The Valley of Appraisal: Chapter 1

The Valley of Appraisal:
A Tale of Realmgard

J.B. Norman


To the good folks at Renaissance.


Chapter 1

Dunstana Darkstone would like to tell you about the Official Porthaven Guild Authority Schematic Corpus for Comprehensive Licensing Aptitude and Placement Testing. In her opinion, that name is at least twelve words too long.

Clearly, everyone else feels the same. Most people save their breath and just call it the Adventure Test.

In a place like Realmgard, you don’t really have to take any tests to be an adventurer, you just have to take a few steps in whatever direction you’ve decided you’re going. But you do have to take the Adventure Test if you want to join an officially-licensed guild with other officially-licensed adventurers.

Dunstana isn’t really sure why. She asked her dad once, and he explained that it was something about insurance and liability and income taxes and dental benefits.

It was boring, so Dunstana stopped listening. She figures she’ll ask again in a few years when she’s old enough to take the test and actually has to care about things like income taxes and liabilities.

Besides, she’s a pirate.

And pirates don’t have a Guild Authority. They have the Brotherhood of the Coasts.

They don’t have guilds, either. They have crews. And parrots. And cannons. And awesome hats. Dunstana has been thinking about sticking a feather on hers.

On the other hand, the very shiny and official-looking guild badges that official adventurers get to officially wear do look pretty cool.

Maybe, Dunstana realises, instead of a feather, she could stick a badge on her hat. But then she’d have to wait five years for that. She can get a feather now.

Dunstana hasn’t really been paying attention to much of the how, or the why, or the income tax parts of the Adventure Test. What Dunstana has been caring about is the fact that her big sister Kat is right about to take the final part of the Adventure Test.

Kat has just turned fifteen, which means she’s finally old enough to become a fully-licensed, Guild Authority-sanctioned adventurer and go off to “income tax” to her heart’s content.

She’s been studying and practicing for the test for almost a year. Dunstana helped, mostly with target practice.

And she just thought of one more way she can help Kat.

“Kat?” she calls. “Are you okay?”

Kat doesn’t answer, and just keeps staring out the window.

Kat?” Dunstana repeats.

Kat jumps a little and turns toward Dunstana with a weak smile. “Hey, Captain Kid,” she murmurs.

“Are you okay?” Dunstana asks.

“Yeah,” Kat answers, turning back towards the window. “Just tired of waiting, and getting kind of tired of people asking me how I’m feeling.”

“Sorry,” Dunstana mutters. “But, uh, if it’ll help, I brought a Princess Moonflower,” Dunstana says, holding up one of her army of pink-haired princess dolls.“

This one isn’t just a regular Princess Moonflower, but Super-Motivational Encouragement Princess Moonflower.

“See? Kat, look!”

She frowns towards her sister’s back.

“You’re not looking!

Kat turns to see the doll. It has the same pink pigtails and button eyes as any of the other Princess Moonflower dolls, but one notable difference. In her fabric hands, she is holding up a little sign that reads Believe in yourself and you can do anything!

“Thanks, Captain Kid,” Kat says, giving her sister a small, but sincere, half-smile.

*

On the first day of Kat’s tests, the rest of her family comes with her to the steps of the Guild Authority building.

Estelle hands her daughter a small bundle. “I made you lunch,” she says.

“Thanks, Mom,” Kat says.

Her father approaches her, puts his hands on her shoulders and smiles down at her.

“You’re a Darkstone,” the Admiral says. “You’ve got this. Make us proud.”

“I’ve got this,” she repeats, hoping to convince herself to believe it.

“Good luck!” Dunstana calls after her as she mounts the steps.

She turns expectantly to her parents.

“Can we get ice cream?”

At the end of a very long day, Kat comes down the steps of the Guild Authority building to find her family right where she left them.

“So,” Estelle asks. “How did it go?”

“Ugh,” Kat answers simply, wearily sitting down on the large stone steps.

“Look on the bright side, Kat!” Dunstana offers, giving her a consoling pat on the shoulder. “There’s only thirty-two tests left!”

“Ugh,” Kat answers, burying her head in her hands and letting out several muffled curses.

“Language, dear,” says Estelle.

Kat mutters a muffled apology and restricts her subsequent curses to internal monologue.

Dunstana turns back to her parents. “We should get Kat some ice cream!” she exclaims. “And some for the rest of us, too!”

It goes on like this for most of a month. Every morning, Kat heads to the Guild Authority office with a sack lunch from her mother, to wait in line to get sent to a room with a number and a letter tucked into some far-off, hard-to-find corner of the building, where she is sat down at a desk to write pages and pages of tests while an agent of the Guild Authority glowers sternly at her from the front of the room.

By the end, Kat’s head hurts from thinking so much, her eyes are watering from reading so much tiny text, her hand is cramping from writing so much, and she’s confused about what the tests were actually for.

She can understand the point of the things like the physical wellness test, the memory test, the colour-blindness test, and the weapons handling certification, and even why she had to draw a diagram on where to stand to shoot an arrow at a dragon flying 100 feet above and 50 feet to the right.

She’s less clear on why she had to play checkers against a chicken, or why she had to supply four character references, or demonstrate her financial good standing with the Bank of Porthaven, or stack and unstack a bunch of circles on different sticks, or play checkers against a chicken again.

By the end of the long, strange month, all of the tests have blended together in a vaguely-remembered blur. As she once again stands in line in the lobby of the Guild Authority building waiting for the results of her tests, Kat can barely even remember the tests she’s getting results for.

“Now,” the Guild Authority agent behind the desk is telling her. “In order to receive a passing grade on the theoretical component of test, you must obtain a grade of at least seventy-five percent on at least seventy-five percent of the individual sections. Do you understand?”

Kat nods.

The woman behind the desk picks up the stack of papers bearing Kat’s name and reads off her results:

“Physical fitness: Approved.
Colour-blindness: Approved.
Mental State and Acuity: Approved.
Section 1-A, Basic Guild Authority Protocols:
78 percent. Passing Grade.
Section 1-B: Advanced Guild Authority Protocols:
79 percent. Passing Grade.
Section 2-A: Weapons Handling and Safety,
Light Hand Weapons, Part One…”

Kat’s eyes glaze over as her spirit briefly leaves her body.
When Kat finally comes back to her senses, she realises that the woman behind the desk has stopped talking, though Kat can’t tell how for long, and is looking expectantly up at Kat.

“Sorry,” Kat says bashfully. “Could, uh, could you read that again?”

“Certainly,” the woman behind the desk says. “Physical fitness: Approved. colour-blindness: Approved. Mental State and Acuity: Approved. Section 1-A —”

“No,” Kat quickly interjects. “Not the whole thing. Just my final grade.”

The woman behind the desk nods. “Katherine H. Darkstone, final grade: Satisfactory-Minus. Passing grade. Approved for progression to practical examination.”

She stamps one of Kat’s papers with the seal of the Guild Authority and slides it across the desk to her.

“You have a week to report to the Guild Authority’s examination site. Show the agents there this, and you’ll be good to go.”

“Thanks,” Kat says, taking the paper and allowing herself a moment of pride at the evidence of her successful completion of the first step towards her Adventuring Licence.

“Good luck,” the worker says with a warm smile, demonstrating an uncommon level of human emotion for a bureaucrat.

Once again, Kat finds her parents and Dunstana waiting for her at the bottom of the Guild Authority building’s steps. She feels herself smiling as she shows them the Guild Authority’s stamp on her paper.

“I passed!” she tells them.

She gets a hug from her mother and sister, and a hearty pat on the back from her father.

“Don’t get too cocky, Kat,” the Admiral warns her. “You did good so far, but you’ve still got a long way to go.”

She nods.

“Come on,” Estelle says, taking Kat by the hand. “We’ve got work to do. Let’s get you ready.”


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Chapter 2

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