A bespectacled maid stood attentively by the wooden staircase, as if waiting for her master to arrive. In the place of a hat, she wore a white-brimmed headdress that contrasted elegantly to her wavy navy-blue hair. Within her white gloves, she held a notepad and a feather pen.
Despite her domestic outfit, the maid possessed an aura of a veteran. Judging from her mature facial expression and unyielding body posture, she seemed to possess years of battle experience.
I wonder which household she belongs to... She's so pretty.
In the main lobby, warriors in full armor, archers with bows behind their back, and mages in gaudy robes were relaxing and chatting to their guildmates.
Some were enthusiastically swapping key information about the monsters and dungeons nearby while others were analyzing the various parchments on the huge 'AVAILABLE QUESTS' noticeboard. There were a few grinning, thrilled about their newly-purchased gears and the rewards for quest completion.
This place made Aqua unsteady on her feet. After all, she was in the center of unrelenting scrutiny and constant tension — the Adventurer's Guild.
"Over here, Aqua!"
Mana called out from the distance. Her jade-green pendant danced around her neck as she waved her hand back and forth. She was a few tables away but stood out amongst the others due to her enthusiasm.
Thank god I found her...
I didn't know what to do...
After witnessing Mana's brilliant self-introduction, Aqua felt that this was her perfect chance. Ever since at a young age, she had always dreamed of becoming an adventurer and embark on quests with a guild.
The thought of exploring the world while surmounting challenges together with a group of close companions resonated with her in an inexplicable level.
Tragically, her social anxiety and awkwardness held her back from realizing that dream.
With her heart still beating rapidly, Aqua sat down in one of the chairs near the wooden round table and made herself as small as possible. She felt like a stray kitten, taken far away into a foreign land.
You'll be fine.
After a few seconds, Aqua glanced up and felt... captivated.
This was her first time inside and she wanted to cherish this ineffable moment.
For years, she would silently observe the Guild from the outside, often times walk around the streets nearby during her free time. Being a village girl, Aqua had no real reason to step inside.
Thus, Aqua felt a profound sense of accomplishment, even though sweat ran throughout her body.
"Make yourself comfortable! We are quite lucky that one of the best seats is available tonight."
The two young ladies sat in a lounge area that appeared to be for a party of ten. Given Mana's Platinum-tier status, she had priority seatings. Aqua kept her head low and silently apologized to any large groups who might actually need this space.
"Is this really okay, Mana? I don't think it's okay for me to sit beside you... Maybe I should stand..."
"Don't worry, don't worry! It's weird if you stand and besides, you're an honorary member of my party right now."
Mana twirled her pendant playfully on her index finger as a small group of Silver-tier adventurers scowled and turned away, cursing to themselves.
"All we need to do is pray that a Diamond-tier doesn't show up! Now come sit down."
"Thanks for being so considerate to someone like me."
Mana patted lightly Aqua's back and beamed in a jovial manner.
"I'll take care of everything — you can trust in me."
Aqua felt the butterflies inside her stomach slowly flying away. Despite the first day of Academy, she somehow made a friend. And the fact that she was talking to someone for more than ten minutes was a notable victory in the history of Aqua.
I'm doing it.
I'm having a conversation-! But...
It was starting to die. If this continues, it will become awkward. And once it reaches that point, the topic will be beyond saving.
Aqua frantically scanned her surroundings, in search of something interesting. Then she remembered the beautiful maid standing by the staircase.
"Who's that over there?"
She lifted her hand above her chest and pointed discreetly.
"I didn't know Adventurer Guild had maids. Her hair looks gorgeous and her outfit is so cute too."
Mana leaned in close to her ear and whispered.
"That's Mari, the guild master."
"Yeah, she manages the guild here in the Capital of Libertea."
Aqua studied the maid more carefully. She loved the outfit she was wearing, which seemed to be handsewn. If only she was as gorgeous as her, then she might have been able to pull off that domestic lady look. Aqua silently cursed her genetics as her breasts remain flat like a cutting board.
"Do you mean that she's the guild master's personal maid?"
Mana giggled and shook her head, indicating that she was, in fact, the boss that ran this place.
"Gah, I'm sorry for being so dumb."
"No worries, take it easy. It's funny you thought Mari was actually a maid. I don't blame you since she's famously known for dressing up like one so don't get trolled. Anyways, I might as well teach you the basics."
Mana gave a thumbs up and handed Aqua a flyer that had the fundamental information, "So basically, there are four other Adventurer's Guilds — located in the four elemental nation."
Aqua nodded, recalling a conversation she had accidentally eavesdropped during her past observations.
"I heard the guild work as an alliance... right?"
"I'm surprised you know that!" Eyeing the maid, Mana continued in a soft voice. "Mari is one of the Elite Fives. Basically, they are a powerful group of individuals that manage the entire Adventurer Guild and make decisions that impact the world. Do you remember the Ancient Dragon incident three years ago?"
Aqua nodded instantly, remembering the infamous event that led to one of the greatest battles in humanity.
"Guess what? She was one of the generals that led the assault."
"Woah... That's just... amazing."
Aqua's eyes gleamed in reverence, admiring the maid in a new light. Who knew that right inside of Adventurer Guild lived such an extremely talented tactician? Aqua felt truly blessed being able to witness a war-hero on her first day here. It was like a dream come true.
Aqua closed her eyes and muttered a prayer of gratitude—
—A voice bellowed behind her. Her entire body jolted in response.
"Yo, I'm Keida!"
"Come on baldie, mind your manners. Don't scare my classmate like that."
"Sorry sorry, Miss Mana. So this da new member that I been hearin' bout and wanna join?"
"Aye. Aqua meet Keida. Keida meet Aqua!"
The person who introduced him was a middle-aged man who looked like the team's leader, speaking in a strong accent. Like his nickname suggested, his head was shaved completely bald and there were some noticeable scars on his face as well. He wore some sort of light armor — strips of metal woven together with metal threads over a leather or chain backing — and carried himself like a fine warrior.
"So ya from Temple Academy. Impressive! What's ya specialty, Miss Aqua?"
"Well, I can move water around and manipulate them into shapes..."
Keida's facial expression instantly lit up and nodded in a satisfactory manner. Aqua did not understand what was so amazing about that.
Back in Dali village, her task was to move water from the well to the irrigation system so that it provided the community drinking water for the day. It was an assignment that was bestowed by the elders since she was lacking in other aspects like farming the crops or tending the animals.
Aqua did not mind.
In fact, she had fun with her chores.
With enough concentration and mana, she could make certain shapes out of the water. During her free time, she would transform the liquid into cute animals and have them run around before filling the supply reserve.
"Well, this an instant yes from me, we been lookin' for a support magician like you."
"Told you, Aqua!" Mana lightly bumped her shoulder and smiled. "You'll fit right in with the rest of the crew."
"Aye. The others should be da arriving so we wait. Happy to meet ya, Miss Aqua! And welcome to da Moonlight White Cats!"
The two veteran adventurers applauded to the admission of their new recruit, ordering drinks and snacks while Aqua found herself unexpectedly welcomed. She did not know how to properly react. She thought she was going to be rejected.
After all, this was a guild team that ranked at the Platinum-level. And she was but a new adventurer that was in the lowest class of Temple Academy.
But as Keida and Mana continued cheering, she could not help as her lips curl up into a smile.
I'm so glad I went out of my comfort zone and came today. It seems like good things do happen after all!
♦ ♦ ♦
"Miss Mana, ya saw Hero-tier adventurers walkin' around Rose Entrance earlier?"
Keida asked with curiosity in his voice. Aqua was also interested in learning more about the adventurer world and its celebrities.
"Yes! It's Duality!" Mana exclaimed in excitement. Her eyes seemed to shine as she uttered their guild name. "They're here! Right in this city!"
"I see. Who da members?"
Mana furrowed her brows as though the question itself was ridiculous to ask, "Whaaaaat? I am utterly shocked that you never heard of them. Come on, Keida, you're not that out of touch with the present right?"
"Aye. I never been bothered with da famous hero rankin' stuff. I think ya told me before but the old man just have bad memories."
"Well, you should remember it this time! Okay so there's Yang — the 'Legendary Swordsman' and his partner is Yin, a magic caster known as the 'Elemental Princess'."
"That's it?" Keida scratched his head. "Only two people?"
Mana seemed to beam proudly at their odd team composition.
"I thought the typical guild team is six to eight members in da party...?"
"Exactly! That's what makes them so interesting! The fact they attained the highest rank with only two members... they overcame the impossible and truly lived up to their title — Duality. Ah~ I want to know what they look behind their mask."
"Wat da! They never showed their identity too?"
"Nope. Never! There are lots of theories circulating around on what they look like."
"Dats crazy man..."
Although Aqua was from a rustic village near the far outskirts of Libertea, even she remembered the names that once raved throughout the entire continent. Many travelers and passing adventurers often praised them as living legends they aspired to become.
In fact, she was somewhat surprised that Keida had no idea of who Yin and Yang were.
This was a team that had obtained 'Hero-tier'. The epitome of all adventurers. Yin and Yang must have embarked on all manner of adventures and just hearing about their experiences would set many people's hearts aflutter.
Mana smiled, indicating that she was a Duality expert.
"Okay. So first they began their debut by eliminating a Goblin Tribe in just three days near the Northern Front. Then they helped defend Himeji Castle against the undead horde in the East. Some of their other notable achievements included escorting the Second Princess of the Shui Kingdom, uncover the ancient ruins of Samu Rai, slew an Elder Hydralisk and gah! I can't remember the top of my head but there's so much more."
"An Elder Hydralisk...?"
The latter was new information. Aqua could not keep silent and muttered in a breathless voice as she imagined standing before the Legendary-ranked monster. She trembled quietly in her thoughts.
"Is that even possible with only two people...?"
"For Duality it is!"
It was an enormous monster that was as tall as a house, appearing like a hybrid breed of a hydra and a basilisk. Instead of arms, it had a pair of tri-bladed scythe. Not only that, its ranged attacks consisted of volleys of armor-piercing spines. Its bodily fluids constantly pumped adrenaline into the bloodstream to effectively force it to live in a perpetual fight response and its armored skin rivaled adamantium in toughness.
Beyond its monstrous physical capabilities, the Elder Hydralisk was once known as a sadistic creature who would often play with their prey before eating them. It was even listed on the emergency quest by the Guild.
"That's... just amazing!" Aqua felt her jaws drop. "Did they really kill something that powerful by themselves?"
"Yes, that actually happened! Some of the Master-tiers were there to watch it all happen. It was the quest that promoted them into Master-tier too... Ah, I wish I could have seen them in action as well. I'm so freaking jealous."
"Of all da monsters, I can't believe that they managed to deal with an Elder Hydralisk on their own..." Keida shook his head in disbelief. "It must be da legend. This is too da crazy to be true."
Logically, Keida was right.
It was nearly impossible for only two people to accomplish such mission, especially if they were a swordsman and a magic caster. Even with a proper team composition, many of the best guilds would still have trouble.
Aqua had heard that a Legendary-ranked monster required a joint operation — the combination of multiple guilds. Against a monster of that level, at least twenty members were needed, with a few of them needing to be above Diamond-tier.
Besides, how would the two heal themselves? How could they juggle aggro so perfectly? How could they coordinate the attacks and layer combos? How would the swordsman tank all the damage? How could the magician avoid being focused? How would they deal with its minions — the onslaught of zerglings?
There were too many questions but not enough answers.
"And that's where you're wrong, Keida!"
Mana pointed at him dramatically and chortled with a smirk. It seemed like she was waiting for this moment so she could educate her clueless guildmate.
"You have to realize that Duality is beyond the scopes of our imagination. Something that we can't possibly to achieve, even if we spend the rest of our life grinding in battle."
There was only truth in Mana's voice as she continued.
"Long ago, before I was an adventurer, I saw them. I was on a trip to Alusc and my wagon was ambushed by The Dark Triad."
Aqua and Keida's faces turned sullen.
They heard of the infamous syndicate group that still work behind the scenes and dealt with illegal services — drug production, human trafficking, assassination, political lobbying.
"Luckily, the two were resting nearby and saw what happened. Against a group of twenty warriors and magicians, they stood up against them and won. The battle was over in mere minutes. I couldn't believe it myself but it happened. Without Duality, I would not be here today. Yin and Yang were the inspiration to why I became an adventurer."
Mana smiled in a bittersweet manner as she continued to reminiscing about the incident.
"Just like what they told me that day, you don't need a reason to help someone. You just do it."
"I see, Miss Mana. While I still find their power hard to believe, their heroic act has earned my respect."
"Mana... I'm so glad you are okay..."
Aqua could feel tears forming at the corner of her eyes. Seeing her sentiments, Mana gave Aqua a quick hug.
"Ah~ Don't worry, I'm A-okay now. But I do want to meet my saviors again. It sucks that they have been less active after they attained Hero-tier. Even if it's for a few minutes, I'll live happily for the rest of my life."
From the intense admiration in Mana's voice to the glow in her emerald-green eyes, it was obvious that she was a fangirl. A huge fangirl.
The rest of the Moonlight White Cats shortly joined after the intense conversation. Including Aqua, there were a total of seven members. Even though it was completely different than what she imagined, Mana and the rest of the party drank to the new member.
For the first time since forever, Aqua felt that she actually belonged somewhere.
And that she was one step closer to actualizing her dream of becoming an adventurer.
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