They had been walking for about a half hour when Tyler heard, and felt, his stomach start to growl. He didn't get any of the lasagna from his mother last night, and so far Rin had only offered him water from his canteen.
"Are we going to be getting anything to eat soon, Rin," Tyler asked putting a hand on his stomach. "Or find one of those Jincock things to ride?"
“I've been keeping an eye out for the Rally Cats or the Jincocks,” Rin replied. “The Jincocks we will probably see in a short while. I don't often not see them in this part of the plains. As for the cats, I'm hoping,” Rin said keeping his pace through the grass. “I'd love to have some meat right now and not have to wait until we get to Nestropia for it.”
“I've usually had a couple cans of Mountain Dew by now,” Tyler said trying to think back to the last time that he had a can. “That would have been when I sat down to play the game yesterday afternoon,” he thought to himself.
“Stop here for a minute then,” Rin said turning around.
“What for,” asked Tyler. He looked around to see if there were any of the Jincocks or Rally Cats around that he could see. Though he didn't exactly know what they looked like.
Rin put his hands out in front of him and stared into the space between them. Then Tyler noticed a small point of light in the center of Rin's hands. The light started to grow. Not a bright light, to Tyler is was about the same brightness as if his nightstand lamp didn't have a shade on it. Then he felt a breeze. It was light, and he could feel it swirling around them. The light then turned as blue as the open ocean, and then it vanished. When the light was gone, and the breeze stopped, Rin was holding a glass filled to the brim with a clear liquid.
“What is that,” exclaimed Tyler. He was extremely excited to Rin's first real use of magic since they had arrived in Jinlan.
“I didn't know people drank it in your land,” Rin pondered saying. “To be honest, I can't even imagine how you would collect it without the use of magic. Rin then handed the glass over to Tyler to take.
“Collect what,” he asked, accepting the glass from Rin.
“Mountain Dew,” Rin replied. “It is what you just told me you wanted to drink and had two cans of by now.
Tyler choked when he realized what Rin meant, and the fact that the glass only contained water.
“Oh, man,” Tyler said, coughing to get the water out of the wrong pipe. “Thanks for the water, but that's not what I meant by Mountain Dew.”
“What is the difference between Mountain Dew and the creek water we put in the canteen this morning,” Rin asked quizzingly.
“In Jinlan, apparently nothing.” He took another deep drink of the cold water and offered the glass back to Rin, who also took a healthy drink. “In America it's a beverage that gets made in a factory.”
"So it's not just dew from the grass on the mountain," asked Rin.
“Not even in the slightest,” Tyler replied.
"Then let me try this again," Rin said putting the glass of water down. He then put his right index and middle fingertips on Tyler's forehead and his left hand he held the same way as before. "Now just think about your drink," he said.
Tyler started to think about his drink. He thought about the way it tasted, the way it felt in his mouth, and the way it felt going down his throat as he swallowed it. The light started up again in the middle of the boys and grew quickly to the blue light. He felt the breeze around him a bit stronger this time, and in less than a minute it was gone. It place of the light was another glass, but this time with something that looked like it might actually be right this time.
“Wow, it's green and bubbly,” Rin said holding the glass up to his eyes. “Give it a try and see if it's the right thing,” he said handing the second glass to Tyler.
With one sip of the drink, Tyler was amazed! "This is spot on, Rin. Now that is magic," he said laughing. He held out the glass to Rin saying, "Take a drink and tell me what you think."
Rin took the glass back from Tyler and first smelled it, but there was no odor, so he cautiously put the glass up to his lips and took a small sip. “It's not that bad,” he said taking a larger drink this time. As he handed the glass back to Tyler, his eyes let up like he had seen a ghost.
“Don't make any sudden moves. Just follow me and act natural.”
Rin picked up the first glass and put it in his pack as Tyler turned to see what Rin was referring to. Standing what would have been behind them were three large animals. They were standing about eight feet tall, and had long muscular legs and a long bald neck. It was feathered, so Tyler knew it was a bird. It's eyes were on the side of its head, and it had a beak about a foot long. They were standing there about a hundred feet way in a way that the boys knew they were watching them.
“Are those Jincocks,” asked Tyler in a whispered voice.
“Yes, they are,” Rin replied. “But you don't have to whisper. If they wanted to run, they would have done it by now. They must have been sleeping in the grass. Come on,” Rin said and started to walk toward the Jincocks.
“What are we supposed to do,” Tyler asked as he followed Rin at a walking pace towards the birds.
“If they let us, we can be to the city in just a few hours. We just have to get them to kneel down and let us hop on.
“I know you've done this before, but, are you kidding? Those things are huge.”
"Yes," Rin replied as they got to about half way to the birds. "But wait until you're on their back, and they are in a full run. There is nothing more exciting than that."
They walked the rest of the way quietly so as not to scare them off. Rin knew that they would not scare off. They were naturally tame animals that is why there were so few of them left. To Rin, these creatures were friends. They were traveling companions when you needed to go a long distance. With their swift speed, if they ran full out, Rin and Tyler could be at Nestropia within a couple hours. But there was no need for that kind of speed today. Even at a sprint they could be to the city by mid, or late afternoon. That depended on how well Tyler could hold on.
They arrived at where the three Jincock were standing and grazing on the plain grass, and Rin put his hand up to one of them and said, "I know you. You brought me to the Caves of Skulls a while back. I hope you remember me."
"You know that bird," Tyler asked as he put his hand up to touch a different one of them.
"I don't know them all. But I do know this one because he has a large patch of feathers missing here on his left side by his wing.
“They seem nice enough. They remind me of what we call an ostrich. Just I think these are bigger,” he said bending his head back to look up to head of the bird he was touching. “How do we get them to sit down so we can ride them?”
“You ask them,” Rin said like it was the obvious answer.
"Watch how I do this," Rin said as he moved in front of the one he had chosen. He put his hands out to his sides, leaned his chin against his chest, and waited.
Tyler did the same thing with the bird that he had been touching. He moved out in front of it a few feet, put his arms out to his sides, and leaned his chin on his chest. He didn't know if he was supposed to ask in his mind, so he did anyhow. The birds turned their heads to face each other, turned back, and then sat down on the ground in front of them.
"And that is how you ask a Jincock for a ride," Rin said as he started walking over to Tyler. "Come over here," motioned Rin. When Tyler got to where he was, Rin put a hand on the top of the bird's wing. "You step up here, and then throw your other leg over like you would mount a horse. See these horns," asked Rin as he grabbed one that was at the base of the bird's neck. "There are two. Hang on with both hands, and lock your knees tight against their sides. We don't make saddles for Jincocks. It's either hold on tight or get thrown," Rin said with a laugh. "And holding on is much more fun."
With a little help from Rin, Tyler got mounted on the Jincock, and the bird immediately stood up.
"Wow, haha. That made my stomach learch," Tyler said putting a hand on his stomach.
"I love that feeling," Rin replied as he mounted his Jincock, and it stood up as well. "I'll teach you how to guide them later on, but for now we will just have yours follow mine and I'll guide it to the city. If you do need to stop though, or if you feel you're going to fall off and need to slow down, just pull back on the horns. Pull back lightly, and he will slow, pull back hard and he will stop. Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on you too."
“Okay,” answered Tyler, “that sounds easy enough.”
“Then are you ready for a ride?” Tyler could sense that Rin was just waiting for him to say go.
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be I guess."
Rin then turned his Jincock around in the direction that they had been walking in earlier, gave a kick and a yell to the bird, and they were off. With a little trepidation, Tyler gave his Jincock a kick as well, and not as quite a loud yell. But the bird knew just what do to and took off as fast as it could.
The speed was incredible. The moment the Jincock took off Tyler was only barely hanging on to the horns that were about a foot in front of him. Any lighter of a grip and the animal would leave him dangling in mid-air until he fell to the ground. He grabbed hold of the horns with all his might and squeezed his knees hard into the bird's side to keep from falling off. The bird was soft he noticed when he was able to gain his balance. They were softer than other feathers he had felt in the past. They felt more like a fur than a feather though he could feel the harder shaft of the feathers against his knees. Surprisingly to Tyler they did not smell. He had imagined that they would have the odor of farm animal, but there was nothing. He thought it might be because these were not farm animals as Rin had said. These animals lived on their own out in the open.
But the speed is what amazed him the most. He loved the feeling of the wind rushing through his hair making it wave out behind him. He loved the feeling of it stinging his face even when it made his eyes water, and he could barely see at times. The wind against his bare chest and legs was a wonderful feeling. Now he knew why Rin was filled with anticipation when they met the birds. This was a feeling that made Tyler happy. He was elated and filled with joy with the simple act of riding a Jincock. If he ever got back to Longstown and just had to play Dark Rising as a game again, he would always remember this feeling when he had his character ride one of the Jincocks.
Rin and his bird were about fifty feet ahead of Tyler and his bird. Rin had hunkered down a little on his Jincock, his head just a few inches above the horns and leaning to the right slightly to see around the birds neck. His knees were low, but above the wing that he had stepped up on to straddle the Jincock, and his feet were high. Rin looked more like a man riding a speed motorcycle that he did an ostrich. Every so often Tyler would hear him yell out something, but with the wind rushing past, and the distance between them, he could not tell what.
Tyler slowly worked his way to try to gain the same position that Rin was in. Tyler had been sitting nearly upright, holding on for dear life for the last half hour since they had started riding, and he was getting sore in that position. He wiggled his butt back a few inches and lowered his head. He had almost let go of the right horn and slipped a little to his right. The Jincock felt him move and must have anticipated the fall as it moved quickly to it's right and lowered itself just enough to Tyler to grasp tight the horn again and regain his balance.
“Whew,” he thought to himself, “that was a close one.” His heart was racing now at the thought of falling off at such a high speed. He would have broken bones for sure had he hit the ground.
He inched his way back a little more. This time making sure that he never lost grip on the horns until he at the same height that he saw Rin in. He moved his knees down and raised his feet up, the whole while keeping what he thought of as a death grip on the Jincock. When he had successfully assumed the same position that Rin was in, the bird sped up. He didn't think the Jincock could go any faster than it had already been moving, but it sure did. Within just a few minutes, the two Jincocks were running side by side.
Rin looked over and saw Tyler and his bird just a few feet away. Tyler thought he was going to say something, but all he did was smile then turned back in the direction they were traveling. To Tyler this had to be the best feeling he had felt in all his life. This was just too amazing. The Jincocks just ran and ran, never slowing, never seeming to get tired, never needing to stop to eat or to drink. He was getting used to his position on the bird and was able to loosen his grip just a bit to keep from falling off. He held his grip light enough to relax his muscles from the burning they had been experiencing since they started. He knew he might have a hard time walking for a bit after this ride.
Then went over hill after hill, and each time they would start on the downside he felt like stomach was going to come out of his thought. It was the same feeling as when his dad used to take them on the road they called Lose Your Lunch Lane. His dad would go sixty miles per hour on a road that had a thirty mile an hour limit and was three miles of rolling hills. His mom and dad and himself would be laughing loudly as the each experienced the feeling going over each of the hills. "Dad would have enjoyed this too," he thought to himself.
When they came to the top of a hill, and he looked off into the distance, Tyler could just make out a gold band on the horizon. The band went from the far west to the far right. He looked over at Rin, and with his left hand stretched out in front of him; Rin was pointing.
“We must be getting near to Nestropia,” Tyler said out loud to himself. “How long have we been riding?”
Tyler sensed his Jincock slow just a little, and when he looked over, Rin had put himself back to and upright position and was slowly bringing his Jincock to walk. In response, Tyler's did the same. They were now walking next to each other folks in America would do if riding horses. The scenery here was just as beautiful here as it had been with they first reached the plains. Now that they had slowed down and could look around more without fear of falling off, Tyler noticed that there were little yellow flowers all over the place. They grew at the same height as the grass and had bright orange centers to them.
“Those are Nexson flowers,” Rin said. “Beautiful to look at out here in the plains, but you do not want they growing in your garden.”
“Why not,” asked Tyler, “they look very beautiful.”
As Rin pulled his Jincock to a stop, he answered, "They are a weed. And a very strong one. See how they are spread out, that you do not see them next to each other?"
It was true. The flowers at a space of about a foot or more from each other. There were none that were close to each other.
“The roots of the weed strangle anything else that grows close. Farmers have had whole crops destroyed before when the Nexson got into their fields.”
“How come it doesn't kill the grass then.”
“Something to do with the Nexson needs the grass to fertilize. It is similar to how bees help pollinate, is what I've been told.
“So what is the gold on the horizon,” Tyler asked pointing to the north.
"That is the Eln Desert," Rin replied. "We will be at its edge within the hour. Then another hour and we will be at the South Gate of Nestropia. We will be able to start seeing this city soon."
"I hope there is a good restaurant there, I'm starving."
Rin took the canteen out of his pack and tossed it over to Tyler, who almost missed it, as Rin's toss was just a few inches too short. He took about a half dozen swallows of the water and wiped his mouth with his right forearm and tossed the canteen back to Rin.
Rin also took about a half dozen swallows of the water before capping it and putting it back in his pack and securing it to his back again.
"I'll take you to see Delago when we get there," Rin promised. "He is one of the best cooks in the city." Rin lightly kicked his Jincock, and both started trotting again toward Nestropia. "Plus he owes me a favor yet from a month ago, so I should be able to get our meal free."
“Are you ready for one last hard ride for the day,” the intense smile back on Rin's face that stretched from ear to ear.
Tyler yelled back, "Oh yeah, let's go." And before Rin had time to kick his Jincock into full speed, Tyler gave his a hard kick, hunkered down, and took the lead.
Rin was mildly shocked when he saw Tyler take off. He was not expecting him to take the lead as they couldn't yet see the city. Tyler might accidentally guide off in the wrong direction.
After waiting a minute to let Tyler get a good lead, Rin kicked his Jincock and bolted after Tyler and his bird. It took about five minutes for Rin to catch up to Tyler and guide them slightly more to the right then they had been going. They ran, and ran, again, and within a half hour the city of Nestropia was able to be seen on the horizon. The sight of the city coming into view made Rin push his Jincock even harder. To Tyler it seemed as if the birds had no top speed. Against his imagination, he felt the animal speed up even more.
As they got ever closer to the city, Tyler could start of make out tall towers, and the wall of the city. He knew what the city looked like on a two-dimensional computer screen, and he was about to come face to face with the real life version. This was not going to be a city like New York, or Los Angeles that he had only seen pictures of online. This was going to be a city like he could not imagine. His heart was racing in both anticipation and fear.
They had come within ten miles of the city, he estimated, and the towering walls that guarded city made him gasp. The birds were still running at full speed, though they had now crossed from the lush fertile Plans of Argola to the soft sand of the Eln Desert. Rin had slowed the Jincocks to about half the speed they had been traveling as the size of the city started to take hold on Tyler.
They were headed for the South Gate, and even from this distance Tyler was in awe at the size of the protection walls. They stood at least two hundred feet tall and were the color of deep red bricks. The color reminded him of a picture he had seen of Independence Hall, in Philadelphia. The wall had to be at least three thousand feet wide. He could see the tops of the roofs of buildings within the walls. If it was this impressive on the outside, what was it like on the inside, he thought.
Rin pulled up his Jincock to stop as Tyler's did the same. They were now only a few thousand feet from the walls of city, and gate inside.
"We will walk the rest of the way from here," he said as he somehow motioned for the bird to sit down so he could get off. As Rin threw his right leg over the bird and jumped off to it's left, Tyler's bird sat down, and he jumped off as well. Rin then walked to the front of the bird and put a hand up under it's beak and said, "Thanks again for the ride. I'm sure we will meet again." With that, the two Jincocks got up, turned back toward the plains, and took off.
By the position of the sun, Tyler guessed that it was just after two o'clock. Since the game had the same days and nights, this was a pretty safe assumption. As they started to walk the final distance to the city, he asked, “You're sure I'm not going to be noticed out of place?”
Rin looked Tyler up and down as they were walking. He was still very pale. It was going to take more than a day to darken him up; that was for sure. His jeans that were now cut off were what was going to be noticeably. And may draw a few questions, but he was reasonably sure that between the gate and to Billick's there shouldn't be trouble. They were only children, and Rin was a street child at best, so who would pay him and his companion any mind?
“You will be fine,” Rin finally replied.
The South Gate was now only a few hundred feet in front of them. Tyler just hung his jaw in awe. The doors were immense. They alone stood at least fifty feet, had three huge brass hinges on the sides that were carved with incredible detail of birds, tigers, dragons, and scenes of wars. At about five feet high, and the same distance from where the doors met were brass rings two feet wide that the guards used to pull the doors open.
As they made their way the last fifty feet to the gate, they passed others that were either waiting to gain access to the city or preparing for a trip from the city. They were looked at by a lot of the people, but none came over to speak. Nobody pointed. Nobody laughed at the fair skin boy with the strange clothing covering his legs. Some of them though seemed to recognize Rin. These folks would smile politely and nod, and continue about their business as Rin and Tyler continued about theirs.
They finally came to the South Gate. Tyler had a hard time taking in all that the others around here took as normal. How could such a city ever be built? Just this city would put the Great Wall of China to shame he thought. A city such as this could only ever be conceived in the mind of the game makers. And here he was standing outside the city gates.
One of the guards came over to them as they were now standing only about five feet from where the gates met each other.
"Master Rin," said the guard, placing a fist over his heart and bowing slightly.
“Guardsman Trell,” replied Rin and gave the same gesture and bow.
"Your city awaits you." Trell walked back over to the right gate and motioned to his partner, a man named Brellish, to open the city gates.
The two guards, like most in the city proper, wore a red breastplate and tassets. Their cuisse and greaves of silver, as were their gauntlets and helmets. Under their breastplate, they wore a mail hauberk. They each carried a sword of bright steel whos blade came up to mid thigh and the grip the waist. Their swords each had a pommel of bright red to made the breastplate.
The guards each took hold of one of the rings of gates and slowly pulled them open.
Tyler stood there awestruck as the wonder of the inside of the city revealed itself.