Situated in a somewhat secluded area near the ruins of the destroyed city, lay a small, if somewhat fortified encampment. Soon after the initial spawn in of the boss class monsters that obliterated all of the most populous settlements, those who had taken the opportunity of transforming their race fled the remains of the broken city, and adopted a new city, promptly named it Fortress. While not overly large, in comparison to the hundreds who settled down there, it was still quite a large encampment.
The outermost area was where those who had the most combat experience stayed, normally patrolling the series of walls surrounding the town, or simply relaxing in the inner area just behind it. The innermost area consisted mostly of those who ran the small town, and where most of the stored goods from the outside were kept, and where it could be argued the security was tightest within the walls of Fortress. The space between these two respective zones was where the roughly 1500 people who had made it here rested, and built up small homes.
It was also this same area that was well known for the small marketplace that had been propped up in the few weeks that had passed. While somewhat haphazard, everything seemed to come into place quite well. The economics of food and supplies had changed quite drastically, but given a few of the inhabitant’s magical abilities, it could be said that food or water certainly wasn’t in short supply. What was most desired now, was the magical cores that often required those inside to go out and hunt for them.
As for those who regularly entered and exited the small town, there were really only two places along the entire wall where such a thing was possible. On both the north and south ends, a large opening was elegantly cut out of the outer walls that looked to be entirely made of stone. While many tended to come and go often, usually not venturing out farther than they could return before nightfall, a select few ventured further out, gathering what couldn’t be found in just the small area around the walls. And it was at this exact moment that one of those select few was returning to the small town.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Drake muttered to himself as he looked up at the sprawling wall in front of him.
When those in the small group he had infiltrated spoke of the town they were headed back to, he thought of it as a simple camp, no better than the images that came to mind when people spoke of a mercenary camp. Nothing but groupings of tents and people. This on the other hand, was quite something else altogether.
As the small caravan slowly rode closer, two people came into sight near the large opening in the wall. Each seemed to be in some type of uniform, although what exactly Drake couldn’t say. It seemed to be more than a set of simple steel armor.
“Hey Kari, Jayce, long time no see.” Brian yelled out to the two figures, who both seemed to look to each other in a kind of mock laughter.
“Eh, what took you guys so long, we were expecting you guys back a day ago!” A woman called back, and waved over to the small group.
“Another day or two and we were thinking of sending some people out to look for you.” The other guard, a mature looking man smirked at Brian with a certain sense of companionship, before quickly waving them inside. “Come on now, no point in wasting everyone’s time.”
“Ha, thanks you two.” Brain gave a short wave to the two guards before pointing towards the back. “By the way, we picked up a stray on the way back. His clothes were pretty banged up, and he was all alone. Said that he had been hiding out since everything went to shit, and from the looks of him, I’d believe him.” He gave a short laugh.
“You actually found someone just out there alone?” The two guards looked to each other questioningly before slowly making their way over to the one man they couldn’t recognize.
“So, you’re the new guy, huh? How in the world did you survive out there?” The older man looked to Drake with some suspicion, before glancing at the small imp that was hiding behind his shoulder.
“You actually contracted one of the little buggers?” The surprise was clear in his voice now, as he looked even harder at the gray imp hiding just behind Drake’s shoulder. “How in the world did you manage to catch one of the things? They’re fast and dangerous as hell if they have the right sort of magic.”
A contract with a demonic creature such as an imp, implied that this man had done more than simply hid out until he was found. It was very likely that he too had the same sort of spirit that seemed to infect those who embraced their new powers, and ventured out. And as for this man in particular, that meant venturing into the kind of demonic territory that imps were more commonly found in.
“It was more like we found each other, if that’s what you’re curious about.” Drake said with a false smile. “It was by pure luck than by anything else. She just sort of materialized in front of me, and before I knew it, we formed a contract.”
“Really now? Lucky you.” The man said appraisingly. “Well, I don’t see much reason to keep you here.” He turned to Brian and yelled. “Go ahead!” Waving his hand for them to move forward.
The cart, along with all the remaining members of the small group, slowly rolled through the city walls, and into the interior. As they did, Drake began to see just what those who were given the choice of the various humanoid races could actually do.
The interior of the wall, much like the wall itself, seemed to be made almost entirely of stone. If Drake had to guess, there was likely a form of earth magic that made this possible. In any case, the overall infrastructure seemed to be sturdy enough to repel any random attacks and not break down, which was more than Drake gave them credit for.
The carts suddenly came to a stop, and with it, the driver of Drake’s cart waved him off, saying, “We have some business up ahead. You just go ahead and jump off.” The driver took a breath and expression softened.
“Welcome to Fortress.” He said with a smile. “You should be able to find a place in the center of town to rest, called the ‘Dwarven Flagon’. Don’t let the name get to ya, just some people having some fun with naming their own place. Be safe now, ya hear?”
With the brief send off, the carts promptly began moving towards the inner area of the city as soon as Drake jumped off, which left him somewhat stranded in the new town. He didn’t know anyone, and no real idea of just where to look for the man that Therion had a particular grudge against. Still…
Fortress, huh. So that’s what they named this town? Drake thought.
Well, it certainly wasn’t the most original of names, but then again, most cities of the past weren’t exactly original themselves. Some were often named after a certain member of royalty, or simply the land that it was built on. He certainly could have thought of worse names for it to be called.
[I can’t believe there’s so many people.] Yami looked on in wonder at the various crowds.
For a monster such as her, normally to see so many people at once would likely be spell the end of her life. However, even if some people who passed them gave her a dirty look here or there, no one would willingly antagonize someone who had contracted a beast or a demon unless they were looking for trouble.
Unlike Drake, who had slowly been getting more and more accustomed to his own power and abilities, most seemed to do their best to live a simple life. Out of the entire city, only about half of the population would regularly venture outside the walls to fight, and improve themselves.
[This really isn’t even that many. Back before you were around, this amount of people could be walking past you on the street, and I wouldn’t bat an eye. It was perfectly normal. In comparison to that…] Drake suddenly stopped, and began to ponder to himself.
The others on the way back to this small village talked quite a bit. The story that caught his attention the most however, would be just what happened while he was fast asleep, and the week’s deadline was up. Boss class creatures, monsters that would only be known in myth or in legend appeared, ravaging to the whole city to pieces. They seemed to go after humans in particular, which explained to Drake just why he hadn’t seen a single normal human since he changed on the first day.
The casualties they suffered must have been catastrophic, especially since simple guns couldn’t even really scratch his scaled skin when he ventured into the city. He could only imagine how many had died.
Yami looked down pensively, and noticing his mood, responded, [Well, no matter. Something like that doesn’t really concern us at all. If you hadn’t come along when you did, I might have not been created at all. Simply put, it was fate.] She quickly fluttered down from his head, and hovered in front of Drake, a small look of worry clear on her face.
[Come on now, show me around. Getting all moody won’t change anything, and you know that Therion will be upset if we just leave him to the horrible fate of babysitter for more than a few days.]
[Right.] Drake couldn’t help but laugh a bit.
Drake began to make his way around the interior of the walls, taking his time, and enjoying the sense of civilization around him again. He hadn’t been inside for long, but he could really appreciate just how organized everything was. Given that most people would normally attempt to just set down wherever they wanted, such organization only further reinforced Drake’s idea of certain people being able to easily demolish and reconstruct these buildings wherever they wanted.
As Drake wandered about aimlessly, he came across a particular building that struck his eye. It looked to be some sort of office, and had a bit of wood mixed in with the stone. He had been carried straight past it without looking whenever he first entered on the carts, but it was near the south gate. What caught his eye most of all however, was a wooden sign that was hanged precariously over the street. It was actually called a Guild Hall.
Some people take this a bit too seriously. Drake snickered to himself as he looked up at the sign. Although, now that he thought about it, of course this would happen. People are given magic and power beyond their wildest dreams, they’re off fighting monsters, and protecting their own small little town, so of course it’s easy to adopt the mindset that they need such a place. At the very least, it certainly helped with the organization of the town itself.
However, given the type of people who regularly went outside the walls to train and fight, it was no surprise that those in the Guild Hall knew its members well. The stereotypical member was one of two people, the gung-ho type who enjoyed power for power’s sake, much like Drake, and the kind who simply were trying to make the best of their new life. While making a life in the walls of the city was possible, it was the same as being trapped in a sense.
The attitudes of these two kinds of people was also the reason why the small restaurant on the ground floor was so quiet right now, despite there being so over 30 people inside. Some were talking about where to find particular monsters, while others were attempting to get others to join them for a quick journey outside the walls. However, the vast majority simply ate their lunch and minded their own business. The most that could be heard inside was a soft murmur with the occasional clinking of spoons and forks.
The wooden front door opened slowly as Drake slowly peeked into the building before walking in. He was still wearing the red cloak, although he had managed to improve it slightly over the course of the few days. There were less holes, and he had managed to make himself at least somewhat presentable. His hood was up again, leaving only his piercing yellow irises staring out into the tavern-like environment, with Yami thoroughly hidden inside. After the multitude of gazes where Drake was deposited at, they both decided it would be best for her to stay hidden for now.
He moved along the wooden floorboards, before promptly making his way over to a reception area of sorts. He carried himself as he normally did, but among the other, more average members of the building, they couldn’t help but look at him with suspicion. Drake’s steps made almost no sound at all, and if they weren’t looking at him directly, they would’ve been hard pressed to tell that anyone had entered in the first place. Even more impressive was the fact that Drake seemed to be doing it all unconsciously, which was a telltale sign that whoever he was had more experience than most of them out in the wild.
It was also obvious that he was brand new to the city, as most could at least recognize those who regularly walked around the city and who didn’t.
“Who the hell is that?” One of them murmured under his breath to the others around him.
“No clue, new guy by the looks of it.” Another responded.
“What’s with that getup anyway? Think he’s hiding something?”
“Try it if you want Josh, but fight with a guy like that and you’ll just get burned more often than not.” The man chuckled before edging his friend’s gaze away from the man.
They turned back to one another, and resumed talking about the plan for the day. Paying so much attention to a random stranger wasn’t nearly worth the trouble it could cause them otherwise. Most of the others had the same reaction, and quickly went about their normal routine.
As for the reception area, there were two different women working there, in various states of boredom. Seeing someone approach them, they assumed a more professional stance, and looked expectantly to their supposed customer.
The two women looked to be twins of sorts, or at the very least were extremely similar in appearance. The only real way to differentiate them was their hair color, one of which was a dark brown, while the other was a curious, dark green color. They both wore a long-sleeved white tunic, with a slightly baggy pair of brown pants.
“Ah, hello there. Do you need anything?” One motioned Drake over to her in a professional manner.
“Nothing in particular. I’m just new to town and I’m looking for someone. It should be a fairly large man, with stone-like skin and markings covering over his body.” Drake mentioned offhandedly.
Truthfully, he knew someone matching that description. The large barbarian who knocked him roughly ten feet into some rubble back in the first week of his transformation matched it almost perfectly. But, that was a race that many could have transformed into, although he had only seen one other in the city the entire time he walked through. It would be best to know just how many were like that here.
“Why do you want to know about something like that? Some kind of grudge?” The woman looked at Drake appraisingly as she slowly pulled out a book from underneath the desk.
“Nothing like that. I’m looking for a friend actually. He got into a scuffle with one a little while back.” Drake said with a clear voice.
“Stone-like skin…” The women scowled to herself for a short moment, before waving her hand through the book until she came upon a specific page.
“There’s only a handful like that really. The Goliath race. They’re almost exclusively suited for close combat, although one in the city is also a Druid. No aptitude for normal magic at all. Probably has something to do with the race itself.” She said in an offhand manner.
“Really, do you know where I could find them?” Drake said excitedly. From the looks of it, she had a list of all those who lived in the city, probably as a way to keep some semblance of responsibility among so many people with abnormal abilities.
The woman sighed for a moment, before looking to Drake with a look of frustration. “Look, I know you’re new, but I can’t do that. If I did, I would have a ton of people always coming to me for little bits of information to get back at each other. It would cause nothing but trouble for me and the town.”
This sort of situation had occurred a few times before. Mainly with rivalries between various groups, or the occasional scuffle outside the walls. Getting involved in such matters did absolutely nothing beneficial, so it was determined that it was best if she and the other secretary stay out of it.
“Is that so…” Drake said as he pondered to himself. “Well then, what can you do about this?”
Drake placed the bag he had formed a day or two ago in front of the woman, who only gave him a curious look in response. He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face.
“I have about one to two dozen scales that I picked up before I came into this town. How much would you give me for this?” Drake asked with a faint smile.
The Wyvern had been by far the toughest creature that Drake had fought. Likely, no one that lived in this small town could have hoped to kill it, as even Drake’s own magic crashed on its scales and shattered before it could do any real damage. Even then, that level of power was giving them the same amount of magic ability as a Lord of Sin. One would have to be either extremely lucky or extremely skilled to even hope to approach magic of Drake’s strength in such a short amount of time.
As for imagining the sort of person who could kill it without magic… the thought even frightened Drake a bit.
“Wyvern scales? What are those-” She stopped speaking completely and her eyes began to widen dramatically as Drake dumped out the scales onto the desk. She picked up the scales before taking them between her hands and made a motion as if she was trying to break the scale.
The dark-brown scale didn’t bend or even give the hint of budging, which only left the young woman even more impressed. She then set the piece of scale back on the desk before she looked to the back and called out a name.
“Lamario, get over here. I can’t do this by myself!” She yelled out.
Much like those out in the field, the skill to identify rare items was just as important as identifying the monsters themselves. Within the guild building, they always tried to keep at least one or two people who had higher levels of such a skill. However, such individuals often asked for a percentage of the profits from selling such items, and the seller often required such a thing for higher rarity items. It was a necessary give and take.
This way, the guild had either a satisfied customer, or kept themselves from being unnecessarily scammed with an average, but more durable item. Avoiding such a simple mistake was beneficial for the both of them.
“What is it, I’m busy.” A monotone voice called from the back.
“Busy with what!?” She yelled back, annoyed at how long he was taking. Her fingers tapped against the desk, impatiently. “Get over here, I have something I can’t identify!”
“Aaahh, fine, dammit.” A grumble was heard followed by a heavy set of walking with a slight irregular step.
A mature man appeared from the back and walked over. It was hard to tell what race he exactly was, but he was olive-skinned, with slick backed hair with a single piece elegantly hanging across his face. The exact kind of man that made most other men think his face was especially punchable.
The man walked over and promptly looked between Drake and the scales, before giving a deep sigh and picking one up. Not a second afterward, he grabbed his head in what seemed to be a sudden shock, and he grimaced as he quickly set the scale back down.
“Well, you said it was… what, a Wyvern scale?” The man looked to Drake for affirmation, but he continued to talk before he got an answer. “He isn’t lying, that much is for sure.” The man looked to the pair with a sour attitude.
He ruffled through the scales a couple more times. “It’s obviously a high-grade crafting item, but god knows what it could actually be used for. Doubt anyone could really make good use of it yet either. Too soon to see something like this.” He said haphazardly.
“Honestly, this kind of thing shouldn’t be available to us at this point, just how did you manage to kill such a thing?” He looked to Drake and asked.
“Just found the body. Something bigger must have killed it.” Drake lied.
“Really now…” The man murmured to himself, rubbing his fingers against the scales a couple of times.
“Anyway, just buy it off of him for ten medium monster cores. It’s gonna be at least a month or two before we have anyone who can use this stuff anyway.”
Monsters cores? They actually trade those in the humanoid settlements? Drake knew that they had some sort of use for it. After all, even in the first few days after he transformed, he ran up on a group rummaging through the remains of a golem for one. What they actually used them for however, was anyone’s guess.
[Yami, I’m going to need your help here. I have no clue if this is a good price or not. You can feel that sort of thing out, right?]
[Hm? Oh yea, sure.] At the very least, feeling out the emotions of the man would be child’s play for her.
Yami peeked her head out from underneath Drake’s hood, as her crimson eyes stared down the man from the shadows of his cloak. Within the hood, a small chuckle could be heard as she settled back down between Drake’s horns.
[He’s nervous, but he’s trying not to show it. Take that how you want.] She responded. They both agreed that it would be best if she hid for the time being. No point in causing trouble.
So, because I’m new, he’s trying to trick me out of these scales? They actually think they can get away with this? Drake could barely hold in an evil smile.
“You assume I don’t know the price, so you try to screw me over? Is that really a smart move to try on a stranger to this city?” Drake had a thin, nasty smile on his face. It was true, he had no idea of the price, but what he did know was that he wasn’t going to allow himself to be tricked by some greedy merchants.
“A-ah, of course. My apologies.” The swarthy man quickly bowed before hurriedly walking back to where he was called from. “Give him twenty, and a recommendation.”
“Yes sir.” She responded quickly.
The attendant, Cassandra, briefly considered her manager’s attitude. Of course, the seller was perfectly right. Just because it wasn’t going to be sold right away, didn’t mean that such an item would be sold for so little. But… the sudden presence from the man in front of them. It reminded her entirely too much of the terrifying beasts outside, although she couldn’t say why a simple man would give off such a feeling.
“I’m sorry for the misunderstanding,” added the woman, “please accept this as an apology.” The woman promptly took out the twenty cores before adding an extra two onto the pile.
Seeing the discrete addition onto the pile, Drake stifled a stiff grin. “Alright. I accept the apology.”
The complete change from the two really struck a chord with Drake. Not because he was afraid that he wasn’t going to get a price that he deserved, but the far more terrifying prospect that he got more than he would otherwise.
Something was telling him, from the center of his very core, that these people were beneath him.