Book II - Chapter 18

Chapter 18

 

Snake Report

 

Young Elf, behold your God's genius.

“Yes, Great One.”

It’s still dark, but that’s for the best. I decided we should move quick. Another caravan came through, just recently.

Not really a chance we can afford to pass up.

Imra is walking along the road, now. Ahead of us, it looks like a few others intersect and widen out a bit. More signs of people, and now a lot of evidence that wagons have been along this way. Grooves and paths in the dirt.

Pretty much confirms what I’d been assuming.

Up ahead, cut into the wall, is an entrance.

More specifically, a gate.

Wrapped around Imra’s neck, peeking out from underneath this cloak, it’s not all that obvious.

I mean, the roads had to lead somewhere- I knew that much, but compared to the enormous nature of the wall itself: the gate is small.

It’s just an arch, molded right into the stone.

Okay, maybe now that we’re getting closer, it’s not that small.

Small, relative to the wall.

Probably like twenty slithers high?

I see some torches out there now, but they weren’t before. I think whoever is there, is just responding to the caravan ahead of us.

Like a weight-station.

Or, a check point.

Gotta say, instinct is wigging out on this one.

They’re not a fan.

No trust.

Okay.

I gotta duck low.

We’re no longer Elf and snake. We’re “human.”

Remember Imra?

We’re just an ordinary traveler.

“Yes, Great One.”

Good.

Sss…

This better work. Between the cloak, and the scraps of cloth we managed to find…

Distance?

“We approach.”

Imra is whispering back, but she’s walking normally.

Steady and regular pace, I think. Her breathing is a little still raspy, but considering she’s been on her feet and moving without water for a full day, whatever meditation trick she had pulled while I was surveying must have done wonders.

Remember what I told you. Let me do the talking.

Our pace is beginning to slow.

Unease… I think. She’s stiffened her posture a little.

We have to be pretty close, now.

Elf warriors didn't get nervous over just anything.

“Humans.”

One quiet word, barely audible.

That my queue.

“___ ____ _____?”

Uh…

Shit.

Didn’t expect this. Someone just shouted at us, but I don’t know the language.

“___ ____ _____?”

Another shout.

Crap.

“I said: who goes there?”

OH! I know this one.

It’s a stern voice, from somewhere ahead.

“I said: WHO GOES THERE?” The stern voice has adjusted itself from request to command.

Slow down, Imra.

Okay, good. She’s slowing down.

I’ve been I trying to project loud enough for her to hear me, consistently. Sometimes I’m not sure if it goes through.

Carefully raise your hands.

“Stranger! Identify yourself! Final warning!”

I interpret whatever is being shouted as the Southern Continent's Human Language.

Pretty sure.

I’m not going to question how I can tell, but this is the one I'd bought using [Voice of Gaia] and found totally useless.

Just remain calm, and don't move suddenly. Keep your hands and arms raised. Walk closer. Bow slightly, while you're at it.

“I do not bow to humans.”

Woah.

That made her mad.

Bow for me, then.

I’m urging Imra on from my perch, but I really can’t see a damn thing.

My eyes are pretty much against the fabric.

All I can tell is the direction of the torchlight.

“Are you alone? It's rare someone comes approaches the city at this hour."

Suspicious tone. Clearly noted.

Nod.

"The beasts roam the plains at night. Traveling alone is foolish."

Keep calm, don't move much. Let him talk.

"What in gods and light are you wearing? Into the light with you.”

 

Take a few steps forward.

The voice from in front of us is hardly ten feet away, from my best guess. Through the fabric I can’t really tell, but I think they’re the one holding the torch.

“Alone, and unarmed? That's close to lunacy… don't you know the kind of things outside of the walls at night?”

Just keep your arms raised, keep nodding.

Whoever this is, they’re lecturing us.

Probably not a bad thing.

Footsteps… they’re coming closer.

I can make out the shadow of a figure standing before us. Larger build with some sort of spear? Or maybe a halberd? It’s hard to tell.

“And… you're a woman? Light have mercy! A woman- traveling alone and unarmed in these times?"

The voice has turned itself about. Complete 180 now, from stern and harsh, to incredulous.

"Ha! First King fix my eyes, how in the name of Gods did you even get here alive?”

Uh… they want a response.

Imra, can you understand anything he's saying?

No, wait, don’t try and answer. Just nod and point to your neck.

Keep calm.

“Are you a mute as well?”

Oh, that’s good.

I think I just saw the Guard’s posture slip a little. Pretty sure.

“Ah, my sister was born that way. Sickness sent by the Dwarves, in the village. It was a difficult burden.”

This is so claustrophobic.

I can’t really see, but I think he’s waving.

At others?

Several boots are moving away from us.

Oh…

I didn’t even know they were there.

No wonder Imra’s nervous.

“You must have come a long way, and as a lone woman in these times. Are you an Adventurer?”

The Guard gestured something.

I don’t know what.

Nod.

I’m faltering a bit here.

“Rare to see in the present day. While our enemies bring ruin and the very world is said to seek our demise."

He’s paused slightly, shouldering his weapon.

Uh…

Nod at that. Try to look proud.

"So, you are! Out to seek fame and fortune in the Fabled city of the Emperor, the nerve of you!”

The nerve… okay.

That had to be a joke.

He’s laughing, it was a joke.

“Well you're not a beast or heavens forbid- a [Construct] or Dwarf.”

What the heck is a [Construct]?

“All humans are welcome, so you're free to enter, but...”

He’s hesitating on that last bit.

I can all but feel his eyes peering at Imra, leaning in a bit.

“This is a bad time to be coming to this place, I think.”

Advice?

“The Guilds are in turmoil, and the drought has been running the Royal granaries down. Be very careful on the streets.”

Arm motion.

I think that was a wave "on-through."

The perfect prompt.

Bow a bit and then go.

I do not bow to cursed blood.

Woah.

Did Imra just say that in my head?

Bow for me, then?

“You’re… free to go.”

Oh, we’ve been standing here awkwardly.

Go, Imra.

Go, go, go!

Walk with confidence, and don't look back-

“Hey, Adventurer!”

Hisss-!

Shit, did I just hiss out loud?

It’s the nerves.

Oh crap.

They didn’t notice, did they?

Imra’s frozen.

I can tell, her feet are glued right on that point of indecision: between running like the wind, and turning towards combat.

Stay still. No fighting. Just hold still.

“One last word of advice, you can take it or not."

The Guard spoke from his post, weapon shifting like a pointer in our direction.

"If you think you're up for it, there should still be food and water at the Empire's station. Straight ahead four streets and then another to your left. Emperor’s decree, they'll give anyone food and drink if you wait your turn.”

Nod… now, walk… slowly.

Phew.

Keep walking…

Keep walking… little further…

Are we in?

I’m going to take a quick peek.

We’re through, right?

Ssss…

Holy crap, I can’t even believe that worked.

The wall is behind us, we’re through the tunnel gate.

Without being cut to ribbons or worse, we’re in. I don’t know where "in" is, exactly, but there’s food and water somewhere nearby. That’s a start.

We’ll lay low. Get something to eat and drink, get some answers. It’s a city, so someone here is bound to be able to help us.

Thank you, Tiny Snake God.

I knew you wouldn’t lead me astray.

Everything is looking better already.