Desmond yawned, leaning against his sword and wishing that he could find a job in the next week, if not sooner. There was no telling if his funds would even stretch that far, but he had to try and last until someone was looking to hire a Geohound. Granted, the chances of that were less than nil where he was now. Last he knew, he was somewhere north of Carbo, a small town where very little happened and nobody there could afford his services even if something did.
To make matters worse, he wasn't going solo anymore. If he was, maybe he could have made his gold last the week, but having to feed his new so-called "apprentice" was more financially draining than he had anticipated. Though it wasn't as if he had much choice in the matter. After a job a few months back, he was stuck either taking the kid along or abandoning her in the middle of nowhere. Geohound or not, he couldn't bring himself to just leave her there.
"Maria..." Desmond muttered, watching the girl work. She was crouched by a stump, using the top of it and the small hatchet she always carried to carefully slice up a root of a flower she yanked out of the ground. "...seriously, how much monger are you going to be? We have to find work, you know."
"I'd be done by now if you'd buy me a knife, you tightwad." She replied shortly.
Desmond shook his head. The kid hadn't been with him long, but she was certainly getting the attitude of a Geohound. At least toward him, she was still very civil toward their clients. "I can't get new equipment if we're broke. What are you doing, anyway?"
"Like you said, we're broke, and in the middle of nowhere too. Again." Maria stood up, barely over half Desmond's height as well as age, and pointed her hatchet at the chopped plant. "These roots offer some nutrition, which we could probably use. How long has it been since we had a proper meal at an inn?"
He shrugged. "I dunno, a couple weeks?"
"You say that like it doesn't mean anything."
"I went a month without staying at an inn once, before you turned up."
Maria shook her head, gathering up the chopped root in a small bag. "I don't know how you ever made it without me trying to keep you healthy."
Desmond rolled his eyes. Sure, she knew a little more about where to find useful stuff in the wild since her parents hadn't lived anywhere near a town, but that didn't mean he was ignorant of the basics. "Can we just go? I'd like to get to a decent spot to camp before nightfall and it's getting late."
"Sure, sure." She mumbled, hanging the hatchet over her shoulder by the leather strap attached to the handle's base. "By the way, you do realize you've been standing in a patch of poison ivy for the last ten minutes, right?"
"Huh?" He looked down and swore under his breath, a habit he'd been forcing himself into ever since being stuck with the kid. "Y-yeah. Of course I did." He quickly lied. "My clothing's thick enough that it won't get to me though."
"Riiight..." Maria said, walking around the ivy.
Desmond thought he heard her mutter something that sounded suspiciously like "some Geohound" as she passed. He scowled, following after her and wondering why he couldn't have an apprentice his personality wouldn't rub off on... or at least one old enough to flirt with.
Maria stared up at Desmond's back, crimson staining his sword and short blonde hair. The building nearby casting a wavering light across them as it burned to the ground. He looked over his shoulder, his face mostly hidden in shadow.
"I did what I was supposed to. What I was hired to do." Demond said, his tone even. "That's why..."
Maria waited for the end of his sentence, trembling in fear. The firelight showed the corpses littering the ground, and she couldn't stop herself from thinking that he was going to turn on her as well.
He lashed his sword across the ground once before sheathing it and facing her. "You're coming with me."
She jerked backwards as he reached for her, and smacked the back of her head against a fallen tree, knocking her to her senses. Blinking a few times, she sat back up and looked at the campfire in front of her, then at Desmond, who was reclining against a nearby tree and giving her a curious look.
"How many times have I told you to lay down before you fall asleep? You'll hurt yourself sleeping while sitting up." He said.
"I know, I know. I'm probably just overtired. Sometimes I can't even consider getting comfortable before I nod off." She replied, crossing her arms and scooting a little closer to the campfire.
"Another nightmare?" Desmond asked.
"If you want to be a Geohound, you're going to have to get used to them." He said, closing his eyes.
Maria glared at him. The cause of her nightmares and not even able to show a little sympathy. She contemplated hurling a rock at him, or maybe even her hatchet, but flinched when his eyes suddenly shot open and he practically leapt to his feet.
"W-what is it?" She stuttered as he drew his sword.
"You didn't hear that?" He wondered, looking off into the darkness just beyond the firelight.
Maria grabbed her hatchet and glanced in the same direction. "No, is it monsters?"
"I don't think so. It was faint, but it sounded like a woman's scream." Desmond started off into the shadows. "Come on, we should check it out."
"Right." Taking a moment to dump some dirt onto the fire and put it out, she hurried after him.
Desmond rushed through the forest as fast as he could go while still keeping Maria in sight. As much as he wanted to find whoever screamed, getting separated from his apprentice in a place like this at night wasn't worth making good time. The trees broke, opening into a small clearing around a huge tower.
Maria came to a stop beside him. "What in the world is this place?"
"Got me. It might be where the scream..." He trailed off, straining to listen. Again, it was faint, but he thought he heard someone cry out, this time a man, followed by the clash of steel. It was definitely coming from the tower. "Follow me, stay close." He said, drawing his sword and rushing around the building to find the entrance.
The large tower doors were half-open when they came into view. Desmond took three steps inside, saw a sudden flurry of movement and threw himself out of the way just a spider the size of a boulder landed where he had been standing not a moment ago. Desmond reacted on instinct, swinging his sword at it, missing anything vital but managing to take off one of its legs.
It lurched backwards as Desmond regained his footing and faced it. "Damn it, the last thing I need now is a insect problem." He muttered.
A flash of steel came through the doorway the beast had stopped beside, and it let out a pained screech as Maria's hatchet dug in between its second and third left legs. The spider whipped around, knocking her back and making a bite at her leg. Unfortunately for it, Desmond had started moving just before Maria's blow connected.
He pushed off with his left foot hard, spun once and used the momentum as he tore his sword through the remaining three legs on its right side. It screeched even louder than before, missing Maria and hitting the ground, its stumped legs flailing. Maria raised her hatchet and brought the blade down on the spider's head with a wet, squelching sound and it stopped moving.
After giving it a kick to make sure it was dead, Desmond gave Maria a grin. "I think we're getting better at this teamwork thing."
She nodded, then looked at him. "Arachnid."
Yanking the hatchet free of the spider's head, she sighed. "Spiders are arachnids, not insects."
Desmond shouldered his sword. "That doesn't stop them from bugging the hell out of me though."
"Nobody likes bad puns, Desmond." Maria said, walking past him and looking around.
"Punk kids with no sense of humor aren't very popular either." He grumbled.
She ignored the comment. "Someone else is here."
Desmond joined her, noticing other spiders all around the room, most of them dead. "Killed by a sword, probably one like mine. Must have been another Geohound." He noted.
"What's a Geohound doing here?" Maria wondered.
Desmond just gave a shrug. "Pest control?"
She frowned at him for a second, the headed toward the staircase on the other side of the room. "If they're still here, we should ask. Maybe we can help."
"If it's a Geohound, they won't want any backup. It'd cut into their pay because there's no way in hell I'm doing a freebie at a time like this." Desmond pointed out, following after her. "And let me go first, there might be more of those things still alive!"
They climbed countless stairs up the tower, picking off a few more spiders left alive, before they were forced to come to an abrupt stop after looking up the next flight of stairs. About halfway up, there was darkness. Not from a lack of light, but pure dark energy with flickers of purple streaking across it at random.
Maria took a quick step backwards. "What is that?"
"Well, it's no arachnid." Desmond said, moving to the bottom of the staircase. "I guess the Geohound must have gone into it."
"W-Who in their right mind would go into that?" She stuttered, moving back a little more.
He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Not me. If the Geohound did go in there, they're on their own."
Maria nodded, then her eyes widened. "Look out!"
Desmond held up his sword to block whatever was coming as he faced the staircase. A foot had appeared from the black energy, resting on the highest visible step. Another emerged and Desmond watched cautiously as someone slowly emerged from the darkness. He tried to focus on details as the person's legs came into view. Slow stride, possibly wounded or just having trouble moving in that stuff...
Another step brought everything up to their stomach in view. Not armed... and those clothes... it's not a Geohound, looks like what a follower of Granas would wear. Their chest appeared. A female follower of Granas at that. Maybe my luck's changing.
Two more steps took her head from the darkness. Her hair that was half-covered by something along the lines of a white bandanna, but two bright-red pigtails puffed out on either side and short tufts of red spilled out over her forehead. Her eyes were emerald green and unfocused. She looked down, didn't give any sign that she had really noticed them, and started to fall forward.
Desmond dropped his sword, dashing up and catching her before her head struck the stone staircase. Her body was cool and hung limply in his arms, but since she was still breathing he figured it was because of whatever effect the dark energy had on her.
"I think we found out who screamed." He said, lifting her up a little but getting no response. "Looks like she's out cold now though."
"Is she going to be okay?" Maria asked, not moving any closer.
Desmond hoisted her over his shoulder, careful not to stumble as he made his way back down. "I don't know, but she needs to be warmed up. Let's get outside and find a place to start another fire." He cast a glance back at the darkness. "Maybe she can tell us what the hell is going on when she wakes up."