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Chapter 2.3

The next day they resumed their trek through the forest. Near dusk, they reached its end, and Stellan used the last hours of light to explain to Yazmin a few things about perspective and how it could be shown on the page. He showed her how to put things into the foreground by drawing the trees behind them, then adding a rough representation of the sky. Yazmin watched with amazement, nodding enthusiastically each time he asked if she understood. After night had finally fallen, Stellan covered himself with his blanket and listened to the sound of Yazmin scratching the paper with the pencil and erasing her mistakes. Sometime during the night, he felt her warmth join his. She moved his left arm over her belly again.

In the morning, they got up early and made good progress. They were using roads now, so more and more people joined their pilgrimage to the newest Line city. The cities stretched in an almost straight line from the heart of the continent to its western coast. The new city still under construction, would be the third of the surviving ones, which stood in the line connecting the previous horrors of the Fractures. Stellan’s father always told him that the most unfortunate people in the world were the ones born just before or after a Fracture. His grandfather and Stellan’s great-grandfather had lived through one. The stories he told defied belief. Nonetheless, the time was upon them, and the road ahead was chock full of people with the same goal of reaching sanctuary.

The road was full of wagons pulled by donkeys and ladened with, by the looks of it, stones used for fortification. Stellan asked around about the length of the remaining journey. The sunburned man working the stone caravan told him it was about two weeks. A bit less than he expected. He thanked the man he spoke to and jogged back to where Yazmin was entertaining a young girl by making a thin tendril of water coil up and down her finger. The girl giggled with delight until she saw Stellan tower over them. Her little eyes grew wide as they could, and she scampered away. Stellan scratched his bristling beard and watched the child hide behind her father. The man turned around, anger on his face as he scanned for the person who had scared his child. He saw Stellan, and his face turned placid immediately. Maybe it was his armored frame or the fact that weapons hung from him like jewelry from a highborn lady’s neckline. Usually, it was just the scars on his muscular arms and the uninviting expression he made to anyone who wanted to stir trouble. Stellan paid no mind to the event and told Yazmin the news, announcing that they would be traveling around people until the city because it was safer that way. As always, Yazmin nodded, and they started to walk the road, matching their pace to the others.

The coming days were filled with fewer and fewer trees and more fields. The number of farms they passed was beyond counting. The new domain was shaping up nicely. These lands were going to feed the townsfolk until the sealing of the closest Fracture. With that done, the king’s force could turn their attention inward because many people believed this Reclamation was to be the last. The Reclamation that put the terror of destruction behind them and ushered in an endless age of prosperity. Stellan was skeptical about the last part, but that didn’t matter to him. Others would have to deal with those problems.

The road they traveled was full of traders and common folk, so getting food was much easier. Stellan continued to give Yazmin simple tasks for drawing. She was fascinated by the people, and that was her sole drive now. Stellan didn’t know how to catch human likeness, so he just gave Yazmin static targets to practice with. When done with those, she practiced people by firelight. Stellan didn’t bother dissuading her as she seemed so captivated. He just let her tire herself out and rested his hand around her when they slept.

A week later, they reached what the man Stellan spoke to had called the outer wall. Beyond it were the general settlements. Inside this first wall was the remaining farmland that would create additional food if the post-fracture reclamation extended. The following few days, Stellan and Yazmin saw a lot of houses near the road. As they got closer to the inner fortifications, the houses became more splendid. A day away from the city proper, they were the only ones on foot. The other travelers accompanying them were the caravaneers with their huge, rocky loads. The man Stellan asked for information, now told him that not staying indoors was prohibited here. They had to find a place to stay. The man gave Stellan a few options, and soon, he and Yazmin headed to the cheapest one.

“That’s robbery!” Stellan raised his voice and leaned closer to the innkeeper over the counter. “For one silver piece, I can spend a hundred nights-”

“Outside the walls, yes,” the innkeeper nodded solemnly. “The prices here are such, lad. Take it or leave it.” He added with a more stern tone and nodded his head to a giant lump of sentient muscles sitting by the door.

“The fine for loitering is two silver coins,” the innkeeper said, crossing his arms on his chest.

Stellan huffed, then put the coin down on the counter so hard that Yazmin wouldn’t be amazed if it left the king’s visage embedded in the wood. He mumbled something under his breath and moved away. The innkeeper gave Yazmin a professional smile and walked off as well. She rushed to Stellan’s side, and they went up the stairs to their room.

“Robbery,” Stellan grumbled under his breath as he left his pack near the bed.

“Bed!” Yazmin squeaked, not able to contain her joy.

She left her pack on the other side of the bed and threw herself on top, spreading arms and legs as far as possible. Stellan sat in the only unoccupied spot by Yazmin and began to rifle through his pack. A few moments later, Yazmin sat up and looked over his shoulder as he pulled a silver coin out.

“Last one left besides the one I have in my armor for emergencies,” he said with sadness. “Killing breachborn isn’t the best paying business. People usually give me what they have.”

“Like their daughters,” Yazmin said close to his ear and locked her arms around his neck. “I’m really thankful for the room, and I think you should be too.” She said and gave him a peck on the cheek.

He was really glad that his armored back didn’t allow him to feel her flesh pressed against his. The extortion of the innkeeper and his rapidly dwindling “wealth” had shaken his morals thoroughly. His thoughts pointed to his father.

“If only he’d left me something. Anything!” he thought and balled his hands into fists.

The warmth of Yazmin’s lips was fading from his skin, so he decided to leave the past in the past and focus on the bright future.

“Tomorrow’s the day,” he said under his breath and began taking off his gear.

In his dreams were the images of a peaceful life and Yazmin’s happy smile. Come morning, they would set off for the gate that led to the future.

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