Book II - Chapter 20

Chapter 20

 

Snake Report

 

The first sightings of people were almost insignificant.

A man slumped against a stone wall, followed by the odd form here or there. Just a few people, wrapped tightly in a ragged blankets. There were a few randomly places tents, roughly propped up.

Then, came the feeling of… pressure.

Pressure.

Like that feeling, when you know there’s going to be a storm.

The kind that makes you feel nervous.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see people watching us. Not slumped up against a wall, or sleeping in a shoddy looking tent: but really looking. The kind of folks who seem to have their hands on something, which can catch the light- just so.

Metal.

The street we came in on was mostly empty in the beginning. Pretty wide, probably meant as a main road, but it feels like it’s constricting.

Squeezing in on each side, bit by bit, on account of the people.

Humans, all of them. Just scattered about. Either sitting in groups, or alone… but more and more of them, all the same. With them, comes this… smell.

Stench.

Stains of run-off and rotten waste slung in on the divots of rock to either side, passing under or through the side streets. There are canals built, from the looks of it, but there’s no water in them. Each one we’ve passed over has been dry, for exception of what’s been thrown into them.

The atmosphere is far from comfortable.

“Move along.”

Someone’s shouting, in the distant. Not at us, I don’t think, but all the same. Echoing calls, coming from out of sight.

There are more and more people, while there’s less, and less light.

However it is that the street lamps happen to function, they’re not working so well in this district.

“Want a piece of me, eh?”

Curses and crashes, people yelling or shouting- I think there’s a fight nearby.

I don’t like this.

Imra’s moving with purpose. We haven’t slowed down, but this kind of environment makes me want to slink back beneath her cloak and hide. Everywhere I look, people are watching us.

Hungry gazes.

It reminds me of the dungeon.

Instinct is starting to scream.

Threats.

Enemies.

Danger.

Are we prey? Are we predator? The people watching us don’t know, yet.

Imra, I think that it might be best if we leave.

Ssss…

Did she hear me?

She’s still moving.

Maybe I wasn’t loud enough?

Imra? We should leave. This isn’t safe for us.

Still no response, verbal or otherwise. If anything, Imra's pace seems to have quickened.

The terrain has become increasingly less-friendly.

Oh, I don’t like where this was heading.

Maybe it’s a small price to pay for all the leveling I’ve done, but my senses are too much.

I can hear it all.

Shouts now… screams and curses… the unmistakable sound of pottery smashing, of arguments and violence. I can hear the clang of metal striking metal, of gasps and pain…

Imra isn’t stopping or turning back, though.

She’s caught onto something. Some sound, or smell, or…

We’ve reached a plaza.

The noises are echoing all about the buildings and streets. There’s a body, limp against a stone wall. Beside it, a group of men are throwing dice. Laughing, with coins and fists in the air.

Ahead of us, there’s a crowd of people. All standing, all bustling and pushing against one another.

“Form a line!”

Someone’s shouting.

“I said, form a bloody line! Emperor’s blessing demands order! Order, light help me!”

No more than fifty paces from where we are now, and it’s packed.

People: skin, hair, ragged looking clothing. Desperate faces, shouting and shoving one another- fighting one another.

Some are trying to get through, to move forward, while others are trying to break free- trying to get out: moving with arms wrapped tightly to their chests around... something.

“Back off!”

A man just came stumbled out from the throng of people. Someone is trying to wrestle something out of his arms.

“Back!”

He’s not giving up, but they’re overpowering him.

“Stop!”

They’ve wrenched it free taken off running- only to trip and drop everything.

I get it.

There they sit, untarnished and alone for the barest of instants: food, and drink.

It’s bread.

Bread, and a metal flask.

“No!”

The man shouts in vain, as the crowd is reacting: fifteen or so others descending on these. Clawing and punching, feet kicking ruthlessly, with one or two coming away bearing pieces and portions before sprinting off the street and into the waiting alleyways.

It’s like we’ve stumbled into hell.

“There's water ahead.”

Imra's might as well be growling.

I didn’t realize how thirsty she was, but it’s painful now. I can’t block it out, anymore than I can block out the noise, or the smell.

“Water.”

A fact, or a... statement?

Imra’s moving in.

Not walking, not jogging- picking up speed.

Momentum.

Wait! What are you doing-

I don't know why I bothered asking. I know exactly what she was doing.

Breaking through.

“Order!” Someone ahead of us is shouting. “Emperor’s blessing demands order! Just because this shipment arrive late, does not give any of you the right to violence!”

Imra doesn’t listen.

As people howl and yelp, she’s pushing through with violence. Her hands thrust and pull, throwing back shoulders and bodies, sometimes even to the ground, as she’s dragging her way past with terrible efficiency.

Ruthless.

Wait! Imra! Stop!

WATER.

That’s the only response I’m getting.

I’ve totally lost her now.

We’re pushing through. People in front of her just end up thrown to the ground, tossed aside. Imra’s stronger than them. Whats more: she doesn’t care.

The way she’s handling them, someone could get really hurt- and she’s not even hesitating.

Just like that, we’re at the front.

We’ve broken through.

As suddenly as the crowd formed, it’s ended. Almost abruptly enough to sending us sprawling right into the waiting spears of soldiers. Dozens of them, in the glow of torches.

Ah.

Behind the people with weapons, there are wagons being unloaded.

“I said: order!” Someone in the back is turning towards us. They’re in armor, plated and polished in the flickering lights. “Anyone who can’t understand that, can go hungry!”

If we hadn’t just attracted enough attention, now more people are looking at us. Not just the people Imra elbowed through, but the soldiers themselves.

Back by the wagons, a few have bows. Nearby, many have swords and spears: deep red metal and crests matching some hard stares.

They’re advancing.

It’s like death approaching.

Imra-

From the hands of a person beside us, just coming from the front of the line, Imra has ripped something free.

WATER.

She’s already pouring, as fast as gravity can provide. Greedily swallowing, while more than half of the liquid is just raining down on the ground.

“Hey!”

More shouting, more attention.

Someone grabs us.

Imra’s arm lashes out, and someone falls.

She’s grabbed something else, they’re too weak to stop her.

“ORDER!” That figure in the back is fast approaching. He’s drawn his sword- I can see it.

Imra!

Why won’t she listen?

“YOU! IN THE NAME OF THE EMPEROR, I ORDER YOU TO STOP!”

The man in armor has drawn his sword. More soldiers are advancing, breaking away from the crates and wagons they were unloading.

Imra, we need to go. We need to go, now.

Is she listening?

God, I don’t know what’s getting through. She must have recognized the danger, but I don’t know if she can hear me. Imra’s fighting through the crowd, again, but this time in reverse.

In between shoves, she’s taking bites of something.

When did she manage to get her hands on a loaf of bread? Who did she take that from?

“YOU THERE! I SAID: STOP!” A soldier shouted, spear lashing out towards our position, metal rippling as it cut along the air.

“AGGGG-“

Imra side stepped it, and they just took someone else through the shoulder by accident.

“AGGGG, it hurts! Mercy!”

Oh god.

"HALT! The wind just boomed. I felt a gust fly past us. “IN THE NAME OF THE EMPEROR!”

Was that a skill? Magic?

We’re too deep in the crowd already, they can’t get to us without other people getting in the way.

“I SAID, HALT!”

The pressure. The air.

Shit.

This is not good. Not good.

Barrier of skin and bone are falling before us now. People bowled over, thrown to the ground. Imra is just ramming her way through.

IMRA! STOP-

“__________________ !” Someone is shouting at our backs, but I can’t understand a word. "__ ____ _____!"

Just that the tone is furious.

Maybe it’s the soldiers.

Maybe the crowd- but that same roil of anger and shouting is only growing.

“ORDER!”

Loud as that voice is, it’s being drowned out.

Every push and shove seems to put more energy into the system: more shouts and yells. Like a wave, only we’re ahead of it. Imra’s moving quicker now, several bodies deep into the thick of this crowd.

Clanking armor, shouts- it’s all too far behind us.

“Filth.”

Imra took one bite of bread, before throwing it onto the ground.

People are already diving for it. Kicking and screaming.

“Hey! You think you can just-“

Someone is moving to block our path.

Imra’s moving too.

Crack.

Sound, like a board of wood meeting its limit.

Followed by a scream.

Imra just broke that person's arm.

All around us, tensions are just getting worse. People are shouting, pushing and shoving one another- to and fro in the masses.

We still haven’t even slowed down, but the air… the air has. More than slowed, it’s grown still. Like a giant breath had been sucked in- and held.

That pressure, like right before a storm.

I’ve been feeling it this whole time, but now?

Imra, we need to leave.

I say that, but there’s no point.

Even if she’s listening now, it’s too late.

Ssss…

The storm’s here.