Tanya ran for the jungle. Easier to pick them off when she had terrain to work with. They chased her, foolishly thinking that their superior knowledge of the jungle would keep them safe. They had no idea who they were dealing with. Too bad the supposed distraction effect continued to not apply. Oh well, maybe someday she would get into combat with someone who was stupid and horny enough to be distracted by her tits. Today was not that day.
She did a quick stop, turning and extending her blade. The lead monk didn’t have time to stop. The sharp steel slid through his throat, choking him on his own blood. Eleven left. Tanya pulled her sword loose, jerking it through the falling monks neck, and kept going.
There were cliffs ahead, she’d climbed them many times in her exploration of the island. Tanya ran, full speed, for the edge of the cliff. It was hundreds of feet down to jagged rocks. She grabbed a branch that hung out over the drop, her arms felt the shock as her weight dragged down. She held on, barely. Three of her followers weren’t so lucky. They flew through the air, arms windmilling, saffron robes flying up in the wind. They died screaming. Tanya used her momentum to swing around further on the path. It was all about picking your terrain. Well, that and being much, much better at killing than the people chasing you. Luckily she was.
It kept going like that, one or two at a time, until finally it was just her and two of the monks. Tanya turned around, not bothering with tricky moves, looked at them, and said, “Boo!”
One of the monks fell over backwards in fear. The other one rushed her, heedlessly. Tanya dropped to her knee and raised the blade. One left and he was already lying down. She walked over to him and cut off his head, a bit sad, but without being able to speak his language she didn’t even know how to accept a surrender, or if he was surrendering at all. There was a small satisfaction in having taken down a dozen men, even if they weren’t very good at this stuff. Time to see if she could kill the lizard. She had no idea where it was in the temple, how big it was, if it could do anything other than turn things to stone, if it could even actually turn things to stone.
It was near dark by the time Tanya made it back to the temple. The sunset threw pinks and reds over tropical waters, silhouetting palm trees. Tanya stopped for just a moment to appreciate the beauty around her, just in case it was the last thing she ever saw, then she walked into the darkness.
Inside the temple it was lighter than she had expected. There were torches spaced out along the corridors, flickering pockets of flame, with only brief stretches of darkness. It was also a very, very simple layout. Tanya didn’t know who designed most of the dungeons she explored, but they seemed to have either an infinite pool of labour, or infinite. Money. These guys on the other hand didn’t seem to have created a labyrinth for no apparent reason. The corridors were well polished stone, as dry as was possible in this place.
She heard it before she saw it. Claws scraping damp stone, rustling scales. It wasn’t small. So, a blindfold and then she had to fight a giant lizard. Without proper armour. Tanya tied the scrap of cloth around her eyes and rounded the corner. The air was filled with a deep hissing noise. Smells, so many smells, rot and decay. Old meat. Moss. Excrement. Tanya focused her attention, all of it, more than she would have thought possible, on hearing. There it was, under the hiss, the scrabble of claws on the stones, to the left, moving towards here. Another sound, to the right. It was charging right at her. She feinted left, dropped low and to the right, slashing with her sword. She felt resistance, heard a strangled cry. More scrabbling. The smells were overshadowed by the copper of fresh blood now.
She felt claws rake across her stomach, burning pain overwhelming everything else. It almost took her down, almost ended her will to fight, but only almost. She took a deep breath, almost gagged on the copper taste it brought, and swung her sword at the direction of the hissing noise. There was another noise, a new one. A soft squishing noise, then a scream, more horrible than anything she had ever heard. Finally, a thud, a loud one, something heavy hitting the ground. The hissing noise stopped.
Tanya ripped off the blindfold, breath held deep in her stomach, muscles tensed and coiled, ready to pull it back down again if the beast so much as twitched. She had hit it in the left eye, her sword pushing through gelatinous tissue and into brain. The creature still had its right eye open, but she didn’t turn to stone. Apparently it lost that power when it died – if she was even right about what the power was. Time to take the head… that was what the hermit wanted after all. The creature was large, not the giant she had thought it was. It measured about twelve feet from nose to tail. The strangest feature was the crown. A bony crown grew out of the lizards head, exactly the shape of the temple itself. Damn weirdos made a lizard head temple.
Her blade cut through the lizards neck in no time; she had the head!
The next few weeks were spent checking for the ship, making sure the head was preserved – she had a barrel of salt among her supplies for the purpose, and surviving the island. Finally, the ship came in sight. Tanya lit a signal fire, letting them know she was there and ready for them.
The journey back home was just as bad as the journey to the island, if not worse. The captain greeted her with surprise, “I didn’t think you’d be here. Thought the rest of that money was lost to me for good. Guess I’m glad you didn’t die. You got what you came for?”
“Yeah, the temple is safe now. This island has no risks anymore. It’s a pretty nice spot. Excuse me, could you pass me the buck-“
The room was filled with a loud retching sound. The captain decided he didn’t need any more information, and allowed Tanya to be alone with her misery.
As before, the journey was a nightmare for Tanya. She vowed, repeatedly, that this was her last sea voyage. By the time she reached shore she had lost any excess weight her already slim frame held.
Shore meant time for recovery. Sure, she wanted to get on with it, to visit the hermit and get her armour (she really hoped the basilisk head didn’t need both eyes to be eligible for the boon).
The closest inn was The Boar and Dragon, a standard place. There was a bard, a serving wench with ample assets, swords above the mantle. The sort of place that felt homey and familiar to Tanya after years of campaigning. It didn’t matter if she was high in goblin country, or in a village with three families, some variation of this inn would exist. In fact most of her work came from places like this… somehow she always found someone who needed a dungeon cleared out, or a temple full of undead cleansed. Sure enough, in the corner, a dangerous looking man with large blades, a dwarf with an ax, an elf of ambiguous gender with a longbow, a figure in a robe covered in mystical symbols, and of course the inevitable diminutive thief. It brought her back to when she was still a fresh adventurer. These days she was able to rely on her agent to get her bookings. Too bad nobody told new adventurers about agents. In fact… “Hey, you guys mind if I join you?”
The warrior said, “Sure, feel free. You look like a seasoned warrior,” as he visibly stared at her chest.
“Yeah, been doing this for a while. How long you guys been adventuring for?”
The thief said, “Oh, we just joined up a few weeks ago. Took out a small orc keep in the North. We’re looking for work right now. You have anything?”
“No, not really… well, maybe, but I mostly wanted to give you guys some advice. Something I wish somebody had told me back in the day.”
The elf said, “We would love advice from someone of you obvious experience. What should we know?”
“Get an agent. Most adventurers guild offices have a few agents working in them. These places, dingy bars, they only give you the bottom of the barrel quests. How much did you make from that orc keep?”
The dark robed one spoke, face still invisible beneath the hood. His voice cracked slightly. “We did extremely well. We pulled almost a hundred gold, and some orc weapons.”
“Okay, so you cleared a horde of orcs, and basically protected a town for a quarter the budget of the town watch in a month. That saved them probably several years worth of effort. Lose anyone?”
“Well, Jax, the cleric. We’re looking for a new cleric right now, but they seem to be in short supply.”
“Yeah, so one of you died… and the rest of you split a hundred gold between you. Look, the good quests, the really juicy ones, a good agent will know about them.”
“But don’t we have to give them money?”
“Of course, but it’s a percentage. They get you a gig that nets you ten thousand gold pieces, they get fifteen hundred on average. Yeah, it’s a lot, but you get to split seventy five hundred, not one hundred. Look, do what you want, but I haven’t hung out in an inn like this because I had to in years. I come to these places to drink, not to drum up business these days.”
“Thanks,” the warrior said, “now, what was that about maybe having some work?”
“I have a quest – I have to get an item to the hermit atop dagger mount. My understanding is that it’s pretty heavy orc country, and I could use a stalwart band of adventurers to back me up. It doesn’t pay great, mostly because I’m a bit low on funds right now. Had to charter a ship recently, cost a bloody fortune. However, since there’s not temple it is cash on the barrel not you get to keep what you take. two fifty plus meals. Should take a few weeks.”
“Two fifty? Holy crap. Yes, of course!”
“See, that’s why you need an agent. Never take the first offer, you have to haggle. Names?”
The warrior said, “I am Conrad Orcsbane, our elven ranger is Tanselot Goldenbloom, the dwarf is Angus McHandless, the halfling is Breckenforce Traugridge, and of course our mage is Bob.”
“Hey guys, Tanya Fireborn. Meet me here in the morning, we head out around nine-ish.”
“Not first light?”
“No, I like my sleep, and it’s always good to start with a decent breakfast. Just be ready around nine in the morning.”
Tanya went to bed, questioning her life choices.