The next morning found Agent, Ubet, Dr. Flagg and Beef waiting for their first interviewee in one of the South Squit Adventurers Guilds conference rooms. The Guild rented private rooms to members who made good use of the space for planning campaigns, dividing up treasure, replenishing their mana, and so forth. With some of the money hed obtained from the Professionals, Agent had sprung for one of the larger second-floor rooms. This one included some potted plants framing the door and window; a fireplace with an over-sized mantle; and a high arched ceiling from which hung a wrought iron chandelier that tapered to a spear-like point. After all, it was as important to make a good impression on a prospective new member as it was for her to make one on them. Agent had set up a long table with four chairs facing the single and lower seat on the opposite side for the interviewee.
Agent sat with his hands folded on the table. His hood was up and he looked dark and mysterious, as was his intention. Unfortunately, no one else seemed to be onboard with the game plan. Ubet was struggling to get comfortable on the booster seat perched on his chair. Dr. Flagg had drawn the curtains to look out the window, which spoiled the back lighting effect Agent had tried to create behind their seats. Beef was sitting in the corner smacking himself in the head with his club because it was fun.
"I dont see anything good coming of this," complained Dr. Flagg.
"You never do," sighed Agent. Because Beef was such an innocent, Dr. Flagg was a hopeless cynic. "It looks like weve got some good responses though." He nodded at the stack of papers at his elbow. "Now sit down and try to act like weve got a purpose here."
|AGENT: Now she looks like she knows what she's doing.DR. FLAGG: She also
looks like she's about to get eaten by a dracolich.
UBET: I dunno. Getting eaten by a dracolich doesn't seem like that big a deal. I mean, all you have to do is squeeze between the ribs and you're free.
DR. FLAGG: Assuming the dracolich doesn't chew its food first.
UBET: Hey, isn't that guy in front holding the sword from our logo?
The booster seat slipped off the chair and Ubet went down with a crash.
"Even if we dont," concluded Dr. Flagg while Ubet swore loudly. Nonetheless, he moved to draw the curtain and take his seat.
"Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!" The window exploded inward. Of the two women who crashed through the window, one was blonde, petite and dressed in tan animal skins, and the other was tall, raven-haired and dressed in a black leather outfit that looked as if it had come from Fredericks of Tristram.
"You must be our first applicant," said Agent. Knows how to make entrance, he wrote on his notepad.
"I am Zeena, the Warrior Princess," announced the taller woman, her blue eyes flashing with intensity. "And this is my little Zeeniebopper."
"Hi!" said the blonde cheerfully.
Agent shuffled through the stack of paper for a moment and found the one he wanted. "Lets see," he said skimming the page. "According to your character sheet, youre a level 17 fighter with 18/92 strength impressive and youve got a special weapon."
Zeena nodded and unhooked a metal disk from her belt. It was the size and shape of a dinner plate with the center punched out. Its outer edges were razor-sharp. "Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!" she shrieked and hurled the chakram. It embedded itself between the eyes of a stags head mounted over the fireplace at the far end of the room.
"Well, thats one hunting trophy that will never hurt anyone again," observed Ubet cautiously uncovering his ears.
Zeeniebopper scampered across the room to retrieve the chakram.
"I dont seem to have any paperwork on you sidekick," noted Agent. "What does Zeeniebopper do?"
"She bops my zeenie," answered Zeena with a completely straight face.
"Too much information!" shouted Ubet.
"Were ambiguously homosexual," volunteered Zeeniebopper from across the room. She had climbed up on the mantle and was trying to pry Zeenas weapon out of the stags head.
"Lord Windeschmere put you up to this, didnt he?" accused Dr. Flagg.
"Okay," said Agent. "The thing is, were really looking to fill just one spot."
Across the room, Zeeniebopper was perched on the mantle with one foot braced against the wall as she struggled to free the chakram.
"And weve already got a goofy sidekick," added Dr. Flagg jerking a thumb at Ubet.
"Hey!" protested Ubet.
At that moment, Zeeniebopper simultaneously yanked the chakram from the stags head and the stags head from the wall and fell backwards over Beef.
"Huh?" wondered Beef, startled out of his own private little Idaho. He looked around and, as soon as he determined the source of the racket was nothing that he could either eat or battle, went back to smacking himself in the head.
"Got it!" managed Zeeniebopper holding the chakram up in the air. The stags head had split completely open and dumped its sawdust brainpan all over her. A broken piece of antler had somehow entwined itself around her shoulder.
"Look," suggested Agent to Zeena and ignoring the carnage. "If you could maybe pony up 75 gold to cover our security deposit on the conference room, I can give you a good lead on someone whos looking for a champion with your " He glanced over at Zeeniebopper. " qualifications."
Zeena shrugged and counted out coins from her belt pouch to cover the damage. In exchange, Agent drew her a map to Olvylia and gave her Lord Windeschmeres name.
"Come, Zeeniebopper!" ordered Zeena. With that, she let out her battle cry one more time and leaped out the broken window.
"Its a living," shrugged Zeeniebopper and ran after her.
"Well, that was pointless," observed Dr. Flagg conjuring up a broom and sweeping the sawdust, stag bits, and broken glass into the fireplace.
"At least we got reimbursed for the damage to the room," said Ubet.
"And then some," added Agent. "The security deposit was only 40 gold."
"Nice one," said Ubet.
"What say we have a look at the next candidate?" suggested Agent cheerfully.
"If we must," allowed Dr. Flagg.
"Beef, will you show our next applicant in?" asked Agent.
Beef got up, lumbered to the door and then stopped. "Show her in what?" he wanted to know.
"Just go out and say well see the next applicant," Agent advised him gently.
Beef shrugged his massive shoulders and squeezed through the door. He returned moments later followed by a youngish woman with light brown hair and green eyes. She wore a shirt of elven chain mail, a dark green cloak, sturdy brown trousers and thick-soled leather boots. A scabbard containing a broad sword hung comfortably from her belt.
Beef wandered back to his corner and began an intensive hunt for nose goblins.
"Im Calserenessa," she introduced herself. Her voice was low and husky, yet also warm.
Ubet introduced the team to her while Agent flipped through some papers and nodded with approval when he found the right one. "According to this, youre an eighth-level ranger. Strong, intelligent, good wisdom score, and very charismatic."
"Huh! Well we certainly could do with that," noted Ubet.
"Oh, hey, check it out," said Agent showing the sheet to Dr. Flagg. "It says shes a princess."
"Pretty much in title only," admitted Calserenessa. "Im the third of three daughters, and its a small and distant kingdom. I trained to become a ranger as an alternative to being married off to a local noble. Ive been adventuring solo for four years and Ive completed six major quests and about thirty or forty side quests of varying difficulty and relevance."
"Shes competent, independent, a princess, and good-looking," Ubet told Agent. "They dont come any more demographically appealing than that."
"Thats definitely the sort of appeal were looking for," agreed Agent.
"Plus," added Calserenessa, "as the romantic interest, Id bring "
"Hold the scrying mirror," interrupted Dr. Flagg. "Did you say romantic interest?"
"Sure," replied the ranger. "Id be half of an attractive and likeable couple that would form the foundation of the team."
"And the other half of this foundation-forming couple would be?" prompted Dr. Flagg.
Calserenessa opened her mouth to speak and then stopped short, taking a closer look at her interviewers. "Hmm. That would be a problem," she admitted. "Youre not likeable enough, Beefs not handsome or smart enough, and Ubets not tall enough. Agent might be workable."
|AGENT: Nice armor.
UBET: How does she go to the bathroom in that getup?
DR. FLAGG: With a great deal of physical and emotional discomfort, I'd imagine.
AGENT: What do you make of that magic ring?
DR. FLAGG: I'm guessing it's either a +4 Ruby Ring of Fire Giants...
DR. FLAGG: ...Or something that came free with a 'Happy Meal.'
"Im workable?" asked Agent.
"Sure," replied Calserenessa. "Im pretty headstrong and you obviously have definite ideas of how things should work with the team. Wed probably bicker a lot to mask our growing attraction for one another. Its a classic."
"Now just a second," started Agent.
"Now theres the whole interracial thing," continued Calserenessa, "but frankly, I dont see it as a problem anymore these days. In fact, Id even go so far as to count it as a bonus. It would be even better if we were entirely different species; you could be, for example, a misunderstood half-orc with a gnarly, knobby forehead and we could develop a whole beauty and the beast theme."
"Are you nuts?" Agent wanted to know. "I dont even know you and youre ready to pick out your bridesmaids dresses. And since when is interracial a thing?"
The ranger frowned. "Werent you listening? I just said interracial wasnt a big thing. As for the crack about bridesmaids, I wont even dignify that with a response; youre not nearly so hot as you think you are. By the way, I think its good that were bickering already."
"We are not bickering!" shouted Agent.
"Are too. You could cut the sexual tension with a dull halberd," argued Calserenessa. "Now I think, instead of joining the team directly, it would be better for me to be introduced at some future point and then recur on an irregular basis to develop my mystique."
"Youre crazy," accused Agent rising to his feet.
"You think I should stay then?" She pondered the idea for a moment. "I dunno. Its sweet of you to want to get started right away, but I think it would be rushing things. We should give our romance time to develop as a subplot over time. Give ourselves a chance to resist the inevitable."
"Oh, Ill resist, all right."
"Good! Then were agreed," said Calserenessa.
"No were not!" shouted Agent.
"I have an idea," interjected Ubet. "I think it might be even more interesting plotwise if you were actually already betrothed when you encounter Agent. Maybe an arranged marriage for political reasons."
"Hmm," said the ranger. "So Id have to choose between Agent and whats good for my fathers kingdom. Go on."
"It would be even better if your fiancé had some redeeming characteristics. That way, wed set up an additional layer of conflict," Ubet continued. "Hed be someone you respect and maybe even love in a way, but not someone who is able to excite your passion like our guy."
"That," exclaimed Calserenessa," is brilliant!"
"I thought you might like it," said Ubet modestly.
"Of course, Ill need to go back home and set up the situation," she said. "Ill need to find a fiancé."
"Arrange the arranged marriage?" asked Agent cynically.
"Dont be jealous," chided Calserenessa gently.
"I am not jealous!" exploded Agent.
"Youre sweet," she smiled.
"I am not!" shouted Agent.
"Listen," Calserenessa told Ubet. "Ive got a ton of work to do. Youd better go ahead and keep interviewing applicants and Ill catch you guys in a few months."
"Sounds good," nodded Ubet. "Could you send the next one in on your way out?"
"No problem," she said casually waving them goodbye with the back of her hand.
They watched her leave. Ubet watched Agent watching her leave.
"What a nut!" breathed Agent. "I owe you one, Ubet."
"You like her," stated Ubet.
"What? I do not," protested Agent.
"Do too," continued Ubet. "You liiiiiike her."
"Now listen "
"Ahem," interrupted Dr. Flagg.
The next candidate stood at the door. She hesitated at the threshold for a moment and then squared her shoulders and strode in. "Make eye contact with each person," she whispered to herself, "and introduce yourself in a clear firm voice." She wore a suit of second-hand but well-cared-for leather armor and a plain green general-purpose traveling cloak. There was a short bow and a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulders and a short sword in a scabbard hung from her belt.
She stepped up to the table and made eye contact with Dr. Flagg, Agent, and Ubet (Beef seemed to be dozing off). Then she said, "Hi, Im Plucki." Her petite build was a dead give-away of her half-elven heritage. The pointed ears would have been another obvious indicator had they not been covered by her medium-length brown hair which also managed to be in her face despite her efforts to make herself presentable. Her delicate features and large eyes had come from her mothers side of the family, but her thick eyebrows and hulking musculature (at least compared to her full-blood elf friends) were straight out of her fathers human gene pool.
Agent jotted something on his notepad. "Right. Plucky," he said. "Whats your name?"
Plucki looked puzzled for a moment. "No, that is my name: Plucki." She twanged her bowstring for emphasis. "With an i."
"Oh," said Agent as understanding dawned. "I put plucky down as your primary characteristic." He shrugged. "All right then, Plucki with an i, what would you say is your primary characteristic?"
"Well, I guess Im a real people person," she said brightly and then, noting Dr. Flaggs eye-roll, added. "But I have a lot of experience as an adventurer. I scored a 92 in combat archery and a 90 in advanced swordplay in the Adventurers Guild training program. Also, I just got my Level 3 certificate in Woodland Magic and Ive been taking some side courses in general sorcery. I have some letters of recommendation from my instructors." She dug into her pouch, pulled out a fist full of scrolls and handed them to Agent. "Plus, I participated in a quest last spring. We rescued mayor of Havenhollows uncle from a marauding band of goblins."
"Goblins," repeated Ubet.
Plucki suddenly got the distinct feeling that she was not impressing her interviewers. "Their chief was a hobgoblin " Her prospects were fading fast. " and he was really mean," she added lamely.
Dr. Flagg hummed a few bars of How Green My Grass Grew."
Agent shot him an annoyed look despite generally agreeing with him. "Look, Plucki," he told her gently. "You seem to have a lot of promise, but were really looking for someone with a few more experience points under her belt."
"Weve undertaken some very dangerous missions," added Ubet. "Demon princes, dragons, unspeakable other-dimensional horrors and what not."
"But listen, you keep training hard and knocking off goblin chiefs and youll be ready for the big time before you know it," said Agent.
Pluckis sunny disposition clouded as she considered whether Agent was patronizing her or just trying to be nice. She gave him the benefit of the doubt, despite her disappointment.
"Well," she said taking her scrolls back. "Thanks for your time. Ill send the next candidate in."
"Beef liked Plucki," complained the giant barbarian after shed left.
"I did too, big guy, and thats why we wouldnt want to take a chance on her getting hurt hanging around with..." began Agent and then stopped as the next woman walked through the door.
"Solo!" cried Ubet, Agent, and Dr. Flagg recognizing her.
"Pretty friend Solo!" added Beef standing.
"Oh no," said the bard backing toward the still open door. "Not you guys."
"But youd be perfect!" cried Ubet. Agent and even Dr. Flagg nodded in agreement.
"Absolutely not," insisted Solo. "Id just be the sensible one and end up getting stuck with all the straight lines again. No thank you. Been there, done that, retrieved the magical artifact. Besides, Im only here for a cameo anyway."
"Sorry, boys, but its back to the tribe of bisexual Amazons for me," said Solo, and with that, she teleported the hell out of there.
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