It was a day like any other in White Harbor. The sound of sea waves crashing against the dock posts carried throughout the town, the local fishmongers and blacksmiths began to work their trades, filling the air with the rank mix of smelter fire and 'fresh' fish. To the annoyance of some, a group of fishermen had begun to gather up some chickens, geese, and whatever other fowl they could get their hands on in cages in preparation for something. From the looks of the Jewels being piled up in a small safe, it likely involved some kind of gambling.
And moving on from the docks, if not that far, we come across the focus of our tale: The guild Hall of Winter's Blade. Once an ancient mead hall that was said to be crafted by the very first leader to oversee these lands, the newly refurbished building now found itself host to more than just merriment and tavern brawls . . . though that was still to be had in abundance. Even now, as the sun began to make its daily transit across the sky, townsfolk began to trickle into the hall in search of food and drink. While it was a bit early in the day to start hitting the bottle, the return of a local town pest(or pet, if you ask some) has led to a lot of free time for much of the town.
"Why does this place smell like week-old fish. . . "
A sensible complaint spoken to the frigid, uncaring air around her, a young woman pulled her thick designer coat tight around her as she walked up the steps of the guildhall. Her posture was straight as a rod and extremely tense as she felt like she was being stared down from every direction. Claire was no idiot, and new that she stood out like a sore thumb in these parts. Honestly, she probably wanted to leave this place more than the people staring at her did. "Ugh . . . 'big story' my frostbitten ass. No one reader is going to care about this rinky-dink Lil' guild in the middle of nowhere."
With a half-hearted grumble, Claire approached the door with her Lacrima-journal and matching crystalline stylus in hand, already taking notes as she approached the guild. It was a very helpful device that recorded anything written down on it, letting her keep all her notes in one place while being a lot more durable than a regular paper journal. As far as these things went, the lack of any explosions being heard from within meant that she wasn't likely to be dodging fireballs or knives this time. And even had to admit, the rustic grandeur of the hall was certainly noted in the Guild's favor. Even with it being a newly fixed up building, one could feel the age and history that made up the foundations of the place. There were guilds years, if not decades older and more established than Winter's Blade that would kill for a Guild Hall like this.
"I wonder how they even managed to afford to get all this done?" She wondered allowed as she reached for the door, only for the heavy slab of oak to swing inward before she got the chance, revealing a . . . a surprisingly familiar face.
"S-S-Serena?!?!" Claire took a step back in shock as a woman she had thought was very much out of her life seemed to appear before her like a very distracting specter. Claire's cheeks turned crimson as she remembered the circumstances around their last. . . encounter, but she tried her best to push those lurid details out of her mind, clearing her throat with a mild cough as she stepped up to her old academy 'friend'. "I thought you were i-interning in Crocus?"
"And hello to you too Claire, took you long enough to get here." For her part, Serena seemed entertained by the shock she'd given(much to the reporter's irritation), leaning against the doorframe with arms crossed over her chest. "And before I answer that, you want to come inside? Chill seems to have your face all red, it does."
The slight wink Serena gave her as she turned around to lead the reporter into the building only made Claire feel even hotter under the collar. Of all of the people, why did it have to be her?!?! Claire couldn't help but have a small strike of panic run through her until she shook her head, smacking her cheeks to snap her out of this funk. No, come on Claire. That was over a year ago. You're an intern at Sorcerer's Weekly. You've got a job to do, you can handle a little surprise like Serena, no problem. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this . . .
She repeated this mantra in her head over and over as she walked inside, a small sigh escaping her as she felt the temperature instantly shoot up to something more livable. While Serena walked to the bar, where a group of men was shouting at a rather flustered looking woman for some more drinks and meat, Claire took some time to examine the interior of the guild. Because that was her job, of course. Definitely wasn't stalling, or trying to avoid talking to Serena. She could handle her whenever she needed to, so why rush? She was the one asking the questions, she would be the one to set the pace of this interview.
Once she had taken the time to repeat that to herself a few times, Claire found that the inside of the guild was even more impressive than the outside. With a vaulted ceiling hanging high overhead that revealed the supporting structure of rafters that kept the wooden structure upright, she let her gaze trail down the 3 sets of landings that ringed the upper perimeter of the Hall. She could see the doors to rooms, stairways leading deeper into the hall, even what looked to be openings that led to open-air balconies in the higher portions of the guildhall.
At the ground level, a number of long tables were arranged in 3 rows around two raging fires, most filled with a number of townsfolk looking for ways to pass the time, both young and old. The walls were lined with the skulls and stuffed heads of various creatures, some of which she couldn't help but shiver at the sight of. The thought of having to look down any of those things in a fight made her very glad she wasn't doing this whole guild business. Still, as she looked around to see all the people chatting, rough0housing, and generally having a good time. . . she couldn't help but feel a bit cozy. It was foreign, rugged, and more than a little intimidating in it's the decor, but there was just a strange warmth about the place that felt strange after spending damn near 3 days trudging through the surrounding region from Hilsgerd.
"Bjorn, what the hell have I told your drunkard ass?!?! I swear to god, I feed your damn hands to Bessie if you're not going to keep them to yourself."
Claire turned to face the bar, where Serena currently had one of the burly men facedown in a pool of spilled liquor, one foot on his head while she had his arm in both hands and bending in a direction that it really shouldn't be bending, especially from the way that he was shouting. Though rather than defend their companion, the other village men just laughed and jeered the pervert, mentioning how he should've known better than to try anything around Serena.
I . . . should probably wait till that sorts itself out. . . yeah. The reporter took down a few more notes as she walked towards a more secluded section of the hall, wanting to simply observe for the most part. Perhaps even spy the mysterious guild master that seemed to have dragged Serena into coming back home permanently. . . not that she particularly cared. Definitely not. It was just her job. Nothing more. nothing less.
The Marshlands surrounding the settlement of Bludmach were, for lack of a better term, an utter shit-hole. The few trees that managed to eke out a meager existence in this place were diseased, jagged-looking things with a penchant for carnivorous behavior that had taken more than one curious visitor or rookie Marshrunner by surprise. If the plant life didn't get you, however, then the wildlife would be the next thing to watch out for, since any creature that lived in this toxic swamp was going to be both very aggressive and very, very hungry. Still, for experienced Marshrunners and those in their care, the trek was usually one of practiced ease.
As of the last month, however, a new kind of creature seems to have risen from the caustic red sludge of the Bluidmach. Reports of it a few and far between, as the creature manages to remain ever elusive, but its effect on the settlement of Bludmach proper is a devastating one. Food and Water have been stretched to its limits, Tensions are running high, and the production of the Lacrima that keep the town going has slowed to almost nothing as miners, alchemists, shamans, and regular citizens all end up missing. Taken, many say, by the Beast or so the locals have taken to calling it.
And so come in our heroes, brave mages of the newly founded Winter's Blade Guild. . . riding in the back of a rickety wagon along a poorly maintained Runic-enhanced road through the marsh as their driver jumps at every stray shadow and the odd burst of a toxic gas bubble. While not every Marsh Runner believes in the tail of the Beast, many do know that something is killing a lot of the people heading in and out of the Bludmach. So the group, after much haggling and, perhaps a little threatening from Eldrid, managed to rope a somewhat novice Marsh runner to take them through the place to the settlement Though from the way he'd been muttering, praying, and cursing under his breath the entire trip so far, he was far from happy about the situation.
"You've should've just kept to your guns, Malon. 'No way am I going out tin that marsh, it's a fucking death wish.' Well, I guess it was always dangerous work so that kind of excuse would've seemed odd, but they didn't need to know that. Now you're going to die because you're such a wuss. Gods be Damned, Malon, how could you be so stupid. . . and so easily cowed by a girl barely entering adulthood. Even if she does have a very large and scary wolfman behind her. . . and the other strange guy. . . and the whole 'can breathe fire' thing. Uggggh, goddammit Malopn what have you gotten yourself into now."