We saw the first signs of Yaksha around noon, two days after I had performed the ritual and helped Ylva to cross the first divide. During those days, we had heard howling wolves but never clear enough for Ylva to make out the exact meaning, so we were uncertain if we were actively hunted.
I also wondered about the exact mechanisms of crossing divides, Sigmir and I had crossed the first divide without outside resources, well, outside of the perception-potion I had used, whereas Adra and Ylva had taken in power from an outside source to cross over. Sigmir had described her crossing as a harrowing trial posed by the system, in which she had to overcome a core weakness of her class and control her rage, while I had needed to create a connection with something outside myself, which would remain linked to me.
On the other hand, Adra had quite literally stolen the power from another dryad, and maybe also from the Devourer we had killed before, crossing the divide in a different manner. I had a theory that Adra had created her domain internally, similar to the way she would have linked to a tree as a dryad, but with some sort of incorporeal spirit-tree. The idea had emerged when I had seen her manifest a ghostly tree to suck up the power from the dryad’s crystal-tree-hybrid. I had yet to ask her about the specifics, remembering Sigmir’s warning about politeness.
As I was thinking about it, maybe that was the link, when Ylva had crossed over, she had also summoned a ghostly phantom, for her it had been a wolf, and absorbed an outside resource before she had been able to cross over. I would try to find out more, without offending my friends.
We were on a small rise in the foothills of the northern mountain-range, looking down towards Yaksha, still a few hours away from the town. My first impression of Yaksha was confused,the location seemed a little strange. Relatively close by, were two mountain-ranges and the city was almost exactly in the middle, not using the natural barriers provided by the mountains to increase the city’s defense, something I had assumed logical.
The city was protected by a small, wooden wall, no higher than three meters, something I could not really take as serious protection, each of us would easily be able to jump over it or outright destroy it and I highly doubted that we were the top of the food chain in these parts. Around the wall, the forest had been cut back creating a kilometer or two of cleared land, probably used as fields during the short summer, making it impossible to sneak up on the city.
From our higher position, we were able to make out a small road or maybe a wagon-path towards the town from the west and the larger road towards Yari passed the town on the east-side but did not seem to enter its walls, making it a curious construction. It might have something to do with tolls or something similar but I had no way of knowing that.
Soon, we returned to the forest, cutting my vision off as we headed towards the path we had seen, intend on continuing our journey on an easier route, even if the difference was minute at that point. While there was always the danger of bandits preying on travellers on an established route, I highly doubted that we would have problems like that so far from civilisation, there was simply not enough trade to made banditry even remotely viable.
A few hours later, we exited the forest and moved onto the cleared area around Yaksha and with a small nudge, Lenore obliged my curiosity, left her Hallow and took flight, allowing me to gain a better perspective of the town. From above, it seemed like a jumbled mess of buildings, hazhaphardly strewn within the walls and around a central square, most likely a market place. There were a few more small squares centered around what appeared to be wells, a necessity in a city without an obvious water source.
Another thing I noticed was that there were platforms on multiple of the bigger houses, with small ladders allowing access. I highly doubted that anyone had a roof-deck for recreational use, not in the local climate that ranged from ‘mildly warm’ to ‘lose body parts to frostbite’, even if there was a bit of humour in the image of one of the local women, in a bikini, lying on the roof, trying to get a tan. Mostly due to absurdity.
So, the platforms had to have other usages and it took me a moment to figure out what I was seeing on one of the bigger ones. There was a permanently installed stand and it strongly reminded me on pictures of old anti-aircraft guns I had seen in history class, only without the gun. But a very large crossbow or a small ballistae could very well be placed into the stand, allowing for a good field of fire, both into the sky and over the wall into the field. The placement of the platforms, all within the enclosed space of the wall and obviously made to spread the fields of fire in every direction, gave me a good idea just who made the most trouble for the town, flying enemies. And pretty large ones at that, if there was a need for permanently installed stands, instead of fully mobile crossbows or normal bows.
Thinking back, I had a good idea what one species that gave the town trouble was, Yugid, the mountain where we had faced the Firebirds and Samodiva, was not that far away, so if there were more than the few we had seen, it was very much possible that they came here to look for prey.
Lenore gave me a good impression on another airborne predator we had yet to see, the wind raptors we had heard about. That idea also provided a reason for the town’s location, they wanted to have some warning from airborne threats, closer to the mountains, those threats might use those very mountains to hide from discovery, out on the plains that was harder. especially for large birds.
Luckily, Lenore was small enough to fly under the radar, so to speak, and soon she returned to me, retreating into her Hallow while telling me that she could not see why us land-bound two-legs felt a need to cluster in such a chaotic way. I agreed with her on that part, the town looked as if someone had upended a bucket of bricks, letting them fall where ever. But at the same time, what would they need serious roads for, I doubted that there was a single wagon in town, it would be next to useless. For wagons to make sense, you needed a certain volume of material flow, something I just could not see in such a town. In addition, there were magic bags quite readily available allowing for comparatively easy transport, even of bulk material, lessening the need for wagons even further. It made me wonder if there was a tradition of wagon-trains to move bulk-goods or if there were simply groups of riders with magic bags.
In my opinion, the only reason the town had ever been established, instead of remaining a nomadic tribe, as cultures in similar climates had on Earth, was the existence of growth-magic, allowing for efficient farming even in the short summer they had to have up here in the north. Even now, the days were a lot shorter than the nights, but I think they were getting longer again. No, without magic farming, the locals would have to remain nomadic moving with their herds and scrabbling for additional food, but thanks to magic, they were able to farm, but not to the point that they were able to feed livestock over the winter, making them an interesting mix of hunters and farmers.
“We should continue on foot.” I suggested a few minutes after we had left the forest and dismounted, swiftly followed by Rai and Adra’s transformation. Sigmir simply slowed down in order to stay with us.
“We are trying to conceal our strength again?” Rai asked. I had explained to him why we had not shown our mounts when we had been with his tribe, giving him a lesson on vigilance for trouble.
“Yes. And I don’t want anyone to think Sigmir is any less compared to either of us. Or Adra for that matter. If two ride, she might be taken for some sort of servant or slave. I don’t want that.” I explained my reasoning, earning a smile from Sigmir.
It took us a little longer to cross the cleared area on foot, but soon we were at the gate, allowing entry into Yaksha. We were not the only ones moving on the cleared area, there were a few groups I believed to be hunters, all between three and ten people, most carrying game. It reminded me that even magic bags had limits, mostly the size that could be placed inside at once.
Remembering Yari, I moved behind Sigmir, drawing my hood deep into my face and conjuring up some shadow to conceal myself with. I had no desire to repeat the experience. The guard at the gate seemed incredibly uninterested, not even really looking at us, probably because trouble would not come on two legs around here.
But we were in Yaksha. Part of me, mostly my nose, wanted nothing more than to leave.