Emperor 1

As Xander, the young, long blond haired noble with pale eyes, steps into the open air Explorer's Guild of the island nation of Armoroad, he is hailed by the person who appears to be the master of the place. The dark skinned man gives what seems like a canned, overly used, and possibly insincere welcome before handing the young man a pile of papers and telling him to fill them out. After being herded off to the far end of the room, Xander and his two companions begin their discussion even as the Guildmaster welcomes another new arrival.

The documents seem to be simple registration forms and take little time to fill out for the three, the only matter causing pause being what to name the new Guild. Xander intended to follow in his father's footsteps, and that did not include serving under another man's leadership. After much deliberation, and several discounted suggestions from the overly energetic member of the trio, Xander makes his decision. Taking the name from one of the dead languages that the kingdom's Minister insisted he learn, since he personally owned so many books that were written in it, the name meaning "Justice."

"Aequitas, huh…?" says the Guildmaster, looking at the registration forms, "An odd name, but I like it. Well then, step two is registering explorers in your guild."

As the flashily dressed Guildmaster says that, he turns over the first page of the small bundle of forms that had just recently been turned over to his possession, where he stops and reads aloud Xander's Classification as written on the sheet.

"First Son…mumble…Duchy of…"

With a look of uncaring ease the Guildmaster takes a pen to scratch out the words and writes the careless classification of Prince as he says the word aloud. This casual disregard for her lord's status causes the guard Sarah to visibly darken and ask how the Guildmaster could possibly be so disrespectful of her master. Xander was certain that if the overly serious Sarah had been armed with anything more than a traveler's dagger she would have bared the weapon in her indignance.

With a placating reply the Guildmaster says, "Calm down, miss. The young man's a noble right? We've had more than a few come into town, all of them with grand titles and lineages. Unless we group them all together by the name of Prince and Princess the paperwork becomes impossible. It's just clerical work, understand?"

Although still a little miffed, Sarah calms herself at the explanation, having had to enforce laws and rules back in the group's hometown before volunteering to be Xander's escort and bodyguard on this expedition. Though Sarah would have exploded with rage if she knew the Guildmaster's actual regard for all the petulant third, fourth, or lower children of nobles, not including the ones born from mistresses, that have come through his office hoping to prove themselves worthy of some form of social standing in their home circles. Or at how often he sees them leave Armoroad beaten by the Labyrinth with their tails between their legs.

The Guildmaster flips to the next page and reads the class description of the Labyrinth Guard, Sarah, the tan blue eyed blond who's only signs of femininity aside from her anatomy are the ribbon bound twin pigtails she wears, the only fashionable indulgence she allows herself. She is a shining example of the new training methods adopted from the explorers who had not only conquered the Labyrinth in their home nation, but forged peace between the humans and the natives that dwelled within. While gifted in fighting and defending, she was stone faced and always serious. Even though she always put the wellbeing of others over her own, it's hard for others to get along with her without making an effort.

The Guildmaster speaks with a somewhat tired tone to Sarah as he explains that listing her as a Guard would cause confusion, since Armoroad has its own Guard, and that since she's listed her weaponry as a shield and spear he'll classify her as a Hoplite. Sarah was able to cope with this downgrade in her status with some soothing words from Xander and their third companion.

Looking at the final submission in the stack, the Guildmaster looks up to quickly study the final member of the recently immigrated group, a young woman wearing a lavender mini-skirted kimono, loaded with leather pouches on her belt. Her leggings and long scarf are a deeper shade of purple. Her eyes are green and her brown hair is cut neatly at jaw length, with a fox mask tilted over on one side of her head without covering her face. She seems much less picky than the other one, and slightly nervous, so the Guildmaster doesn't feel the need to handle her lightly.

"Your name's Yuriko, and you're a Ninja? Okay, you lot are done."

"Wait a second," exclaims Sarah, "You made us change our classes to suit yourself, but you just gloss right over the fact that she's a ninja!"

"I'm not sure where you come from," Xander could see Sarah fighting the urge to say that it's written right on her registration form, just below her job as a Labyrinth Guard, "But one of the trade routs Armoroad still has intact is with a nation the Ninja hail from. They're pretty common around here."

Xander and Sarah both goggle for a moment at that, whereas Yuriko squeaks with excitement and exclaims, "You mean I can meet other ninja again? Yahoo!"

It's genuine excitement on her part since her kind are a rarity back home. She arrived in Xander's hometown some years ago after being sent to live with her older cousin, Ayame, who works as a Ronin in the guild that conquered the Labyrinth, and stayed on as an apprentice in the guild. She was eventually tasked with being a permanent bodyguard to Xander. Though an up and coming Ninja, her overly excitable nature ends up causing many problems, combine that with her natural simplicity and a great many accidents and misunderstandings occur around her. Though you wouldn't know to look at her under normal conditions, she is unnervingly focused in battle, having been taken under the wing of the guild's Survivalist, Minerva, to hone her agility and accuracy while extinguishing any squeamishness she once had at seeing blood. Xander has seen few sights more disturbing than Yuriko wearing her pure smile after being drenched in the arterial spray of a beast she just slew.

"So, it's just you three?" inquires the Guildmaster with a little bit of concerned suspicion.

"For the moment, yes," says Xander in reply, "But we're hoping to hire some locals to join us. Do you have any registered explorers who are not signed up with a guild right now?"

The Guildmaster smiles covertly, as if pleased that the kid isn't as dumb as he feared and replied in the affirmative, and asked what kind of companions he was looking for. On the ship during the crossing of the sea Xander had heard of the pistol and sword wielding Buccaneers. What he had heard reminded him of the elite Gunners he had grown up around, and so Xander made an inquiry about them with the Guildmaster. The dark skinned man didn't even have a chance to reply before a loud "HA!" interrupted them. Instinctively turning to look at the voice both men see a tanned, long red haired woman who was nearly bare from the waist up but for a slender red top that could have been classified as a bra. The woman continues in a cocky voice that would have been at home in a seedy bar, especially with her somewhat crude choice of words.

"You want one a them damn sea louses? A buccaneer only knows how to charge in after someone else has done all the work FOR them. You said you heard about them pistols, right, so you want a marksman. Well, look no further than me, kid, cause I'm the best around!"

The unidentified woman spreads her stance, plants a fist against her noticeable chest, and lifts her chin up in a self important pose.

Turning back to the Guildmaster, Xander quietly inquires, "Who is that?" to which the stranger softly exclaims the sound "Oi!" in irritation at being ignored.

"That's Sonia, an Arbalist. They use giant crossbows. As for being the best around…well she's probably right about that. They don't come much more skilled than her."

"Then why is she apparently unemployed," asks Sarah pointedly, as Yuriko blushes at all the bare skin the new arrival has exposed.

The Guild master gives a slightly embarrassed smile as he fingers his cheek, partially tracing the scar running from one side of his face to the other. "Well, it's just that most of the guilds aren't willing to put up with her personality. She's been coming in here every day for the past week looking for a sucker."

"I'm just tryin' to get ya to do yer damn job, ya slacker!"

"Sonia, if you are an Arbalist, then where is your weapon?" inquires Xander after having had the chance to study the woman for a moment.

Sonia looks slightly exasperated with a "Damn, he noticed" kind of look on her face before plucking up her cocky smile again and responding with, "Well, that's kinda the reason I'm lookin' for work. I sorta lost it in a bet. But hey, just buy one I can use and you got the best bow-woman in the city workin' wit'cha. Don't that sound like a bargain?"

Sarah suggests against the recruitment, while Yuriko is still making "Awawawa" noises from the bared flesh. The Guildmaster states that as the leader of the Guild, the decision is all up to Xander. Even with all the damning testimony and evidence against her, Sonia is still showing a cocky smile, as if it would be Xander's loss if she were refused.

"We'll take her." states Xander emphatically.

The Guildmaster asks if he's serious in a stunned manner. He must have thought the woman unemployable. But something about the woman's confidence swayed Xander's opinion. There was only one person he'd known before that had that kind of unrelenting confidence against all reason. Uncle Gyver, the Landsknecht that worked in the guild with his father. The man was mindlessly confident in everything he did with a giant grin on his face, but only because he was able to follow through with his every action, and no one could surpass his ability with an axe. That is why Xander knew that Sonia wasn't really cocky, she was just wholly confidant in her abilities, and Xander was willing to gamble that those abilities are as fine as she claimed.

With much excitement, Sonia went around and introduced herself properly to everyone stating that the guild would never regret hiring her. Meanwhile the Guildmaster slides a different recruitment form over to Xander while remarking the small print defining all weapons, armor, and items purchased using money obtained by the guild as guild property and any private sale was outlawed. Sonia's indignant "Oi!" quickly followed.

With the party quickly filling up, Xander reflects on what his father told him when he was younger, when Xander asked why he didn't take more people into the Labyrinth with him. "It's because of the corridors, son" he replied, "The halls in that place can only allow a small party to move freely. Any more than five people and you get in each other's way. Remember, son, five is the most you can safely take into that dangerous place."

On deep reflection, Xander understood what was needed for the final role in their party. They need a healer. On stating this fact to the others, Sonia told him that she had just the person in mind and quickly took him out of the Explorer's Guild hall and into the street. After leaving the building, Xander faintly hears the Guildmaster greet another adventurer with the exact same speech that he'd heard on his own arrival.

A short time later the party arrives at a modest temple where they find several Monks doing martial exercises where one man in particular stands out. Shirtless, white haired, and bald on top, the man sweats from concentration before a stone braced by the earth. After a few entrancing moments he strikes out with his bare fist and the stone shatters against his knuckles.

"Whooaaa! You weren't fibbing when you said you know the right person, Sonia." says Yuriko in awe.

"Who, the old man? Nah, you don't want him. He's a fighter, not a healer. And besides, he's a long winded old fart that'll bore you to death before the critters in the Labyrinth can even get to ya. This is who I told you about."

Upon being hailed, another young woman pads up to the party and is warmly greeted by Sonia. Exchanging a few words, the situation is explained. The young lady has blue eyes and very long red hair tied into a braid, a red top, orange robe, and baggy black pants. The woman is noticeably slim with a very understated chest, so that if her fair skinned face were not so feminine she could be mistaken for a boy if one didn't look closely. In fact her voice was just husky enough to be a sound a boy could conceivably make, though still clearly female.

"So you guys picked up Sonia?" inquires the young lady. After receiving an affirmative in response she introduces herself as Lin Zhao Han, but prefers to be called Lin.

Sonia explains a bit about the temple, and how most of its money comes from having its members work as explorers in the Labyrinth. The guilds get manpower, and the Monks are able to eat while improving their techniques. Lin is one of the accredited acolytes, allowed to be hired out to explorers and adventurers.

"I specialize in Qi healing and pressure points, they teach it over in the side temple," Lin indicates with a thumb and a cheerful lopsided smile, "but I still know how to hold my own in a fight. If Sonia vouches for you, then that's good enough for me. Here's hoping you'll make it past the first floor."

"Why wouldn't we get past the first floor?" inquires Sarah with her usual lack of humor.

"Oh, you'll see." Lin replies and follows with a sincere laugh that makes Xander warm to her as a companion.

"I'm looking forward to working with you, Lin. Let's go back to the Guild Hall and finish the registration with…" Xander pauses. He never caught the Guildmaster's name. Ah well, he'll ask him later. "With the Guildmaster and then we can gear up."

As the party walks through the streets of Armoroad, and as the glow of a complete party begins to fade, a thought begins to worm its way into Xander's mind. He's just formed a party consisting only of women around him. Should he be concerned about this at all, even though he just hired the right people for the task ahead? Well, as long as he stays a gentleman nothing should go wrong…right?

End Prologue