Once upon a time, in the days when the stars shone far fewer in the sky than they do now…
The gods of light and order and destiny vied with the gods of darkness and chaos and chance to see who would control the world. This struggle took place, not in battle, but with a roll of the dice.
Or rather, many, many rolls. Again and again and again they rolled the dice.
And there were victories, and there were defeats, but there was no resolution.
At long last, the gods tired of dice. Thereupon they created many creatures to be their playing pieces and a world in which to play. Humans and elves and dwarves and lizardmen, goblins and ogres and trolls and demons.
At times they adventure, sometimes gaining victory, other times suffering defeat. They find treasure, become happy, and in the end, they die.
Into this world, there appeared one particular adventurer.
He will not save the world.
He will not even change anything.
After all, he is just another pawn, such as you might find anywhere…
The brutal fight over, he ground his boot into slain goblin’s cadaver.
He was stained crimson with the monster’s blood, from his grimy steel helm and leather armor to the mail made of chain-linked metal rings that covered his entire body.
A small, battered shield was fastened to his left arm, and in one hand, he held a brightly burning torch.
Heel braced against the creature’s corpse, he reached down with his free hand and casually withdrew his sword from its skull. It was a cheap-looking blade, its length poorly conceived, and now it was drenched in the goblin’s brains.
Lying on the ground, an arrow in her shoulder, the young girl’s thin frame shook with fear. Her sweet, classically lovely face framed by long hair almost a translucent gold was scrunched up into a mess of tears and sweat.
Her slim arms, her feet—her whole gorgeous body was clad in the vestments of a priestess. The sounding staff she clutched jangled, the rings hanging on it striking one another in time with the quaking of her hands.
Who was this man before her?
So strange was his appearance, the aura that cloaked him, that she imagined he might be a goblin himself—or perhaps something far worse, something she had no knowledge of yet.
“Wh-who are you…?” she asked, pushing down her terror and pain.
After a pause, the man answered, “Goblin Slayer.”
A killer. Not of dragons or vampires, but the lowliest of monsters: goblins.
Normally, the name might have seemed comically simple. But to Priestess, at that moment, it was anything but funny.
You’ve heard this one before.
The day an orphan raised in the Temple turns fifteen, they become an adult and must choose their path: Will they remain in the Temple as a servant of the goddess, or will they leave and try to make their way in the greater world?
Priestess had chosen the latter, and a visit to the Adventurers Guild was how she had chosen to do it.
The Adventurers Guild—created to support those courageous questing souls—was first formed, so it was said, by a handful of people who met one another in a bar. Unlike other workers’ associations, the Adventurers Guild was less a labor union than an employment agency. In the ongoing war between the monsters and “those who have language,” adventurers were like mercenaries. No one would tolerate the existence of armed toughs if they were not managed carefully.
Priestess stopped in her tracks as the vast branch office that stood directly inside the town gates took her breath away. When she entered the lobby, she was taken aback to find it bustling with adventurers, even though it was still morning.
These buildings boasted large inns and taverns—usually together—as well as a business office, all in one. Really, this kind of clamor was the natural result of providing these three services in one place.
For every ordinary human in plate armor, there was an elven mage with staff and mantle. Here there was a bearded, ax-wielding dwarf; there, one of the little meadow-dwelling folk known as rheas. Priestess wound her way through the crowd, past males and females of every race and age imaginable carrying every possible type of weapon, toward Guild Girl. The line snaked on and on, full of people who had come to take on or lodge a quest or to file a report.
A spear-wielding adventurer was chatting with one covered in heavy armor.
“And? How was the manticore in the pass?”
“It wasn’t much. If you want a big one, I think you’d better try the ruins or something.”
“Fair enough, but you’re never gonna put food on the table that way.”
“Hey, I’ve heard there’s an evil spirit making trouble up near the Capital. Whoever goes over there might be in for a nice payday, hey?”
“Maybe I could handle it, if it’s just some low-level demon…”
Priestess was brought up short no less than three times listening to their casual conversation, and each time she pulled her sounding staff close to herself to steel her resolve.
“…Soon I will also…!”
She had no illusions that an adventurer’s lot was an easy one. Priestess had seen firsthand the wounded return from the dungeon, coming to the Temple, begging for a healing miracle. And healing such people was precisely the creed of the Earth Mother.
How could she shrink away, then, from putting herself in danger to do as she had been taught? She was an orphan, and the Temple had saved her. And now it was her turn to repay that debt…
“Yes, what brings you here today?”
The line had steadily moved along while Priestess stood lost in thought, and now it was her turn.
Wearing a gentle expression, Guild Girl attending her was a girl, still young, but older than Priestess. Her immaculate outfit was impeccably kept, her light brown hair woven into braids. A quick glance around the hall left no doubt the guild front desk would be a demanding place to work. That the receptionist showed none of the strained demeanor all too common among professional young women was perhaps a sign of how well she knew her job.
Priestess felt a bit of her nervousness ebb. She swallowed and spoke up.
“Uh, I…I want to be an…an adventurer.”
“Is that…right?” Guild Girl asked, her sweet expression momentarily slipping as she hesitated briefly, seemingly at a loss for words. Priestess felt the receptionist’s eyes moving from her face down her body, and strangely embarrassed, she nodded.
The feeling faded as Guild Girl reassumed a smile and said, “I see. Can you read and write?”
“Um, yes, a little. I learned at the Temple…”
“Then fill this out, please. If there’s anything you don’t understand, just ask.”
It was an Adventure Sheet. Gold letters paraded across the light brown vellum.
Name, sex, age, class, hair color, eye color, body type, skills, spells, miracles… Such simple information. So simple it almost didn’t seem right.
“Oh,” Guild Girl broke in, “you can leave the ‘Abilities’ and ‘Adventure History’ spots blank. The guild will fill those in later.”
“Y-yes, ma’am.” Priestess nodded, and then with a quivering hand, she picked up a pen, dipped it in an inkpot, and began writing in precise letters.
She handed the finished sheet to Guild Girl, who looked it over with a nod, then took a silver stylus and carved a series of flowing letters into a white porcelain tile. She passed the tile to Priestess, who discovered it bore the same information as her Adventure Sheet in closely spaced letters.
“This will serve as your identification. We call it your ‘Status.’ Although,” she added teasingly, “it doesn’t say anything we can’t figure out by looking at you.” Then she calmly told the blinking Priestess, “It will be used to corroborate your identity if anything happens to you, so try not to lose it.”
If anything happens?
For a second, Priestess was caught off guard by Guild Girl’s businesslike tone, but it didn’t take her long to connect the dots. The only time they might need to “corroborate your identity” was when you’d been murdered so horrifically no one could tell who you were.
“Yes, ma’am,” Priestess said, and she wished her voice would stop shaking. “But is it really this easy to become an adventurer…?”
“To become one, yes.”
The other girl’s expression was unreadable. Was she worried or perhaps resigned? Priestess couldn’t tell.
“It’s harder to move up the ranks. That’s based on kills, how much good you’ve done, and personality tests.”
“Sometimes you get the I’m-strong-enough-to-do-it-all-by-myself types.”
Then, under her breath, she added, “But there are all kinds of eccentrics out there.” And when she said it, for an instant her demeanor changed. Softened into a warm, wistful smile.
Oh, Priestess thought, I didn’t realize she could smile like that.
Guild Girl noticed Priestess watching her and hastily cleared her throat. “Quests are posted over there.” She indicated a corkboard that covered almost an entire wall. “Choose ones that are appropriate to your level, of course.”
Pickings were slim, since the huge crowd of adventurers had been going over the board all morning. But the Guild wouldn’t have a board that size if they didn’t need it.
“Personally,” the receptionist said, “I’d recommend getting your feet wet by cleaning the sewers. No pun intended.”
“Cleaning the sewers? I thought adventurers fought monsters…?”
“There’s honor in hunting giant rats, too. And you’ll be doing some real good in the world.” She added under her breath, “Newcomers with a little experience could move on to goblins, I guess,” and there was that wordless look again.
“Well, that’s it for registration. Happy hunting!”
“Oh, th-thank you.” Priestess ducked her head in gratitude and left the front desk. She hung the porcelain tablet around her neck and let out a breath she had been holding. She was a registered adventurer. It was just that simple.
But what am I supposed to do now?
Priestess carried only her staff (the symbol of her office), a bag with a change of clothes, and a few coins.
She had heard the second floor of the Guild building was aimed at low-level adventurers. Maybe she should start by reserving a room, then see what kinds of quests were available…
“Hey, wanna go adventuring with us?”
The unexpected invitation came from a young man with a sword at his hip and a shiny breastplate tied to his chest. Like Priestess, he had a brand-new porcelain tablet around his neck.
The tablets came in ten varieties indicating the rank of the wearer, from platinum at the top to the porcelain of newly minted adventurers at the very bottom.
“You’re a priestess, right?”
“Um, yes. Yes…I am.”
“Perfect! Exactly what my party needs.”
Just past the young swordsman, she could now see two other girls. One wore a martial artist’s uniform, her hair in a bundle and a confident look in her eye, while the other had a staff and glasses, wearing a cool gaze.
A fighter and a wizard, she guessed.
Warrior followed her glance and repeated, “My party,” with a nod. “We’re on an urgent quest, but I’d like at least one more person. How about you?”
“What do you mean, ‘urgent’…?”
“We’re gonna get rid of some goblins!”
Goblins. Goblins had been living in the caves near town since time immemorial, or so it was said. They were the weakest of the monsters, and sheer numbers were the only thing acting in their favor.
They stood about as tall as a child, with strength and wits to match. All that distinguished them from a small human was their ability to see in the dark. They did all the usual monster things—threaten people, terrorize villages, kidnap maidens.
They were weak, yes, but it was better to let sleeping goblins lie.
The villagers had ignored the goblins at first…but then things changed. First, the crops they had stored up for winter disappeared, down to the last seed. The enraged townspeople mended the fences, then set patrols outside with torches in hand.
The goblins promptly slipped past them.
They stole the sheep, along with the shepherd’s daughter and some womenfolk who came out to see what all the fuss was about.
The villagers were quickly running out of options. They marshaled their meager resources and went to the Guild—the Adventurers Guild, where the adventurers gathered. Surely, posting a quest would bring someone to help.
Priestess stood with a finger to her lips, lost in thought as Warrior reeled off his explanation.
A good old-fashioned goblin hunt for her first adventure. Lots of people had done that. And she hadn’t even needed to find the adventure—the adventure had found her. It had to be fate.
She had never imagined she could do it all herself, anyway. Soloing as a cleric was suicide. She was going to need a party eventually. She was very worried about joining up with total strangers—but someone who had extended an invitation to her wasn’t quite a total stranger, was he? True, no boy had ever invited her to anything before, but there were two other girls there.
So it would be fine…right?
“All right, then. If you’ll have me.”
She replied with a firm nod, and Warrior gave a whoop.
“Really?! Awesome! Now, who’s ready to go on an adventure?!”
“What, just the four of you?” Guild Girl broke in. “I’m sure if you wait a while, some other adventurers will show up…”
It didn’t seem to bother Warrior that Guild Girl herself had felt the need to comment. “It’s just some goblins. I’m sure four people is plenty.” He turned to his companions. “Right?” He sounded so sure, a cheerful smile on his face. Then he turned back to Guild Girl. “Those captured maidens are waiting to be rescued. There’s no time to lose!”
Seeing this, the young worker’s face settled back into that unreadable expression while a profound and strange unease took hold deep in Priestess’s heart.
The torch flickered dishearteningly in the putrid breeze.
The midday sun was blotted out by the darkness that filled the cave. At the opening, it was hard to see, and farther in, it was almost black.
The shadows of the jutting rough-hewn rocks danced in time with the bobbing flame, sliding along the walls like monsters in a fresco.
Three girls and one boy, covered in whatever poor pieces of armor they could find. In spotty formation, they picked their way nervously through the thick darkness. Warrior went on point, holding the torch. Their Fighter was behind him. Wizard held the rear guard. And sandwiched in between the martial artist and the magician, third in line, was the young woman in priestess’s robes, clutching her sounding staff anxiously as she walked.
It was Wizard who had suggested they travel in a line. So long as there were no branching paths, they wouldn’t have to worry about an attack from behind. And if the adventurers in front held fast, those behind would be safe, able to provide support from the back ranks. That was the plan, anyway.
“I-is this really a good idea? Jumping right in?” Priestess’s murmur hardly sounded confident. If anything, she sounded considerably more concerned than she had before they’d entered the cave. “I mean, we don’t know anything about these goblins.”
“Sheesh, what a worrywart. I guess that’s just what you can expect from a priestess.” Warrior’s voice, a bit too bold in the emptiness of the cave, echoed until it disappeared. “Even kids aren’t afraid of goblins. Heck, I helped drive some out of my village once.”
“Oh, stop,” Fighter said. “Killing a few goblins is nothing special. You’re embarrassing yourself. And,” she added in a disagreeable but low voice, “you didn’t even kill them.”
“I didn’t say I did,” Warrior responded with a pout.
Fighter gave an annoyed but somehow affectionate sigh. “They might chop this loser into lunch meat, but I’ll send ’em flying. So don’t worry.”
“Loser? That hurts!” The torchlight shone on Warrior’s dejected face, but the next moment, he was gleefully hoisting his sword. “Hey, the four of us, we could handle a dragon if we had to!”
“My, aren’t we eager?” Wizard muttered, causing Fighter to giggle. The group’s echoing voices mingled in the cavern.
Priestess kept silent, as if afraid talking would attract something from the darkness.
“But I do hope to hunt a dragon someday,” Wizard said. “Don’t you?” Priestess’s wordless smile seemed to agree with Wizard and the nodding Warrior. But the darkness hid an expression as ambiguous as Guild Girl’s.
Do we really? she asked herself, but she dared not voice her doubts, even as the unease built to a storm within her.
“The four of us could…,” he’d said, but how could he so completely trust people he’d hardly known two whole days? Priestess knew these weren’t bad people, but…
“Are you sure we shouldn’t have prepared a little more?” she pressed. “We don’t even have any p-p…potions.”
“We don’t have any money, either. Or time to shop, for that matter,” Warrior answered with bravado, paying no heed to the tremble in Priestess’s voice. “I’m worried about those kidnapped girls… And anyway, if one of us gets hurt, you can just heal us, right?”
“It’s true I have the miracles of healing and light…but…”
“Then we’ll be fine!”
No one could have heard Priestess say thickly, “But I can only use them three times…”
“It’s great you’re so confident and all,” Fighter said, “but are you sure we won’t get lost?”
“It’s one long tunnel. How could we possibly get lost?”
“I don’t know about that. You get so carried away. I can’t take my eyes off you for two seconds!”
“Look who’s talking…”
Fighter and Warrior, who came from the same hometown, slipped into one of the friendly arguments they had shared since the start of the journey.
Priestess, trailing behind them, clung to her staff with both hands and repeated the name of the Earth Mother under her breath.
“Please, see us safely through this…”
She prayed so softly her words didn’t even echo, only dropping into the darkness and disappearing.
Perhaps the Earth Mother heard her prayer, or perhaps Priestess had simply been exceptionally attentive as she said the words.
“Come on, hurry up. Keep up the line,” Wizard chided her.
“Oh, right, sorry…”