Author’s note: Next chapter tomorrow since I spent way too much time on the prologue. I guess it’s much harder since it connects many dots from the past to the current events. Ugh.
Loiterous, Mercenary Guild area, afternoon.
“Oh? You’re back.” Magent laid comfortably on two chairs, craning his head to see the visitor. “It took you longer than you said though.” he grinned meaningfully.
“I’ve stumbled upon some unexpected harvest.” the Night Terror placed his findings on the desk.
“Let’s see. Location of the Wasp nest, two Night Eagles’ eggs and the hide of the bear fitting the description. Well, not bad, newbie. I can give you 150 contribution points for that.” Magent quickly assessed.
“Can I exchange the points someplace else?” the black werewolf figure asked.
“Since you already know of that place, why bother asking? However, if you want me to introduce you, you need to accomplish much more than this.” Magent shrugged indifferently.
“No need.” after Magent inscribed 150 contribution points into the black card of the werewolf figure, he turned to leave. “I’d appreciate if the tasks weren’t so “misleading” next time.”
“Valuable intel has its price as well, kiddo.” Magent laughed raucously, sending the figure off with a playful smile.
“Have you visited the place I told you about?” Cindy looked at Icicle with a smile.
“Yes, 150 contribution points total.” Icicle shrugged. There wasn’t much else he could do for now. The tasks listed on the board of the Mercenary Guild took too much time for too little of a reward.
“150, huh? You won’t be able to buy any meaningful for that, but you said you needed to work on your body a little, then this much should barely suffice.” Cindy ruffled Icicle’s black hair. “Remember to take as many of those easy tasks as you can. Otherwise the training plan I helped you draft will be nothing but a messy sheet of paper.”
“I know.” Icicle nodded with a smile. The stones he and Faura’s party found in the Kobold’s Vault were as he thought, very valuable to Mages’ progress. Their price never dropped and even often went up. Thus, the elemental stones were often used as currency between Mages.
Since the stones formed only in the terrains with the vast majority of one element, those places were often protected by powerful monsters or families with deep heritage. A budding Mage wouldn’t have much of an access to them unless he robbed someone. As for the chance of that someone being weak, it need not to be said…
The stones Kobolds used were of course of the lowest quality, with a lot of impurities. The pink reptile-like monster casters used them as mana banks, keeping an additional elemental dose of mana inside the oval rocks.
Thanks to his efforts in securing the rest of the stones for the Mage Guild, Cindy took it on herself to purify water and dark element stones Icicle plundered from the Kobold Vault for free. As for the little trinket-like stones Icicle had found in the Kobolds’ clothing, he had to give them up as a payment for Cindy’s “power-up plan” as she called it.
Now that he was a part of the Mage Guild, Cindy stopped being so “cute” and “kind”. She showed her business side, saying things like “For everything to prosper, I need to be paid.” This of course had reason. The Mage Guild would go bankrupt if they just focused on developing Mages without the members giving anything back.
Naturally, Icicle asked about the usefulness of the trinkets. He wouldn’t give up a potential source of income. Especially when he had a backdoor to the Kobold Vault.
From what Cindy said, the trinket-like stones were apparently used as gems. Embedding them in jewelry added various properties to the rings, brooches, earrings and necklaces. More often than not, Mages acquired those trinkets for their mortal families, providing the guards with auxiliary means of combat. Young family members who went out adventuring often carried one of those.
In gaming terms, such a piece of jewelry would be a consummable item with 1-3 times usage, either for defense or to unleash some sort of magic attack.
Icicle naturally didn’t need any of those. He had magic, but he could sell the stones for additional contribution points income. The only reason he had decided to take the tasks from Magent’s Mercenary Guild was to earn points he could exchange in the underground area Cindy mentioned to him later.
Cindy’s plan was in fact quite simple. Icicle had to earn contribution points he could exchange in the restricted area governed by all the guilds. All sorts of Artifacts, exotic items, weapons, books, information, competition and protective gear could be found there. Naturally, the sellers were a part of Vilen Town’s guilds.
From time to time, Merchants from the Bazzar were invited to display their goods, but that was a rare occassion. Usually, guild members traded with each other. The payment method was something of equivalent value or currency – contribution points!
As Icicle expected, the lizardman heart he had eaten had indeed boosted his endurance considerably. Naturally, there were other kinds of food that could do so as well. Some were easier to acquire than others, but every single one of them shared a few traits. They were either expensive or time consuming to acquire! What’s more, Icicle didn’t have the necessary strength to combat those beasts.
On the other hand, buying a piece of meat from one was much easier when you had access! That’s exactly what Cindy’s plan relied upon. Icicle had to earn contribution points off easy tasks then exchange them for resources he couldn’t normally acquire through middlemen, that would be Vilen Town’s guild members. For a budding Mage like him, the resources sold in the underground area were a treasure trove!
Staying behind in levels was something that was acceptable, but getting beaten by every NPC in the beginner area was a joke. Icicle didn’t want to stay that way, so he decided to take a shortcut. Cindy presented him with one, but it wasn’t without a price. Once Icicle heard the conditions, he wanted to kowtow to Marisse for making him the direwolf set. Without it, he would most likely need to cut his sleeping time to complete the tasks in time.
After running errands for the joint coalition of the Guilds, Icicle was supposed to exchange the gathered contribution points for ingredients Cindy pointed out to him. Those included meat, various creature’s blood and rare plants. All of them had a favorable effect towards increasing one’s strength or endurance. As for fulfilling Cindy’s conditions or gathering any extra, it all depended on him.
“When can I get introduced?” Icicle asked with longing. He was used to working hard if he had a goal in mind. Right now, it was quite simple – get stronger. At least strong enough so that no catfish nor some shark could throw him around like a pinball.
“You can get introduced right now, but I won’t be the one to do so. Come on.” Cindy beckoned.
“Wait here, I’ll be right back.” Cindy closed the door behind her, leaving Icicle in a room upstairs.
A neatly made bed covered by a blue sheet in cute brown teddy bears stood next to the window. A pair of small eyes glanced at Icicle from the windowsill. It was a pink teddy bear holding a bright red heart with an “I love you” inscribed on it. At the left corner side of the room stood a wardrobe, next to which was a tightly shut coffer.
To the left of the door was a white washstand with a fresh towel on top. A few bottles of perfume and makeup adorned the washstand and the shelf above it. Icicle whiffed the woman’s perfume permeating the room and sat on the bed, facing the door. Since Cindy told him to wait, he didn’t check what was behind the door to his left.
Finally, the boredom got the better of Icicle, he reached out to the teddy bear on the windowsill and smiled. The texture was soft and fluffy. He squeezed the heart and the pink teddy bear issued out a cute voice “I love you!”
“Heh, I love you too, teddy bear!” Icicle held the teddy in front of him and smiled.
Water drizzled down the well-developed figure of a female, making her skin reddish from the hot sensation. Long lustrous black hair cascaded down like a waterfal, exuding a fresh aroma of the shampoo. Wringing her hair dry, the woman exited the steamy shower and loosely wore a bathrobe. Her fine curves jutted out through the piece of clothing, outlining her voluptuous figure.
At this very moment, coupled with the steamy room and her reddish complexion, most men would fall for this barely clothed stunner right away.
Vilenne exited her bathroom, wrapping a towel around her head. She hummed under her nose, refreshed after the afternoon shower.
Icicle heard the doors click and looked at the direction. In front of him stood a stunning woman with her bathrobe loosely hanging, revealing a part of her twin peaks and thighs.
“That old vixen.” Icicle thought, recalling how “hush hush” Cindy was in calling him to “her” room. Naturally, even if he knew what she was planning, he wouldn’t say no. Chances such as this didn’t come often.
Tapping his chin, Icicle looked the figure up and down with a very satisfied expression. As he did, Vilenne noticed him sitting on her bed and holding her pink teddybear.
“Mm, really well-endowed.” he said, grinning from ear to ear.
Vilenne stood there, petrified, dropping her towel on the ground. After a few seconds, she came back to life, quickly covering her protruding curves. “You really have a great courage to peek on me, little bastard.” she said through her teeth.
“If I wanted to peek on you, I would open that door.” Icicle pointed to the bathroom and squeezed the teddy bear, which let out the soft, cute “I love you.”
“Give that back!” Vilenne snatched the teddy bear and put it back on the windowsill.
“What are you still doing here, get out!” Vilenne caught Icicle by the ear and tried to drag him out.
“Cindy asked me to wait here!” Icicle innocently protested.
“Liar! Get out!” Vilenne screamed. She knew that Cindy could pull a prank on her. The sly guildmaster was well aware that Vilenne decided to take a shower after teaching her students in the afternoon. Nonetheless, the little bastard, whether framed or not, dared to peek on her so he deserved punishment!
After struggling for a while, Vilenne decided to take more decisive measures. She pivoted on her foot and started choking Icicle from behind.
“Why don’t you say something witty now, huh little bastard?” she gloated.
“Really well-endowed. Soft and springy.” came out a weak, satisfied voice.
A red flush creeped through Vilenne’s face, making her tighten the grip. Icicle’s face became beet red as the source of oxygen was cut off. He tapped Vilenne’s elbow after a while and said with a barely audible voice ”Enough, little brat.”
Vilenne was too angry to listen. She didn’t care if the little bastard died, he was an adventurer. For all she cared, he could go to hell!
Icicle’s mouth curled into a sly smile. He was getting weaker and weaker, yet he enjoyed the sensation on his back. However, all good things must come to an end. Stretching out his thumb and forefinger, Icicle violently pinched Vilenne’s thigh.
“Ah!” Vilenne jolted upwards from the sudden shock, releasing her grip a little. Icicle turned around, facing her face to face. Both of their faces were beet red, one from embarrassment, the other from the lack of oxygen.
“You’re too young to tame this lion, little brat.” Icicle huffed with difficulty, landing a weak flick on Vilenne’s forehead.
Instinctively covering her forehead with both hands, Vilenne glared at him through her fingers. “I’ll kill you, little bastard.” her aura surged as she said through her teeth.
The door opened and Cindy waltzed in, covering her mouth with surprise. “I was about to ask if you waited long, but it seems I have interrupted something. Don’t mind me, continue.”
“Get off me!” Vilenne pushed Icicle off, making him fall on his butt. She glared at the two angrily and walked into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
“Not bad kiddo, starting it off with a missionary… I totally thought you were lovers right there.” Cindy praised, grinning from ear to ear. She said it loudly and with such an unwavering confidence as if it was gospel. Hearing that, Vilenne was on the verge of kicking the door in, picking up her sword and lashing out on both of them until they’were nothing more than fine cut sushi.
Icicle only smiled wryly. His guess was now confirmed. Of course going for the risky play was his intention, so he had nothing to grumble about.
“Hey Vilenne, I’m a bit busy, so could you take Icicle to the underground area for me? He’ll wait for you outside.” Cindy said shamelessly. “Come on.” she beckoned Icicle to leave.
The invisible barrier in front of the entrance to the bathroom rippled as Vilenne slammed the wall with her fist.
“That’s why I couldn’t feel her presence.” Icicle thought, exiting the room. This must have been some sort of anti-detection array.
“Hee hee, you did well.” Cindy ruffled Icicle’s hair with a smile. “Here are your stones.” she handed five pure water mana stones and nine pure dark mana stones to Icicle.
“Shouldn’t there be more?” Icicle frowned. Even if the water stones were refined, there should be at least 10 of them.
“The rest is your down payment for my recent services.” Cindy said with a meaningful smile.
Shaking his head with a satisfied smile, Icicle said, “You know I still need them, right?”
“But of course! You can work them off!” Cindy grinned from ear to ear, disappearing right after. Only her voice echoed about, “Wait for your teacher right there~!”
“Damn, she moves underground so fast my [Sense presence] instantly lost her.”
Back in the bathroom, Vilenne washed her face a few times, fuming. Even Ivir didn’t piss her off as much as the little bastard did. When was the time she was embarrassed so much by some youngster? The little bastard actually dared to take so many liberties with her!
“I swear I’ll murder that goddamn kid.” Vilenne continued splashing water on her face as if it could restore her sanity.
Taking a deep breath, she looked at herself in the mirror. “Take him to the underground, bla bla bla.” she mimicked Cindy, making a funny face. “What else? Change his diapers?!”
Vilenne’s two cheeks started to redden as she did her utmost to stay calm. “Wait, take him to the underground…?” she thought for a bit, suddenly grinning from ear to ear. “Just you wait little bastard, I’ll make you go through hell even if it’s the last thing I do!”
Waiting for a good while, Icicle finally saw Vilenne emerging from her room. She wore her usual tight fitting black leather set accentuated by the sword on her thigh. “Let’s go.” she said indifferently.
Icicle stared at her from behind, somewhat dazed. “A shame, really.”
“What did you say?” Vilenne turned and asked.
“Why did you have to change? You looked really good in that bathrobe.” Icicle sighed regretfully.
“Did I?” Vilenne’s face turned pensive. She then turned and walked straight ahead.
“Stay calm! You can kill the little bastard later!” she kept on repeating in her head, balling her fists.
Icicle smothered his chuckle when he saw Vilenne act that way. Teasing her was just too fun.
In the underground area of the Mage Guild, two Mages looked at Icicle with a scowl that quickly receded as they recognized Vilenne. A sturdy brass door covered with glowing inscription symbols opened as Vilenne waved her badge to make way. What laid beyond the door was a swirling mass of blue energy.
“Now enter.” Vilenne said indifferently and waltzed into the swirl.
Icicle followed behind her, looking at the portal curiously. “I wonder if it can really help me understand space mood.”
After entering the turbulent space, Icicle felt as if his innards were about to come out of his mouth. He moved through the space slowly, like a foreign object dropped into a pot filled with mud.
The sensation didn’t last long. Icicle was ejected out of the portal, barely keeping his footing as his body swayed forward.
His surroundings brightened a little. White crystals embedded into the ceiling and two torches set in the walls next to the portal shed some light unto the area. Two guards sat near the entrance, playing chess. When Icicle and Vilenne entered, they merely nodded with their heads before turning their attention to the board.
“So this is the place, huh?” Icicle curiously looked around as he followed Vilenne through the barrier. Almost immediately curious pairs of eyes locked onto him. It was to be expected as he didn’t receive the required badge to pass through the barrier yet.
The inside of the barrier was completely different. Rows of torches and bright yellow crystals shed light upon the whole area. To the right side was a library. In the center stood a giant ring where one could battle against others, either for training purposes or as some sort of bet.
To the left stood an isolated cultivating area, where people who bought resources could privately sort through them or meditate to regain mana or even break through to another realm. Behind the giant ring could be seen a little town where one could rest, sell their goods or talk with friends in the inn. The currency was of course contribution points.
Vilenne approached the desk in front of them to registrate Icicle as a member. It was also the place where one showed up to register their stay in the area. These standby people were often sent on emergency missions.
“Cindy gave us a heads up. New Mage Guild member, Icicle, right?” a black-haired, bearded middle-aged man looking like a mongol asked with a friendly smile.
“Yes, that’s me.” Icicle nodded.
“You can call me Khan.” the middle-aged man smiled, pointing at his face. He then passed two black cards over. “I need you to put your mana into both of these. Please use your name or a nickname to complete the registration process. As long as the name is not taken, you’ll gain a full membership.”
Icicle recognized the black cards. Magent gave him exactly the same ones when he registered as a Mercenary.
“I have one already.” Icicle said, placing his Night Terror card on the wooden desk.
“That makes the process much easier.” taking his card, Khan put a stamp on it. The stamp was absorbed into the black card, suffusing it with yellow glow. The wanton yellow energy twisted and changed shapes until it formed into a little earth golem that settled in the bottom left corner of the card.
“Congratulations, you’re now a full-fledged member of Cindy’s Mage Guild. Here is your rank 1 badge.” Khan gave Icicle a shield-shaped badge depicting a giant deep rooted tree hugged by an earth golem.
“What’s this star for?” Icicle asked noticing a metal star pin embedded into his badge.
“Usually privileges come with ranking up, but there are some exceptions. Cindy told us that you should be given free access to the resources of of our library. There’s only one restriction, you can’t lay your hands on any information above Master level.” Khan said solemnly.
“Guildmaster was really generous.” Icicle grinned.
“Now for contribution points. You can earn them by doing tasks for any of the guilds. The best rates are obviously at the guild you belong to. Aside from doing tasks, you can share information, identify artifacts or unknown materials, refer new talents or earn us fame and glory throughout the continent. If you have anything to sell or exchange, you should head to the northern area where you can set up a stall. Newcomers like you are given 3 months period to accomodate, so your payments in every place will be much lower than normal. Make sure to use that time wisely.” Khan informed with a bright smile.
“Thank you.” Icicle bowed. He had a good impression of the mongol middle-aged man.
“Remember that there are various guilds gathered over here. We compete with them and against each other. If someone smells you’re a newbie, they’ll probably try to extort the contribution points from you. Make sure to keep that in mind.” Khan warned.
“Oh don’t worry about that. That little guy is a devil. If anyone’s supposed to be worried it’s definetely not him.” before Icicle could even say anything, Vilenne interceded and grabbed him by the collar. “Thanks for everything Khan, I’ll show him around.”
Vilenne let Icicle go when they approached a giant black stone nearby. There was a glowing ranking of members of the Mage Guild written all over it.
“Is this the power ranking?” Icicle asked with curiosity.
“It is. All the people of Advanced level and below can be listed here. Every guild has one.” Vilenne looked at the black, oval monument with admiration and respect.
Icicle looked at the first three numbers on the list.
“Do you all beat each other by one point as some sort of respect?” Icicle asked as he looked at the board. The points always went down by one.
“Yes, it’s a tradition.” Vilenne nodded solemnly.
“Do you get anything if you’re ranked here?” Icicle asked with curiosity. He definitely wouldn’t lose to any NPC in the future. If he could gain resources by being ranked, that’s the best shortcut he could possibly get. Of course Cindy told him it’s impossible to beat those people quickly, as they were monsters, but he had to aim somewhere. Where better than the top?
“Naturally. The higher you’re ranked, the more monthly contribution are allotted to your name. You can also receive a better badge” Vilenne looked at the monument with yearning.
“What is your rank?”
“I knew you would ask that.” Vilenne heaved a sigh. “I’m closing in on top 100.”
“This Arie, what was her real power rank? Is there a way to see?” Icicle looked at Vilenne with a cheeky smile.
“I’m glad you asked!” Vilenne grinned widely. She moved her hand over the monument and another list of numbers appeared.
1. Arie 7586
2. Fyre 6898
3. Lukks 6760
“Let me guess, the real power ranking also reflects on your allotted contribution points?” Icicle said with a smile. This Arie person seemed to kick ass.
“You’re quick learner.” Vilenne nodded. “So, tell me little bastard, where do you aim? Top 200?” Vilenne asked with a teasing smile.
“Give me 2 years and I’ll be at the top.” Icicle said with confidence.
“Pffft!” Vilenne burst out with laughter. “Sure, if you can beat Arie in two years, I’ll become your housemaid.”
“Be careful with what you say, little brat.” Icicle smirked. “Besides, having you just as a housemaid seems wasteful.” he shrugged it off and passed by her.
Seeing Vilenne’s face fluctuating with anger that she tried to forcefully suppress, Icicle asked with a teasing smile “So, where are we going next?”
As soon as the words left his mouth, Vilenne’s expression turned for the better. “Just follow me!”
“Little bastard, you can’t even imagine what sort of baptism of fire I’ve prepared for you.” Vilenne thought cheekily, looking around for the person she had chosen for the little bastard’s punishment.