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The first thing Amber saw was a grey stone path leading up to large white building with a red roof. It looked to be two, maybe three stories tall, and had a double door entrance. Amber‘s sight followed another path to the right and saw a similar yet smaller building next to the first. While it was all new to her, Amber felt a little underwhelmed. She had imagined something much grander. "Is this it?" She heard Jaina grunt behind her, and suddenly became flustered. "What I mean is- uh... It's not- um..."
"Hey, hey, it's ok." Jaina insisted, trying to stop herself from laughing. "I never said it was anything impressive. Just that you should come by and have a look." Amber stopped stuttering, and Jaina nudged her shoulder as she walked past. "Come on, it looks bigger on the inside. Trust me."
Amber followed after her, then heard Axel close the gate behind them. "What do you think?" He asked with pride. "Does it look cool or what?"
"Y-yeah... It's alright." She admitted. "I was expecting something different though."
"Like what?" Zeke asked curiously.
"Hey, how about the pair of you give her some freaking space." Jaina cut in. "She hasn't even been here a full minuet yet. Give her a chance to process already." They all looked back at Jaina just in time to see her push one of the guild's doors open with her back, then hold the other open with her remaining arm. "Come on in, new girl. Have a look around."
Doing as Jaina asked, Amber ducked under her arm and stepped into what looked like a restaurant. Sets of tables and chairs took up most of the floor space and a bar top running along two thirds of the back wall, next to which there another door was leading outside again. A balcony ran along all 4 walls, also lined with restaurant style seating, and was accessible from a spiral staircase to the right next to large corkboard hanging on the wall. The smell of food drew her attention to a metal door on right wall, and she could hear what sounded like sizzling coming from within.
Again, it was all so new to her that Amber couldn't think of anything to say, until Zeke flew over her head and landed on her shoulder. "So? Do you like it yet?"
"Well... It does look bigger inside." Jaina and Axel both laughed, and Zeke took off again and began circling around the room. Watching him do this, Amber noticed something. "Wait, where is everyone? I thought there would be more people at a mage guild."
"That's actually a pretty good question." Jaina admitted, scanning over the room and scratching the back of her head. "I'mma see if the big man's around. Axel, be a dear and entertain our new friend for a bit." She began walking towards the back door after one last look around, looking back at them one last time. "Show her that magic eating thing. That's always been a crowd pleaser." Amber was about to ask what she meant, however Jaina pointed two fingers up at the ceiling and a bolt of lightning jumped into the air before she got a chance.
Amber covered her ears for the noise, but looked up again to see the lightning bolt circle overhead a few times as Jaina stepped out. Axel cracked his neck, then leapt high into the air and caught the bolt in his teeth. Electricity flared from the corner of his mouth, which he sucked it up like a loose noddle after landing in the center of the room. He swallowed, then lick his lips he smiled back at Amber. "So? Pretty cool huh?"
Amber's mouth hung agape from the display, and she slowly lowered her hands away from her ears. "What the hell was that?"
"Axel's a Dragonslayer." Zeke said with pride. "He can-."
Zeke was cut off by the sound of a door swinging opened, and the three of them turned towards the kitchen to see a short elderly man standing at the entrance. "Axel? When did you get back?" He wore a red chef's jacket and had balding grey hair. His face was hidden behind a pair of thick glasses and a bushy mustache that moved when he spoke. "And what was that noise?" He slowly shifted his vision from Axel to Amber, and sighed slightly "Oh dear... You haven't started a fight, have you?"
"No." Axel said defensively. "We were just showing someone around, and Jaina let me eat some of her magic." He thought for a moment, then pointed up at Amber. "Her name's Amber. Me and Zeke ran into her in Johdine on a job. Then she got hurt so we brought her back with us."
"Here? All the way from Johdine?" The old man said in disbelief, rubbing his forehead. "Whatever will I do with you Axel?" Axel grunted and turned away, and the old man once again looked at Amber. "I'm sorry about my son miss. Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm ok." Amber straightened up and smiled weakly, beginning to get annoyed with everyone asking her that. "They saved me from a monster, then Ms. Jaina invited me to come see the guild." She reached up and rubbed her bandaged forehead, then Amber corrected herself. "Well, more like insisted actually..."
"Oh, so Jaina knows about this too..." He complained. "Wonderful." Amber giggled a little, and the old man invited her to sit down with him at one of the guilds many tables. "Well Ms. Amber, my name is Jon Harben. I'm the guilds resident cook, as well as Axel's foster father."
"You’re his dad?" She asked curiously, sitting across from him. She glanced over her shoulder just in time to see Axel going up the stairs to the second floor with Zeke following after him. "Axel said his dad ran away when he was little."
"Ah, so you've had a chance to talk." Jon said absentmindedly, before returning to the topic at hand. "Well, that's not wrong. In a sense." Amber looked confused, so Jon explained. "I'm actually his second father. Our young Axel there clams that, before I took him and Zeke in, they were cared for by a dragon."
Amber's eyes widened, and her jaw dropped in disbelief once again. "A dragon? Aren't dragons just a fairy tale?"
"I thought the same thing at first, but Axel insists that they are real. Took me back to where he last saw it too." Jon slowly leaned back in his chair, apparently enjoying his trip down memory lane. "It certainly looked like a dragon had been there, that's for sure." Amber listened intently, and Jon began to chuckle again. "But I guess that explains why Axel's people skills are so terrible, and where that lightning magic comes from. Apparently that dragon taught it to him."
Amber thought about Jon's story for a moment, when something came to mind. "Wait, Axel uses lightning magic, right?" Jon nodded. "I thought dragons where supposed to breathe fire, not lightning."
Jon shrugged "Apparently they come in all different types. Or so he says." Jon was about to continue, but recoiled a bit upon remembering something. "Oh my, where are my manors? Here I am talking your ear off about my son, and I haven't even offered you anything. Would you like something to eat miss?"
Amber thought to refuse, but a sudden growling in her stomach soon changed her mind. She blushed slightly, realising that it was quite loud, and nodded. "Uh, yes please." Jon’s mustache curled slightly into what looked like a smile as he headed for the kitchen.
Before he made it their however, they heard Axel come back down the stairs again. "Hey dad, where did everyone go?" Zeke flew down after him and landed on the table Amber was sitting at. "Did something happen?"
"No, no. just business as usual." Jon assured. "A few people are in the library still, but a large number of people headed out on jobs only yesterday." Axel and Zeke moaned slightly, however Jon ignored them and continued. "Though now that I think about it, the master opened up the arena for the day. I believe a battle just started as well."
"Really?" Axel suddenly became a lot more enthusiastic again. "Who's fighting?"
"I think it was your friend Geno." Jon said, rubbing his chin as he thought. "He was up against, uh... What was her name again?" Jon rocked back and forth on his heels, apparently growing annoyed with his brief gap in memory. "Ah, I hate getting old. The woman with pink hair; wears bandages over one of her arms."
Axel thought for a moment. "You mean Terra?"
"Yes, that was it, Terra." Jon snapped his fingers upon remembering the name. "The martial artist from Mr. Tyran’s team." Zeke and Axel looked at each other excitedly, while Jon returned his attention to Amber. "Now, Amber, what would you like to eat? We have-."
"No time dad!" Axel barked, taking hold of Amber’s hand. "Come on Amber, you got to see this." He took off running, pulling Amber out of her chair towards the back door. "This is the best part of the guild."
Zeke swooped after them, and Amber stumbled to get back to her feet. They crashed through the back door and into the blinding sunlight, and Amber opened her eyes again just in time to see Axel pull her through a door to another building behind the first. This one was almost entirely empty, with only a small number of chairs lining the walls and handful of people standing around a painted rectangular arena on the floor. Inside, two people were in the midst of combat, surrounded by a barely visible wall of light.
The first was a man in his mid-twenties, wearing nothing but a pair of black pants and a red headband to keep his hair back. He had a large tattoo on his scarred chest, resembling what might be a bird’s claw, and a big grin on his face. He swung a chain wrapped around his wrist at his opponent, a woman with short pink hair tied up in buns and bandages covering her entire right arm. She sidestepped the attack, gracefully spinning towards the man and attempting a palm thrust at his chest. He intercepted the attack with the bicep of his folded arm, then threw the woman back with a powerful swing.
She sprung off her hands and back to her feet, taking a fighting stance again. Amber stood mesmerised by the display, until hearing Zeke cry out broke her trance. "Go Geno! Get her!"
The man named Geno glanced in his direction and smiled, then he and his opponent jumped at each other again. Amber looked at Axel again, finding him just as taken in by the fight as she had been a moment ago. "What are they fighting over?"
Axel took a moment to answer, still caught up in the battle, and didn't even look at her to answer. "What do you mean? We just do this to pass the time." Another clash rang out, and Geno's chain crashed into the invisible wall the moment it passed over the outline of the box.
The chain bounced back immediately, however the surprise was enough to cause Amber to instinctively back away. Geno and his opponent readied for another clash, when a loud buzzer sounded off and brought the battle to an abrupt end. Amber covered her ears again, sinking down against the wall and closing her eyes in an attempt to shut herself out of the situation. The buzzer stopped just as suddenly as it started, and a muscular man with tattoos on his arms stepped up into the light. "Alright, very good. Both of you." The two mages stopped for a moment to catch their breath. "Do you both want to keep going? This time with magic?"
Geno wrapped his chain around his waist and bit into his thumb, smiling as blood began to run down his arm. "I'm ready for round two. What do ya' say lass?"
The muscular man turned to the other woman. "Terra?"
"I am prepared." She said confidently, her hands beginning to glow with magic. "Let us continue, companion Geno."
"Alright then." The larger man stepped back towards the wall. "Good luck guys." He swung his arm back to hit a button on the wall, and the buzzer sounded off again. Amber could hear the fighting resume, but shut her eyes upon hearing the buzzer again. She curled into a ball in an attempt to protect herself from the noise, however realised it was futile after a few seconds. Desperate to get away from the sound, Amber scrambled towards the door and left without anyone else noticing.
Amber stumbled through the blinding sunlight again, not worrying about where she was going as long as it was away from the buzzer inside the arena. She felt her hand land on a wall, and decided to rest a moment and give her eyes time to adjust. She could still hear the buzzer sounding off, though it sounded more like a dull rumble now that there was a wall between herself and it. A cool breeze blew between the buildings, and Amber slowly stood back up again. "Armeria, this was a bad idea..."
Amber's belt disassembled itself, then reshaped into her small imp like companion. It stared blankly up at her for a moment, then asked. "Why?"
"Because..." Amber thought for a moment, but found that she couldn't actually find a reason. "I-I don't know... It just doesn't-." She heard a door creak opened, and instinctively jumped to her feet. "Armeria, carry mode." Her companion turned back into a belt, and Amber ran around the corner of the building to hide.
She didn't look back to see who it was, just waited for them to leave again. The buzzer from the arena got louder for a moment, then a click of a door closing made Amber assume whoever it was had gone. She didn't remerge however; choosing to remain resting against the wall of the main building. She felt like a trespasser without a guide, and didn't know what she would do if she met someone she didn't recognise.
Just as she contemplated leaving, she heard another door open and heard Zeke's voice call out. "Amber? Where did you go?"
Acting instinctively again, Amber pushed off the wall and ran to the first place she saw; the building beside the main one when she first entered the guilds main gate. Luckily for her the closest door had been left half opened, allowing for a quick entrance. She pulled the door closed behind her, and crouched down behind it to watch through the window. Zeke and Axel rounded the corner a second later, followed closely by Jaina. She yelled at him for a moment, though Amber couldn't hear what she said, then they all turned around and went back into the main building together. Amber sighed with relief, slowly slumping down against the door to rest and take a look around.
She found herself in what must have been a small library. Bookshelves lined the walls and their where a few tables in the center of the room, as well as a second level balcony like they had in the main building. Glancing down to the other end of the room, Amber froze when she saw a small purpled haired girl staring at her from one of the farther tables. "Uh... Hi." She stood up slowly, straining to see out of the door from where she stood. "Who are you hiding from?"
Amber got up as well, quickly looking around to make sure she hadn't missed anyone else. "I'm not hiding." She said defensively. "I just- I'm just..." She couldn't think of a believable excuse, and just shook her head. "I'm not hiding."
She seemed to study Amber for a moment, something that made her very uncomfortable, then smiled innocently. "I see." Something about the way she said made Amber doubt that she believed her, but she simply closed the book she was reading and smiled again. "My name's Shelly, what's yours?"
Amber was hesitant to answer at first, but something about this girl made her feel less like a stranger here. "My name's Amber..."
After packing a few of her books away, Shelly slowly began walking closer. "Are you new here Amber?" She took a quick look around to make sure she hadn’t missed anyone else come in with her. "Did you need someone to show you around?"
"N-no, that's alright... Someone's already shown me around." Amber assured. "I just wanted to find somewhere I..." She stopped mid-sentence, catching herself before she said she wanted to be alone. "Somewhere more quiet."
"I see." Shelly seemed more excepting of this lie then the last, however something still seemed off about the way she answered. "Well, we do get pretty loud sometimes. I guess it can get kind of annoying." Amber nodded slightly, watching Shelly lean back against the nearest table and glance up at a clock hanging on the wall. "Hey, I'm kind of hungry. Want to get something to eat?"
"I..." Amber's stomach let out another loud growl, and her face flushed red as Shelly began to laugh. "Yeah... A little."
"Alright, follow me." Shelly spun away and walked back to the place she had been sitting, throwing a small book bag over her shoulder along the way, and opened another door at the other end of the room. "Come on, it's this way."
Amber followed after her, exiting the library and walking through a short enclosed path back into the main building. They found the building just as empty as before, except for Jon sitting at one of the tables with a small plate of food in front of him. He turned in their direction once the door closed and his mustache curled into a smile again. "Ah, welcome back Ms. Amber. How did you enjoy the arena?"
"It was noisy." She said abruptly. "I- I didn't really like it..."
"Yes..." Jon sighed. "I'm sorry about my son. He's rather excitable when talking about fighting." Shelly sat down at the same table and pulled out a chair for Amber as Jon continued. "Well, I see that you met Shelly as well. So I assume the pair of you would like something to eat, wouldn't you?" He slid the plate towards them. "I never got an answer as to what you would like, so I just made a tiny bit of everything and figured you would be back shortly." He watched both the girls stare at the plate hungrily, then chuckled to himself. "Don't worry there is enough for you both."
Shelly grabbed a fork and took a large bite of what looked like a noodle dish, then smiled gleefully. "Come on Amber, try some. It's really good."
To hungry to argue, Amber did the same and began eating. She didn't taste anything for the first few bites because she was eating so fast, but stopped entirely once the food hit her tongue. "Wow..." She swallowed what was in her mouth, then stared at Jon. "It's the best food I've ever had."
Jon laughed again. "Well, I do what I can. I'm glad you like it though." A few mouthfuls later Shelly and Amber had finished the plate together, and Jon leaned back in his chair a bit. "So Ms. Amber, why not tell us a little about yourself?"
Amber withdrew a bit, growing uncomfortable at the idea. Thankfully for her however, the back door to the arena opened and the tattooed man from the arena stepped in not a second later. He saw Shelly first. "Hey Shelly, have you seen Hammond around? The bell in the arena broke again. We can't get it to shut off now."
She shrugged. "Sorry dad, don't think he's been here at all today."
The man sighed. "Darn, guess we'll just have to pull the plug on it and wait for him to fix it then." He took another look around the room, then noticed an unfamiliar face sitting at the table with them. "Oh, hello. Can we help you with something miss?"
"N-no thank you." Amber sunk back a bit. "I was just visiting with someone. But I don't know where she went."
"Her name's Amber." Shelly cut in. "I just met her in the library."
"Is that right?" He asked curiously. "I think I know who you're talking about, hold on." He leaned back out of the door and called out. "Hey Jaina, I think I found the person you're looking for." As he stepped back in, he smiled warmly. "My names Davin Vamiro by the way. Pleasure to meet you Amber."
Amber smiled back at him and Jaina emerged through the back door a moment later, pulling Axel along behind her. Zeke flew in just before the door shut, and Jaina joined them at the table. "So this is where you got off to? That's funny, I could have sworn I asked Axel to show you around." She didn't appear to be talking to Amber, but Axel instead. "But other than that, how'd you like the place?"
"It's..." Amber suddenly became tense, feeling everyone's eyes on her. "It's alright."
"Lots to take in, huh?" Jaina said with a smile, and Amber nodded slightly. "Well, it's getting kind of late. And you've had a long day. Why not take a while to think about it?" Amber smiled thankfully, but didn't say anything else. "In the meantime, you'll need a place to stay."
"She can stay with us!" Shelly chirped excitedly, before turning to Davin. "It's ok, right dad? Amber can spend the night, right?"
Davin sighed, but couldn't find it in his hart to say no to his daughter. "Well, yes. I suppose that's alright." Shelly smiled, however Davin motioned for her to calm down a moment. "I have a few things to take care of out of town, and your brother's still out on a job..." He shifted his vision from Shelly to Amber mid-sentence. "But if that's what you'd like to do then you're welcome to stay the night."
Amber's face began to turn red again, beginning to suspect that they were treating her like a child. "Um, thank you for the offer." She began. "You really don't have to..."
"Quit being humble new girl." Jaina snapped, making everyone else jump a little. "Go have yourself a good night's sleep." She reached back and pulled Axel closer to the table as well. "And take sparky here back with you. You three should have loads to talk about."
Before Amber could say anything, Shelly took one of her hands and began leading her towards the door. "Come on, it's a bit of a walk. We should go before it gets dark." She pushed the front door open, then looked back in the guild. "Come on Axel, Zeke. We're leaving."
Both of them nodded and followed after the girls, leaving the two older men chuckling at the actions of their children. Jaina sat quietly however, seemingly deep in thought about something. "So how about it Davin?" She inquired. "What do you make of the new girl?"
"What?" Davin asked confused. "Well, she seems nice enough. A little withdrawn, but I guess meeting a bunch of new people all at once will do that to a person." He glanced in Jaina's direction and noticed a peculiar look on her face. "Why? What do you think?"
"I can't really say." Jaina began rubbing the back of her neck, absentmindedly staring at the front entrance of the guild. "She was quick to trust us, but kept trying to pull away every time someone offered to do something for her."
"Is that really a cause for concern?" Jon asked.
"I don't know. It just seems like..." Jaina trailed off, unable to think of a reason behind her suspicions. "Ah, forget it. Forget I said anything." Waving them both off, she putting any thoughts on the subject out of her mind. "Let's just get that damn buzzer shut off already. It's annoying as hell."
Next Chapter - Decision Time