Author's Note: Tales of the Ellight Guild is not a continuous story so much as it is a collection of self contained chapters, each one a snapshot of an important moment in the story of the guild's adventures. Recognition is set during the final battle, but is not focused on those who are fighting but instead on those left behind, waiting for thier comrades to return.
A quick breakdown of the Ellight Guild's roster.
Teal - Female Protector(Leader of Exploration Team. Guild founder)
Mia - Female Landsknecht
Rain - Female Medic(Guild founder)
Tally - Male Troubadour
Sage - Male Alchemist
Richard - Male Survivalist(Leader of Resource Team. Guild founder)
Bradic - Male Survivalist
Deirdre - Female Survivalist
Leanne - Female Survivalist
Keene - Male Medic
Tales of the Ellight Guild - Recognition
Keene sat at the bar and tried not to fidget nervously. His friends were off to the dungeon again. This time prepared to take that last step into the last room of the twenty-fifth floor. They were going to fight...whatever it was beyond that door. Teal hadn't been very forthcoming with whatever she knew about it, but it was obvious she knew, or at least suspected, something. He was worried about her. About them, he mentally corrected. They were worried about whatever it was. Even the normally chipper Mia and Tally were seeming pretty grim as they left.
He caught himself fidgeting with his glasses again, and forced his hands down. He was worried he was going to break them at this rate, and those things were fairly expensive to replace. Not that we don't have the money, of course. Keene chuckled a bit as he thought of the gathering runs that they'd done recently to help Teal's team afford the best gear they could get. It ended up being quite a lot of money, enough that they still had a comfortable amount left over. Frankly the things from the depths of the labyrinth were in high enough demand that one or two trips could pull in enough for any one of them to retire in comparative luxury for the rest of their life. Bradic had actually sat down and done the math to prove it, too.
That thought made him glance around the pub to his teammates. Bradic and Deirdre were fairly deep in their cups at one table while Leanne was writing in her journal as usual at the same table. And as for their leader...well, Richard was off brooding by himself it seemed. Keene really wished that guy would tell someone what was eating him, but he shrugged it off when asked and got outright hostile if pestered about it.
The sudden clack of one of his lenses falling out and onto the bar top snapped Keene's attention back to himself, and he let out a deep sigh of frustration at his bad habit. Picking the lens back up, he set about trying to fit it back into the frame and resolving to just put the glasses back in his pocket after fixing it, the fact that he was nearly blind without them be damned.
"Hey, are you here to see them off too?" That completely innocent line said to him by one of the random people in the crowd that gathered to see Teal and her group head into the labyrinth that morning had Richard in a foul mood the entire day. What made it worse was that the man who said it was armed and armored, clearly an explorer himself. Which made it all the more insulting that he didn't recognize Richard and his team as part of the damn Ellight guild.
They wouldn't have made it past the third strata without us. Maybe not even the second. Yeah, they had been there to see them off. But not as part of that throng of hero-worshiping fans. They were there because they were part of the guild. They were the only ones who SHOULD have been there. But that never was the case. The further that the guild pushed into the labyrinth, the more famous they got in town.
Yeah, the more famous THEY got. Richard's knuckles whitened as he was clenching his fist in anger. He took a deep breath and forced his hand back open, despite his mood. Yeah, he was angry. And why shouldn't he be? He was one of the founding members of the guild. He came to this damned town with Teal, Rain and Audrey. But now nobody cared about him. Nobody even remembered that he was part of the guild.
Nevermind that they risked their lives by venturing into the deep floors to gather rare materials to sell so that Teal's team could buy the newest weapons and armor that Shilleka pounded out. When they didn't have the muscle or equipment to risk any fights at all that far in. The only thing that kept his team alive was Richard's own incredible skill at stealth. Well, that and his team's equally incredible ability to follow his lead perfectly and bolt like bats outta hell if something did manage to catch up to them. The five of them had no business being that deep, what they did wasn't easy and it was downright terrifying at times. But they functioned like a well oiled machine and got it done anyway. He was proud of them.
Too bad nobody besides Shilleka and Valerie seemed to remember they existed.
Deirdre set the latest trio of mugs down on the table and plopped back down in her seat. "A Bearcat Brown for you," she pushed the cup of dark beer towards Bradic, "some cider for little miss can't-hold-her-liquor," she grinned teasingly at Leanne as she slid the more reserved girl her drink, "and this one's mine," she wasted no time in taking a sip of her drink after announcing it.
Bradic looked over with interest, "What'd you go for this round?"
Deirdre gave a nonchalant shrug, "Oh, cider."
Bradic snickered while Leanne looked up from her writing to glare at the other woman, "Where do you get off making fun of me for getting it then?"
"It's called pacing myself," Deirdre answered with a mock-superior tone, "I can hold my drink just fine. I just don't want to be anything past a little tipsy when they get back."
"So in this case," Bradic smirked, "'just fine' means not as well as I can."
"Yeah, you're not provoking me into another drinking contest with you, Brad." The blond archer shook her head at her partner, "I'll just concede here. I'm good, but you're a champ." Then she couldn't resist getting in a shot of her own, "Maybe you can talk Rain into one when she gets back."
As expected, the braggart visibly flinched at the memory, "You had to bring that up. I still say the bitch cheats. She's got some kind of funky magic that lets her drink like that, I know it."
"Hmm, half right." Leanne had gone back to her writing, but still poked into the conversation without looking up, "It's less a spell and more part of the physical-spiritual training of her faith. Something about manipulating her own good and bad karma, I don't really remember all the details off the top of my head, but I wrote them down in one of my notebooks."
"Hah, I knew she was cheating somehow" Bradic exclaimed, looking fairly pleased with himself. Then he took a sip of his beer and looked thoughtful a moment before asking, "How'd you know that, anyway?"
"I asked," was the short and to the point reply.
"What?" Brad was annoyed, "she didn't tell me squat when I asked!"
"That's because you were calling her things and accusing her of cheating. I just wanted to know more about her order because I'm basing a character in my story on her."
"You and those stories," Bradic shook his head in bewilderment at her fascination with writing...but then got a bit curious and went fishing for an ego boost, "Hey, you base anyone on me?"
"No." Leanne's denial was in perfect deadpan, "You have entirely too much character to capture in mere words."
He knew that tone by now, "...man, something tells me that wasn't complimentary." Then Deirdre started snickering and he sighed, "Yeah, now I know it was a dis. 'swhat I get for sitting with the girls."
Raising his voice, he called over to his other teammates, "Hey, Rich, Keene! One of you get your ass over here, I'm outnumbered!"
Keene chuckled a bit at Bradic's call, then squinted to peer over at their leader. He couldn't make out much at all with his glasses off, but it didn't look like Richard was responding to him at all.
A sudden tapping on the bar across from him got Keene's attention, and even without his glasses he could recognize Valerie. She gestured over towards where the others were sitting and suggested, "You may want to head that way anyway. The dinner rush will be in here soon, and the bar gets pretty crowded then. And if you kids are hungry you should get your orders in now so we'll get them up first."
The medic sighed, "Dinner rush? It's that late already?" He stared towards the door for a moment before quietly nodding and getting up.
But as he stood, Valerie's hand gently caught his arm, "Hey. They'll be okay. If anyone can do this, it's them."
Keene forced a half smile as he nodded, "Yeah..." If anyone can...
Richard had ignored Brad's shout. He didn't want to go over there and ruin whatever good time the others were managing to have with his mood. Part of him was annoyed that they didn't seem to be bothered by the same things that were getting under his skin, but they had all gotten into this for different reasons anyway. Brad and Deirdre were in it for the money and unapologetic about it. Keene started off wanting to get his hands on the rare materials from the depths of the labyrinth so he could try experimenting with his medicinal research but ended up sticking around out of a sense of friendship or loyalty. And Leanne...well, she was a weird one. She said she just wanted to play a part in a story, even if a small one.
But Richard himself? He started the guild with Teal and Rain for the same reason they did. To reach the bottom, to delve further into the labyrinth then anyone else and become the most famous explorers of all time. But then...shit happened. They lost Jan and Audrey, and since they had to recruit more people anyway, Teal brought up this idea about a specialized gathering team. And that was the beginning of the end for Richard, not that he knew it at the time. It sounded like a good idea, and it worked so well that he couldn't justify just quitting. Especially because once the rest of his team was good enough that they could possibly do it without him...he was too far behind Teal's group to keep up with them in battle.
So here he was. Sitting at a table in the pub while someone else was living his dream. Someone that he helped get there, no less.
The dinner crowd started to come in, but they ignored him. Some of the regulars recognized him and kept their distance. Some others were also explorers and could tell when one of their own was in the kind of mood that you just don't bother an armed man in. At some point Valerie came by and left a plate on his table, though he'd never ordered one.
Sometime later, after most of the dinner crowd had gone on their way and it was just the drinkers left, she came by again and took it away, cold and barely touched.
Even Deirdre and Bradic had run out of humor by this point. It was dark outside, and they had gone into the labyrinth that morning. They should have been back by now.
Keene was practically a nervous wreck at this point. His mind just wouldn't stop conjuring horrible images of what might have happened. Worse yet was the completely irrational feeling that he could have done something about it if he was there. It was stupid. Rain wasn't just a better fighter then he was, she was a flat out better healer as well. If something happened that she couldn't handle, there was clearly nothing he could have done about it. But emotions rarely listened to reason, so he just couldn't shake the feeling.
He munched on another of those little fried potato cakes as he tried to work out of the spiral of anxiety he was trapped in. He wasn't really hungry anymore, especially as this was the second basket of the things he'd gone through, but it was certainly a better nervous habit then drinking himself into a near stupor like the other two had.
Over on a nearby bench, Leanne was curled up napping. Which probably made her the smartest of them, but Keene knew well that even if he tried he wouldn't be able to sleep. He just had to wait. Keep waiting. Until either they made it back or the sun came up.
It was close to midnight now. Even Valerie was getting tired and trying to hide the yawns, without much success. Richard's mood had shifted a few times over the past hours. Always grim, but for different reasons. First angry, then indignant...then guilty and worried. What the hell Teal? You can't have lost, I won't believe it. So what the hell is taking you this long?
The door creaked open. Richard wasn't facing it, so he couldn't see for himself, but Keene's sudden sharp intake of breath told him who it had to be.
Quickly he stood up and turned, only to see Tally...and Tally alone leaning heavily on the doorframe. Thoughts of the worst kind sprang unbidden into Richards's mind as he snapped out, "Tal...where are the others?"
The troubadour held up one hand to stall any further questions while he caught his breath, then after a moment answered, "Teal's dropping Sage off at the clinic, the other two are somewhere behind me. I was the only one in any condition to move fast, so..." he trailed off, then was lost his balance and fell as he was knocked aside by Keene pushing past him out the doorway to dash down the street.
Rich walked over to the door and helped Tally back to his feet, "So...you did it? And everyone's still alive?"
Tal simultaneously shrugged and nodded, "Well...we hope so. Sage is in pretty bad shape, but he was still breathing last I saw. The rest of us...I'm not gonna say we're okay, but we can stand under our own power at least."
By this point, Bradic had managed to stagger over, "Eeeh, they'll b'awright once Keene gets t'em."
Tally made a disgusted face at Brad's breath, "Man, have you been dr...wait, why am I asking that?"
Rich snorted as he helped Tal over to a seat. Deirdre was waking Leanne up, which he nodded at with approval before he walked outside to wait.
It wasn't too much longer before he saw them. Keene leading the way, with Rain and Mia right behind him looking haggard but smiling. He nodded as they went into the pub, and almost chuckled at Mia's girlish squeal of delight at the soup Valerie had kept on the fire for them. He didn't follow them in, though. He kept waiting.
Eventually he saw the telltale mop of pink hair, and walked out to meet Teal as she walked over. He could tell from how she staggered along that she was standing by pure force of willpower alone, but that had never been something she was short of so it was enough.
She saw him as well, and slowed down to a stop as he walked up.
"How's Sage? Will he live?"
Teal nodded slightly, "The doctor says he should, but he'll need to stay there awhile. Did everyone else make it in yet?"
"Yeah, Keene ran out to patch them up once Tal got in. He might still have some mojo left for you, too. You look like hell."
"Thank you, Richard, you know just what a girl likes to hear." Despite her sarcastic remark, Teal smiled.
Rich reached over and took the heavy shield she was lugging along. for which Teal gave a thankful nod. He didn't know what Shilleka had made this thing out of, but it looked like it had taken a beating that entire buildings shouldn't be able to stand up under. "So what took so long? I can't even imagine a single fight lasting that long."
The protector shook her head, "I'll give you the full story in the morning. But the short version is that we had to walk out. We had a warp wire, but Sage was carrying it and the blast that downed him also destroyed just about everything he had on him. Rain had run out of magic by then, and we'd gone through all the medicine as well. We didn't have any choice but to walk back to the pole. Of course I think half the monsters in the strata were stalking us so it was neither quick nor easy. But...we survived, somehow."
Richard snorted, "Well, I didn't bust my ass getting you all that gear for you to go and get killed."
That got an exhausted laugh from Teal, "That may be the only reason we're still alive. If we were one bit less prepared, if even one more thing had gone wrong...I think that would have been the end for us. I'm not sure how we managed as we did." She broke out into a genuine smile as they started back towards the pub, "But we won. We beat the labyrinth. After a success like this, I think our two-team system is going to end up adopted by as many guilds as can manage it. I can just hear Mia going on about 'imitators' and 'poseurs' now."
They reached the door, and Richard pulled it open for her, "Valerie left some soup on for when you got back. Smelled like something spicy with seafood."
"Bless the woman." Teal beamed as she walked in past him, to the sudden press of questions from the rest of Richard's team.
Rich stayed outside a moment longer, breathing in the cool night air. Us. We. She doesn't think of us as any less a part of the guild then her team. They know how hard we work, so why am I worrying about what everyone else thinks? He chuckled as he could almost feel the stress he had been building up all day bleeding out now that they were back. Maybe it would be awhile before his heart really believed what his head understood now, but it would catch up eventually. So what if he didn't get the same kind of public accolades that her team did? Teal was right, the smart guilds would figure out the secret to the Ellight guild's success, and they would respect what he did enough to copy it in hopes of getting the same results. As for the rest?
He shook his head in amusement as he walked back inside the pub, I'm probably better off without the idiots recognizing me anyway.