Yeah, I actually didn't realize how small his role was until I thought about it after posting it. I realized that Enzo being the big talker and having the attention in the battle meant that Julian didn't get much of a chance to do a lot. I look at them as being like the Turks in FF7, as your kinda recurring villains with a sense of humor, so you can expect them to pop up now and again.
I know, it's so sad... Sonia just wouldn't go along with being his assistant, though...
Yeah, that's definitely a part of it. There's also the fact that, while she might be a pretty good fighter, that's not really her specialty. That's more Antoine and Sonia's territory, while her thieving skills are really her strength. So, why not play to her strengths instead of taking highly-trained fighters head on? But I agree that I could've kept her in the fight a bit longer, especially after she and Enzo were doing most of the trash talking.
The Mists of Avon: Chapter 9
The day Sonia had been waiting for had finally arrived. It was finally time for Antoine and Ruby to receive their reward, so they could go their separate ways. No more verbal sparring matches with Antoine. No more episodes of Ruby’s impetuousness creating unnecessary danger. Though she had to admit that they had at least given her a change of pace. She liked leading her knighthood, but it was nice to take a break and go on an adventure like that, free from the pressure of the capital and all the expectations. So, it wasn’t Antoine or Ruby that she was going to miss, of course. It was the adventure they had brought her into.
The sun hung high in the air over their heads in the cloudless sky as Sonia felt a light breeze blow her hair over her shoulders. Antoine probably thought the weather was so perfect solely to welcome him back, as egotistical as he is. That wouldn’t stop her from enjoying it as they approached those welcoming golden castle gates, emblazoned with a golden lion on each door, facing each other as if about to engage in battle. Ruby stopped them just short of those gates.
“Can ya just pick up my share of the reward and get it to me later, ‘Toine? I gotta go do somethin’. Ya can just meet me after you’re all done with the hoity-toity folks up in the castle.”
Antoine smiled, “Of course. I can understand that you wouldn’t wish to walk around yet another castle full of knights.”
Ruby chuckled a bit as she walked towards Sonia. “Nah, there’s nothin’ new in this castle for me. Already seen it all.” She scampered away before Sonia could even say a word.
“What did she mean?” asked Sonia. “When did she sneak into the castle?”
“Are you asking for the most recent time? Or do you want a more comprehensive list of break-ins?” asked Antoine with a smirk. “Because we really do not have all day.”
Sonia rolled her eyes. “Let’s just go inside. The quicker we finish up here, the quicker you get out of my hair.”
“I sense a bit of hostility.”
“You really are magical, aren’t you?”
As they walked through the gates into the courtyard, Sonia felt as if it had been ages since she had been there. In truth, it had been just under a week, but it had definitely been an eventful week. The lush grass on both sides of the stone walkway probably hadn’t even been trimmed in that time. And the same could probably be said for Martin’s thick black beard, as he approached them before the enormous double doors.
“Commander!” said Martin, as he placed a hand over his heart in the standard salute. “I’m glad to see you return safely!”
“Did you think I wouldn’t?” asked Sonia as she folded her arms over her chest. “Do you not believe your commander to be able to take care of herself on the battlefield?”
“N-No, that’s not it at all,” stammered Martin. “I simply meant that I am happy that you have returned as safely as we all assumed you would.”
“Even your second-in-command cannot believe you’re attempting to make a joke.” Antoine adjusted the cuffs of his sleeves. “I guess my many good qualities truly have been rubbing off on you.”
“Let’s just be glad the selfishness and narcissism didn’t rub off,” said Sonia. “What’s been happening in the capital while I’ve been away, Martin?”
Martin let out a sigh of relief, “Nothing out of the ordinary. No Mist monster or Neo Avon attacks. Even the Dragon’s Den has been quiet, which I guess might actually qualify as out of the ordinary. Only a couple minor thefts reported the entire time you were gone, actually.”
Sonia knew that last one would change with Ruby loose in the city, though she figured now might not be the time to bring that up, given that Ruby had just helped them in their mission. Besides, she had more important business with the Princess.
“Good job,” Sonia saluted Martin. “I will take Antoine to Her Highness to report on the result of our mission. Keep up the good work!”
As Sonia and Antoine approached the enormous double doors, the guards scrambled to open them so that they never had to break stride as they entered the castle.
“They weren’t this eager to open the doors for me when I came before,” said Antoine.
They walked through the great hall, with its black and white tiled floor and enormous chandelier whose candles were able to keep the room lit all through the night. During the daytime, the sunlight could simply pour through the stained-glass windows that depicted the legendary battle against the Magi and Louis Laurent’s eventual triumph aided by a magical stone. That stone supposedly became the Lion’s Seal, passed down through the generations. Sonia had never believed that a magic stone could win a war. Until recently, she didn’t think there was a magic stone. If it was so powerful, why couldn’t Antoine have just used it to defeat Julian and Enzo in the blink of an eye? The stone’s power was definitely a myth.
They climbed the stairs on the other end of the great hall and walked through the familiar, carpeted hallways until they reached the throne room, where Her Highness was talking at the top of the steps with Advisor Yute, her expert on all of Avon’s history and legends. He was instantly recognizable because of his broom of a mustache and his owl-sized glasses, along with his long, brown robe.
“You would not be sending her on an impossible mission,” said Yute. “The reason we have been unable to defeat it is because we do not have the ability to wield magic. That is its only weakness.”
Her Highness must have noticed them enter the throne room because a slight grin began to creep over her face. She simply waved off Yute, who fell silent.
“Sonia! I am glad that you have returned safely, my friend.”
Sonia knelt down at the bottom of the steps. “We were successful in completing our mission, Your Highness.”
“Please, I have told you countless times that you do not have to address me in such a formal manner, Sonia. We’ve known each other far longer than is necessary for you to address me by my name. And there is no need for you to kneel, either.”
Sonia rose to her feet with a smile, though she noticed Antoine had never kneeled at all. She knew she would have a much tougher time of calling Her Highness by her first name. It was something that had been drilled into her head in her childhood, being raised by a knight like her father, who placed such a high emphasis on honor and protecting the royal family.
“Thank you,” Sonia paused as Her Highness stared at her with raised eyebrows. “Beatrice.”
Her Highness walked down the steps, placing a hand on her shoulder. “That was not so difficult now, was it?”
“I suppose not,” said Sonia with a smile, though she quickly erased it. “I have my mission report for you.”
“Did you have any difficulty reclaiming the Lion’s Seal?”
Sonia shifted her feet as she answered, “No, of course not.”
“Your armor’s condition would beg to differ, I think.” Her Highness indicated the dents and scratches littering her formerly bright silver armor with a wave of her hand.
Antoine said, “You would’ve been in quite a predicament, had Ruby not swooped in to save you.”
“Says the man who was stabbed.”
“Who is this ‘Ruby’?” asked Her Highness.
“A friend of Antoine’s. She helped us to complete our mission.”
Her Highness turned to Antoine. “Oh? Well, give her my thanks.”
Antoine began, “Beatrice--”
“While I may be thankful that your friend helped Sonia, I do not think we are on a first name basis, mercenary,” said Her Highness.
“Very well,” grumbled Antoine. “About the issue of my payment…”
Antoine reached into his vest pocket and produced the Lion’s Seal. It was Sonia’s first good look at it, and she now saw that it was a white stone with a faint blue glow hanging in the air around it. It was round on one end, but jagged on the other, like a broken eggshell.
Her Highness was entranced by that eerie glow as she reached for the stone, but Antoine pulled it away from her.
“Not until I receive my payment.”
She stared at Antoine, head tilted slightly to the side, “You know that I am a woman of my word, mercenary.”
“Yes, I do. But it pays to be cautious, in my line of work.”
Her Highness simply waved for Yute to come down the steps, and he pulled a small but heavy leather pouch out from the folds of his robe. He handed it to Antoine, who opened it with a smile and began to count the coins inside. He had not been kidding, for once, about being cautious.
“Antoine,” said Sonia with a shake of her head. “There’s a fine line between being cautious and being paranoid.”
“I just wanted to see how you’d react,” said Antoine with a smile as he looked up from his coins and handed the stone to Her Highness.
“Finally,” said Her Highness, as she stared at the stone, her voice losing just a bit of its usual steadiness. “Father would be… so proud to see me finally holding our national treasure again.”
Sonia had something that she wanted to do for her father’s legacy, as well. She had been mulling over how to go about asking Her Highness about it, but she only really knew one way to ask such a thing. The direct way.
“Now that this mission is over, I had a question for you, Your Hi—I mean, Beatrice,” said Sonia. “It has come to my attention that the traitor Lorenzo van Roux has gone to Wolt to bolster their defenses. I would like to take the 8th Knighthood to bring him to justice.”
“And to avenge your father?” asked Her Highness, as she returned to her throne, setting down the Lion’s Seal.
Sonia knew how it sounded. It sounded selfish and immature to suggest that revenge would somehow help the pain of losing her father. She knew it was not that simple. But Lorenzo had betrayed her father, and he would have to pay for that betrayal. By her honor, she could not simply let Lorenzo go free.
“It is a matter of honor. Not only my own, but my father’s as well. Weren’t his many years of service enough to earn the right to be avenged?”
“Sonia… As your friend, I completely understand,” said Her Highness. “But, as the ruler of Avon, I must do what is best for the kingdom. I cannot place one person, even you, above the well-being of the kingdom. I am sorry.”
Sonia had expected that answer. Her Highness would not want her to risk her life, along with the lives of her knighthood, foolishly on a quest for vengeance. And they had talked about Sonia’s need for revenge before, with Her Highness standing strongly against it. She had told Sonia that revenge was a poison and that she should banish all thoughts of it from her mind. Of course, Sonia wondered if her stance on revenge would be different had her father not died of simple illness.
Sonia took one deep breath and said, “I… understand.”
“If it’s any consolation, I may have a new mission for you. Hopefully, this may allow you to keep your mind off of this situation.”
“What do you mean you ‘may’ have a new mission?” asked Sonia as she cocked one eyebrow.
“I have a new job to offer you, mercenary.”
Sonia had almost forgotten Antoine was still in the room. She had been so focused on her appeal to Her Highness about Lorenzo, and he had been uncharacteristically quiet. He had been paid already, so the only reason she could think of for Antoine to stay was that he wanted to get one last parting shot in before they had to split up. It looked like he was going to have to put that on hold now, though.
“And just how much is this dangerous task worth to you?” asked Antoine as he rubbed his chin, pretending to be considering the offer, even though Sonia could tell he already knew she would pay him as much as necessary.
“Fifteen thousand gilar.”
Antoine let out a low whistle. “I think I would be willing to work for that price.”
“I thought so.”
“I do have one question, however. I would think that I have proven myself trustworthy enough to you that I do not need a… chaperone any longer. I work best alone.”
Her Highness let a slight smile creep across her face. “I think even you will agree that working alone will not be best for this task.”
“And why is that?” asked Antoine.
“I need you to slay a dragon.”
Dausten used to be one of Ruby’s favorite cities to visit, back in the last years of King Elias’s rule. There was more crime than a thief knew what to do with, but that changed as the Princess got used to ruling. Now, it was a relatively crime-free city, especially by Ruby’s standards. That made it a pretty boring place to hang out, so she didn’t spend too much time there anymore. The west end of Dausten was still going through the transition, though. Being about as far from the castle as you can get in the city, the knights didn’t spend as much time there, so you could have a little more fun.
Before she could have fun, though, Ruby had one delivery to make. She worked her way down one of the many back alleys in the area until she came across a steel door standing in stark contrast to the usual wooden ones used throughout the city. Emilio told everyone he put this door in because his business was in a dangerous area, and he needed to protect his business, though Ruby was definitely a part of the crowd that knew this wasn’t the true explanation for it. Either way, the Dausten Courier Service was open for business, so Ruby heaved the door open with a grunt.
The only decoration in the room, unless the lit torches on either end counted, was a small potted plant known as an Asalia tree. It was named after the crunchy, roughly heart-shaped orange fruit that grows on its branches. They went really well with some good meat, in Ruby’s experience. This tree didn’t look like it was going to be the best source of fruit, though, as it drooped in the windowless room. The building probably got all its airflow through the lanite rock it was made of. Lanite was known for being sturdy, yet easy for air to flow through, even though it looked like your ordinary, everyday stone.
Behind the desk stood a teenage girl, tall but drooping like the plant. Her straw-like red hair fell over her face and she wore a plain gray shirt. This was a different girl than the one who had worked here last time, and Ruby tried not to think about what the last girl would do without even this meager job. She shuddered at the thought of depending on actual jobs to make money.
“I’m here to see Emilio. Name’s Ruby. Is that ol’ penny pincher in today?”
The girl nodded. “Yes, I’ll let him know you’re here.”
“Thanks,” said Ruby as she slid a golden fifty gilar coin towards the girl.
“I can’t accept gifts, miss.”
Ruby shook her head. “It’s a tip for your good work. Or maybe a payment to get ya to never call me ‘miss’ again.”
The girl nodded and picked up the coin, sliding the coin into her shoe to hide it. “Thank you.” She disappeared behind the even more heavily reinforced steel door and appeared again a minute later. “He will see you now.”
This door took even more of an effort to open, being about two feet thick. Emilio’s office wasn’t as sparsely decorated as the entrance, though it still lacked windows. A couple torches kept the room lit, and a tall clock sat on the right side of the room, golden pendulum swinging to keep time. There was a cheap painting not even worth stealing hanging on the wall behind him. It was a picture of some old knights battling. Sonia would probably be drooling all over it. Maybe she should steal it after all? But Sonia would get mad about it being stolen.
His newest bodyguard stood off to the side, bald and bulky like all the rest. He was probably called Butch or Crusher. Some name that was supposedly intimidating, but was more fitting for a pet dog than a person. Ruby could take him, of course, but she didn’t have any reason to right now.
And behind the desk sat Emilio, clean-shaven with his beady little eyes behind his glasses. He wore a green silk shirt that was probably worth enough to feed a person for months. He stood up, pretending to support himself on his fashionable cane.
“So, what amazing artifact do you have to sell me today, Ruby?”
“Nothin’ today. I actually gotta use your legitimate business today. Figured today was as good a time as any, seein’ as I was already in town and all.”
“I see. So, how much money are you sending today?” asked Emilio as he flashed his teeth, along with the small gap where he was missing one of his front teeth.
Ruby took all the coins out of her belt, dropping them onto Emilio’s desk with a clatter. “Don’t know. Ya can count it all out, I guess. Last I checked, I had ‘bout twenty-five hundred.”
“We appreciate your patronage and will deliver this with haste,” said Emilio. “We cannot let those poor orphans starve now, can we?”
“And yet you’re still gonna take your cut outta the money, of course,” said Ruby with a tilt of her head.
“We must turn a profit, after all. It’s not as if I have any other forms of income, aside from this poor little business.”
“Sure, ‘course not,” said Ruby with a roll of her eyes. “But I gotta get goin’. Figure I’ll go work.”
“Of course. I hear you came into town with Antoine, so give him my regards.”
With that, Ruby spun on her heel and walked out of the building, giving a slight nod to the girl at the desk on her way out. Before she knew it, she was in front of the Dragon’s Den. It was Ruby’s favorite spot in the city. She couldn’t spend ten minutes in there without getting into a fight. It was great. Before going in, she stared up at the wooden sign littered with giant teeth, supposedly taken from a dragon’s mouth. Ruby didn’t buy that story, since she had heard all the stories about the dragon near the Avon-Jamasca border. It had never been defeated, so how was someone going to take its teeth? Instead of worrying about it, she just went through the door.
Inside, Ruby saw it was as crowded as ever. The Staruk tables to the right were filled with easy targets, but she wasn’t in the mood to take people’s money. At least, she wasn’t in the mood to take their money that way. On the left were tables filled with bulky men drinking, singing, and spilling things. She was disappointed to see not one fight in that direction. Ruby’s only option left was to sit at the bar in the middle, taking the last open stool.
The bartender, Ivan, approached Ruby. He was a muscular man with short blonde hair, who sometimes worked security for the cantina when absolutely necessary. The roughness of the cantina was one of its draws, so they didn’t often want security.
“What can I get for my least favorite customer?”
“Why the sour mood, good ol’ buddy?” asked Ruby with her widest possible grin.
Ivan put down a glass of steaming green liquid called Jamascan Ale in front of the old man next to her. It wasn’t actually from Jamasca, but people in Avon called it that because of how acidic it was. That stuff could take the eyebrows off your face, as Ruby knew from doing just that to a guard in a nobleman’s mansion one time.
“We don’t really got much space left in the joint, if you didn’t notice, and I’d rather save the space we got left for actual paying customers.”
“Don’t know if I like your attitude, barkeep,” said Ruby. “And here I was, thinkin’ ‘bout actually orderin’ somethin’ for once.”
“Sure you were.”
Just then, Ivan’s eyes went wide, like Ruby’s own do when she sees a shiny golden artifact worth hundreds or thousands of gilar. She turned around to track his line of sight and saw just what he was reacting to.
A middle-aged man with an eye patch over his right eye slouched behind Ruby. He wore a dark green tunic, the color of leaves on a tree, and a few gray streaks ran through his hair on the sides of his head. He had a light beard growing in on his face, as if he hadn’t shaved a few days. She could smell a trace of alcohol on his breath, even though he had just come into the cantina.
“What’s the occasion, Ivan?” asked the man. “If I’d known it’d be this packed, I would’ve just stayed home and kept drinking alone like a sad old man, pining for the past.”
Ruby groaned. One of those pathetic types that couldn’t get out of bed without a drink. She understood why Ivan’s eyes lit up when he walked in the door, at least.
“We’ll always make room for you,” said Ivan. “Ruby, you should give up your seat for Silas. He’s an actual paying customer.”
“I paid for something here! That one time.”
“Aren’t you a bit young to drink?” asked Silas.
“Aren’t you a bit old to walk without a cane?” asked Ruby.
“Yeah, that’s why I need a place to sit. I need to rest my tired old bones before I catch a draft.”
“He’s a war hero of Avon. He’s a legend for his exploits in the war against those barbarous Jamascans,” said Ivan. “A youngster like you should give up your seat for someone with war injuries like his.”
“Last I checked, ya don’t stand on your eye,” said Ruby.
Ivan’s eyes narrowed. “If you don’t let Silas come up to the bar to order, I can have you banned from the cantina.”
Ruby bit her lip. “Fine, but ya didn’t say I had to give him my seat, so I’m takin’ it with me.”
Ruby leapt up from the stool and picked it up, bumping into Silas and dashing over to the door. In most cantinas, this might be enough to cause a real scene, but it barely brought more than a few puzzled glances from newcomers. Only Silas and Ivan had any real reaction to it.
“Let it go,” said Silas to Ivan with a wave of his hand. “I’d probably have trouble walking home tonight if I didn’t get a bit of practice staying on my feet anyway.”
So, the Dragon’s Den had been a total bust, thought Ruby. Except for the leather pouch full of gilar she swiped from Silas, that is. It was almost unfair stealing from someone with one eye, but she figured Ivan’s extra two eyes should more than make up for that.
She was getting bored of sitting around with nothing to do and nobody to punch already, though. She sat down on her stool in the late afternoon sun, letting out a deep breath. Like being a soldier in some stupid war was supposed to make him better than her! Ruby bet that she could beat him in a fight, even in his prime. She wanted to blow off some steam, but she didn’t have much of a way to do it right now in Dausten. At times like this, there was only one thing to do. She needed some more adventure, and Antoine always had a steady supply for her. She needed to collect her cut of the profits from the last one anyway. She figured he couldn’t have gone too far since she left him at the castle.
I always enjoy your stories because of your amazing details with your characters personality
Thanks, CK! I saw you're starting to do some writing again yourself. I'll have to check it out when you post your next chapter.
The Mists of Avon: Chapter 10
Antoine normally didn’t seek out battles with monsters as powerful as Avon’s legendary dragon. There usually wasn’t a client looking to pay him enough to risk his life in a battle with something that could crush him simply by stepping on him, and he was definitely not about to fight it for honor or some similarly absurd notion. Princess Beatrice must have really wanted the dragon defeated, if she was willing to pay so much. She said that her scouts had heard that Dmitri had gained control of the dragon, but he wondered if she was attempting to eliminate him by sending him against something so powerful. Antoine had become accustomed to similar situations, over the years, as many clients do not want anyone knowing about the jobs they hired him for. But why would she send Sonia, if that was the case?
Antoine knew that Princess Beatrice was widely thought to be an honest and kind leader, perhaps to a fault. It seemed unlikely to be some type of trick, but Antoine had learned that it was wise to keep an eye on your client, no matter how noble or honorable they were said to be. That said, he was not about to turn down such a large reward. He would simply be wary of any suspicious circumstances. He was brought back to the task at hand by Sonia’s voice, as they stood in the hallway outside the throne room.
“We’re going to need a guide, if we want to find the dragon.”
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say you don’t want any suggestions from me, after the minor inconvenience we had in Ralingrad?” asked Antoine.
Sonia put her hands on her hips. “Being attacked by two of the most dangerous mercenaries in all of Avon is only a ‘minor inconvenience?’”
“When you have the best mercenary on your side… yes,” said Antoine with a nod.
“Then I’m glad I don’t need your suggestions this time. I already have a guide in mind,” said Sonia. “My father’s old friend, Silas van Rothsberg.”
Antoine cocked an eyebrow, “The greatest archer in Avon’s history? I would say that’s a lofty goal, if I didn’t know how far he’s fallen in recent years.”
“I wouldn’t count on him if we had a choice,” said Sonia. “But he, my father, and Lorenzo are the only ones to have survived a battle with the dragon. That was seven years ago, and Silas lost his eye in that battle. He hasn’t been the same since.”
Antoine looked out the window to see the sun still hanging high in the sky. “Night hasn’t fallen yet, so I think we can safely assume he’ll be in the Dragon’s Den, drowning his sorrows.”
“What if it was nighttime?”
“Oh, it’d be the same.”
Silas was a notable in the Dragon’s Den. He was one of the few patrons that didn’t fight there, as most were in awe of him, despite his current state. In Avon, he was the type of person you would expect to see as a statue, rather than in the flesh. Antoine had never actually interacted with him, since there was no money to be made off of such a person. There may have been money for Ruby to make off of him, though she spent much of her time there fighting, playing Staruk, or doing both at the same time.
Sonia said, “I need to get a new suit of armor, since this one was pretty thoroughly wrecked in that last battle. How about we meet at the Dragon’s Den in an hour? I’m sure you need to gather some supplies, too.”
“I’ve been renting a room above the cantina,” said Antoine with a shrug. “So, I can stop up there after we’ve found Silas.”
Antoine didn’t keep much in his room anyway, as it was not exactly in the safest place. He kept a stash of gilar hidden inside the wall, making it difficult for anyone without magic abilities to access it, but he wouldn’t need that. For a successful mercenary, he kept a surprisingly small number of material objects. Much of this was due to the fact that he moved around too often to keep everything in one place.
Sonia bit her lip. “I don’t know if I want you in my home, where all my valuables are.”
“Ruby’s the one you should be worried about, in that case.”
“Are you planning on tracking down Ruby to see if she wants to come with on this mission?”
“Of course. I do not wish to incur her wrath by not inviting her to fight a dragon. She probably won’t take much tracking down, however.”
Ruby could leave a wake of destruction like few young girls. All you had to do to find her was follow the trail of angry people. However, Antoine wouldn’t be surprised if she stopped by the castle and tracked them down simply to prove to Sonia that she could break into the castle any time she wanted.
“Fine,” said Sonia with a sigh. “I guess it’ll be quicker if we go together.”
Antoine wondered what type of grand estate Sonia lived on. Her father must have been given one for his years as a leader of Avon’s military. Perhaps there was an enormous golden fountain and many statues in the courtyard? Knowing Sonia, she had probably renovated the entire place into a training ground for the most dedicated and training-obsessed of knights, though.
It turned out that neither of these was the case. Sonia brought Antoine to the military wing of the castle, where her room was just one of many packed together side-by-side.
“I would have expected something a bit grander for a Commander,” said Antoine.
“Well, I’ve only been a Commander for a little while,” said Sonia as she looked down at her keys to select the right one.
“Are you sure that’s all there is to it?” asked Antoine, noticing that she had already flipped through every key on the ring twice.
“No, it’s not. But it’s just personal stuff,” said Sonia, looking back up at Antoine with a smirk. “Nothing you can make any money off.”
“And here I was, about to give you a discount on my time.”
Sonia opened the door into her tiny room. To the left was a small cot that Antoine imagined would barely support anyone. A bookshelf stood next to it, with books about the history of Avon and military strategy neatly stacked on its shelves. Sunlight trickled in through the tiny window next to the shelf, though it was not enough to brighten the room. To the right was a small closet, which probably housed her extra suits of armor along with whatever ordinary clothes Sonia actually owned. Antoine guessed there were at least a couple extra lances inside it, as well.
“I’m not sure I could become accustomed to such a tiny room,” said Antoine with a shake of his head.
“I thought you lived in a room above a bar.”
“It’s a very large room. And it’s a cantina.”
“Oh wow, I apologize. That changes everything.”
“It must be quite the adjustment from what you grew up with, though,” said Antoine.
“Yeah, I guess,” said Sonia as she sat down on the cot with a creak. “I haven’t been there in a long time, though. I don’t exactly get along so well with my mother.”
“Sorry,” said Antoine as he sat down next to her, making the cot groan as if it was about to break. “I didn’t realize that.”
“Don’t worry about it. I probably shouldn’t even be complaining about it. At least she’s still alive, even if she doesn’t understand me at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you know, I was always stuck with her whenever my father was busy on missions,” said Sonia as she stood up and began to pace around the room. “And yet, in all that time, she never supported my wish to become a knight like father. She kept trying to get me to learn to cook and clean and wear frilly dresses to parties.”
Antoine tried to imagine Sonia wearing a dress and trying to cook. He was glad he had never asked her to cook meals for the group on their journey to Ralingrad, if her food was as bad as he imagined it to be.
Sonia opened up the closet and pulled out a blindingly bright pink dress that shimmered in the brief moment it was in the sunlight. Antoine noticed that it was the only piece of clothing in the entire closet that wasn’t suitable for combat in any way.
“She sent me this for my birthday last year,” said Sonia as she threw the dress down onto the floor. “As if I would ever wear a dress. It’s like she doesn’t even know me. Or she wishes she could change me.”
“Well, now I need to find a new gift for you,” said Antoine with a sigh.
Sonia chuckled, “Like you’d ever part with any of your precious money to buy me a gift.”
Ruby popped in through the door. “I wouldn’t worry ‘bout that. I can get ya a hundred percent discount on anythin’, ya know.”
“How did you get in here?” asked Sonia, turning her head back and forth as if she was going to find a magic portal that Ruby jumped through. “This is the most secure part of the castle, aside from the Princess’s chambers.”
Ruby smiled, “Told ya I could get in here whenever I want.”
“Well, you’re going to get out of here now, so I can finally put on a fresh suit of armor,” said Sonia as she shooed Antoine and Ruby out the door.
“What’s the big rush?” asked Ruby as the door slammed shut behind her and Antoine.
Antoine shrugged, “Oh, we have to find Silas van Rothsberg and convince him to guide us to the dragon’s lair.”
Antoine did not want to mention that this trip would probably bring them close to Ruby’s hometown. Most of the rumors circulated about the dragon pointed toward its lair lying in the south, near the border between Avon and Jamasca. Antoine knew that Ruby tried to avoid going too close to that area, even going through Emilio’s courier service to send money there instead of taking it herself. He doubted that she would sit out a fight with a dragon, however.
“We’re fightin’ a dragon? Sounds like a real party,” said Ruby. Then she bit her lip, “Wait, is Silas the ol’ guy with an eye patch?”
“That would be him.”
“Oh, that might be a problem.”
“You stole his wallet, didn’t you?”
“A little bit.”
Antoine simply shook his head, smiling. Even if they were now about to become dragon-slaying heroes in the eyes of Avon, some things would never change.
Ruby hadn’t planned on coming back to the Dragon’s Den so soon. It could be fun to go back in front of someone you just stole from, though. Silas was still standing in front of the bar, having never actually gotten a stool to sit on. Sonia’s arrival in the bar made a real stir, since knights rarely came into the cantina. The murmur around the bar made Ivan quickly take notice and throw a glare Ruby’s way, which she met with a smile. The commotion eventually led even Silas to turn around to look with his one hazy eye to see what was disturbing his precious drinking time.
“I’m guessing you didn’t come to return my wallet?” asked Silas. “It was pretty clever of you to distract me with your whole chair-stealing act.”
“I don’t need none of your praise,” said Ruby. “If ya were so smart, ya could actually stop me from liftin’ your wallet in the first place.”
“Who said I was smart?” said Silas with a shrug. “I’m just an old drunk with one eye. I’d be disappointed if you couldn’t steal from me. But, I got a quick question before we throw anymore verbal jabs… Are there three of you, or have I just been keeping a real fast drinking pace?”
Sonia rubbed her forehead. “No, there’s three of us, Silas. Don’t you remember me? You were one of my father’s best friends. You were part of my knighting ceremony when I turned eighteen.”
“That’s not really the best question to ask me, since I don’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday… Wait, you’re Soren’s daughter, aren’t you? The only kid crazy enough to even take the Knight Trials at eighteen, let alone pass them.”
Ruby had heard all kinds of rumors about Avon’s Knight Trials. She normally wasn’t interested in that kind of thing, but in her orphanage days it seemed like there was always some kid going on about how they were going to pass the Trial. Sometimes, they got so annoying that Ruby took it upon herself to test them. They never passed her test. The real test started with some boring written test, but the real attraction was the combat trial. To become a knight, you had to beat all kinds of dangerous Mist Monsters. It used to be a fight to the death, but they eventually changed the rules so trained knights would pull them out of the fight if they needed to. They would never be able to become a knight, though, if they failed it once.
“Yes, I’m Sonia van Lambert. You went on a dangerous expedition with my father seven years ago to defeat Avon’s legendary dragon, and I need you to help us find it again.”
Silas steadied himself against the bar with a chuckle, pointing at his eye patch with his free hand. “The last time I fought that thing didn’t turn out so well, if you didn’t notice.”
“Yes, I know,” said Sonia. “But you won’t be fighting it this time. You’re just our guide. Antoine, Ruby, and myself will handle the dragon.”
“I didn’t realize the Knights of Avon had lowered their standards,” said Silas as he looked over Ruby and Antoine.
“We ain’t no stinkin’ knights, ol’ man,” said Ruby. “We got hired ‘cause no one else can do the job.”
Sonia shot Ruby a glance that she assumed was supposed to be disapproving, but she didn’t say a word. Ruby wasn’t sure if Sonia had just given up on trying to argue with her or if she just accepted that it was true. It was pretty clear to her that Avon hired them to fight the dragon because they needed Antoine’s magic for it. And, of course, Antoine needed Ruby there to watch his back.
“So, if it’s so dangerous, why should I put my life on the line to help you find the dragon?” asked Silas.
“Come on, this guy’s just gonna be a pain in the butt ‘bout it. We don’t need his help,” said Ruby as she ran a hand through her hair.
Silas’s eye caught something and instantly widened. “Is that a challenge to my usefulness? I guess I have no choice but to come now.”
“Good,” said Sonia with a nod. “You are doing a great service for Avon, Silas. And for me, as well. My father could always count on you.”
“Yeah, let’s maybe avoid talking about that,” said Silas. “I’d rather focus on the task at hand.”
“Sure,” said Sonia. “Then, I guess I’ll go secure our transportation for the trip. We’ll leave tomorrow morning.”
Sonia looked way too happy about leaving the cantina, Ruby thought. Apparently, some people didn’t enjoy spending time in a bar full of fights and gambling. She didn’t think she would ever understand that.
“Well, I think it’s time I take a break. It’s been much too long since I was able to relax in a cantina,” said Antoine. “Sonia disapproves of these places.”
“What do ya care what she thinks?”
“I-I don’t, of course. It’s just part of the job.”
Ruby rolled her eyes, “Sure, whatever ya say, ‘Toine.”
“Well, I think I owe you a session of Staruk, if I remember right,” said Antoine in what Ruby considered a really poor attempt to change the subject. “So, now might be an ideal time for that.”
“Sure, I’m always up to make a bunch of money off the jokers ‘round here.”
“Wait,” said Silas. “I got a question to ask you, Ruby.”
Ruby motioned for Antoine to go ahead and set things up. They had a system. If they both went to the table together, it looked like they were planning to scam everyone. Of course, they were looking to scam everyone, but they didn’t need to advertise that.
“So, what’s your question?” said Ruby, tapping her foot on the floor. “I don’t got all day, ya know.”
“Of course, you just seem so busy.” He said with a roll of his eyes but then lowered his voice, “I’ll just cut to the chase then. Are you from Jamasca?”
Being from Jamasca wasn’t exactly an admirable thing to most people in Avon. There was still plenty of bad blood from the war, even though it was thirteen years ago. It was just the result of some squabbling over territory, but most Avonites thumbed their noses at anyone even remotely related to someone from Jamasca. Ruby didn’t care, though, so she didn’t bother keeping her voice down as she responded.
“Yeah, how’d ya figure that one?”
“It’s your bracelet.” Silas looked at the gleaming green bracelet dangling from her right wrist. “It’s made of verdolite, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it was my mom’s.” She began to spin it on her wrist, watching it catch the room’s light from different angles. “She gave it to me and sent me into hidin’ when the Avon military rolled up to our village and burnt the whole thin’ down.”
Ruby would always remember the day it happened. The whole village watched the knights of Avon come from the north carrying their flags and blowing their horns, making a show of how much stronger they were than the village they were about to crush. Her mother told Ruby to go hide in the woods to the west, along with the other children and the elderly. She couldn’t see the village from there, but she saw the smoke rising up into the sky. She watched it all night long, huddled in fear with the other children as the elderly tried to comfort them and tell them that everything was going to be okay.
But, everything was obviously not okay. The next morning, they went back to the village, and everything was gone. Her parents and her home were just gone. Not one house was still standing, and the ground was littered with bodies so mangled or burnt that most people couldn’t even tell who was who. Ruby didn’t go near her house to try to find her parents’ bodies. Most people stayed to try to rebuild the village, but she went away on her own before the first of many orphanages took her in. She would never forgive the people like Silas who just came in and took whatever they wanted without a thought for what happened to anyone else.
“I’m sorry,” said Silas, looking down at the ground. “I didn’t want anyone to get hurt in the war. I was just a stupid kid.”
“Yeah, well tell that to my parents.” Ruby glared at him and then walked away.
Haha, oh yeah, they're really hitting it off so far. Best friends forever!
What is this weird post I’m making? It’s like I read your chapter and now I’m leaving comments on it? What an odd thing to do.
Haha, the first scene was a great bit for Sonia! It was funny seeing Martin react to her new found sense of humor as a way of showing how much she had grown in just a week along with her own thoughts about an adventure outsides the bounds of her knighthood. Clearly, she is a different person than when she started, though we saw that a bit of that strictness is still in here when you get to Princess Beatrice. It was funny seeing Sonia awkwardly navigate the conversation and trying to straddle the line of friendship and formality and a bit of a contrast to Antoine not caring one bit about who Beatrice’s father was or how many knights she commands. I also liked how Beatrice quickly flexed her muscles when it came Antoine’s lack of respect for the crown and going back between the long time friend of Sonia and the ruler of a country.
The new question to slay a dragon was a interesting twist and one that’s sure to be fun for the second half of the story! I can’t quite figure how the quest for the Lion’s Seal connects to slaying a dragon or why Beatrice even wants to dragon killed, but I imagine that’s gonna be a big plot point in a later chapter so I wouldn’t call that a flaw or anything. I know Antoine addresses it a bit in the next chapter, so it’s clear that he thinks his new quest is a bit suspicious.
The scene was a nice little look into her character and put a bit of honor into the honorable thief archetype. You put lots of fun details in it, though I think as you went along you started to get a bit too wordy and Ruby was turning into a bit of a encyclopedia (which I’m sure she’d shudder at the thought, haha). World building is an awesome thing, but you don’t want Ruby to be doing it every couple of steps. But I also noticed that not just with details, but in some of the phrasing you got a little on the wordy side. It wasn’t to a degree that it hurt your pacing, but stuff like “asked Emilio as he flashed his teeth, along with the small gap where he was missing one of his front teeth.” comes out clunky and not something ya wanna make a habit of.
The bar scene was a lot of fun though, especially with Ruby stealing the stool then sitting out it as she fumed about Silas, haha. It seems like their relationship will be even testier than Sonia and Antoine, which is kinda funny what with the two of em coming to a bit of truce. It’ll be fun to see where it goes from here, given that I already know Silas will be teaming up with the trio. He’s a pretty broken guy and his adventuring days were long ago. He’s gonna have to brush off the rust quick with their quest to take on a dragon.
Another good chapter Rogue and I should start on the next review!
What?! You're providing feedback on my story!? You haven't done that in years! haha, thanks for the review, Hawk!
Yeah, I thought the stuff with Beatrice was kind of fun because there's the totally different way that Antoine and Sonia react to her, and Sonia totally has no idea how to be both Beatrice's loyal knight and her friend. She's all worried about doing her job and keeping her honor and all that, while Antoine isn't fazed by her royalty too much. Until money's involved, of course.
Yeah, the dragon will definitely tie into the Lion's Seal stuff, though I should mention that it's not really the second half of the story. It's more like the second half of the first half of the story. But once they're done with the stuff involving the dragon, you'll definitely know what the connection is and everything. Actually, a lot of stuff will start to make sense around that time.
Yeah, looking back at the chapter, I'm definitely seeing a few spots where a detail or two could easily be knocked off. Little things like the plant at Emilio's place that really doesn't need to be there. Trying to find the right balance between too little world-building and too much, so that's definitely helpful advice. I've always had some issues with using too many commas and making things a bit too wordy, but it's good that you pointed that out, too. I was actually looking at some old Guardian stories for fun recently, and I saw how awful and wordy my sentences were then. I'm definitely doing better than before, but there's totally some more work to be done to make my sentences less wordy in spots.
Oh, there'll be some issues between them, though it might be a bit more one-sided than it has been with Antoine and Sonia. Ruby's got some reasons to not like Silas, that's for sure. But we'll have to see just how quick Silas can knock that rust off, especially considering he's an archer who only has one eye. I would guess that'd make shooting a bow pretty tough (or impossible, but so is throwing fireballs and lightning bolts! haha).