Valde Incompertus Silva

EO2 is so, so good.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

The Protector and the Medic stood there for a long time. An uncomfortably long time.

Throughout the entirety of this uncomfortably long time, Medigirl never once raised her view from the floor immediately in front of her as she twiddled her thumbs and swallowed, waiting for a response.

Eurydice, meanwhile, tried to coalesce her thoughts into something that could lead the situation far enough so that it wouldn't completely degenerate into tears – her own, probably.

Finally, she shook her head, sighed, and replied, "Medigirl, is there any particular… reason for you believing that to be true?"

The healer coughed nervously before replying. "Well, it's just... you… um, I mean, I…. uh… you…"

Subconsciously Eurydice folded her arms. This could take a while, she thought bleakly.

Finally, Medigirl apparently summoned up enough courage to continue speaking. "It's not so much anything in particular, but… well, you're really… um," She paused. "You never wanted me to join in the first place, you always act really brusque towards me, and…" She trailed off into silence, staring unhappily at the floor.

Eurydice sighed again and turned away. "I'm terse with everyone, Medigirl. A lifetime on the battlefield does that to you." She paused. "If the way I talk really does make it uncomfortable, then yes, I'll try to tone it down – but no promises. On the other hand, you really need to grow thicker skin." Another sigh. "Look, Medigirl. I fully admit to thinking you were going to be nothing more than a liability when I first got you into the guild – you are after all, in your mid teens. But you've proven yourself. More than once. So, no, I don't hate you. And if I did, I'd be a lot more forthright about it." Eurydice sighed. "That aside, you really should be going to get some sleep, okay?"

The Medic clearly had more on her mind than what she was saying right now, but instead of speaking up, she merely nodding. "Okay… good night, Eurydice."

The Protector shot her a brief smile. "Good night, Medigirl."

"Think this is the spring he was talking about?" Lash questioned rhetorically as the two of them stared down at the trickling water.

"I admit to expecting something a little more… runny. But the location fits." With a shrug and a sigh, Mihawk crouched and opened a small waterskin, letting the water slowly fill up the pouch. "Keep a lookout, would you?"

"No worries, I'm not keen on letting any of the critters taking a bite out of us either." The Dark Hunter leaned against a tree trunk as he scanned the area.

After several long moments, Mihawk stood again, tying up the open end of the pouch. "That should be enough." She murmured to herself. "Okay, get the Warp Wire and we can-"

"What?" Lash turned to face her. "I thought you had the Wire!"

"You mean-" Mihawk paused, rubbed her temples, and sighed. "Right, no one has any Warp Wires. Guess we'll just foot it back to town."

Just then, a rustling sound was heard, and a Clawbug emerged from the bushes, pincers at the ready.

Both of the adventurers sighed, drew their weapons, and prepared for battle.

Quark didn't say much as the two bedraggled adventurers stepped through the entrance of the inn. He merely raised a singular eyebrow at the two of them, a silent question about what they had been doing, and how they had gotten themselves into such a state.

"You know, it's never been proven scientifically and all that, but damn if there are always twice as many monsters on the way out of the Labyrinth as opposed to going in." Mihawk grumped as she prodded a cut on her cheek gingerly. "I think I'll get Medigirl to look at a few of these in the morning."

The Alchemist turned back to the tome he was perusing. "I don't suppose I want to know why you two were out in the Labyrinth in the middle of the night?"

"No, in the sense that you're not the sort of person to be interested in what we were doing."

"Probably." Quark said in a soft voice.

As the Survivalist tromped up the stairs of the inn, she glanced down at her pack. Inside it lay a Medica II.

"They could've gone with a slightly more creative naming convention." Mihawk yawned as she pushed open the door to her room. "Still, a reward's a reward and all…"

Pausing only to relieve herself of her pack and weapons, Mihawk collapsed onto her cot. Amongst the last thoughts in her mind would be how the staff of the inn would have to clean bloodstains out of the bedsheets tomorrow.

"Sucks to be them, I guess…" She mumbled as she drifted off to slumber.

"Yer kidding, right?" Rosalina's glare tightened as she gazed up at the Guildmaster. "Whaddya mean the Guilds aren't hiring? With all the talk of adventure and rot in this place, you mean t' say that there's no new blood allowed in the place?"

The Guildmaster nodded sympathetically. "We've got boom times and wanes here. Most of the Guilds here are a tight-knit bunch. When Summer rolls around we start seeing a bunch of new Guilds spring up – and most of them vanish after a couple of weeks. Those that make it do so by growing together, learning to fight and work together – so naturally they get a little more unused to breaking in fresh folk."

The warrior blew out a breath of air in a cross between a growl and a sigh. "And I'm just supposed to sit here and twiddle my thumbs – maybe go down to the bars and get sloshed – all the way until Summer? If that ain't the biggest load of bullhickey I've ever-"

"Nah," the Guildmaster gave an affable chuckle. "You could always ask around. Just because they don't post hiring notices here at headquarters doesn't mean that they'd turn down anyone flat. Come to think of it, there was a new guild just the other day – they'll probably be open to newcomers."

"Right, right. And this, uh, new guild would be?"

There was a significant pause as both characters looked down to the guildmaster's desk, literally covered in swathes of paper.

"It starts with a 'P'." He finally offered.

The Landsknecht sighed, mumbled a halfhearted 'Thanks' and stepped out into the night.

As the sun slowly began to reclaim the morning sky, a long figure could be seen on the outskirts of Etria.

As Lash moved through the basics of his training regimen, he reflected that his body, when pushed, could hold up pretty well. After all, it had been only a couple of days since he'd been trampled within an inch of his life, but here he was, back on his feet, back to training.

The care of the medics in the Apothecary didn't hurt, of course. Pausing for a short breather, he wiped the sweat beading on his forehead and reached for the waterskin.

Just as he was lifting the bottle to his lips, he heard the sound of boots tramping on the earth. A moment later, a group of – what else? – explorers came into view, heading for the entrance.

Lash paused for a brief moment to observe them – based on the gear they were sporting, the manner of their walk, and their general appearance, it was rather obvious that this was an experienced bunch.

And yet, by virtue of the simple fact that they were entering the Labyrinth through the proper entrance, it was obvious that they had yet to breach the second stratum of Yggdrasil.

An instant later, they were swallowed up by the viridian entrance.

Shaking his head slightly, Lash gave a token flip of his whip and wandered across to lean against a sturdy oak tree.

It seemed… absurd, really. Who knew how deep down the Labyrinth really went. They could take a lifetime and still never truly reach the bottom. And all that was assuming that the various beasts that inhabited the Labyrinth didn't have them for dinner first.

"A fool's dream, in the end." Lash snorted and flicked his whip out once more, carving a tiny groove in the ground. "So why the hell am I here, instead of… I dunno, somewhere else. Where I can earn some good coin and make a name for myself. Another mercenary gang. Or maybe one of those privateers. The sea's not a bad sort of place."

The dark-haired fighter's voice trailed off as he stared once more at the emerald grove. Then, shaking his head, he turned and started back for town.

"A fool's dream… and I guess I'm just the fool who'd pursue something like that."

The blonde haired Protector sighed to herself as she stared out the window at the setting sun. "Guess I should get ready, then." She said to no one in particular.

At the bottom floor of the inn, Mihawk silently tightened the string on her bow, giving it experimental plucks with a finger. Finally satisfied, she stood, hefting a satchel of arrows and heading out the doorway.

In the Ceft Apothecary, a young girl nervously counted through the potions and herbs that she was to be taking with her on this trip. She was determined not to let this venture be a repeat of the last one.

Strolling across the town square and whistling tunelessly, Lash took a bite from the chunk of bread he was holding. Around him, yet more explorers who apparently wished to work the night shift headed for the entrance, reminding him that he should be gearing up as well.

And sitting near the labyrinth's entrance, Quark sustained a tiny lightning spell with one hand, enough so that it provided the lighting necessary for him to read one of his texts as he waited for the rest of his companions.

Presently they arrived, one by one, each bearing determined expressions on their faces, each determined not to let their previous setback deter them.

"Everyone ready?" Their leader asked without preamble. Nods and words of affirmation.

"Then let's go."

The lamps were just being lit, illuminating the town in soft hues of gold and orange, when a pair of snorting horses pulled up to the town entrance, carrying upon them a knight, a wizard, and a bard.

"Well, masters, that wasn't half bad a journey!" Orpheus commented merrily as he dismounted, tapping his feet on the cobbled pavement. "And aren't I half glad to be seeing a town again!"

"Indeed. Getting here was work enough." Franz sighed as he did likewise. "Ewan, you go try to find us an inn, I'll go see if there're some stables to keep Mariel and Neige." Then he paused. "Orpheus, what about you? You wanted to come to Etria… and, well, you're here."

The Troubadour gave an experimental pluck of his lute. "What, masters, are you asking me to join you in your little quest?"

Franz shrugged as he walked over and grasped the reins of the two horses. "I've heard that the musically inclined can cast mild enchantments – enough to help their partners in combat. And, well, the prospect of venturing into the Labyrinth with only two people is rather daunting, to say the least."

"Ha!" Orpheus barked out a short laugh. "Well, as the gods of fate would have it, the person I'm hunting down has a yearning to plumb grand ol' Yggdrasil herself. If we all of us meet up, that should make things much simpler."

Franz smiled slightly. "Good. That's settled then. And your first task as part of our group is to go find us a nice restaurant where we can have our evening meal. We'll meet back by the town fountain when we're down."

"Couldn't have asked for a better task myself." The musician chuckled and turned away to melt into the night-time crowds. "Be seeing you, masters!"

Franz spared a nod to Ewan. "Come on, let's go." And the two friends set off.

"So it's like… a huge, abandoned courtyard." Eurydice muttered to herself as she glanced around the third floor of the Labyrinth.

"Enough ruins scattered all about the place to give the idea that something was built here, we just don't what." Mihawk replied as she cast about the gloom for any signs of an attack.


"So, maybe at the bottom there's some super advanced civilisation or something that will be willing to share it's secrets with us?"

"Super advanced?" Lash snorted. "Any half decent craftsman from Etria could have built all this stuff."


"Perhaps not." Quark finally spoke up. "The ruins here may seem relatively simple forms of stonemasonry, but the way they've been crafted to provide the absolute maximum support for any large overhanging structure indicates that they have a fair bit of intellect – certainly not enough to count as sufficiently more advanced than the technology we have, but not average in ability either."

"Hrmph." Lash blew out another breath of air. "Just makes you wonder who'd build this place, huh?"


Eurydice paused. "What, Medigirl?"

"I, uh, I don't think we're alone in here."

Is was then that the rest of the Paragon Guild heard the sound of buzzing wings.

Ouch, short chapter that still took forever to get through. I'll be better, I promise!