The Golden Guild: Beginnings

I recently acquired Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City. I’ll write about the game as a game at some future point, but in the meantime there’s something else I want to try. Everyone tells me that Etrian Odyssey is the kind of game where you have to make up your own story, as the game doesn’t provide one — so I did. Thus, I’m happy to introduce the adventures of the Dorato Guild, as narrated by its reluctant leader, the runaway (and bewildered) Princess Megaera.

The Golden Guild: Beginnings

I escaped from the castle for this?

That’s an uncharitable thought, I know, but one that I couldn’t help thinking as I surveyed my charges in the early morning light. Although Guild Dorato had existed for years, its current incarnation was essentially a rookie guild, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. But… when I’d first agreed to join the guild, I’d harbored romantic images of uncovering the secrets of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth with a team of seasoned explorers, not herding a group of penniless hooligans.

“One kunai, two kunai…”

I glanced sidelong at Phoebe. My cousin had schooled her expression to blank immobility, but I could tell she didn’t approve. As a knight of the royal guard, it was Phoebe’s duty to protect me, a duty she took very seriously — even to the extent of following me that night I’d fled the castle. She’d joined the guild along with me without outward complaint, but I knew she would much prefer it if I threw adventuring to the wind and returned home. That wouldn’t be happening any time soon if I had any say in the matter.

She was of course entirely prepared for the morning’s excursion into the labyrinth, armor polished until it gleamed and spear ready. I almost didn’t recognize my childhood playmate in that shining golden armor… as a girl, she had been cheerful and active, always a troublemaker and a willing co-conspirator in my childish escapades. The guard’s training had worn that aspect of her personality away, molding her into the perfect soldier, stoic and serious. All that remained of that girl were her pigtails, streaming behind her head like silver pennons. Still, I was glad she had come with me — there’s no one I’d rather have watching my back in a dangerous situation, and the labyrinth promised to be dangerous enough for the both of us.

“Three kunai, four kunai, five…”

I was almost as confident about Jin, if for different reasons. The monk carried no weapon and wore nothing besides the baggy gi we’d met her in, but she seemed completely at ease and eager to proceed, bouncing her foot in time to some beat only she could hear as she waited for the rest of us to conclude our preparations.

Jin was a strange monk in many ways. I’d always pictured monks as quasi-mystical old men, honing their bodies in isolation and pondering the ineffable mysteries of the universe on top of some mountain somewhere. Jin, on the other hand, was a girl of the same age as me. She was so lean that she seemed to be swallowed up by her clothing, although she had muscle enough to break bricks. She sported an omnipresent smirk, as though she was constantly laughing at a joke you were too dense to figure out. Moreover, if Jin ever pondered the mysteries of the universe, it was only to figure out how to profit from them. When we initially recruited her, she’d told us that she’d become a martial artist in the first place so that she wouldn’t have to spend coin on weapons, and she’d learned to heal because good medics were always in demand among the guilds. She assured us that she’d be able to heal any wound we might sustain while fighting monsters in the labyrinth, and since no one in their right mind enters those tunnels without a healer, we quickly signed her up.

Almost without anyone realizing it, Jin had become integral to the guild. She’d taken one look at my somewhat haphazard bookkeeping and declared that from this point forward, she’d be managing the guild’s finances. I was all too eager to give up the task, but I hadn’t considered that I was essentially giving her veto power over all future recruits. While Phoebe and I might have selected warriors with more experience, Jin had hired…

“…Shurikens — check. Vanishing powder… full. All right.” Her inventory complete, Nezu stood up, pulled her ceramic kitsune mask over her face, and saluted. “Ready to begin mission, Captain!” she declared cheerily.

I bit my lip, trying to conceal my dismay. Nezu was an apprentice ninja from one of the hidden shinobi villages to the south, and was about as un-intimidating as they come. I’m no giant, and the young ninja barely came up to my shoulder. Furthermore, her constantly chipper personality seemed a far cry from the mysterious warrior of the shadows she was supposed to be. That would have been all right (even if she did test Phoebe’s implacable discipline sometimes), but her inexperience shined forth like a beacon.

Jin had explained very patiently that the guild didn’t yet have the income to hire fully-fledged ninja, but that apprentices were nearly as good and much cheaper. Nezu needed experience in order to be promoted, and in order to get it she was willing to hire herself out for peanuts. And indeed, Nezu’s ninjutsu had seemed competent enough during her demonstration… but I still couldn’t quite envision myself trusting my safety to her skills.

Finally, today’s party featured Lucius, the farmer. He was slumped in the corner of the room, looking miserable, but he caught my gaze as it took in the room and responded with a cynical roll of his eyes. He was dressed in peasant homespun and wielded a common hatchet, and didn’t look as though he’d be much help in a fight. I’d been unsure about even bringing him, but Jin had insisted. “We’re not going to conquer the labyrinth in a single trip, Princess,” she’d said. “We’re going to be in and out almost every day for months if not years, and in order to make those trips profitable we’re going to need someone to help us bring back materials. I can’t chop wood or gather herbs or mine minerals, and neither can you, but he’s been doing it his entire life. There’s more to adventuring than fighting.”

Even so, I felt that we probably could have found someone a little less dour than Lucius, who perpetually wore the expression of someone who had their neck on the executioner’s block and was merely waiting for the axe to fall. Although he’d signed up quite willingly, he spoke as though we’d unfairly condemned him to death. I wondered if this attitude was characteristic to all commoners, or if it was just him.

“I wish the Captain was here,” I muttered, staring at my feet. Captain Adler was the oldest member of the guild and the one with the most seniority, so by all rights she should be leading this expedition. She’d happily passed the burdens of command on to me, instead. Although the Captain could be immature and frivolous at times, I valued her advice and experience greatly. “Where is Captain Adler, anyway?”

“The tavern,” Phoebe snorted. “Where else?”

“She said it was for business this time, though,” Jin said. “She said that she might have us a lead on an arbalist. It’s hard to tell where business ends and pleasure begins with Giselle, though. Anyway, are we all ready to go?”

“It looks like it,” I said. I felt that it was probably necessary to speak some words of encouragement before we left, so I took a deep breath. “I’m not much good at speeches, but I’ll try my best. Today we’re going to be mapping out the first level of the labyrinth. The actual mapping is my job, so you won’t have to worry about that part.” I held up a sheaf of paper to demonstrate. That had actually the job I’d signed up for in the first place — drawing maps. I hadn’t intended to get dragooned into a leadership role. “This is a standard test to receive certification from the Senatus, so it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult or dangerous. Even so, we’re not looking for trouble. If someone’s seriously hurt or we become overwhelmed, we’ll retreat and finish the job tomorrow. Is everyone ready?”

There was a rumble of affirmation from my guildmates.

“Then let’s go,” I said. “To the labyrinth.”

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