There were a fair number of people walking about today, enough to drown out the sound of Aer's accessories. She wore several pieces of chained jewelry, and they bounced with every step she took. Most of them weren't visible under Aer's red cloak, but they could be heard if one tried to listen. Tucking them into her numerous pockets would have silenced them, but the sound was comforting to the petite woman.
Aer pulled the hood of her cloak tight around her head. Her crimson hair was still plainly visible, as if not wishing to be contained by her hood. Though as long as Aer's ears were hidden, she didn't care. The covered object strapped to her back weaved side to side with every step she took. She definitely looked like a mysterious person, but such strange characters were not uncommon here. The hero's district had all matters of weapons laying about. As a result, the area was well guarded and eyes were on everyone. But Aer was not here to purchase wares. She was specifically here to get work from the Gulendam adventure's guild.
The point of an adventure's guild like Gulendam was to let adventurers work for reputable clients. Adventuring is not an easy profession, and they don't always find work while drinking in a tavern. This forces them to put in work doing menial tasks. Not only that, but an unfamiliar adventurer is a prime target for unsavory individuals Tell an adventurer you have a rat problem in your sewer, and they'll happily walk into your trap. But an adventurer's guild doesn't just make things better for adventurers, it makes things better for their clients too. By going to an adventurer's guild, their request is going to be seen by a much larger pool of adventurers. And if it's a particular type of request, it'll end up in the hands of an adventurer who has the tools to complete it. The only downside is that the clients need to register with the guild, which ensures they can settle disputes between the client and the adventurer. Such guilds were funded by monthly payments from all it's members, and small fees from every task a client submits.
The front of the guild was nothing more than a desk made out of wooden crates. There were job postings all over the front of the building, and a guild clerk stood at the counter ready to serve people.
“Hello Aer!” The guild clerk waved.
This was not the first time they met, and Aer had been regularly coming to the guild for work. "Well met, Hanna."
If anyone was unsure of Aer's age, her voice would reveal she wasn't a child. The petite woman tipped her head as a greeting before approaching the desk. It was a bit too tall for her to comfortably rest her arms on, so she kept her arms at her sides. ”Are there any requests that might be a good fit for me?"
Aer slipped a scroll out of her cloak and presented it to the guild clerk.
“Let's have a look!” All registered adventurers had a scroll that detailed their skills and accomplishments. The guild used a system so that an adventurer's credentials could be quickly assessed and a fitting job could be given to them. Things like a keyword to determine their general set of skill, and their “level,” which was a number that recognized how accomplished a particular adventurer was. The scroll was nothing short of a resume, but it was sometimes referred to as a skill scroll. “Alright, I have two jobs that might interest you.”
Aer smiled. "So long as I can pay for my lodging, I will accept any task."
“That's the spirit!” The guild clerk reached under her desk and pulled out two scrolls. They were bound together with twine and had a number written on the corner of each one. Probably for organization. “The first one should be pretty simple for you. An aristocrat locked themselves out of their study, and they believe their keys were left inside. So you just have to open the lock.” "I'm surprised they didn't get a lock smith to take care of it."
“Mister Bogart is ... a little strange. But he's made requests from us before. I personally believe he has an obsession with adventurers. Some of our clients are like that.” "Hmm..."
Aer tapped her chin with her gloved finger. "And the second request?"
“The second request will take you a bit more time, but it also comes from the noble district so the pay is good.” The guild clerk slid the twine off of the scroll and opened it on her desk. “It's a missing person request. Mistress Vertti has gone missing. You are to meet the client, Grisaia, at the household. He is one of the servants.”
Aer placed her arm on top of the counter. "This sounds fairly grave. Do we have someone else that can take care of the lock?"
The guild clerk turned away with a groan. “It's not as serious as it sounds. This sort of thing happens all the time with Mistress Vertti. She just disappears for days at a time without telling her servants, who then get worried and call on us.” She looked back at Aer. “Bogart's request is definitely more pressing at this point. There's a very real possibility Mistress Vertti will come back, and then the servants will cancel the request. That's not to say you'll walk away empty handed, but it is possible you won't be properly compensated for your time.” "I suppose if she's not really missing, it's not that pressing..."
Of course, Aer knew what the guild clerk was suggesting. Aer could waste a lot of time looking for someone who wasn't really missing if she wasn't careful. But if she just went through the motions, talked to the servant like it was something she was going to undertake, she could more or less get paid just for feigning interest in finding the lady of this house. She wasn't going to do that of course, but Aer suspected that was why she was downplaying the second request. "In that case, I will see to mister Bogart's lock immediately."
“Do check back later. I'm sure I'll have more work by then.”
Aer gave Hanna a polite nod before heading off.
After a fairly long walk, Aer had arrived at Bogart's home. But now that she was here, she was unsure if this was really his house. The entire thing looked more like a mage's tower than a comfy house. There was a possibility this wasn't his home, but Aer wasn't going to spend a lot of time thinking about it. She respected people's privacy, and wished everyone else would do the same.
“You've come!” Aer didn't even have time to knock on the door before a man leaned out of the window. He was tall, perfectly balled, and had a long white mustache. “You must
be the adventurer who's come to save me from this most troubling crisis! Why, you even sound like a pair of jingling keys!” The man was as animated as a rambunctious child, practically bouncing where he stood. A little strange was an understatement
Aer thought to herself. ”That is correct. I am here to help!”
She forced an awkward smile.
“Well step inside!” the man gestured while backing away from the window. “I haven't locked anything, and I won't
lock anything until I've found my keys!”
This was not the strangest person Aer had to deal with, but he was still strange enough that she was put on guard. When she entered through the front door, the elf quickly looked to either side of the entryway. Aer had to make sure no one else was waiting for her. The first floor was just an open room, but Aer scanned everything as she made her way through. Before she could reach the stairwell, mister Bogart came charging down the stairs and stopped in front of Aer. “Hello little girl! I'm Dax Bogart, pleased to meet you!” He extended his hand.
Aer looked between Dax and his hand before extending her own. ”Aer Pacifica.”
She was not going to correct him about her age, as that hardly mattered. It was probably better if he thought she was a young lady anyway.
“Aer Pacifica? Sounds exotic! You must have come from a pretty far away land huh? Would you like something to drink? I have lots of different teas we can try!” ”O-oh, um...”
Aer was starting to believe her fears were misplaced. The guild clerk did tell her this was a regular client. ”Actually I have a lot to do today. Once I'm done here I need to help find a missing person.”
“A busy body! I like that!” Dax took her had and walked up the stars. He was quick, but it wasn't hard for Aer to match his pace. “The lock is this way. It's entirely custom, and I paid extra to have it made by the finest locksmith in the kingdom.” He looked over his shoulder at Aer. “I'm sure only a brave adventurer could possibly get it open. I would prefer if we could save the lock, if you think it's possible.” ”The contract said as much. I will not open the door if it breaks the lock.”
Before long, Aer was brought before a tall iron door. It looked durable and intimidating. But what Aer was most interested in was the key hole. It was in a black box just beside the door, and was smaller than your conventional key hole. Aer stepped closer to the lock and placed her eye next to the hole. ”You are correct, this is definitely a well made lock.”
Aer reached for her waste band and pulled a flask off of it. ”I believe I can open it though, but I'm going to need to focus. It's very important that you stay as quiet as you can.”
“Alright! I think I can do that.”
Standard locks of this vintage mostly work the same. A key with a particularly shaped tab is inserted into the lock, and then it is twisted. If the key is the right shape, it will pass all of the plates, or “wards,” and either engage or disengage the door. As long as someone knows what the basic shape of the key is, it is possible to easily forge a “skeleton key” that can be used to open said door. Since Aer had no idea what the original key looked like, making a skeleton key would be impossible. She did know of another trick that would get the door open though.
Aer used her thumb to pop the cork off the top of the flask and proceeded to pour its contents out. The water seemed to defy gravity and flowed directly into the lock. With the small chamber filled with water, Aer had a much easier time visualizing the inside of the lock, as she could feel her mana coursing through the water. The elf closed her eyes, and some of the water inside the lock started to freeze. She had to be careful. While she was working with a very small amount of water, it took a lot of focus to freeze the water in just the shape she wanted. In her youth, she'd have created an ice cube around the wards, and she wouldn't have been able to continue without thawing it out first. But once the key-shaped ice cube was formed, she had it spin and engage the locking mechanism. Locks like this seldom required much pressure, so the ice cube didn't shatter. Even if it did, pushing the broken chunks against the locking mechanism usually worked.
Of course from where Dax was standing, it just looked like Aer had poured some water into his lock, meditated, and then the door opened with a click.
“You did it?” He stepped past Aer to push the door open. “You did it!”
If Aer wasn't so anxious, she might have laughed at the man's excitement. ”The door lock has a lump of ice in it, but it should melt relatively quickly.”
“Hah! My keys were in here!” After picking up his keys, he rushed out of the room and spread his arms. “Thank you so much! I could just kiss you!”
Aer's face turned pale. ”M-maybe you could pay me instead?”
“Oh, that too!” He quickly reached into his pocket and pulled out a fine looking purse. He pulled out Aer's hand and started shaking out coins into it. “I'm not sure how much it was, but it was at least this much right?” ”Y-yes, that's more than enough!”
Aer retracted her hand and dumped the coins into her pocket. A few of them spilled out onto the floor, but she still managed to pocket more than what the job called for. Being over paid for a job was typically something Aer didn't permit, but she just wanted to be on her way. ”Thank you for using the adventure's guild. I must be off, as there's a missing person that needs to be found.”
Aer was usually far more polite with her clients, but she felt that if she didn't take the opportunity to disengage, she 'd be talking with Dax well into the evening.
“By the way Aer, I need to ask you something. Real quick before you leave.” Dax calmed down noticably before pitching his question. “Do you believe we have a limited number of chances to get our life right?”
The question was strange enough that it stopped Aer dead in her tracks. ”Excuse me?”
“What's the most dangerous quest you've ever undertaken?”
That was a hard one to answer. Aer was still in a rush to leave, so she recalled something at the front of her memory. ”There were some monsters in an abandoned castle. The castle was very old, the monsters were very strong, and we were entirely outnumbered.”
the elf sighed. ”We didn't all make it out of there alive.”
“But you did.” Dax smiled. “And I'm sure you had to make a lot of decisions in order to get out of there alive. Take this path, attack this creature here, regroup on the steps-” ”I suppose I did make a lot of choices, but I made each of them once.”
“Well, that's what you remember.” Dax stroked his chin. “Maybe that wasn't the first time you had been in that position. Maybe you had many attempts to get it right, but you simply don't remember them.” He gestured with his hands. “Like every time you died, you were given another chance to get it right.”
Aer fret her brow. ”If I can't remember my old choices, I'm not sure they would really matter in the long run.”
She threw her hand off to the side. ”What's the point of having multiple chances if I cant remember your actions? Why Wouldn't I just make the same choices again?”
“Oh, I didn't think of that.” Dax looked away from Aer. “Oh! I got it!” He shook his finger at her. “Maybe you don't remember, but someone else might have been able to! Maybe they were even guiding you so that you would survive!” ”Then I would ask why they didn't try to save everyone.”
“Hmm...” Dax rubbed his chin more. “It can be hard to figure people out. Maybe they felt they did the best they could, or maybe it was simply impossible to save everyone.” he looked back at Aer. “Did you feel like someone was looking out for you in that mess? Other than divine entities of course.”
Aer sighed and closed her eyes. ”Yea, one of the guys there. He was definitely looking out for everyone.”
She shook her head. ”I can't even remember his name, I haven't seen him again since.”
She looked up at Dax. ”But leaders are suppose to look out for everyone. That's hardly a reason to suspect a phenomenon like multiple chances at life. Why believe in something so strange?”
The old man chuckled and shook his head. “Aer Aer Aer, there are two types of people in this life: Those that ask why, and those that ask why not.” He started to walk into his study. “People who only ever ask 'why' are missing the boat completely. It is only when we ask ourselves 'why not' that we are welcomed to a world of possibilities. 'why not' is the language of researchers, discoveries, and most importantly, adventurers.” He let out a heart felt laugh. “You should embrace that side of yourself Aer, it's what makes you do incredible things.” ”Perhaps.”
Aer was done here, and couldn't wait to leave the tower. She just hoped this Grisaia servant was more hospitable than her former client.