The Middlesbrooke-based characters that I originally introduced back in October aren’t necessarily going to feature in my next story, but are definitely going to get a story of their own within the next few Realmgard stories. Ideally before the end of the year.
To that end, I thought it’d be helpful to keep them fresh in everyone’s memory. So, here’s all of the short stories I’ve written about them so far.
Lucia never thought it would happen, but she’s starting to miss life on her parents’ waterlemon farm. Sure, the young lynx-woman got so bored living the exact geographic centre of nowhere that she wanted to pull her fur out, but that’s also exactly how she feels now.
Maybe it’s her fault for being a poor, simple country bumpkin, but she just doesn’t get it. Back home, to be considered an adventurer, all she had to do was go around saying ‘Hi, I’m Lucia. I’m an adventurer.’
Lucia and her friends have learned, much to their consternation, that to work as even freelance adventurers in the Duchy of Middlesbrooke, they need to find a local to join and sponsor their activities while working in the Duchy.
They’ve never worked anywhere that has standards so high for adventurers.
It much be a rich people thing, she decides.
She feels like she’s walked into the set-up for a bad joke that goes something like ‘So, a Wilderling, a Half-Troll Amazon, and an Aurorean sorceress walk into a coffeehouse and try to hire a fourth member for their group. And fail.’
She’s laughing already.
Not ‘laughing’, so much as ‘wanting to scream.’
Lucia and her companions, Petra and Apolline, sit at an unfamiliar table in an unfamiliar coffeehouse in an unfamiliar city. The three women look across the table at an unfamiliar face that grins broadly back as the young girl sitting beside him smiles apologetically.
“So,” the young man on the other side of the table says, “I’ve heard it through the grapevine that there’s a group of adventurers in town looking for a local to join them.”
“Well, yes,” Apolline answers. “That is the situation.”
“Excellent,” the young man says. “And do you happen to know where I might be able to find them?”
So, a Wilderling, a Half-Troll Amazon, and an Aurorean sorceress walk into a coffeehouse, Lucia thinks sullenly to herself, when suddenly: an idiot.
Thankfully, Lucia knows well enough by now to hold her tongue.
And Apolline, as usual, displays infinitely more tact than the lynx-woman. “That would be us,” she tells the young man.
“Great!” he exclaims, still grinning broadly. “When do we leave?”
“Excuse me?” Lucia exclaims.
“You need a local sponsor, I need a group to sponsor. What more is there to say?” he asks. “I’m here. You’re here. Let’s get adventuring!”
“You’re being rather, uh, forward,” Apolline notes. “You haven’t even told us your name.”
“Oh. Where are my manners? I’m Roland,” he says, still grinning broadly.
“And who’s the kid?” Lucia asks, pointing with a clawed hand.
“I’m Alda,” the girl sitting beside Roland says. “I’m his sister.”
Roland leans forward on the table and his grin somehow gets even bigger — it seems to Lucia that he’s more teeth than face that his point.
“And if you’re looking for skilled help, my friends, I happen to be very, very skilled.”
“Ehh…” the young girl sitting beside him mutters.
“Your physique is quite impressive,” Petra notes. “You must be quite a skilled fighter.”
Half-Troll by birth and a graduate of the training undertaken by all young Amazons, she’s something of an expert in the fields of physique and fighting.
“Actually,” Roland answers, “I’ve never fought anyone. I’m an alchemist.”
Her surprise makes Lucia shriek like someone just pulled on her tail.
“Seriously? An alchemist?”
Roland is, without a doubt, the strangest alchemist Lucia has ever met. He’s big enough that a family of four could probably live comfortably in him. His muscles have muscles on their muscles.
With the notable exception of a brain.
And yet, despite the clear and obvious fact that he’s otherwise dumb as a bag of bags of hammers, he actually does seem to know his stuff here alchemy is concerned. It’s all a bunch of nonsense to her, but Lucia has watched the big musclehead chatting happily away with Apolline about potions and distillations and extractions and bunch of other ways to turn things into other things.
She hates to admit it, but he might actually be a good addition to their group.
Lucia watches Roland turns to Petra and stares thoughtfully at the Half-Troll.
“No offence,” he ventures, all but guaranteeing he’s about to say something stupid, “but, uh, why are you blue? I’ve never seen a blue Amazon before.”
Luckily, the perpetually, ineffably unflappable Petra takes the idiocy in stride. “Because my father was a Troll,” she explains.
“So, like, you’re a… Trollazon?” Roland asks.
Petra actually cracks a faint smile. “Yes. I suppose you could say that.”
Since now seems to be the time for everyone to ask indelicate questions, Lucia decides to take the opportunity to ask one of her own.
“You said Alda’s your sister, right? But you two don’t really look alike,” Lucia notes.
“Well, yeah. She’s really my sister,” Roland explains, “but she might not actually be my sister, you know?”
“No,” Lucia answers.
“We grew up on the streets,” Roland continues. “I don’t really remember my parents, or even having parents. And I can’t remember if me and Alda have the same parents. All I remember is that it’s been me and Alda since forever. So, she might not be my sister, but she’s still the only family I’ve ever had.”
“And how does a street kid end up learning so much about alchemy?” she asks.
“That’s all thanks to Uncle Chuck,” Roland answers. “He took us in and adopted us. He got all kinds of tutors and instructors for us. Most of it was boooo-ring, but alchemy ended up being a lot of fun.”
“Roland had a crush on our teacher!” Alda exclaims.
Roland blushes and turns bashful. “Well, yeah,” he admits quietly. “She was gorgeous.”
“Wait,” Apolline interjects. “Uncle Chuck? As in Charles?”
“As in Duke Charles?”
Roland nods again.
“As in the Duke?”
“Yeah,” Roland says. “Is there more than one Duke of Middlesbrooke?”
Lucia’s jaw drops to the ground. “You’re royalty? You?”
Roland shakes his head. “Technically, we’re just his wards. I mean, I’m not going to be the next Duke, or anything. But he’s still family, basically the only family me and Alda have.” He shrugs. “And that’s enough for us.”
Lucia nods. “Yeah. I get it.”
Maybe, just maybe, Roland’s not nearly as dumb as she thought.
She glances over at Apolline and Petra. She never had sisters growing up back in Natalis. It was just her, her parents and acres of waterlemon fields. But Apolline and Petra have become as good as family now.
“Hey,” Roland continues, “you ever wonder why they’re called bullfrogs? I mean, they don’t even have horns!”
“Ugh,” Lucia groans.
Along with most of Lucia’s burgeoning respect for the musclebound alchemist.
What got off to an inauspicious start, Lucia reflects, has certainly progressed to an inauspicious middle.
The group of adventurers — Lucia, Apolline, Petra, along with the newly-added Roland and Alda tagging along — have arrived at the location of the long-abandoned tower of the great sorcerer Brorvonius. And have promptly found themselves utterly vexed about how to get inside the tower.
The story goes that after a long career of sorcery, wizardry, and study in many other strange fields, Brorvonius ultimately decided to retire to a quieter, simpler, infinitely more mundane life. The great sorcerer is said to have packed up a few prized possession, shut the door of his tower behind him and locked it with powerful spells before retiring to obscurity and disappearing from the pages of history.
The location of the tower has never been a secret in the intervening years. Looming large over the fields just outside of Middlesbrooke, it remains a well-known feature of the Duchy and is frequently visited by groups of adventurers seeking to claim whatever treasures and wonders Brorvonius may have left inside.
But not a single soul since Brorvonius left his tower behid has ever been able to get past the doors. Whatever spells he worked on the door are still holding fast, even after so many years.
At this point, Lucia feels like they’ve tried everything to get this stupid door open. Apolline has tried spells and counter-spells of her own. She even tried magical passwords in no fewer than eight languages. Lucia tried to pick the lock. Petra tried to smash it open. Roland tried to melt the lock with acid, then blow it up with a highly-flammable alchemical concoction. Petra tried to smash it open again.
So far, they’ve been just as unlucky as every other group of adventurers that has tried to get into the tower.
“Well,” Roland offers. “We’ll just have to try something else. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Lucia throws her hands up in disbelief. “I’m standing right here!” the lynx-woman exclaims.
“Why don’t we stop for lunch?” Apolline asks. “We’re all getting tired and hungry, no? Maybe a break will help us think of a new way forward.”
The group settles down for a break and quick meal. As frustrating as those first few days looking for work in Middlesbrooke were, being able to sleep in a real bed and eat real food was a welcome change of pace from her typical life as an adventurer. And the food back in Middlesbrooke was good.
“Hey, where’d Alda go?” she asks, realising that the girl isn’t with them.
“Here she comes,” Roland says, pointing to the rapidly approaching figure of his sister.
Alda comes running back to the others. “I did it! I did it!” she exclaims eagerly, almost tripping over herself in her excitement. “I got the door open!”
“And how did you manage that?” Apolline asks.
Despite her attempts to maintain her typical cool, composed demeanour, an eager grin is raising the corners of her mouth and she is glancing past the girl in the direction of the sorcerer’s tower.
“Well, I realised there was still one thing we hadn’t tried yet,” Alda says.
“And what was that?” Apolline asks. “What did you try?”
Alda grins proudly. “I knocked.”
The three female adventurers — Lucia, Apolline, and Petra — decide to celebrate their recent successes in and around Middlesbrooke with their new companions. Given the time of year, a Heroes’ Eve party seems to be in order. Lucia has never really liked the dressing up part of Heroes’ Eve — it’s always seemed like a waste of time and money. Especially now, when the three of them aren’t exactly rolling in money. But she’s never been one to turn down a good party.
With only five of them, it’s not a very large party, but it’s enough to keep them in a sufficiently celebratory and festive mood. They’ve gotten onto good enough terms with the owner of the coffeehouse that has become their unofficial base of operations in Middlesbrooke that she has allowed them to use it after hours.
It took some doing to get to this point, but Middlesbrooke feels like it’s finally starting to grow on Lucia.
As Roland and Alda step into the coffeehouse, the girl looks up at Petra “I like your costume,” she says.
Dressed in fuzzy yellow clothes, the Troll-Amazon smiles. “I am a duck,” she declares. “Quack.”
As a Wilderling, Lucia never quite knows how to feel about other people dressing in animal costumes. On the other hand, she’s never met many duck Wilderlings. Besides, for all her attempts to keep it secret, Apolline and Lucia are well aware of Petra’s affection for small, cute animals.
“You need more practice,” Alda notes.
Petra nods. “Yes. I am not used to being a duck. I do not normally need to quack.”
“I’m Princess Adelaide,” Alda says, showing off her warrior princess costume and striking a pose with her wooden sword.
“I’m a princess, too,” Apolline says, showing off her pink gown and crown.
Alda’s eyes widen with glee when she sees the dragon doll Apolline is holding. “You’re Astraea!” she declares. She points to the dragon. “That must be Orm!”
Apolline nods. “It’s one of my favourite stories.”
“Mine too,” Alda says.
“Here,” Lucia says, handing Alda a fistful of candies. “Happy Heroes’ Eve.”
“Wow. Thanks!” the girl says, happily accepting the candy. “What are you dressed as, Lucia?”
“I’m a tiger,” she explains. “The costume was easy. I’m already a cat.” She points to her black-and-orange tunic. “I just needed the stripes.”
“Can I have some candy?” Roland asks from behind Lucia.
“Are you eight years old?” Lucia asks, turning to face him. “Are you — wearing a mop?”
The musclebound alchemist nods. “It’s my costume,” he explains. “I’m Uncle Chuck.” He points to the mop perched haphazardly on his head. “This is my hair.”
Lucia stares at him, trying to make sense of the details of his homemade costume. “And what’s that on your face?” she asks.
“Oh, I pulled the stuffing out of a pillow,” he says. “For my beard. I look just like him, if I do say so myself.”
“Well, the shield looks good,” Lucia offers.
Roland nods. “Yeah. I, uh, borrowed it from Uncle Chuck’s armoury. But maybe don’t tell him that.”
“Well,” Roland says, leading Alda and the three adventurers through the battered door of the old building, “here we are.”
Lucia, Apolline, and Petra survey their surroundings.
In the face of such a dusty, derelict building that looks like it’s liable to fall over if she looks at it too hard, Lucia has to force herself to rise to the level of even cautious optimism.
“I’ve been talking to Uncle Chuck,” Roland continues happily. “When I mentioned we didn’t have a guild office, he said we could have this place. It’s been abandoned for a while, so it become the property of the Duchy. It’s a little run-down, but —”
“It’s a lot run-down,” Lucia protests.
The old building looks like it hasn’t been occupied by anything other than rats and spiders for years. And even then, it still looks like its previous occupants were doing something shady here.
“It’s a lot run-down,” Roland says, “but it’s ours now. It shouldn’t be too hard to clean up.”
“I do like a challenge,” Petra muses. “And this is certainly that.”
Roland grins proudly at the Half-Troll. “That’s the spirit!” he exclaims.
“It’s better than running our guild out of a table in the corner of a coffeehouse, I suppose,” Apolline says. “It’ll take some doing, but there’s an opportunity here. We should make the most of it. And, like Roland said, it’s ours.”
Lucia tentatively takes a step forward, the floorboards creaking underfoot in a way that does not inspire confidence.
“I swear, if I fall through this floor, my ghost is coming back to haunt you all,” she says.
“That reminds me,” Roland says. “We’ll need to check out the basement, too.” He frowns. “It’s probably in pretty rough shape.”
“Not it,” Lucia declares. She just knows there’s something down there waiting to eat them.
Suddenly, Alda shrieks and leaps into her brother’s muscular arms.
“What’s wrong?” Roland asks.
“There’s a rat!” Alda says. “There’s a big, gross rat!”
“Don’t worry,” Lucia says, tracking the large furry shadow scurrying across the floor. “I got this.”
Her furry lynx ears twitch with anticipation as she tenses her muscles and prepares to spring into action.
“Come here, you!” she growls as she pounces, graceful and agile even in her human form.
Lucia snatches up the rat in one smooth motion, using her momentum to roll through at she hits the floor and deftly comes to a stop in the far corner of the room. She springs back to her feet.
When she turns back to her companions, the rat’s tail is protruding from her mouth.
“Oh, Lucia,” Apolline murmurs, burying her face in her hand, “you didn’t.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Roland groans.
“That was, uh, excellent form on your pounce, Lucia,” Petra notes, a slight green hue rising in her blue features.
Lucia stares gravely at her companions and throws her arms up indignantly to see their reactions.
“What?” she asks defensively through a mouthful of rat. “I’m a cat!”
“That was awesome!” Alda exclaims.
So, stay tuned for more short adventures, and eventually a full-length Realmgard novella featuring Lucia, Petra, Apolline, Alda, and Roland.
And feel free to check out my recommendation for Rune Soldier, the anime that served as a pretty significant inspiration for this group of characters.
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