A Human, a Drake, and a Rabbitman walked through a city. Not just any city, but Pallass, one of the six Walled Cities of Izril. If the premise of their sudden adventure sounded like a joke, well, it was fairly funny. To Erin, at least. Her companions were less amused.
“I’m just saying, it sounds like a joke! A Human, a Rabbit-dude and a Lord of the Wall walk into a bar. Or through a magical portal. There’s a joke there somewhere!”
“The only thing remotely amusing is your simplicity.”
Ilvriss growled at Erin as he walked down the wide, stone street, glancing from side to side at the rows of apartment buildings. The Drake looked north, down the street and turned his head as he followed the sound of the echoing drums and trumpets. Erin and Hawk followed him, mainly because they didn’t have anything better to do.
“Look, okay, maybe we’re stuck here for a day, but that’s not a bad thing, right?”
“I don’t know. I’d love to be lying down in Liscor right now, or having a hot meal and a drink. You do know I’ve been running for four days straight, don’t you?”
Hawk glanced down at Erin and she winced. The Human [Innkeeper] was shorter than both Ilvriss and Hawk, and noticeably smaller, too. The Lord of the Wall wore his fancy metal breastplate over his clothing and walked with a swagger; Hawk strode along with long, languid strides as his runner’s jacket shifted to reveal his stunning physique underneath his clothing. Erin just walked.
“Oops. Sorry Hawk. That was my bad. But since we’re here, we might as well make the best of it, right? Just think about it! We’re all here, in Pallass, about to meet all kinds of new people! In theory.”
Erin looked around. The streets were empty. The buildings were there, and they were quite grand—she thought she was walking through some kind of housing area, because all the apartments looked alike. They were…well, apartments. You could go up six floors and find yourself in what was probably a decently-sized home. But there was no one in said homes, at least as far as Erin could tell.
“It’s really deserted, isn’t it? I wonder why that is? Hey, Ilvriss. Where’s everyone?”
The Lord of the Wall turned his head as he strode forwards, looking peeved.
“I have told you before, Human. I am a Lord of the Wall, one of the few Drake nobility on this continent! I am not to be addressed so casually.”
“Yes. Refer to me by my title and with proper respect if you wish to converse with me and I may deign to reply. If not, keep silent. I did not come here on a whim and I have pressing business to attend to.”
With that, Ilvriss turned his head and kept walking. Erin stared at his back as Hawk eyed her oddly. She took a deep breath.
“Hey Ilvriss. Hey. Hey, are you listening? Ilvriss? Drake guy? Hey Ilvriss! Ilvriss! I’m calling your name! I can see you listening! Hey! Hey, listen! Heeeeey. Hey! Hey, hey, hey, hey—”
There was no response, although the Drake’s tail lashed the stones behind him a bit harder than before. Erin stared at the paving stones for a second. They were lovely flat blocks of smooth stone, widely cut and smooth from countless years of use. It actually felt nicer to walk on this stone street than the concrete sidewalk back home. Better to look at, too; the walls, streets, and other buildings of Pallass had been made with a sandy-cream colored stone that was easy on the eyes.
“The streets in Celum aren’t this nice. Liscor either. They have paving stones and stuff. I wonder how this Walled City was made. With magic? It’s three hundred feet high, but are we high up or on the ground? Actually, wait, we’re high up. I can tell because there’s no wall, right?”
Erin pointed past the roofs of the apartments. There was a clear blue sky behind them, but no wall. Hawk nodded.
“We’re high up. I thought that might be the best place to put the magic door. I have to admit, I chose the first empty spot—I thought you could move it later.”
“Right, good idea. Hey Ilvriss where do you think—”
The Wall Lord turned and shouted at Erin. Hawk backed up a step. Erin just wiped her face.
“Don’t spit. Hey, do you think the city’s been abandoned?”
Ilvriss stared at Erin for a second. He looked incredulous, and then resigned. He turned and Erin went on, keeping pace with him.
“I’m just saying, maybe something awful’s happened, you know? We haven’t seen anyone.”
“We’ve walked down one street, Human.”
“Yeah, but it’s a long street, isn’t it? And I know we can hear those drums and horns, but what if they’re like…an illusion? But for our ears? What if the city’s empty and something awful has happened? Like—everyone’s turned into zombies!”
“That is the most idiotic—”
Ilvriss paused. Hawk coughed as he caught up with the Human and Drake on Erin’s side.
“It’s not empty, Erin. I saw people not five minutes ago when I was climbing to the top. They’re here.”
“Right, but did you see them or was it all an illusion? Or maybe it was in your head? That’s how they get you! Illusion Zombies! We’ll walk around the corner and then bam! Zombies in your face! We have to survive for an entire day before we get back to Liscor and raise the alarm! It’s a classic scenario!”
Erin waved her hands over her head. Ilvriss and Hawk stared at her and then exchanged a glance that said it all. Erin saw Ilvriss rub at his temples and lowered her arms.
“Okay, I’ll stop being silly.”
“Wait, that was an act?”
Hawk stared at Erin. Ilvriss shook his head.
“Impossible. No one can pretend to be that stupid—”
He broke off, eying Erin hard. She grinned at him and Hawk and shrugged innocently.
“Maybe? I’m just a stupid Human, aren’t I? Oh look, I think we’ve found people.”
She walked ahead as both males halted in their tracks and stared at her back. Ilvriss made a fist with one clawed hand, and then stopped. Because they’d found the citizens of Pallass at last.
The residential street opened up onto a much larger thoroughfare ahead of them. Erin stared. She’d seen streets, and she’d seen roads. This was a mega road, so broad that it could have probably been compared to the six-lane highways of Erin’s world. And it was filled with people.
Drakes, hundreds of them, filled the road, their backs to Erin, Ilvriss, and Hawk. And as they walked closer they saw that the Drakes were lined up down both sides of the street in either direction. They were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, some standing on stairs for a better view, others holding small Drake children up to see.
They were waving flags, and many were armed. But this wasn’t a mob scene—rather, Erin could hear thunderous cheering! She stared and the pieces fell into place. A Drake waving a flag emblazoned with a city and potion and hammer on it? It had to be Pallass’ symbol. And the drums and trumpets? Now Erin was close enough she could hear they were playing a tune.
The Drakes were cheering, their voices one huge mass ahead of her. Erin nodded to herself, seeing a Drake child eating some roasted nuts out of a small hemp bag he was holding. There was only one thing this could be in her mind.
“It’s a celebration.”
She stared at the banners flying from the tops of buildings, as she walked to the back of the line of waving Drakes. Ilvriss shook his head as he eyed the crowds of cheering pedestrians. He gritted his teeth and his tail lashed the stone walkway.
“No. It’s a military parade.”
Erin turned to him in surprise. Then she listened and realized he was right. Erin had never done well in music class, but she could tell the drums in the distance weren’t the huge booming drums but a marching drum, playing a very familiar military rhythm. And the trumpets and other horns just added to the similarities. Erin was reminded of the 4th of July back in her home. The music was different, but the effect was the same.
Erin had grown up seeing parade floats going down the street, gotten used to gathering candy thrown from the backs of cars and seeing the American flag waved on those national holidays in her homeland. So as she reached the back of the crowd and stood on the tips of her toes she expected to see something similar. She was wrong, of course.
To start with, there was no candy. And there were no cars. There was a Drake on a horse, though. He was riding with his tail tucked over the left side of the horse, curled around its belly. He was holding a flag with Pallass’ insignia on it and lifted it into the air. The Drakes around Erin roared and waved their flags, cheering him as he rode down the street.
Erin turned her head and saw a rank of Drake soldiers, six abreast, marching down the street after him. She saw a battalion of Drakes pass by her position. The Drake [Soldiers] proceeded down the street, each one armored and carrying weapons. They marched forwards in perfect lock-step, their heads held high.
“The 3rd Infantry Regiment of Pallass!”
A huge, magnified voice suddenly roared in Erin’s ears surprising her.
“Whoa! That’s loud!”
Erin shouted, although her voice was lost in the crowd. The Drakes around her cheered louder. She saw the Drakes marching past her salute as the voice continued, setting off another wave of loud cheers.
“The Linebreakers recently served on the Vellir Fields outside of Rheist! Following them is the 4th Cavalry, which heroically fought in the same engagement!”
As the Linebreakers or rather, 3rd Infantry marched past, Erin saw more mounted Drakes pass by. She saw four mounted Drakes, one of whom was missing an arm, and two more that had scars over their arms. She saw nine more file past and then…nothing.
“Wait, where’s the rest of—”
Erin turned her head and saw more Drakes following. But they were on foot. She looked back towards the mounted Drakes and saw them saluting as well. All eleven of them.
“Hmf. They’ve pulled up every regiment in the city, by the looks of it.”
Ilvriss stood by Erin’s side, staring across the parade. She stared at him, and then at the soldiers. And then it hit her.
They were active soldiers, not just military personnel. When the voice shouted that they’d seen action recently, it meant they’d fought in a war. And the eleven remaining Drakes in the 4th Cavalry were all that had survived of their battalion. The sight was enough to make Erin’s heart twist, but the Drakes around her clapped and cheered the eleven riders with all their might.
And why not? Yes, this was an army that fought, an army that actively defended the city. Of course the citizens of Pallass would cheer them. Some regiments would pass by with only a handful of soldiers in their number. Sometimes they were injured, Drakes with missing eyes, lost limbs—the crowd cheered louder when they passed by. Erin stared at a group of old Drakes marching in polished armor, and saw the tears in their eyes as they saluted.
She felt alone in the crowd of Drakes. There were no Humans she could see, and few Gnolls. She did not applaud or cheer as the soldiers marched past. But then, neither did Ilvriss. Hawk clapped along with the crowd, but the Human and Lord of the Wall stood silent. And then Erin heard the invisible announcer shout as the last group of armed Drakes passed her position.
“And now, the hero of the First and Second Antinium Wars, the legendary Tidebreaker, [General] Shivertail!”
A hush fell over the crowd. Erin’s heart stopped. She looked down the street and saw a small group moving down the street. In the silence she heard Ilvriss mutter an oath and saw Hawk cover his eyes. But all of Erin’s attention was on the next group.
She saw a group of eight Drakes marching down the street holding a…coffin. They bore it together, two of the Drakes in front holding flags. Erin put her hands over her mouth as she saw the Drakes marching forwards with the casket. It couldn’t be. Zel was—he had died in Invrisil! It couldn’t be.
She hadn’t heard Ilvriss move up next to her. Erin jumped and turned. The Wall Lord was staring at the coffin-bearers. His eyes blazed and his claws were tightened into fists. Erin looked back at the coffin. The empty coffin.
A blue wreath of flowers had been placed on the top of the coffin. As it passed by her position, Erin saw the Drakes around her go silent, staring at the flowers. And then as it passed they screamed louder, waving their flags, shouting Zel’s name.
If they knew the coffin was empty, it didn’t seem to matter. Erin heard ringing in her ears and dimly heard the voice again, roaring with emotion.
“Zel Shivertail was a hero who went north to fight for the peace of our continent! He fought against the Goblin Lord to protect our borders! He fought and the Humans failed him! Their army fled and broke as he fought the Goblin Lord’s army alone! They abandoned General Shivertail! They were too weak, too cowardly! But he did not run!”
The crowd roared. Erin turned her head wildly, trying to find the announcer. She felt like she’d been slapped.
“He went north for us! Shivertail died for us! Don’t let his sacrifice be in vain! Zel Shivertail was a hero of the continent, a hero of the Drakes!”
“That’s not right. Zel didn’t—it wasn’t like—”
Erin’s words were lost in the next wave of cheers. She could only listen, helplessly, as the announcer kept shouting to the frenzied crowd.
“Never forget General Shivertail’s sacrifice! Vengeance on the Goblins! Vengeance! Vengeance!”
They roared the word with him. Vengeance. Erin saw the Drake child with the bag of nuts who had been so happily now snarling, shouting with the rest of the Drakes. Their anger was a physical thing and Erin shuddered to feel it.
The parade ended. Erin saw the marching band move past last, and then the Drakes began to break up. She stood back, letting the Drakes move in a huge swarm out of the street as they went back to their normal lives. So many Drakes. She turned and saw Ilvriss and Hawk behind her. They were standing, watching the crowd. Hawk was in tears. He hadn’t known about Zel Shivertail’s passing until today. And Ilvriss—
He stood with folded arms, looking around the city. He had neither cheered the Drake parade nor shouted. He was an outsider, for all he was a Drake. He wasn’t from Pallass, but from another Walled City. Salazsar. And as he looked at Erin and their eyes met, he nodded.
“Welcome to Pallass.”
He paused, looked around, and sniffed haughtily.
“Salazsar is better. Come on, let’s find some figures of authority.”
He turned and Erin slowly walked after him. She walked three steps, saw someone waving, turned, and saw Jelaqua striding towards her through the crowd. She raised her hand and was tackled to the ground as sixteen armed Drakes appeared out of the crowd and charged towards her, Ilvriss, and Hawk with their swords drawn.
About ten minutes ago, Jelaqua Ivirith was standing in Pallass right outside of the door in the alleyway, looking around and talking through the portal to Lyonette on the other side. The [Barmaid] was anxious and Jelaqua was trying to reassure her.
“Relax! I don’t see them around, but they can’t have gotten far. I’ll go ahead with Seborn and uh, Relc.”
She nodded to the other two figures beside her. Relc was looking around with clear interest in his eyes and Seborn had already stepped out of the alleyway to look around. Lyonette looked anxious as she replied.
“I’ll stay here in case Erin comes back. But what happens if you find her and we’re all stuck here?”
Jelaqua shrugged, unconcerned.
“We’ll find a place to sleep. There’s bound to be plenty of inns in a Walled City if we can’t bring everyone back at once. And Moore managed to juice this door up once already—he can at least bring Erin back.”
Lyonette turned and looked up at Moore. The half-Giant was leaning on his staff, looking winded. He nodded at Jelaqua.
“I can recharge the door again. It takes a lot of mana, though. I’m nearly tapped out myself. I could come through if I used a mana potion, though.”
Jelaqua looked around and then shouted back through the doorway at Moore.
“Nah, don’t sweat it. Stay there, Moore! I don’t know if the door’s got enough mana to transport you and you’re beat. If you need to charge it up, use a mana potion but don’t kill yourself until we know what we’re doing for sure. We’ll find Erin.”
The half-Giant nodded tiredly. Jelaqua waved to Lyonette and turned away from the door. Her two companions had already reached the mouth of the alleyway. Relc looked around, jaw gaping slightly as he peered at the buildings around him and stared around, goggle-eyed.
“It is Pallass! I can’t believe it!”
Jelaqua laughed a bit as she walked over to join him. The Selphid had kept her two-handed flail, but she wasn’t wearing armor at the moment. She didn’t think she needed the flail either in truth, but no Gold-rank adventurer would walk around without at least one weapon at all times. She eyed Relc, who had both spear and armor on. She didn’t know the Drake, but she could sense he was no ordinary [Guardsman]. She gestured at the stone buildings as Relc exclaimed.
“What did you expect? You know Erin’s magical door can teleport people far away.”
“Yeah, but Pallass? That’s…far! And this is a Walled City, not Celum. It’s not like you can just walk in here! Normally you have to wait at the gates and they get really mad at you if your city is at war with theirs. And now we’re here!”
Relc indicated the city as a whole, his tail wagging excitedly. Jelaqua nodded.
“And so’s Miss Erin. Let’s start walking and find her first. Seborn, thoughts?”
“I see some fresh fur this way. Looks like the Courier went this way, and I’d assume that the Wall Lord and Erin went with him.”
Seborn stood up and let a miniscule pinch of fur drift to the ground. Jelaqua nodded. She set off at a steady pace with Seborn ranging ahead and Relc caught up after another few seconds of staring.
“Hey, why aren’t you more impressed? We’re in a Walled City! Isn’t that amazing?”
“Sure is. But I’ve been travelling back between Celum and Liscor for over a month now. This is special, but not as surprising as the first time it happened.”
Jelaqua replied casually. The truth was that Erin’s magical door had been incredible the first time the Selphid had laid eyes on it. Even now she was impressed by its capabilities, and not a little bit jealous of Erin’s good fortune in obtaining it. It was like a free [Teleport] spell! And the Horns of Hammerad had given it to Erin as thanks for funding their group? Jelaqua wondered if that was friendship or folly.
As for being in a Walled City…she could only shrug in response to Relc’s indignation.
“I’ve been in large cities in Baleros before. Liscor’s small compared to some of the cities owned by the Four Great Companies. I know this is one of the Drake capital cities, but surely Liscor’s comparable to Pallass?”
“Comparable? Are you joking? I mean, our army’s good, but Pallass is at least three times the size of Liscor! And it’s a major military power. The army here is seriously bad news—I hear it was deployed a month ago at Rheist. They tore up a bunch of other armies in a big battle there.”
“Wait, there was a war between the Drakes? I didn’t hear anything about that!”
Jelaqua frowned. A civil war was huge news! But Relc just shook his head.
“What, that? That’s normal. That’s politics and stuff for you. It’s not a war, war, right? It’s more like an argument.”
“An argument that ends up in a pitched battle?”
Relc twirled his spear happily. Jelaqua stared. He tried to explain.
“Well, the Walled Cities fight all the time. You know, some Lady of the Wall calls a Watch Captain an ‘eggsucking lizard’ and there’s a big war. Obviously no one conquers the Walled Cities, but lesser cities get stormed now and then, and sieges can go on for months sometimes. I think there’s a siege going on around one of the other Walled Cities right now. Liscor’s army is fighting there.”
Jelaqua shook her head at Relc’s description of Drake politics.
“You make it sound so casual. One Drake insults another and you go to war over it? In Baleros, it’s all about gain. We fight over land, over precious resources, magical artifacts, fishing waters…”
“Oh, we do that too. It’s just that we fight each other even if we don’t need those other things.”
Relc happily assured the two adventurers. Seborn grunted as he looked around. There were very few people about and the Drowned Man was looking wary.
“Pretty empty for the middle of the day. Aren’t the Walled Cities supposed to be full of people?”
“Eh, this is a residential district. They’re probably all having fun somewhere else. Hear the horns and drums? That’s a military parade going on. Everyone’s probably watching. Hey, I bet that’s the way Erin and the others went!”
Relc pointed down the street and Jelaqua heard the parade in the distance. She nodded and strode towards the noise, talking to Relc as she went.
“So what’s this you were saying about not being able to walk into the Walled Cities? Are we going to be stopped because we’re not Drakes?”
Relc waved one hand, looking unconcerned. He strode along, light on his feet, chattering away as he looked around.
“It’s more likely they’d stop me because I’m a famous [Sergeant] and I fought against Pallass in two…no, three wars. Small wars, but they really hold a grudge. Adventurers of all kinds are welcome in the Walled Cities so long as you don’t cause trouble. Selphids, Humans…they’ll let anyone in if they’re not known criminals.”
He pointed to his chest with his thumb, looking proud. Jelaqua exchanged a glance with Seborn, but didn’t comment. Relc nodded as if they’d agreed wholeheartedly with everything he’d said.
“Yeah, the last thing you want is to have the Pallass Watch on your tail. Those guys do not play around. Walled Cities have really, really strong City Watches, better than Liscor’s. They—oh hey, there’s Erin!”
He pointed. Erin was standing at the back of a crowd of Drakes. The parade had just ended and the Drakes were moving in a huge mass down the street. Jelaqua walked to one side to avoid the flow of bodies and waved to Erin. She did stand out. The Drakes of Pallass had green scales, red scales, blue scales, yellow scales…some very vibrant colors, others muted, but none of them had the fleshy pale tones of Human skin. Erin was standing with Ilvriss and Hawk and hadn’t spotted Jelaqua yet.
“Erin, hey, Erin!”
Jelaqua shouted, waving at the Human girl. She saw a lot of the Drakes looking at her, surprised to see a Selphid walking about. Jelaqua ignored the attention. She was used to it. Selphids weren’t a common sight in many parts of the world. She could see a few groups of armed [Guardsmen] or perhaps Drake [Soldiers] marching down the street to Erin. She hoped that the girl wouldn’t walk off and waved her arms furiously.
At last, the [Innkeeper] noticed her. Jelaqua took a step towards her and felt someone grab her arm. She turned and saw Seborn. The Drowned Man looked suddenly wary.
“Jelaqua! Those soldiers are headed right for Erin and the Wall Lord. And there are more behind us!”
The Selphid spun. She saw armed Drakes step out of alleyways and a whole platoon marching down the street. She turned and was about to shout at Erin when she saw a Drake in yellow and silver armor hurtle out of the crowd. He tackled Erin to the ground as four other Drakes charged Ilvriss and Hawk. Jelaqua’s eyes widened and then she felt an impact in her side as a Drake charged into her.
The world slowed. Jelaqua stumbled with the impact, and then felt the muscles in her body tense. The Selphid pushed at her body, ignoring the straining tendons, forcing her damaged Human form to push past her limits. She heaved and the Drake who’d charged into her went flying. He crashed into a group of Drake civilians who screamed. Jelaqua saw Seborn’s daggers flash and another Drake staggered back, shouting in pain.
And then there was chaos. Drake [Soldiers] charged down the street as the citizens screamed and ran. Jelaqua’s flail was in her hand and she whirled it in a fast arc. The Drake [Guardsman] who’d charged towards her grunted as the spike flails caught him in the chest. The impact dented his armor and sent him stumbling back. Jelaqua struck low—the flail’s heads struck the Drake in the shins and he dropped.
She backed up and the Drowned Man was at her back. The [Rogue] had his enchanted daggers at the ready and there was already blood on the blades, but like Jelaqua he’d struck to wound, not kill. The Selphid had no idea why the Drakes were attacking, but she was acting on instinct. Jelaqua began spinning her flail in dangerous arcs, gritting her teeth. Of all the times to forget her armor! The Drakes charged and she moved into them, lashing exposed arms, chests, backs—
But why were they attacking?
“Don’t move! You are under arrest!”
The Drake on top of Erin was screaming in her ears. She was screaming back.
“What? What? Get off of me!”
He had her arm up behind her back and was pushing Erin’s face into the cobblestones. She tried to move, but the Drake was holding her in place. Erin could see running feet around her, and then felt an impact. Someone kicked the Drake off of her and Erin felt a wrenching pain in her arm.
Ilvriss strode over to her, his blade bared. Erin staggered upright and saw he was standing over two fallen Drakes. They were rolling on the ground and clutching at deep cuts in their sides. Ilvriss’ sword had gone straight through their armor.
Hawk turned to them. He hadn’t been knocked down by the sudden attack either. The two Drakes who’d gone for him were lying on the ground, their chest plates dented. The Rabbit Beastkin hadn’t bothered with a weapon—he’d just kicked both Drakes.
Erin shouted at Ilvriss, but the Wall Lord was busy. He was turning as more Drakes charged down the street. They were armed with halberds, pikes, swords—and they were very, very angry.
“Evacuate the streets! Get the civilians out of here and surround the intruders!”
A Drake [Guardsman] in bright yellow armor was shouting orders. Erin saw Jelaqua, Seborn, and Relc fighting other Drakes to the side. The street was suddenly full of soldiers! She backed up as she saw more Drakes coming towards her.
“Throw down your weapons! You are under arrest!”
One of the Drakes shouted at him as Ilvriss slashed a halberd in half. Only now did his words reach Erin’s brain. She was being arrested! She wavered, but the sight of a dozen pointy blades aimed at her chest convinced her. She threw up her hands and saw Hawk doing likewise.
The Drakes hesitated. They stared at Hawk, but their attention was grabbed in a dramatic way by Ilvriss. He’d charged into a group of three Drakes and with three cuts of his sword, brought them all down.
“Get that Drake!”
Most of the soldiers rushed past Erin and Hawk while several kept their weapons trained on her. Erin felt her heart beating wildly and she could hear Hawk groaning aloud.
“Oh, no, no, no! I’m a Courier! Look, I have a seal—”
He tried to reach for his belt pouch but the Drakes screamed at him and he raised his hands again. Erin turned her head, searching for Jelaqua and the others.
There they were! Jelaqua was spinning her flail, keeping Drakes back as they attacked from every side. Erin saw a pike thrust at her from the side and the Selphid turned. Her flail whirled, smashed the pike down. Instantly, Jelaqua turned and caught another weapon, knocking it aside before slamming a flail into a Drake’s shoulders. The [Guardswoman] fell, but several more were there to take her place. Seborn was fighting with his daggers, but both Gold-rank adventurers were outnumbered.
“Archers! Stop that Selphid!”
There was a shout and Erin saw more Drakes rushing forwards. With bows. Her eyes widened and she cried out.
The pale woman turned and her eyes widened. Jelaqua turned her Human body to dodge, but too late. Erin heard a thud and saw two arrows sprout from Jelaqua’s chest and shoulder. She screamed. The Selphid staggered back, eyes wide, and then roared as she smacked a Drake on the head with her flail.
“That hurt, damnit!”
She whirled, and another arrow flashed past her towards Seborn. The Drowned Man ducked incredibly fast and a Drake cried out as the arrow struck him instead.
Erin shouted at Hawk, but he had no answer. She heard a roar as the Drakes pushed Jelaqua and Seborn back. They were screaming at them to put down their weapons, but neither Gold-rank adventurer was complying. Erin saw a Drake with a sword rush at Jelaqua to the side as her flail got tangled around another Drake’s shield. The Selphid turned, raising one hand to block the sword and—
A fist shot out and knocked the charging Drake flat. Erin gaped as Relc charged forwards, spear whirling. The Drake [Guardsman] struck two Drakes on the heads through their helmets, incredibly fast. Erin’s heart stopped as the Drakes fell, but then she saw Relc had hit them with the butt of his spear. They fell, unconscious, and Relc whirled.
His spear shot out, appearing to strike three Drakes simultaneously for one dizzying second. Then Relc was spinning his spear, knocking an arrow down and bashing a Drake on the head. Pallass’ [Soldiers] drew back for a second, unprepared for Relc’s sudden attack. There was a moment of confused shouting, and then another voice rose once more.
“Hold! I said hold, burn your tails!”
The [Soldiers] drew back. Jelaqua, Seborn, and Relc paused and Erin saw Ilvriss standing unharmed in the center of a circle of Drakes with weapons. The Drake in yellow armor strode forwards. He pointed at Relc.
“There’s only one Drake in the world stupid enough to shout his own name. You there, the Drake with the spear! Are you from Liscor by any chance?”
“Hey, do we know each other?”
Relc was holding his spear warily, but he brightened as he stared at the Drake in yellow armor. The Drake snorted.
“We’ve never met, but I know your name. Relc Grasstongue, [Sergeant] of Liscor’s army, is that right?”
Relc grinned. He turned his head to Jelaqua, who was staring at him as she stood with her back against a wall.
“Told you I’m famous.”
The [Commander] seemed to agree. He nodded at the guards, and then raised his voice.
“You heard him! That’s Relc Grasstongue, the damned Gecko of Liscor! Make sure he doesn’t break the encirclement and watch him—he’s fast! Someone get me some more battlemages and more [Guardsmen]!”
Relc backed up as the soldiers on the street moved towards him. He raised his spear and Jelaqua shouted.
“Why are you lot attacking us? We haven’t broken any laws! I’m a Gold-rank adventurer—”
“You teleported in with an unauthorized spell!”
The [Commander] roared at Jelaqua. Her eyes widened and Erin’s heart skipped a beat. She turned her head to Hawk and saw him closing his eyes.
“Oh, dead gods.”
“We tracked your position! Put down your weapons. You are all under arrest for unauthorized entry to the city, assault on the City Watch and illicit magical activity within the confines of a Walled City!”
Jelaqua covered her face. She took one agonizing look around, and then threw down her flail. At the same time, Seborn tossed his daggers to the ground and put up his hand and claw. Relc looked around and groaned.
“Aw! Every time I go to a Walled City I get arrested! Fine, fine! Stop aiming those arrows at me!”
He threw down his spear as the City Watch surrounded them. Now there was only Ilvriss left. He stood with his sword bared. Over half a dozen [Guardsmen] lay on the ground, bleeding or being treated with potions by their comrades. The [Commander] shouted at him.
“Drop the weapon, Drake! Drop it I said, or—”
Ilvriss’ eyes flashed. Erin felt a weight on her shoulders and stumbled. The Lord of the Wall’s aura made the Drakes around him flinch, and one actually fell. Ilvriss raised his blood-stained blade, staring at the Drakes in front of him with the same haughty arrogance he always had.
“I am Ilvriss Gemscale, Wall Lord Ilvriss of Salazsar! Lower your weapons now!”
The [Guardsmen] around Ilvriss reacted to his name and title. They hesitated, and the [Commander] in the yellow armor hesitated. He called cautiously at Ilvriss.
“Wall Lord or not, your intrusion here breaks the laws! Put down your blade, Wall Lord, and surrender peacefully!”
Ilvriss’ scorching gaze made the [Commander] flinch. The Wall Lord turned, his blade drawn. He stared down the street filled with [Guardsmen], daring them to attack. His voice rang across the street.
“Unacceptable! I, surrender? Put up your blades, soldiers of Pallass! Or if you intend to strike, strike true, because you won’t have a second chance. If it is war your city wants, mine will happily paint your walls red over my death!”
He brandished his blade and the Drakes nearest to him backed up. Erin’s arms were tired so she lowered them and massaged her shoulders as she waited to see what the Drake [Commander] would do. There was a moment where he hesitated, then he gave the order.
“Blades down. Someone get a Street Runner and find me a representative of the Assembly of Crafts!”
“Oh, I can go—”
Hawk took one step and put his hands up as the Drakes around him raised their weapons. He stared glumly at his feet as the soldiers in the street milled about and several took off at a run. Hawk didn’t quite avoid Erin and everyone else’s gaze as they stared at him. He coughed.
“Okay, how was I supposed to know that was against the law?”
Erin looked at him and then around. She grinned helplessly as the Drakes eyed her.
“Um. Oops. Sorry?”
The Drakes of Pallass’ City Watch stared at her, their expressions hostile. Erin looked at one of the Drakes lying on the ground and moaning from where Ilvriss had cut him. She looked about, and raised her hands again.
Zevara was the Captain of Liscor’s City Watch. She was a hardworking Drake who didn’t deserve half the news she got. Particularly any of the news involving Erin. For the first five seconds after the Gnoll [Guardsmen] delivered his report about Erin’s new portal to Pallass, Zevara just sat at her desk with her mouth open. Then she began shouting.
“She did what? You’re telling me that there’s an unregulated portal to Pallass open and no one’s informed the security there?”
“I think so, Captain. We didn’t hear about it until just now. The Human [Barmaid] at her inn—the former thief—went to the city to let us know that Wall Lord Ilvriss and the [Innkeeper] had gone through the door about twenty minutes ago.”
The Gnoll [Guardsman] saw the scales on Zevara’s face turn dead white. She leapt up, sending her chair clattering.
“Get me a [Mage] and send a [Message] spell to Pallass right now! Tell them I want to talk to the Watch Captain on duty now! This is an emergency!”
Zevara didn’t wait for the Gnoll to start moving. She ran out of her office, shouting for the [Mage] on-duty in the barracks to send a message at once. She was swearing, cursing Erin’s name with every bad word she knew—and that was before she learned that Relc, a [Guardsman] from Liscor, had been arrested after attacking several members of Pallass’ City Watch. If there was one bright spot, it was that the prisoners in The Wandering Inn hadn’t been hurt.
The door to Pallass had been open for about twenty minutes when Lyonette noticed a few shadows around the doorway. She was busy keeping Mrsha from chasing Erin through the doorway and feeding Moore a bracing snack so she didn’t have time to investigate it. The Redfang Warriors were all peering at the doorway, and it was only when Lyonette heard the Drake [Captain] right outside the doorway that she realized there was trouble.
Lyonette heard a roar from the door and turned in time to see a Drake’s hand tossing a potion into the room. The bottle smashed onto the floorboards and erupted into a plume of bright purple and white flames. They shot towards the ceiling and vanished in in instant. But the eruption of smoke billowed upwards. Lyonette shouted, and heard the voice from outside roar again.
“Charge in! Take down the half-Giant and Hobs first!”
A Drake in bright yellow armor, a [Captain], charged through the doorway. He was followed by another Drake with plain steel or maybe iron armor, holding an axe. The two Drakes ran through the doorway as the rest streamed forwards—
And the portal went dead behind the second Drake. The Drake [Captain] faltered as four hundred miles south of his location, twenty armed soldiers thudded into the stone wall with commendable force. He slowed and the Drake behind him paused and stared behind him. The two [Guardsmen] looked around the inn at the five Hobs and coughing half-Giant. Lyonette had dived to cover Mrsha. The two got up slowly, coughing, and stared at the pair of Drakes. Neither Gnoll nor Human looked happy as the smoke began to clear.
The five Redfang Warriors traded a glance. All of the Hobs were on their feet with swords in hand and they casually spread out to surround the two Drakes. Moore raised his staff, looking annoyed by the smoke that was making his eyes water. The Drake [Guardsman] behind his commander gulped as Apista buzzed around his head, agitated by the smoke and fire.
Faced with a sudden lack of bodies and cut off, the Drake [Captain] did the most sensible thing he could. He hesitated, and slowly sheathed his sword and raised his hands.
“Okay, so we didn’t mean to illegally enter your city. It’s just that I have a magical door, and we thought, y’know, it’d be cool to have a portal between Liscor and Pallass. Okay? I mean, Ilvriss—Wall Lord Ilvriss, that’s what he likes to be called—said it was okay to do. And if he didn’t know it was illegal, well…it’s not like anyone died, right?”
Erin grinned hopefully at the Watch Captain across the table from her. An hour had passed. In that time she’d first been searched, and then, at Ilvriss’ insistence, left untouched. The Lord of the Wall had demanded both the Gold-rank adventurers and Relc be unshackled and treated as guests rather than prisoners City Watch had been unable to refuse his request.
After that, there had been some awkward standing around, many questions asked, and Jelaqua had asked someone to pull the arrows out of her chest. Then had come the urgent messages from Zevara, a bit too late, and also a notification of the prisoners that Lyonette had taken in The Wandering Inn.
Now Erin sat across a table from the Captain of the Watch on active duty. The Drake was wearing bright yellow armor and massaging his temples with one clawed hand as he listened to her convoluted explanation of what had happened.
“Let me see if I understand you correctly, Miss, ah, Erin. Your inn has a magical doorway capable of teleporting a user over four hundred miles.”
“And you happen to know a Lord of the Wall who is seeking passage to his home city. And so you and Wall Lord Ilvriss hired a Courier to install this…portal doorway…in my city.”
“That’s sort of how it happened.”
“And—and I can’t believe this is a detail—your inn also has five Hobgoblin warriors and hosts a Gold-rank team of adventurers.”
“And a Silver-rank team. The Horns of Hammerad. They’re nice people, but they weren’t around.”
The [Captain] stared at Erin’s desperate smile and then looked back at the report in front of him. He massaged his temples again. Erin felt rather bad for him, actually.
“So…are we in trouble?”
“Let me see here. Thirteen wounded members of the City Watch, illegal entry, illegal use of a high-grade magical artifact, resisting arrest—”
“Hey, I surrendered! My hands were up the entire time! Mostly the entire time.”
“—resisting arrest, taking two members of the City Watch prisoner, sheltering Goblins—”
“Sheltering and feeding.”
Erin helpfully interjected. The [Captain] buried his face in his claws. Erin reached across the desk and patted him on the shoulder.
“Please don’t do that.”
“Sorry. But are we in trouble?”
The Watch Captain looked glum.
“I should arrest you. I would arrest you, but Wall Lord Ilvriss has asserted his rights. He is in the wrong, but as you were all acting on his orders…I could arrest the others for assaulting [Guardsmen], but he would object.”
“And that’s a bad—”
“That would cause a diplomatic incident that I am not qualified to handle. For now, you’re not under arrest, but we’re keeping the Selphid, guardsman Relc, and the Drowned Man here. Their weapons are being impounded until we sort this out with Liscor.”
“Oh. That’s uh, okay, I guess. But what about Hawk and me?”
The Drake shook his head gloomily. Hawk had already left the barracks after showing them his Courier’s seal.
“The Courier? He fulfilled his request to the letter. That he was unaware of Pallass’ laws is a matter for the Runner’s Guild. We’ll send a formal complaint to them. As for you—”
Erin gave him her most winning smile. The [Captain]’s eye twitched a bit.
“—You’re free to go. But given that your uh, magical door is in use right now for the purpose of communication, I must insist you stay in the city’s limits.”
“Okay, I can wander around—”
The [Captain] shot out of his chair. He eyed Erin, and then sat.
“You are part of Wall Lord Ilvriss’ entourage so I am bound to assure your safety—”
“I am? He said that? Wow, that’s so nice of him!”
The Watch Captain ground his teeth together.
“That is what he claims. Thus, I cannot detain you against your will. But I must insist you be accompanied during your stay here. I will arrange for a guide to show you around the city. Is that acceptable?”
“Oh, totally. Um, does this mean I can—”
Erin nodded. She got up and tiptoed to the door. She opened it, slipped out, and then peeked back into the Watch Captain’s room.
“Uh, sorry for all the trouble.”
He stared at her until she backed away. When she was gone the Watch Captain buried his head in his hands. He’d been Captain of the Day Watch for over eight years and he’d weathered sieges, monster attacks, and political strife without flinching. Now he was close to tears. It was a feeling Watch Captain Zevara would have sympathized with very well.
Erin left the Watch Captain’s barracks and looked around. A lot had happened. A lot of important stuff. She felt quite bad for the Watch Captain, but relieved that she wasn’t in trouble and no one had died. A lot of people had gotten hurt—mainly by Ilvriss. But the Wall Lord’s strutting around and acting arrogant had helped, for once. He really was a big shot, so much so that he could stab someone in the middle of a street and then boss people about as if he was the injured party.
“Wow. Wall Lords are important. I guess I should be more respectful after all. Too bad I won’t be.”
Erin murmured to herself as she stared around the street. The City Watch’s barracks had only been a street or two away, so she hadn’t seen much of the city. She yearned to look about, but the Watch Captain had said she’d have a guide. Now where was—
“You there! Are you the Human I’m supposed to be showing around?”
Erin’s head turned. She heard a young male voice and saw a Drake with light orange scales striding up to her across the street. She smiled and went to greet him.
“Hi! That’s me! I’m Erin Solstice. Who are you?”
“I’m Nelliam Hailwing, your guide. Technically I’m a [Greeter], but we don’t have many actual [Guides] and I was the only one nearby. I hear you’re some kind of troublemaker. Did you have something to do with that fight an hour ago?”
“No…what gave you that impression?”
Erin tried to look innocent as Nelliam scrutinized her from head to toe. He was a young Drake, and Erin would have said he was in his mid-teens if he was a Human. He stared at her curiously.
“Well, the rumor is that a crazy Human [Mage] teleported a bunch of Gold-rank adventurers into the city to cause trouble. Apparently she’d been hired by a Lord of the Wall to do it! A Wall Lord from Salazsar if you can believe that.”
“Whoa. I have no idea about that. That’s crazy. And not me. I’m just a visitor to the city.”
Erin lied as convincingly as she could. Nelliam looked skeptical, but then he shook his head.
“I guess you don’t look like a [Mage]. Okay then, you want a tour, right? Where should we start?”
“How about from the beginning? I mean, this is a Walled City and I’ve never been here so…I guess my first question is where the walls are.”
Nelliam looked blankly at Erin. She pointed to the blue sky.
“Yeah, I mean, where are the walls? Aren’t they like, three hundred feet high? Shouldn’t I be able to see them?”
The young Drake stared at Erin and she knew she’d said something stupid. He coughed.
“Um. This is the highest residential level. You can’t see the walls because we’re so high up.”
“We are? I mean—we are?”
The Drake stared at Erin.
“You did climb all the stairs to get to the top of the city, didn’t you? You do remember going up all this way, right?”
Nelliam stared at Erin. Erin stared back. The Drake blinked and scratched at the back of his head.
“Okaaay then. Let’s show you the city as a whole first! This way, Miss Erin.”
He led her down the street. Erin walked past groups of Drakes, seeing a few Gnolls and other species in the crowd, but mainly scaly bodies. Nelliam kept her moving at a quick pace, talking rapidly and steering her clear of knots of people in the crowd.
“Mind your step, Miss Human! People walk fast in Pallass and if you aren’t careful you’ll be run over! There’s not really many wagons this high up of course, but you have to learn how to walk with the traffic!”
“Where are we going?”
“To see the city! There’s a nice overlook just ahead—are you sure you haven’t seen Pallass before? How did you get up here?”
“Uh…I guess I just wasn’t paying attention!”
Nelliam shook his head, but he at least seemed used to guiding odd people about. He launched into a prepared speech as the traffic thinned and Erin sensed them heading towards the end of a street.
“Well, if you’ve never been here before you’re in for a treat! Pallass is one of the Walled Cities, one of the jewels of the Drake lands! It’s a massive city—far larger than almost all the Human cities, and much better defended! These walls have never fallen to invasion, and Pallass is the most important northern Drake city!”
“It is? I thought that was Liscor!”
Erin exclaimed. Nelliam snorted and his tail swished across the paving stones.
“Liscor? They’re just a small city that occupies a trade route between the north and south. We’re the real gateway to the north. Our armies are close to both the Antinium and the Blood Fields—if the Humans send their armies we’re the first city to respond. And we manufacture more arms and potions than any other city on the continent! Our [Alchemists] and [Blacksmiths] are second to none! That’s why Pallass is famous across the world!”
Erin stared round-eyed at Nelliam. He faltered. He was guiding Erin towards the end of the street, which didn’t end with a wall so much as a vertical drop. Erin could see a huge wall beyond the edge of the drop. A city lay ahead of her, and she found herself speeding up to see.
“Well, yes. We’re famous. You have heard of us, haven’t you? Pallassian steel? Our potions? You’ve never heard of our latest technological developments?”
“No…but I don’t get out much. You make stuff?”
“Not just stuff!”
Nelliam tried to rally. He raised his voice again as he strode towards the drop ahead of them. Erin was glad to see there were stone guardrails, placed at chest level so no one could accidentally trip over the edge. Closer now. She could see a huge wall stretching across the gap, and what looked like levels with houses on them. They were still a ways away and now Nelliam was chattering to her about Pallass’ many inventions.
“Just the other month one of our [Craftswomen] figured out a way to harness the power of the wind to crank our siege weapons! We invented the smock mill!”
“The—it’s a more lightweight version of the tower mill. It’s designed so you can build it with wood and metal rather than out of stone. It was a huge achievement! You can use it to drain swamps, build them near farms in a tenth of the time since you don’t have to wait for mortar to dry—”
“Oh, right. I bet that takes a long time, even if you blow on the concrete. Or do you heat it with fire magic to make it dry faster? Is there a special fan you use? Wind magic?”
The Drake turned his head and gave Erin the fish-eye. She stared back innocently. He hesitated, and then shook his head.
“Humans. Look, we’re inventors! It’s in our blood. That’s what Pallass is known for! The other Walled Cities might have our specialties, but we stand on the cutting-edge at all times. Our city creates wonders for the rest of the world. And here we are! Look!”
They reached the end of the street. Erin approached the stone railing and Nelliam threw a hand out. He shouted in triumph as Erin got her first true glimpse of the Walled City.
“This is Pallass, the City of Invention!”
Erin stared over the balcony. Out, and down. She stared thousands of feet, perhaps miles across the balcony, to a huge wall in the distance. It was high and long, and was one of four walls in each of the cardinal directions. North, south, east, and west, the walls of Pallass rose, impenetrable stone towering in the sky. But it wasn’t the walls that took Erin’s breath away. It was what had been built in the city.
She was standing on the highest level of Pallass save for the battlements. Erin hadn’t realized that before. That was why she hadn’t seen the walls, because she was too high up. But now, staring into the heart of the city, Erin could look down and see the city below her.
She saw thousands of tiny houses built on ledges that protruded from the walls. Water, actual water being pumped up some odd conveyor belt to tiny gardens hanging below her! Crisscrossing streets filled with minuscule people, a sea of rooftops, four giant stairwells descending into center of the city from each of the walls—Erin’s eyes strained at the enormity of it all. Nelliam grinned in pride as he gestured.
“Welcome to Pallass. Amazing, isn’t it?”
Behind Nelliam, Pallass stretched outwards and downwards, a sprawling city made of multiple levels. Yes, that was the word for it. Levels. Erin was standing on one of the highest points of the city and she could look down into other streets, plazas, and buildings far below.
Pallass had been built so that the urban center of the city was at the lowest point, or ground level. That looked much like a normal city, but where the Walled City had changed was in the four massive staircases that rose upwards towards the walls. It was possible to ascend higher and reach an entirely new ‘floor’ where more buildings had been constructed.
Each new level was progressively smaller and circled the interior of the walls, so that Erin felt like she was looking at an inverted pyramid. Or a bowl. The effect was hypnotic as well as grand, but what struck Erin most was the organization of it all. She could instantly plot a route from her position to the lowest part of the city or anywhere she wanted to travel. Ramps were neatly placed at intervals to allow someone access to a higher or lower floor, and the four central staircases made getting lost impossible. Walk far enough in one direction and you’d get to one of the four staircases.
“Wow. It’s so organized.”
“Of course it is! Did you think we’d build a disorganized city?”
Nelliam looked insulted. Erin shrugged, thinking of cities like Venice or London.
“I guess not. But we Humans build weird cities all the time. I guess I didn’t expect it to look so neat.”
“You Humans. So messy.”
The Drake shook his head and pointed down into the city.
“Any new construction has to be approved by an [Architect] and an official who understands the layout of the city. We build in expectation of usage, and our craftspeople move in. See—we constructed the new Blacksmith’s Quarters two years ago in response to complaints about the smoke and noise. They occupy the second-highest level, there, you see?”
Erin looked where he was pointing and saw a plume of smoke rising from a series of buildings. It was very far away but she thought she could see tiny figures hammering industriously on pieces of metal. Or was that her imagination? The Walled City might not have had the horizontal landmass of a megacity like, say, Chicago, but Erin was still breathtaken by the size of Pallass.
Breathtaken, and a little queasy. Erin backed up from the edge of the wall.
“I think I’d like to not look down so much.”
“Visitors always say that. You’ll get used to the heights soon enough if you stay here. Now, let’s head down, shall we?”
“Down? How? You mean the stairs?”
Erin pointed towards one of the four grand stairwells. The nearest one was to their left and looked a good walk away. But Nelliam only laughed.
“No! I told you, Pallass is the city of inventors! We’ve come up with a much faster way to travel between floors! Look, over there, see?”
He pointed and Erin stared over at a place where the stone balcony ended and an odd contraption had been built into the stone. She stared at an…elevator.
Yes, it was an elevator. It was a wood and metal platform with guardrails, controlled by a pulley and system of gears. Nelliam walked Erin over to it and she stood on the wood platform as he fiddled with the hand crank. Then he nodded to her with a huge grin on his face.
“Ready? Don’t be scared—this isn’t magic, but its close! We’re going down, nice and easy!”
He turned something, and Erin felt the elevator begin to descend. She expected them to drop, but to her surprise she saw a gear turning as the elevator slowly descended, regulating the speed at which they went down. Nelliam smiled broadly at Erin, expecting her to be amazed.
And she was, just not for the reasons the Drake expected. Erin stared at the elevator and then put her hand on a lever that was turning slowly. The elevator stopped with a jolt.
“Whoa! This is an elevator!”
“Hey, stop that!”
Looking alarmed, Nelliam made Erin let go of the crank. They continued their descent, and the Drake edged Erin back from the controls.
“Please don’t fiddle with the gears! This is a new piece of technology—it’s a platform which raises and lowers itself without magic!”
“Right, with gears!”
“Exactly—wait, how did you know?”
Nelliam looked shocked and then suspicious. He frowned at Erin.
“You have gone on one of these before, haven’t you? Well, we’re headed down—we’ll take the scenic route. Look, you can see the entire city!”
He pointed and Erin saw that he was right. The elevator was going down level after level, passing by Drakes who were walking down a street with trees planted at intervals, down another level where Drakes were marching in formation, and all the while Erin could see the grand staircase closest to them and Drakes moving up and down the stairs.
“Wow, look at those stairs!”
They ran from the bottom of the Walled City to the top. Erin had to guess there were thousands of steps, and although few Drakes seemed willing to make the entire journey, thousands of them were using the stairway to go up or down a level. It was one of four stairwells and each one had a side for Drakes moving up the stairs and a side if you wanted to descend.
Organization. Nelliam smiled proudly but a bit condescendingly as he pointed to the Drakes heading down the stairs. They were close enough so that Erin could catch fragments of conversation and see the Drakes carrying baskets, goods, and so on with them.
“That’s the old way of moving through the city of course. You’ll have to use the stairs to go up—it’s too much work to crank the platforms up when you’re standing on them. But this is a lot faster and easier than walking down the stairs. It’s only the old-timers who refuse to use this method these days.”
His raised voice carried to a group of Drakes that was descending the stairs near the elevator. Erin saw a few of them look up in annoyance. One of them, an older Drake woman, raised her fist and shouted at Nelliam and Erin.
“Real Drakes use steps!”
Nelliam’s tail twitched and he bellowed back at her.
“Shut up, you old hag!”
The Drake made a rude gesture and Nelliam nearly copied her until he remembered that Erin was watching. He turned his back on the Drake as they descended past her and coughed, his cheeks flushed.
“Sorry about that.”
Erin stared at the Drake lady who was descending much slower than her elevator.
“Who was that?”
Nelliam shifted, clearly embarrassed and pointed out something else to Erin as they went.
“See those Drakes running down the middle of the staircase?”
Erin turned her head and saw that there were figures running down the center ramp that separated the streams of people going up and down the stairs. The middle of the staircase was wide enough that they could race or slide down the middle several people at a time. The Drakes and Gnolls wore armbands and carried packages. Erin gasped as one leapt from the middle and landed on a level below him, taking off running as soon as he hit the ground. Nelliam smiled.
“Those are Street Runners and City Runners. They use the middle because it’s faster and they don’t run people over. Some of them jump from level to level, although that’s dangerous. But if you need something delivered across the city quick, all you have to do is find one of the drop-off points and write down your address!”
“Wow. I’ve seen Runners before, but I didn’t know it was so different here!”
Erin exclaimed as the elevator descended to what was nearly the bottom level. Nelliam stopped it before they could get to the ground floor and pointed.
“Pallass is a lot different from most Drake cities. Humans ones too, I bet. We’re at the bottom now, and you can see the walls, right?”
He glanced at her somewhat mockingly. Erin looked up. From the ground, the four walls towered over her, casting huge shadows. She stared up towards the sun and shaded her eyes as she peered at the different floors built into the walls.
“Yep, I can see them now. That’s a lot of floors. And a long way up. Hey, does this mean I have to climb all those stairs if I want to get back up again?”
The thought was dismaying, but again Nelliam laughed at her.
“No! Okay, for the small elevators there’s no way up and you have to crank them back up if you want to get down. That’s a pain in the tail, though, so we’ll take one of the magic-powered elevators up.”
“The what now?”
Nelliam pointed and Erin saw another elevator, far larger than the platform she was standing on, shoot upwards. The gears moving the elevator were blurring with speed—but not from any mechanical force she could see. Nelliam smiled.
“Those elevators are powered by mana stones. They’re expensive, but the city has a number of them to let people go from the bottom floors to the top ones when they need to. We’ll take it back up so you can stand on the battlements. Unless you want to look around the bottom levels first?”
“I want to ride that thing.”
Erin stared at the elevator as it went up at dizzying speeds. It looked like fun to her, a girl for whom roller coasters were an attraction rather than a nightmare come to life. Nelliam grinned, sensing her anticipation.
“Okay then! We’ll join the queue.”
He led her at a brisk walk over to the elevator. Erin stared at the line of Drakes and Gnolls, most of whom looked older and thus were in need of the elevator’s convenience. She fidgeted, feeling a bit guilty.
“Is it okay to use this? I can walk if we’re in the way.”
“You’re a tourist. It’s okay, especially if you haven’t ridden one before. Just please don’t be sick. People throwing up over the sides is awful, especially because it gets everywhere.”
Nelliam reassured her as they stepped onto the elevator. Erin saw a Drake conductor standing at the side, waiting for everyone to file in. When he’d judged the elevator was full, he touched a glowing red stone to another stone embedded in the elevator.
The gears began to turn. Slowly at first, and then with increasing speed they propelled the elevator up. Erin felt her stomach drop and clung to the guardrail as Nelliam grinned wildly. She looked around and saw the older Drakes and Gnolls holding on for dear life. It looked like they had fought a battle between the exhaustion of climbing the stairs or the fear of riding the elevator and only barely won.
“Isn’t this amazing? We’re trying to get all the elevators to do this, but without the magic!”
Nelliam shouted to Erin around the rushing air. She looked at the city falling below them and felt a strange sense of familiarity. This was so much like an elevator from her world! Only, it was going a lot faster than most elevators she knew, and she’d never been in an elevator that was exposed like this. Only the guardrails kept her from tumbling off.
“How would you make all elevators like this?”
“With wind! We’re trying to attach a windmill to the elevator gears, but it’s not working! We think we can make them wind themselves up eventually, though! Then we’ll be able to ascend and descend anywhere we want!”
The Drake hollered back just in time for the elevator to slow as they reached the top floor. Erin wobbled out with Nelliam helping her and an elderly Drake. He grinned, used to the sudden ascent.
“Wasn’t that amazing? Just think, someday none of us might have to use the stairs again!”
“I hope I die before that day comes.”
The old Drake muttered as he walked unsteadily out of the elevator. Erin felt he had a point, but then she was on top of Pallass’ walls. She stared around and realized that while she’d been near the top of the city she’d never looked out over the walls.
She did so now. The walls of Pallass were exceptionally wide. So wide in fact, that there were emplacements where trebuchets, catapults, and other siege weapons had been installed and room enough for armed [Guardsmen] to patrol and citizens to walk along the wall. It was so wide that Erin could have had a tennis game on top of the walls with room to spare if she hadn’t been worried about the ball falling off. Because if anything did get knocked off the top of the walls, there was a long way to drop.
“Oh my god we’re high up.”
Erin stood at the battlements of the Walled City, grateful for the guardrail. She looked down, down, and down some more. Below her, muddy ground stretched out, hills, and forests, brown and white in some places as the last of the winter’s frost melted. Nelliam smiled as he pointed to a series of exceptionally high mountains towering over the Walled City in the distance.
“See that? That’s the High Passes, north of here. And if you look left, you can see the roads heading west. And over there—see it? There a village down there, and if you look really close you can see people! You can pay for an enchanted spyglass. Lots of people rent them and sit up here watching. Just mind the wind. It doesn’t usually blow people off, but it can get really strong up here!”
There was indeed a terrific wind blowing at Erin’s hair. It was colder than she would have liked, but she couldn’t tear herself away from the magnificent view. Nelliam grinned smugly as he saw Erin gaping.
“This is three hundred feet high?”
It felt higher, or maybe Erin had been away from home for too long. She’d been far higher—in airplanes and skyscrapers, but standing on the top of Pallass’ walls felt more immediate. Nelliam shrugged.
“It’s actually taller in places. We say its three hundred feet high just because it’s exactly that short in some spots. Impressive though, isn’t it? Have you ever been this high in your life?”
He was clearly expecting Erin to say no. She nodded absently.
“Yes. Higher, actually.”
She could look down and see people entering and exiting Pallass’ gates far below. She could look straight down, in fact. Erin did and felt vertigo nudge her stomach at last. She thought she might faint or trip and hastily backed away from the edge. She had to take a few steadying breaths until she was feeling better.
“The height huh? It gets most people the first time. Some people who’ve lived here their entire lives won’t look over the edge. My mother won’t, and she was born here, same as the rest of my family.”
Nelliam leaned over the railing, completely at ease. Erin swallowed and looked around. It seemed the City Watch was fine with letting civilians on the walls so long as there wasn’t trouble. More than a few Drakes and Gnolls were standing at the balcony, looking through spyglasses. Some were more daring, leaning over the battlements or standing on top of them—
Erin blinked. There was a Gnoll standing on top of the battlements, on one of the stone blocks that archers could use for cover during battles. He had a pair of feathery wings strapped to each arm and as Erin watched he flapped them encouragingly in the breeze. But he wasn’t going to jump, right? That would be—
He leapt from the top of the battlements. Erin shouted in horror as she raced towards the spot he’d dove from. She screamed at Nelliam who hadn’t seen.
“Hey, that Gnoll just jumped!”
Nelliam’s head turned, as did several of the [Guardsmen] on patrol. They instantly relaxed when they saw the plummeting figure.
“Oh. You had me scared for a second.”
“What? He jumped—someone do something!”
Erin was in a panic. What could they do? The Gnoll was dead the instant he hit the ground! But Nelliam looked unconcerned.
“Relax. That Gnoll always comes up here. He won’t get hurt. He’s trying to fly.”
Erin remembered the wings. They’d looked silly, as silly as those old movies of people riding off cliffs with bicycles with wings. She stared at the falling shape, wondering if the wings were magical. The [Guardsmen] behind her were laughing and pointing, making bets on whether or not the Gnoll would fly.
“Looks like—he might make it—aw, no!”
The Gnoll was flapping wildly with his makeshift wings to no avail. They dragged at the air and eventually the left wing snapped off his arm. He plummeted and Erin covered her eyes as he neared the ground. She peeked at the last second, though.
Before the Gnoll could splatter messily onto the ground, his body suddenly slowed in midair. He fell the last fifty or so feet, flapping with his one good arm and looking quite upset. Nelliam shook his head as the Drakes on duty laughed and tossed a few coins towards the bet maker.
“He always does that. That’s the second time this month. I don’t know where he finds the coin for those Featherfall Potions, but he’s wasting them trying to fly. He’s not an Oldblood Drake and his wings break half the time. And when they don’t he just wobbles in the air before he lands.”
Erin stared as the Gnoll landed on the ground and tore the last wing off his arms. He began to stomp on them and she looked at Nelliam.
“Do a lot of people do that?”
“No, just him. He’s weird, isn’t he? But you were lucky to see him—he doesn’t jump often and people like to watch when he does. Too bad he’ll never succeed. A few of the Oldblood Drakes with wings sometimes fly from the walls, but a Gnoll won’t ever fly. Not without a powerful magical artifact or spell, anyways.”
Erin cocked her head, a bit surprised by Nelliam’s dismissiveness. She knew Humans couldn’t fly by themselves in her world even with technology, but what about gliders and wing suits?
“I thought Pallass was the ‘city of inventions’. Why don’t you think a Gnoll can learn to fly?”
“There’s a difference between invention and things that are just impossible. Everyone knows that. If you want to fly, hire a [Mage]. We’re making things that everyone can use, not wasting our time trying to do ridiculous things like that.”
Erin didn’t immediately reply to the young Drake. She stared at the Gnoll who was trudging back to the city with his tail literally between his legs. She smiled.
“Maybe it’s impossible. But I bet all the great inventors did impossible things.”
“Yeah, but none of them strapped wings to their arms and jumped off walls. That Gnoll’s broken more bones than anyone in the city! If you’re done with the walls, do you want to continue the tour? I can show you our gardens next. Or how about we visit the Blacksmith’s Quarter? Or—”
He was turning Erin away when she saw a familiar Drake in yellow armor striding up to them. The Watch Captain looked harried, and he stopped abruptly in front of Erin and Nelliam.
“Miss Solstice, we’re going to have to cut your tour short. You’re needed back at your magic…portal thing. The Assembly of Crafts, our ruling body, has met with some of your city’s leaders and come to a decision.”
“The Assembly of Crafts? Wait a second, you mean the Human who caused all that trouble is her?”
Nelliam stared wide-eyed at Erin and the Watch Captain. She winced as the [Captain] took her arm. The Drake [Greeter] wanted to hurry after them, but a [Guardsman] blocked his way.
“Wait, you’re the Human [Mage]? Why didn’t you tell me?”
The Watch Captain ignored Nelliam as he steered Erin away. She waved at the young Drake apoplectically.
“Sorry! I didn’t teleport anyone! It was my door!”
The Drake and Human walked off as Nelliam disappeared behind them. The [Captain] was silent, but Erin was curious so she began to pester him with questions.
“What’s so important about the door? Is there more trouble?”
“Not exactly. A few members of our Assembly—that’s ah, like Liscor’s Council only we elect numerous representatives from all of the major Guilds to vote on issues—a few members met with Liscor’s council. They used the door to communicate. I gather that Wall Lord Ilvriss will be fined, but there will be no criminal charges.”
“Oh. Good. So why do they want me?”
The [Captain] avoided Erin’s gaze. He coughed.
“I think the existence of such a powerful artifact that can transport people between locations is the issue at stake. The convenience and possible security risk means you, as the owner, need to be present in case the artifact is subject to fines or confiscation.”
“Confiscation? Hey, wait a minute…that’s not right!”
“I’m just doing my duty.”
“Oh yeah, well what if I have a problem with people taking my door?”
“It is a possible security risk to Pallass. If necessary we may be forced to seize it—”
“Seize it? If you do, I’ll shove this fist so far up—no, wait, that’s gross. I’ll shove the door so far up—”
“It’s not decided yet. Please, follow me.”
The Watch Captain edged away from Erin as he led her back towards the doorway. Erin stomped after him, muttering.
“Some city this is. First they arrest me, and then they try to take my door? We’ll see about that.”
She narrowed her eyes. Erin stomped through the streets after the nervous Watch Captain and found a crowd around the alleyway with the magic door. There were a lot of Drakes in expensive clothing forced to stand elbow-to-elbow in the cramped alleyway. A few Gnolls too, which was surprising. The Assembly of Crafts looked at Erin as she stormed up and she saw Ilvriss, Relc, Jelaqua, and Seborn all standing outside the door. Hawk was there too, sheepishly hiding behind a tall Gnoll.
“Hey! Are you jerks trying to steal my door?”
The important-looking Drakes and Gnolls stared blankly at Erin and then one of them, a Gnoll with a paunch and bright reddish-brown fur, spoke.
“We are considering impounding this magical artifact due to the potential security risk it poses as well as the economic advantages it confers. You are the [Innkeeper] and owner of this artifact, correct?”
“That’s right. I’m Erin Solstice. Who are you?”
The Gnoll blinked down at Erin. He was wearing an expensive vest and had a skullcap on his head—the first time Erin had seen a Gnoll wearing any kind of hat.
“I am Errif Jealwind, a [Merchant] and the current head of the Merchant’s Guild in Pallass. I am one of the Head Speakers for the Assembly of Crafts. We have reviewed the incident involving Wall Lord Ilvriss’s intrusion into this city and are debating what punitive measures may be taken.”
“Okay. And you think you can take my door, huh? Why? Because it’s a threat?”
The Gnoll blinked as Erin glared at him. She wasn’t impressed by his titles. He nodded.
“And because it can open up trade between any city we want. Imagine the possibilities!”
“But it’s my door.”
This fact didn’t seem to impress Errif. He flicked a furry paw.
“We will of course, compensate you for the artifact. However, this is a matter of security. We cannot just have visitors entering the city magically. Wall Lord Ilvriss’ intrusion was highly illegal and his noble status does not render him immune to the laws. Once he is fined we will require his return to Liscor.”
“Wait, what? You’re making him go back to Liscor?”
Erin looked at Ilvriss. He was standing with both arms folded, practically smoldering with anger. The Wall Lord snapped at Errif.
“And it seems Pallass intends to make off with your artifact as well, Solstice. I underestimated how shameless a Walled City could become, but I should have expected nothing less from a city ruled by a democracy.”
Errif and the other Drakes and Gnolls didn’t appear bothered by the insult. He gestured, and Erin saw the [Guardsmen] surrounding Ilvriss, Jelaqua, Relc, and Seborn move a hair closer. The Gnoll didn’t quite smile as he stroked at the hair on his chin.
“Laws are meant to be enforced, Wall Lord Ilvriss. You broke our laws first, and so long as this door exists as a gateway outside our city, it is a threat to the security of Pallass. Thus, we are free to confiscate it. Your ejection is simply another matter of course. We are well within our liberties to deny you access.”
“I see. And here I thought Ilvriss was a jerk. But you guys are double jerks!”
Erin narrowed her eyes. Errif blinked as she took a step forwards. He seemed surprised that Erin was taking part in the conversation at all and glanced meaningfully at the Watch Captain.
“I think there is little need for more debate, Captain. Now that the owner of the, ah, door is here, we may inform her of the confiscation and arrange due compensation.”
“Hold up! Don’t I get a say?”
Erin protested. Errif ignored her.
“Escort the Wall Lord through the door. And the other intruders please. I trust the door has enough mana for the trip?”
A [Mage] Drake standing by the door raised his head and wiped sweat from his brow.
“We have charged it as far as we can, Senator Jealwind. We’re maintaining the connection with our mana reserves. It should be more than enough to send a group through, but I advise moderation.”
“Good. In that case—proceed.”
Errif motioned and Erin saw Ilvriss herded through the door with Jelaqua, Seborn, and Relc following after at spear point. She heard Relc complaining loudly.
“This always happens. Every time! I get arrested, I get kicked out. It’s not like I cause trouble each time, either! I—oh, hey Captain.”
“Now then. We will send a battalion through to secure the door and transport it back. It will take some time no doubt, but I am confident that once we have the artifact in our possession we will be able to open up new trade routes between Pallass and the north. Or perhaps between this city and another Walled City. The possibilities are endless, and I’m sure you’ll agree that it will be a powerful incentive when negotiating—”
Errif was animatedly talking with the other senators, ignoring Erin. She stared at him, thought about kicking his stupid wagging tail, and realized that was the stupidest thing she could do. The Watch Captain was apologetic but he would definitely arrest her again if she caused trouble.
They were going to march into Liscor and take her door! Just like that! Erin wondered if Zevara had agreed to this. Either way it didn’t matter. She couldn’t stop them. They would take the door and bring it back with him! Her magic door! And there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t fight and her door was wide open for all the big Drakes with swords to march through.
Wide open. Doorway. Erin stared at the door and then edged towards it. The Watch Captain immediately grabbed her arm, but she glared at him.
“I’m going back through the door, alright? Jeez! I thought you wanted to get rid of me!”
Errif turned. He saw Erin going to the door and nodded.
“Let the [Innkeeper] go, Captain. I am relieved that she is open to reason, unlike Wall Lord Ilvriss.”
A few of the Drakes around Errif laughed. One of them spoke up, playing with a pendant at her neck.
“I thought he might draw his sword on us. Wall Lords from Salazsar are so…temperamental.”
“Hotheaded. Quite unable to negotiate. It’s one thing to bargain from a position of strength, and yet another to stride into our city and begin making demands. Especially given that he was the one responsible for General Shivertail’s…”
Erin gritted her teeth as she walked through her doorway. She was back in her inn in a moment. She saw Zevara and a group of Liscor’s [Guardsmen] standing anxiously in front of the doorway. The Watch Captain looked upset, and Ilvriss did indeed look like he was considering going back through the doorway and stabbing Errif. Erin saw Lyonette wringing her hands anxiously.
“Erin, I’m so sorry—”
Erin cut her off with a hand. She stared back at Errif and raised her voice.
“Hey you! Mr. Gnoll! Yes, you, the fat, ugly one!”
The Senators of Pallass looked around. Errif’s jaw dropped in shock. Erin stepped back through the doorway.
“You may be a big shot in Pallass, but you can’t just take my door! It’s mine! And all your stupid stuff about security? That’s a lie, isn’t it? You just want my door because it’s cool. Well, you can’t have it.”
Errif stared at Erin for a second, and then turned back to his fellow senators and laughed lightly, dismissing Erin with a wave.
“Humans, they’re so…Watch Captain Venim, please deal with her, won’t you?”
The Watch Captain apprehensively raised his hand, but Erin wasn’t done. She pointed at Errif as she edged back into her inn.
“Not so fast, jerk! I’m not letting you have my door! And I’m going to make sure you guys can’t steal it!”
Errif’s brow furrowed.
“What is she talking about?”
Erin stepped forwards again, into Pallass.
“You think you’re so smart. Well, guess what? I can just change whether or not this door opens in Pallass. I’ll cut you off! How about them apples? Then there won’t be a security breach! So you can’t have my door!”
The Gnoll hesitated. One of the Drake senators, the female one, looked concerned.
“Can she do that? That would mean legally—”
Errif eyed Erin apprehensively. The young woman stared challengingly at him. He stared at the door set into the wall and spoke with forced confidence.
“The door is open. It’s a clear threat.”
“Oh yeah? Well, send your City Watch through this door and it’ll be a lot more threat. Anyone puts a claw through my door and I’ll hit them with a pan! And I bet Ilvriss will totally stab them! And I have a bunch of Goblins who’ll beat you up! And an Antinium guard!”
Erin backed up through the doorway, fists raised threateningly. The Assembly of Crafts stared and saw a black hand waving from the back of the crowd in Liscor.
“I believe that is me. Hello, Erin.”
Several of the Drakes paled and Errif backed up. He looked at the Watch Captain.
“Those are the Antinium of Liscor? Dead gods, I thought those Drakes were insane, but in an inn? Watch Captain, move your soldiers—”
Erin leapt through the doorway. Errif blinked at her, but Erin hopped back through to Liscor. She ran back through to Pallass again, feeling slightly stupid. But then there was a groan from the Drake [Mage] by the doorway.
“Senator Jealwind, the Human is draining the magic—”
Too late, Errif and the others realized what Erin was doing. Erin ran back into Liscor, hopped through into Pallass, hopped back into Liscor, hopped through to Pallass—she did three more side-hops and then leapt into Liscor as one of the Drakes grabbed for her. Erin panted.
“Wow, that’s a lot of mana. I didn’t know you could charge it up this much.”
“Keep the portal open! Watch Captain, send your men in now!”
Errif shouted as the [Guardsmen] barred the door. He strode forwards, as if he meant to go through himself. He got right up to the portal’s edge and then ducked. A chair sailed over his head and smacked two Pallassian senators in the faces. They cried out and Errif scrambled to his feet.
He rose just in time to see Erin grabbing another chair to throw, and then the portal winked out. Errif stared at the blank brick wall in shock and then looked around. There was a nasty silence in the alleyway except for Watch Captain Venim, who breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
On the other side of the portal, Erin stared at the wall of her inn. She had never been more relieved to see blank wood in her life. She turned and smiled. The rest of the inn stared at her. Ilvriss, the Halfseekers, Bird, the Redfang Warriors, and Zevara, Relc and several [Guardsmen] of Liscor. Erin smiled, edged over to Lyonette and hugged Mrsha. Then she looked cheerfully around the room.
“Well, that’s that. Hey Ilvriss, those Pallass guys are jerks! Why don’t we undo the connection to Pallass and forget this all happened, okay?”
Everyone stared at her. Erin grinned sheepishly.
“No? Yes? We can always put it back later, right?”
It was Moore who broke the tableau. He carefully reached out and pried loose the colored mana stone that Typhenous and Pisces had attuned to the door. Four hundred miles south, the [Mages] in Pallass reported the link between the doors was broken. Errif and the other senators stormed off, their plans ruined. Ilvriss looked thoughtfully at Erin and smiled.
“That was quite cleverly done. For a Human.”
“Thanks! I guess you’re one of the cooler Wall Lords around too. At least, by comparison with those guys.”
She grinned back at him. For once they were in accord.
All was well. Pallass, the City of Inventions, could wait. Erin smiled as she began to talk excitedly about all that had happened with the others. She couldn’t help but feel as though she’d forgotten something, though. Something rather important…
Hawk the Courier stared at the blank wall as the [Guardsmen] set up a cordon around the alleyway and the Assembly of Crafts dispersed. He wasn’t angry. He was just footsore, hungry, and a bit hurt. Just a bit. He looked at the blank wall and shook his head.
“Screw the Runner’s Guild regulations. I’m charging them triple for this.”
Then he turned away and glumly found somewhere to sleep for the night. He had a feeling the door between Liscor and Pallass would be staying closed, at least for today. The Rabbitman muttered to himself as his stomach growled. This was why he hated visiting the Walled Cities.