The obnoxious song of a thousand cicadas looking for love filtered through an open window, leading to the bedroom of a third-story apartment. The owner of said apartment was currently trying her best to sleep through the noise, but fate — and her roommate — had other plans.
“Hey, Sulika… Sulika… Dammit Fox girl, would you wake the hell up? You’re going to be late!” A feminine voice shouted from somewhere above her head… Which should’ve been impossible, since she was lying in bed and her headboard was firmly set against a wall.
Without opening her eyes, Sulika wiped at her face and sat up with a begrudging, “okay, okay.” She yawned.
She looked over her shoulder, towards the head of the bed, and saw a gorgeous macaw perched near the center of the headboard. Its feathers were a mix of white and gray, which reminded Sulika of a soot covered snowfield. Its big, yellow eyes stared transfixed on Sulika’s sleep deprived face, seemingly waiting for something.
“Well? Are you getting up or not?” The bird asked impatiently. Despite the annoyed tone of the voice, the bird appeared to be quite calm by comparison. That was because the bird — Sulika called him snowball — wasn’t actually the one speaking.
Snowball wasn’t a normal bird. Sulika and her roommate had purchased him a few years ago from a place who trained animals in a special kind of magic, one that allowed them to act as communication devices for households. Snowball could make and receive audio messages from other, similarly trained animals from anywhere on the island.
Sulika gently rubbed the sleep from her eyes and glanced at her bedside table. The softly ticking clock there showed the time was [6:37 A.M.] … “Shit.” Sulika cursed under her breath and quickly extricated herself from her comfy blanket. “I’ll be down in ten minutes!” She shouted while sprinting across the room to the adjoined bathroom.
“You better be. Your breakfast is already cold!” Snowball hollered after her, using her roommate’s voice.
Sulika stuck her head out of the bathroom with a toothbrush dangling from her mouth and her hair clinging to her scalp from where she’d wet it, “Did you burn the kitchen down?” She asked in a tone that could have been a joke or a serious concern.
“If I did. You would’ve smelled the smoke.” Snowball replied while grooming the feathers on his left wing.
“That’s not an answer.” Sulika said while staring directly at snowball’s eyes, the toothbrush momentarily forgotten.
“No, I didn’t burn down the damn kitchen. Who do you think I am, a child?” Snowball shouted in a petulant voice, without ever once stopping his grooming of his wing feathers.
Sulika shrugged her shoulders and ducked back into the bathroom. Looking at herself in the mirror, she tried to get ready as quickly as possible.
Her glossy, shoulder length black hair was pulled into a messy bun and held in place by an old leather strap she’d had since she was a kid. What little makeup she normally wore, which consisted solely of lipstick designed to keep her lips from drying out and some eyeshadow, was quickly applied. With that done, she practically jumped into a pair of loose-fitting jeans and her brown work boots. The short-sleeved red T-shirt she’d slept in was good enough for her once she slipped into her favorite black leather vest and zipped it up to her throat. She didn’t bother drying her hair before leaving the bathroom and quickly walking through her bedroom door. She found Snowball had returned to his cage, which was almost never closed off, and was waiting for her with an expectant look in his too intelligent eyes.
Sulika grabbed an open bag of cashews from one of the kitchen cabinets and made her way over. She dumped a few into her hand and presented them for Snowball’s approval — which he immediately gave.
“Thanks, buddy.” Sulika handed a single cashew to Snowball before dumping the rest on the floor of his cage. Before leaving, she scratched the crown of his head with a single finger, which earned her a gentle nip of the finger from her favorite bird.
On the way out the door, she reminded herself to grab a few things. The essentials, really; her house keys, her ID, her sword, and her wand. Her sword was pretty standard for a short sword and was just one of the countless others that came directly off the shop floor. But her wand — Now, that was something special. Carved from a branch a friend of hers had gotten from a Druid circle, and powered by a family heirloom, it was the only one of its kind… And had cost her almost a year’s salary in order to have made.
Both her sword’s scabbard and her wands holster were attached to a leather belt she’d gotten for her birthday a few years ago. She equipped the belt while hurrying downstairs to the first floor, where she predicted her roommate would be waiting on her with a plate of cold food in one hand and a room temperature cup of apple juice in the other.
She was wrong. Her roommate Faeyra was waiting for her, but neither food nor drink could be seen anywhere in their shared dining space.
Faeyra was a tall, graceful woman with incandescent emerald eyes that sparkled in the semi lit room, and wild auburn hair, streaked with bone white strands that made her look older than she actually was. Which was a feat, considering Faeyra was half elf.
Despite being over two-hundred years old, Faeyra was the elven equivalent to someone in their late twenties. And aside from the white streaks in her hair, she looked it. Sulika could admit that her longtime friend was gorgeous, even if Faeyra herself couldn’t give a damn about how she looked.
She was too busy either making potions or running the potion shop they both owned… Well, technically, Faeyra owned the place. Sulika’s name was only on the deed because she helped pay for it way back when. Besides, Sulika was far too busy with her own job to even attempt to co-run the shop.
Speaking of which… “I thought you said the food was getting cold?” Sulika grumbled while stepping fully into the room.
“It was. That’s why I already ate it. It was delicious, by the way. Bacon, eggs, a big bowl of fruit salad, and a great, big ol’ chocolate chip muffin from that halfling bakery on third Street. Washed it all down with a cold glass of freshly squeezed star fruit —” Faeyra ducked aside as Sulika swatted at her head with a touch more force than necessary.
“You’re such a bastard. I’m going to get you back for this, just wait.” Sulika laughed. She snatched the half drink glass of fruit juice from the table and quickly chugged it down. She would just have to grab something on the way —
“Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep. It’s not nice to make a girl all excited, then keep her waiting…” Faeyra muttered. Her words had a profound effect on Sulika as she almost choked on her juice. With a sly smile on her face, Faeyra stood from her seat and moved to Sulika’s side.
The six-foot tall half elf towered over Sulika’s five-foot-two form. She slowly moved her arm around Sulika’s shoulders and gently took the now empty glass from her hand.
With a quick pat on the head and a wink goodbye, Faeyra glided across the floor to the door and left Sulika to finish getting ready on her own. She could feel Sulika’s glare on her back as she passed through the door leading to her potion shop and alchemy lab.
Sulika blinked after a coughing fit and directed her attention at the clock hanging above the door.
It read [7:07 A.M.], which meant Sulika was now, officially, late for work.
Sulika stepped through the glass door leading to her office and gently shut it and her before pressing her back against it and exhaling. The overly long and dramatic sigh drew the attention of her coworkers like a moth to a rainbow-colored flame.
The first to approach her was a brown-skinned elf in a white and gold cleric’s robe. His thick, dark dreads bounced with every step, causing the countless colorful beads woven throughout his hair to clatter loudly against one another.
“You okay, boss?” He asked, his voice dripping with the concern his eyes did not show. That wasn’t a slight against him or his abilities as a healer, but like most elves, he had trouble expressing his emotions through the holes of liquid gold that were his eyes.
“I’m fine. Just got a bit of chewing out by the big boss, nothing to worry about… How’s the recon going? Are we going to be ready to move by 5 o’clock?”
“Aye, the recon is done and over with. We can be ready to leave in five minutes. Just give us the signal.” The heavy of her team replied as he joined the cleric in standing in front of her.
The stout dwarf, with his luscious auburn beard and carefully groomed mustache, spoke slowly and carefully enunciated each word to ensure everyone can understand him through his thick, Dwarven accent.
It was always easy to tell the ones who grew up speaking common, and those who had to learn it at a much later date. Dwarvish was a difficult language to master - full of hard consonants and guttural sounds that were difficult for non-native speakers to replicate.
Sulika appreciated the heavy’s efforts. While she knew a bit of dwarvish thanks to learning in high school, she was far from fluent and even his accent was sometimes difficult to understand.
Sulika did raise an eyebrow at the heavy’s choice of attire. He’d arrived wearing black leather pants, a white T-shirt, and a thick, red leather jacket no doubt made from some beast he’d killed during his last vacation. Metallic spikes lined the cuffs of his sleeves, and three large spikes could be seen on each shoulder.
The heavy noticed Sulika’s glance and looked down at himself - he laughed humorlessly and shrugged. “Sorry, I was running a bit late and forgot to take it off at the door.”
“How you could’ve forgotten to take that thing off is a mystery I’ll never solve.” Her team’s Druid spoke up as she, and their final team member - the barbarian - joined the three of them by the door.
The druid and the barbarian were opposites in almost every way. The druid was a slender, graceful, elf woman in an open green robe that gave everyone a clear view of what she was wearing underneath; dark gray cotton pants, and a loose brown T-shirt held tightly against her body by a leather chest piece. Contrasting her dark clothing was her pale skin, short blonde hair, and pools of emerald-colored eyes that balanced everything out. Druidic and Elven tattoos covered her face and body, almost none of which Sulika knew the story behind.
The barbarian was a nearly seven-foot-tall man with dark green skin, deep red eyes that were almost always set in a scowl, and short, but unkempt, brown hair. Unlike his companions, the barbarian didn’t wear armor. No, he stood proudly in nothing but a pair of leather sandals, dark jeans, and a black tank top that showed off the rippling muscles granted to him by his half-orcish heritage.
This was her team. Each and every one of them were masters of their class and had risen to levels most could only ever dream of reaching… And if the Oracle was to be believed, then in a few hours they would face the most vicious and terrifying threat of their careers. The Oracle said their vision ended before they could see the outcome of the encounter. Sulika could only pray to whatever God that would listen, that there would be a happy ending waiting for them on the other side.
Sulika showed a slight smile to her team and stepped around them. As she walked to her desk, she took a quick glance at the clock hanging on the wall – [7:38 A.M.] - the mission would begin in nine hours.
Sulika looked at her desk, or more specifically, at the absolute mountain of paperwork scattered haphazardly across her desk and exhaled another sigh. “Just nine more hours. If the mission is a success, then I’ll be too busy partying to worry about paperwork. And if it isn’t… Well, either way, it won’t be my problem anymore.”