Chapter 32 – What’s in a Knight? Pt.2
noise was made, as three armored knights walked along the main road east of Berrios, heading townward. They were in a triangular formation, and between them was precisely one half-beastkin teen and one slender elven woman.
“I must say! Are all menfolk in this region so intent on accosting me? How utterly vexing.”
“They’re just doing their job, Val.”
Amalia sighed while the elf continued to grumble and knit her brow.
The knight leading this small group’s deep voice came forth, “Quiet down. We need to hear.”
His tone was dour, as was his scrunched up face.
“Damn dew drinkers. Figures we get one that’s nutty in the head,” he muttered.
Val, who nearly had another outburst and wanted to ‘give this young hume upstart a good thrashing,’ was quickly silenced over the Link by both Amalia and Rozalin.
“Just suck it up! I’m trying to think!”
cried Rozalin hysterically,
“Besides, they’re like half your age, aren’t they? You need to be the adult here.”
Val’s complaints got lodged in her throat, as she was torn between the lack of respect being shown to her and her desire to be seen as mature. While she had a severe internal dilemma, Amalia simply marched on with a vacant look masking her face. She quietly thought of numerous objections she had toward Rozalin’s statement.
And so, three knights, two interrogees, and a sneaking Slime took the road to Berrios. Upon arrival to the eastern town gate, the leader spoke with the guards posted and soon gained entry.
How am I supposed to get in now? There’s no way in hell I’m going through those
they call sewer pipes!”
“Can’t you just wait outside and I’ll bring you in later like we normally do?”
asked Amalia with a sigh.
“And leave you alone with a bunch of middle-aged men in the middle of the night? Fat chance. I don’t trust these fellows. I’ll just eat a hole through their defensive wall and sneak in. Damn magically reinforced rocks, I’d love to smack whichever fuc—”
“Hey, you two, we’re moving,” the knight leader interrupted.
As the group moved forward yet again, Rozalin called from behind.
“Don’t let them bully you! If they try anything funny, tell me right away! Val, take care of Amalia. I’ll get in one way or another.”
And just like that, similar to an anxious parent or worried older sister, the squishy pink woman was left behind and fretting at the gates.
The five continued their journey in town. At this time of night, the streets were mostly empty—save for a few scattered guards and night workers. The town’s bustle had died down a few hours ago and would resume in yet another few.
“Where’d you get this sword, anyway?” the leftmost knight asked with a grunt, examining the one he’d confiscated from Amalia.
“It was a birthday present from my father,” she replied.
As they continued walking, the knight let out a small
“What kind of idiot father gives his daughter such a quality shortsword?”
As the rightmost knight murmured in agreement, the leftmost knight’s chuckle was cut short. Amalia abruptly stopped her march, causing the two bringing up the rear to halt as well. There was an edge to her voice.
“What’s wrong with a Knight-Captain giving his daughter a sword? As knights yourself, you must know the code and importance of entrusting your weapon to another for safekeeping. I’m sure you’ll return it to me flawlessly, just as I would do the same for you.”
The two men behind stood in place, brow furrowed. One’s hand had unconsciously found its way to his weapon’s hilt as he gently brushed his blade. A small sense of uncertainty had crept into that man’s heart, raising his alertness.
The knight at the front was their superior officer, a First Lieutenant to supervise the Second Lieutenants trailing behind. He turned around and spotted the situation unfolding behind him, along with the displeasure on the teen’s face.
That displeasure was quickly mirrored.
“Stop jabbering and shove your personal baggage aside. Do your job properly. Once we get back, note the inventory and admissions form.”
The two lower-ranked knights stood there dumbfounded for a second, before adopting a more neutral and upright stance. Their superior continued.
“… Need I remind you what happens if she actually is an acquaintance of Captain Hendrickson and you failed to act appropriately? I hear the latrines are in dire need of a scrub. The cadets would love being off-duty.”
Even below the pale moonlight and scant magical street lamps, the two men’s complexions visibly whitened.
They’d almost sooner head to the front lines. They’d be the butt of jokes for weeks.
The five continued before arriving at the Eastern Knight’s Barracks. Amidst it’s large and fortified stone walls was a more central building, complete with a small training field and archery stands. There were similar buildings at the western and northern gates, along with a more sophisticated barracks in the south-center part of town.
Val’s nose wrinkled after entering the facility.
“I’ll never comprehend humes or dawi and their stone walls. Why do they not make their structures from tree and bark?”
Val mentally grumbled to Amalia.
“From wood? But Val, wouldn’t such things just catch fire?”
came the beastkin’s apprehensive reply.
“Hmph. If fools erected such a thing, perhaps. Any treesmith worth their sap possesses the ability to fire-proof such a thing.”
“… What is a treesmith?”
At this, Val’s mouth visibly hung.
“Why, has no one elucidated your understanding of such a profound and respectable trade?! Treesmiths! Arbormancy! Bah! Truthfully, this is one of the direst problems with hume society. Allow me to—”
“—Val, while I wouldn’t mind hearing more, we’re kind of being detained right now,”
came an exasperated tone.
After a short pause, the elf concluded in a meek voice,
“Perhaps another time.”
Upon arrival, the two women were escorted into the reception room, where an older gentleman with balding, gray hair sat before a magic lamp and numerous books and sheets of parchment. The man stood to greet the approaching knights before sitting back down. The two flanking knights were dismissed, leaving the First Lieutenant and the bookkeeper.
“Trouble?” the older man asked simply.
“Just suspicious travelers. Claim to be heading here on business and that they know Captain Hendrickson. I’ll be sending him a letter come morn’. Checking them into a guest room for now.”
guest admissions. Right, well then,” the older man turned toward the two.
“You may call me Sir Ellius, I’ll be handling your admissions. I ask that you not cause trouble on the premises. Per law, we are required to investigate suspicious travelers and the like. Assuming everything is in order, you’ll be released shortly along with our apologies and request for understanding. Now, if you two don’t mind, I’ve a few questions …”
Amalia nodded at the man while Val gave a small shrug.
A key ring around the man’s neck was pulled out, as he deftly fished a single key from it. It was inserted into a lock beneath the desk, and a small magic tool was brought out. It was crystalline in nature and round like a sphere. He grasped it within his hand.
“Perhaps you are familiar with it, but this is a magic tool that can pierce through lies and treachery. Some call it a Truth Stone. I advise against telling any untruths. While I do not recommend it, you may reserve the right not to answer my questions. Do you need further explanation?”
With a small gesture of his hand, the gentleman waved toward the two. Rather than any dislike or disdain toward the beastkin and elf, there was simply the air of practiced professionality and comfort of having done such a thing countless times before.
“No, Sir,” replied Amalia. Val shook her head ‘no’ with a sigh.
The gentleman had Amalia and Val tell him their names, ages, and occupation. Regarding occupation, Amalia responded uneasily, declaring herself an adventurer. Val grandly proclaimed herself as many things, most of which boiled down to an elven mage, to be more succinct.
Ellius’ mouth twitched, as he silently decided it would be more direct to question the younger woman when possible. Despite there being no queue at this time of night, he did not wish to extend a simple admission longer than necessary.
“Any criminal history?” he asked.
“Preposterous! Of course not!” Val exclaimed, looking especially offended at the suggestion she might be a wrongdoer. Amalia’s complexion grew exceptionally dark, as she replied affirmatively.
The older man’s gaze turned to her and grew suspicious.
“Care to elaborate?”
With a sour face, Amalia briefly recounted the theft of food that led to her banishment from Kulve years prior. The old man tapped his quill for a moment, still grasping the magic tool in his non-dominant hand. He frowned as he listened.
“That sounds oddly severe a punishment for such a thing. Regardless, that is classified as a minor offense here. We are referring to more serious crimes. I will be disregarding that information, but please be advised that Berrios does not take kindly toward stall thieves either. Prepare to pay a fine if such a thing occurs. Moving on …”
As Amalia stood in anxiety with stiff shoulders, the First Lieutenant simply muttered something about ‘kids’ and ‘Kulve’s government’ from behind. Without thinking too deeply about it, Amalia had unknowingly sidestepped the matter of her ‘assistance’ in treason thanks to her earlier bread offense and preoccupation with the matter.
The old man’s interview continued. A few more questions were posed regarding the reason for travel.
“Contents of luggage?” he voiced, tapping his quill toward the packs the two women had behind their back.
“Personal belongings and some ore from the Dungeon between Berrios and Eigach,” came Amalia’s answer.
“Y-Yes. We were seeking a smith to make a suit of armor for myself. My Master plans on a Dungeon expedition and says I need better protection.”
The gentleman’s head tilted as he looked at the fairly stuffed packs that the two women were carrying. He was beginning to understand what the First Lieutenant meant by ‘suspicious,’ though nothing had shown false so far.
“Dungeon resources generally aren’t subject to any import taxes, but … May I see a sample to verify?” he asked.
With some hesitation, Amalia took off her rucksack and fished out a small portion of the ore. The Lieutenant looked at it curiously, while the older man examined it more closely. His complexion went red, then he sputtered for a moment before pulling out a lens similar to a monocle. His face soon turned even redder.
His voice was strained and agitated but overall managed to hold its calm. He eyed the two’s rucksacks with deep, creased lines in his forehead.
“H-How much of this ore did you two bring?”
It was Amalia’s turn to frown, and her voice shook lightly.
“These two bags, more or less,” she hastily squeaked, “Is there a problem I’m unaware of? My … Mistress was the one who discovered the ore and instructed I take it to a smith. She said it would probably make for a good suit of armor against magic.”
The old man looked at the three present before him. The elf looked on curiously, a finger to her lip and chin. The beastkin lass now had anxiety painted on her face, as if she were about to be scolded like a child. The Lieutenant’s brow was furrowed, trying to judge the whole situation and this nonsensical night so far.
Ellius slumped into his chair, shaking his head gravely. He now desired to meet this ‘Mistress’ who could afford to toss around such a large quantity of Nullstone. How ridiculously lavish! Such pointless opulence!
He could sell his own modest home a few times over and not afford such a thing! Did someone really intend to make a
single suit of armor
out of all of this!? Did they even have any plans to use steel in the design?! This would typically be spread across a dozen or so sets!
He gulped throatily. Yet something wasn’t adding up.
The gentleman’s mind worked in overdrive, trying to process the limited information he had so far and figure out what question best to ask without overstepping. The Lieutenant said they claimed to know Captain Hendrickson? There weren’t many Captains in the army stationed in Berrios, and there was only one Major. Hendrickson was nearly at the top of command around these parts.
Was this Mistress an acquaintance? A business partner? He was beginning to feel that she wasn’t someone he could afford to offend. Yet why had these two been ‘caught’ on the road to Berrios? They certainly weren’t dressed like nobles or servants. Did they not require a guard for such valuable cargo? Incognito?
“Why did you two not have guards? Is your Mistress not afraid of thieves or ambushes?”
A safe but reasonable question, he felt.
Amalia’s complexion only worsened at this inquiry. Her thoughts clouded and turned to the other night.
She snorted and muttered bitterly, “Guards against thieves? There’s no point. She would just kill them all.”
At this time of night, of course, the words were still loud enough for Ellius to hear.
Val quickly chimed in, “Quite so! Why, I have not had the pleasure of working under Rozalin at length, yet her slaughtering of nearly two dozen ruffians saved myself and several of you humes’ women! … Though, I contest that I would have somehow managed by my own graces.”
Despite Val’s perceived attempt at putting in a good word for the Slime, Amalia internally grimaced at the fact the elf used Rozalin’s name. She’d been trying to avoid that.
“Where is your Mistress? If she was the one providing protection, why was she not with you?”
“She … was with us the whole time, really!” voiced Amalia, turning to the Lieutenant nervously, “You just didn’t see her. S-She was using concealment.”
At this, the Lieutenant balked. His husky voice cut back into the conversation.
“I find that unlikely,” he replied, turning toward Ellius to verify the veracity of such a statement. The man looked at the two, only to nod a moment later.
“H-Honest! She followed us the whole way back. It’s just that Roz—
I m-mean, my Mistress doesn’t like being seen. She’s quite troubled by all this and didn’t want to reveal herself.”
Had Ellius not been grasping a Truth Stone, he would have waved such claims off as an attempt at intimidation or nonsense. The pit of his stomach only deepened further. Concealment? Was this ‘Rozalin’ some sort of assassin or mage? He looked nervously at the Lieutenant, then back at the teen.
“Do you … have others beside Captain Hendrickson to vouch for you?” the man asked, lips thin.
While meant to express Ellius’ exasperation toward such a figure, the young beastkin girl before him only drove the stake deeper.
By this point, Amalia’s nerves were frayed and her expression gaunt. She could only choke out the only other name her brain thought might be of any use.
“A few months back, we had some brief dealings with Mister Biron. We helped heal his daughter—uh,
her, I mean. He might … be willing to vouch for us?”
Ellius’ face sank even further. It was relatively common knowledge around the barracks that Lord Biron had issued a search and bounty to find a healer capable of restoring his daughter. He vaguely remembered the search had been amended after the first week to something less urgent. They’d had more than a few healers pass through the gates regarding that notice.
Ellius turned toward the Lieutenant with a stony face, “Everything checks out so far. Lead these two to one of the waiting rooms in the north hall.”
“North?” the Lieutenant asked. He frowned, then gave a nod. With a gesture toward the women, he said simply, “Please, this way.”
Amalia and Val sat atop two rather comfortable beds, one with a look of disbelief and the other plastered with contentment. The elf was sipping on a cup of milk tea that had been prepared for the two of them.
“How did things end up like this?” Amalia muttered, hands clutching her temples.
“Obviously they realized that we are individuals worthy of respect! It seems some humes still have a discerning eye,
the elf hummed happily, bouncing on the fluffy bedding.
Amalia sat there, slumped over and in a sitting position on the bedside, hoping tonight wouldn’t get any more bizarre.
“Roz, is everything alright on your end?”
she asked over the Link.
“… You have reached the voicemail for Rozalin’s Excavation Services, Inc. Be advised that our operating hours are from 8:00am until 5:00pm. Please leave a message after the beep and we will get back to you shortly. … Beep.”
Amalia sat there, her mouth opening and closing several times. Val looked at the beastkin girl for a moment, then shrugged and decided to continue sipping her tea.
“Does that mean no?”
asked the girl.
Rozalin’s grumpy voice came forth again,
“I just finished eating rocks in the middle of the night, and now I am busy sneaking around town. Oh, and the rats in the ‘sewer’ are the size of a small dog. They also taste terrible. I would say things could be better.”
“I thought you said you weren’t going through the sewers?”
Rozalin replied sullenly, “…
I don’t want to talk about it.”
While Amalia and Val reclined in bed, relaxing a bit and having already taken their shoes off, Rozalin spoke to them again.
“Where are you two now? Is everything still alright?”
Amalia explained to Rozalin their location and how the discussion had gone so far with the earlier gentleman.
“Wait, they’re giving you tea
you get a comfy bed? The heck!? I would love a cup of t—oh no, I ruined this one too. No no, this’ll never work. Maybe if I bend it more? But then the joints, …”
Those words prompted Amalia’s curiosity.
“Roz, what are you doing?”
After a short pause, a response came,
“I’m borrowing a few things from some shops around town.”
“… You mean stealing?”
“Your phrasing is terrible. Dire circumstances call for desperate measures, my precious pup. If it bothers you so much, we can pay for the goods later. It shouldn’t be anything expensive, and I’m definitely going to need these.”
Amalia made a throaty groan and threw herself on the bed, arms and legs spread out. With a weary voice, she murmured to herself, “I’m too tired to care anymore.”
While Amalia and Val were reclining in bed and getting some shut-eye, the morning finally came. It wasn’t terribly long after that a knock came from the door, followed by the sound of a key unlocking it. Usually, the doors for guests in this wing wouldn’t be locked, but the situation was what it was.
A nameless knight opened the door, stating that their presence was being requested in the reception hall. After a short walk back, they came to the very same room they’d been in before with the Lieutenant and Ellius. This time, however, there was another face present.
Amalia hastily saluted the man, “Captain Hendrickson!”
A smile appeared upon the older man’s face as he ran a hand through his gray beard. He was dressed in regular street clothes, an olive shirt, beige pants, and a feathered cap.
“We meet again, kiddo! My, trouble sure seems to fancy you! The heck are ya doin’ back in these parts, girl?”
Amalia’s tail had begun to wag.
“I-I’m here on business! We ran into a night patrol, and …”
Her tone deflated a bit as she looked at the floor sheepishly. It didn’t take Hendrickson long to figure out what happened, especially since he’d been briefed. He looked at the elf beside the young beastkin, tipping his hat and nodding toward Val.
“Just you two in the middle of the night?” he rubbed his chin, ”
what a pain. Guard’s been a bit more alert recently. Regional bandits acting up the past few days for some reason. We also had some … migration issues at the south gate and bad business in some unsavory parts of town. Anyway, sorry ya two got tangled up in the mess.”
Hendrickson gave a small bow, then turned to the bookkeeper, Ellius.
“Yes, I can vouch for the young miss. Any problems on your part?”
Ellius hastily shook his head, “No, Sir, none at all. Everything checked out just fine.”
Hendrickson laughed and leaned closer, “Well then, why are you detaining two pretty young women? Tryna keep ’em all to yourself?
The bookkeep sputtered for a while before Hendrickson finally assured the poor man with a hearty pat on the back that it was just a joke. Val’s nose seemed to grow and point upward, while Amalia’s face took on a complicated blush. She wasn’t used to compliments.
Some paperwork was signed off on, and it wasn’t long after that the three marched out of the Eastern Knight’s Barracks.
“Quite a beautiful day out, don’tcha think? You two up for a morning stroll with these old bones? I’ll introduce you to a few market stall owners on the way,” Hendrickson smiled, then lowered his voice and leaned over to the girls, “I know the best places to pick up some grub round these parts. Trust me.”
“That sounds—” Amalia started, before remembering something. She looked at Val, who shrugged casually at her.
“Roz? Roz, Captain Hendrickson wants to take us around town for a tour. Is that okay?”
“H-He actually came!?”
While Amalia wanted to ask what Roz planned to do had he not, she was currently awaiting an answer she could convey so the Captain would stop looking at her so curiously.
“Just go with him while I think. At least you aren’t being detained, but I don’t like this.”
Amalia turned to Hendrickson and nodded in the affirmative, “We’d love to come, right Val?”
The elf perked up, “Most decidedly! I am keen to ingest some menfolk cuisine and see how it fares! We should make haste, lest the morn’ slip from our grasp.”
As Val pumped her fists excitedly, Hendrickson looked at her with a thoughtful stare. After a minute, a light bulb seemed to have finally gone off in his head.
“Ah! You must be a wood elf from the Almswood or Wayhearth regions, no?”
At this, Val, who had been trying to maintain a relatively low profile, let loose a wide grin as her eyes lit up. She immediately dropped all attempts at deference and began to engage in a lengthy discussion with the seasoned Captain as they traveled around town.
While Amalia was trying to relax and listen to their conversation, Rozalin’s voice came over the Link.
“I hate this town! Why are there so many cats? And why do they all keep hissing at me!? Nonsense like this is why I prefer dogs.”
She found this peculiar.
“Roz, why are you … no,
are you doing?”
“I’m people watching! But more importantly, there’s a damn cat that keeps hissing at me. It won’t go away, and it’s not like I can eat it in public. I wish I had a spray bottle or laser pointer. I don’t want to draw attention, and it’s screwing that up. Perhaps if I cast a small Water Bolt at it?”
Amalia felt her head begin to hurt,
“Roz, it’s a cat! You can’t just eat all your problems. And … No, nevermind. Where are you, anyway?”
“Hmph! If there’s one thing I’ve learned since coming to this world, it’s that I can certainly try,”
Rozalin grumbled in a small voice.
Amalia wanted to point out the numerous reasons why that was a bad idea, but Rozalin soon continued.
“I’m sitting on a bench in front of that stupid horse statue in the plaza near Arnie’s smithy and that one bakery. It seemed like a good spot, and there’s a sewer drain nearby. Come get me when you’re done.”
Amalia paused for a moment, looking up at the rear of a large horse statue in the middle of the small plaza. A stone man was riding that horse—signifying some decisive battle or another. Several foods and goods stalls lined the circular area, along with houses and businesses in the backdrop. Shrubs, grass, benches, and walkways surrounded that very same statue. It was still a bit early, yet people bustled around the area.
Amalia’s face fell as she looked to the right. A young calico cat stood there, fur standing up and letting out a throaty growl. Her lips parted as her jaw became slack.
The cat was facing off with a small figure—seeming to be several years younger than even Amalia. That figure was cloaked in a delicate, dark-purple shawl and robes. White bandages wrapped completely around a set of hands and feet peeking out from the over-sized garment. A featureless mask frequently used for plays was upon the figure’s face. That figure was clumsily attempting to shoo away the cat with a wooden cane.
Amalia stared in abject horror as Val and Hendrickson continued chatting and carrying on a few steps ahead of her. They were on a collision course with the purple-clad figure and cat.
“Roz, don’t look to your right,”
she said, voice completely void of hope. She could only pray she’d misunderstood something.
The reply came all too soon.
What unfurled was a phenomenon perhaps best described as human instinct. Often, when someone instructs you not to do something, it only makes one want to do it. As such, Amalia watched the figure turn and make ‘eye’ contact with the approaching party.
Hendrickson and Val’s laughter slowed, as the old man perked up and looked at first the cat, then the person sitting on the wooden bench.
Val, who had been partially tuning out of the conversation, picked up on what was occurring. Her smile froze awkwardly.
Amalia’s hand went to her forehead. She felt a headache coming on.
Hendrickson studied the reaction of the two younger women. His brow furrowed as he looked back at the figure.
Rozalin finally groaned,
“In a town this big? Are you