The Oracle awakened from another one of their visions. Having the power to glimpse into the future is a constant burden that needs to be filtered and controlled. Not everything needs to be predicted, nor is every choice potentially relevant. But this was a vision the Oracle had long yearned for. Now that the foresight had finally occurred, they didn't know if they were ready to deal with its consequences.
The Oracle sat with their elbows resting on their knees, massaging their temples with their fingers. Their head didn't ache; it was merely an act to try and ward off the negative thoughts. Despite their outward confidence, internally they always feared not being able to set their plan into motion. The fact that nobody knew they possessed the power of precognition didn't help either.
The future is not predetermined, as many believe. Every action, no matter how small, can drastically change the events that are yet to come. That's why the Oracle suffers from the pressure: only they can determine what will happen.
The Oracle stood up and began to walk, lost in thought. What if they simply gave up? What if they revealed themselves to the world as the Oracle? What if they confided in a trusted individual? With each of these thoughts, the consequences of each action materialized in their mind. None of them were favorable.
The only option was to stick to the original plan. The Oracle let out a deep sigh. The gears begin to turn.
The sunlight streamed through the window, accompanied by a gentle breeze. The white curtains swayed silently, engaging in a subtle dance. Orkan lay on his bed, unsure if he was pretending or attempting to go back to sleep. The day he had been waiting for had finally arrived. Or was it the day he feared? He wasn't entirely certain. Perhaps it was a mixture of both. Any minute now, Aestus would arrive to call on him. Sometimes his excitement exhausted him, but Aestus was a good friend. The only one who hadn't abandoned him when Orkan's Class manifested.
Orkan tossed and turned in bed, trying not to dwell on it. It's not like he could do anything about it. He had always been an independent man who didn't care about other people's opinions. Not even his family's, if he could still call them that. The reality was that deep down, Orkan didn't know if he would be able to handle the changes, thus proving what everyone said.
"What's use is a Rogue?"
"When has stealing been considered a skill?"
"What will they say when they discover your Class?"
Orkan heard these phrases echoing in his mind, practically every day. And he feared he wouldn't be able to prove them wrong. But, from an outsider's perspective, no one would say these were his thoughts. Orkan was, at least outwardly, the typical Rogue. Tall, slender, agile, and very cocky and sarcastic. His slightly wavy blond hair, parted in the middle, matched his blue, almost green eyes. His swiftness in action, however, didn't always align with his thinking, which could use a bit more agility.
The narrow bed at the inn was comfortable, allowing for refreshing sleep, but not quite enough. It was the only place he could afford since he had been kicked out of his house two years ago without even a cracked crystal. But now everything was going to change. Orkan would be able to quit his job at the dairy and pursue his dream.
"Hey, lazybones! Time to wake up," Aestus suddenly shouted as he arrived at the window of the room.
Orkan jumped on the bed, almost instantly standing upright. He hadn't even fully adjusted to his extraordinary agility yet, as he rarely used his abilities in everyday life. Aestus looked at his friend, chuckling slightly but also impressed. He hoped Orkan would be ready, but knew it wouldn't be the case. On the contrary, Aestus had been ready for hours, dressed in his snug leather armor and having sharpened his sword as best he could.
Aestus couldn't hide his excitement upon discovering that he was a Knight. He had suspected that that would be his Class since his strength had suddenly increased without much explanation when he was a teenager. In the world of Kairos, people develop physical characteristics and abilities according to their Class, which unfortunately cannot be chosen. Nobody knows exactly what determines a person's Class, whether it's something genetic, dependent on their actions during childhood, influenced by parental upbringing, or a higher force at work. Thus, Knights possess more strength and even have skin more resistant to injuries, while Rogues are extremely agile with keen perception.
There is a multitude of different Classes in Kairos, ranging from magic-based ones, like Light Mages and Dark Wizards, to those specialized in physical combat, like Fighters and Guardians. There are also people who never develop a Class throughout their lives (pejoratively called "Untouched"). Some prefer to live their lives normally, not paying much attention to their Classes, while others dedicate themselves body and soul, believing they are responding to a call of destiny. Aestus belonged to the latter group.
"I'm awake, Aestus," Orkan complained. "I'm just not as hyperactive as you. Calm down. I'll get changed, and then we can go."
Aestus gripped the window frame, barely containing his excitement. Orkan noticed that his friend was getting stronger every day, which perfectly complemented his archetype as the popular guy. Aestus always kept his curly hair neatly cut, shaved on the sides. His teeth were straight and white, creating a beautiful contrast against his very dark skin. He turned away from the window, giving Orkan some privacy.
Orkan changed his clothes, putting on a pair of stretchable trousers and his characteristic hooded shirt. He also secured his daggers in their leather sheaths, attaching them to his belt. After glancing at himself in the mirror and being startled by the deeper-than-usual dark circles under his eyes, Orkan leaped out of the window, joining Aestus.
"Orkan, I know you're really anxious about this day," Aestus said, putting his arm around his friend's back, "even if you won't admit it. But that's okay, no problem. I'm excited for both of us! Do you realize we're finally old enough to get the Hunter's license? Well... old enough and with enough crystals, right?"
"If you didn't spend all your savings on new equipment, we would have gotten that license months ago," Orkan teased. "Seems like you have a need to buy a new armor every week."
"It's not my fault I'm in my second growth phase! The armors were simply becoming too small. The life of a Knight isn't easy," Aestus said, eyes closed, putting on a show.
Orkan pushed Aestus, rolling his eyes but letting out a discreet laugh. The friends walked through the small village of Comanse where they had lived since birth. Comanse was a little-known town primarily focused on grain cultivation and animal husbandry. The mild climate, flat terrain, and relatively frequent light rains contributed to a productive agriculture and robust livestock. The abundance of Earth Crystals in the region, enriching the soil, was also essential for the success of the farmers.
The two young men strolled through the village streets, conversing, passing by the small cozy houses with the scent of freshly baked bread in the air. The day was truly beautiful, with warm sunshine and a constant refreshing breeze. Aestus' excitement was truly contagious, making Orkan feel more energized. The villagers greeted Aestus enthusiastically, waving with a smile on their faces. That smile quickly faded upon spotting Orkan, not very subtly.
"What do you think our first hunt will be?" Aestus asked, paying no attention to the change in the villagers' expressions. "I think it'll be a flaming stag. Or maybe a griffin, can you imagine? No, I think that's too much for us right now. A flaming stag is still the best bet; I've heard some rumors that one's been roaming the region."
"I think we can handle one of those. Man, it's going to be easy money," Orkan said, rubbing his hands together with a gleam in his eye.
"Do flaming stags produce non-elemental crystals along with the fire ones?"
Orkan shrugged, raising his hands. Maybe neither of them was truly as ready to be Hunters as they thought. In Kairos, there are basically two types of animals in nature: natives and Creatures. Creatures are magical animals that appear from time to time in the world. Unlike natives, these animals don't have a normal life cycle of growth, reproduction, and aging. Creatures can be summoned through magic and abilities, but their main origin is portals that randomly open at various points on the planet. Once a year, there is a significant influx of these Creatures during an event called the Incursion, where multiple portals open simultaneously, drastically increasing the number of Creatures in the world and, consequently, the work of the Hunters.
The Creatures, when defeated in combat, simply dissipate into the air, leaving behind some crystals that can be of different elements, such as fire, water, wind, earth, electricity, light, darkness, and nature. There are also those without elemental charge, containing only raw energy within them. These crystals greatly assist the lives of the inhabitants of Kairos, as they help with daily tasks such as heating homes, powering electrical devices, and doing laundry. Thus, it can be said that crystals drive the economy in general and are widely used as currency throughout the planet.
"Just the thought that we'll be able to help so many people, experience new emotions, embark on adventures, discover new places... And still earn crystals while doing it!" Aestus said, counting on his fingers to emphasize his point.
Orkan gave his friend an incredulous look, then burst into laughter.
"Man, do you realize that I'm only doing this for the money, right?" Orkan retorted, still chuckling. "Adventure and excitement come second. Helping others is overrated."
"You say that just to maintain the image that you don't care about anything. You can fool everyone, but not me," Aestus said, with a slight tone of mockery. He knew his friend well.
The young men continued their conversation as they walked, discussing what they would do with the crystals they would collect, which Creatures they might be hired to defeat, and other random topics. In no time, they arrived at the Hunters' Guild. The Guild is an organization that spans the entire extent of Kairos, serving all races and cities, standardizing the essential work of the Hunters. The two friends entered through the guild's large doors, heading straight to the reception counter.
The interior of the Guild had a welcoming and youthful atmosphere, with a few tables in one corner near a bar. In the other corner was the reception counter, close to the office. Upstairs, there were rooms available for Hunters from out of town who were on missions far from their own city. Leading this unit of the Guild was Barthos, a very tall Knight with a booming voice and a well-groomed voluminous beard. Barthos had already lived through his prime, having been gravely injured during a hunt and deciding it was better to retire and take care of the Guild. He highly valued the work of the Hunters and carried out his duties with enthusiasm, always trying to attract new Hunters.
"Aestus, Orkan! You two finally showed up!" Barthos bellowed, spreading his arms wide. His voice could be heard throughout the building. "So, today is the big day?"
The two boys timidly confirmed. Barthos was an intimidating figure, despite being very friendly.
"We're ready to help the people of Comanse!" Aestus exclaimed, slamming his hand on the counter.
"And make some money," Orkan added, in a low voice.
"That's the spirit!" Barthos replied proudly, putting his hands on his hips. Orkan suspected he didn't hear his comment. "Did you bring money for the registration fee and your Materializers?"
Both of them answered affirmatively, placing a heavy bag of non-elemental crystals on the counter. Barthos began feeding the contents of the bags into a machine, measuring the energy value of each crystal and adding up the total afterward.
"I'm really glad to see young people becoming Hunters, you know?" Barthos said while evaluating the crystals. "The number of Hunters in Comanse has decreased significantly since they installed that mine up north. I don't understand it, but I don't judge either. Being a Hunter is risky, while working in the mines is much safer."
"But it's so boring. I tried working there for a while, but I couldn't handle it." Aestus spoke, impatiently tapping his fingers on the counter.
Barthos finished the task and turned to Aestus, saying, "I have to agree with you, my fellow Knight. That Baruc fellow changed our lives, but at what cost?"
Baruc was a powerful businessman who discovered and mastered the science of harnessing the power of crystals. The extraction of natural crystal deposits became extremely profitable, driving this market and exponentially increasing the number of mines scattered across the planet. As a result, obtaining crystals through the old-fashioned way of hunting Creatures has become increasingly scarce, primarily pursued by adventure enthusiasts.
Barthos handed the Hunter badges to the two newcomers, along with their Materializers, which were magical glove-like devices.
"I assume you know how to use the Materializer, at least in theory, right?" Barthos asked. Aestus and Orkan nodded timidly. "You'll get the hang of it with time. Just remember to enchant your weapons properly. Now, onto the important part: which contract will be your first?"
With enthusiasm, Barthos pointed to a notice board attached to the wall next to the counter. It displayed various notes and papers indicating available services for Hunters. Aestus's eyes went straight to a request from a farmer begging for help to deal with a flaming deer that was destroying his crops.
"This one!" Aestus exclaimed, pointing to the flyer, with a smile on his face and anticipation shining in his eyes. Orkan made a confirming sound, with a brave expression on his face.
Barthos burst into a loud laughter, surprising the two young men. He stroked his beard with one hand, composing himself, and explained:
"Well, this is a level three hunt. You need to start slowly, with something simpler. The level one requests are here," Barthos pointed to the top left corner of the board. "There are several residents asking for help. You can choose."
Orkan looked at the indicated requests, indignant, quickly reading through them.
"Killing giant flies? Gathering medicinal herbs? Searching for a lost kitten?! This isn't a job for a Hunter!"