One of the Hakian guards in front of the warrior angrily threw something on the ground at its feet. Upon further inspection La found that it was a collection of taffy and hard candy.
“No, sir, we do not accept candy as payment here.” He looked up into that ridiculous, yet unsettling pink helm and wiped a cold sweat from his temple, but continued to rattle off an often spoken statement. “We will, however, accept hakoins, gobs, Imperial Coinage of the Triad, or a set weight of gold or silver determined to be worth the cost of passage through this Gate.”
The candy soldier shook his head bemusedly. “I have none of those. In my land we use what I gave you as our coinage, embedded with the official seal of the Candyland Kingdom.”
“B-but it’s candy!”
“Yes.” His voice was deep, toneless, and distorted through the daunting helm.
“We can’t let you through unless you pay the toll, journeyer.” A few of the other guards stepped forward, purposefully hefting their spears and swords. Crossbowmen along the top of the Wall trained their weapons towards the warrior.
“You must understand,” the man said urgently, “I am one of the Candy Knights in service of the Sugar Crown, charged with the rescue of the reputable Princess of the minor Strawberry County of the Gumdrop Province, who was kidnapped by a Wrask. It will surely be conducive of a beneficial diplomatic relation with the Candyland Kingdom if you let me pass with no trouble.”
The lead guards snorted derisively. “Your kingdom is a joke. We share no borders and have very little practical trade interests with your state. Yet even so our esteemed monarch sent men in to aid your pathetic Candyland standing army in its first and only war. How long ago was it, three years, since the barbarians from the North were driven from your land? Our great state has sacrificed enough for your kind, we owe no favors. You must pay up or turn around, Candy Knight.”
The knight had visibly tensed his entire body at the mention of the barbaric invasion from the North. He swung his ridiculous weapon over his shoulder and tightened his grip on it. “My binding oath to His Candy Sweetness the King requires I take all necessary action to protect my nation as effectively as possible and to the best of my abilities.”
He hoisted the top-heavy, unwieldy metal weapon into the air and it hung there, poised menacingly with a potent and lethal potential energy.
“It is with regret that I deliver death upon the people who have aided Candyland in the past.”
At once there was a blur of pink and the nearest guard flew backwards and came to a skidding stop on the gravely path, his helmet crumpled inwards and sprayed with blood. Before anyone could blink there was another sickening crunch and the lead guard’s body slumped to the ground with his head caved in, underneath the thick disk at the end of the knight’s weapon. The frenzied thwack of crossbow fire was answered with a furious ping of bolts off of metal as they sparked off of the knight’s armor and weapon. Shouting and violence continued for a few flurried minutes and at once it was over, as the last guard flew through the air to bowl over a crossbowman. He screamed until he hit the ground behind the Wall. The knight, now steeped over and breathing with a heaviness noticeable even through his armor, stepped over to the big iron gate wheel and began, with agonizing slowness and great difficulty, to turn it. The entire crowd watched in a hushed silence as the gate began to slowly screech inwards.
“That thing takes at least three men to operate.” La whispered to Raul in disbelief.
“Who the hell is this guy?”
“Shit,” La breathed as she jogged back to her pack, “shit.”
“What? La, where are you going?” Raul asked warily. He fumblingly caught his pack as she flung it at him. And he watched, shocked, as she took off towards the gate. Raul looked exasperatedly at Oocus; Oocus shrugged and broke into a run behind her. “Dammit.” he said, and followed suit.
The Candy Knight turned slowly, tightening his grip on his weapon. The flat metal face of his helm leered soullessly at his pursuers. He was taken aback, slightly, to find that he was being followed by a group of three kids. The obvious leader of the group, a tall young lady with electric-blonde hair and an imperious expression, dressed in the faded violet garb of the Scythian Province, stopped before him and gave a flustered complex hand gesture that the knight recalled to be an Imperial gesture of respectful greeting.
“Listen, knight, I think we can help each other out here.” She was breathing heavily and disheveled from her run, but still managed to look confident. The Candy Knight swung his weapon to crash against his shoulder in its resting position, relaxed and unthreatened. “I am one of the Candy Knights of Candyland Kingdom, charged with-“
“Yeah, I know, I heard it already. Listen, I figure you’re probably looking for Wrask Castle, right?”
“Awesome. Do you know where it is?”
He paused. “No.”
“Well. That’s gonna be a problem.”
“It should not be too difficult. Find a Wrask. Club it on the head until it shows me where it is.” He looked down at the smug look on her face questioningly.
“I know where to find a Wrask.”
The pink helm tilted to the side. “Where?”
La paused. “There’s one living in a cave on one of the Seventeen Hills of Cryisthe.”
The knight’s head perked up. “Excellent, however I do not know where the Seventeen Hills of Cryisthe are.”
La smiled at her companions. “Well it just so happens that we were already on our way to the Hills. If you’d like to tag along with us then we could really help each other out.” She smiled up at the large knight, then at the rest of her group. Oocus gave her an absentminded thumbs-up and Raul scowled distrustfully.
“Alright, then. I will gladly travel with you, journeyers.”
“Great! We need some muscle in this party, no offense to any of you. So you’re a big guy, right? How much do you weigh, like three hundred, three hundred fifty Hakian-pounds heavy?”
“I weigh approximately four-hundred and seven Un-stretched Taffy Bricks, plus my armor it is about two-hundred more.”
“Never mind, then.” She smiled broadly and gave him a ringing whack on the back. “Welcome to the team, Candy Knight, sir. This here is Raul, he’s a magician from Venivia. And this is Oocus. I think he’s from a town beyond the Wall. He doesn’t talk much. And I’m La,” she said, straightening her shoulders and adopting an imperious expression, “I am the Fifth Retainer of the great Lightning Spirit Tchershish, daughter of Ert the Thunder-Voiced, who was in turn son of a First Retainer of Tchershish, who once in a fit of rage was said to have struck down the demi-god Hespus with a bolt of lightning, but I'm sure you've heard the tale. And of course, my father Ert the Thunder-voiced, I’m sure you’ve heard of him, has a shout that can shake the Celestial Tree to its very roots. He was Third Retainer. Right now I’m Fifth Retainer, but someday I’m going to be Third just like my father, Tchershish willing. And-”
An ear-splitting screech rattled La’s eardrums, and suddenly clods of dirt sprayed into the air, knocking the four hard to the ground.
“What in the-“
A figure wreathed in dust let out another screech and dove at Raul, clacking a sharp beak.
A huge, vicious looking bird thudded to the ground underneath the business end of the knight’s weapon.
The Candy Knight smashed his boot into the creature’s bristly, feathered head and cracked its skull in.
“It is nice to meet all of you.” he said finally, shaking the blood off his boot.