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Chapter 2-11

Page history last edited by some editor 9 years ago

Past a foreboding gate blocked by a looming portcullis, a thick imposing wooden door and a squadron of heavily armed guards was Vilmheim proper. This old part of town was scarred and beaten, and signs of a battle waged long ago and not so long ago were readily apparent. Buildings in this town were all made of stone and brick, and those near the walls wore the same downtrodden wear and tear. For the first hundred meters or so were burnt or completely razed buildings, some with holes like a bowling ball had been hurled though, some with completely missing walls and roofs stripped away. Neither was an uncommon sight.


The people beyond the wall seemed no different from those outside, which surprised me because with the checkpoint leading inside I was expecting some sort of segregation. Instead of less monsters like I expected, there were actually a few more. The people milling about were very amiable with each other, with pats on the back and smiles all around. If I had to guess, my guess would be that the only difference is that within these walls were just the card carrying citizens of Vilmheim itself. A tight knit community, no doubt forged from being besieged behind these walls. The town outside—made of wood, clay and cobbled together hastily—was probably wiped out more than a year ago, but I suppose with concentrated effort and enough people it could be erected or rebuilt rather quickly.


Perhaps many of them were not passing through but were refugees? Only so many of them could be merchants even though they lined the market places outside and were thick like thieves, each one was aggressively trying to sell their wares. It was actually a lot calmer in the old city itself. The same cloud of romance hung in the air as it did outside. Perhaps that was the one thing the outer and inner city shared; any tension was hard with all these lovestruck couples waltzing around. It was hard to keep an eye on any one couple for long, and they all blended into the mass of the evening market as everyone shopped for dinner. The sun was beginning to turn orange on the horizon by now.


With the people milling about, busy as bees, they paid little attention to the three of us, even with the commotion we had caused at the gate. Carts clacked as they wheeled over the cobblestone road. A thousand boots, paws, hooves and claws clicked against the street as well. Many people and monsters of all different types, color, size and species marched to and fro. Everyone seemed busy; they didn't appear to have any time to pay attention to the three of us. I was glad that we finally found somewhere that we might actually be able to disappear for a little while. What goes on outside the city walls was probably of nobody's concern so long as it wasn't an army on the march. Even after the little stunt these two girls pulled we just might have until tomorrow before everyone knows about it. Which reminded me...


I got the two girls' attention and crooked my finger to beckon the two of them closer.


     “Team huddle.” I said.


The two of them still looked nervous and exchanged quick glances with one another, but they came closer and bent their heads forward, mimicking myself as I was forming one point of a huddle. When they were both leaning over to my left and right, instead of wrapping my arms around their shoulders, I grabbed their heads and bonked them together with a loud audible clonk. They both yelped in surprise; but with my hands still on their heads, I let it all out.


     “What the hell was that about?”


After wincing, mostly in surprise, as I doubt I could hurt them physically, they both started speaking at once. They cut off and interrupted one another, and it became a jumble of words that didn't make sense.


     “Rose... Weren't you worried the guild would cancel your membership if that kind of news got out?”


Rose's eyebrows furrowed, and her lips frowned as she went deep into thought. The lack of any wheels turning in her head was a deafening silence and soon revealed exactly what I feared. She merely shrugged and knocked her own head lightly with her fist and stuck her tongue out with a razz. Oh for fuck's sake...


Now I wasn't going to even bother trying to reprimand Rose, so I turned my attention to Susan. She jumped a little when my eyes suddenly shifted in her direction.


     “And what was that little light show going to accomplish? We're trying to keep a low profile.”


     Susan managed to muster herself and respond immediately, albeit flustered, “W-well, a god does not conduct themselves in a manner that is subtle. Neither should a king.” She turned to Rose, “W-wouldn't you agree?”


     Rose titled her head at Susan, “Stubble? Well, it does look good on Laven, but I don't know what you're talking about.”


Susan and I both squinted our eyes shut on reflex. That one hurt.


And that Gods and Kings angle again... I wasn't going to get through to her either. Her head wasn't as thick as Rose, but she was an order of magnitude more stubborn than Rose is.


     “Alight...” I said covering my face with the palm of my hand. “Well... That happened. I don't know nor do I want to know what problems that's going to cause, but can we just find an inn for now?”


     “You're not mad?” Rose asked meekly.


     “No. More surprised and confused and less than I expected to be.” An odd confession that came from my lips, but I felt it was true. “Look. I can't tell you what to do, but could you let us catch our breath before we start more trouble?”


From the crowd of people moving all around us an older woman's voice called out, “Rosette? That is you, isn't it, Rosette?” Her tone was stressed and generally unfriendly.


Rose immediately tensed up; her tail went rigid, and the look in her eyes said to me that she was debating on trying to slip away unseen, but when she turned her eyes toward the voice with me, we saw that a middle-aged, dark skinned, plump woman had already fixed her eyes on her. They were sullen and sunken eyes with bluish-black rings under them; she didn't look like someone who got a very good night's rest very often, which alone would explain the temperament.


     “M-mat? Didn't think I'd-” Rose said, bumbling.


     “That's Matilda to you. No one has heard where you've been in a year!” She yelled back.


Fierce and battle thirsty Rose seemed to be backing down, which was rare sight. The older woman walked, waddled, closer until she was right in Rose's face. She tried to back away, but the older woman just kept pressing forward.


     “Don't tell me you've been just walking around shoving those old papers in everyone's face.”


     “Well I-” Rose tried to cut in and defend herself.


     “We've told you time and time again. One of the rules is to have current papers at all times. And what about your dues? What job are you doing now?”


The woman turned her attention to me at last. I grit my teeth on reflect, new thoughts of an old part-time job back home resurfaced back into my head. Along with it, the image of the scary manager of a local market and its iron lady manager. I think I begun to understand the latent power of this woman; she had the latent ability to invoke a terrifying and disappointed mother figure at will.


     “And who are you supposed to be?”


     “Laven.” I responded immediately.


My instincts told me that there would only be trouble in making this woman wait for even a second longer. A response came flying out of my mouth before I could even think it through. Was it actually a good idea to just be throwing my name around? That kind of thought was put on the sidelines for now.


     “Laven? Just Laven? It's bad manners to not give your whole name kid.” She said, pointing her fat index finger into my chest.


There was a lot of pressure on my chest, not from her strength, but merely from her presence. She was just like that one aunt that terrified you as a kid, and the trauma of being left alone at her house for a day carried on as emotional scars late into your adult life. Like Rose I felt myself being pushed back onto my heels.


     “That is quite enough.”


A black blur stepped in front of me, and Susan moved in to put herself between myself and the woman. Matilda's eyes lit up like hellfire; a scowl on her face tore at Susan like a vicious beast. Susan didn't even budge; her face was calm and stoic as always and weathered the storm. The bulldog had been denied its bone, so it bared its teeth and growled.


     “Young miss. Out of the way, I'll get to you soon-”


     “If you insist on respect being due to the length of one's life, I suggest you change your tone at once. As such, I will not tolerate your abuse of my lord any longer.”


And the standoff began. A battle between a wolf and a bullmastiff. I didn't think I'd ever see a human with a presence enough to stand up to a monster, but I was witnessing it. The tall, lean and divine beast against the middle-aged squat woman with a serious pudge and gut. A battle of wills and presence equal on both sides, until Rose recovered and slid back into the fray. She collided against Susan's shoulder and stuck out her index talon at Matilda.


     “Hold it!” She yelled out.


Now Rose had done it, the crowds had stopped all around us in a circle and began to pay attention to our little sideshow. I could only shake my head in horror and mutter to myself, 'no, not again.' I seemed to be doomed to an eternity of trouble, and I thought we were just lucky to have not drawn attention beyond the gate yet, but you could kiss that goodbye. What was to come was no doubt going to get ugly.


     “Rosette... Not now-” Matilda growled.


Two on one, maybe they'd win, but this drama had to end fast, so I thought. That said, I put my hands on the two girl's shoulders and pushed through to stick my head out from between them and talk directly to this woman.


     “Can you just tell us what the problem is? We're drawing a crowd.”


Like an enchantment had been dispelled the other three were suddenly awoken to the forest of people and monsters with their eyes fixed on us. The tense pressure was quickly replaced with embarrassment.


     “Rosette.” Matilda said more calmly than before. “You need to report to the guild. Now.”


     “Can we do that tomorrow?” I asked. “We just got here after a tough journey-”


     “No. Right. Now.” Matilda bluntly commanded.


She locked her sausage fingers on the wrists of Rose and Susan both and began walking away. Both their heels dug into the cobblestone street to no avail. They both looked back at me, but neither seemed to be able to break that woman's ornery death grip. The attention we had gathered seemed to have dissolved some time ago, and the people milling about swallowed and absorbed the three of them. I tried to catch up, but I lost track of them completely. Now I was alone and lost in a sea of people in a strange town with no money, no food and no clue.


There was no knowing how long the two of them were going to be abducted. That Matilda lady seemed to be someone from the guild and had no fear in dealing with monsters. She had said Rose needed to report in, but also dragged Susan off as well. Maybe she thought she was a guild member as well? Susan's appearance didn't even phase the old woman. She's an anubis; that's not something people see, ever, or so I thought. When those two managed to escape her clutches, they'd probably find me pretty quick. Maybe they'd do it faster if I just went and found an inn. I did say we should find one.


There wasn't any need to panic. None at all. I was sure I'd be fine. This is the city after all. Not some wild and untamed wilderness with hungry beasts. Ruthless lustful beasts. This was civilization with the rule of law. No need to worry. None at all.


     “Hey there, handsome.” A voice cooed from behind me.


No need to worry. Just some young sounding lady who probably could tell I looked lost. Just a helpful lady willing to lend a hand. That's a good thought to keep in mind, so I'll just keep that in mind as I turn around. As I turned around I spotted a tall and lithe woman wearing almost next to nothing. With sinister and demonic curled horns jutting from her head, leathery bat like wings protruding from her back and a long black tail with a devil's spade on the end of it. With her hands on her wide hips below waspish thin waist, she leaned over and looked up at me, a gesture mostly likely to avert my eyes a little lower at her barely covered cleavage.


     “Good evening.” She said in a long prolonged drawl.


Her voice was heavy with flirtation, but I took it as a threat because this woman was a demon. By how provocative she was, she was a hallmark succubus. The dangerous embodiment of lust I've heard about. My hopes for an uneventful outing were dashed immediately. I felt there was a scent in the air coming from the succubus itself; it was sweet, almost intoxicating. It put me on my guard immediately.


     “Come on now. No need to be so stiff.” She pouted.


Before I could speak another word a young man came barreling from the crowd and angrily walked right up to the Succubus, without reservation or fear. Some other victim?


     “Grandma! What do you think you're doing?”


Wait. Grandma? What?


     The succubus turned to the man, still pouting, “Just having some fun. Don't be such a stick in the mud.”


The man didn't back down and kept shouting back, “Can't you think of your family, what effect do you think your actions have? None?”


     “Just teasing the poor boy here. I wasn't going to even lay a hand on him. A girl just needs to know she still has it.”


The succubus wrapped her arms around her chest and held up her breasts and swiveled her torso back and forth to cause them to shake suggestively. I felt myself heat up a bit from the sight, but the guy didn't seem taken aback or affected at all.


     “Oh!” She suddenly cried out. “I have to be going. Your grandfather is waiting; I said I wouldn't be gone long.”


The succubus lifted up a wicker basket, inside were... oysters. Lots of them. With a few beats from her wings, she lifted off the ground without effort and took off to the skies. She soared only just above the crowds of people in the street as she disappeared from our sight.


I was still in a daze when the man approached and started trying to explain himself... and her.


     “I'm terribly sorry about that. She's not a bad person. You see, my grandmother only just changed a couple of years ago. She's been looking out for my grandfather; he's been getting old and frail you see. She was always so full of life, but even she was getting frail and old. When she started to ache and began losing her sight, she, well... She gave into a 'temptation' and thought that would solve all her problems.”


     “Look-” I starting saying, trying to get a word in.


     “No no no, please. I understand. She's an embarrassment to our family. You need not say anything. Allow me to extend our most sincere apologies. You must forgive her. She did it for good reasons. She's young again. My grandfather is happy his wife is so beautiful now too, and he's never felt... well...” The man was getting embarrassed. “...Younger?”


     With the man flustered, I got in edgewise at last, “An Inn, just tell me where the nearest inn is, and I'll forget this ever happened.”


A look of relief replaced the man's embarrassed and surprised face. He let out a long sigh, happy that he wasn't going to have to do any further apologizing.


     “Yes, of course, you look the traveling sort. Just head down this road; keep right for two forks into the road, and you'll get to the Greased Goose. Look for a simple sign with just a dirt road forking. Well, good evening then. Thank you and sorry.”


The man wave good-bye and in a rush starting running off and cutting through the crowd off in the direction where the succubus had flown away.


Well, that happened too. I suppose life for everyone got complicated when monsters got involved. Not necessarily for the worse, but trouble all the same. At least I knew where to go now; the whole thing wasn't a wash.


I decided to leave quickly, lest trouble find me again, which it seemed to do more often whenever I was idle. The crowds walking down the street were much easier to navigate than they looked, and progress was faster than I thought. Sometimes I had to step out of the way of a tail, wing or something, but everyone was still very pleasant and relaxed. Although the crowds were thick, there wasn't any panic that made people cut each other off. Instead, everyone seemed very courteous. Maybe it was another product of being used to getting held down behind these walls?


I was so caught in my own train of thought that I didn't notice I had wandered out of the stream of the crowd to an area of the road which seemed to have been avoided by the current of people. It was so jarring to see a space of at least three meters between myself and the crowd carrying about their business as usual, but not as much as the pieces of wooden and broken stones embedded in the soft ground which had taken the place of the cobblestone.


     “Look out below!” A man's voice called out from above.


I didn't even look up; I pushed off the ground and threw myself out of the way of a long two by four which hit the ground with a crack, then fell over sideways. My heart was beating quickly, my breathing became hard and my throat went dry. I looked up to see a balding older man hanging three stories up on an unfinished building looking down at me. From behind him a head poked out; it looked like a child but with two large horns jutting out from her head and long ears poking out below them. From all around the man another four children resembling the first also poked their heads out. They all wore the same mischievous expression; I could swear it hid a trace amount of disappointment to see I was still standing upright.


     “You missed Tali!” One shouted out in a high pitch.


     “Nice butter fingers!” A second called out.


     “Stop trying to carry more than three at once, Tali!” The third yelled.


     “Shaddap!” An unseen girl called out from behind them. “Dolly did it, not me!”


     “Just go and clean it up.” Ordered the man. “We're ahead of schedule today. Keep it that way. And sorry by the way! You alright down there?”


I brushed off the dirt off my clothes and replied back, “Yeah. No worries. It didn't kill me.”


From the open doorway leading into the building one of the girls came rushing out. She couldn't be any taller than 130 centimeters and looked like a child. At least she would have, but those horns and ears told me another story. She continued rushing toward the large piece of wood and bent down to wrap her arms around it. Without paying any attention to me she lifted it above her head with ease and rested it on her shoulder.


     “While you're down there, grab some of the others, Tali!” The man commanded.


     “Yeah yeah!” she said snidely.


I watched the girl pile up more of the lumber on her shoulder. She didn't slow down at all, and it seemed like it wasn't a bother to her at all. She stood back up with about eight two by fours resting on her right shoulder, she could barely wrap her right arm around all of them to hold them there.


     “Hey! Dolly!” Shouted the man above. Grab those stones will ya!”


     “Yes~!” A new voice called out.


The voice sounded a little slurred and droll and from the house another 'child' emerged. Her appearance was a stark contrast to the others. She was as short, but one of her horns was much larger and longer than the other. She had a dazed and droopy expression with a smile plastered on her face that screamed 'simplicity'. Furthermore, her breasts were absurdly large for her size. Those didn't have any reason to be on a child. They were larger than her head, and they bounced comically against and together on her chest. When she approached a slab of stone that was as big as her and lifted it into the air above her head with both arms as though it was nothing, I had to admit that these were not children but just small monsters.


     As the two of them went back into the house, the man up top called back down to me again, “Sorry about that! I'll buy you a drink later, if I see ya. Maybe. Have a nice night.”


With that curt apology for something that may have killed me, they all vanished from sight and probably went back to work. I guess I know why the people were avoiding this building now. It helped my theory that this city was pretty close knit. Without a sign or barrier, the people here knew full well to stay away for fear of falling debris. They seemed to be in construction or at least repair. With a mob of little monsters with strength for their size like that, I guess you would be ahead of schedule.


I wasn't going to wait around to be flattened or clobbered by more fall debris, some of which weighs more than I do, so like before I decided to quickly go on my way. The first fork was right ahead, so the inn had to be close by.


I followed the road and let myself be carried by the current of people and occasional monster until I finally came to the second fork and took another right. Hanging above the heads of the crowd in front of me was a hanging wooden sign of a goose running and flapping its wings. That had to be it. Well, except for a couple of possibly bad situations I was able to handle myself well enough. Those girls worry too much sometimes. It's not as if I'm completely-


     “Laven” A female voice stated coldly right behind me.


Before I could turn around I felt something pointed press up against my back, even through my leather jerkin. A ringing in the back of my head, my instincts, told me it was steel and sharper than it felt. It wouldn't take too much effort to push through into my spine.


     “Laven... Into the alley. Now.” She commanded.


We both stood in the middle of the street with people moving all around us. The boisterous white noise of the crowd, the talking and the footsteps against cobblestone rung in my head as my senses heightened to the danger I was in. No one seemed to notice the two of standing there, let alone the dagger nearly stuck in my back.


     “Now.” The voice whispered threateningly.


I had no choice, I'd be stuck, maybe fatally with one or two pushes into my kidneys. I kept my hands rigid at my sides and after taking the first step and turning right into a nearby alley kept walking as the pointed steel against my lower back kept me walking. A few meters into the alley, past some crates and well enough out of sight from the crowd the dagger was released from my back. I took the cue and turned around. Standing before me was a small lithe figure. Wrapped in a green cloak with a hood covering the face, but the figure couldn't have been anything else other than a woman.


When she looked up at me, her face didn't seem particularly compelling, even if the features weren't nothing to sneeze at. This person wasn't a monster. That was what my intuition told me. She didn't have the same presence. I was surprised I was sensitive to these things. Brown eyes and black hair, cut in a conservative way, probably a pixie cut. While I was studying her she was looking down at a piece of paper and looking back up at me. On that paper was a rough sketch of myself.


     “Yeah. You match the description. And those clothes of yours, it has to be you.” She finally said.


     “Am I under arrest or something? I'm a busy person.” I said boldly and annoyed.


     “I'm going to be the one asking questions.” She snarled.


Her bark had bite, given that she flashed that dagger of hers just a few centimeters from my face.


     “What are you doing in Vilmheim, Laven? And how did you get here? You're supposed to be near Brun. There's no way you'd get out of the frontier as fast as you did.”


     “Maybe you should start with what the problem is?” I chided.


Once again she flashed the dagger, but this time she pressed it lightly against my nose, just lightly enough as to not pierce the skin, but hard enough to pick up on the pain of the sharp edge.


     “You caused a lot of trouble in Brun. What are you up to now?”


     “Trouble? I was just passing through. Just like I'm passing through here now.”


     “Hardly. I'll ask again. What are you after? You terrorist.”


Terrorist? What the fu- God dammit.

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