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The steady constant pounding of the ren’s long, clawed talons against the dirt below it hammered down on the gravely path, spiraling up the cliffside. The unbreaking rhythm mingling with the night orchestra of songbirds. The insects had now gone into hiding for the fall that had dawned up the world; crawling into whatever holes they wouldn’t emerge from now for some time to come. Ava was still leaning forward against the creature's neck, her arms around it to not fall off. Her mind was still racing from the events that she had just escaped from and from the putrid sights she had seen which had seared themselves into her memory forever.


It was still night and she couldn’t see a thing in the dark. Though she knew what lay behind her and also that the edge of the cliff threatening to throw her down into the abyss wasn’t far off to their side either. Several meters at best. The creature she rode however, had excellent night vision and incredible stamina and guile. It let out a quiet growling squawk and Ava knew the bird was alerting her to something upcoming. Something sunk in her chest as they dropped down the height of several steps and for the briefest second Ava was expecting the drop to never stop.


Her fear however was quickly subdued by the sound of wood beneath them, the creature slowing its pace even more, as they crossed the massive rope bridge quickly rising up on the other end, where the lanterns attached to the posts still shone bright in the darkness. She opened her eyes and saw the bright orange lanterns glowing before them, hanging from two mighty wooden posts staked into the ground. Once they reached the other side, the creature's walking pace slowed further until it reached a standstill on the other side of the chasm and lowered itself down to the ground. They had escaped the threat, for now.


Ava looked to the creature which had cocked the right side of its head back towards her with a snappy twitch. She looked at it for a moment, unsure of what it wanted, but she knew there was a reasoning for its behavior. Ren were very perceptive creatures, perhaps not intelligent or wise in the classical senses. But perceptive and clever in their own way. Its head twitched around and it made more excited clicks with its beak, releasing small, exhaling hisses with each movement. It shook its body, which was down against the ground now. Taking the hint, Ava climbed up off of it, the bell in hand.


She supposed it was satisfied with the distance gained and wanted to part ways, now that their deal had been completed. But instead of rising up and vanishing into the night as soon as she got off, it continued sitting there, now making more snapping movements with its head from side to side, its neck bobbing up and down. She stood there for a moment trying to decipher its meaning. With some agitation, it snapped its head towards the woman, the blunt front end of its beak pushing against the pocket in her stomach. She felt the side of the knife press against her and then following the ren’s gaze behind her, understood what it wanted.


As she grasped the knife and pulled it out, she pocketed the bell in its place. Turning to face the bridge that they had just crossed, she heard the coo of approval come from behind her. Ava walked a few steps towards the rope bridge, the stone pebbles crunching beneath her feet. It would be a large undertaking, the ropes were thick like logs and plentiful. But if she didn’t do it, they would be able to come higher, to rise up in the other towns, as they did when she was still just a girl.

 

Knowing that she couldn’t allow that to happen, Ava held the knife against the first rope and began slicing away at it.
Any survivors wouldn’t have a chance to get up higher and away either. But deep down, she knew already there weren’t any and continued her work.

 


 

As Esper crossed the bridge together with the many people around her hustling about, she soon found herself on the distant side of it. The style of the buildings here on this island was the same as the others, bright large stone buildings packed tightly together. However on this one they spired high, higher than she had ever seen a building go before. One tower in particular, at the end of the main street, was impossible to oversee, spireing high into the now sunlit air. Standing in the middle of the street for a time, she stared up towards the top of it that was adorned with many colorful windows around its cylindrical form. A giant, weathered white cloth banner hung from the top, adorned with symbols and iconography that she didn’t recognize.


The people around her all walked past her, none of them stopping to stare at the strange girl with a concealed face, standing in the middle of the road. They all walked around her as if aware of some obstacle in their way, but not consciously perceiving it. The girl watched, as a flock of birds flew around the tower before landing all together on its brightly red painted crown. Continuing down the street, she looked at the many different buildings around her, there seemed to be fewer stalls on this pillar. Mostly these looked like houses and homes with smaller windows, through which bright and colorful furnishings could be seen.


Having reached the end of the road, she saw the entrance to the tower, a small but long staircase with no railing. It sank into a steep ledge on either side that threatened to throw anyone who was misfortunate enough to stumble on them down into the abyss. Two of the guardsmen, one man and one woman, stood at the bottom of the stairs, blocking off any entry, their large shields set down on the ground before themselves. She had hoped she would be able to go into the high structure, but judging by the unwelcoming entryway, it seemed obvious that that was undesired by whoever resided there. Maybe it was their home. She understood.


Walking in these new boots was a strange experience. She had never had shoes to begin with before and her feet felt unusually heavy and her steps felt off rhythm and uncoordinated. It took some time until she got into the proper pace without every step feeling awkward. As an additional benefit, her bad leg, which she was still using more than she should have, ached just a tiny bit less with every step. The boots had a thin, sturdy leather on the sides and top. But the soles were much thicker, bending only slowly, having not been worn in yet, causing the bottom of her feet to ache with this new form of locomotion.


The road continued in front of the tower with a sharp left turn and she had just begun to go down this new way, when she heard the loud door slam open at the top of the stairs behind her. Looking back towards it she saw several figures walk out of it, wearing strange clothes that she had never seen before. Their boots had long, light leather constructions rising to the middle of their shins. Tight pants from a gray cloth that puffed in the middle, before tightening again into the boots they were tucked into. Adorning their chest and covering the chain mesh they wore was a strange tabard with another symbol that she couldn’t quite make out, in their flurrying movements. Most of them pulled their cloth hoods up as they went down the stairs, the guardsman parting the way as they passed in a hurry, their heads darting every which way, as if desperately searching for something.


They quickly vanished into the crowd which seemed to notice them, but ignored them in a different sense than they had the girl. They forcibly averted their eyes, taking careful measure to clear the way and not provoke the oddly dressed people. Somewhat intrigued at this new sight, Esper wanted to ask one of them who they were and why they lived in such a nice place. But they had all vanished before she could make up her mind to do so. Shrugging, she turned back down the left-bound road and followed it over to another gigantic stone bridge spanning the chasm over to yet another finger, of which there were five in total.


Next to the tower, just around the bend as well, was another large bridge, wider than the others much like the one to the entrance of the town. Looking at it she figured this was the way out and up the spiral path, which continued on far on the other side. Nobody seemed to be crossing it now though and the two guardsmen stood idly on the sides, leaning against their gigantic shields. Esper wondered why they had them, they seemed like a pain to carry around all day. As she stood there, facing the bridge, a brisk wind rising up the chasm and shearing through the streets of the town rushed past her, rising up against the cliff-face on the other side, as it shot up the chasm. ‘Hmph,’ she turned away from the bridge and walked down this new road, determined not to be told what to do by the wind.


For another hour, she walked around the town like this, taking in all these new and exciting things and people, happy and alleviated that they paid her no mind at all. Eventually she found herself in a familiar location, back in front of the bridge she had crossed over, just the day before to come into town. Squinting down at it she wondered if the two nice men from yesterday were there, but the two silhouettes she saw standing in the middle of the bridge seemed to be of different shape and posture than the ones she recalled.


Looking up to the sky, Esper saw that the sun was starting to make its way to the far side of the chasm, the light slowly beginning to wane. The silhouette of a large bird flew past the light of the sun, but vanished into the distance before she could follow it with her eyes. Her leg ached some, as she hobbled on and she supposed she shouldn’t walk so much, but there was so much to do and to see. On the way, she passed the spot where the brightly dressed women from the day before had stood, but none of them were here now either. Limping onward, she found herself back to the bridge the man had carried her across and then went over it herself, returning back to the plateau the tavern was on.


There was still a fair bit of time remaining though, perhaps an hour until she had to start working like she had promised. The girl thought for a second about what to do, but feeling the slight hollow pang in her stomach, she knew more or less immediately what the plan was. Going back down the long road at the end of which was the tavern, she already smelled the many sweet and savory scents rising in the air, wafting all around her. As she approached the tavern, she looked at the sign hanging above it again, smiling as she saw it but then turned left once more having walked a full circle around the town that day.


A small sense of pride hit her, as she realized her new accomplishment. Her mind was buzzing the entire time and seemed to cool off only somewhat, as she reached the familiar corner of the tavern. Heading down the side road outside her window one last time for the day, she stopped in front of one of the open stalls that several young men in worker’s clothing stood and sat before. Hearty smells of meats and spices came forward. Esper stood there to the side of the stall for a few minutes, watching as the people would come and place several small coins on the table, some of them raising a certain amount of fingers and receiving a corresponding amount of food.


There were apparently many pieces of meat and bright colorful vegetables stuck onto a thin, sharp stick and roasted over a fire, the meat growing a dark brown crust and the vegetables scorching with black sears. Feeling confident that she understood the system, she looked into her bag for several of the small coins she had received from the shoemaker and took out what appeared to be the same amount and kind the people were paying with. Once she had them, she approached the stall and waved to the vendor.


At first he didn’t seem to notice her, but once she called out a meek “Hello,” his eyes rose up and met hers.


“How many?”


“O-one please” said Esper, uncertain if she was embarrassing herself now or not. She held out her hand with the coins in it. The man looked to her and wordlessly took the coins, seemingly satisfied with the amount. As he turned to reach towards the fire she felt a relief swelling in her that the interaction had gone well. Turning back towards her, the man held out one of the sticks at an angle to her.


Grabbing it she said a resolved “Thank you!” and quickly scooted back up the way towards the tavern. The food vendor stood there for a moment, holding the coins in his hand. What was he just about to do? He forgot. The girl ran on with a crooked pace, a smile on her face as she reached the door. She looked up to the last sunlight, still shining down towards her and resolved to sit down on the ground out there and to enjoy the last of it for the day. Planting herself down, she raised the skewer closer to her eyes and looked at it closely, bright green and red colors shone from beneath the burn marks on the vegetables. The brown chunks glistened with fats. It smelled deeply rich and crisp.


Holding it sideways, she took a large bite off of the front, the vegetables giving way with a watery snap and the fatty brown chunks of meat giving way with ease, as her teeth slid through them. It was hot and a mixture of fat from the meat and water from the vegetables ran down the corner of her mouth. Quickly, before it could stain her new dress, she caught it with her other hand. The crisp vegetables almost had a spice like quality mixed in with their watery body. It was bitter and tasted of something sharp and earthy.


The chunks of meat were exceptionally fatty and melted as she bit down on them. Dissolving with a rich savory taste, coating her tongue with a sheen oily film. As she was eating, many people walked down around the corner past her in both directions, none of them really paying any mind to the still oddly costumed child, sitting on the ground with greasy fingers and smiling mouth. Once, just as she was finishing, she felt the eyes on her though. Looking up, she saw a womanly silhouette standing there, her clothes were dark blue. So dark that they were really only a shade away from the blackness of the abyss that they all stood above.


A long, simple dress with long sleeves. Her fingers gloved. Her head was covered with an ornately woven hood, the front of which, however, was obscured with a fine mesh veil hiding her face. Esper looked up to the woman who had not broken her stride either yet. Her posture was low and sad to look at. Most of the people around her passed with a solemn nod, the occasional woman stopping to place a hand consolingly on her shoulder. But nobody spoke to her and she didn’t speak to them. As she reached the corner where the girl sat, she looked at her somewhat puzzled, clearly seeing her unlike all the others, but then continued down on her way.


Following her with her eyes as she vanished into the crowd, Esper couldn’t help but be curious about this strange woman as well. But she was gone now, vanished into the masses of people and Esper chalked it up as just another new and great event she would have to decipher. There were so many strange things she had never seen before and she felt rather overwhelmed in a sense, trying to take all of these new experiences in, but with her stomach now full and the thought of being able to ask the strange floating man more questions, her mind was filled with excitement.


Wiping her fingers on the ground, she rose to her feet, not quite sure what to do with the little stick and went inside the tavern door. Taking it in with her.

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*~+---SPECIAL THANKS---+~*

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About the author

Razzmatazz

Bio: Socially awkward witches, sad hugs, dramatic adventures, spooky stuff, and comfy dungeons: My name is D.M. Rhodes, but I love to write about those things under the moniker 'Razzmatazz'. (Hopefully full-time, one day soon!) I’m a hobby occultist and, more boringly, I’m an XR expert, as well as a government-trained media and information specialist.

The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror, and slice-of-life. I seriously vibe with religious and occult overtones mixed in with super obscure story concepts. °( ~ )°

Thanks for taking an interest! Because of supportive readers like yourself, I can keep following my socially unacceptable dream! (I'm going to become the wizard-king.)

– Always open for feedback!

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