That afternoon, the quest board finally had a job posted.
In a city, the job tokens might’ve been metal, stamped with the the deed to be done in the metal corresponding with the skill of the task to be tackled: Brass for an Apprentice, iron for Heroes, and steel for the near-impossible quests that required a Master.
In backwaters like the village of Baronsfield, though, wood and paint would do just fine.
Impatiently, Cara pushed her bangs back and squinted at the wooden circle resting at the bottom of the peg board.
Red paint meant the same as a brass token in the city, representing a job that Apprentices could apply for with their masters’ blessings.
If token had been painted blue or white, requesting a true Hero or Master, then Cara couldn’t touch it. No one would risk paying the health fees and death price for an unsponsored Apprentice to tackle monsters that risky, even if she knew she could handle them.
(Often, she’d seen folks—terrified half out of their minds and desperate for relief—post jobs asking for Heroes when the greenest Apprentice could have done it.)
But a red token… An Apprentice token…
That was another story.
Cara squatted down on her heels, fingering the job token that hung from the bent-nail peg. A crude chicken head was painted in fading black ink, its head feathers pointed and rigid.
The beak had… Cara peered closer.
Wait, were those fangs drawn on the bird’s head?! She smothered a chuckle.
The pointed lines protruding from the bird’s beak were fresh, almost glistening. Whoever had posted this job had personally added that cosmetic touch to the cockatrice token.
Cockatrices had no fangs, of course, but she couldn’t really blame the job poster for adding them. Folks could image all sorts of things to make a monster seem bigger than it was, especially after being locked in the cockatrice’s hypnotizing stare.
And really, who wanted to be caught asking for help killing what were basically feral chickens?
Fangs made the whole thing seem much more menacing, for those who didn’t know better.
She shifted her gaze to the second token, which held the mark of the job poster. Most folk hereabouts were illiterate, so they created personal symbols to identify themselves.
That was all to the good, anyway, since Cara barely knew enough words to read her own name.
The poster’s token was metal, unlike the job token, and hammered with an anvil and horseshoe.
That was the mark of Aaron, the local blacksmith.
If the cockatrice were enough of a problem that he was actually willing to pay for the job to be done, then it was going to be a trial and a half compared to what she’d done freelancing so far.
He might not even take her on, considering her credentials… or, rather, her lack of any real credentials to speak of.
She squared her shoulders. There was no harm in asking, after all. The worst he could say was no, and perhaps he felt like saving a bit of cash by doing a bit of black dealing.
Cara dropped her own token in the empty column beside the blacksmith’s—a swirl of scribble that the scribe who designed it for her said was the first letter of her name—to show any other prospective Heroes that she was taking the job on, before turning away down the path toward the forge.
Leaves and twigs crunched beneath her leather boots as she walked to the village in the valley. Branches peaked through the last leaves, a darker brown behind light orange. The sky had never seemed so blue. It seemed to glow above the trees.
Cara shivered a bit, pulling the hood of her russet cloak up to cover her head. The sky may scream summer, but the wind whispered of the cold nights and killing frost to come.
She climbed to the top of a small rise. The tiny village spread out below her, quaint and quiet. Everyone just called it the village, though the tax collectors insisted on calling the place Baronsfield.
Cara supposed it would make their jobs difficult if every small town in the forest was called “Village.” No one bothered with names overly much here.
It sat at the edge of a small running stream, which fed the tiny miller’s wheel and the ditches the farmers had dug to water their plants.
The stream eventually became a river, which fed the great marshes and their monsters some miles beyond. Still, the village houses were far enough away that the marshland posed little threat to the families who made their living here, at the edge of civilization.
Well, rarely interfered. The cockatrice must’ve come from someplace, and Cara would bet gold (if she had it) that they’d fluttered up from the marsh.
The local forests were regularly swept for wild eggs that had turned, after all, but trying to map out the marshes was a fast way to end up stuck to your hips in mud and ruin your best boots to boot.
The blacksmith’s forge was on the outer edge of the village, close to the untamed forest and all that lovely wood ready for burning into charcoal. Smoke from his fire belched from the chimney before the wind tore it to shreds.
As Cara approached, the bright ting! of hammer on cooling metal pounded out a rhythmic tattoo.
Drat. Aaron was working. The blacksmith despised interruptions of any sort, particularly those asking for favors instead of offering to give him money for work.
But the trees had begun to pick up streaks of amber and gold, and her shadow stretched impossibly long. Soon, the inn would open for the evening meal, and she’d be needed there again.
If she wanted the job, she’d have to ask now, before another Hero saw the notice on the board and approached Aaron.
Any chance was better than no chance, Cara decided, even if that chance involved poking a soot-covered bear with a hammer. She adjusted the small sword hilt on her hip, steadied her breath, and strode through the door into the forge—
—and promptly tripped over a pile of loose rods that had fallen over the threshold.
Dumped by her previous Master in a backwater village, failed Apprentice Hero Cara still dreams of becoming a full-fledged Hero: A professional slayer who protects the innocent from the ravenging hordes of monsters which roam the kingdom of Acadia.
When Cara rescues a naive Acolyte from assassination, she earns a second chance to prove her worth to the Heroes Guild... if she can deliver Dayton in one piece.
What starts out as a simple protection quest quickly unravels into a desperate fight for survival -- for herself, for the Guild, and for the very soul of Acadia.
You can now read Questing: A Failed Tale on other platforms, such as Royal Road, Scribble Hub, and Webnovel -- but Tapas readers are ~2 weeks' ahead :D