“Mmmph.” Lainiana rolled over, shoving the rough pillow over her ears. It wasn’t a particularly effective method of drowning out the sounds of an inn starting up for the day. She sighed pulling back the covers and putting a foot tentatively on the wooden flooring. “Cold, cold, cold.” She withdrew it quickly, and glared at the floor. Finally, she rolled over, grabbed thick woollen socks from where she had placed them and pulled them on. She sighed looking across at the neatly made bed opposite her, looked like she would be on her own again. She made her way across the room, and proceeded to wash herself down with a wet cloth, shivering as the cold water touched her skin.
A tap on the door startled her. “Miss?” A voice enquired.
“Don’t come in! I’m not dressed yet.”
The voice chuckled. “Were you wanting something to eat?”
Lainiana sighed. It would take the last of her coin to buy a meal. She needed to find work badly. Waiting around for Cain had been a bad idea. The bed across from her was empty and tidy. She had no idea if he had even stayed the night, certainly hadn’t waited for her. It was frustrating. She had come here for him. Given up everything that mattered to her, all of her friends and all of her family to find herself stuck in an inn, with no one around and only a few coin to her name. She should have known better. At first it had been fun. They had found information from bulletin boards, gossip and people from inns, leading them to jobs. It had been simple things at first, clearing out areas of monsters, retrieving valuables, and exploring catacombs. But now, he was barely ever around. She sighed, brushing away the memory.
“Oh sorry. Yes, I will have something. Did you notice whether there were any adventurers downstairs?”
“Wasn’t really looking, I’m sorry.” The man paused. “Although there was one group, they were looking at exploring a cave I believe. Some rumour of dimension breach within there I think.”
Lainiana smiled, pulling her chainmail on, up over her legs, then stomach and shoulders, till it sat comfortably. She stretched thinking, she needed a new set badly. While she liked the feel of it, the mail was worn and no longer provided that much protection. Still, it clung to her skin comfortably, and the small links did give some measure of reassurance.
“Good reward?” She asked.
“They were debating that, rather loudly I might add. I think the reward was rather poor, but there was chances of treasure, or something like that.”
“Perfect. Did they still need people?”
“Just a healer. Did you want me to pass on a message?”
“Please. I’ll be down in a minute.”
Maybe her luck was turning. Finding a good group could take all day sometimes. If this worked out she might make enough for a room for the following night, perhaps even a new set of armour.
The table she was looking for was immediately evident. They sat in a circle around a table near the door, five men, several of them talking loudly the others just watching the conversation. The loudest talking was a tall, dark-haired man, half standing, gesturing wildly.
“... you’re getting sick of this? The rest of us too. You know what it’s like waiting for a healer. If you want to do this your own way, be my guest. Shove off.”
The slightly built man, in robes, who he was addressing, sneered back at him. He placed two sceptres on the table and leaned back in his chair. “I’ll give it ten minutes. If no-one shows I’m out of here.”
“You guys still looking for a healer?” Lainiana asked, smiling.
They all turned and stared at her. The reaction amused her, it always did. Female adventurers were relatively uncommon still, and for a healer she looked out of place. She wore a lighter suit of armour than most that did what she did, and carried two swords, one long and one short, in the opposite hands to what most people predicted. She was left-handed, so the swords had been specially made for her, and they were good, very powerful. One of the side effects of her armour was that it fitted close to her body, accentuating her features. The reaction that the men were giving her, wide eyed and silent was exactly what she had received countless times.
“Hello? Guys?” She asked again.
“You have a really nice voice.” One of the men said, a short man, with a giant axe resting next to him.
Lainiana chose to smile at that. “Thanks. So... need some healing?”
The party leader shrugged. “Sure, you’ll do.” He stood up. “Everyone good to go?”
“Let me get something to eat.” She walked over to the bar quickly, and picked up the slab of bread and meat they had left for her. She handed over her last coins to the bartender reluctantly and he nodded at her.
“Good luck out there.” He said. “Careful of the group leader. A lot of people don’t like him.”
Lainiana looked back at the man. It wasn’t really surprising, he came across as extremely aggressive, although there was something puzzling about his manner, something she couldn’t quite pin down. “Why’s that?” She asked.
“Has a temper. Quick to get angry.” The barkeeper explained.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.” She answered finally.
“You sure you can manage this?” The leader asked her as she got back to the table.
She ignored him. “Alright. So, I’m Lainiana. What about the rest of you?”
The man with the axe stood up, reaching around her waist. “Tammus.” He said.
The man in the robes stood up and bowed to her. “Mathias, at your service m’lady.”
Lainiana giggled, but the group leader looked cross. “I’m Soloartiste, the guy with the bow is Tobbin, and kung-fu dude over here is Beaken. Alright? Can we go now?”
“Go, go, go.” Lainiana smiled. “Let’s roll out.”
Solo was first out the door, followed by the others, jostling each other in the process. Only Mathias stayed behind with her, holding the door open for her as they left.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Lainiana stared down the pit in front of them. “All the way down there?”
“All the way down there, back up, down, up and down.” Mathias said.
“Ick.” Lainiana scowled. “So not going to be fun. Solo, I haven’t been in here before; I’m probably going to get lost at least once.”
Solo ignored her, took a running leap at the pit. “Let’s go.”
“Er...” Lainiana frowned.
“You have something to slow down gravity?” Mathias asked.
“Oh yeah I do.” Lainiana answered. “I just don’t like heights.” She shrugged and took a running leap at it herself.
Falling down like this was weird. She still expected the walls to speed past her but they didn’t. It was like moving in slow motion. She could see some of the others far below her.
“You okay?” Mathias asked.
“Yeah I’m fine. There’s just something about falling this way. I always expect gravity to suddenly decide to work properly.” Lainiana explained.
They touched ground softly, as if they had dropped only a tiny way, but looking back above them, Lainiana could barely see the light from where they had jumped down.
“Okay listen up.” Solo stood in front of them all. “We kill absolutely everything , we break everything and we go everywhere. We want to find everything there is in this area, and get as much out of this as possible. Everyone clear on that?” Nods and grunts of conformation followed. “Good. “
“Do you want me doing healing and nothing else? Or is it better if I hit things too?” Lainiana asked.
“Any questions?” Solo asked.
Lainiana stared at him confused.
“Uh, Lain had one.” Tammus said.
“What did she ask?” Solo asked.
“I asked if you want me healing, or healing and hitting things.” Lainiana repeated.
Still he ignored her.
“She asked if you want her healing only, or healing and meleeing.” Tammus said.
“Whichever she likes, as long as she keeps us alive.” Solo answered. “Let’s go.”
“Are you ignoring me?” Lainiana asked.
Solo ignored her started climbing the path in front of them.
“Don’t worry about it.” Tammus said quietly. “It’s a spell I think.”
“What?” Lainiana asked.
“There’s a spell that can make you unable to hear someone.” Tammus explained.
“What? He put it on himself?” Lainiana asked.
“Looks that way doesn’t it?” Tammus said. “You know you can use your teleport charm just to get out of here if he’s going to be an idiot like this.”
Lainiana shook her head. “No... no. I want to know why. If I leave he’ll never talk to me again.”
“He’s not talking to you now.”
“Yeah, but...” Lainiana laughed. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Well I’m leaving.” Tammus said, and disappeared directly in front of her.
Lainiana sighed. Maybe she was too nice. Still, she wanted to know what was behind all of this.
After half an hour of climbing she wasn’t so sure. The rest of the group had waited for her, and now they all climbed together. Her arms and legs ached, but she pulled herself up each time and kept going. It wasn’t just climbing that was hampering their progress, archers were firing arrows at them from niches in the rock, and creatures were scampering around somewhere above them, dislodging rocks, which fell down onto them. The group was managing alright not to get hit, but Lainiana could already feel her energy draining, she knew she couldn't heal them for much longer without resting.
“Alright we're going to rush through here and take them at once.” Solo directed. “Everyone ready?”
“Solo!” Lainiana called to him.
Keeping them alive was one of the most challenging things she had ever done. All the strength had drained from her body and she could barely stand. Around her all the others tried to keep monsters off them, but it seemed like they were fighting a losing battle.
“A little longer.” Tobbin yelled. “We're wearing them down.”
“We are?” Mathias asked.
Lainiana felt a sudden pain at the back of her head, and fell onto her knees.
“Someone get her up!”
The noises were melding together, it took effort for Lainiana to seperate what was happening. “I'm okay... I'm okay.” She mumbled, refocusing her efforts, healing first herself, then Solo, who had just received a nasty blow.
“That's the last one.” Solo said, wiping his sword, as the last of the monsters died.
Lainiana saw them all turn to look at her, but she didn't know why, because at that moment her world went black.
The first thing she was aware of when she came to was a splitting pain at the back of her head. “Ow...”
“Heal yourself silly.” Mathias said, amused.
She almost laughed. Of course, she was fine to heal again now.
“Thanks.” She said. Now that she could focus she looked around them. All five of them were in a little alcove, some way off the main shaft it seemed. Someone had built a fire and Beaken was digging through the bags. He smiled when he noticed her looking at him, and walked over, handing her a grain cake, some bread and a piece of fruit.
“Eat up.Get some strength back, looks like we have a long way to go still.” He said.
Lainiana nodded, biting into the bread. “How did...” She swallowed the food in her mouth. “Sorry, how did I get here?”
“Solo carried you.” Beaken said.
Lainiana stared at him, then across to where Solo was sitting, debating something with Mathias. “Really? Why?”
“Solo!” Lainiana called to him, but he didn't turn around.
Beaken turned. “Come on dude, she saved us all back there.”
“Fine.” Solo made a quick gesture with his hand. “Happy? Now, we better get moving again.”
“Can you hear me now?” Lainana asked.
“Yes.” He said shortly, turning away from her.
She got up and touched his shoulder. “Why did you do that?” She asked.
He shrugged her hand off him. “All women want is to hurt, and to manipulate, especially beautiful women.”
“What..... wait I'm not beautiful.” Lainiana said, confused.
He turned away from her again and started to walk off.
“Hey, no!” This time she grabbed his shoulder until he stopped then walked in front of him. “Seriously, what? Not all women are the same.”
“The odds are with me.” Solo said.
“Okay, okay guys... lets just keep going.” Beaken interveaned.
It was grueling work, navigating the twists and turns of the shaft and the corridors that ran off it. More than once Lainiana slipped, and once she fell, causing the others to run back after her. For a moment she was touched, till she noticed all the monsters trailing them. Some of the fights were difficult, but nothing they couldn't face. She worked out afterwards that the entire thing had taken close to a day, but finally they sat around chests belonging to the guardian they had slain.
“Lain?” Solo asked.
She was lying on her back trying to catch her breath, so she rolled over and looked up at him. “Yeah?”
“Is that the best gear you have?”
She sighed. “Yeah. It's getting pretty worn, isn't it?”
“I've got a few jobs lined up tomorrow if you wanted to come along. I know a few places we could get you some better gear.” He offered.
“Really?” She asked. “Thank you.”
He shrugged. “You're a good healer.”