Erdric panted heavily as he sprinted through the streets of the town, hurrying to the castle as fast as he could. He shoved past a few bystanders, offering a quick "Excuse me!" or "Sorry!" as he did so, one hand still cling to the half empty carton of milk he snatched in his hurry to make his appointment.
Not slowing down, the young teen raised the carton to his lips and tipped it back... and almost immediately regretted it, as the foul smelling liquid poured down his throat. Struggling not to vomit, he tossed away the container as his face retched in disgust, distracting him from his path. And as such, he didn't notice who was in his path until he literally ran headfirst into them.
"OW!" Erdric yelled, rubbing his forehead as he opened his eyes. "Hey, why don't you watch where..." he began, but trailed off as his eyes met those of the person he ran into. Blood red eyes, with slit pupils...
A low growl exited the creature's throat before it leapt into the nearest alley. Erdric leapt to his feet and followed, but as he stood between the buildings, he didn't see anything aside from the usual rubbish bins and a stray cat. Even from the mouth of the alley, Erdric could see that the alley only lead to a dead end, and there was nowhere to flee to, especially not in the time it took him to follow. And yet, the young adventurer-to-be could swear that he saw someone rush down here... and those eyes... no. No, he had to have imagined it. The Verndetau Castle town was one of the most secure and safe areas in the entire kingdom. Protected by massive walls on all sides, with the front gate protected from outsiders by guards hand-picked by the King himself. There was no way... NO WAY that a monster had managed to sneak in.
"Huh..." Erdric muttered to himself, shaking the idea out of his head before he glanced up at the town's clock tower, the four faces each indicating that it was now twenty minutes past nine. Shit! He only had ten minutes! Turning on his heel, Erdric resumed his sprint through the streets towards the majestic castle overlooking the town... failing to notice the blood red eyes watching him from the rooftops...
* * * * * * * * * *
Erdric panted heavily as he staggered through the castle halls, almost completely exhausted. He leaned against the nearest wall for support as he inhaled and exhaled, trying desperately to catch his breath. His heavy breathing caught the attention of an older man standing at the entrance to the throne room, flanked on either side by armoured guards, who peered at the teen from over his spectacles. He checked the time, then the parchment he held in his fingers, before looking at the boy once more.
"Erdric Alfero, I presume?" the Chancellor asked, not even trying to hide the contempt in his voice to the bedraggled young man before him. Erdric could only nod and give a thumbs up as he tried to regain his composure.
"Yeah... tha... that's me..." he finally spoke once he had the breath, dusting himself off and trying to pat his hair down. After all the effort he went to looking presentable, he now looked like he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards... the Chancellor merely rolled his eyes.
"Well, you're on-time, at least. Barely." He sighed and adjusted his glasses, before stepping to the side. "His Majesty will see you now..."
Erdric nodded, straightening himself and giving himself one final pat-down before he stepped through the large doors into the castle throne room. His eyes were wide as he looked around; high golden columns lined the walls as massive decorative windows allowed light to enter the room, a currently unlit chandelier hung from the mile-high ceiling. Soft red carpets covered the floor, matching the drapes that were neatly tied back between each column and window. The carpets led up a small set of steps, to a magnificent golden throne where the King himself, Arthur Verndetau, was seated. To his right, on a slightly smaller throne, sat his daughter. On each side of the thrones stood several warriors, no less than ten in total, everything about them from their body language to their armour to their weapons completely unlike what Erdric had seen from most of the other knights in the castle he'd seen; they were without a doubt the King's royal guard. Erdric couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy as he stepped forward.
"Welcome, young man." The King spoke with a friendly smile. "I understand that you wish to become an officially sanctioned adventurer."
"Um... y-yes, that's right, Your Majesty..." Erdric replied, before he suddenly remembered what his mother had told him and got down on one knee before them. The King was, of course, a regal-looking man in his mid-forties, his chin-length hair a noble burnt orange, matching his short beard and moustache. Despite his position, there was something in the way he looked at Erdric, something welcoming. Even though one of them was seated on a throne and the other kneeling before him, it was clear the King didn't look at himself as superior. Erdric couldn't help but think that from his face, it almost seemed like the King felt he was the one being given a favour.
"Tell me, my boy. What is your name?"
"Erdric Alfero, sire..." he managed with a nervous gulp. Even as he spoke with the king, his eyes were drawn more to the young girl at his side. Princess Jennifer. She was no older than he was, and yet she seemed to be everything he wasn't. Beautiful, regal, elegant. Her long hair, a similar warm shade to her father's, extended past her shoulders, her bright blue eyes shone with a cute twinkle, her soft skin seemed to glow in the sunlight...
"Very well, young Alfredo." The King's voice snapped Erdric out of his daze as he looked up. "From this day forth, I give you my official endorsement as an adventurer." He nodded to a servant who was standing off to the side, signalling for her to approach Erdric. She held a small golden box in her hands, lifting the lid to expose a small red medallion, emblazoned with the symbol of the Verndetau royal family. "This is our seal; carry this with you, and use it as proof of my endorsement."
"Wow..." was all Erdric could manage as he carefully picked up the scarlet ornament, turning it over in his hands.
"Keep it safe, young Alfredo, and it may grant you not only the boons that come with serving our name..." the King couldn't help but chuckle at what he was about to say. "But perhaps also good luck." The princess just frowned and rolled her eyes, clearly not impressed by her father's comment.
"I-I promise, I will look after it, sire..." Erdric said with a nod. He couldn't believe it... he was going to be an adventurer for the Kingdom of Verndetau. It was really happening.
"There's a good boy." The King smiled and nodded, speaking in a tone that would sound more appropriate from a father to his son than a king to a civilian. "Then I will not keep you any longer. May you go out and start your adventure, my dear boy!"
"I-I will, Your Majesty! Thank you so much!" Erdric practically danced with excitement a she turned from the King and headed for the door... only to trip over his own feet and find himself kissing the carpet. The princess brought a hand up to her mouth to stifle her laughter, as the King nervously cleared his throat. Erdric promptly pulled himself to his feet and tried to hurry out as if nothing had happened, hurrying past the Chancellor and trying to ignore the glares his elation was getting him.
He hurried out the castle gates, his eyes still on the red coin in his hands. It was a coin that he had seen his father carrying with him all the time, and Erdric had always wished for one of his own. With this, he could finally start on his adventure! He felt... he didn't know how to describe it. He felt happy. He felt excited. He felt like he could take on the world. He felt...
...like he needed to use the bathroom really, REALLY badly. He felt a hideous gurgle in his gut and one of his hands flew to his stomach. The rotten milk from earlier was finally starting to have an effect. He glanced around the streets, panic starting to set in his mind before his eyes finally rested on a public latrine. His feet flew faster even than they did on his way to the castle as he rushed over and slammed the door shut behind him... failing to notice a certain red coin falling from his hand and bouncing down the street. Unseen by anyone, a clawed hand reached out from the shadow of an alley and grabbed the coin.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Alright, son, are you sure you have everything?" Erdric's mother asked as she stood at the town gates with him.
"Yes, Mum, I'm sure..." he said with a light-hearted sigh, a travel bag slung over one shoulder.
"You've got food to last until you reach the next town?"
Erdric smirked, flexing his free arm. "Mum, come on. Who needs weapons when I've got guns like this?"
His mother placed a hand to her forehead. "Oh, Lord..." she grumbled. But what did she expect? His father was known for ignoring weapons, and was considered one of the best fist fighters in the kingdom. She should've known he'd want to follow in those footsteps.
"Trust me, Mum. I'll be fine."
"Alright, alright..." she sighed and smiled. "I'll miss you, son."
"I'll miss you too." Erdric smiled and stepped forward, giving his mother a hug.
"Be sure to write, okay?"
"Good." She smiled and kissed him on his cheek. "I love you. Take care."
"I love you too, Mum..." Erdric blushed, smiling bashfully. He was starting to feel like it was his first day of school again.
"Okay... good luck! Bye, son..." she smiled sadly and waved as Erdric stepped out of the castle gates, waving back to her as followed the trail.
He smiled and inhaled deeply, the fresh air filling his lungs. He didn't know how, but it seemed like the air was cooler, and that the sun was brighter, and the grass was greener. Then again, maybe it was just excitement of the fact that he was finally an official adv-
For the third time that day, Erdric found himself hitting the floor. He groaned as he looked up, trying to see what hit him, only to feel his fringe blowing as a blade of air flew past, narrowly missing his face. Jumping to his feet, he turned and found himself facing his attackers; a trio of human-sized bunnies, clad in deep grey robes with eyes shining from under their hoods.
"Were Rabbits... uh oh..." Erdric gulped. He remembered hearing about these from his dad, as well as reading about them in books he had bought when he decided to become an adventurer. Despite the name and some rumours spread around, Were Rabbits were never human. Rather were rabbits that were once familiars to mages and spellcasters who exposed them to too much magic, usually through some kind of experiment. The result was almost always the same; the rabbit in question became larger, marginally more intelligent, and gained the power to wield magic itself, almost always wind-based. Erdric ducked just in time to avoid another blade hurled at his head, even as one of the Were Rabbits began to hop forward, it's paws glowing green in preparation for the next attack.
"Damn it...!" the young adventurer yelled, as he rushed the approaching lagomorph, only to be blown back by a miniature typhoon, his travel bag launched across the field. Were Rabbits weren't exactly high level beasts, but it wasn't what he was expecting to face in his first encounter. Their mastery of wind spells made them a tricky opponent for an adventurer just starting out, infamous for slaying many beginner parties who either underestimated them for their appearance or didn't know about their magical prowess; he was expecting something like a Slime or maybe some goblins, but not a group of spell-slinging demon bunnies!
He grit his teeth and stepped forward, finding the Were Rabbit's wind, trying to get close. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and ducked again, another blade narrowly missing his head, though it did manage to nick his hair, the severed strands getting scattered by the wind magic he was fighting. The three creatures began to chitter, almost as if laughing at how helpless he was against them... before his fist promptly connected with the nearest Were Rabbit's chin and send it flying into the air, landing a short distance away. Their magic was strong, but they couldn't take too many hits, especially from a powerhouse like Erdric.
The two conscious Were Rabbits stopped their mocking and looked at their companion, lying on the ground. They turned back to Erdric, suddenly looking pissed.
"Yeah... yeah, that's right!" Erdric smirked, bouncing from foot to foot with his fists raised. "Now I got y-WHOA!" he jerked to the side as another blade of wind flew past, this one aimed at his face. Before he had a chance to relax, another one shot past, nicking his shoulder. Erdric found himself forced into some sort of impromptu dance routine, avoiding the flying blades, each one getting closer and closer to hitting their mark. Growling, the teen suddenly stepped forward, just as one of the Were Rabbit aimed a wind blade at his throat. Without thinking, Erdric threw his arm up to block it, and pain seared through his body as the blade struck, cutting almost to the bone before dissipating. The Were Rabbit's ears sprang up in shock, before Erdric lunged forward and nailed it right in the face with a straight punch, KOing it instantly.
"Yes!" he celebrated with a fist pump. Two down, one to go! He spun round to face the last lop-eared pest... and felt a chill run down his spine when he saw the glare he was getting, a green aura forming around the bunny as the air surrounding the two of them seemed to go haywire, curling and twisting in unnatural ways. Erdric was paralysed with fear, unable to even try to through a punch, as the Were Rabbit leaned back, raised its paws...
...and promptly burst into flames.
"...huh?" Erdric caught himself saying aloud as the Were Rabbit collapsed at his feet. Looking up from it, his eyes went wide as his eyes met another pair... a blood red pair with slit pupils.
His flight or fight response kicked back in and he leapt back, taking on a boxing stance. "What the hell...!?" he snapped, taking in the rest of the creature, only to see how right he was. Standing before him was what appeared to be a tall, slim man, maybe a little older than he was, with deep purple skin. His hair was an unnatural white colour, coming down to a widow's peak on his forehead while the rest seemed to spike naturally upwards. He was garbed only in a pair of dark trousers that almost seemed to be a part of his body, sliding down and merging seamlessly with his taloned reptilian feet. A slim tail extending from his back, ending in a pointed shape that resembled either a heart or an upside-down spade. His fingers ended in claws, a pair of black horns extended from his forehead, and protruding from his shoulder-blades was a pair of black leathery bat-wings. Erdric couldn't believe what stood before him.
"D... Demon..." he gasped. The purple man smirked, revealing a pair of enlarged incisors as he took a few steps towards the human. Erdric instantly sank into his fighting pose as the demon extended a hand... and held out a familiar red coin.
"You dropped this."
It took Erdric a few seconds before what the demon said sank in. He looked at the coin, then back to the demon's face. His hands instantly rummaged through his pockets and he realised he didn't have the medallion the King gave him. "I... what...?"
"You. Dropped. This." The inhuman being stated, emphasising each word.
"I... um... thanks?" Erdric said uncertainly as he took the crimson item from him.
"Good." The demon nodded and turned away. "Don't drop it again. That thing's a pretty big help on your adventure..." he looked down at the smouldering bunny on the ground. "And if you're having trouble with Were Rabbits, then you must need all the help you can get."
"I... huh?" Erdric blinked, then frowned. "Hey, they just caught me off-guard is all! Who the hell are you anyway?"
"I'm sure they did..." the demon chuckled. "As for who I am... my name is Alastor."
"Alastor..." Edrick echoed. Yep. Definitely a name with a demonic ring to it. "Well then, Alastor, what are you doing all the way out here? Shouldn't you be in... I dunno. Hell or something?"
"We incubi go where we like..." Alastor stated cryptically. Incubi? Must be some special word for a demon, Erdric reckoned. "As for why I'm here... killing time, mostly."
"...right." Erdric frowned. "Well... thanks for the save, I guess. And returning my coin."
Alastor chuckled and simply waved his hand dismissively.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I have an adventure to... to... advench." Erdric scowled and picked up his travel bag, rooting around until he found his map. "Let's see..."
"Need a hand?" Alastor's voice asked from behind. Uncomfortably behind.
Erdric jumped away, scrunching the map in surprise. "D-Don't DO that!"
Alastor chuckled. "Apologies. But my offer still stands." He grinned, showing his fangs. "You seem like you need a little extra manpower. And I have nothing better to do."
"Screw you!" Erdric yelled, his face going red. Who did this winged devil-boy think he was, just inviting himself along!?
"Fine, fine. Then I'll be on my way..." He turned and spread his wings.
"...wait." Erdric spoke, catching his attention. Alastor turned around, a smirk still on his face as Erdric rubbed his temple. "I... I guess a little company wouldn't be a bad thing."
"Heh heh... very well." Alastor chuckled and walked over. "So, where exactly are you going next?"
"I'm... not sure, to be honest." The young adventurer sighed, looking at the map.
"Hm..." Alastor leaned over his shoulder, looking at it. "Well... we're HERE." He tapped the map with one of his claws at the area where Verndetau Castle was.
"...yes. I know that."
"So I would say the best course of action would be either... here, here or here." He tapped the map with every 'here'.
"Hm... alright. So where should we go then?"
"I'll leave that up to you, brave adventurer."
Erdric gave Alastor a glare, which the demon just chuckled at. Guess it was up to him, then... at least he had an idea on where to go now.
Which direction do Erdric and Alastor decide to go?
A --- West (towards the coast)
B --- North (towards the forest)
C --- East (toward the Amazon's village)