I’ll spare you the travel montage. We packed everything that could be useful, freed people, organized in a caravan and moved out. Some turned to Flamehold on the crossroads, most followed us to Arturel. With camping during the night, the track took us two days. The forest receded a few hours before we reached the city, replaced with fields and farms. More people traveled the roads near Arturel, some caravans and farmers were passing by us. Mostly normal people. But we passed a few military patrols too. Compared to the guards back in Flamehold, those people were much better equipped: they wore full plate shining white armor. Each carried different weapons, probably based on their personal preference, some carrying two swords or a short sword and a spear. Some patrols were lead by people in more decorated armor with a tabard draped over, likely depicting their ranking.
Compared by size to some demon cities, Arturel wasn’t that big, but still, it was a sizable city. It stood on a hill, so we noticed it early, and I had a good look at it from afar. It was comprised of three layers, one higher than the other, each surrounded by a stone wall. The innermost and highest layer had a fort in it. Walls were strategically decorated with towers and defense weapons like catapults and ballistae. It felt like a bastion. I wondered if the capital was more impressive… Near the fort, in the third layer of the city, stood two tall towers made out of white marble, towering above everything else.
When we were close enough I pointed to the city towers and asked my companions what they were.
Arthur answered. “The one on the left is the mage guild tower. They’re pretentious and arrogant, but all local spell casters should be registered there or be exiled out of the city.” I felt pain in his voice, he probably was registered and didn’t like it. “The right one is ‘Wyrm’s Books’ library. Both for magical and non-magical books. You would guess they’d be allies, but because of some old bickering, two organizations hate each other, but rely on one another.”
“That’s a strange arrangement.”
“They used to be one guild, but like everything in this city, they got divided.”
“What else did?”
“See the walls inside?” Arthur gestured in the city’s direction. I nodded in affirmation. “Those are not just for protection, they separate the city into classes. Poorest people live in the first circle, the middle class in the middle and the rich in the center. Now, it’s not that bad like in some places, people are generally free to move between the parts if they have a valid reason. But if the city is under a siege, guess in what order the circles fall…”
“Does it happen often?”
“You aren’t from this area, are you?”
“I lived in a small village, not many news reach us.” I lied with a perfect poker face.
“Mhm. Since we are near the border with Ertor, it happened more than enough times. It was relatively peaceful for the last 15 years, though, with both countries trying to one-up each other with perceived might and wealth, rather than on a battlefield. You’ve seen the patrols. They’re showing off the best they got, they know that the other side is watching closely. This is ridiculous…”
“Why?” I was personally very tired of endless wars and politics and had no desire to be anywhere near them in this world too, but I wanted to know Arthur’s reasoning.
“I’m a druid. Even though I was born in Arturel, which is why my parents gave me such an unimaginative name, my home is the forest between the two countries. And the forest doesn’t care about borders or pity differences…”
“What do you do here then, saving caravans and traveling with adventure?” It wasn’t the first time we talked with Arthur on the trip, but it was the first time he opened up so much to me. Probably the topic was very close to his heart.
“There are things I need money for, can’t get everything in the forest. Besides, it’s a good way to improve my skills and do some good.”
“He is the good-doing, tree-loving guy, that’s why!” Helena interrupted, as she does, by throwing an arm around his shoulder. Arthur just wiggled himself from her arms.
“Why are you doing this, Helena?” I asked her.
“Because he’s a cool dork and a friend!” She replied with a grin.
“Not this. I mean the adventuring.” I almost rolled my eyes but kept cool.
“Ah. Cutting enemies is my passion, you see. And there aren’t many places where a girl with a sword can make a decent living. Mostly adventuring and the army. And I am not very good with following orders or honored patrols.”
“Yes, I can see it.”
We chatted for a bit before we finally reached the city gates. They were enormous, on par with gates in some demon cities, which probably made sense since both were made for a siege. They were open, but heavily guarded, with multiple guards standing outside and inside, some more watching from the walls, few patrols walking around, and I felt many more soldiers in the gatehouse itself.
The guards stopped us at the entrance to the city and Arthur started talking to them. He introduced himself and presented the guard with a bronze badge. He explained about the caravan, and the guards let us all in. They would inspect the caravan before letting it in the city, but we weren’t needed anymore, the guards will file the report and we should get our reward if everything was okay. Good thing I didn’t need the identification to enter the city, but I might need it if I wanted to go to the upper part of it. I probably would need to figure it out… or just sneak past.
“We will need to collect the reward tomorrow,” Arthur said as we walked through the gate.
“Great! Now, how about we go grab a drink, or two, or five?” Helena exclaimed. “I promised I show Vivienne to the city, but I can also show you the city itself! Which obviously means every decent tavern I am not banned from yet.”
As we passed through the city, I took notice of everything around me. Even though it was the poor part, it looked pretty decent, almost the same as Flamehold. Arthur said that areas near the city gates were better off, and I should stay away from the slums area. I just nodded and decided to go there at night and see what fun I can find there. The gate to the second part of the city was also guarded, but not that heavily. Arthur once again flashed his badge to the guard and we were let through without questions.
“What’s this?” I asked him about the badge.
“Adventurer’s badge.” He replied. “The authorities operate a local adventurers guild here, we all are members. Adventures usually have a free pass in a lot of places, because many rich people need our services too.”
“How do I get one?”
“You can join the guild if you want. Just ask a recommendation tomorrow when we collect the reward, it should make things easier.”
I nodded and thanked him. I wasn’t sure about joining the guild, but having a free legal pass into places might be a useful tool. Besides, if adventurers were as strong as my companions, I might get some useful or interesting connections. Or both. I needed to be careful, though. If Silai could see through me, others on his level might too.
The second part of the city was much well off than the first. The striking difference was, there were a lot more shops on the streets we were traveling through. Buildings were higher, some were built fully or partially out of stone. People were in better-looking clothes and many more of them looked like they were eating much better. There were fewer guard patrols too.
We reached a three-story tall tavern named “Grilled Hydra” and I rolled my eyes. All tavern names I’ve seen so far in this world were named by the same pattern: an adjective, then an animal, a weapon or a monster. It was either a tradition, or all proprietors didn’t have any imagination. Stepping inside, we were assaulted by the chatter of many people, none of whom gave us an eye. I looked around, though, noticing that most of the patrons had different weapons on them or near them. Many of them also looked interesting, some of the species I haven’t seen before, like furred humanoid with a face of a fox. I noticed an orc with a huge spiked club near his table chatting and drinking with equally armed people. I guessed right, not all orcs rob caravans. Actually, I wasn’t sure if this one didn’t…
Helena slapped me on the back. “Welcome to the Grilled Hydra - the best tavern for adventures that still lets me in! Let’s celebrate!”
As we walked to one of the empty tables, I concentrated on auras in the tavern, trying to measure everyone. It was usually a passive ability, but if I concentrated, I could get a better gauge of people’s magical power and could sense in a bigger area. Many people here had magic in them, but none felt as strong as any of my party. Even Helena had magic stronger than other patrons here. The fox person’s aura felt strange, though. At first, it looked like an ordinary non-magical aura, but then I noticed some discrepancies like something was preventing me from detecting it. This was interesting and, again, worrying.
A very tall elf barmaid came to take our orders. She introduced herself as Thephesia, and she and Helena argued about Helena’s huge tab, which Helena promised to pay tomorrow with the money we were owed for the caravan. After some persuasion, she brought us our drinks and food.
“For good fights and adventures!” Helena said the toast and we raised our mugs to it.
Celebrating with this weird bunch was an interesting new experience. Silai was mostly silent, as he usually is. Arthur couldn’t handle his alcohol, got quickly drunk and started telling us about his forest. Apparently, he had a cottage in the middle of it and kept chickens. I didn’t know who looked for them now, but if they were any close to Hell Chickens, his house might have been in ruins already. Helena drunk a lot, but didn’t even get tipsy, she either had high tolerance because of her big experience, or she was immune to poison like me. I didn’t drink a lot so I didn’t have to pretend to get drunk, but alcohol was a type of poison that tasted good but didn’t have any effect on me. Most demons are immune to all types of poison with rare exceptions. Something-something about first demon lords being poisoned by first celestials… but it was probably just a tale. Hell does have alcohol, but mostly vodka and other beverages that can be made from less demanding grains and ingredients. No hops grow in Hell, sadly. And since we can’t get drunk, we mostly drink for the flavor, which is a lot worse than any ale I tried so far in the middle plane. Mortals know their drinks…
My musings were interrupted by the sound of a loud slap. I turned to its source and saw Thephesia slapped some guy across his face. From there it escalated quickly, he tried to pull her by the hand, two his companions jumped from their seats to stop him, but Helena was near in a flash. He tackled him from the side and pressed to the floor. “Release me, stupid bitch!” He shouted, but Helena twisted his arm to the point of it almost breaking and punched him in the face a few times. The guy lost his consciousness, Helena released him and stood up. His companions apologized and dragged his unmoving body outside.
“Ah, I wanted to kick his ass for a long time!” Helena stretched her arm happily.
“Thank you for not breaking anything this time, Helena,” Thephesia told her. “Please don’t perform the guard’s duty, we might get in trouble. Again…”
“Sorry, this was an instinctive reaction, Theph.” Helena scratched her head and made a not very convincing apologetic face. “He was an asshole, though.”
“He was, but I can stand for myself.” Thephesia was giving her the talk, and it felt like it was not the first time.
“I know you can, honey. I didn’t think, it was a reaction.”
“Don’t ‘honey’ me, your reactions are what gets you in trouble, and your lack of thinking is why we aren’t together anymore.”
As Thephesia turned around and went to attend to other patrons, I understood why Helena was banned from other taverns.
Author’s note: I changed Vivi,’s full name to “Vivi’xidan” because I found out that I accidentally wrote a different name in my notes and I liked it better -__- Since it came up only once, I decided it’s not a big deal for a slightly better name. As you can see, I’m not the best with names, I spent all my creativity on the story…
If you want to keep me accountable or just curious, Vivi has immunity to only darkness and poison elements in the humanoid form, and immunity to any nonmagical attacks in a shadow form or in the darkness. They have some resistance to some other elements and vulnerability to holly element and mana burn abilities.