We crossed a great bridge that connected Batallia to the city. Inside, Jeuno was quite massive in size. In fact, the city was so big that it was separated into four different floors. They were:
Ru'Lude Gardens being the first at the top; home to the Archduke of Jeuno
Upper Jeuno being the second floor and also the floor we had just entered from Batallia.
Lower Jeuno which branched off to the Rolanberry Fields from a similar bridge as before.
And then Port Jeuno. Airship upon airship flew in and out of this area; people running around shoving all over the place to catch their flights from all over the world.
"Look at all these people.." Stiff uttered in astonishment as he saw the streets bustling with activity.
"I'd imagine this be good fer business.." Salnar tapped his chin. "Could make me'self a pretty penny."
"It could be both good or bad." Draven said. "You have so many people competing over the same things to sell.. although so many people in demand of them."
The group made their way down to Lower Jeuno through a long set of stairs under a tunnel. This was by far the most crowded area of the city.
"Sheesh, I feel violated..!" Stiff grunted as he shoved through people, everyone rubbing against one another to get through and shouting over at some service windows to the left.
"Aye, somebody just grabbed me a*s.." Salnar muttered.
"You get used to it. It's really only because of the auction house that this area is so crowded." Draven explained. "Over here."
They pushed their way over to a door before being stopped by Draven.
"Just a second. I'll be-"
The door opened as a tall, athletic hume man wearing a body piece similar to Draven's walked out causing him to stop abruptly.
The man who appeared to be somewhere in his late-twenties had short black hair a little shorter than Stiff's and was surrounded by a stern aura about him. His face and dark eyes could have easily described him; having the look of a man of both business and power. A large, pitch-black great sword also hung from his back. One cleave from that thing and Stiff was sure it would cut even steel.
He was followed out by two younger elvaan maybe three years older than Draven, also garbed in similar body pieces.
One of them; a young woman had a decorative sword sheathed at her side and a socketed shield strapped onto her back. She had a head of long, silky black hair that flowed down to the middle of her back and the bluest set of eyes Stiff had ever seen.
This girl was quite beautiful, bringing Stiff to quickly look off to the side with a light blush on his face once she saw him staring at her. She bore a dignified look on her elegant face, although other than that seemed quite neutral.
The elvaan male beside her was tall and broad with a head of silver shoulder-length hair. He had a rough look on his face, the stare in his green eyes seemingly challenging anyone who dare look into them. This one seemed a bit more pompous and firm, keeping his large great axe against his shoulder.
"Sir." Draven saluted the hume man, bringing a hand to his own chest. "Reporting in."
"Well if it isn't the welp.." The silver-haired elvaan man snorted towards Draven.
"Veronaut, be quiet." The hume man said without looking at the elvaan, turning towards Draven. "Very well, proceed."
The silver-haired elvaan; Veronaut, just shrugged and obeyed his orders.
Draven simply ignored Veronaut. "It wasn't the beastmen, nor any of the forces you presumed. It was the treants, sir. They slaughtered the outpost guards.. I was lucky enough to run into one and receive its hostility first-hand, so I can confirm it."
"The trees? I must say, that is strange. Those trees don't go around attacking people, much less anything.." The hume man said, bringing a hand to his chin. "So it is not only the beasts that are acting strange.. something is definitely off."
The group suddenly went quiet as they noticed Stiff and Salnar just listening intently.
"Er.. can I help you?" The hume man asked.
Stiff staggered back and looked at Draven then back at him. "Oh! Um.. no, I was just.. going over here, right Salnar?"
Salnar quickly nodded and followed Stiff over to the fountain just ahead. "Aye, we was just browsin'."
Draven cleared his throat as he realized they had been standing there. "That's right, I was gonna have them wait outside while I reported in.." He thought.
"Who are they?" The man asked.
Stiff plopped down on the edge of the fountain and sighed. "Finally here, huh? I guess we made it through the Gauntlet after all, eh Sal?"
Salnar shrugged and plopped down beside him. "Eh.. most of it, anyways. If yer friend Draven there hadn't come to help us, them trees would be drinkin' from our blood right about now."
"Yeah.." Stiff muttered, looking past the crowd at Draven who was talking with that man. "Had he been holding back in Ghelsba? It's just hard to believe he's come so far in just over three weeks."
Salnar pursed his lips together. "It happens. One week yer working with a set of people who are synced well enough with ye.. then the next, they be way ahead. Ye start ta' realize that ye hafta work hard in this world to get anywhere. Ya think them heroes get anywhere by prodding taru-sized goblins with them swords all the time?"
Stiff just sat there in thought.
Salnar continued, "My pap has always told me, 'Ya need ta' break limits ya never thought could possibly break'."
"Break limits.." Stiff echoed.
"Aye." Salnar nodded, pushing himself off the fountain and cracking his neck with a yawn. "With that said, I'll be departing for me mog house.. I could use a good nap. I'll see ye around, Stiff."
Stiff looked over at Salnar as he walked off and smiled. "Alright, be seeing ya. Thanks for the guide through Jugner by the way."
He knew they'd bump into each other again soon enough since he would be here in Jeuno for a while. Most likely Horis and Jakky as well.
"So, you're Stiff?" The hume man from before approached the young thief.
Stiff quickly turned and stood up off the fountain. "Huh? Oh! Yeah."
"Stiff, this is Vincent; my linkshell leader. He's also an old friend of mine I knew when I was younger." Draven introduced him. "He wanted to meet you."
"Oh.. hey there." Stiff gave the man a tense hand shake.
"That's right. Draven here told me about some clumsy thief he was training with back at Ghelsba three weeks ago when I picked up his training where he left off. I must say, you must have cracked a bit of Draven's shell. I've always known him to be a little anti-social b*****d. I just wanted to meet the kid who did so."
I see now.. this man trained Draven right after that day. I'm a little curious as to how they're "old friends", but I guess I can look into it some other time.
"Heh, well.. wait, who you calling clumsy!?" Stiff shot a glare at Draven. "We were both performing equally back there and you know it! Don't forget, we both got our asses equally handed to us by a couple of rocks.."
"Shut up.." Draven jabbed Stiff on the side. He had apparently left that rock slide bit out.
The hume man just snickered at the two. "How you two became friends is beyond me. Anyway, you take care, Stiff. I have something to look into." The man began walking away.
Stiff had a troubled look on his face the whole time, as if he had wanted to say something but couldn't. It wasn't until the man was walking away that he finally blurted it out.
"I wanna join your linkshell..!"
The man smirked to himself, not turning around.
"Oh? Is that so?" He asked. "I don't know if you're up to snuff, kid."
Stiff glanced at Draven for a moment before looking back at Vincent. "Tch, I am. Piece of cake."
If Draven could do it.. I could do it too.
I'm done relying on power alone.
"Like hell he'd be.." Veronaut interrupted as he made his way over to Vincent. "Sir, if I may.. have you not taken a good look at this kid? He looks pathetic."
"You all look pathetic to me." Vincent stated.
Veronaut furrowed his brows. "We don't need any more worms in the linkshell.."
"Right. We don't need any worms in here.. you hear that, Stiff? I'm going to give you one chance. If you fail, I'll forbid you from ever joining.. not that you'll be alive if you fail." Vincent said firmly, turning his head to the young elvaan woman.
"Claire. You have a new assignment. I want you to see if the maggot over there is up to snuff.. do not go easy on him." He ordered.
Veronaut shot an unpleasant glare at Stiff, then grunted in defeat. "Bad move, Sir."
What the hell is this Veronaut guy's problem? He sure hates my guts..
I don't like him.
Claire looked over at Stiff with a somewhat bothered look on her face, as if she wasn't too pleased by the decision herself. "Going easy alone would be too difficult for this one. I doubt he will last an hour, Sir.. but as you wish."
"See to it, then. Veronaut, Draven, you two have your own orders. I'm off." Vincent said. "Stiff, my only words of advice: Don't die."
Stiff gave a tense nod. "..I won't."
Veronaut gripped the hilt of his great axe tightly, making his way over to Claire and whispering to her, "Make sure he doesn't make it.." before walking off after wards.
Draven turned silently to Stiff, giving him an unsure look as if he had made a bad choice asking to join. He had seen a few of the trials before in the last three and a half weeks from those who wanted to join. None ever really succeeded. Most died.
But following orders, he was off.
Claire made her way over to Stiff and looked at him, sizing the childish hume thief up. She was taller than him because of her elvaan stature, making him appear even weaker.
Stiff blushed a bit and held his hand out to shake hers, feeling a bit embarrassed being examined like this by her. "Uh.. hey there.. Claire? Nice to meet ya. I'm St-"
Narrowing her bright blue eyes, she slapped his hand away and turned aside.
"Listen here.. I'm not your friend. From here on out, I will be your worst enemy. I want to see you fail.. I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep you from making it into our ranks. We have no room for garbage like you in our linkshell." She spoke in a soft, smooth but firm and menacing tone, keeping a glare on him.
Stiff stared at her in surprise. She had seemed so fair before, but now she seemed to look at him with just as much a hateful intent as that Veronaut prick. He felt his spirits sink a little more.
"When you're ready to waste my time, meet me at the entrance to Qufim Island in Port Jeuno.." She said, heading off and letting him prepare.
Stiff hadn't realized how nervous he was until he felt his heart pounding against his chest. "Did I make the right choice..? I mean there are plenty of linkshells out there.." He told himself.
Rather than prepare and keep her waiting, he hurried off to Port Jeuno. It's not like he had anything else to do at the moment.
Once he made his way down to the rendezvous point, he saw Claire waiting for him with her arms in front of her chest as she leaned against the wall beside the tunnel leading into Qufim.
She let out a drawn-out sigh and motioned him in before walking in herself. "First, we'll see how well your body can keep up physically. Running around the world is one thing.. crawling on your knees and scaling it under pressure is another. There will be no stopping when you can no longer keep up. We stop when I tell you to stop."
Claire continued to explain as they made their way deeper into the rocky tunnel. It got colder and colder the deeper they went in, until it was freezing. Patches of snow eventually lined the walls of the tunnel, formed by the bit of water that ran down the walls from small cracks in the ceiling. It became apparent that they were in an underwater tunnel now, and continued to traverse it until they reached the bright exit.
Stepping outside, Stiff was greeted by a snowy island with towering cliff sides that formed alleys throughout the different sections of Qufim. His harness bore little to no warmth whatsoever, so he stood there shaking his a*s off.
"Cold.." Stiff grunted under his breath, feeling his exposed shoulders stinging in the icy winds as he looked around.
The temperature didn't seem to bother Claire one bit. She continued to walk forward until she came to a halt and turned her head to the side.
"You'd best watch your step. The earth in this island is home to countless enlarged worms that can shift the earth in their favor.. like magic. Make one wrong step and.." She looked down at his feet.
"You're about to find out."
"What?" Stiff's eyes showed surprise, hardly having enough time to look down, much less move before the earth under his feet suddenly crumbled upwards and engulfed him hard.
"Arghh..!" The earth literally crushed him, making his body feel as if every bone had just been broken. It hurt like nothing he had ever felt before.
Claire just stood there, staring at the pile of rocks and shaking her head. She didn't lift one finger to help him.
She figured that must have killed him.
Groaning in pain in this enclosed pile of rocks, Stiff could see a set of feelers swaying out of the ground from the rays of light entering through the cracks.
Struggling to reach his rock-bound arms down to the floor, he took a hold of the tendrils and yanked on them hard with a loud growl.
Upon hearing a pained screech, the earth and rocks piled on him retracted back into the ground and set him free as he held up a large, tube-like worm just as tall as he was from the head and down.
With an even harder yank, he split the worm's head apart by its tendrils and chucked its corpse aside, breathing in grunts and wiping the blood from his mouth. His arms were covered in some blood as well because of the attack.
Falling to his knees, he looked down at the reddened snow and felt his body trembling.
I can't believe it.. within the first few seconds out here in the open, I'm already too weak to move.. how the hell was I supposed to go on?
If a worm did this to me.. what else could she possibly have in store for me?
"My leg.." Stiff whispered in a rasp tone, feeling the pain of a dislocated joint.
"So weak.." Claire crossed her arms. "With that alone, I've seen enough. Aren't you a thief? You types are supposed to be quick on your feet.. how did you even make it to Jeuno if you can't even evade a simple earth worm?"
Stiff remained silent, only trying to stabilize his breathing.
I can't give up..
She narrowed her eyes. "That's right. It's because you didn't make it here on your own. You had your hand held by your friends this whole time. You can't even take care of yourself.. how could you ever have hoped to make it into this linkshell, let alone this world? You are nothing but garbage!"She shouted, kicking some cold, hard snow at his bloodied face.
"Stop wasting my time!"
I won't give up!
"Shut up.." Stiff grunted.
"What was that..?" Claire furrowed her brows.
"I said.. shut up.." Stiff repeated, forcing his trembling body back onto his feet slowly.
Despite how weakened his body seemed, his eyes and his heart were still going strong.
"It doesn't matter if I got here with friends.. we all did it.. together." He continued.
Claire just rose a brow.
"We all went through hell and back.. and used our skills to the best of our ability.. and those who were lost.. they've passed their legacies onto us." He groaned as the pain jolted through his body, thinking of Sister Eri and Aki.
Claire remained silent, watching him break the first of many limits to his body.
"And I'm not going to let you or anyone else say otherwise.. I'll continue doing this with the help of my friends.. as their legacy!"
You hear that Sister Eri and Aki?
We'll do this together.
"It's far from over.." Stiff said firmly, looking up at Claire as he stood there hunched over in pain. "Throw everything you got at me."
"Hmph, acting all tough now.." Claire frowned, but showed if only a small hint of surprise in her crystalline eyes. "Don't get so cocky now. You survived the worm's assault. Now you must survive the entire island."
My next assignment was to scale the rocky cliff sides of Qufim with my bare hands. None of them were easier than the other.. they were simply too steep for me or anybody to even hope to climb.
But.. I would do it anyway, despite my body's current state.
This wasn't a test of whether I could do it or not. It was a test to see if my body could survive such harsh torture.
When Claire fixed my broken leg back into place with her strong paladin magics, I couldn't tell if she was being generous or if it was okay for her as my trainer to heal a trainee's dislocated joints back into place.
"I'll give you until I get bored to scale this cliff side." Claire shouted down at Stiff from a top the cliff. How she got up there so suddenly was beyond him.
The top was easily over 50 feet up.
Stiff started without giving it a second thought. A drop from this height meant certain death, and he had to do it without any sort of equipment save for his own two hands.
The worst part was, he had to fill a large sack full of rocks and carry it with him. Not even 10 feet up, he already felt this was nigh on impossible.
"Come on..!" He growled at himself, clutching the next small ledge he could hold onto and pulling himself up with all his might.
The ledge suddenly gave out, causing him to tumble down the jagged edges with the sack of rocks pounding against him. He hit the floor with a loud thud, laying there for a good minute or two before angrily pushing himself back onto his feet.
"F**k..!" He shouted through bloodied lips at nothing in particular, becoming frustrated.
Claire just stared at the sight with her arms crossed. It was interesting to see his will pushing him to even do this, as he was much younger than those who had ever attempted this trial.
Draven was trained by Vincent alone, so nobody knows what type of training methods he had used. This made Stiff the youngest to ever run this trial.
Looking back down at the cliff side, she saw that he was at it again. He was back at around 10 feet once more, taking a more distant route than the one before.
Stiff growled through his teeth as he yanked his body up by his arms, making it even higher than before. He felt a sudden burst of pain emit from his shoulder that gushed out blood.
S**t... the wound from the treant!
The pain was unbearable. It seemed that the wound had split open once again, and began to run fresh blood down his shoulder and back. The weight of both his body and the sack of rocks made this even harder on the wound, making it slightly bigger than before.
I had completely forgotten about it earlier.. I should have gotten it checked out before I started out here..
As he swayed there on a tiny ledge by his arm, he felt himself beginning to black out. It felt as if the icy wind was making it hurt even more.
"Not this again.." He whispered to himself, his sight flickering from that similar shadowy vision to his normal one. "I won't let it take over.. or else all this training will have been.. for nothing."
He grunted as he brought his free hand up over him and to another ledge, pulling himself up through the pain.
Feeling another jolt of pain as the wound gushed out a bit more blood, he couldn't help but let out a scream.
It was just too much.
Sister Eri.. I can't..
As he hung there from the small ledge, a few words he had taken to heart from the past were once again spoken to him by his memories.
"Don't worry, Stiff. With every battle comes experience, whether you win or lose. With every battle, you walk away stronger than you were before. To be honest, you're looking stronger to me already.."
"Whether I win.. or lose.." Stiff began thinking. "I've come this far already.. isn't it enough..? I'll only get better from here."
He remained silent for a bit as he hung there. Finally, he let go of the ledge and began to fall.
"Once you become worthy of calling yourself a thief, I'm sure we'll meet again. When that time comes, I'll train you to fight just like me. Until then, you'll need all the experience you can get."
Another familiar voice spoke to him through memories.
Not more than a second after, he quickly threw his other hand back onto another ledge and held on tight, gritting his teeth.
"No.. it's not enough! Nothing is ever enough.. I have to keep getting stronger! I will join this damn linkshell.. whether it kills me or not!" He growled.
As Claire looked down once more, she saw Stiff climbing his way up as if he had been completely regenerated, the only visible pain seen in his eyes which held it all inside.
The immense pain on his body was somewhat ignored by the burning inside Stiff's chest. It wasn't a bad burning.. it felt like a lantern having been refueled, bursting up in flames.
"Stiff.. just what exactly is it that drives you to do all of this?" Claire thought to herself.
Now she was intrigued. If he made it up to the top, it would be the farthest anyone had ever come in the trial.
Upon throwing his hand up to the ledge of the very top, he growled through his teeth at the pulsing pain and felt the heel of Claire's greaves on his knuckles.
She looked down at this bloody mess of a thief and pursed her lips together.
"This is it, Stiff. Once your feet touch the top, you will have come the farthest out of anyone who has attempted this trial. If you were to fail me now after this, I will curse your name all the way to hell even in death. I'll make sure your life in eternity is a miserable one."
Stiff just looked up at her through narrowed, burning eyes that caused even her to blush a pretty pink. Those eyes said it all.
Giving a small smirk after shaking her head, Claire leaned forward and yanked him up to the top.
The rest of my training was just as brutal.
Claire had me run through certain courses that involved me staying quick on my feet and evading any worms burrowed under the snow waiting for the opportune moment to go off like land mines.
Other parts of the course included running through man-eating, pugil-infested waters that were so cold it nearly felt like the water alone burned at my skin. I can't count how many times I was close to losing consciousness in the middle of all this, either due to the freezing threats or because of the countless bleeding wounds around my body from creatures that were able to get to me.
She wanted to see how well I could retreat from pursuing enemies for when the time was right, taking the least damage if at all as possible. For anyone else, it would have been fine just by making it to the finish alive. Naturally, she forbid me to stop running the courses until I was able to reach the finish point without a single new scar on my body simply because I was a thief and that was how it should have been.
Trust me, all those extra attempts were worth it.. they actually paid off in the end. I think I might have picked up a new trick while Claire was unaware. I owed it all to the pugils snapping at my ankles.
I was aware of the damage done to my body, but she herself said she would heal all wounds if I was to survive the course. Otherwise, she had no reason to heal me.
Can you blame me for doubting if magic could really remove all these scars?
Anyway, the next part of training was actually a surprise to both of us.
What I mean by that is, neither I nor Claire were expecting this.. nor was it planned.
Claire began guiding Stiff through an alley between the cliff sides down another path to a different section of the island. Just before they reached the end of the alley, the ground began to shake in a certain rhythm.
"More worms..?" Stiff asked as he looked around at the shaking earth.
Claire winced her eyes, looking out at the end of the alley. "No.. this is something else."
It wasn't long before the gigantic, looming, humanoid shape of what looked like some giant beastman stepped in between the cliff sides at the end of the alley. It was covered from head to toe in what appeared to be strong, fortified armor. It wasn't like the few gigas that sometimes roamed the island completely naked. The only exposed part of its body was its large, ugly face. This thing was at least forty feet tall.
It took one look at them and twisted its face in rage, roaring out loud in a demonic tone.
"A Gigas..?" Claire narrowed her eyes, taking out her sword. "This isn't the usual run of the mill gigas either.. what's going on here?"
Stiff pulled out his kukri and looked up at the towering beast with challenging eyes. "Leave him to me."
"Are you stupid?" Claire asked him in disbelief. "This is no ordinary gigas! Those around here are not armored like these. Only the commanding gigas bear such weapons and armor.. quite frankly, I'm unsure whether I would be able to bring him down on my own. I must alert the linkshell."
Just before she could take out her linkpearl, Stiff ran forward with his weapon out and shouted, "Just watch me!"
"Get the hell back here! That's an order!" Claire shouted.
The armored gigas let out a growl that made the ground tremble, swinging its gigantic axe of seemingly valuable steel down at Stiff, who quickly jumped to the side and evaded it.
Stiff continued running towards the gigas, running under its legs and behind it, not stopping.
The gigas turned with a quick swing behind it, just barely missing the hume again. It let out an enraged roar before stomping after him, each step nearly causing Stiff to stagger.
"This idiot is gonna get himself killed..!" Claire exclaimed as she activated her linkpearl while running towards the direction that Stiff and the Gigas set off in.
"All of those available, get the hell down to Qufim Island, now!"
"Good, he's following me.." Stiff thought aloud as he felt the footsteps behind him.
He sent the gigas on a goose chase after him for a bit, looking for the right spot to dish out his plan.
Just as he had it turn a corner into a different alleyway, the armored gigas stopped for a moment and thrust its fingers deep into the ground. With a loud grunt, it pulled its hand back out and held in its palms a large chunk of earth and rock which it squeezed into one giant projectile.
"Oh, s**t!" Stiff gasped.
Pulling its arm back, the gigas chucked its makeshift projectile at Stiff hard.
He could feel the tearing winds of the giant piece of earth and rock coming for him, feeling the ground shake hard as it hit the cliff side just beside him, splitting apart into many smaller incoming slabs of earth and rock.
Just as he dove off the floor, he felt one about half the size of him nail him hard on the back, sending him flying forward and tumbling like a ragdoll across the soft snow.
It was then that the gigas began its relentless charge once again, seeing that he had hit his target.
Stiff struggled to push himself back onto his feet, feeling his entire body pulsing from the blow. Had the entire thing gotten him before it broke off into smaller pieces, he was sure it would be over.
He backed up slowly into the alley until his back hit the rocky dead end.
"Ugh.. that hurt.." He mumbled, shaking his head and looking up in shock at the incoming gigas.
Quickly, he set his feet steadily into the ground and looked up at the giant gigas while concentrating.
Come on.. concentrate..
There it is!
The ground suddenly sank under his feet as if a massive impact had just hit it.
Right after, Stiff charged forward at high speeds that put even Draven's dashes during the battle with the treant to shame.
He was running so fast he could hardly keep his head forward, so he leaned over while running to keep his sight on target.
Making an incredibly fast U-turn around the gigas that swung and missed by a long shot, he began to near himself against the cliff side wall and because he was running so fast, turned himself aside as he brought his feet to the wall and continued up along it.
Claire witnessed the sight in astonishment. It was like nothing she had ever seen before. He was running so fast that the speed even kept him up against the wall. She didn't notice she had dropped the linkpearl because of it all.
"Such speed.. how is this possible?" She whispered to herself. "I knew thieves had the potential to increase how fast the body could actually bring itself to move at unnatural speeds using the 'Flee' ability.. but this is far beyond comprehensible.."
Trivia: The ability 'Flee' is a natural speed enhancer that is known among thieves to temporarily increase the user's movement speed comparable to that of a chocobo(2x their natural speed). Due to unnatural strain to the body, Flee can not be used too often and mainly serves as a means of escape in an emergency, or acts as a defense mechanism against Gravity spells.
As Stiff made another U-turn around the dead end of the alley, he squeezed the hilt of his dagger tightly, which triggered the burst of red and white energy that he had so familiarized himself with these last few weeks. It scarred the cliff sides with ease as it made contact, leaving a huge scar on them trailing in his wake.
Running along the wall at full speed back towards the gigas, he growled in anticipation as he moved up high enough to push himself off the cliff side and land a direct blow at its unprotected face. It was a bloody mess once his dagger made contact.
Blood splattered in all directions upon the sonic booming attack's contact. Rather than flying back like similar targets that had been hit in the past, the gigas staggered back violently and dropped onto its back hard. Stiff kept to its head from the handle of his dagger until it hit the floor, turning himself in midair and landing with both feet on the soft snow in a swift fashion.
All that was left of the Gigas' face was a huge gaping hole.
"What the hell was that..?" Claire asked in absolute shock, wondering what it was she just witnessed.
Not only had she seen a ridiculously enhanced flee ability, but appeared to be an overpowered sneak attack as well.
"I call it.. the Pulse Attack.." Stiff said in a breathless tone, referring to the way his overpowered Sneak Attack pulses and grows even larger once activated; pulsing once more just as it makes contact with its target and explodes.
"Ungh!" He felt his head throb once before finally feeling consciously knock him off his feet.
Claire caught him in her arms at the last second, looking down at him still in shock as to what she saw him do. She felt an unintentional blush fill her face as looked at his dormant face, his head against her chest.
Quickly setting him down on the ground, she began to heal all the wounds covering his body with her white magicks.
"He has passed the test.. despite that last, unexpected course." She told herself.
Later that day, Stiff awoke on a bed inside the secret headquarters of Tenshodo; which also acted as the Brigade's headquarters. There he was greeted by Vincent and Claire.
"Enjoy your little nap time?" Vincent asked him with a raised brow.
"Crap.. did I go unconscious? S**t!" He called out, quickly getting off his bed nearly losing his balance. "Whoa~"
"Take it easy, kid. Yeah, you knocked the hell out.. but luckily for you, you ended up knocking out at the very end of the trial." Vincent said, pushing Stiff back and causing him to stumble back down sitting on his bed.
"Really!?" Stiff called out excitedly.
Claire put a hand to her hip and gave a light smirk, shaking her head at his childish reaction. "Yeah. Really."
"Even though you were clumsy as s**t, you have not only become the youngest, but the first member to ever actually succeed. That is two checkmates in one, and I take my f****n' hat off to you, kid. I came here to personally welcome you into The Brigade; our Linkshell. You have no choice but to join, as if you decline.. we kill you. Your place is here and here only."
Stiff stood there for a moment with a blank expression on his face, but soon after felt a grin cut across his face. He began laughing to himself in disbelief, throwing himself onto his back on the bed.
"I made it..! Hell yeah!"
Vincent chucked a new body piece of armor similar to the one they wore over Stiff's face. "Straighten up, don't act like such a maggot. If you're gonna be in the Brigade, you better act like it.. or else we'll be running a personality course as well."
Stiff quickly sat up and looked down at the armor in his lap. "R-Right.."
"That there armor is a symbol of the Brigade. It is a highly reinforced body piece known as Brigandine, made specifically by our armors smiths for our members. If I ever catch you not wearing it, you'll be sorry.." Vincent explained, cracking his knuckles.
"Yes, sir!" Stiff exclaimed with a smirk, quickly removing his shirt and noticing Claire really had healed all his wounds. He was unscratched.
Claire turned her head to the side, her eyes looking in the other direction as the thief changed into his new gear.
Before having a chance to admire himself in his new armor, Stiff was brought to attention by Vincent's voice.
"Oh!" Stiff stood tensely in attention, donning his new Brigandine armor.
"You and a few others have an important mission tomorrow. Yeah, you heard me right.. you might have had it rough during this course, but I won't let you slack your a*s off. You start work tomorrow.. so you'd better get all the rest you can get."
"Yes, sir!" Stiff called out, unable to stop himself from smiling because of the excitement.
"Stop smiling so much! And by Altana, buy yourself a god damn new dagger.." Vincent sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"Anyway, I'm off again. Just remember everything I said and do as you are told. You can get acquainted with all the other members if you do so wish.. take it easy, kid." He said, giving a light nod and making his way out.
Claire kept a hand to her hip, turning her head to look back at Stiff once more before giving a light sigh. "Well, that's it.. I'll see you around, then." She said with the shrug of a shoulder before turning away and heading out of the room.
Stiff chuckled once more and laid himself back down on the bed, holding up his hand towards the ceiling and moving his finger in circles.
"Hehe, what do you think of me now, guys?"
Stiff has succeeded in The Brigade's trials! He is now an official member of what some consider to be one of Jeuno's finest linkshells.
With a new mission of importance lying in the wake, Stiff relaxes and enjoys the rest of his day as the newest and youngest member of The Brigade.
Follow him on his next mission in Chapter 14: The Opo-opo Girl