The sun’s fire had come and gone as he walked but there were no signs of the massive city he was told of. Just rising mountains, soaring over head as he drew closer to them. The greenery around him had long since changed to thickening groves of large pines surrounding the old worn road. Davrou began to believe he was taken for a fool, fatigued from travel and more than likely lost. The moon and stars were quickly fading behind thick clouds leaving him in the dark.
He was ready to rest, make a small camp, and in the morn, return to the man that sent him of this goose chase and bury a blade in his lying heart. The old farmer had seemed kind enough but, no one was worth trusting, this just confirmed Davrou’s thoughts. Then the rows of trees parted, showing the steep base of the giant mound. A hundred paces away stood massive gates dimly apparent in the light of a few torches. Maybe no one had to die, he thought, approaching the sight.
The stone door became more detailed as he moved closer, they stood easily over ten times his height, the thick rock chiseled away to create elegant symbols and intertwined circular designs. Large crows were depicted as the top of each in dark detail, like stone sentinels. Hugin and Munin, Odin’s advisers, Davrou thought reaching the front of the gateway .These were powerful markings that long ago would have had a very practical purpose, unfortunately few cared for such creatures and runes now, seeing them as nothing more than decoration, and simple folklore. He dipped his head in respect to the informants of the all-father.
a small door at the bottom of its monstrous counterpart opened with a low groan, drawing his attention, the opening was much more suited to Davrou’s size. A Stern looking middles aged man dressed in a red and brown uniform, that was neatly kept and tailored, came out to greet him. The gate guard had a hand resting easily of a pistol, holstered at his side, thumb and a mechanical finger on the other hand awkwardly scratched his, short well combed, beard as he looked his visitor over. It was an odd sight, seeing a large mechanized arms connected to steel rods, a pair of pistons pumping lightly, where his elbow and shoulder should be. A coil, the looked like it regulated blood slithering through his arm. The limb was obviously powerful yet still decently performed little delicate tasks.
Davrou’s in comparison wore a dark cotton shirt, soaked through in sweat under a thin battered leather coat. He combed his hands through his coal colored hair as he took an unassuming pose.
“Not many wander our way on foot”
The man finally spoke, looking around to see if anyone else was coming before he continued.
“Specially nah after sundown, gates closed ta traffic till the morrow“ he finished.
Muttering and footsteps told Davrou that more stood behind the barrier and likely had watched him since he came into view.
He kept his voice soft and apologetic as he spoke, measuring the distance to the man in case it was necessary. “Pardon my intrusion then. I’m new to these parts, just came looking for some work.”
The sentry, gave him a curt nod, accepting the apology roughly as he eyed the sword at Davrou’s waist.
“Road here can get rough and troubled, wha kinda work ya looking fur?” he asked.
Davrou gave a look of innocent concern, raising his arm up away far from the blades hilt, feeling the sheath of a small dagger he coated in a particularly nasty substance, strapped against his forearm. Its previous owner was one He had met the day before when the highwayman has tried to assault him. He pulled his bag forward, slowly lifting the lid to show its contents,
“I’m merely an herbalist, not much more.” He answered, keeping his hand turned down to hide the thick callouses. “Luck must have kept trouble at bay.” He added letting the flap close once more.
The gateman’s mouth gave a slight smirk, causing Davrou to adjust his wrist.
“An herbalist can git comfortable quick in our city, injured and sick men turn up every day here by the dozens.” The man explained
Then he looked Davrou over again. “I’d truly like to welcome ya in out of the dangers of night.” He sympathized as he scratched his beard feigning contemplation. After a few second a small grin curved his mouth “ But ya seem a bit young ta be a proper herbsman, fur all I know ya just got strange weeds and colored sand in there, What prove have ya, that your what ya say ya are”
Davrou relaxed his arm once he hearing the man out. The guard just wanted a bribe. The thought of turning back never crossed his mind, partly because one of the men might think him worthy of robbing in the dead of night and killing city guards is very inconvenient, but mostly, because the idea of a decent bed and hot shower were too good to let pass another day. He slipped his hand into the pack and removed a small bundle of violet and red leaves with rich yellow stems. He tossed them to his extorter.
“Loki’s touch, you may have seen it before.” He named the plant
A couple more men step into the door way, dressed in the same uniform, eager to look and nodded quickly hiding smiles.
“A gift for the sentinels.” He said quietly. ”Slowly chewing a single leaf should keep you wide awake, anymore and your mind starts to toy… It may be best to take it to an apothecary if you’d like a proper verification” Davrou warned, knowing the side effect was what most desired it for.
The first man seemed to be the captain of the groups, shushing their conversation before returning to Davrou and stretch out a hand. “Your word seems true enough, welcome to Valhalla, herbsman.” He voiced, stepping aside to allow passage.
With a small nod, Davrou walked through slowly keeping his shoulders hunched protectively and glanced nervously at the men as he passed and the cavern he had just entered. All the guards were armed with pistol or blade and each wore a smug look due to their ill-gained goods as the captain shamelessly began the distributions of the bribe. The inner walls, just passed the gate, were host to monstrous metallic wheels of gears and cogs joined with heavy chains, resting quiet and motionless until they needed to open and close the impossibly tall gateway. Passed the gears, extended sheets of impossibly smooth stone walls that reflected decades or more of effort. A narrow stream of white fire ran along sills on either side of the wall, casting visibility down the long stretch or tunnel
“Just follow the lit path” A round double chin, sentry told him through quick chews of possibly three leaves, he was just handed.
“Please, do not use too much.” he muttered softly shake his head as he looked down, suppressing a grin of his own.
The batch he gave them was untreated, they would surely be wandering in and out of the city in a mind fog within the hour, by morning their heads would feel like crushed pumpkins.
Davrou walked down the path for a long stretch, taking small hesitant steps before finally straightening his posture and settling into his normal stridek letting out a light chuckle. He long since learned, that giving such people a sense of superiority greatly helped the situation along without causing much trouble.
unconsciously toyed with his necklace under his shirt, his gaze travelled along the walls, catching barely discernable depressions that match the glyphs from the entrance, the hidden marking faded and returned in short intervals of several paces apart along the canvas of the stone passage. He couldn’t help but think that this place held many old secrets. Briefly looking back, he let out a resigned sigh and picked up his pace to the entrance. He would have enjoyed studying the walls more, puzzling of guessing at their original purpose, but if any of the soldiers abstained for the “medicine,” they would soon begin to notice the intensity of the influence the plant was having on their comrades. It would be best to be long gone by then. Thankfully an increase in light indicated an exit as the tunnel began to widen. He emerged from the small entry was atop a wide precipice, preceding a carved rock stairways leading up and down the vast city of Valhalla.
Valhalla was the largest civilization he had ever seen, a metropolis, realms away from the little village he was raised in. Oil lamps and iron torches the size of men kept the city bathed in light. Large structures of steel and brick covered the cavernous terrain. Moving machines sending spouts of steam into the air as they propelled steel carriages on networks of rails, cutting through various street. Arching bridges reached into the sky, connecting to the mountain and the other end of the city. Its borders were not even confined by the waters of its shores, heavy platforms branched out into the sea, crossing and traversing one another to creating streets and road on the bay, lined with multitudes of store fronts, towers, warehouses and other buildings.
On Davrou’s sides, Scattered vertically along the cliff faces cupping the bay, a mosaic of homes jutted out on every level, growing more prestigious as they rose higher. The residencies closest to the waves were relatively small, modestly extended out by plain wooden scaffolds, creating longer entryways and elevated walking paths. Houses at the mid-level already looked larger and held a greater sense of design forming elegant domes or sculpted to resemble cottages speckled with windows and even a couple balconies. They all were easily divisible into a couple floors. Some even boasted small gardens along their edges. Above the mid lines were obviously the homes of nobles, miniature castles of richly colored stones lavished with statues of majestic creatures and heroes. The passages leading to these homes opened into terraces, leisurely leading to wide courtyards. Looming down from the highest level centered above the cities entrance, was the Citadel. It was easily the size of over a dozen mid-level homes and the most extravagant of all, covered with images of legend, framed by the same smooth walls and traced in the same ivory flames as those in the tunnel. Davrou was struck by the overwhelming sight.
Once he finally pulled away from the cities spell he pushed in, letting go of his amulet and running down the list of everything he need to do as he walked through the streets. There were still a few groups of people wondering through the roads and alleys even at this hour, all of which looked unsavory and most making their ways to taverns and brothels no doubt. More reinforced limbs were present among the crowds, some of which looked made for battle, such one with a particularly long spike protruding from a fist shaped ball of steel. Davrou only saw a handful of such people in the previous town he visited but the painful surgery looked far more popular here, it said a lot about the populace.
Several owners of these modifications loitered drunkenly in front of a series of stables, already talking in slurred shout as they compared mounts. Davrou couldn’t hide a look of disgust at passing the group and seeing the creatures, kept behind the stall. His hands tensed fight the urges to cut them down, the beasts were Re-breeds. Three former horses stood side by side, a large Bear like creature across from them, their entire bodies thickened, with the remains of failed specimens, steel rods, connected to hydraulics stabbed through the flesh, sockets replacing ligaments and joints, all connected by coils from main veins to a small steam motors drilled into the creatures’ spines. The sight was truly revolting. These were normal, natural creatures that madmen took and tortured, shattering their bodies to put them back together as abominations, just to make them sturdier and run farther. Unfortunately it was fast becoming a common part of society with its convenience out weighing its cruelty. A naying shriek, sounded distantly from the back of the small facility, announcing another Re-breeding surgery in the process of starting. It sent a Shiver down Davrou’s back; men make their own decisions but these animals were just subject to the owner’s whim. One off the men screamed back in a mocking intimidation, his friends laughing around him.
“Damn horse, isn’t worth a damn as is. It dies, we’ll just trade its body to skip the fee, if not it’s finally be a half decent steed.” The man said smugly.
The creature was worth more than this trash of a man, Davrou thought, but he marched past roughly keeping his cool and blocking out the helpless animal’s cries, it wasn’t his concern.
He was relieved when he found what he was looking for just a few streets away. A depiction of a shark’s mouth spread wide showing rows of teeth, actual shark teeth, embedded in the wood, hung from a sign that read, SHARK’S MAW TAVERN INN. Tonight he’d have a real bed and be able to experience the greatest luxury of large civilizations like this one, a hot shower.
The Tavern was as he expected, leaning toward grungy, darkly lit and filled with the smell of strong tobacco, and hard drinks. From the looks the regulars cast his way, Davrou could tell strangers didn’t pass through the place to often. “Good” Davrou muttered. It be a good place to avoid the guards. He ignored the watching eyes, leisurely heading to the broken down counter. The barkeeper finished wiping crumbs from the counter top with an old rags that long since needed to be tossed, pretending not to see the ones falling into the chipped cracks, before he looked up to see Davrou. He was a small man with an unkempt patchy beard and uninterested eyes.
“Yer new ‘round ere” he muttered moving toward an ale spill with the same filthy rag. “2 copper for a plate of whatever’s cooking, drink are half copper.” He offered tossing the cloth on top of what passed for clean cups here. Davrou slid a trio of silver rounds onto the bat top. Catching the man’s attention. “Just a room for now. And turn on the hot water.” The coins were at least enough for two rooms in a place like this but being on the keeper’s good side always had its benefits. The little man took the coins, without a second thought, fishing a set of keys out of a drawer and handing them over. “Upstairs, last one down the hall… closest to the back entrance.” He explained. The old man had obviously seen the gesture a few times before, in a place like this. Davrou nodded his thanks and made his way to what he considered a small paradise.
At the Iron Blood Village, they lacked many of the innovations found in the more industrial towns and cities, such as the transportation system and interconnected pipe systems to disburse water. When he was a child Davrou always took full advantage when he traveled outside his absurdly traditional home. It was no different now. The heat or the burning water after 2 weeks of incessant travel, washing off the grime he collected and working out the knots in his muscles, it felt amazing. He stood under the hot thin streams for as long as he could before reluctantly turning the pipes off.
He groaned at his situation, regretting his actions on the guards. He could have easily given then something less detrimental to their health and avoided any problems, instead he made sure they would regret meeting him, and by tomorrow, made a long string of grudges. He needed to try and get as much done tonight as possible. Davrou’s body pleaded and argued as he looked at the bed but his mind eventually won out. He changed into a deep red shirt, somewhat less dingy then the last with a black pair of pants and pulled over the same coat before heading out.
The old tavern owner was kind enough to point Davrou to a small building just before the water district where he could find decent trade. A few guard hurried off in the direction of the tunnel, looking concerned as they walked passed. It may have been for some menial task but he didn’t want to chance it. Davrou put up his hood, tucking his hair back and hiding his face. Constant Travels trade shop looked surprisingly well stocked for suck a small store, with the clerk looking tired though still willing to do business. He gave Davrou a suspicious look after reading the list of materials he was looking for but a few extra coins later, went into a back room and acquired the various, items. Mandrake root and Salamander fluid was the most expensive but he managed to trade the most of the remaining untreated Loki’s joy for the rest of the goods. Over all, the clerk must have been more awake then he let on since it ended as a fairly even trade.
Just after their business concluded a small tremor hit the shop catching them both off guard. Davrou quickly moved outside to see what happened followed by the shopkeeper. The sight was startling, a large airship being consumed by an inferno washed violently back and forth in the harbor, filling the air with smoke.
“What the hell happened” the clerk asked next to him as a mass of soldiers, and spectators rushed to the piers to gawk as the spectacle.
“No, idea.” He answered truthfully.
Watching the black clouds billowing up, he curiously wondered what the death count was, a vessel that big would have had a large crew.
“Since their already adrift and burning, no point in rescuing them just to perform the same rites.” Davrou joked to himself out loud.
It earned him a dark and shocked look from the shop keeper. With that he nodded his goodbye and headed off back to his cozy little room.
He could hear the drunken chatter before he walked in. a bunch of idiots, deep in there cups talking to loud amongst themselves and slurring insult at those that passed by. To bypass the stupidity entirely, Davrou walked around taking the back entrance the old man mentions inside and to his room.
Davrou laid on the rickety four poster bed for a long while. The bedding was a finger thick providing almost no padding with no sheets, the hard wood surface below stiff against his back. But it was still much more comfortable than the bumpy roads. No rocks digging into his back, no roots shoving into his side and he didn’t have to worry about the annoyance of bugs scurrying and crawling around his supplies. His mind was begin to fade into a long quiet slumber.
Two blasts of gunshots followed by a scream and broken glass, shook him just before rest, bolting him upright, sword already in hand while the other rested on a small glass ball he place next to his bed. He strained his ears to listen, waiting for someone to pass through his doors. Hysterical laughter was the only thing that came at first, then footsteps coming up the stairs hurriedly. Davrou opened his door to see who was coming, his blade held low, angled up ready to strike. It wasn’t a guard, it was the Innkeeper. Cursing vehemently.
“Damn piss lickers, sons’ of whores.” He shouted moving to a supply closet.
Davrou let his sword dip as he walked out. “What happened?” he asked seeing the man rummage for bandages and rags. The Old man glanced back seeing the Davrou holding the weapon, but paid him no heed returning to his search, after a couple moments he turned around and started back down.
“Buncha little cunts, shot a cust’mer, again!” He complained, “Ye know how expensive, it is to bribe the damn city guard not to shut me down. Bloody idiot. Ter Mothers are Re-bred whores!” he continued, shutting up just as he hit the stairs.
That was not good news for Davrou. He rolled his eyes and punched the side of the wall angrily, then took a pair of thin knives, a small yellow pouch and a small wooden box filled with a dark salve from his satchel and headed down. The laughter continued from a table toward the front door; a group of five where enjoying the way a man writhed in pain, It was the same group from outside the Rebreeding Stables, He realized. A dark red stain by the victim’s waist was spreading rapidly the little owner and a frightened bar maid were desperately holding him up as they tried to stop the bleeding. Davrou released a long sigh as he watched their clumsy attempts. He wanted to go back up to his comfortable bed but he didn’t need the cities attention to come here.
“Move” he called out, coming toward the injured man.
He grabbed a lantern of the wall as he went. He firmly guided the woman away from the man allowing him to lay all the way back down.
“What you doin boy?” the keeper snapped still pressing a bandage down, hard, to slow the flow.
“Trying to stop you two, from killing him, now hold him down so he doesn’t move much” he said calmly moving the rags away. Davrou felt the other side but found to exit wound.
“Great” he muttered letting him go and pulling out a knife.
The man didn’t have much time. He passed the blades through the lanterns flame slowly three times and slice the bullet hole making it wider. The man screamed again from the pain.
“Hold him down tighter.” He ordered, sliding his finger in to search for the bullet. The screams sounded more agonizing, the man might have been luckier if he had drunk more. A small round object touched the tip of his fingers.
“Found it” he said quiet, pulling the fingers out and using a set of clasps on the little blades’ hilts to linked then into a pair of tongs he press them into the widened injury. A few seconds of prodding later, they finally emerged with the round.
“You’re a lucky man” Davrou observed. “It didn’t fragment.” Davrou didn’t wait for a response packing in the dark salve hastily into the wound. He shoved a wad of rag into the man’s mouth.
“Bite down hard.” Her ordered.
The man obeyed quickly. Davrou heated the thin blades for a much longer period this time, it one swift motion, one hands used the rag to wipe away the last of the blood and the other pushed hard against the patient’s waist searing the hole shut. The gag, muffled the shrieking screams until Davrou was sure the wound was completely closed.
“That should take care of any infection.” He told the man, as he pick of a cup of ale from a nearby table.
He shook a small amount of yellow powder from the pouch into the drink and pushed into the man’s hands. “That’ll help replenish the blood.”
He looked to the barmaid next to him still shaking, as she watched the procedure. “Take him home or somewhere else, just not here.” Davrou told her, gathering his gear.
“Thank the gods, a healer was hear” One of the men called drunkenly from their table.
The large rotund man was the one with the spear tipped fist on his mechanical arm a small hole next to it Davrou had noticed before was evident now, highlighted by muzzle burns.
”Next time your here, we’ll get to see the whole show.” His friend joined in with a chuckle, his steel leg creaking the boards as it shook. He smashing an empty bottle, next to a previous one. Ordering another.
“Good show, Healer, those wales were even worse than when he just got shot.” The first one added, making them all laugh.
Davrou ignored them, taking his knives to the sink to wash and dry them properly. “Did you hear me Surgeon?” the Spearman called again.
Davrou thoroughly scrubbed the blades using a strong bottle of spirits and quickly passed them over a flame, paying the man no heed. That was until a loud boom and the shattering of glass caught his attention. Davrou dropped quickly flipping the knives in one hand, ready to throw, groping for his sword he left upstairs with the other. He cursed himself, for being so careless. Then he cried out.
“Sorry! So sorry, I’m very meticulous about my tools.” He explained nervously
The gun men laughed again. “Now he speaks, the man was all air” one said.
“Can you fix yourself up healer?” A new one called.
“Pl-Please let me buy you all a few rounds, to say my forgiveness.” Davrou replied.
After a few moments’ murmurs of agreement followed and the man with the gun arm, presumably their leader answered. “Fine, we agree to accept your hospitality. Bruwin! A round of your most expensive ale.” He told the Barkeeper. The man glance at the Davrou, then back at the delinquents, he knew better than to argue. He moved to the back of the bar and served out the cups as Davrou stood up cautiously. Watching the men, Davrou moved around the counter carefully. “I’ll take them out” he told the barkeep quietly, slipping him another silver. “And another for me.” the tremble was gone as soon as the man turn away, one of the little blade sliced a hole in the wrist cuff of his shirt releasing a white powder that he quickly poured into each of the drink, in just over a second. When his glass came he took it in hand and let the last of the powder fall directly into the cup as well. He kept this gaze on the arm, tripping a bit as he letting the tray shake in his hands. He took a relieved expression when he put them all down waiting for each to pick there one of their own before taking the left over glass. He may have been over selling it, but these men enjoyed causing fear. It was fuel to their egos.
“I th- thought I-id join you all, to show I m-meant no wrong.” Davrou suggested Timidly.
The fat leader gave him a grin snatching the tankard from his hands. “You should just be grateful you still breathing.” He said taking a large swig. “Just sit and make sure these drinks keep coming and hope, we feel satisfied before your purse empties.”
Davrou shook his head vigorously in understanding. He sat quietly letting them down their first cups as they pleased. It only took a few minutes before the first collapsed. By then they were all mostly done with their drinks. The large one already starting on Davrou’s. Tge first to piece it together was the man standing next to Davrou a dark skinned man with only his forearm converted, even so he was to sluggish. Davrou tore out the blade hidden in his sleeve, feeling the heat as it ignited on exposure to the air. An instant later it severed the metal tubing running through the man’s arms. He grasped the hose, futilely trying to stop the flow. The Leader was struggling futilely to raise and aim his arm. With a kicked Davrou sent the man tumbling to the floor, they were all already collapsing, around him as the owner and a few others watched in horror. Davrou was agitated and methodically took it out on each of them, using the burning blade to completely mangle each mechanized limb and relieving them all of their coins and a pair of powerful looking pistols, the held three large caliber rounds each.
“W’at ye do!?” The Tavern owner, yelled wildly, when he found his voice. “Ye killed ‘em all! Instead of one body I have five! You.. you Mur-“
“None of them are dead.” Davrou stopped him with a cold glare.
“Only unconscious, they’ll wake by morning. Killing them would have defeated the point of wasting my supplies on the injured idiot from before” he assured the old man logically but couldn’t help add with a twisted smile, “Those limbs are dead thought, If any of them want to move again they would need to redo the whole surgery”
the old man stepped back the fear on his face saying everything.
“You have to go”, he said quietly. “Please..Your… more frightening then they were.” He told Davrou honestly, handing him back 2 silver coins.
Davrou took the money nodding as went to gather his things. He couldn’t blame the man he was just taking care of himself. He should have ignored the whole situation let them do as they like. He could have moved on when he was told the guards would come, or he could have killed the men, when he first saw them.
He came back down only a few moment later. This time he didn’t have to ignore any stares, they were all avoiding him.