It was an ordinary day in the metropolitan city of Negav. The bustling streets were abuzz with constant noise, shouts, and thousands of conversations all happening at once. Adventurers returning from their latest journey recounted outlandish tales of "great bravery and heroic valor" to an audience too inebriated to properly distinguish between fiction and reality. Merchants shouted at the top of their voice from behind their stalls, either promoting their ware on display or haggling feverishly with customers demanding an unreasonable discount.
However, not all was well today. An ear-splitting scream rang from a small marketplace in the Lower Tier. A mob of panicking pedestrians raced down what was normally a busy street.
"Thieves are looting the market!"
"Let's get out of here!"
Four armed thugs garbed in tattered armor ran from store to store, ransacking them of all their valuables. With greedy hands, the men emptied entire barrels of fresh food at once, tossed exotic clay vases in their large burlap bags, and stole the money the merchants had just recently profited. In mere moments, the pavement became littered with fruits, cheese wheels, and broken shards that used to be expensive ceramic. The beleaguered merchants could do nothing but cower in fear, too dumbstruck to flee as their livelihood was being taken right before their eyes.
"Come on, boys, hurry it up before the fuzz shows up!" shouted their boss, a huge man sporting wicked scars across his face and armed with a battle axe.
At that moment, two figures clad in gleaming armor arrived at the scene. One was a young man in his early twenties with comely jade eyes and carrying a sword along with a kite shield, and the other, a bearded, somewhat portly fellow armed with a long winged spear. On the breast of their cuirass shone a brass fist-sized star bearing a single open eye with the initials N.P.D.
"Halt! Police!" hollered Daguero, the tall spear fighter.
"Put your hands up and get down!" bellowed Sean, the swordsman.
The thugs turned to the two individuals standing at the end of the street. "Huh? How the hell did they get here so quickly?" The leader of the thugs flashed as sinister grin. "Oh, but there's just two of 'em, huh? Guess I had nuthin' to worry about after all." Chuckling, the boss dropped his bag of loot and turned to his minions. "Up and at 'em, boys! Let's kill 'em both!"
The other brigands dropped their own bags and then charged headlong into the officers. Undaunted, Sean and Dagg answered with a charge of their own. It seemed that apprehending them alive might not be an possible. Dagg thrust his spear forward, impaling one of the robbers in the gut before he had a chance to get in attack range. Two thugs came swinging at Sean. Sean bashed them both with his tall shield, their weapons harmlessly glancing off, and then slashed one his opponents across the chest while he was still reeling. His sharp blade sliced through the brigand's rusty armor with ease.
Two of his men had already been bested and lay bleeding on the pavement, but the bandit chief did not lose his nerves or pull back. He and his remaining cohort quickly counterattacked while the two cops couldn't defend themselves. Dagg stepped back in time as the leader swung his axe wildly at him thanks to his weapon's superior reach, but Sean didn't react fast enough and his crony struck him directly on the head with a might overhead swing.
Sean staggered as the crook's axe hit his helmet with far more force than he expected. Thinking he had the advantage, the thief reared his axe while Sean was still reeling. Gritting his teeth, Sean forced his feet to remain planted on the ground and then swiftly parried his foe's attack with his shield before ramming his sword deep in the man's gut. Astonished, the looter dropped his axe and then crashed face first on the floor, blood gushing from his mouth and abdomen.
Rage and desperation mounting, the leader of the bandits gripped his axe in both hands and threw another wild swing at Dagg. But the boss didn't relent and immediately lunged for another attack. He threw swing after swing, brandishing his weapon like a madman. Dagg dodged and deflected blow after blow with the haft of his polearm. At that moment, one strike slipped past the burly officer's defenses and the wide crescent blade hit him right in the upper arm.
Dagg flinched, but his grip didn't falter as his spaulder absorbed most of the blow. The leader of the bandits charged for another attack. "You're mine now!"
Dagg quickly adjusted his grip on his spear, stepped forward, and thrust his blade in the thugs's chest. The thief shuddered and his axe slipped out of his hand. Dagg pulled his spear free and let his adversary fall to his knees. The boss clutched the gaping wound in his chest. With his last conscious breath, he gnashed his teeth together and glared at the policeman.
The last bandit collapsed, his armor clattering upon hitting the ground. The battle was won; all four brigands lay defeated on the floor. Dagg grit his teeth and clutched his upper arm. The robber's axe was much better made than he thought. He could feel a bit of blood seeping under his gambeson.
"Damn, that stings!" He looked at his partner. "You okay there, Sean?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Sean answered. "My head's spinning a little, is all." As he uttered those words, a thin stream of blood trickled down the side of his face.
"Something tells me you're bullshitting me." Dagg said with a sly smirk.
"It's nothing, just a flesh wound." he answered as he wiped the blood from his face. "More importantly, how's your arm?"
"It's alright, just a bruise."
"Somehow, I find it a little hard to believe. But you don't look like you're about to keel over to me, so I guess you'll be okay." Sean sheathed his sword and then reached for the small radio at his hip. "HQ, this is patrol officer Orrick. We encountered four armed men who were ransacking the market in the Fance District. The suspects have all been subdued, but we had to resort to using deadly force. Requesting immediate medical assistance."
"...Copy that, EMTs are on their way." answered the voice on the other side.
"Thanks. Over and out." Sean put his radio away and let out a long sigh. "This is gonna take a while to clean up."
Sean and Dagg turned around as they heard a female voice call their names. A pair of fellow officers came rushing into the now dilapidated market. One was a slim, but muscular dark-skinned woman armed with the same sword and shield as Sean. The other was a man with an arcane blue tattoo on his forehead and wearing a matching robe underneath his cuirass.
"Oh, Eve, Chad. Good to see you guys." said Sean.
"We heard your call about the commotion in the market and came running as fast as we could!" Eve said. "Is everything alright?"
"Yeah, everything's under control. We just finished dealing with those louts over here." Dagg answered, his thumb pointed at the unconscious crooks bleeding on the ground. "Got a little rocked during the fight, but nothing major. Chad, think you can stop their bleeding?"
"I'll see what I can do."
Chad walked over to the nearest thief. Crouching down, he lay his hand on his back and chanted a few words. His hand glowed with a faint mystical light. In that instant, the thug's blood stopped pouring out of his body as if his wound had been properly stitched by an unseen force. Chad walked from brigand to brigand, stabilizing each of their wounds. Though they had yet to regain consciousness, they should no longer be in danger of bleeding to death by the time the medics arrived.
"Is... is it over?"
A balding, wizened man stared outside the window of what until recently used to be a store. One by one, merchants and customers who couldn't escape in time peeked out from behind their hiding place, all of them drawn by the sudden quietness. The policemen could tell just looking at their trembling hands and the lack of color in their face that they were still shaken from the attack. Dagg walked over to the civilians whereupon he pointed at the star on his chest.
"It's alright, citizens!" he announced in a booming voice. "The bandits have already been dealt with. You got nothing to worry about anymore."
The civilians instantly recognized the insignia on Dagg's armor. "It's... it's the police!" The civilians all came out of hiding at once. No sooner than they stepped on the street, they saw the four hooligans that attacked the market, each one passed out on the pavement. "It's true! They're all dead!"
"You saved us!"
"Oh, thank goodness you came!"
Sean favored the civilians with an earnest smile. "Think nothing of it. We're just doing our job, is all. Oh, that reminds me." Sean grabbed one of the bags the thugs had dropped before the fight and then brought it over to the nearest merchant. "Here, this is part of what those bandits stole. I don't know what belongs to who, but we'll be happy to help you sort it all out."
"Thank you so much!" said one of the merchants.
"Like I said, don't mention it."
The four policemen went to work securing the scene of the crime, confiscating the suspects' weapons, and returning the stolen goods back to their rightful owners. Not one of them complained or grumbled about the menial tasks at hand. Although things appeared fine on the surface, the Negav Police Department was far from being the city's most respected institution. Its reputation among the citizens suffered a huge blow starting with the brutal regime of the former Metropolitan Security Division and the surge of infighting following its disbandment nearly twenty years ago. That's why Sean, Dagg, Eve and Chad had to grit their teeth, and show diligent and exemplary work.
After a minute or so, a vehicle whose frame was laced with shining electric blue veins descended from the sky. Painted in bold white and blue colors on both sides of its hull was the universal symbol of health and medicine. A team of medical technicians armed with stretchers and first aid kits stepped out of the ambulance's back doors and tended to the wounded robbers. As they loaded the suspects, a few medics met with Sean and Dagg, as well as a few of the merchants that were still around, and asked them for more information about what happened. They answered to the best of their abilities, although they knew little of the four suspects' motives. Still, information, even if sparse, was still useful. Once they loaded the last thug, the medics embarked on their flying ambulance and departed for the hospital. Sean, Dagg, Eve and Chad sighed in collective relief. That was one thing done and over with.
The four policemen guarded the market for several long hours. Though the sun still shone bright, evening would soon descend upon them. Then, a second police squad arrived to relieve Sean, Dagg, Eve and Chad so they could report back to headquarters. The four gladly entrusted their duty to them and headed back to the Middle Tier.
The chief of police attentively read his men's report. Four men ransacked a local market in the Fance District, presumably a band of mercenaries who had fallen on hard times if their rusty, tattered armor was anything to go by. Despite the shabby state of their gear, they were much better armed than expected, able to wound two officers in spite of their armor. With the exception of the four suspects, there were no casualties or wounded to report. Property damage, for the most part, was moderate and wouldn't be very difficult to cover. All in all, it was a fairly typical day with only one somewhat minor incident worth mentioning.
The police chief nodded and set the papers down on his desk. "Good work, you guys. You're dismissed."
"Thank you, sir."
Sean, Dagg, Eve and Chad took their leave and headed back home for the evening. Sean waved goodbye to his three colleagues as they left the building and then made his way to the nearest station on his lonesome. Since he lived all the way in the easternmost part of the Lower Tier, he rarely got to enjoy some company when returning home. The young man let out a long sigh as he walked through the crowded streets Negav was famous for, the pedestrians paying no heed to the man in full metal gear. Today's work was over and no major incident occurred. He should now be able to relax, but he couldn't. A particular thought gnawed at him, one he would never be able to forget no matter how hard he tried. As Sean was absentmindedly crossing a busy intersection up ahead, someone unexpectedly bumped into him.
"Oh! Sorry!" he exclaimed, returning back to reality. "I wasn't looking where I was going. Are you okay? Huh?"
The person in question regained her footing and looked at the policeman. It was a woman about the same age as him, perhaps only slightly older. She sported a healthy figure with ample, curvaceous hips, and a pair of winsome amber-colored eyes. Her most eye-catching feature without a doubt was her hair, a stunning scarlet mane running down the length of her back all the way to her hips. This charming young lady was dressed in a short-sleeved white robe with a below-knee hemline and a small hat bearing the hospital's logo.
"Sean?" asked the woman.
"Marina? Is that you?" he asked back. "What are you doing here? I thought your house was the other way."
"Oh, I was just running a small errand. But, Sean, it's been a while since I saw you."
"Yeah, it is."
Marina Sannon, a nurse working at the local hospital and someone Sean knew very well. Though their primary workplaces were relatively close to one another, they lived in completely different tiers, and so rarely had a chance to meet outside of off days anymore.
"I didn't expect to run into you here of all places. How was your day today?" Marina asked with a gentle cheerful smile.
"Nothing special." he answered. "Me and Dagg fought a couple of thugs ransacking the market in the Fance District, and that's about it."
Marina's smile melted away in an instant. "You fought a group of bandits? You're not hurt, are you?"
"It's nothing, just a little cut on my head. Nothing to worry about."
Marina frowned in disbelief. "Just a little cut? Let me see it." Without asking for permission, she reached for Sean's helmet.
"H-hey! What do you think you're-"
As Marina removed the metal helmet from his head, her eyes were immediately drawn to an already coagulated cut on top of his scalp. "Sean, you didn't even dress that wound!"
"What are you freaking out for? It's just a little cut, it'll be gone by next morning."
"Don't say something like that! What if it gets infected?"
"...What are the odds of it getting infected here of all places?"
"I don't want to hear it! You are coming with me whether you like it or not!" Tucking his helmet under her armpit, Marina grabbed Sean by the wrist and pulled him in the direction she came from.
"Wha? Hey! Marina, no need to pull!"
Despite his complaints, Sean didn't offer the slightest bit of resistance and compliantly followed Marina wherever she was dragging him off to. He had a pretty good inkling of where she was taking him, and if he was right, then they weren't headed very far. A few puzzled people on the street threw quizzical looks in the bizarre couple's direction, though most continued to act as if nothing happened.
After crossing a couple of streets, the two arrived at a great, multi-story building masoned out of high quality ivory-white bricks. Above its front doors where it was practically impossible to miss hung a large sign displaying the very same symbol on Marina's hat and on the ambulance's hull. The Healers' Guild, or as most people referred it as, the hospital. His hunch proved correct, not that it was a very hard guess to begin with.
Sean and Marina stepped through the front double doors and entered the lobby. The walls inside were white like marble, as was the tiled floor polished to a mirror shine. A few wooden chairs and a small round table stood right next to the entrance, although nobody was occupying them at present. The only souls around at the moment besides them were a pair of nurses working busily behind the reception desk. They cast a glance at the entrance as the doors opened, whereupon they greeted their friend and colleague with a nod and a wave of the hand. Neither seemed to be questioning why she was back even though her shift had already ended or why she was holding that healthy-looking policeman by the wrist.
Marina returned their greeting in kind and then brought Sean over to the nearest unoccupied examination room. There, she set his helmet down on the counter.
"I can't believe you would leave a laceration on your scalp unattended." she said as she grabbed some ointment and gauze from the shelves. "You gotta be more careful than that, Sean!"
Sean set his shield aside and sat down on the examination table, an exasperated sigh leaving his lips. "I know, I know! Gods, you're such a worrywart."
"I have good reason to worry about you, Sean!" she continued. "There are plenty of dangerous criminals in Negav. I just don't want to imagine what would happen to you if you met someone truly vicious, like worse than that Magnus guy you fought years ago." Marina walked back to Sean and removed the lid on the flask of ointment. "Now, hold still, this might sting a little."
Running her middle and index fingers in the small container, Marina gently rubbed the wound on his head. Sean flinched and bit his lower lip as a burning sensation washed all over his cut. Why was it that he could endure an axe striking his helmet at full force no problem but a little ointment made him wince? She then folded the gauze into a small cloth and pressed it against the wound before securing it with some adhesive bandage.
"There we go, all done."
Sean tapped the little dressing on his head. This still seemed a tad excessive, but whatever made her happy. "Thanks, Marina. And um, I'm sorry for making you worry like that. I'll be more careful from now on, I promise."
Marina answered him with one of her delightful sunny smiles. "Thank you, Sean. And I'm sorry if I've been a little naggy. You know me, gotta patch up every little scratch I see even if it's unnecessary."
Sean chuckled. "Yeah, that's you, all right." Even Marina couldn't help laughing at herself either. "So, uh, about that errand of yours..."
"Mind if I come along with you? That is, if it's not too far from the station. Don't want to get home too late."
"Of course not, I'd be glad to have company, especially yours. And don't worry, I was almost there when we ran into each other."
"Great. So what are we waiting for? Let's go."
Their little and completely needless excursion to the hospital now behind them, Sean retrieved his shield and helmet, while Marina put the medical supplies back in their shelves. The two then left the white building, Marina waving goodbye to her two coworkers for the second time today, and retraced their steps back to the crossroad where they literally ran into each other.
"So how was your day, Marina?" asked Sean. "Got any new patients besides the ones me and Dagg sent you."
"No, it was pretty slow and uneventful," she answered, "Except for my noon break. Me and Nilly were getting ready to go dine at our usual place, when suddenly, Dr. Mallo shows up. Can you guess what happened next?"
"Hmm, I wonder. Could he have lectured you two all while sounding like the snidest asshole in town?"
"Yep, that's exactly what happened. Can you believe the gall he has? Why should it matter to him that we like going somewhere else during our dinner break?"
Sean flashed a cheeky smile. "You know, if he ever steps out of line, just give me a call. I'll gladly put that asshole behind bars for you."
Marina giggled. "Thanks, Sean. I won't hesitate to call you when that happens."
The two continued to exchange playful banter as they made their way through the busy crowds. Before they knew it, they had already made it back to the junction on the road. Crossing a few more streets, the two of them arrived at a humble little flower shop. A mellow aroma flowed into their nostrils the moment they came within proximity. Inside was a garden in and of itself, with a variety of carefully grown plants on display ranging from ornamental foliage house plants like the aluminum plant, to colorful, if somewhat banal flowers like begonias. Marina didn't waste any time admiring the flowers and bought a few red and pink tulips, which she asked be tied in a small bouquet.
"Come back anytime." said the shopkeeper.
"So what are you gonna use those flowers for?" Sean asked as they left the store.
Marina giggled. "It's a secret."
"I see." Sean remained quiet for a moment as he looked at all the passersby. Most continued to ignore them, but a few were staring. They probably assumed he had bought her those flowers. "...Say, Marina, are you free next weekend?"
"Yes, I am." she replied. "Why do you ask, Sean?"
Sean bashfully averted his gaze, his cheeks red with embarrassment. "Well... I was just wondering if you'd... want to go out with me. Y'know, just the two of us."
Marina nodded with a beaming smile. "Sure! I'll gladly go out on a date with you!"
"Great! Then it's settled! Say, is there a place you really wanna go to?"
"Sure, I do."
"Really? What is it?"
"The Street of Red Flowers, of course!"
Sean spontaneously stopped dead in his tracks. "Wh-what?" No sooner than Marina shouted, a small mob of people likewise came to a sudden stop and stared bewildered at the two of them. "Marina, you can't be serious!"
"I am serious. It's always been a dream of mine to see the beautiful sights, and try out all the wonderful games, and drinks they have there, and then see the amazing parades at night, and sleep in one of their incredible inns! I couldn't ask for a better first date than spending a whole day and night with you there."
"That's your idea of a first date? A whole day and night in... that place? First off, do you even know what those 'incredible inns' you're talking about actually are?"
"Sure, I do! They're love hot-"
"Hey! Don't actually say it where people can hear you!"
"But you asked me to."
Sean sighed in exasperation. "Look, the point is: we're not going to the Street of Red Flowers. I'll just look for a nice restaurant where we can meet up, alright?"
Marina giggled. "It's okay, I was just kidding, anyway. You should have seen the look on your face, Sean. It was priceless!"
Marina giggled some more. "Anyway, I gotta hurry home now. Thanks for accompanying me, Sean, and tell Lester I said hi. I'll see you tomorrow!"
"Yeah. See you tomorrow, too."
Sean waved goodbye to Marina as she hustled through the crowd. He let out another exasperated sigh; he almost forgot how much of a handful that woman could be at times. Sean threw a glance at the onlookers around him. Even more people had gathered since the outset of Marina's little stunt. Some were even whispering among themselves. Sean just hurried on home without saying a word before something stupider happened.
After a fairly hefty walk, Sean arrived at a small building with a distinctive peaked roof displaying a large clock. Inside was a mildly crowded resting area not at all dissimilar with those found at a train station. Much like them, a boarding platform stood before the rows of bench and led to a series of numbered gate. But rather than taking people to a train car or even an empty railway, they instead brought them to a series ring-shaped structure about two-and-a-half meters in diameter, with a similar platform and waiting area visible through the center of each one. As Negav's streets were so narrow and always congested, public transportation was instead handled by these portals. The few vehicles that existed in the city were mostly emergency vehicles and were partially built out of Eidoron Rocks, a precious stone with the ability to defy gravity.
Sean glanced at the interior clock and then made his way to Gate #3. Thanks to his encounter with Marina, he only had to wait around for a few minutes. A bell then rang throughout the station, signaling that the portals had changed connection with a different portal in accordance to the schedule. Upon hearing the sound of the bell, Sean stepped through the third gateway and effectively crossed halfway through the other side of town in the blink of an eye. Once on the other side, he left the station and made his way to his apartment.
After another somewhat lengthy walk, Sean finally arrived at the six story building he called his home. He already felt a little more relaxed seeing it come into view after a long day at work. Entering the building, he quickly climbed a long flight of stairs to the fourth floor and made his way to his home, apartment #2.
"I'm home!" he said as he opened the door.
But nobody answered him. Rather, he heard someone snoring. He knew exactly whom they belonged too. Closing the door behind him, he checked out the living room where the noise was coming from. Just as he expected, he saw his younger brother, Lester, slouched on the couch with an open book covering his face. Although not twins, the two brothers shared quite a few traits, mainly eye and hair color, though Lester's was a little wilder and spikier. However, most people told him apart from Sean by his height, or rather lack thereof.
Rolling his eyes he put his hand on his shoulder and then shook him to try and wake up him, causing the book to fall off his face and onto the floor. "Hey, Lester! Wake up!"
"Hunhh... huh?" Lester stretched his arms and legs as he let out a long yawn. "Oh, hey, Big Bro. Didn't hear ya comin'."
"So, how long have you been sleeping this time?"
"'bout since I got here an hour ago."
Sean rolled his eyes. "Figures."
Sean headed to his room where he put away his sword and shield, and then began removing his armor. Finally, now he could breathe a little easier again. He had been wearing this hunk of metal for how many years, and still the time of the day he looked forward to the most was when he no longer had to keep this thing on his back. After changing into casual clothes, he walked into the kitchen to prepare tonight's supper. Burgers ought to be good; it's been a while since they had any. He checked inside the boraloupe, a type of ice box coated with boralite for refrigeration, and reached for some ground beef. But then, he noticed a much more... interesting sight. Quite a bit of food, all stuff Lester made for himself in fact, had already begun to spoil. Sean cast a glare at his brother, keeping just enough calm not to slam the boraloupe door shut.
"Lester! What did I tell you about leaving leftovers to rot in the boraloupe!?"
"Huh?" Lester walked over to the boraloupe and checked inside as well. "Oh, that. I forgot 'bout all that stuff." He shrugged and smiled nonchalantly as he walked back to the table. "Eh, I'm sure it's no big deal."
"We don't have unlimited funds, you know?" Sean replied as he removed all the rotten food. "We're only making just enough to scrape by each month as his."
"You worry too much. 'sides, you coulda eaten some if you're that worried 'bout wasting stuff."
"Yes, I would gladly eat the stuff you bit into and then left half-eaten in there. It looks so fucking delicious." Sean retorted as he threw all the spoiled food in the trash. That brother of his just never learns! "You're cleaning every inch of the house tomorrow morning!"
"What?! What did I do?"
"You left all that stuff spoil in the boraloupe, that's what."
"Grmrgr!" he grumbled as he sat down and rested his chin on the table.
"Don't you 'grmrgr' me!"
With that taken care of, Sean grabbed some ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and onions, and then got to work. Maybe he should have made something other than burgers; Lester was practically drooling as he watched him cook. But since he couldn't think of anything else to make, so he'll just have to deal with making his brother's favorite dish despite not deserving it.
"So, how was your day?" asked Sean.
"Heh, the usual. Not a whole lot of customers showed up, so I just focused on my project." Lester replied. "How 'bout you? How'd ya get hurt this time?"
"A battle axe."
Lester chuckled. "Heh! You say that like it was nothing."
"It really wasn't. We wear helmets for this very reason. But you know Marina, you could show her a paper cut and she'd drop everything she was doing so she could bandage it."
"Oh, so you saw Marina today, huh? Didja finally ask her out?" he asked, grinning cheekily.
Sean frowned and grumbled under his breath. "Yes, I did..."
"That's not the kinda answer I was expectin'. Did somethin' happen?"
Sean let out a deep sigh. "I really don't want to talk about that. I'll look for a nice restaurant tomorrow."
Lester faked a long yawn. "Boooooring."
"Says the guy who never once asked Rachilin out on a date."
After a little while, Sean finished preparing supper and served both his brother and himself. Lester smiled to his ears as he savored the taste of the crispy lettuce and meaty tomatoes. "Thish ish sho fookin' good! Bro, you neev to open a reshtaurant, you'll make millionj!"
Sean just stared awkwardly at him. "Flatter me all you want, you're still cleaning the whole house tomorrow."
"How's that project of yours coming along, anyway?" he asked.
Lester swallowed his bite and grinned to his ears. "I'm glad you asked! I just finished installin' a brand new feature! This thing'll allow me set the revolver's action from fully single-action to double-action and back whenever I want! Just gotta polish it, come up with a name, and it'll be good to go."
Sean raised a brow. "What's the point of switching your gun between the two actions?"
"So I can twirl it safely, duh."
"Figures." Sean replied, shaking his head. "That reminds me, did you buy the flowers for tomorrow?"
"Yup! They're right there, all warm an' cozy."
Sean looked back at the living room where Lester was pointing him. Resting on top of the coffee table were a pair of small flower bouquets. They were nothing fancy, just simple bundles of about a dozen nondescript white and yellow flowers held together by a small red ribbon.
"Good. I can't believe it's already the day mom and dad left us."
"Yeah... same here. ...How long has it been since mom and dad left on that mission?"
"...It's been twelve years now."
The air suddenly turned heavy, as it usually happens when talking about departed relatives. Has twelve years already passed already? It honestly didn't feel that long. Maybe that was because their grandmother passed away just a few years ago, too. Sean let out a long sigh. Suddenly, this small apartment felt a lot bigger, and a whole lot emptier. Then, Lester reached over to the other side of the table to pat his big brother on the shoulder.
"Let's not talk 'bout this, okay? Save it all for tomorrow."
Sean nodded and smiled. "Agreed. Thanks, Lester."
"No problem, Sean."
The fateful day finally arrived. Sean woke up early, as he does every working day, then went to his brother's room and shook him awake. Naturally, Lester whined and tried to stay put in the warm comfort of his blankets, but his older brother had none of it and quite literally dragged him out of his bed. Normally, Sean would let Lester sleep, but not today. He had to get him out of bed early if they wanted go on with their original plan for today. After eating a small breakfast, Lester went to grab a broom in the closet and then started sweeping the floor around the kitchen. Sean stayed close by so he could keep an eye on him. Knowing his brother, he'd try to shirk his punishment if he left him unsupervised, or at best, he'd do a half-assed job just so he could get it done as soon as possible. While he was at it, Sean headed to his room for a moment and then carried his armor with him to the living room. May as well polish his armor a little while he had nothing bother to do.
Then, a few hours later, there was a knock at the door. Lester tossed his broom aside and rushed over to the entrance. "I got it!" Sean let out a sigh. Of all the things to distract him... Lester opened the door where on the other side stood someone he knew quite well. A lovely young woman with beautiful long red hair and one of the prettiest smiles out there. "Hola, Nurse!"
"Hiya, Lester!" greeted Marina with a cheerful wave of her hand. "Is Sean here?"
"Yup, hold on a sec." Lester turned to his brother in the living room. "Hey, Bro! Your girlfriend wanna see ya!"
Sean got up in a huff and walked over to the entrance, grumbling under his breath. Marina was giggling almost like a hyena, while Lester gave him the usual shit-eating grin. "Hey, Marina. What brings you here?"
"Hiya, Sean!" greeted Marina. "Well..." She showed him and Lester a small bouquet of red and pink tulips. "Since today is the day your parents left on a mission and never returned, I thought I'd offer them some flowers too. I also went and learned a new song just for them."
"So that's why you bought those flowers." said Sean. "I should have known." He and his brother went a little quiet for a moment, both a tad choked up by her kindness. This was nothing new coming from Marina, but every time she did, they couldn't help but be taken aback a little. "Thanks. But we're not quite ready yet, Lester still needs to finish cleaning around the house. Could you please wait for us in the living room?"
Marina nodded. "Sure, I don't mind."
Marina sat down on the couch and waited patiently for Lester to finish his chores. She didn't have to wait very long, luckily, only about fifteen to twenty minutes. Once they put away everything they no longer needed, Sean headed back to his room for a moment. There he reached for a crimson scarf neatly resting on top of his drawer and wrapped it around his neck. Perfect, now he was ready to go. The brothers and Marina took their bouquets and then left for the Tomb of Unknown Adventurers. This was going to be quite a walk, the station closest to Victory Gate was still a ways away from it.
"So, what kinda song are you gonna sing to mom and dad, Nurse?" asked Lester.
"It's a requiem I found in a book at the library. I think you'll love it." Marina answered.
Sean raised a brow. "I thought you couldn't find requiems in just any book at the library."
"Well, it's actually an old poem that was turned into a song because it proved so popular during a terrible time of war in a faraway land. The church there ended up adopting it as sort of an unofficial requiem. I was really surprised by how well it captured what it means to lose your life. I'm sure you two will end up liking it, too."
"I'll hold ya to that." said Lester. "Anyways, read any other good books, lately? Saw somethin' at the theater?"
"Well, last week, I..."
The three friends talked and chatted for what felt like hours. They talked about gossips they heard at work, what project they were working on, anything interesting that may have happened during their free time. It nearly seemed as though they could not run out of subject of conversation. In due time, they arrived at Victory Gate, one of two entrances to Negav. Beyond Asianas Bridge lay a vast jungle carved by many paths and a rare few buildings, the Chomikai Commons. A chill ran up their spine. Nearly everyday, there were reports of banditry or savage beasts taking the lives of fledgling adventurers in this seemingly gentle jungle. They have made the trip from Negav to the Tomb of Unknown Adventurers plenty of time in the past without a single problem, but every time, they became filled with anxiety. But brigands or beasts or not, they crossed Asianas Bridge and followed the path to the tomb.
Meanwhile, deeper in the Commons, a young woman met up with two young men. The three appeared to be around the same age and no older than in their late teenage years. The girl carried with her a thick, hard cover tome under her arm, while the boys both held a long wooden staff in his hand, and each wore an ample robe with the emblem of the Isolon University of Magic embroidered on their breast.
"This looks like a good spot." said the young lady. She then turned to her two friends. "Alright! Let's get started."
"Are you sure about this, Mirne?" asked one of the boys.
"Sure, I am, Irvyn." she replied. "Trust me, we'll show that snob Miserali we're every bit as good as her."
"Yeah, but... a Gate spell? You know what would happen if something went wrong, right?"
"Irvyn..." said Brian, "we know for a fact she can't cast a Gate spell. We'll make her regret thinking that she's better than us just because she's a noble. Besides, wasn't it you who shouted all day yesterday how much you were going to teach her a lesson."
Irvyn went quiet for a moment as he thought back to yesterday's events. He then suddenly glowered and gripped his staff ever tighter. It all came back to him. He just went to introduce himself as a fellow practitioner of magic like nice person. And how did she greet him? She went on a monologue about how she would show 'commoners' like him and his friends skills only a lady of high-status like her could achieve, or something like that. He could still see the way she always held her nose up as if looking down on him from up high. He could still hear that condescending tone in her voice and that thick posh accent of hers.
"Very well! Let's cast this Gate spell and show that spoiled bitch what we 'commoners' can do!"
Mirne smiled. "That's the ticket! You two trace the circle and I'll review the incantation."
Brian and Irvyn nodded. Using their magic staves, they began tracing a series of runes, glyphs and sigils arranged in a five-foot circle in the soil. They had to be meticulous; one tiny mistake and they'd ruin the spell, or worse. Mirne, meanwhile, sat down legs crossed and flipped through the pages of her tome until she found the incantation for their spell. She then looked at her two friends.
"Is the circle ready?" she asked.
"Hold on a sec." answered Brian. "...There we go! The circle is ready."
"Good!" Mirne closed her book and set it aside. "Let's begin."
Brian and Irvyn sat down legs crossed on other sides of the circle. The three mages in training closed their eyes and began chanting the incantation for the Gate spell. All of a sudden, the magic circles became aglow with magical powers. The glowing runes then rose from their imprints and into the air where the formed a vertical disk in the same shape and size as the one traced in the soil. In the center, between each rune, a faint shimmering appeared into the air. Mirne, Brian and Irvyn jumped onto their feet.
"It worked! It worked! We cast a gate!" exclaimed Mirne as she was practically jumping up and down in her excitement. "I can't wait to see her face when we'll show her this." But then, a spark flew out of the gate. "Hmm?" All of a sudden, energy sparked and surged like crazy from the disk as if it were short circuiting! The portal then began swallowing the dirt and grass underneath, and even the branches from nearby trees a miniature black hole! "No! It's unstable! Everyone, run!"
The students ran as fast as they could away from the gate, but they were too close, and the gravitational field lifted the poor trio off their feet and dragged them inside the wormhole.
Marina suddenly shuddered and stopped dead in her tracks. Sean and Lester likewise came to a stop stared quizzically at their redheaded friend.
"What is it, Marina?" Lester asked.
"I... I just sensed something."
Sean's and Lester's hearts skipped a beat. "You what? Marina, what did you sense?!" exclaimed Sean.
"...We have to get out of here, now!"
At that moment, Sean, Lester and Marina found themselves being pulled off course as if dragged by an unseen force.
"What the? What's going on?!" exclaimed Lester.
He, his brother and their friend tried to move away from what was dragging them, but no matter how much they ran, this mysterious power continued to pull them toward the trees. Marina turned in the direction they were being dragged it, whereupon the colors drained from her face. "A portal! A portal is pulling us in!"
Sean and Lester looked over their shoulders and saw the shimmering disk trying to devour them. "You're kidding me!" shouted Sean, gnashing his teeth.
Sean, Lester and Marina redoubled their efforts to run as fast as possible from the wormhole, but it was no use. Little by little, they only drew ever closer to the portal. Then, Marina slipped and fell on her stomach.
"Marina!" shouted Sean and Lester!
Marina dropped her bouquet of tulips, which tumbled helplessly into the black hole. Marina planted her hands in the ground in a desperate attempt to anchor herself, but it was too late. The vortex lifted her and then swiftly pulled her toward its gaping maw.
"SEAN! LESTER! HELP!" Marina screamed. In that moment, the Gate swallowed her whole and she promptly vanished into thin air.
"MARINA!" Then, both Sean and Lester fell on their stomachs as well. Like Marina before, they let go of their offerings and tried in vain to hold on for dear life something, only buying themselves a mere scant few seconds before being dragged into the wormhole. "AAAGGGHHHHHH!"
Upon devouring its last two victims, the portal grew even more unstable. The runes comprising its body spontaneously died out one by one. Then, once the last one blinked out of existence, the shimmering disk vanished as well, leaving only a broken landscape in the immediate vicinity in its wake.