Prologue – Portrait of a Broken Man

    • Background
      Font size
      Font family

Theme Setting

PunishedKom

-There will NEVER be NTR in this series.

-Yuri is present but not a focus.

This is not the story of a Hero. He doesn't wield a sword and he doesn't cast magic. This is the story of a man who starts at rock bottom after a long life of trying his hardest, and who goes on to raise and support Heroines while building the greatest Guild in all the realms after getting his shit together. His only weapons are his massive intellect, his hard working personality, his sharp business sensibilities and a pair of magic eyes.

If you're here for a gigachad power fantasy where the protagonist is the strongest Hero who ever lived then don't continue reading. If you are here for a slow burn to watch a troubled man solve his problems and build a gigantic harem of strong, sexy, devoted Heroines and sexy employees to support his team, stay. You're in the right place.



My oldest memory would have to be the sound of glasses being raised by rowdy adventurers, freshly returned from a battle well fought. Bearing pouches fat with gold and minds addled by all the booze they drank, these brave fortune-seekers would tell me fanciful stories and gritty details of their journeys long past my bedtime.

They’d tell me of the perilous dungeons they explored or what sort of deadly monsters they faced within them. If I were lucky, the adventurers would even show me the spectacular treasures they brought home with them. I would always lose myself staring at the sparkling gold, shining silver, or fascinating mystical artifacts.

Under normal circumstances, a child would likely grow up obsessed with these heroes after being exposed to them on a daily basis, wouldn't they? You’d think it would’ve had a more significant impact on someone in my position, yet... it just didn’t fit. It wasn't for me. I respected and even idolized the adventurers, yes.

Still, there was a man in that old Adventurer’s Guild I grew up in who I respected more than any old quest taker, dungeon delver, or monster slayer. That man was my late Grandfather, may the Twin Goddesses above and below rest his crotchety old soul... whichever one of the two he ended up with.

Grandfather was the Guild Master of the famed Dewhurst Adventurer's Guild. That Guild has been my home for as long as I can remember. He watched over both his business and me to the best of his abilities and from an early age I, perhaps misguidedly, thought he was the most remarkable man in all the Realms.

Whenever a tavern brawl was too rowdy, no matter who started it, Grandfather would finish it. If an adventurer tried to skim money off the top, Grandfather would beat them within an inch of their life for trying to cheat the Guild. If you didn't know how to slay a specific monster, Grandfather could tell you twelve different ways to do it in your sleep.

His knowledge was unrivaled, and his sense of business was shrewd to the point of uncanny. More than anything else you could say about him, and you could say a lot, he ran a tight ship.

I never knew my parents, and he raised me in their stead despite already being in his early eighties. According to him, my mother and father were farmers who lived north of Dewhurst, and they died in what he called a 'tragic peasant accident' or some such obvious nonsense. Even as a child, I never bought that laughable excuse. He was far from perfect, but I loved that old bastard despite his moral failings. Regardless of the truth, the old man did right by me as often as he could.

I didn't know just how lucky I was to have him until later on in life, though. It turned out that I needed someone as tough as my grandfather to survive the changes that I started going through as I grew older.

At first, these changes started off harmless enough. Around the time I turned seven years old my eyesight started to improve at a rapid rate.

In the beginning, I just noticed little details in things that other people couldn't see. A facial tic that only appears for a split second, the exact number of ants hidden in a patch of grass, things like that.

Then, I started being able to view things from a great distance in picture-perfect clarity, like my eyes were a pair of binoculars.

Grandfather was a busy man, so I didn't initially alert him of my problems out of fear that I would be getting in the way of his work. My developing eyesight showed no signs of slowing, though, so I knew I had to break it to him.

My Grandfather was a crude, crass, vulgar man with a limited vocabulary consisting primarily of words that any reasonable adult would never say around any child, let alone their grandson. When I first told the old man about my eyesight, his initial reaction was to call me ‘a fuckin’ bullshitter’.

I kept trying to convince him until he eventually agreed to test my claims out for himself. He scribbled something on a piece of paper, and then he took me to the town square and instructed me to walk to the west gate while he went to the east.

He held up that piece of paper for only a few seconds, and as he did, I could see it clearly on his face that he didn't believe anything would come of this. Of course, he was wrong. I could read those words like they were only a foot away from my face.

It said, ‘Fuck you, ya lying cunt.’

As soon as we met back up, Grandfather was in for a shock when he found out I wasn’t lying. The look on his face was hysterical when I asked him what a cunt was. He eventually came down from his shock, and he had a good laugh at that whole situation. All that mattered was now he believed me.

From that day on, Grandfather started treating me a little differently. He wasn't distant, but I could tell his mind was working overtime whenever he looked at me. Not wanting to upset him, I never asked what he was thinking about, even though it worried me to no end.

Things might've turned out differently if my eyes remained at that harmless level, but they didn’t. They only grew more potent as time went on, and the pain they brought along with them was indescribable.

By the time I was eight, I could absorb unthinkable amounts of data from only a glance. As an example, imagine staring into an empty room. An ordinary person would see a wall, a ceiling, a floor- nothing more. If I were to look into that same empty room, then I would see every single speck of dust, every tiny, imperceivable crack on the wall, and every last individual thread of the spider's web hanging in the corner that the first viewer didn’t even know was there.

The worst part of all of it, though, is what I saw when I looked at other people. Individual pores. Miniscule hairs. The exact amount of plaque on someone's teeth. Every flake of dandruff in their hair. People stopped looking like people to me, and they were replaced with horrific monsters who had familiar voices. 

Not only couldn't I leave my room or open my eyes, but the windows had to be boarded shut, and I had to wear a heavy blindfold at all times. If any light so much as briefly hit my eyelids, it would hurt and make me frighteningly aware of every last blood vessel in my eyelids. Anything other than complete and utter darkness would make my mind seize, my eyes throb, and in the worst-case scenario, even bleed. I became a prisoner of my room, darkness, and pain. 

I was liked well enough beforehand as the Guild Master's cute, inquisitive little grandson, afterwards I was just the creepy kid with cursed eyes. Lots of rumors spread about me at that time, none of them positive.

My grandfather wasn't very loved despite what he did for the town. I suppose the townspeople would have eventually latched on to any reason for hating me that they could find, but that's beside the point. 

In these trying times, only two other people in all of Dewhurst paid me much mind. One was a local healer by the name of Opalina Hart, who treated me almost daily and looked after me in her spare time. The other was an adventurer, Niall Hawkins, who was almost like an irresponsible older brother.

Even though both were by my side as often as possible, and even though they tried everything they could, there wasn't a thing either of them could do that eased my constant suffering.

I wanted to leave my room, to play outside, to read books instead of having them read to me... and more than anything else, I wanted to look at my loved ones again without suffering sensory overload.

Once I became permanently locked off from the rest of the Realm, my Grandfather went on an on-and-off business trip that lasted for two years.

During this time, he wasn't home very much. Whenever he was, it was only to grab paperwork or some files, and he would only speak a few words to me before heading off again.

Grandfather was never an expert at communicating his feelings at the best of times. Without any other explanation, I started thinking that he didn't love me anymore. Everyone assured me that this wasn't the case and that he was out trying to find someone to heal my eyes, but it was hard to keep myself from having these persistent thoughts of abandonment.

My doubts were slightly eased once I started receiving numerous visits from White Mages, Alchemists, Shamans, Witch Doctors, Clerics, Priests, and just about any other magical vocation with an ability to heal. They came from all over to Realm just to try curing my eyes.

I was shocked but pessimistic. Miss Hart is the best healer in the entire Realm as far as I'm concerned. If she couldn't do much to help me, then it was no surprise at all when these strangers all came up empty-handed in the end.

This cycle repeated itself for some time.

Grandfather would leave, someone new would visit to attempt some spell, potion, ritual, or what have you, and they would fail. Grandfather would return, grab more paperwork, and leave again.

I began to grow afraid that this cycle might go on until Grandfather died. He was old, and instead of getting to live the last years of his life doing what made the miserable old man just the slightest bit less miserable, he had to spend it traveling the Realm for my sake. Sure, he had plenty of secretaries who could run the Guild and fill out all the paperwork in his absence, but he loved his job, and I didn't like getting in the way of him doing what he loved.

My guilt became overpowering, so I made up my mind around the time that the two-year mark of his journey started creeping upon us. The next time he came home, I was going to tell him to stop his quest.

I would resign myself to my life as a blind person. I thought that if no one could heal them, then maybe I just shouldn't have eyes in the first place. All it would take is a spoon and some courage, and then my grandfather would never have to worry about me again.

Maybe in the future, there'd be a chance to get some expensive artificial magic eyes, but I honestly didn't even care about ever being able to see again. I just wanted this to all be over.

Ironically enough, the next time Grandfather returned home, the troubles I had with my eyes would indeed come to an end.

On a day just like any other, Grandfather came back to the Guild and brought with him a dwarven craftsman of legendary renown. This Dwarf was supposedly the best of the best, and he only ever made artifacts for royalty, the nobility, the gentry, and so on.

His name was Thafurum, and for whatever reason, this incredible artificer was here in our Guild solely for my benefit. I had no idea how my Grandfather managed to arrange this, but I didn't have any hope he would prevail. There'd been too many failed attempts, and I almost didn't even want to bother.

I couldn't just turn away the man my grandfather worked so hard to bring back, though. So I let the Dwarf inspect my eyes. He barely took even a few seconds before taking some notes and leaving, saying nothing on his way out.

I figured that it was just another failure, but the next day, Thafurum reappeared. He instructed me to take off my blindfold, and he handed me a small object. In my hands were a pair of golden-rimmed, temple-less glasses with dark red lenses.

At first, I felt the idea of wearing glasses was some sort of cruel joke. Goddess knows my eyesight sure as all hell didn’t need any additional help. But then I put them on, and my vision magically dulled to the point where I could actually look at the world around me without suffering unending pain or bleeding through my eyes.

The first thing I saw after two years of darkness was my Grandfather standing at the edge of my bed, smiling with tears in his eyes as he rushed to hug me. I'd never seen him cry before that, and he was never a very affectionate person. I could probably count the number of hugs he’d given me on two hands.

That being said, if there were any lingering doubts that the old man loved me, that hug eliminated them forever.

Thafurim nodded his head and left before I could even thank him, and I've never seen him since. I'm grateful to him, too, and I wish I could've let the Dwarf know that before he disappeared.

I should probably clarify that these glasses of mine didn't solve the root problem. My eyesight is still supernatural. Even now, so many years later, I still can't take off my glasses without significant pain. But the glasses allow me to live a relatively normal life, at least.

I wasn’t quite the same boy when I recovered. No longer was I cheerful and excitable. The trauma turned me soft-spoken, melancholic, and introverted. I viewed the world with a level of cynicism totally unbefitting of a child, yet, I was still happy I had a chance to resume my childhood.

And I knew that chance wouldn’t have ever come along if it weren’t for my Grandfather.

Time and again, I asked him how he met Thafurim or how he got any of those other healers to visit, but Grandfather wouldn't tell me much about what went on during his journey.

My curiosity got the best of me, and one day I decided I would find the answers myself by sneaking into his office late at night. Knowing his penchant for paperwork and his tendency to jot down his thoughts, I figured that Grandfather must have kept a log of everything he did while he was gone.

In his desk drawer, I found a journal with my name on it that was coupled with a folder packed with letters.

Over the last two years, my Grandfather's thoughts and actions were cataloged in meticulous detail in this journal. The old man came off as cold, indifferent, and crass even in the text, but it highlighted his sheer dedication and efficiency. I couldn't believe what I was reading. It was unreal.

The letters painted an even more incredible picture.

In his quest to find a solution to my eyesight, my grandfather called in hundreds of debts and favors from adventurers all across the Realm who owed him for one reason or another.

He blackmailed nobles with personal secrets that they told him in confidence when he was registering their quests.

He used his connections to every other Guild Master in Karnalle like an information network, chasing down every lead he could find.

The clout he wielded and the knowledge at my grandfather's disposal was dizzying. Not a single soul in any of those letters seemed to like my grandfather, but I could tell they respected him, maybe even feared him. I witnessed how much power a true businessman had, and I began to covet that power, I suppose. I wanted to become just like him.

I wanted to become a Guild Master.

Strictly speaking, I always did. I thought it was inevitable that I would succeed in his place one day, and I often daydreamed about what it would be like to manage a roster of adventurers just like Grandfather did. But the more I read, the more it ceased to be a daydream and the more it became an obsession. A calling.

Something I knew I had to do whatever the cost.

Just as I had made up my mind, the door to Grandfather's office opened, and the man himself entered. I was so absorbed that I didn't even notice that I’d read his journal and letters all the way through the night.

Surprisingly, he wasn't mad at me over what I’d done, but his expression worried me nonetheless. 

With a long sigh, Grandfather sat me down on the sofa behind his desk so that we could have a long discussion regarding something else. Something he said was a long time coming and which was much more important.

He wanted to talk to me about both my parents and, ultimately, what he believed to be my destiny. Kind of a weird time for such a talk, but I went along with it nonetheless.

"Listen here, ya sneaky cunt," He said, sinking his elderly body into his leather chair as he swiveled it to face me. Again, mind Grandfather’s vernacular. It's a miracle I turned out as well-mannered as I did and avoided picking up his pattern of speech, but I'm thankful for it. "Your eyes ain't the only special thing about ya. Your dad, he... Gods, how the fuck do I say this?"

Our relationship was very casual. Grandfather never minded if I talked over him or interrupted, so I butted in and guessed, “He wasn’t a farmer, was he?”

He laughed. I don’t know whether he found it funny that I knew the truth despite it being obvious or something else triggered it, but the old man struck back, "Course not, ya dumb sack of shit. Ya think a kid with magic eyes like yours would've come from a simple farmer? Nah. He was an adventurer, and much to my dismay, he ain't dead. That philandering jizz rag is still out there somewhere."

This was news to me, but I didn't find the revelation that my Father was an adventurer shocking. My Grandfather has been a Guild Master for nearly seventy years, so his son would've been raised here just like me. There are really only two career paths one would be inspired to take after living in a Guild their whole life, and unlike myself, my mysterious deadbeat dad chose the 'fun' one.

Hearing this revelation didn't really give me any sort of burning desire to venture out into the world and search for my father, unlike the protagonists of all those childish fantasy stories I used to read. Frankly, I couldn't give less of a shit. I still don't.

I nodded my head nonetheless, letting my Grandfather continue speaking.

"I don't know fuck all about your mom, but one day he came home and plopped ya on my lap with hardly so much of a 'how do you do'. Nah, all he said was he didn't wanna take responsibility for ya. Not like that was shocking or anything," He sighed. At the time, I wondered if he was inferring that I wasn’t the only child my apparently lecherous Father refused to take responsibility for. Sadly, Grandfather continued to talk before I could ask. "But what did shock this old man of yours was the shit he had to say about you."

I didn't like where this was heading. Not to brag, but I've always been relatively bright. I smelled an oncoming magical destiny from a mile away, which severely conflicted with my plans to become a Guild Master.

"What did he say?" I asked, dreading the answer.

"He said he ain't never sending child support. Also, that the Goddess of Light herself descended from the Supernal Skies of Serenity and told your dad that you were the next Hero of Light and that you were gonna defeat the next Demon Lord who cropped up or some shit like that."

"Ok," I stared at him, the words going through one ear and out the other. I was not interested.

"Gods, I fucked up with that no-good son of mine... lad?"

“Yes, Grandfather?”

"The more women ya fuck, the more it'll rot your brain. I know us men of Karnalle put value in having a harem and all that nonsense, but if you don't wanna end up like him, limit your dick, lad. Limit your dick."

“...Yes, Grandfather.”

Once he was able to move away from the topic of my Father, the old man let out a weary sigh and tensed his expression. Rather than looking mildly bitter like he usually did, he looked pained. Maybe even a little distant. "That's enough of that... I swear, I fuckin' swear... anyways, can ya tell where I'm going with all this, lad?"

“Well, I can tell you hate my Father.”

All at once, the many wrinkles of his aged face scrunched together. He closed his eyes and laughed a spiteful laugh. Grandfather slapped his knee, shaking his head, "Well ya ain't fucking wrong about that! Ah, good one, lad... but nah, that ain't what I'm getting at. I'm trying to say that we gotta get on track with whatever magic bullshit destiny ya got waiting for ya."

Desperation started to overtake me, and sweat appeared on my brow. I clung to the first argument I could think of. "You hate my father, but you believe him about all this stuff? Couldn't he have just been lying to trick you into taking care of me?"

Grandfather considered that, stroking his beard. "Smart lad, ya are. I thought the same. Believed it until you got those magic eyes of yours, too. I don't know if he's telling the truth about everything, but obviously, he was right about some of it. Ya got bigger things ahead of ya, and we need to start taking the first steps. You're a bit weak since ya been bedridden for a few years. I'll have to talk to that wavy-haired wench about whipping up some kind of potion to get you your constitution back, and-"

Miss Hart was already routinely giving me a tonic to keep my body in shape while staying in bed, but he'd been away so much he didn't know. I could have mentioned it to drag out the inevitable, but I only didn’t think of it at the time.

All I ended up saying was, "And then what?"

"And then we'll start training you up to become an adventurer yourself, dumbass. You and that lazy fuck Niall are close, right? I'll try and strong-arm him into teaching ya the sword, and we'll go from there... heh, strong-arm."

My heart sank into my chest. I had only just escaped one prison, and it felt like I was slowly being led into another.

Even before that night, I never wanted to be an adventurer. Hearing Grandfather plan out my entire life for me certainly did nothing to help change that. He explained his ideas, never once stopping to consider my feelings or asking if I was ok with any of this.

I sat there idly, letting him drone on and on about the seven previous Demon Lords and the Heroes of Light who defeated them. I'd been told stories about them before. What kid hadn't? They were legendary figures, each of them blessed by the Goddess above with some extraordinary gift. I'm sure plenty of children would've been thrilled to learn that they were meant to be the next one, but not me.

I wanted nothing to do with this inciting incident, this call to action, or however you want to phrase it.

It reached a boiling point, and I couldn't keep listening.

"Grandfather, I..." I knew it would be hard to say, but getting those all-important words out of my mouth was a struggle. The old man patiently waited for me to speak my mind, which was awfully rare. I summoned all the courage I had in me to look him in the eyes while saying, "I don't want to be a Hero of Light. I don't even want to become an adventurer."

"The fuck are ya on about, ya little piss-bag?" Grandfather asked as he rose out of his chair and clutched his cane. I was used to his temper, but his irritation felt different because of how serious this topic was.

Even in his foulest of moods, the old man had never once hit me, but I winced as he raised his cane. He only shoved the butt of it gently against my chest to emphasize his statement, saying, "Do ya think I care? More importantly, do ya think whatever ya wanna do with your life is more important than saving the entire Realm?"

I couldn't argue against him, and he knew it. Grandfather smashed his cane back down on the floor, the noise shocking me. "Course it isn't. Nothing's more important than this, ya bloody git." He spat.

"We don't even know for sure that I’m supposed to be the one to do it! If the Goddess of Light blessed me with these eyes, then why did she do such a... a shitty job of it!?" That was the first time I said a swear word, but it would be far from the last. I get the feeling that if things weren't so dire, the old man might've been proud of me.

Instead, I was too busy disappointing him.

"Fuck if I know," He sighed, knowing I had a point. "But on the off chance that good-for-nothing dad of yours was wrong and all this magic eye business really does means fuck all, so the fuck what? Ya think we can afford to let you do nothing just because he might be wrong, lad?"

I was running out of things I could say in my defense. Grandfather was right on all accounts. I knew that. But the feeling in my chest telling me that being a Guild Master was my true destiny wouldn't be quiet. At the time, I thought I could hear a girl's voice whispering in my heart, telling me that I was right and not to give up or back down on this... but these days, I just accept that voice was a stress-induced hallucination and nothing more.

It’s not surprising my mind misremembers the exact details, given how traumatic everything that happened next was.

I stood from the couch and gave the old man a defiant glare. There was no hesitation or fear left in me, not anymore. I put my foot down, telling him crystal clear, "I'm not becoming an adventurer. Why the hell would I wanna follow in the footsteps of some... some jackass that I've never met? Hell no. I'm gonna be a Guild Master like you, Grandfather! No... not just any Guild Master, but the best Guild Master in all the Realm!"

The look on his face was sheer disappointment. He was distraught that I would say these things, or maybe he was upset that after everything he had done for me, I wouldn't just let him wrestle control of my life from me.

Grandfather's silence continued, so I foolishly filled the quiet with childish ramblings. They were jumbled, disorganized, colored by the panic I felt knowing I had let him down. "I... I read your journal and a lot of your letters... you did so many amazing things while trying to help me, and it inspired me... and... um. What I really want is to be like you. A great man, respected and feared... managing adventurers, balancing spreadsheets... Miss Hart taught me math, you know! I'm really good at it! I could be a powerful businessman like you who always gets his way, so... maybe you could teach me... and... Grandfather...?"

"You want me to teach you how to be respected, feared, and to always get what ya want, lad?"

"Yes! More than anything!"

"I'll teach you alright, you stupid fucking brat...!" He dropped his cane, walked over to me, and grabbed me by the collar. He might've been ninety, but somehow he was strong enough to lift me off the ground.

It hurt.

I know Grandfather didn't mean it to. He would never hurt me. Not on purpose, he wouldn't... but in his anger, he inadvertently pulled too tight on my collar, making it difficult to breathe. I coughed, "G-Grandfather... stop...!!

"I'll put ya down once you get some fucking sense! You're saving the Realm, lad, whether ya like it or not! You understand?"

"I-I can't..."

"Not with that attitude, ya can't!"

"N-No, I can't... br-"

"Can't what?"

"Get... off... GET OFF ME!"

It all happened so fast.

It was too much to bear. I pushed Grandfather in the chest with both of my palms, and he let go before tumbling backward into his wooden desk. The pain this caused his back made him fall to the floor, and he would never get up. As I stood there regaining my breath, I looked down and saw the old man staring up at me.

He was clutching his chest, a look of heavy disappointment in his eyes. He might've been disappointed knowing he was about to die and leave me alone in this world, but I'm not optimistic enough to believe that was the case.

I watched him die, knowing full well that I let him down.

The Guild was quiet that morning. Everyone was still asleep, and our healer was on vacation. Or maybe he wasn’t. I don’t recall if I even checked for him or not. I try not to think about what I could have done differently to save my Grandfather because I wasn’t thinking rationally in my panicked state.

Above all else, I wanted to find someone who I could trust. Niall was out on a quest, meaning there was only one other option. I ran to the home of Opalina Hart, who lived roughly fifteen minutes away.

Although the kindly healer never made an effort to pretend she didn't hate my Grandfather, she rushed back to the Guild to help him all the same. The doctor tore off his shirt and attempted a few different spells that each failed before trying to magically restart his heart. She charged her hands with electricity and massaged them into his chest repeatedly, but it was too late.

She shook her head, and the realization sunk in that this was all my fault.

I would have to live the rest of my life knowing that I killed the man who raised me after everything he did for me.

No one loved my Grandfather quite like I did. He was a bitter, hateful old man with barely an ounce of joy to be found in his old heart, and that showed with the number of people who showed up at his funeral. Besides myself, only Miss Hart, Niall, a few adventurers, some of his staff, and a few men in dark suits whom I didn’t recognize were the only people in attendance.

A sermon was given by Priestesses of Light and Darkness, praying for his soul to go wherever it fits best. I don’t remember the details, as I’m not very religious. All I remember from the service was that when my Grandfather was lowered into the earth, I didn't say goodbye to him.

I said I was sorry.

He was buried in the Guild’s backyard, out beyond the training yard and the bathhouse in a small wooded area that presses up against Dewhurst’s walls.

Once the ceremony was over, one of the strange men in suits approached me. He was an obese, egg-shaped man with balding brunette hair and a charming smile- more charming and confident than someone who looked as ugly as he did had any right to be.

He didn't give me his name, but he introduced himself as a representative of the Association of Adventurers. I thought it odd that they found out about Grandfather’s death so soon, but they were apparently scheduled to meet with him before his passing and were thus already in town. Now that that was no longer possible, they requested a meeting with me as soon as convenient.

It wasn’t like I had a whole lot else going on at the time, so I agreed.

Later that day, I met with him in what used to be my Grandfather's office. It was the first time I'd entered it since his death, and I fought a losing battle against myself to push the memories of what happened into the deepest reaches of my mind.

I sat down at the very same desk Grandfather fell against, sinking into the leather chair that was much too big for me, and I welcomed my guest.

Miss Hart was there during that meeting, too. I had no other family, and I'd been staying with her in the days leading up to the funeral. I was smart, but I knew that I needed an adult by my side when meeting with the representative.

I didn’t feel comfortable going it alone because Grandfather hated the Association with all his heart. From what he told me about them, they're not to be trusted. Miss Hart would help ensure they didn't try taking advantage of me, I thought.

That said, the meeting wasn’t quite what I expected.

The representative was friendly, much nicer than I thought he would be. He was patient, and he didn't talk down to me like I was a child. After all the condescending words of support I received from so many people after my Grandfather's death, I appreciated that.

He wasted no time revealing all sorts of things about the Dewhurst Adventurer's Guild that my grandfather had never taught me about. I had no idea, but the Guild that I called home was unique. It was different from every other Guild in the entire Realm.

Separate from the Association, yet also a part of it.

According to the egg-shaped man, my Grandfather used to be friends with the Chairman of the entire Association. He hated the way that modern Guilds were run and sought permission to do his own thing.

This was unheard of. The Association of Adventurers has a legal monopoly on Adventurer’s Guilds enforced by the crown. Towns that have Guilds can only have one, and they have to be a franchise of the Association.

The idea of one Guild getting to break off from the whole and test new ideas was radical, but the Chairman accepted my Grandfather’s proposal. It wasn’t because he believed in him or anything, no. The Chairman apparently thought it would be amusing to see a Guild struggle to profit without relying on the Association's various money-making schemes and debt traps. Dewhurst was barely a profitable Guild in the first place, so there was little to be lost on this gamble.

Nothing but the Chairman’s pride, anyway, as over the next few decades, my Grandfather went about handing him his ass served on a silver platter.

Not only did Grandfather transform the Dewhurst Adventurer’s Guild into a juggernaut of adventuring, but he did it without selling overpriced adventuring gadgets, monthly potion subscriptions, or even charging his adventurers for healing, life insurance, meals, and other amenities.

Now that he had died, though, we had a problem.

The agreement that Grandfather made with the Chairman was set to be revoked upon his death, and the Guild would revert back to the Association's control... unless we followed a particular clause in my Grandfather's will, that is.

It stated that any member of his family was eligible to inherit ownership of the land, the building, and the title of Guild Master.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Before his death, Grandfather wouldn't accept the idea of me becoming a Guild Master, yet his passing opened the doors on a chance no one else could ever dream of. Whether this clause was intended for my father, myself, or some other family member who I had no knowledge of didn't matter to me.

I was going to make use of it.

I know my grandfather had a point about being the Hero of Light and defeating the Demon Lord, but I ran away from what he believed to be my calling even after his death. That mysterious voice was in my heart, comforting me and telling me I was born for this.

It guided me to reach out and seize my destiny. This inheritance would be my ticket to becoming a Guild Master, and I'd even get to skip all the years of training and studying it typically took, too.

The man asked if I wanted to become a Guild Master, and I answered yes in a heartbeat. He pretended to be pleased to hear this, but he wanted me to give him the chance to put down a counteroffer on the table.

Knowing that I grew up in this Guild, the representative admitted special circumstances needed to be addressed. He didn't want me to think he was trying to steal my home, especially not right after my grandfather died. However, he made it very clear that the Association wanted the Dewhurst Guild for their own purposes, even if they had to make a deal with a literal child to get it. Now that it was profitable, they wanted it back under their umbrella.

The counteroffer was simple.

If I chose to give up my inheritance and surrendered the Guild back to the Association, the representative would see that a temporary Guild Master was placed in charge of Dewhurst. I would then be enrolled in the Guild Academy once I turned eighteen, free of charge. Once I graduated from the Guild Master course, the temporary Guild Master would be removed, and I would be guaranteed his place.

All I had to do to make it official was to sign.

While at first glance it seemed to be a great deal, it was anything but. Sure, I would have had time to learn the ropes of running a business and to enjoy what was left of my childhood, but in exchange, Dewhurst would've been fully reincorporated into the Association.

By the time I was certified and returned home to take over, I would've been forced to enact the abusive policies my Grandfather hated. The very same policies which led him to distance himself and his Guild from the Association in the first place.

Like hell was I going to let that happen. I turned the counter offer down on the spot and announced I would inherit the Guild according to the will.

Neither Miss Hart nor the representative was thrilled to learn this.

The doctor pleaded with me to accept the offer, but she did so out of kindness. She didn't want to see me, a child who'd been through one tragedy after another, give up my last chance at youth just to work myself to the bone.

On the other hand, the representative dropped the pretense of pretending to be sympathetic. He altered his deal, extending it to include an absurdly generous heap of gold as an added bonus.

The profit that the Association was missing out on from not being in control of this one specific Guild must have been enormous because the amount they were offering me was more than most people would see in a lifetime. I still stubbornly insisted on inheriting the Guild, however- mountains of gold be damned.

Knowing there was nothing left he could do to persuade me, the representative sighed, smiled, and pulled out a stack of paperwork for me to sign. Once I finished the last signature, the man from the Association left, and that was that.

I was now the certified Guild Master of the Dewhurst Adventurer's Guild at only ten years old, and I had no idea how to run it.

Luckily, the Guild wasn't the only thing I inherited.

When Grandfather’s financials were passed on to me, I came to discover we were reasonably well off. I was his sole beneficiary, and after all the taxes, I was sitting on a decent amount of money. Using a small portion of it, the first thing I did was go out to buy books. Lots and lots of books.

I had no time to waste. I needed to expand my knowledge as fast as I could.

I bought books on business, books on economics, public speaking, wordcraft, monster compendiums, and every last subject I could think of that would help me succeed. Coupled with my grandfather's already cramped office shelves that were filled with tomes on Guild policies, I had more than enough material to turn me from a bright, inquisitive boy into a scholarly young man.

For years, I ran the Guild by day, my nose in a book any chance I had, and by night I studied in earnest through coffee and candlelight.

Miss Hart became, for all intents and purposes, my adopted mother. This was a little awkward since she was also my first crush, but I digress.

She would help me study as often as she could, stopping by several times a week at the very least. She runs her own business here in town, Helpful Heals, but her knowledge didn't prove useful in my industry, and there was little she could do to assist beyond spoiling me to the best of her abilities.

All that studying didn't amount to much, sadly.

At first, most of my Grandfather's employees gave me the benefit of the doubt and even tried to help me learn the ropes. I wasn't especially close to any of them, but I was their boss's grandson, and most of them felt sorry for me- the ones who didn't think I killed him, at least.

A few of the Guild Ladies, or secretaries, to use a less derogatory term, were nice enough to teach me how to handle the paperwork, and they advised me in matters the old man used to oversee himself. Still, none of them could teach me how to replicate the shrewd sense of business my Grandfather possessed which made our Guild so profitable in the first place. 

Because of this, we started suffering a lack of profits for the first few years after my succession. I dipped into my inheritance to pay my staff for as long as I could, but this wasn't viable forever.

I had to start letting staff members go, and at the same time, some of them began to leave of their own accord.

First, we lost the maids, and I had to handle cleaning the massive Guild by myself.

Then we lost the cooks, forcing me to take up that duty as often as I could, too.

Next came losing our healer, meaning I couldn't provide free healthcare for my adventurers. That one hurt a lot since it was one of the main reasons some adventurers were still sticking around at that point.

Lastly, the secretaries had to be let go, and then there was no one besides me who could register quests and file paperwork.

It was a nightmare. I had to be in fifteen places at once every hour of the day, and I almost worked myself to death on multiple occasions.

I may have had the knowledge of a Guild Master in their late twenties by the time I was fifteen, but my roster of adventurers was already down to a tenth of the size it used to be. Some of them left right after my grandfather died, sensing that this would happen sooner or later, and others slipped away year after year without so much as a word at all.

Niall packed it in, too, and gradually started appearing less and less to support me. Out of all the adventurers who left, he was the one that hurt the most. Worse still, he didn't even quit to head off to some other Guild. I could’ve accepted it if that were the case, but no.

He’s the town drunk, now, wasting away his days begging out on the street. Apparently, becoming a washed-up hobo seemed more appealing to him than sticking around for me when I needed him most.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, as my Guild began to decline, so too did the town.

Dewhurst used to be a small village that served as a trading stop on the way to Dawnstead and little else. It had a couple of farms up north, fishermen who fished from the river, and a minor logging industry thanks to its proximity to the Gnarled Woods, but that was about all that kept the population of roughly a thousand people afloat.

The only thing Dewhurst had going for it back then was a small Adventurer's Guild, which was a necessity on account of all the monsters who live in the area.

Seventy years ago, my grandfather was placed in charge of that humble Guild. Things slowly started to change over the course of his life, especially after his 'break up' experiment with the Association that happened ten years into his career.

After he split off, word got out regarding how much better he treated his adventurers than any of the other Guilds. The news attracted more and more adventurers, who started completing quests and making piles of gold by the shovelful. With so many adventurers with fat purses living in Dewhurst, it wasn't long until settlers appeared who wanted to take advantage of them.

These settlers expanded Dewhurst, providing plenty of goods and services for the adventurers like fancy inns, blacksmiths and armorers, restaurants, taverns, casinos, classy brothels, you name it. Anything to get themselves a piece of what those adventurers were making.

That wasn’t the only positive thing that the adventurers caused, either. Dewhurst started to have something worth exporting, thanks to them. 

Whenever adventurers left on quests, they would bring back two things in droves. Treasure and monster parts. Whatever treasure they found during their journey and didn’t want to keep would get sold off at the marketplace, while the bodies of their defeated quest targets were sold to and then processed by butchers, tanners, and alchemists alike.

Just like that, the city went from being a stopover town for traders on their way to Dawnstead into an important trading hub in its own right. The population exploded, so much so that they even ended up building walls around the city, something this place never could have dreamed of before the booming Guild economy.

Yes, it was a paradise, alright... although perhaps a house of cards is a more apt metaphor.

All it took for the city to crash was the death of a single man and for a child to claim what was rightfully his by law.

Without my Grandfather’s leadership, we lost adventurers by the year. Without many adventurers for the townsfolk to service and profit off of, demand for those services dried up, and they stopped having goods to export.

Yes, as if my Grandfather’s death wasn’t enough weight on my mind, I also have to live with myself knowing that a stupid decision I made when I was ten ruined the lives of an entire city.

How I feel about that one depends on the day. Somedays, I feel sorry for myself over it, and on others, I feel like this city deserved to fail for putting so many eggs in one basket. If a single decision made by a stubborn ten-year-old was enough to topple an entire city’s economy, then fuck that city.

Regardless, People started losing their jobs left and right, either leaving the city or turning to crime to get by. Buildings were abandoned en masse, cheap drugs began filling the streets, gangs of thugs became more prevalent, and the once reputable brothels became significantly less so.

You'd think that the nobility would step in and invest in the local economy to promote stability, but that never happened. Whether it be the nearest Baron, the Count overseeing him, or the Duke of Arrark himself, no one seemed to care much about what the town was going through, and we were left to our fate.

By the time I was in my mid-twenties, the town had finished its transformation into a complete and utter shithole, and my Guild wasn't faring much better.

All the adventurers who used to live in the Guild with me had long since moved on. The only time I ever had to actually do any work was whenever a rare adventurer wandered by on their way to some other town.

They might stay for a few days, ask me about any local quests, and I would feed them and give them shelter before they inevitably went on their way. Sometimes, a whole party of adventurers would show up, and I'd remember what fun it used to be when this place was packed, but it never lasted. 

There were some high points on my way down to rock-bottom, sure. It's not like my life was constantly without hope.

Every now and then, a large monster cropped up in the area, or there was an overpopulation issue with a weaker monster. In times like these, adventurers came in droves, and I'd work my ass off to keep the food coming and the dorms well-kept. I tried to convince some of them to stay in Dewhurst and transfer to my Guild, but the state of the town and the lack of facilities I could provide them made it a laughable offer at best.

Still, I tried, damn it.

I tried everything I could think of to turn this place around for as long as I could, up until five years ago. That was when I gave up once and for all.

Why? Well, that was when the newest Demon Lord announced his presence to the Realm.

This Demon Lord appeared out of nowhere, and he led a legion of monsters to attack a little hamlet up north in the Echora province by the name of Bridgebury. It didn’t go quite as he planned.

By some miraculous stroke of luck, Bridgebury happened to be the home of a famous retired adventurer- Mariella or Marienne, something like that. I don’t remember. It's said that she took down hundreds of monsters single-handedly while defending the town until she finally succumbed to the Demon Lord's forces.

After this former adventurer fell, the Demon Lord and the rest of his horde retreated to lands unknown, and nobody knows why. Bridgebury was saved for the small price of only a single woman’s life.

The villain hasn't reappeared a single time ever since, leading some conspiracy theorists to believe that the fiend who attacked Bridgebury wasn't a true Demon Lord. Regardless of whether or not he was real, steps had to be taken to ensure that this Demon Lord would be defeated if he ever returned.

It didn't take long for the Realm to devise a plan of attack.

A few months after the incident, it was announced that the Association of Adventurers had reached a historic agreement with King Theostus Lundreame and the Galloise Company. A state-of-the-art Adventurer's Guild was to be constructed in the port city of Perlshaw, a city only a few weeks of travel to the east of Dewhurst.

Built with radical funding from the royal treasury and outfitted with an entire suite of the latest arcane tech appliances by the Galloise Company, this Guild was staggering in size. Able to house several thousand adventurers and hundreds of staff members at the same time, it had a massive training yard, a gigantic library, an indoor swimming pool, gourmet chefs... honestly, it would be easier to count the things that the Perlshaw Adventurer's Guild didn't have because it's not a very long list.

The reason for building this new Guild was simple. The crown didn't want to deal with the potential Demon Lord themselves, so they would help usher in a brand new golden age of adventuring. If the threat ever reappeared, then Karnalle's strongest heroes would be ready to face it head-on. Everybody wins.

Once the Perlshaw Guild opened up, the last few remaining travelers who dropped by from time to time stopped showing up altogether. Why would they? When traveling to Perlshaw, it makes more sense to stop at the Cransmere Guild than mine since it's a lot closer, and no one wants to linger in Dewhurst for longer than they have to.

Dewhurst was made irrelevant in one fell swoop, and any chance at ever turning my career around was gone. Since then, I've wasted away the last five years of my life indulging in my vices, mainly alcohol and erotic fiction, until finally we reach the point where I'm at in the present day.

Now, I’ve recently turned thirty-two. I’m a middle-aged man, with absolutely nothing to show for my life.

I live in squalor, the nostalgic Guild of my childhood long since fallen to shambles. Cobwebs line the corners, the wooden walls and floors are aging and breaking all over the place, dust is thick in every room, and there are vicious rats that occasionally attempt to steal food right off my plate.

I'm also on the verge of being broke. What remains of my inheritance is merely... let me see here...

Guild Ledger

10,000G

Not a whole lot. 10,000G will only last me another year or two, and that's only if I give up all of my vices which is quite unlikely at this point.

To top off this depressing shitshow, I've even fallen out of touch with Miss Hart despite her living a mere fifteen minutes apart. I can't bear to see her after how hard she tried to help me succeed, and during these past five years, I've visited her less and less.

The only times I leave the Guild are to buy groceries, booze, and literary pornography... I don't even care how that sounds. I know it's awful, and I know I'm a loser. I've accepted my lot in life.

What hurts more than anything else is that the more I think about it, the more I realize I haven't made a single correct decision in my life.

If I hadn't been so against becoming an adventurer, Grandfather wouldn't have lifted me up, and I wouldn't have pushed him.

If I had just taken the Association's offer, the town could've been saved, and I would've still ended up as the Guild Master of Dewhurst eventually.

Why did I put so much stock in protecting his Guild and his morals, anyway? He didn’t even want me to run this place...

Gods...

Maybe if I worked harder and studied faster, then things could have...

Or maybe if I had just...

No, no... what's the point of this? Why am I rambling, and who in their right mind would listen to my gibberish? I don’t know where I’m going with all of this... It’s stupid. I’m stupid.

I told my grandfather I wanted to become the greatest Guild Master in the entire Realm all those years ago. In the end, I didn't become a Guild Master, not really. I didn’t become an adventurer, or a Hero of Light, either. 

I became a failure.

This must be my just deserts for defying the fate that the Goddess of Light had in store for me. If I hadn't resisted my call to action, then I have no doubt I would've lived a happy life and became a badass adventurer with magical eyes that gifted me an edge in combat, yes, indeed. Why, I would've been surrounded by a harem of beautiful women who all clamored for my attention, and the entire realm would have loved me and celebrated my name once I defeated the Demon Lord once and for all...

Whatever.

I don't care about any of that anymore. Everything is bullshit, magical, life-ruining destinies most definitely included.

But hey, maybe it's not too late, right?

Guess I’ll give the Goddess what she wants, that fucking cunt.

It’s not like I have anything else left for me at this point. Sure, I'm twenty-something years overdue, but fuck it. I'll be your Hero of Light.

That's what you wanted, isn't it?

So here I am, sitting at the reception desk of my ruined Guild, contemplating a long-awaited career change that I’ve avoided my entire damn life.

The atmosphere here is so much darker and dustier when compared to my childhood memories that it's hard to believe this is even the same place I grew up in. What was once bright, bustling, and full of music and warmth is now dark and silent, and my only remaining friends are the spiders on the wall.

Sitting in front of me on the desk is the only weapon I have left in the entire Guild, a small knife barely fit to kill a slime, let alone a demon lord. With a heavy sigh and an even heavier heart, I take the knife in my hand, scared beyond belief of what I'm about to do.

3,255 | 1 291 chapters


Reading Rise of the Guild Master

Rise of the Guild Master