Thick walls of packed dirt jutted repugnantly out of the hill in front of them. Weak tendrils of smoke trailed industriously into the sky from behind the sod walls. The group was excited to see the ugly settlement looming ahead of them. They had been trekking for several days and were bone tired and out of food, save the mysterious Candy Knight who seemed to have a large amount of candy on hand and a near-exhaustible store of energy.

“It’s about damn time we got here,” La said happily, glancing at the map in front of her, “according to this it’s called… Mericahaeinth-Ack? That sounds like someone just strung a bunch of nonsense syllables together and called it a town name.”

They approached the beaten-up, cast iron gate and were immediately met by a gruff and suspicious voice in an unfamiliar tongue. Two guards jabbed spears from behind the bars of the gate accusingly.

“Do you speak Epitric?” Raul asked slowly and clearly. One of the guards jabbered back at him in a lilting but halting, near-indistinguishable Epitic sentence. The words ‘demon' and ‘unwelcome’ registered in their ears.

“Archaic Epitric.” Raul said, fascinated.

       Oocus replied to the guard in a rough and short-winded language. The guard instantly relaxed and lowered his spear, but still gestured suspiciously towards the Candy Knight. The two jabbered on for minutes until the guard finally slid a bar from across the gate and dragged the gate open with some difficulty against its rusted hinges.

“Good thing we have you here, you little barbarian.” La said appreciatively to Oocus. Oocus nodded.

       The guard finally waved them in. The city was sooty and brown; neat, sturdy houses of packed dirt rose from the ground at every street corner; smoke drifted from openings in the tops. The clinking of a smithing hammer could be heard from somewhere. The villagers stared at them suspiciously over roughly-spun dusters similar to Oocus’.

“Wow. Gloomy place.” La commented.

“Is there even an inn here?” Raul asked as they walked down the street. Oocus pointed toward a wide building with a sloping roof.

       Torches warmly lit the dirt walls of the inn. Long stone tables stretched from one side of the room to the other. Fur pelts comfortably covered the benches. A handful of Hakian infantrymen sat near the fire, laughing raucously at some joke. Several Beyond men sat passed out around empty tankards, and a lone adventurer sat quietly at the far end of the room.

“You fellas want some rooms for the night?” asked a short Beyond woman as she passed busily by with a tray of buns for the Hakian soldiers.

“Yes ma’am,” replied La amicably, happy to find a friendly stranger, “How much will it be?”

“Well for a fellow assimilated Beyondsman I’ll give you a discount,” she said, smiling at Oocus, “I know one when I see one.” Oocus nodded in acknowledgment and flashed a complicated hand gesture. “Oocylag-ag, hnaal Oocus.”

“Talhmolag, hnaal Talla.” she replied, reciprocating the same complex signing.

La, Raul and the Candy Knight all stared at the two, unsure of what to make of the display. Finally La interrupted their chatter.

“So do you take Hakoins?”

“Hmm?” Talla glanced half-mindedly up at her, still giggling from some incomprehensible joke made by Oocus. “Oh, yes  I do. I have two rooms left, 10 Hakoins each.”

“Steep price for a couple of dirt rooms.” La, always the haggler, said contemplatively.

“Well you’re lucky I’m even taking Hakoins,” Talla laughed, “they’re nearly worthless out here. Only reason I take ‘em is because of all the traffic that comes through here from behind the Wall. I have to cross the Wall every moon to cash out.”

“If you put it that way, we’ll take ‘em.” La said with a businesslike demeanor.

The End

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