The day dawned bright and clear over the city of Tephra. Wynona's heart soared a little, full of a glowing, optimism for the first time in a long time. Sure, the fiasco on Claybay meant that neither she, nor Loch or Trent, had succeeded in putting an end to Pelican — but Loch and Trent's failed mission was also the reason she had a provisional Slayer's license and was now on an actual, assigned, real mission.
As the sun crept up over the horizon, Wynona stood on the steps of their inn, watching how the long light caught on the eastward face of Magmathalos. The island's volcano soared up from the center of the island, its peak shattered and cracked. Wynona wondered when it had last erupted.
Tephra might be the next island over from Claybay, but Wynona had never been, so it was new to her just the same. As such, she had decided that fact alone made it more interesting than Claybay. Magmathalos made it even more interesting. But, most interesting of all, was that, according to Gwen, Tephra was the home of one of the last remaining sea monsters: Gelata.
Wynona shivered with excitement. She, Loch, and Trent had arrived on Tephra just yesterday. I'll explain the mission details tomorrow, Loch said as they checked into the inn. For now, get some rest.
Wynona turned the idea of a first mission over in her mind. She was a real (provisional) Slayer now. And she'd already taken on one sea monster. Not successfully, but that only made today more exciting. Gwen was here, ostensibly to oversee the hunt for a new sea monster — if their mission today involved hunting down Gelata, Wynona could really make her mark.
Her heart jumped a little as she pictured a triumphant arrival in Nacirema, she and Trent announcing to everyone that yes, Gelata was no more.
"Hey, I was looking for you."
Trent's voice surprised her. Wynona turned and he grinned, stepping through the door and out onto the steps.
"What're you doing out here?" he asked.
"Just thinking." She rocked up onto the balls of her feet. "We're definitely going to help Gwen go after Gelata today, right?"
"Well. I guess we have to see what Loch says."
"But why else would Gwen send us here? There aren't any other, like, major problems."
"Yeah." Trent shrugged. "I don't know. I did hear that there actually used to be lots of sea monsters around here."
"Yeah. Most of them got hunted down though, a few generations ago. Now there's just Gelata — and at least one more. Yura. I read that it lives underground."
"Has anyone ever seen it?" Wynona asked.
Trent shrugged. "I don't know. I only saw it mentioned in one book; it sounds like people mostly think it's a myth. But I read it lives under one of the nearby villages — the book said the steam vents on its back are what heat the hot springs."
Wynona's interest waned. At least people knew for sure that Gelata was real. She looked back to Magmathalos. An active volcano meant that even the breeze coming in from the sea had the faint smell of ash and sulfur. She wondered how the Tephrans kept their cities so clean in spite of this.
"There you two are," a voice up the smooth-stone path to the inn.
Loch, looking sharp in his black Lieutenant's uniform, approached them. He always looked so...neat, Wynona had learned. She didn't know how he wasn't hot in that black jacket. The sun wasn't even all the way up yet, and she'd left her own brown uniform jumper in her room to stay cool for a little bit.
"There you are," Trent said with a grin. "What time did you get up?"
"A few hours ago," Loch remarked, unironically. "I had to go talk with some of the locals."
"You don't need to worry about that," he said, all matter-of-fact. "What you should do is gear up and get your packs out of your rooms. We need to head out, it's a bit of a walk."
Trent rolled his eyes at what he often referred to as Loch's upright-uptightness. Wynona at least managed a salute for her commanding officer. Together, she and Trent made their way back into the cozy little inn to gather their belongings.
She didn't have much to collect. Just her uniform, her pack full of meager necessities, a useless magic gauntlet, and her sash from home. She got herself into her suit and tied the sash around her neck, its bright orange standing out in a splash of color against the NCO uniform brown.
The sash still smelled a little bit like home, which was jarring. She'd spent three weeks in the Slayers' basic training camp after enlisting. She had kind of hoped to shed any memory of home there, but... No such luck, apparently.
She frowned and headed back to the front of the inn, determined not to linger on memories of people who didn't care about her. She didn't need them — or anyone — anyway.
The sight of the city again helped lift her spirits. She waited by the door, watching the locals bustle past while Loch paid for their night's stay. By the time Trent emerged from his room, they were ready to go.
Loch led them through the bright city. Smooth stone streets gave way to harder, dirt-packed roads as they reached the city limits. Wynona wished that she knew more about Gelata — where it lived, how it slept, what it avoided and what drew it out of slumber. She vaguely regretted not investigating these things sooner. If she knew the answers, maybe they could slay Gelata more swiftly. She'd get a real license.
"All right," Loch said, as they reached a fork in the road. "This way."
He led them further inland.
"Do you know anyone on the island who knows much about Gelata?" Wynona asked as they trekked on.
"I'm sure some people in the Village of the Springs have some myths to share," Loch answered. "But we don't need to worry about that."
"Why not?" Trent asked.
"This mission doesn't have anything to do with Gelata — Gwen's handling that. We're just helping the innkeepers at the village maintain their hot springs. They have to clear out fire lizards every year." Just like that, a glowing, hopeful feeling in Wynona's heart snuffed right out. "Housekeeping?" she echoed.
"Yeah." Loch marched on, seeming somehow indifferent to the crestfallen looks on Wynona and Trent's faces.
"Oh." A scud of Magmathalos's smoke drifted through the clouds above them, grey as Wynona's mood.
After a moment, Loch glanced back at them both. "Hey," he said, his face softening with a bit of sympathy. "I know it's not the most exciting mission, but it's good for a brand new Slayer. You're still on a provisional license and HQ doesn't want you doing anything too challenging just yet. Helping out in the village'll ease you into things — and it'll prove to the higher ups that you really can do this job." Loch grinned a bit. "Being a Slayer isn't all glamor and glory, Wyn. Unfortunately."
Easy for him to say. While she was stuck in the very unglamorous and inglorious routine of basic training, Loch was off on an actual mission. Somewhere beyond the Spires, probably. Out in the real world, doing real things. Wynona's mouth filled with a bitter taste.
"It's pretty cool, honestly," Trent piped up. "I read that most off-islanders aren't even allowed to visit the Village of the Springs. Even other Tephrans aren't really welcome. The village only invites a few Slayers a year in to help clear out fire lizards. We're lucky! Plus, maybe we'll hear about Yura."
His optimism grated. Wynona fought not to make a face.
"The job pays well," Loch said, plainly. "And don't bother anyone about Yura — no one even knows if that sea monster is real."
Trent wrinkled his nose at his brother, as if to suggest that Loch didn't know how to have any fun. Wynona had to agree, even if her feeling was biased by the sour sting of jealousy. It wasn't fair that they had all gotten sent on what seemed, essentially, to be a housekeeping quest. Hadn't she already proven she could at least do something more challenging? Yes, she hadn't killed Pelican, but she had saved Loch and Trent's lives! Plus, she could use magic all on her own. It just felt insulting — Loch was an experienced hunter and she had raw skill. They deserved better, in her opinion.
She frowned as they marched on, the day growing hotter the farther inland they went. The longer they walked, the more Tephra lost its magic in Wynona's eyes. They had to make their way around rivers of magma, so hot it hurt to breathe as they passed. Nothing interesting happened in this burnt up place, Wynona was sure of that, no matter what Trent said.
Or — at least she was sure until they reached the village. The sight of the Village of the Springs made her certainty waver. Its high walls glittered in the sunshine; a feat of architecture wrought from shimmering volcanic glass. Silvery plumes of steam spilled over the walls from within, and curled in great billows at the outer base of the walls. It had a dreamy effect, making the whole town look like it was rising out of a cloud of mist. Wynona gritted her teeth, deciding that there had to be a place that were at least as impressive as this somewhere beyond the Spires.
"Wow," Trent breathed.
"Yeah," Wynona agreed, in spite of herself.
Loch smirked a little bit and led them to the gates.