Night fell over the desolate wasteland of Richterra, where nothing grew apart from fiercely sharp rock spires which could impale anything or anyone that tried to navigate them by climbing.

Night fell, but the adventurers' journey was not over yet. They had barely just begun trying to meander through the rock formations that scattered the barren fields which lay just before the city they were travelling to in search of work.

Alsten Harvold, the bard, a devilishly handsome man with meticulously styled blonde hair, a sharp, angular face and narrow, intelligent, even calculating eyes that contrasted with the dimples on his face from smiling, was trying to keep his trio of friends in good spirits.

"Have you all heard the one about the earth dragon I pacified by playing an ancient ritual song solely by memory?"

"Aye, lad, because it's damn near the only story you ever tell, you're that full of yourself…" Tormald Icelock, Alsten's gruff dwarf sidekick, grunted.

"Agreed," Jisa, a Caller who Alsten found quite attractive but for years now had refused to have any kind of involvement with him romantically, chimed in. "Maybe tell one about some actual hero? The earth dragon story gets sort of boring, especially to us since we know you're no hero at all…"

"No hero at all?" Alsten turned to Jisa to give her a stare of mock disbelief, "How dare you? My moral compass is right where it should be! I am a model citizen!"

"I think not," Rowan Sark, another human and Alsten's oldest friend, as handsome as Alsten but in a more dark, brooding, edgy way, gave his friend the once-over, "I've seen savages with more of a moral compass than you…"

"Those must have been some pretty tame savages," Alsten came back, "Probably not worthy of their title, if you think about it…"

All three of Alsten's friends just simply laughed at this. What else could they do? Again, Alsten thought, they had found entertainment by using him as a laughing stock, which was fine, he supposed. As long as morale was kept up in some way…

He thought of himself as a strange uniting force of these misfits. Of course, he and Rowan had been friends as they grew up in the same village, but it had only been two years since Rowan had quit being a full-time ranger who lived in the wild working to preserve nature's balance, and took up adventuring. A much more noble cause, Alsten had always assured him. Money in your pocket was far more important than "nature's balance", Alsten always said.

Jisa and Tormald joining them, however, had been more of a tale worth telling. Both had been captured by a band of large-scale brigands, working for a man who wanted to preserve unique powers by keeping their holders' eyes as trophies. He had an "eye museum", apparently, which Alsten often had nightmares about. He was thankful that Rowan had agreed to help him free the people that these brigands' were holding hostage and transporting to this man's mansion. In that group, they had met a dwarven mage (a very rare occurrence here on Graz) and a Caller, both a type of person that this sick individual had not yet curated the eyeballs of.

Since the four of them had joined up and destroyed the eye museum, turning the owner in to the guard in that area, they had been together adventuring. It had been a fun year and a half or so for them, even if Tormald and Jisa had taken some getting used to. They were both much more serious and morally caring than Alsten and, to a lesser extent, Rowan. Now, as they travelled across Richterra under the cover of darkness, heading to yet another great unknown, a city named Ulstrad which none of them had yet been to, Alsten was optimistic for the future of his band of misfits.

All we have to do is make it through this perilous field of crag… Easy… he assured himself as his friends continued to joke beside him, a sound he had tuned out in his concentrated state, looking ahead to try and navigate their best path through the place and silently hoping that they wouldn't come across any monsters around here…

Nearly there… the young girl thought, her breathing ragged, a cold sweat hanging over her, If I disappear into this city, they'll never find me…

Another traveller was making her way through Richterra on this night, and she was nearer to Ulstrad than the party of adventurers also on their way to the city.

She was a teenager, wearing tight clothes, all black, carrying a number of blades on her belt. Her eyes were a dark shade of red.

Her name was Shio Alcarn. She was on the run.

They… Will be right behind me by now… They know… Where I'm going…

The girl's steps became unsteady and the night scenery of the rocky area swirled around her. The cries of beasts in the night grew distant and she moved her hand up to her head which was pounding violently.

She couldn't go on… She had never felt exhaustion like this…

Shio collapsed, not far from freedom from her pursuers, now doomed to fate…

And so the stories of Alsten, Rowan, Jisa, Tormald and Shio begin. Hope you enjoyed the chapter!