The next few days pass restlessly for the members of the Lyte Brigade, feeling sort of like the anxious, butterfly-y combination of the night before your birthday and the morning of a big test. None of them get much sleep those few nights before they set out and before they know it, the day finally comes. That morning, the Lyte Brigade gathers one last time at the inn before setting off. They’re ready to go and fully equipped for their adventure.
Falcata wears the same shaggy clothing as she always does, a well-worn, sun-faded ensemble that was once a bear. She has a large Amazon-style shield strapped to her back and a spear over her shoulder. She has a sword hanging from her belt and a knife strapped to each boot. Just by herself, she accounts for about half of the Lyte Brigade’s armament and probably at least two-thirds of their fighting ability.
Nolan and Tancred are both armoured and carrying swords and shields. Tancred’s shield has the von Ivanhoe-Hauteburg family coat of arms. Nolan’s shield was originally his grandfather’s before his retirement as Captain of the Lyte Brigade and is emblazoned with a large blue L for “Lyte Brigade.”
While Pela has her crossbow, Matilda and Amara both remain unarmed. They don’t need weapons. They have their magic and, worst-case scenario, four other people to hide behind. Matilda has her long, dark hair tied back and Amara is wearing a custom-tailored adventuring outfit intended to convey both elegance and practicality. Nolan isn’t entirely sure what that means he’s supposed to be seeing, but he will admit that it looks really nice on her. He elects to keep that information to himself.
Nolan has put together a last-minute checklist to ensure that the guild is truly prepared for their first assignment as proper adventurers. He goes down his list point by point and finds himself increasingly reassured to see everything on his list packed among the guild’s baggage. As the rest of the guild either actually helps—or else pretends to help—Nolan with the checklist, Tancred takes the opportunity to temporarily set aside his quest for revenge over his many, many defeats on the chessboard in favour of the more pressing quest at hand.
“Miss Sally,” he tells his tiny nemesis. “I’m afraid our next game will have to wait. But look on the bright side: the next time we play, you’ll have the honour of being defeated by a bona fide adventurer.” He bows with a flourish. “And so, I must bid you good day, Miss Sally.”
“Okay, bye,” Sally says. “Count Bunnyescu says bye, too.”
“We’re doomed,” Matilda mutters as she watches the sorry spectacle unfold, not helped by Tancred promptly tripping over a barstool as Sally looks on and giggles.
“I think we should stay positive,” Pela offers.
“Exactly. I’m positive we’re doomed,” Matilda replies.
Nolan makes a few final adjustments to his backpack, shifting a few things here and there, before closing it and cinching it shut. “Right,” he tells the others, hefting his backpack. “I think we’re good to go.”
Mrs. Lyte comes running out of the kitchen to embrace her children one last time.
“Good luck,” she says to Nolan and Matilda as she pulls them into the kind of crushing, smothering, embarrassing, huge hug only mothers are capable of. “Be careful. Stay safe. Look after each other. I love you.”
“Mom,” Matilda groans, though her mother does not relent. “But, uh,” she concedes, “I love you, too.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Nolan says. “I love you, too.”
“I’m so proud of you two!” Mrs. Lyte says.
Looking on with increasing bemusement, second Lyte daughter Adelaide unsubtly clears her throat and mutters that she’s standing right here.
“I’m proud of you, too, Addie,” Mrs. Lyte assures her second daughter. “But right now, I’m just proud of Matilda and Nolan in a different way.”
Adelaide is entirely unconvinced.
Finally relinquished by his mother, Nolan turns to the other members of the Lyte Brigade, who are looking expectantly to him as their Captain. He takes a deep breath and feels himself swelling with pride and determination.
“Lyte Brigade,” he declares, “move out!”
He has always wanted to say that.
Though, now that he has, he doesn’t feel quite satisfied. He put too much emphasis on ‘out’ and not enough on ‘move’, he decides. As the guild heads out to meet Melisa at Porthaven’s landward gate, he tries rehearsing the phrase for next time.
“Move out. Move out,” he says to himself. “Move out. Move out? Move, out.”
He’s sure he’ll get it right eventually.
Melisa is already waiting for them when they arrive at the market square just inside Porthaven’s landward gate, her own backpack slung over her shoulder.
“Ready to go?” she asks them.
“We are,” Nolan says, getting five expressions of agreement from the others.
Melisa favours the guild with a nod. “Good,” she says. “First things first.” She reaches into her backpack and pulls out a map and unfolds it. “We’ll be heading to the ruins here.” She points with a claw. “It’s not too far. Less than a day from Porthaven.”
“What’s so important about these ruins?” Nolan asks.
“At the moment, the fact that they’ve been overrun by bandits,” Melisa explains. “But it is true that these ruins are an important archaeological site. I’ll spare you the details, but with more excavations, it’s possible that these ruins will end up proving a lot of wild theories right.”
“Is that why the bandits moved in?” Matilda asks.
Melisa shrugs. “Maybe. But I don’t know many bandits who care about the finer points of archaeology. Bandits aren’t exactly the smartest bunch. If they were, they wouldn’t be bandits. It’s more likely that it’s just because they found a site the Ministry wasn’t guarding as well as it should have been.”
“Why not?” Pela asks. “I mean, if it’s important, shouldn’t they be guarding it?” She catches herself and hastily adds, “Uh. No offence.”
“No. It’s a good question,” Melisa answers. “The Ministry’s not made of money, and the city has other priorities. And even the Ministry has been devoting most of its time to excavating the sites that make for better stories. Jonas, a colleague of mine, found part of William Newgate’s treasure on Oake Island—”
“And Katherine helped!” Amara proudly interjects.
“—so, the Ministry’s been spending most of its time and effort, and people and money, there,” Melisa continues after Amara’s enthusiasm for her best friend’s accomplishments dies down. “Which means it doesn’t have many other people to spare.
Which means there are plenty of ruins just being served up to these bandits on a silver platter.”
She sighs and shakes her head.
“Honestly,” she mutters, “we’re lucky this is the first site this has happened to in a while.”
“We’ll do whatever we can to help,” Nolan assures her.
“Yeah,” Melisa says. “Just don’t do anything stupid. I’d hate for your very first job as a Guild to end up with you all getting knocked around by a bunch of bandits. And if you do get beat up, I’m not dragging you all back to Porthaven.”
“I doubt it will come to that,” Tancred offers optimistically. “We’ve been practicing!”
“Well,” Melisa says, returning her map to her backpack. “You’ll be able to put that practice to work.”
“We shan’t let you down,” Tancred says.
“Shall we?” Melisa asks the six members of the Lyte Brigade, stepping towards the city gates.
Nolan takes a deep breath. “Lyte Brigade,” he says. “Move out!”
He’s still not satisfied with how he’s saying it…
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