VERY IMPORTANT: Read the author's description first!
It was an ordinary day in the small Felaryan metropolis of Negav. The streets were as bustling with activity as ever, with pedestrians coming and going wherever they pleased with nary a care in the world. Adventurers and mercenaries from faraway lands arrived at the busy city to resupply for their next journey or search for their next contract. One could hear the sound of raucous laughters reverberating from the nearby pubs and taverns, with drunkards of all kinds recounting outlandish tales of "staunch bravery and heroic valor". Merchants across multiple markets were feverishly haggling with customers for better prices, with some of them making liberal uses of heckling.
In one such markets, a relatively small street market in the northeastern district of the Lower Tier, arrived a small group of more or less a dozen men, their faces weathered and unshaven. Each was vested in low-quality light armor, ranging from moldy leather armor to rusty metal plates. At their hip, a weapon in its sheath, either a broadsword or a small one-handed battle axe, and each carried a large empty burlap sack over their shoulders. Most of the people in the market paid no heed to them, or failed to notice their presence altogether, but a few understandably met them with a dubious glance.
"Welcome! What can I do for you?" asked a wizened salesman.
The leader of this retinue, a burly man with a long, poorly healed scar running betwixt his eyes, flashed a menacing grin. Without warning, he brandished his axe and pointed it at the merchant, the sharp blade hovering a scant few centimeters away from merchant's nose. "Listen up, you worthless grub! If you wanna keep that little head of yours, fork over everything you have!"
His men followed suit and drew their weapons, grinning and cackling maniacally as they held the merchants at swordpoint. The petrified merchants threw their hands in the air without a thought, their entire body trembling uncontrollably.
"Puh-puh-please, d-don't hurt me!" they yelled. "T-t-take whatever you want!"
The boss chuckled. "Don't mind if I do."
He and his men stuffed their bags full with the merchants' wares and then proceeded to destroy the stalls, barrels and crates that had been holding their supplies. The merchants cowered behind what remained of their stalls, unable to pose any form of resistance against armed hooligans. The civilians realized what was going on and fled the market in a panic, dropping whatever they were holding.
"It's a bandit raid!"
"Let's get out of here!"
However, two civilians, a man and a woman wearing a cloak with the hood drawn over the face, stayed put despite the on-going pillaging. The woman reached for a radio hidden under her mantle. "This is officer Gennar. We've located the looters in the Fance district market. They are poorly armored, but they outnumber us about five to one. Requesting immediate backup!"
"...This is officer Orrick. Keep maintaining a low profile, we're on our way." answered a voice on the other side.
"Roger that. Gennar out."
Sean put his radio away and turned to his partner. "Let's go, Dagg!"
"Ready when you are, Sean!"
The two policemen rushed as fast as they could toward the Fance District. The streets were crowded, as always, but they skillfully bobbed and weaved passed the pedestrians. Luckily the Fance District wasn't very far away on foot, so Kal and Wei should be able to hold on if they hurried. Sean and Dagg soon came across an intersection, whereupon they where met up with two fellow officers: a rather short and scrawny man, and a lanky, yet toned dark-skinned woman. The woman wore the same standard-issue armor as Sean and Dagg, and even carried the same heater shield and longsword as Sean. The man, on the other hand, held no visible weapon or armor on his person, just a simple, padded cotton robe and a purple tattoo on his forehead.
"Sean! Dagg! Good to see you!" exclaimed Eve.
"Eve, Chad, nice to see you." Dagg replied. "Anybody else on its way?"
"No. By looks of it, we'll be the only ones providing Kal and Wei with backup in time." Chad answered.
"Then we'll have to make due with just the four of us. Let's move, everyone!" ordered Sean.
Dagg, Eve and Chad nodded in agreement and the four hurried over to the market. They soon arrived at the scene of the crime and what a horrible sight to behold! Everywhere they looked, they saw the criminals pillage the merchants of all their wares and loot their coffers of their profits. Whatever they didn't need or didn't like, they callously threw away, leaving the street littered with wasted food, broken earthenware and now sullied clothes.
"Here we are." Sean turned over to his teammates. "Chad, stay close behind us and aim for whoever is leading these louts. Dagg, Eve, you cover me."
"Understood." answered Chad.
"Leave it to us, Sean." Eve added.
Sean and his companions readied their weapons and then faced the band of thieves. They charged forward, with Chad staying a short distance behind the three. "Halt! Police!"
The brigand chief looked over to Sean and company. "So, the fuzz decided to come and ruin our fun, eh?" He then turned to his minions, a smug smile on his lips once he saw how few cops had shown up. "Up and at 'em, boys! Kill 'em all!"
The bandits looked over to police squad. Half of them dropped their bags of stolen goods then while the rest continued on their pillaging and then charged at the cops. An unsettling bloodlust shone deep in their eyes. It's been too long since they got a good workout, this was gonna be a riot!
Sean, Dagg and Eve readied their shields and deflected the brigands' attack. Their armor may be rusted and weak, but their weapons certainly were anything but and left shockingly sizable dents in the police squad's armor! But the better trained and armored officers pushed the bandits back and retaliated in kind. The battle raged on as the sound of clashing steel reverberated throughout the entire street. The beleaguered merchants could not tear their eyes away from the fight despite their instincts yelling at them to flee the market post-haste.
Then, a bandit moved over to attack Eve's exposed flank. But Chad had not remained idle. Having already finished chanting a spell, he raised his hand toward the sky and called forth a lightning bolt to smite his foe. The lightning found its mark and electrocuted the thief to death in one strike. The other brigands stared in awe as their cohort's lifeless body hit the ground with a thud. They frantically looked around for the mage who killed their accomplice, but couldn't find him anywhere! The police squad seized their chance and pushed their offensive against the new shaken thieves.
"It's time, Wei!"
Kal and Wei threw away their cloaks, revealing a suit of police armor underneath. They drew their maces and then slammed right into the bandits' vulnerable flank! The bandits fell into panic and their ranks instantly fell into disarray. They were completely surrounded and had nowhere to run. The police did not let such an opportunity slip by and attacked. Soon, the looters lay either dead in a pool of their own blood or collapsed on the ground, crying in agony as they did all they could to keep the blood from seeping from their deep wounds. The officers then regrouped and advanced toward the remaining bandits and their leader.
The boss grit his teeth as buckets of sweat trickled down from his brow. There was no way they could take on five armored cops and a mage hiding somewhere in the area. "Shit! This wasn't how things were supposed to happen!" He slung his sack over his shoulder and then turned to his remaining underlings. "Boys, pack up, we're breaking through! One way or another, we're getting out of here with the goods!"
The remaining thieves trembled in their boots, but followed orders nevertheless and slung their bags. This plan was madness, pure madness, and everyone among them knew it. But this was their only chance of escape, lest they stewed in jail or worse. They had to do it! The brigands cast aside their fear and charged head on at the cops with their boss personally leading the assault. Dagg faced against the leader of this pillaging retinue while the others duked it out against his goons. His long spear and his battle axe exchanged blow after blow with neither of the two burly men giving the other an inch. The fighting grew more intense, but soon the thieves began to fall back under the police's relentless assault. A lucky few, however, managed to slip past the police blockade and flee the scene with their loot in tow.
Then, Chad finished chanting another spell and set his eyes on Dagg's opponent. "I got you now!"
Chad raised his hand skyward. Electricity gathered high above him and then came crashing down on the bandit chief.
"Gwaaarrgghhh!" The head of the looters fell on his back, his axe slipping out of his cold, dead fingers.
"Boss!" shouted the startled bandits.
Chad crossed his arms, a self-content smile etching themselves onto his lips. With their boss dead, the rest of the bandits would have no choice but to give up and surrender. However, one of the crooks who escaped stopped dead in his track and turned around upon hearing his associates scream for their late boss.
"Boss!" Then, he saw Chad standing behind the rest of the cops. The looter clenched his teeth, a hot crimson rage filling his heart. There he was! He was the mage who killed his friend and the boss! The bandit dropped his burlap bag so he could hold his battle axe in both hands and then before charged at the little sorcerer. "You son of bitch! I'll kill you!"
Sean turned around upon hearing the thief. "Chad! Look out!" He raced over to Chad and shoved him out, but was too slow to stop the brigand's axe. "Aghh!"
"Sean!" Chad shouted.
Sean was sent reeling from the blow. The bandit's axe punched a fairly deep dent in his helmet. Already, blood cascaded down the side of his face. But he was not yet dead. The crook lifted his axe high, determined to finish him off while he was still staggered. "Die, you bastard!"
The brigand swung his axe once more with vigor! But Sean regained his footing and knocked his axe aside with his shield. In a swift motion, he plunged his longsword in the bandit's stomach. The blade piercing through the thief's cheap armor with ease. The brigand's axe fell out of his hands. He dropped on his knees and then collapsed to his side, his blood pouring out of his wound. The remaining bandits saw just how many of their comrades lay either dead or bleeding on the floor, and immediately dropped everything they held and threw their hands in the air.
"W-we surrender! P-p-please don't hurt us!"
Eve, Kal and Wei smiled and put away their weapons. They walked over to the surrendering bandits and shackled their arms behind their backs. "You're under arrest for vandalism and armed robbery!" shouted Kal.
Dagg and Chad, meanwhile, rushed over to Sean's side. "Sean!" Chad shouted.
"You alright?" asked Dagg.
Sean clutched the side of his helmet where the bandit's axe struck. "I'm okay." he answered as he grit his teeth trying to bear the pain. "It's just a flesh wound."
"Let me take a look at it." Chad replied. He removed Sean's helmet and then brushed his hair aside to get a better look at his wound. Aside from bleeding profusely and dyeing his brown hair a dark shade of red, it did not appear to have cut very deep in his scalp, certainly not deep enough to be life-threatening. "...That doesn't look too bad."
Sean then retrieved his helmet and put it back on. "Told you it was nothing to be concerned about."
Dagg breathed a sigh of relief and then reached for his radio. "Doug, this is officer Matus. We arrested the looters, though some of them got away. No injured or dead civilian, although three suspects were killed, including their leader, and five were injured in the skirmish."
"...Copy that. I'm contacting the EMTs right away."
"Thanks, Matus out."
The police then went back to work. Sean and Dagg set the bodies of dead suspects on the side of the street, while Eve, Kal, and Wei treated the wounded suspects. They first confiscated their weapons and then gave them a small vial of medicine to help close their wounds. It was slow acting, but it should give them enough strength to hold on until the ambulance arrived. Chad, meanwhile, tried to inquire with the merchants who were still around to try to get a head start on assessing all the damage the brigands caused. They were still a little shaken from the incident, but were nonetheless more than happy to cooperate with the police after witnessing them soundly rout those awful crooks.
Then, about a minute later, a pair of vehicles, both partially constructed out of dark gray stones lined with glowing bright blue veins, descended from the sky. Two teams of medical technicians stepped out of the ambulances and met with both suspects and police officers alike. They first relieved wounded suspects of their broken body armor, then used a rudimentary healing spell to instantly stop their bleeding before properly cleaning and dressing their wounds. The second team, meanwhile, met up with Dagg over by the side of the street where the bodies of the deceased rested.
"Excuse me, are you the ones who moved those bodies here?" asked one of the medics.
"Yep." answered Dagg. "We wanted to make sure they wouldn't be in the way."
"Thanks, it's going to make our job easier. By the way, mind you tell us what happened here?" inquired the other one.
"You'll have to ask Kal and Wei over there," Sean replied as he pointed them toward the couple helping load the thieves in one of the ambulance, "they were the ones who witnessed the pillaging. We were just the cavalry."
"I see. By the way, do you need me to treat your wound, officer?"
"No thanks, it's just a small cut." replied Sean. "I'll just grab some gauze once we're back at HQ."
"Very well, then."
The second team then began placing the dead suspects in body bags. Sean and Dagg lent them a helping hand as they loaded them in the ambulance. Once they had finished loading the last of them, Sean walked over to the other medical team, who had just finished loading the last wounded suspect.
"Wait, I'll come with you. You need a police officer to undo their manacles."
"Oh. Thank you very much, officer."
Sean opened the ambulance's back door and then cast a glance over to his coworkers. "I can trust you guys won't break anything while I'm gone, right?"
"No promises." Dagg replied. "See ya later, Sean, and tell your girlfriend I said hi!"
Sean spontaneously turned bright red in the face. "Goddammit, Dagg!"
The crooks chuckled among themselves, but Sean shot them an icy glare and shut them all up. The medics closed the doors and the vehicles then vertically took off until they were higher than the tallest building in the district before flying directly back to the Healer's Guild. During the entire trip, Sean just sat there, arms folded and eying each of the suspects with the same piercing glare he gave them a second ago. The brigands dared make neither a peep, nor twitch a muscle, knowing better than to provoke an armed man, especially one who didn't appear above using a little brutality to keep scum like them in line.
Then, after about as long as it took them to arrive at the scene of the crime, the Healer's Guild came into view. Everybody in Negav could instantly recognize the huge, multi-story structure by its huge walls clad almost entirely in white marble. It also helped that they hung the big sign displaying the universal symbol of health and medicine above the main entrance. The ambulances landed in a small courtyard behind the building and the medical teams then unloaded the suspects. Sean accompanied one team to the ER, while the other carried the bodies over to the morgue. One by one, he attached one end of their shackles to the frame of their beds. Seeing someone chained up to a hospital bed against his will sent a shiver up his spine. It always made him think that those poor saps were going to be experimented on. Alas, such was a necessary evil when dealing with criminals.
Once he tied up the last crook, he saw no point in dawdling around any longer and headed for the exit. But... since he was already here, it wouldn't hurt if he stayed lookout for her on the way out, would it? Then, just as he walked down the white hall, a nurse came out of a nearby examination room just as he was passing by and bumped right into him.
"Oh! Sorry!" he exclaimed. "I wasn't looking where I was going. Are you okay?" Sean took a good look at the nurse. She wore the standard female nurse uniform: a short-sleeved white robe with a below-knee hemline and a slightly stained apron. She sported a healthy, womanly figure, with ample, curvaceous hips, and a gentle smile frame by a pair of vibrant amber eyes. But her most striking feature, without a doubt, was her long and beautiful scarlet mane, carefully tucked away under her cute nurse hat. "Marina?"
"Sean?" she answered, equally surprised. "What brings you here at the guild?"
"I was escorting a bunch of wounded suspects here."
"Oh, so that's what that ambulance call was. Eh?" Marina then noticed the blood running down the side of his face. She suddenly removed his helmet and brushed his bangs aside. "You're hurt! You've got to come with me to the examination room."
"Oh, this? Don't worry about it, Marina, it's nothing."
But despite his reassurance, Marina grabbed Sean's hand and dragged him over to another examination room. "No buts! You're coming with me whether you like it or not, understood?"
Sean let out a sigh, but nevertheless complied and let Marina take him to the nearest empty room. Once there, he sat down on the examination table as Marina dampened a towel under some running water. She squeezed the excess water and then walked over to Sean and began washing away the blood in his hair and on the side of his face.
"How were injured this time, Sean?"
"Oh, me and the team engaged those thugs in a skirmish and I took a battle axe to the head. Nothing worth mentioning."
Marina giggled. "Only you could say something like that with a straight face." Marina then finished wiping all the blood away. She then grabbed some gauze and bandages and began dressing the wound. "Tell me, what kind of thugs were they?"
"Looters. Ostensibly, they belong to the band of thieves we've been trying to track down these past months."
"Ah, yes. I remember you once told me something about those before. So now you may finally have a lead on where their hideout could be now that you've arrested some of them, right?"
"I hope so. Unfortunately, the boss of this particular group was killed in the battle, so that's going to make tracking them down just a wee bit harder."
"I see." Marina then finished applying the bandage. "There we go, all done."
Sean lightly tapped the bandage around his forehead. Marina's one constant was without a doubt her devotion to helping the sick and injured. He couldn't help but blush a little after being patched-up by her, even if it was for minor injury that had stopped bleeding for a while.
"...So, uh, how was your day, Marina? I mean, besides the unexpected patients we sent you."
"Oh, it was pretty slow and uneventful, 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."
Sean rolled his eyes, almost amused at himself. "And here I was taking a shot in the dark."
The two friends laughed together. "Aside from getting in a fight, how was your day, Sean?"
"Pretty much the same thing, a whole lot of nothing up until the incident in the market." Sean then scratched the back of his neck as he looked away from her for a moment. "...Say, Marina, are you free next weekend?"
"Yes, I am. Why do you ask, Sean?"
"Well... I was wondering if you'd want to go out with me."
"Hmm? Are you asking me out on a date?"
Sean became more flushed in the face. "Well, uh... sure, let's call it a date, why not?"
A great big smile spread over Marina's lips. "Great! I'll gladly go out with you!"
A beaming smile came to him as well. "Really? You would?"
"Mhm! Say, do you have a place we should go to in mind?"
"Uhh..." Sean looked away in embarrassment. "Sorry, I haven't thought that far ahead, yet."
Without warning, Marina stepped forward and snatched both of his hands. "Ooh! Then we should definitely go to the Street of Red Flowers!"
"Wait, what?" Sean retorted, completely stunned by her brimming enthusiasm.
"I always wanted 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!" She then gently caressed his cheek, a sultry gaze staring directly into his pretty green eyes. "And I went to spend all that time at your side... just you and me."
But Sean just stared back at her with a most incredulous look on his face. "Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?" At that moment, Marina's seductive glance melted into a big, goofy grin. "I give you an A for trying, but an F for the actual performance."
"Aww..." she uttered as she stepped away from him. "But seriously, I don't really care where we go. As long as we have a good time together, I'm happy."
Sean breathed an exasperated sigh. Marina's OTHER constant was unquestionably her spontaneous bouts of flightiness. "Anyway, I'd better head back to HQ before Dagg and the other start to think I'm slacking on the job."
"Same here. I probably already wasted too much time here, actually." Marina replied, laughing sheepishly at herself. "Anyway, see you soon, Sean, and be careful on your way back."
"Thanks, I'll see you later, too." Sean walked out of the room, but then immediately turned around. "Oh, I almost forgot, Dagg says hi."
"Thank you. Tell him I said hi, too. Bye!"
Marina and Sean waved goodbye as they both returned to their respective duties. Sean left the hospital with a huge smile on his face. What a high note to finish the last leg of work today! The team must have made some headway interrogating the merchants and assessing all the damage those bandits caused by now. Which means... he and the team would have to begin writing their report soon... Sean let out a long sigh. Just what he needed after asking Marina out...
"Finally!" exclaimed Eve as she stretched her arms. "How long did that take us?"
"After compiling all the information we gathered, I would say a little over three hours." Chad answered.
Eve clutched the sides of her head to keep it from falling on the table. "Holy shit..."
"All that just for a minor skirmish." added Dagg.
"Tell me about it!" Sean replied as he rubbed the side of his neck. "Thank gods this wasn't something like a turf war."
"Please don't jinx it, Sean!" Eve replied.
Chad stood off his chair and then took everyone's reports. "I'll hold on to these. You guys should head back home. See you in a few days."
Eve got off her chair as well, or rather leaped out of her chair. "Don't mind if I do! See you guys later!"
"Later guys!" Sean and Dagg replied.
The four officers walked out of the small, cramped office, still stretching their stiff arms and legs some more. Writing reports was so damn draining. Sure, if he had the choice, he'd take writing papers over risking life and limb in a bloody conflict, but nobody could deny just how soporific that part of the job was, particularly rookies. But, luckily, tomorrow was his day off, and there was no doubt in his mind that Chad would do a fine job finishing their reports come tomorrow. Sean, Dagg and Eve headed to the armory and suited up, then headed directly back home. Sean, of course, had to leave his dented helmet behind for repairs, which shouldn't take the armorer more than a day to finish. One look outside, they could see the sun already more than halfway set beyond the western Ascarlin Mountains. Sean shivered as a cool evening breeze blew past him. Eve waved goodbye to her two colleagues and then set off on her own, while he and Dagg took a different route to their homes.
"So, Sean, how was Marina?" asked Dagg, nudging Sean in the ribs with a cheeky grin plastered on his face. "Did you ask her out?"
Sean gave his friend a rather cross stare as his cheeks turned somewhat rosy. "Yes, Dagg, I asked her out. Happy?"
"Took you long enough! So, where are you taking her?"
"I don't know, probably at a restaurant somewhere. I'll start looking around for a good place tomorrow."
"You didn't put much thought into this, didn't cha?"
Sean leered Dagg with increasing annoyance. "Can we talk about something else, please?"
"Sure. How do you feel about finally catching some of those scumbags?"
"About damn time! We're still probably not gonna be able to make any real progress for a while, though."
"Oh, don't remind me! This is gonna take months at the very least! And you know they're going to spring the order to attack their place up on us, too."
Sean couldn't help but chuckle. "Yep, sounds like what the chief would do, all right."
The two friends continued to chat and exchange banters. It then came to an end as the two soon arrived at a particular intersection. "Well, I gotta go," said Dagg, "my niece is visiting today. See ya later, Sean!"
The two friends waved each other goodbye and then went their separate ways. Sean shivered once more. So much for having company to keep him warm. He eventually arrived at the nearest portal station, a small building with a distinctive peaked roof and a large clock hanging high above the entrance, sort of like a train station. Looking at the clock, he was a little surprised to see that it was more or less the same hour he usually ended his shifts. It still felt like it took him at least an hour and a half longer than that to write that report. Regardless, he entered the station. As always, there was only a tiny crowd of people in the waiting area, all waiting for the portals to connect with their desired district. Lucky for him, one of the portals was always connected to the station closest eastern sector of the Lower Tier at this hour. Sean stepped through boarding platform #3 and then walked through the big hoop-shaped gateway, effectively crossing halfway through the other side of town in the blink of an eye.
After another lengthy walk, he at last arrived at the eastern sector, the prime residential area of the Lower Tier. This part of town was mostly tall terraced houses, about six stories tall each, and all sorts of mundane, everyday shops like bakeries and clothiers. Sean walked further down the street until he saw his apartment dead ahead. He entered the building and climbed up a flight of stairs to the fourth floor. Finally, after a long day of work, he could sit back and wind down at home.
"I'm home!" he said as he opened the door.
But nobody answered him. Rather, he heard snores coming from the living room. Sean closed the door behind him and then checked out the living room. There, he saw his little brother slouched on the couch with an open book covering his face. Sean rolled his eyes. He should have known he'd find him there. 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."
"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, had already begun to spoil. Sean closed to the door and cast a glare over to his brother.
"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 he couldn't think of anything else to cook, so he had to make due with that.
"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 her first priority would be to bandage it."
"Oh, so you saw Marina today, huh? Didja ask her out?" he asked, grinning cheekily.
Sean frowned and grumbled under his breath. "Yes, I did."
"Took ya long enough! Where're ya taking her?"
Sean gave his brother the same annoyed leer he gave Dagg earlier. "Did you and Dagg rehearse this or something?"
"Maaayyybe..." Lester replied with a goofy grin.
Sean rolled his eyes. Should have expected this kind of useless answer. "I'll look for a 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 flowers each held together by a small red ribbon, and the flowers themselves were nondescript plants with white and yellow petals.
"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 grew 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. "Today is the day your parents left on a mission and never returned, isn't it? I thought I'd offer them some flowers and sing them something. I learned a new song just for today."
The two brothers were a little choked up. 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 one 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 into his drawer and then wrapped his precious red scarf around his neck. Perfect, now they were 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. But at least this gave the three friends a chance to catch up. Work has been keeping them pretty busy for the past months, or rather it's been keeping Sean and Marina busy, and they had been having a hard time meeting together.
"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. And of course, they teased Sean. 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. But they weren't the only victim. At that moment, Sean, Lester and Marina were fairly close to where the foolish students performed their ritual and found themselves pulled toward the unstable portal.
"What? What's going on!?" exclaimed Sean.
"I don't know!" replied 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 force was still pushing them off course. Marina looked in the direction they were being dragged it. Her heart skipped a beat. "A portal! A portal is pulling us in!"
Sean and Lester looked behind them whereupon they 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. It was useless, they only skid in place as the portal continued to drag them. 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 portal lifted her and then pulled her toward its gaping maw.
"SEAN! LESTER! HELP!"
The Gate then swallowed her whole.
"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!"
After devouring its last two victims, the portal grew even more unstable. The runes comprising its body dissipated into thin air 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.