Chapter 12- Over the Hill

Street Fighter

-Date: Saturday Meith 19, 1003 AW

-Time:Mid-Afternoon

-Location: Akkad, Capital of the Kingdom of the Sun, Central Desert

"Record time!" Ashnak shouted as they approached the gates of the huge stone-walled city. "I have to admit it Spreach, you actually are useful! Now if I could just get used to the smell..."

The racur glared at Ashnak, as if it understood the condescending words. Lancaster stepped in between them. "He doesn't smell that bad, Ash. Hell, you don't smell that pleasant in all this heat either."

"I know," Ashnak chuckled, "but with Moros gone I've gotta pick on someone."

"Moros couldn't shake you around like a rag doll and swallow your head whole."

Ashnak stopped laughing and glanced over his shoulder at Spreach, who was still staring daggers. "Yeah... Point taken."

"Good, now shut up and let me do the talking. They dislike Coillians here enough as it is."

They entered the guardhouse and were stopped by a soldier. "I am the Captain of this watch! State your reasons for being here, Coillian! We don't appreciate you barbarians loitering in our fair city!"

Ignoring the guard's blatant racism, Lancaster answered, "I am a Forestwalker of the Hunter's Guild, carrying documents outlining my mission that does not involve your nation; nor will it affect the Kingdom in any way, shape or form. As such, you cannot deny my entry without explicit authority from the King. So unless you wish to explain to the Immortals why you attempting to create yet another international incident, I suggest this go as smoothly as possible."

Obviously outraged at the threat, but also obviously terrified at the thought of incurring the Immortals' wrath, the captain lightened his tone a shade. "Fine then. What is your purpose here?"

"We are on our way to the East and seek to trade and replenish our supplies. Were it up to me, we wouldn't venture within 100 kilometers of this place."

The captain narrowed his eyes, picking up on the not-so-subtle insult. "You watch yourself, Hunter. You may be authorized to be here, but that can change with a moment's notice. Also we do not allow those beasts in the city," he said, nodding toward Spreach. He motioned for the other guards to confine the it.

Spreach opened his mouth wide and let out a savage snarl, stopping the approaching guards and causing everyone in the area to jump in fright.

"Sir, please restrain your racur!"

"Oh, its Sir now?" Lancaster said, dripping with sarcasm. Regardless he walked over to Spreach and rubbed his nose, calming the beast. He lead Spreach out of the gates and instructed him to stay put, gesturing to the ground. When he was satisfied that the racur understood the instructions, he returned to the gate. He and Ashnak were allowed in without any further incident.

"Lan, why did you let him talk like that? I would've killed him on the spot!"

"Because, they'll use any excuse they can find to keep Coillian's out of their lands and killing a guard, even in self-defense, would be more than enough of an excuse for them to arrest and execute us. So do me a favor, don't piss anyone off."

Ashnak rolled his eyes and sighed. "I hate this place already."

They wandered through the stalls of the marketplace, most of them were stocked with food or glass artwork. They stopped at one stall in particular, featuring tiny figurines of Imperial soldiers made of a shiny white glass.

"What's with all the dinky statues?" Ashnak inquired.

"In the desert trees only grow around oases, they barely grown enough food to feed their own population, the only cost-effective mines are in the mountains and they used all of the stone deposits they had to build these walls. They only thing they've got that can't be bought cheaper and of higher-quality elsewhere is sand and they need to export something, so glass it is."

"Okay... But what about those mines? I know there's a ton of ore up there."

"Yes, there is 'a ton of ore up there,' but it's impure and low quality. Most of the metals we mine come from the northern peaks, which is all volcanic rock, so each type of rock is separated from each other and ore comes in huge distinct deposits. The ore they mine is all mixed in with sandstone and such. Besides, we import most of ours from the South Kingdom anyway, they've the highest quality metals in the world."

"Why doesn't the desert do that as well?"

"They're not on the best terms with each other..." He paused, then continued, "They do produce more gemstones than anyone else, but they're mostly semiprecious and hard to get to with the shitty metal they make their tools with."

"Hey, ummm sir!" Ashnak hailed the short man tending to the stall.

"Yes? Ah! Coillians! What do you need, my friend?"

Surprised at the warm greeting, Ashnak stuttered for a second. "Do you have any other sculptures?"

"Yes! Yes, we do!" The old man gave him a toothless grin. He dragged a heavy crate from underneath the counter. "We have many pieces of work depicting soldiers from all over the world! All carefully sculpted by my brother's steady hands!" he said enthusiastically.

The merchant looked hard at Ashnak. "Unfortunately, I don't have any Coillians. The Immortals tend to... have long conversations with any artists who depict Coillians. Pity, your people make for great pieces."

He though for a second, "You, however, are larger than those who usually frequent here. Almost like... Ah! Hold on, my friend! I have just the thing."

From the box he retrieved a ten centimeter tall statuette of a screaming warrior wielding a warhammer. It was very intricately carved from a deep-blue glass. Everything from the warriors bulging muscles to the raw fury on his face was depicted in great detail.

"A Northman?" Ashnak whispered.

"Yes! The resemblance between you and him is uncanny, no? For you, I say... Twenty silvers."

Ashnak picked up the figurine, taking it in in all it's glory. "Unacceptable, you're getting thirty."

"Ah! You are most generous! Let me prepare that for you!" Taking the figurine from Ashnak, he wrapped it in a cotton cloth and placed it in a pouch before handing it back. "There! Now it will be safe and sound from the horrors of the elements! Take good care of it!"

Ashnak and Lancaster left the merchant to haggle with another customer. "I didn't realize you appreciated art so much."

"I don't. I wanted to get something to send back to my mom. You know, let her know we're alright."

"Ah... But why pay more than the asking price?"

"Its beautiful. You can call me many things, but never say I don't appreciate fine craftsmanship."

Lancaster shook his head and the pair continued to walk through the stalls receiving a wide birth from the crowd. "So much for incognito," Lancaster muttered to himself. As such he was already suspicious when a group of five men, slightly older than he, walked straight through him and Ashnak. He reacted immediately when he felt his belt lighten as one of them brushed by him.

He grabbed the offender by the wrist and pulled, using the momentum to amplify a brutal punch he threw to the man's temple. Grabbing his coin purse from the pickpocket's hand, he lept backwards, landing a meter or so away. The rest of the thieves heard their comrade collapse to the ground, unconscious and turned around to fight.

"You just made a big mistake, kid!"

"Yeah! You think you can get away with that in our city?"

Lancaster shook his head. "He tried to steal from me, I had every right to do that."

"Our city, our rules! now, you die!" The thug glared at Ashnak. "You gunna help fatty?"

Ashnak shook his head. "Where I come from, thieves receive capital punishment; so tell me, why would I even the field by helping you?"

"Wha-? You-?" The thief sputtered with rage. "You just wait, when we're finished with him, its your turn."

One of the thieves came at Lancaster, planting his foot on the ground for a kick. In a flash, Lancaster burst into arm's reach throwing his fist into the attacker's Adam's Apple. The thief stumbled back, gagging. Lancaster stepped forward again, coming in with a knifehand to the throat. The choking thief fell to the ground.

Two more came in. One launched a flying kick at Lancaster's head, he sidestepped fluidly. The second threw a roundhouse kick at Lancaster's ribs. He stepped forward, catching the thief's leg under his arm. He kicked at his trapped foe's ankle, sending the criminal hard onto his back. Lancaster stomped hard on the thief's already hyper-extended knee, breaking it.

Lancaster fell to one knee, narrowly ducking a tornado kick from the thief who had missed before. He got almost chest to chest with the confused thief, launching punch after punch. The thief kept pushing away and stepping back, trying to get away so he could throw another kick, but every time he opened the gap, Lancaster closed it. He eventually collapsed in a bloody heap.

Lancaster glared at the last thief, who turned and ran... straight into Ashnak, who shattered his face with a massive fist.

"Nice catch."

"Cut the crap, Lan. Where the hell'd you learn that?"

Lancaster shrugged. "Moros. Wasn't that hard, a lot of it was the same crap they teach hunters, just without weapons."

"Huh... Never would've figured him to be the brawler type."

"Yeah well let's get out of here before the guards-"

"YOU! COILLIANS! STAY WHERE YOU ARE!"

"I saw that one coming," Ashnak sighed.

Lancaster held his hands up to the approaching patrol. "One of them tried to pickpocket me, the rest attacked after I hit him. I was just defending myself. Besides, they'll all live; I think..."

"Quiet, infidel! You come into our city and assail our citizens!" The Sergeant screamed. He turned to his second, "Arrest them!"

A guard stepped forward timidly than stopped.

The Sergeant was furious. "What is wrong with you?"

"Uhhh, he just took out four men using only his fists. I don't want to piss him off."

He turned to the rest of his men. "Are any of you willing to do your job?"

There was a collective murmur from the group.

"They really didn't do anything wrong, sir..."

"Yeah and that big one has an even bigger axe."

The Sergeant snarled and turned to Lancaster, but stopped dead when he saw the Coillian fingering his own weapons.

"Fine!" He grabbed the shoulder of his second. "Help them get what they need and escort them out of the city!"

The relieved guard guided them through the market as they picked up some dried fruits and breads for their trip. He then led them to the gates, saying, "There's a fountain over by the horse paddock, the water there is clean. After you fill your skins, I suggest you put some distance between yourself and here; my boss is known for changing his mind."

Ashnak turned to Lancaster, "More walking? I was hoping to sleep in a bed for a change."

"We're two-thirds of the way there, we're only a few days from the pass to the Eastern Kingdoms. Now shut up and let's get moving."

Crossing the Line

-Date: Saturday Meith 19, 1003 AW

-Time: Mid-Evening

-Location: Guardhouse on the mountain path separating the Desert form the Kingdoms

The trio received a warm reception from the Legionaries guarding the South Kingdom's border. Upon learning of Lancaster's rank, the Colonel decided to process them herself.

He checked over their things and finding no contraband, accepted their paperwork. "Forestwalker Lancaster of the Hunter's Guild and the Nialas Clan?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Your papers say you are here to conduct a survey on the state of our wooded areas. So, why exactly are you here?"

"Errr... Well, I'm going to catalog the state of the forests and write a report which the Guild will review and decide if any action is necessary before offering your king to perform a joint-effort to preserve and restore any areas deemed damaged."

"That's why the Guild sent you here, but why are you here?"

Lancaster was completely taken aback.

"I can tell by looking at you. You have your own purpose for being here."

"I've never left Tir Coill before, I kindda want to see what its like over here."

The Colonel nodded. "As I thought. Ashnak nor'Fenrok dar Vala?"

"Aye."

"Good. You've the proper identification, welcome to the Southern kingdom!"

"What-? Hey, ma'am? Why did you ask him so many goddamn questions, but not me?"

"Because we have an open-border policy with your people, but he's a soldier here on assignment." She turned to Lancaster. "Again, welcome. I will be sending confirmation of your arrival to one of the Regis' aides. I suggest you find a permanent residence so that your embassy will have a place to contact you at should the need come up. I realize you will be traveling often, but returning every other month or so to check for missives should be sufficient."

"Thank you, Colonel."

"Also, keep in mind that racur are more active in the cooler environment of the forests."

Lancaster nodded to the woman and led Spreach and Ashnak through the gates into the Southern Kingdom. As he received his first view of the acres of farmland, scattered with groves of trees basking in the shadow of the mountains, he knew he made the right choice.