Everyone had left the room by the time I got out of bed. I took my time getting down the stairs to the inn’s bar. The waitress, an older woman with bunny ears brought my breakfast to me as soon as she saw me fall down into one of the chairs.
I looked down at the single egg and piece of bread that was considered breakfast around here. It looked rather… lackluster. Goodness, I was spoiled.
The bread was a little stale and the egg tasted a little different than I was expecting, but I gulped it down in seconds.
Flipping a copper onto the table for the waitress, I left the inn.
Men and women walked down the streets in a large crowd as small children ran through that very crowd. I just stood there for a moment, watching as the people went about their business. Eventually something about the crowd started nagging at me, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something not right with the picture I was looking at. Maybe it was the fact that none of them were human and I wasn’t used to the weird features everyone had? No. I don’t think that that is the problem.
A guard walked through the street and conversations lowered in volume. That was when it hit me, they were scared. I could see it in the people’s eyes. Almost everyone had this aura of caution around them. That feeling in the atmosphere wasn’t disappearing after the guard left, which meant that they weren’t just scared of him.
What could be causing it? Well, there was no way for me to tell by standing on the inn’s doorstep.
I walked away from the inn and followed the crowd. Now that I had noticed the fear in the crowd, I couldn’t help but see it everywhere.
I meandered along, just observing the people.
A loud sound brought my attention away from the crowd and towards a small house on the side of the road.
I was thrown off of my feet as the house exploded.
I rolled back up onto my feet and healed all of the small cuts I had gained from the passing debris.
A group of guards stood underneath a barrier created by someone wearing ornate robes.
I felt a strange energy come from the man who had created the barrier, the pendant underneath my shirt heated up and I just knew. That man was a priest. But he was not a priest of Maria, no. The power I felt wasn’t Maria’s, it felt more chaotic. More untamed.
Another man floated out of the rubble, he wore a long robe with the symbol of a serpent showing prominently on his chest.
Someone moaning in pain pushed me out of my thoughts. Men and women lay in the streets, crying in pain. I rushed over to a man trapped under a section of the roof.
“Lord Rodney!” The priest yelled out at the floating man “By the decree of the church of Dios, any man or woman found to be practicing unholy magic shall be arrested and punished as the church sees fit. I give you one last chance to surrender or we will be forced to-“
The priest was interrupted as a serpent of flame appeared behind the mage and screamed at the priest as it shot towards his barrier.
My pendant heated up, shocking me out of my reverie as the serpent came down upon the group of guards.
I stood up, pointed my hand towards the fight and shouted with all of my might “[Barrier]”. The serpent engulfed the guards, exploding as soon as it hit them.
A wave of fire hit my barrier and pressed against it. I wobbled as holy energy flowed through me to reinforce my barrier. I knew that If my focus wandered for a second, my barrier wouldn’t survive.
The waves of flame pressed against my barrier for a few more seconds before they stopped.
Collapsing to the ground, I released my barrier. Smoke and ash covered my vision, preventing me from seeing what had happened to the group of guards.
Standing up, I moved to the man I had been rescuing. Slowly, exhausted from my use of the barrier skill, I used my knowledge from med school to help as many people as I could.
My mind was exhausted and I feared that if I used my healing spell, I would collapse right there in the street. So I walked, applied pressure and wrapped bandages.
Eventually, more relief workers joined me in helping the injured. A young man I was too exhausted to notice, made sure that I sat down. He passed me a container of water which I downed as fast as I could, my throat sore from the ash in the air.
I laid down against a small house and fell asleep.
“Wake up, it’s dangerous to sleep out here." Someone called me out of my slumber, "You have a nice sword at your waist, I wouldn’t want anyone to steal it from you.” The same young man who had given me the water was shaking me awake.
I looked at him groggily. Rubbing my eyes I took a good look at him. He had brown dog ears which lay loosely on a bed of brown hair. He offered me a hand up and easily brought me to my feet, his long hair swaying as he helped me up. He smiled at me, his soft brown eyes squinting slightly.
“Thank you.” I said as I found my balance.
“It’s my pleasure, after all, it isn’t every day that I find one of your kind helping save us civilians.” He responded.
He moved his hand to his ears, I subconsciously copied his movement. I felt my own cat-like ears and understanding filled my face.
“My father, the man trapped underneath part of the roof told me about your barrier. Thank you for saving his life.” He held his hand out to me. “My name is Samuel, but most people call me Sam.”
I took his hand. “I’m Drew.”
“Well Drew, why don’t you let me buy you a drink as thanks for saving my father’s life?” Sam asked, already turning around and walking towards the drink.
“That sounds fabulous.” I responded as I followed him.
Traffic was starting to pick up again on the street as the debris from the explosion was cleared out of the road.
I picked up my pace to catch up with Sam.
“I am new to the city. Tell me, what happened back there? Why has the church of Dios banned magic?” I asked.
Sam looked at me with surprise. “You must have been in the woods for a long time to not have heard about the crusades.”
“It has been a while.”
He examined me as we turned a corner into the tavern I had visited earlier. “I suppose it has. The crusades started earlier this year. The lord of this city, Lord Blackwell granted the church of Dios the right to police the civilian population. After that proclamation was made, the church banned all magic not gifted by the gods. Every known mage was gathered up and either killed or placed in prison.” Realization hit his face after he explained, “Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong believer in the church, I wouldn’t dare question their decisions.”
I gave him a slight smile, “Don’t worry. I may be a priest, but I am not a supporter of the Church of Dios. I am a Priest of Maria.”
Relief hit his face when he heard my last sentence. “My apologies, I hadn’t realized that there were any Priests of Maria left in the city?” Sam motioned for me to sit down at a stool across from him.
“Are we that rare around here? Again, I just entered the city.” I asked as he caught the attention of the waitress and motioned her over.
“Let’s just say that the Church Of Dios doesn’t like any competition. The Church Of Maria in particular were supporters of the Luthor Family. Remember Lord Blackwell? The Luthor family were the only ones who could match him in political power, I suspect that the Church of Dios targeted Maria’s followers as repayment to Lord Blackwell.” Sam held up a hand to stop my next question as he ordered an ale for both of us.
After the waitress left, I asked my next question. “You seem to know a lot about the political situation?”
He smiled in response “My mother works as the maid to a lesser noble under Lord Blackwell.”
“I see.” Conversation stopped as our drinks arrived. I took a sip from the tankard and tried to hide my distaste.
“Nasty stuff, ain’t it?” Sam smiled at my discomfort, a slight accent slipping into his voice.
“Tastes like piss.” I responded.
He takes another sip, “Sure does, doesn’t it?”
“I met one of the Luthors on my way to the city, Charlotte Luthor was her name, I believe.” I said as I took another sip of the ale. I regretted that sip the moment I took it.
“The daughter of the big man himself, eh? Quite a meeting that must have been. Her father must have been sending her outside of the city to protect her.” He leaned back in his seat as we talked.
“It didn’t work very well." I muttered. "By the way, why were you surprised to see someone like me helping save people?” I motioned to my ears.
“Well, Lord Blackwell is one of your kind, a tiger beastman if I remember correctly. And I’d heard that the Black Cats were working for him.” He said.
“Huh, I don’t know much about my… brethren. Maybe-” I stopped as someone I recognized burst into the tavern.
Timon looked around the room until his gaze settled on me. My eyes narrowed when I saw the expression on his face. I stood up abruptly, knocking my chair over. “It looks like our conversation will have to continue some other time.”
Sam looked at Timon and then back at me. “I understand, let me know if you need my help with anything.”
Timon ran over to me, nodded to Sam, then looked at me. “Drew, it’s an emergency. One of us was discovered away from camp.”
I grab Timon’s arm, pulling him along with me as I walk out of the tavern. “Who was it? Are they ok?”
Timon stops, causing me to stop with him. “It was Catherine, Sher’s daughter.”
My mind goes to the little girl I had met when she was helping her mother cook. My grip tightens around my sword. “Where is she?”
“We don’t know. We didn’t realize that she was gone until it was too late. However, Saron said that someone saw a group with tiger flags passing us by earlier today.” At those words I turned around and reentered the tavern.
“Sam.” I called out to Sam, who was currently talking with the waitress.
He turned to me with a smile, “Yeah?”
“Who flies the flag that holds a tiger on it?”
“Well, Lord Blackwell of course.” He responded with some confusion.
“I need a favor Sam.”
His face turned more serious. “You saved my father’s life, if it’s in my power, I am happy to help you.”
I motioned for the waitress to leave us. She frowned but moved away. “You said that your mother works as a maid for some lord under Lord Blackwell. Can you find out where he would keep a human girl of thirteen or so?”
He frowned, “I can do that. But please don’t ask anything more of me, my family couldn’t possibly afford to get on a noble’s bad side.”
“That is all I need. I am staying at an inn called the Wandering Priest. As soon as you find anything, please meet me there.”
He nodded, placed some coins on his table and left.
I turned around to face Timon, who had followed me back into the tavern. “Timon, I need you to go to the camp and have every person who can wield a weapon enter the town. Make sure that they enter in small groups. We don’t want the guards at the gate getting suspicious. Once you’ve done that, have Saron meet me at the inn.”
He nodded and left the tavern at a run.
I went straight to the inn. Three humans greeted me there, Leon was resting. Apparently he was the one who had delivered the news, James and Anna were still at the camp.
Waiting was torturous but it was all we could do. A few hours later, Saron and another freeman entered the room.
I stood up in greeting, “How many people do we have that can wield a weapon?”
“Fourty of the sixty freemen were meant to be sold as battle slaves, I decided that it was best to leave five men behind to defend the caravan. The rest are entering the city in groups of two or three.” He motioned to the young man behind him. “This is Christopher, he knows some basic messaging magic. As soon as we give the signal, he will send a message out to everyone to come meet us wherever we decide is best.”
Leon spoke up. “Where can we meet? The whole point is to not alert the guards to our plan.”
Saron smiled, “I have already taken care of that. It took most of our leftover money, but I bribed the innkeeper to send everyone away for the night and to ignore the people entering his inn.”
I bit my lip in thought. “Don’t we have to worry about him telling the guards?”
Saron shook his head. “He knows that anyone that had the amount of money I gave him is not to be messed with.”
It was another half hour before Sam came up to our room. He gulped at seeing so many armed strangers, but turned to me and spoke without any of his fear showing in his voice. “Unfortunately, you aren’t as lucky as you might have hoped. The girl you are looking for isn’t being kept in Lord Blackwell’s mansion, but in his prison, which is much more heavily guarded.” He handed me a piece of paper “This has her cell number and a map of the prison. You have no idea how hard it was to get a hold of that map.”
I looked over the map and smiled up at Sam. “Thank you Sam. You have fulfilled your debt to me. May the blessing of Maria be upon you.”
“Good luck to you as well.” Sam nodded to all of us before he left the room.
“Shit.” Saron muttered, before he motioned to one of the freemen in the room. “Ride back to the camp, tell them to pack up everything and move. As soon as they realize that they have captured one human, they will wonder if there are more.” He sighed and quietly spoke the rest to me. “It is unfortunate that we can’t leave this city altogether. We still need those supplies, after all.”
The freeman left us to warn our camp. “Saron,” I started “we need to have someone scout out the prison. Who should we send?”
“I think I know just the person.” He responded.