This week we finally get out of the bug-infested woods. Whew!
The well balanced throwing knife flipped end over end, ending up handle-first in Leliana’s outstretched palm. She almost wished she would miss once, if only to have something to break up the monotony of walking. “What idiot invented walking anyway,” she yawned. “should’ve evolved wheels instead of legs I’m just sayin’.”
After a hideously safe couple hours of walking, she was slowly descending into madness. The city was a lot further than it looked from the foothills. The trees encroached right up to the road and grew thick, with a wild underbrush and an extremely solid canopy. She let her mind wander for a bit, wondering if she’d really seen some of the things she’d seen in the last few weeks. Spiked cats, flying ships, radiation-eating worms the size of cities.
Well, she knew that last one was real, if only because she’d been inside the mouths of more than one. But still, her education had been remarkably void of some of the greatest parts of the journey so far. A steady diet of warfare and covert tactics and boring crap like that was all she’d known for ten years – they wouldn’t even teach her to drive the buggy they did have. What a bunch of bastards after all. Leliana heaved a sigh into the empty air, slumping her shoulders and plodding along, hands practically dragging in the dirt. She crested the top of a small hill…and promptly fell over, slack jawed and wide-eyed.
The small rise overlooked an enormous bowl shaped valley with a river tumbling down from the same mountains she was leaving. The main tree line stopped a few meters in front of her, though scraggly bushes and saplings dotted the rest of the fields as far as she could see. The landscape looked like a warzone, pockmarked with craters and corpses and burnt greenery and what she could imagine used to be a few buildings of some sort. In the middle of it all grew a thick clump of buildings; concrete and brick and mortar for the most part, though there were definitely stacks of lopsided wooden hovels decorating the far end of town near a sheer edge.
About 100 feet from the the outer streets of the town was a line of stone boxes with slanted roofs. As she drew nearer, she watched the roof of one of the pillars roll to the side, revealing a familiar, rounded steel tube narrowing at the tip.
“A canno-” An air shattering kaboom punched the question out of her. The shock wave hit her bones, like she’d run skeleton-first into a wall.
Two more pillars flipped their tops as a few uniformed men rushed up the first with a steel ball and a bag to reload the first.
An acrid tang flooded her mouth as a sickly cloud of smoke enveloped her.
Blinking back tears, she looked around for whatever they were shooting at. A spiked lizard 20 feet high and half as tall popped out of camouflage, trying to avoid the cannon fire. Gore geysered up as a steel ball pierced its shoulder, hurling it to the ground. The beast fled, shrieking over its shoulder and disappearing into the trees. A few smoking craters marred the grass where it stood a few minutes ago.
The uniforms atop the pillars finished reloading all three cannons and flipped the tops back into place.
“Hot slag that was loud.” The young woman moved and massaged her poor, ringing ears, running her face into a wall.
Oh. Not a wall. A very tall man with very impressive muscles.
He crossed his arms sourly as she bounced off him face-first. “Name and business.”
Twenty minutes later, Yani Lana was waved on through the gate dismissively. “On your way then.”
It’s not like she was infamous or needed an alias, but it still felt pretty cool wearing a new identity, like the old spy novels she was allowed to read. Not the most creative name, obviously, but it was a rush job. She’d be more exotic next time.
Her first impression of this new town was…smelly. She watched a balcony door fling itself wide open as a dour woman in a black garb lugged a bucket outside and tossed the contents over the rail into a gutter next to the walkway. Yikes.
She wandered the streets for a few hours, allowing the crush of the crowds to smother her in noise and smell and sweat while she aimlessly drifted. She stopped at a street stall to buy a handful of candy at one point. The sweet and sour drops melted in her mouth. It was as amazing as she’d always imagined. Tingles ran up and down her arms and she allowed herself to bask in the sun, floating lazily in the ocean of humanity. Several times the retort of the cannons split the air, but it was so much less shocking when you weren’t standing in front of them.
Finally, the shadows lengthened and the sky darkened. The streets drained surprisingly quickly. She selected a loud, clean multi-story building with bright windows running around it and figured it was a likely place to find a bed.
Heat and light blasted her as soon as she opened the door, and she took a step back. The night air was cool and dry, and the air inside hot and humid to a ridiculous degree. “C’mon in miss, take a seat anywhere and I’ll get to ya.” She followed instructions, sliding into a chair by the door as a tall, dark-skinned woman set what must have been 10 pint glasses onto a nearby table. Not a drop spilled. The server was suddenly in front of Leliana’s, er, “Yani”‘s table. “What’ll ya have dear.”
“I’m looking for a room for the night, does this place rent beds? How much is a beer and a plate of food?” Some consistency in pricing would be nice someday.
The woman must have been used to these questions, rattling numbers off quickly.
“The drink and dinner are 5 dollars together, the room 15. Unless you need help warming it.” She eyed Leliana up and down for a minute, then stood and wiped her hands on a rag. “We got thorngills or hare soup for meat, or you can have a plate o’ veg with bread. Think about it and I’ll be right back.”
So 20 including dinner, that was less than she was expecting. Although what the hells was a thorngill? She definitely didn’t want vegetables for dinner, she’d be starving by midnight. Holding the bag under the table, she counted 20 coins without looking then secured the bag behind her. She parted with the money as the other returned. “Hare soup, please. And an empty bed.” She got a quick smile and a pint as the poor waitress dove back into the crowd.
Moments later, a steaming bowl of soup and a numbered key were dropped in front of her, and she fell on it like an animal. The soup was gone in less than a minute. Mmmm, it was good though. She nursed that beer for about a half hour when the door nearby creaked open. She felt a cool breeze and turned, suddenly staring into a set of criss-cross scars.
Antros recoiled, eyes wide and hand automatically resting at his hip.
She laughed. “Hey you.”