What's this? Another chapter? Already? It can't be. Au contraire. It can be, and it is.

To be fair, this is more of a mini-chapter that takes care of some needed side business; but, hey, a chapter's a chapter. And only two weeks between chapters? This hasn't happened since when I first started the story almost four years ago. I guess I was just feeling really motivated over break.

Anyway, that's enough from me. Let's get this show on the road.

Disclaimer

Dragon Quest IX is property of Square Enix and Nintendo and not me and probably not you.

What I do own are the characters that I make up, such as Michael, Jessica, and Allison, and some of the crazy things that happen to them.

Reviews:

...No reviews on the last chapter? Huh. That's never happened before... Maybe I wrote this one too fast for you guys?


Act 2 – Part 4: Vocational Shenanigans

(Jessica's POV)

"Look, all I'm saying is that, anytime we're near an inn, you suddenly start to feel exhausted."

I sighed in exasperation. "That's because anytime we're purposely near an inn, it's near the evening," I explained. "You may not know this, Allison, but normal people typically start to get exhausted around the evening."

Allison's eyes narrowed and opened her mouth to respond when the young Priestess running the inn suddenly interrupted us. "So…uh…it'll be how many for a room tonight?" she asked through a nervous smile, trying to pretend that she hadn't noticed us arguing right in front of her.

"Three," Allison practically spat at the woman.

The Priestess visibly flinched at the response and quickly busied herself behind the desk to find an open room. An awkward silence surrounded us for a minute, filled only with the sound of rustling papers and the jangling of keys, before the innkeeper broke the silence, hesitantly looking at me. "So…um…People say that whenever a Mage of a certain level of strength stays here, they see faeries in their dreams… And…um…I was thinking 'Hey, you're a Mage.' And you look kind of strong. W-Won't you stay the night? I-I mean, you're already staying the night, right? I won't charge you. I just want to see if it's true."

I was a bit taken aback by the odd request, but I saw no reason to decline the quivering woman's offer. "Yeah, sure," I agreed.

A look of relief passed over the woman's face as she handed me a room key. "Oh good. I do hope you have a pleasant stay. Sleep well!"

"Well, that was weird," Allison remarked as we walked away from the desk. "Wait, where's Michael?"


(Michael's POV)

"A Gladiator?"

"Yes, Gladiators are the true masters of the battlefield," the elderly Priest explained to me in the dark corner of the hallway outside the inn where we stood. "Fear means nothing to them. No monster can make them flinch!"

"Really?" I asked, impressed. "Does that also apply to women?"

"What?"

"What?"

The man gave me a strange look before continuing. "Additionally, they can handle the sorts of weapons that mere Warriors only dream of. Axes and hammers and the like."

"They can still use swords, though, right?" I asked. "I tend to prefer them at the moment."

"Yes, of course," he answered. "But, once more, I find myself asking the same question I first asked you, albeit for a different reason." He leaned closer to me with narrowed eyes. "You do seem to have great physical skill, but now I question if you truly have the proper composure for this. Perhaps I've made a mistake."

I gasped at the very thought. "No, no. I can assure you that I have the composure necessary to be a Gladiator," I said in defense of myself.

"Hm… Is that so?" the Priest asked, crossing his arms.

"M-Maybe I can prove it somehow?" I offered, not thinking about what that may entail.

The Priest considered my offer for a moment before nodding. "Let me tell you something," he began. "When I first saw you, I saw raw, untamed ferocity. That's why I called you over in the first place. You have incredible potential. However, untamed ferocity is the mark of a monster. A Gladiator must be able to control his fury."

"And how can I control my fury?" I asked, hoping it would be easy.

"Let's see…" the man continued thinking. "Yes, how about this. Try to defeat three Slimes using Dragon Slash while in a state of super-high tension."

"What!?" I protested. "How does that prove anything?"

"That will be a suitable test," the Priest answered, ignoring my perfectly reasonable question. "What do you say?"

I grumbled to myself, unsure of why I needed to do such a stupid task, but I accepted anyway.

The man before me nodded in approval. "Monsters tend to flee when they sense their adversary is much stronger than they are, but patience is a virtue, my child." I rolled my eyes. "Have faith in your purpose, and in time, the way of the Gladiator will unfold before you."

I thanked the Priest, then quickly hurried into the inn, hoping to catch up with the girls.

"Oh, there you are, Michael," I heard Jessica remark from the other side of the room as I stepped through the doorway. "Allison had just asked about you."

"Oh."

"Yeah, where were you?" Allison interrogated.

"I was just talking with someone. Did you guys get a room?" I asked, changing the subject.

"Yeah," Jessica confirmed. "I even managed to get it for free."

"How'd you manage that," I asked, impressed.

"I guess I'm just awesome like that," she beamed.

"There's some stupid rumor about Mages and dreams at this inn that the innkeeper wanted to see if was true, and Jessica decided to go along with it," Allison coldly explained.

I noticed that Jessica became crestfallen at her friend's tone – still bitter from their earlier disagreement. "Well, I think it was a great idea," I encouraged. "At the very least, you managed to get us a free room for the night; and, if you're lucky, you'll be able to tell us about a cool dream you had in the morning."

Jessica smiled again. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

"Whatever," Allison sighed. "Let's just get to our room and get to bed." Jessica just shrugged and followed after her.


I quietly sat up in my bed and checked on the other beds. Allison was sleeping soundly in the bed next to me, and Jessica lay in the bed beyond that, appearing to be dreaming. I smiled, curious about what she was dreaming about.

Being careful, I got out of bed and grabbed my stuff. Before tiptoeing out of the room, I arranged the pillows on my bed so that it looked like I was still lying there. I figured that tonight would be the best time to complete the task the man gave me earlier.

Safely outside the inn, I quickly made my way through the dim corridors towards the entrance.


(Jessica's POV)

"Where am I?" I asked myself. I stood up and looked at my strange surroundings. I appeared to be in a grassy area filled with bushes and flowers. The soft chirping of birds could be heard from the distance.

In a small patch of white flowers before me, a girl with long purple hair and a small pair of wings appeared before me. "Who are you?" I asked breathlessly, enthralled by the cute creature before me.

"I'm Wanda, the faerie of the wand," she answered softly.

Another similarly-looking faerie with shorter hair appeared next to her. "And I'm Wandine, her sister," she calmly introduced herself.

"We've got something really nice for you," Wanda announced in a whisper.

"But you can't have it for free," Wandine soothingly lamented.

"What is it, and what do I have to do?" I asked.

Wanda held out her cute little arms and a wand appeared in them. "Let us out of this wand and you can have it," she sweetly explained.

"We want to be free," Wandine added, twirling beautifully.

"But we need magic power to do it," Wanda continued, jumping excitedly.

"We need lots of magic power," Wandine emphasized in a singsongy voice.

"It's easy to get," Wanda giggled. "Just equip yourself with our wand, and kill ten monsters with Frizz."

"Ten monsters with Frizz?" I repeated, eager to help the two faeries.

"Not ten in one battle, silly," Wandine laughed. "Ten altogether."

"Just bring us…" Wanda began.

"…lots of magic power," Wandine finished.

"Say you'll do it, please!" the both begged at the same time with their irresistible baby-doll eyes.

"Yes, of course, absolutely," I promised without hesitation.

"You're nice," Wanda danced with glee.

"Very nice," Wandine happily clapped.

I blushed at the praise. "Thank you," I giggled.

"We live in a difference dimension," Wanda explained while still dancing around.

"So you can't meet us in real life," Wandine added, dancing with her sister.

"If you want to meet us, you'll have to come here again and stay," Wanda instructed, before her and her adorable sister both vanished once again, with the rest of the world fading away soon after, leaving me in quiet darkness.


I woke up and found that it was still the middle of the night. I tried rolling over, but I felt something hard in the bed next to me. Reaching around, I found the same wand that Wanda showed off laying in the bed next to me.

Gazing at it in wonder, I thought about what I should do. I eventually decided that it would be a good idea to just go and take care of the wand business right away. That way, we wouldn't have to waste any time tomorrow taking care of it.

Being careful not to wake anyone, I slowly climbed out of bed and used pillows to make it look like I was still there, just in case anyone woke up while I was out. Satisfied, I left the room and headed up through the Abbey, silently grateful that there were less people around at night. Upon reaching the entrance, however, I noticed a familiar silhouette standing outside.

"Michael?" I asked, confused.

Michael jumped a little when I called his name, and turned to face me. "Oh! Hey, Jessica. What are you doing up?" he asked.

"I could ask you the same thing," I responded.

He nodded and smiled. "Fair enough. A Priest told me that, if I want to become a Gladiator, I have to kill three slimes while at super-high tension. Figured I'd take care of it right now," he explained.

"A Gladiator?" I repeated. "Is that what you want to change into?"

He shrugged. "I may as well give it a shot. At the very least, it sounds cooler than Minstrel."

"I suppose," I said, smirking a little.

"Anyway, it's your turn. Why are you up?"

"Oh, well, I had this dream about two adorable faeries who are stuck in this wand, and they want me to torch a bunch of monsters with it so that they can escape," I answered, holding up the mysterious wand for him to see.

"They gave you this wand?" he asked, amazed.

"They sure did."

"From your dream."

"Yup."

"That's pretty cool," he admitted.

"Thanks," I said, smiling. "By the way, why were you just standing here? I thought you would have left immediately without wasting any time."

"I would have, but I'm having trouble coming up with a strategy," he sighed. "I thought that I could just Egg On myself to raise my tension, but I guess it doesn't work that way."

"Hm…" I wondered. "I wish I could help you out somehow." A lamp suddenly lit up inside my head. "Wait a minute, what if I Egg On you? I think you should be able to raise your tension that way. Plus, since we're both pretty much doing the same thing anyway, we may as well just do it together."

"That's actually a really good idea," Michael remarked, nodding. "I was thinking of going near Angel Falls, since the Slimes there are a lot weaker and don't turn into those stupid Slime Stacks. We'd have to Zoom there, though. Will you be okay with that?"

"I think I'll be alright. I just have to hold on tight, right?" I asked, placing an arm around him.

"Yup," he confirmed, placing his own arm around me, pulling me close. "Here we go."


(No One's POV)

It was absolute chaos in the fields outside of Angel Falls. Everywhere one looked, you could see hordes of monsters running away, shrieking in absolute terror.

In the eastern side of field near the mountains, a pack of Slimes – who had made the unfortunate mistake of taking a nightly stroll that evening – was fleeing a man who glowed with violent purple energy. The Slimes trembled as each powerful step their pursuer took closed the distance between them. Soon, they found themselves cornered against a cliff face. With nowhere else to go, the Slimes turned to face the purple bringer of certain death that now stood before them. Smiling manically, the man raised his sword, which glowed with both purple and orange energy, and swung down.

Meanwhile, in another part of the field, a woman was inducing her own panic amongst the resident monsters. The balls of fire she conjured with magic created monstrous shadows as they shot through the night towards their chosen victims. One Sacksquatch, a recent target of such an attack, screamed in agony as it hopped frantically towards the river, hoping to extinguish the growing inferno quickly consuming its body. It just didn't make it, though, and it collapsed onto the riverbank before bursting into a cloud of purple dust. A nearby Cruelcumber stared at where the other monster had fallen with an expression of sheer horror before being blasted into its own cloud of purple dust, struck from behind by another fireball.


(Michael's POV)

"That was easy."

"I had fun."

"It sure looks like you did. Your hair's a total mess right now." Jessica's bright red hair was currently tinged with sweat and dirt and in a tangled-up mess.

She grabbed a handful of her hair and inspected it. "Huh. I guess it is. I didn't think those monsters had put up that much of a fight." She shrugged and let her hair fall back down behind her. "Whatever. I'll just clean it in the morning."

"Well, first, I want to find the guy who gave me this quest so that I can let him know that I'm finished," I explained. "Then maybe I'll just go ahead and get my vocation changed right away."

"Cool," Jessica responded. "I'm kind of curious as to what the whole Vocation-changing process looks like."

Searching through the Abbey, we soon found the Priest who had sent me off on the hunt in the first place, who was thankfully still awake, despite it still being the middle of the night. He seemed surprised to see us approach him. "What are you doing up so late, my children?" he asked.

"I finished the test you gave me," I briskly answered.

"Almighty be praised!" the man exclaimed, clearly surprised. "You have defeated the three Slimes I requested while in a state of super-high tension? Then you have shown you have the necessary composure to become a Gladiator!" I smirked, glad that I finally got some of the recognition that I deserved. "Let me show you the light, child…" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small slip of paper, which he handed to me. Facing it towards a nearby candle, Jessica and I both read what was written on it.

This certificate hereby declares that the recipient has been approved by the Sinndicate of Pubs, Inns, and Taverns to be versatile enough to venture into the Gladiator vocation.

"Now you may change your vocation and become a Gladiator," he explained. "But never forget this, the most important lesson I have to teach you: The power of the Gladiator is bestowed upon you that you may use it to help others." He looked me right in the eyes. "Use it well."

"I will," I promised. "Thank you."

Certificate in hand, we hurried to see Abbot Jack, who made himself available at all times of the day, talking on the way.

"Huh," Jessica remarked.

"What?" I inquired.

"I've never met a Sinndicate Agent before," she revealed.

"A what?" I asked.

"A person that works for the Sinndicate of Pubs, Inns, and Taverns. I've never met one before. At least, not that I know of."

"Really?" I asked, confused. "They seem like a fairly prominent organization. I mean, they seem to be mentioned everywhere."

"Oh, they are," Jessica explained. "They're obviously in charge of all the inns, pubs, taverns, and so forth, but they also regulate the entire vocational system and set all the rules and restrictions that go along with them. But they're also extremely secretive. It's very rare to see an agent explicitly working on their behalf."

"And no one thinks that it's weird that such a powerful organization is practically completely invisible?"

"I mean, I guess," she agreed. "But it's not something I'm going to worry about. I actively try to avoid getting the attention of the Sinndicate as it is."

"Why?"

"I can use Wind Magic, remember?" she reminded me. "That's a gross violation of the policies set in place for Mages. I'd rather not find out what they do to those who break the rules."

"Oh. That makes sense. I'll keep it a secret, then," I promised as we approached the Abbot, bringing our conversation to a close.

"Ah, Michael," Abbot Jack greeted. "I wanted to talk to you."

"Really?" I asked, surprised.

"Yes," he answered. "You see, I've been thinking. When I took on the monstrous form, I could sense the fear that fills the hearts of my flock. I do not yet know what events are brewing in the world…" He paused for a moment. "…but as long as there are devotees wishing to change their vocations here at Alltrades Abbey, my duty is clear. So decide what your calling is to be, my child, and I shall lead you on your chosen path."

"Oh," I said, relieved that that was all. "Well, since you mentioned it, I actually do want to change my vocation."

"And what vocation would you like to undertake?" he asked.

"Gladiator," I answered, presenting my certificate.

"I see. You would like to pursue the path of the Gladiator. Is this correct?"

"Yes."

"Then let it be so!" the Abbot proclaimed. "Michael, fill your heart with visions of becoming a Gladiator and join me in prayer! O almighty arbiter of all vocations! Permit your servant Michael to tread a new path in life!" A golden pillar of light shone down from above and enveloped me. "There. Henceforth shall Michael tread the path of the Gladiator. Remember, with a new vocation comes new equipment restrictions. You must outfit yourself appropriately. Now go, my child, and embrace the new life that awaits you!"

"Well, that was simple," I remarked, turning to face Jessica. For some reason, she was heavily blushing and very obviously snickering behind her hand. "What?" I asked. "What's so funny?" She was only able to gesture with her hand, and I looked down at where she pointed. "Where are my clothes!?" I screamed, horrified. "Why am I in my underwear!?"

Jessica burst out laughing and grabbed my arm, dragging me away. "Didn't you hear the Abbot, Michael?" she asked. "He said that a new vocation comes with different equipment restrictions. As a result, part of the process of changing vocations is that everything you're wearing gets taken off. Including – and you should be grateful for this – that silly headband you hated so much."

I quickly reached up and felt around my head. "Oh, thank the Almighty," I sighed. "It's finally gone."

"It's probably waiting in our room at the inn with everything else," Jessica pointed out. "It's a good thing you chose to do this at night. Imagine if you had done this in the middle of the day when there are people all over the place." I shuddered at the very thought.

"I just want to get back to the room as possible, put something on, and get back into bed. I just pray that Allison is still sleeping."

"I'm sure she is," Jessica reassured. "I've learned that she's a pretty sound sleeper after all the sleepovers we used to have as kids. Oh, and look. I already managed to drag you all the way back to our room. You're welcome."

I looked around at our current surroundings and saw that we were, in fact, standing outside of our room. "Oh, I guess we are. Thanks."

She just giggled a little and reached to open the door. Before she got the chance, however, the door suddenly swung open, revealing a very, very angry brunette standing in the doorway. For a full minute we just stood there in silence, frozen in shock. Allison's narrowed eyes moved back and forth from behind her glasses, moving between my lack of proper clothing and Jessica's messy hair. I'd imagine it was quite a sight. It almost looked like…

Oh.

"It's not-" I quickly tried to explain, but the power of Allison's glare immediately shut me up.

"Jessica," Allison quietly growled.

"Yes?" Jessica meekly responded.

"Go to bed."

Without a word, Jessica let go of my arm and ran into the room, climbing into her bed. Allison's full wrath then turned to me.

"Allison, I-"

"Shut up," she immediately interrupted, poking me in the chest with her finger. "I don't know what you two were doing tonight, and frankly, I don't want to know. But, whatever it was, don't you ever do it again. Do you understand?"

I quickly nodded, half out of fear, half out of the realization that there was no point trying to get out of this one right now.

"Good," she hissed. "Now get back into your own bed and stay there. And know that I'm watching you."

Without hesitation, I did exactly as I was told and quickly jumped into my bed. I closed my eyes and tried to go to sleep, despite still feeling the sheer power of Allison's glare piercing through the darkness.


(Jessica's POV)

"Yippee!" Wanda squealed in excitement as I reappeared in the strange dream world.

"Thank you so much," Wandine cheerfully thanked.

"You're welcome, I guess…" I sighed, not really in the mood.

Wanda grabbed something nearby. "Here, these are for you."

"We don't need the anymore," Wandine explained.

They handed me some clothing. Looking at the tags, I learned that they gave me a Fizzle-Retardant Suit and Blouse. "Thanks."

"You brought us lots of magic power," Wanda remarked.

"But we still need more," Wandine pointed out.

"More?" I asked despairingly.

"Without it, we can't get out," Wanda answered.

"But you can't do any more at the moment. Give us our wand back," Wandine ordered.

Sighing, I took the wand off my back and handed it to the sisters, who happily took it back.

Wanda, who was now holding the wand, looked at me. "Come back when you're stronger."

The two sisters spun around and disappeared. "See you soon, nice person!" they called out. And, once again, I was left alone in the darkness.


And with that, Michael is now a Gladiator. To the person who asked chapters ago if I was planning on using any of the advanced vocations, the answer is now, obviously, yes.

I'm proud of this one. I had a lot of fun writing this chapter, and I think it shows. I mean, what better way to do character development than a series of ridiculous events?

Thank you to everyone who has participated in the "The Mortal's Guardian: Michael's Story Forum" forum. Yes, I'm aware of how stupid that name sounds when I say it like that. I enjoy answering everyone's questions and I do reply to everyone fairly quickly, so it's a great place to ask a question that you want answered faster than a simple review response in the next chapter or if you want to have an actual conversation with me or one of the characters. It's also great for pointing out any typos or inconsistencies that you find that I should fix.

That being said, do please leave a review on the story if you just want to review the chapter. And, of course, I greatly appreciate it when you follow and favorite if you haven't done so so far, or if you're a newcomer who has just found the story, in which case, welcome!

I doubt I'll be able to keep this momentum when college starts back up again next week, so the next chapter probably will be sometime around April. But, hey, you never know.

Until next time, this is D~F.


I've hit...the ground?