Chapter 2:

Ch. 2: The Combat Exam

The Adventurer, Amaris

After Durin and I assumed positions at opposite sides of the ring, Miss Lorna begun her explanation, "The first one to land a simulated killing blow wins. Minor injury is acceptable. Anythin' beyond that will be a violation of contract. Any major injuries will disqualify you. You will be added to a blacklist and be unable to join any Adventurer's Guild going forth. I will be your observer for this match. When you're ready to begin, draw your weapons. The match will start on my call."

Across from me, Durin hefted his sword, which remained sheathed. Following his example, I unclipped the sheathes for my daggers and dropped into a fighting stance. Emotion that I couldn't quite identify flickered across his face.

"Are you sure you don't want to draw your blades? My sword isn't good at not inflicting severe injuries."

"I don't… mind. Daggers… can be just as lethal. I-I have to target the vitals or tendons."

His face relaxed a bit at that, but he still appeared tense. Miss Lorna smiled in what I can only assume is approval. She raised her arm into the air, shouting, "Start!"

I pushed off from the ground, hoping to use my smaller stature against him. Since Durin is obviously a seasoned adventurer, I doubt I can hope to be faster than him. I'm not incapable, but I know better than to hope to be able to compare to someone with that much combat experience. He raised his sword even higher and swung.

It was pure luck that I dodged as I moved to circle around him. His armor covered his chest, but his sides were left unprotected by it. I leaned in, jabbing my dagger into it. I pushed my weight up into the thrust as I dragged it across the exposed region before skittering back in an attempt to keep out of reach.

However, he was just as fast as I had anticipated, if not faster, and I realized my mistake as his sword came towards me with ferocious intensity. I tried to redirect the strike, but although it was only glancing, I could feel the force of it up my arms. The sudden pins and needles sensation was intensely uncomfortable, and it was all I could do not to drop my weapons.

It had been a close call. I could probably only take a few strikes before I'd be unable to continue, even if it barely clips me.
I dove back towards him, moving under his blade as he began to lift it for another swing. I forced my dagger into his just-as-unprotected stomach and ripped it across. Had my daggers not been sheathed, his internal organs would be spilling out, assuming, of course, that I was able to provide enough force into my attack.

However, almost in tandem, I was knocked off my feet as my vision flashes white and pain consumes the side of my head. He must have struck me using the hilt. I rolled and propelled myself back to my feet, but the throbbing pain kept me unsteady. The image of him standing before me wavered, and I knew that, had this been a real fight, I would not have won.

"Finished!" Miss Lorna interjected, her voice a sharp contrast to the earlier sounds of sheathe against flesh, "Good job, both of you. Durin, you could have been a little gentler. She's still just a child."

As she said that, the tension left my body, and I collapsed into a heap on the ground, panting. "Ha… Ha… Ha…"

Durin was skilled. I had no doubt in my mind about that before the match, but I couldn't help but think I had still been overly cocky and overestimated myself. It was all too possible that he had purposefully let me in close in order to guarantee a hit on me. Had this not been mock combat, I'm certain that my last attack would have only grazed him, and I would have been dead before I had done any sort of real damage.

"It was a close match. However, you struck him in the stomach before he struck you," Miss Lorna said, her voice light before getting heavier, "Are you okay? We should probably do something about the blood…"

I touched my head where I'd been hit, and sure enough, it came away wet and sticky, red with my own blood. I felt my stomach churning at the sight of it, "I-I'm okay… I think."

"…Had I struck you first, you still would have won. Seeing as how you're still alive, it obviously wasn't a killing blow," Durin spoke up.

"Durin! Don't tell me you actually tried to kill the poor girl!"

"I wasn't expecting that last blow and lost control. I'm sorry," He said, bowing his head to me.

I frowned at his statement. Even I could tell he had been going easy on me and had no doubt been expecting all of my movements. However, I wasn't about to deny the rope he was throwing to me.

"N-no… It's fine. I-it h-happens sometimes, so… Please don't worry about it," I said, having caught my breath. "It's already… Starting to not hurt."

I started to stand back up, when a gentle but strong hand forced me back down. I looked up to see it was the young man from earlier.

"That was a good fight. Good job, but you took a pretty nasty hit. If you want to live as an adventurer, you have to properly take care of your injuries. You wouldn't want to die because you underestimated a wound, right?" He flashed a brilliant smile, and somehow I couldn't bring myself to meet his eyes.

He's right. Taking proper care of injuries is one of the basics. How can I be an adventurer if I can't manage that?

"Sit still. I'll take care of it for you," He said as he crouched down next to me. Only now did I notice the bucket full of water and the medical supplies he had in his hands, "I'm not a healer, but… Well, this should work."

He took a cloth into his hand, wetting it in the bucket, before wringing most of the water out. He gently pressed it against the wound, washing away the blood.

"I-I'm sorry… Thank… you for your… h-help," I whispered.

He continued to clean the wound before introducing himself, "I'm Ruven. I've been with the guild for three years now."

"Y-you can call me… Ami."

"Well, it looks like today is your lucky day, Ami. You're not going to need stitches or even bandages," He grinned as he stood up.

He helped me up; I was still a little shaky, but it was much better than it had been before. Miss Lorna and Durin, who had been in a heated conversation while Ruven was helping me, walked over to us.

"I'm really sorry about that; I'll try to be more careful next time," Durin apologized again. His brows were knit together; his remorse showed clearly on his face.

"It's r-really not a big deal… P-please don't worry a-about it," I assured him.

Maybe it doesn't sound very reassuring because of the way I speak, but I haven't spoken to anyone in such a long time. I think I almost forgot how. It's not something I'm used to anymore.

"If you're ready, we can head back inside and finish your registration, Ami," Miss Lorna said, smiling pleasantly.

Thank goodness… She's kind of scary when she isn't smiling… I nodded, "Alright, I'd like to complete it as soon as possible."

An hour later, the paperwork was complete. It was official. I was now an F rank adventurer! I couldn't help but smile at Miss Lorna as she congratulated me. I wanted to take on a request as soon as possible, but she told me it'd be best if I waited until tomorrow.

I guess one more night of sleeping outside won't make that much of a difference… I reluctantly agreed before heading out of the guildhall for the day. While the sun wasn't quite starting to set, it was hanging awfully low in the sky already. I had spent far more time at the Guild than I had realized.

However, I had finally, after all these years, secured a stable – stable enough – means of income. One day, I won't have to worry about how much coin I have left. I'll have enough to afford to sleep somewhere with a roof over my head every day!

I walked a short distance away from the Guild, before stepping into a small alley that blocked me from view, and counted my remaining coins. Three bronze… I'm lucky. Just enough left to eat something today.

With pep in my step, I headed off towards the market stalls. The closer I got to the market, the nicer the buildings became. It was evident that the Adventurer's Guild was in a more neglected part of the city. It wasn't as bad as the slums, but it wasn't the type of place mothers would let their children play unsupervised.

Adventurers, while they played an important role in the economy, aren't always viewed in the best light. Typically, however, they're just below merchants and artisans, which makes sense. Adventurers are essentially swords for hire. They frequently act as mercenaries, hired guards, amongst other roles, and many materials pass through their hands before going to the merchants and artisans.

On the other hand, the market stalls were set up in a much nicer area but not as nice as the noble district. The noble district is home to various noble families, and access is restricted to it. Since nobles reside there, it is second only to the Lord's mansion. That being said, it's not like the nobles are there all the time.

The district is mostly just a few seasonal homes. I've heard that the districts in the capital are much more impressive.
Inns and storefronts lined the roads here, and the stalls crowded nearly every other available space.

At this time of day, the area was crowded, and I held tight to my purse. It'd be easy for someone to slip past me and pluck it from my person if I wasn't careful. Eventually, I came to a stall selling cheap skewers of undisclosed monster meat. Judging by the price, it was probably something most would turn their noses up at. I bought one skewer for two bronze coins and a chunk of stale bread with my last coin.

Tomorrow, I would have to take, and complete, at least one request from the Guild, or I would go hungry.

It wouldn't be the first time that I went without food, and if need be, I could always snag a purse from someone else. I don't like stealing though. It makes me feel dirty and like a bigger failure than I already am.

I'm supposed to protect the people, not make their lives harder…or, at least, I was supposed to… I guess it doesn't matter anymore. I shook my head, trying to clear the dark thoughts. When it first happened, those types of thoughts had consumed me, and I became overwhelmed with the idea that nothing mattered anymore. While I wasn't entirely out of that place anymore, I didn't want to sink further into it and render all my hard work for naught.

The skewer smelled appetizing, but upon actually biting into it, it was very chewy with an almost gummy, springy texture. The meat wasn't quite dry, but it wasn't moist either. The flavor was reminiscent of a very gamey chicken crossed with venison. It wasn't the worst thing I'd eaten, but it wasn't the best. It would've been better hot, but beggars aren't choosers.

The bread was darker in color with little pieces of grains and seeds baked into it. It may have been stale and just be the day's scraps, but I felt a surge of appreciation as I bit into it. It was flavourful, and the contrasting textures were enjoyable.

Not only that, but this kind of bread was more nutritional. I've heard that adventurers have to eat large quantities of highly nutritional food to maintain their strength for combat. I tried to resist, but a small smile found its way to my face anyway. With this, maybe I was that much closer to being like real adventurers…

When I was younger, I hadn't known adventurers existed, but they do. They're everywhere, and I'm sure most can't imagine life without them. As I got a little older, I learned to look down on them for being filthy and uncivilized brutes, below even merchants.

It seemed to me that they were little more than lowly peasants who were trying too hard at playing knights for people who couldn't make the cut. However… I learned first-hand how closed minded that was of me and everyone else who thought like me, those who had imparted those notions in me to begin with.

Adventurers are admirable. They fight when no one else has the strength to, and the strongest amongst them is easily a match for the strongest of knights. They are protectors, whether it be protectors of their way of life, their values, friends and family, or something else entirely.

One day, I hope to be strong enough to protect the things that are important to me. Actually, an adventurer saved my life, but that was several, several years ago now. I had said a lot of hurtful things to them, too… In the end, they ended up succumbing to the injuries they had garnered from rescuing me, but they had clung to life for well over a year, bedridden.

It was during this time that I learned much that I know now; though they were slowly dying because of me, they still took me in. Back then, I had nowhere else to go, having just lost the place I once called home.