I peeked around once more and saw that they stood still in the fields talking amongst themselves.
I thought I was a goner for sure…the Goddess of Creation must be smiling upon me after all.
Still, anyone would be surprised if they saw Titans Helm up close, they’re the second-highest-ranked guild!
It’s not like I would go so far as to call myself a crazy fanboy but even I can respect the amazing feats they have accomplished within Istoria. They hold countless dungeon records and possess some of the most popular adventurers within their ranks.
Their guild is officially ranked second by ASH, which practically makes them celebrities, especially their newest recruit, Olivia Fortis. I don’t know much about her because she tends to stay outside of the public eye but she seems to be a powerful fighter, to put it lightly.
I don’t see her with this group though…just as well though, I can’t imagine the youngest Gold-ranked adventurer to be trifling through the fields of the First Floor. Which brings me back to my original question of why they are here and dressed so heavily.
“Alright team nothing on this end either, we should search further North before taking a break.” A young man dressed in white robes spoke out as he pointed to the distance with an ancient-looking lantern.
Like the others in the group, he was quite young and probably only a few years older than I am. From the tacky lantern, I would probably guess he is a mage. Not even so much as a weapon on him.
The rest of their group groaned like tired children as they followed his aim. It wasn’t that he commanded them heartlessly, they just appeared to be as worn out as I was.
“I know it’s a lot but we have our orders from the higher-ups. This is what the D squad has to do from time to time.” He replied to their audible moans with the sympathetic look a father might give.
D squad must be their group, then there might be others around here too. I know that their guild is large but to be able to split their ranks into multiple groups with expensive equipment would mean they probably have some serious numbers backing them.
One member halted and turned to the young man, pointing into his face vindictively. Unlike the mage, this one was dressed in dark armour and carried a sword and shield at his waist.
“Are you stupid or something blondie, there’s no point in all of this walking! I’m not taking another step, there’s no way that thing could be out here in the first place. It would have had to migrate to a higher floor since there are fewer people there.” The warrior shouted with his finger still in the mage's face.
Based on a glance I would have guessed him to be a year or two older than me but from his attitude alone I would have mistaken him for a child.
I bet he’s one of those strong build but weak head kind of guys, seems like trouble…
The mage swatted the warrior's finger away and let out an audible sigh. “Look, I’m tired too Raf but we’re in a guild alright. We don’t get to just goof around as we please like a regular party would, as party leader I need to make sure we get things done.”
“Well you’re not my leader, I could take you down without using my sword!” He shouted back angrily.
The other mage of the group walked over to Raf with a cherry smile and placed her hand on his shoulder. Besides the wooden staff in her hand, she was completely dressed in pink.
“Commander Heath is right, we should be working hard to clear our work for the day Raf.”
Raf angrily shrugged off her hand and pouted like a child.
“You’re only saying that 'cause you have a thing for that useless healer.” Raf barked as he pointed to Heath.
The rosy young woman flared up with a bright shade of red over her face and was ready to strike him. She stopped in her tracks when the last member in the back suddenly spoke out, ending their silence.
“Maybe Raf needs a break since he can’t keep up? I’ve heard that you only got into the D-squad off of a third attempt after all.” The member causing Raf to foam at the mouth was an archer and who I could only assume is the oldest of the party. He was the only one with a noticeable patch of hair on his chin and an aged expression between his eyes.
“What did you say, geezer?! Don’t think I’m afraid to hit you cuz yer in my guild!” Raf yelled angrily while drawing his sword.
Heath jumped with his hands gesturing for them to settle down. “Calm down everyone, we’re still a team.”
They seem to have their fair share of problems too; still, it bothers me that they would be looking for something here. They mentioned something that could move to the higher floors, they couldn't possibly mean…
I suddenly snapped out of my thought as the group began shifting amongst each other. That Raf guy seemed to be going berserk the further the archer egged him on.
“Maybe I should let them deal with things here…” I pulled away from the tree but my eyes took one last look back as the image didn’t seem quite right to me. “I swear I counted five of them before.”
The cold sensation of steel pressed onto my neck, causing me to cringe my cheeks back with anxiety. My heart began to race, I was worried it was beating loud enough for them to hear me.
“Should I consider you an enemy or an idiot for spying on us, from right under our noses?” A silvery voice asked from over my shoulder.
I didn’t sense a thing, did one of them sneak out from the group without being noticed? I didn’t think anyone could be that unnoticed.
“I’ll give you 5 seconds before I drop my hold and pull the dagger right across your neck. I would hurry since my arm is getting pretty tired~”
The subtle sound of the steel shifting triggered my nerves to be sent on edge- no, closer to being sent straight off the edge!
“I just felt nervous about seeing Titans Hand s-so, I didn’t want to just walk up to you guys!” My words began to mumble each time her dagger pulled in gently against my throat.
“I love the sound of a racing heartbeat, I guess you must be a liar~” The voice whispered into my ear elatedly.
This voice…it’s cold and menacing but it sounds soft on the ears, sort of like a woman’s?
“Haze, what are you doing with that kid?” The blonde leader of Squad-D asked as he approached us.
He didn’t seem all that surprised at the fact that her dagger was pressed up against my throat. What situation did I just get myself into?
“This isn't the time to be messing around, I just told off Raf for halting the mission~” Heath spoke with a stern yet warm tone, showing how familiar they were.
“Can you cut him up quickly, I want to get out of here already!” Raf yelled from the back.
“D-don’t cut up anything!” I begged with a teary shriek.
“Can I please leader…I reeeally want to feel my knives carve him up~” Haze begged with her grip still firm on the blade.
“We’re not cutting anyone!!” Heath snapped back with a terrified expression.
Thank the Goddess that there’s a voice of reason among them!
“So what were you doing then kid, things are looking a little grey for you as it stands.” Heath tilted his head with a curious expression.
Haze released me, sheathing her blade back into her sleeve with a fast retraction. Based on those tight-fit clothes and silent movements she would have to be an assassin. I glanced back at her and was surprised at the result.
Besides the dreary black clothing beneath her grey cloak, she had silky black hair tied up neatly into a bun with beautiful blue eyes. Who knows, if she wasn’t so bloodthirsty she might have been quite the talk of the town.
I better come up with something good or else I might find myself in more trouble.
“My name is Rei, I was just heading back to the Entrance when I saw your emblem. I didn’t think I could just walk up to you, cause you’re the Titan Helm. Big guilds are pretty busy so I decided to have a quick peak and then leave.” My voice was calm and had a slight sound of panic behind it.
I’ll have to stick to the truth, I don’t know if it’s a skill but that assassin will notice straight away.
A pair of sharp eyes fell over me, she was staring daggers at the back of my neck.
“Are you sure you weren't just eavesdropping on our little conversation?” A menacing voice poured into my ear.
Dammit she’s on to me, if I lie now she’ll get me for sure. I was a little shy to go up to them but their conversation was the real reason I stayed back…I guess I was kind of eavesdropping on them.
The tip of her knife drew out from her sleeve, reflecting a glimmer of light from its cold steel tip.
“The truth is…I…I-” All eyes were peering at me with full attention, carrying a massive weight behind them. “…I’ve wanted to join your guild for the longest time!!”
“Pffft! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! This kids hilarious, we have a fanboy!” Raf gripped hold of his sides from the uncontrollable laughter pouring out. He placed a hand on the tree and another on the young mage girl as he continued bursting with laughter.
Heath cringed back and glanced over to Haze for confirmation, where she then nodded her head with disappointment filling her face. She looked genuinely sad as the blade retracted back into her sleeve.
“Uh…well, keep training and one day maybe you could…uh let’s go. Sorry, we’re really busy and all…” Heath awkwardly grabbed his party members and escaped from the conversation.
By the time they were out of sight, I grabbed hold of the sides of my head and dropped to my knees. Tears filled my eyes as I began to clench my teeth so hard that they felt as if they could break.
It was a dream of mine to join a guild like there’s ever since I was a kid but I kind of outgrew it not too long ago. Dammit, why did that have to happen to me!!