Everbreak

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Chapter 3.1

After getting breakfast, Stellan begrudgingly spoke to the innkeeper and got an old animal skin container from him. He took it to the fireplace, and once there, he fished out a dying ember then used its still smoldering side to draw a circle on the tanned skin. In its middle, he wrote the first letter of Yazmin’s name.

“Keep some water here just in case,” he said as Yazmin took it from him with utmost reverence. “I’m not sure if I’ll be with you all the time. Use it if you need to protect yourself, and I’m not around.”

Yazmin looked from him to the emboldened letter on the old container, then hugged it close to her chest, smiling. She gave him a nod, but her look was so distant that Stellan wasn’t convinced.

“Remember-”

“Just in emergencies,” Yazmin said, the large smile still on her face, “I understand. Don’t worry, and thank you.”

She scampered back to the table and got some string from her pack. With it, she made a strap for the waterskin, and when its length was satisfactory, she and Stellan departed to the inner-city wall. The buildings outside had fine facades and rich decorations. Stellan did not pay them much attention, but Yazmin couldn’t keep her eyes off. Every few minutes or so, Stellan had to grab her by the waterskin on her back and drag her back to the right path. An hour later, they were at the large gates, which stood tall and imposing. Their dark and sturdy wood defiantly towering over any would-be intruders. Stellan had never been to any of the other Line cities, so this was the first time seeing such a defense monument. As they got closer, his mind tried to imagine what force would be able to even dent such a monstrosity. All the while, being pelted by arrows from the battlements on top, and the other various anti-siege equipment he saw jutting from the walls. Each side of the bridge they crossed had workers toiling on digging a ditch, which would turn into a moat soon. The smell of hard work and sweat tried to permeate the giant stone walls but was just pushed back into the gathered mass on the bridge.

It seemed that the gates to the inner-city were firmly closed for most people. This did not, however, deter anyone from trying to enter, be it with a fake entry pass or good old fashioned bribery. People were constantly being shoved, and in most cases, actually thrown back to the town limits where after a few short curses, they slinked away. By the look in their eyes, Stellan knew they would soon be hatching another quick-entry scheme for the next guard shift.

Stellan and Yazmin’s turn finally came.

“Entry pass or summons,” said a guardsman with an impressively long drooping mustache.

“We’re here for the evaluation. My name is Stellan Hammerwind. This is my wife,” Stellan said and gestured towards Yazmin on his right.

The guardsman looked back over his shoulder, where a man sitting on a table began searching through a giant pile of scrolls.

“Found it,” he said after a solid minute of rummaging. “Let’s see now…Hammerwind.”

As the sitting man read through the scroll, the guardsmen around him looked displeased. The most evident irritation came from the face behind the drooping mustache. The man looked at Stellan like his very presence was besmirching the view.

“Here it is,” the reading man announced. “Yes, Ulrich Hammerwind is the last registered member on the charter. It says here he was an originator?”

“My great-grandfather, yes. He created the clan,” Stellan nodded and made a step forward, the mustached man stopping him with a hand on the chest.

“You have to be registered and request an audience,” he said with a crooked half-smile, which made it look like one side of his face was attacked by the world’s laziest snake. “Back you go.” He added and shoved Stellan away.

“Sergeant,” the man with the scrolls stopped the escalating situation in its tracks, “first let us see his blade, and then we shall allow or deny entry accordingly. Since his name is in the writ of riftseeking, we have an obligation to do our best and ascertain if his claims are legitimate.” His tone was low and threatening, as if sharpened by repetition.

The Sergeant moved aside. Stellan didn’t miss the opportunity to violently lean his shoulder into the Sergeant’s as he walked past. The man stumbled but caught himself, the armor he wore almost dragging him down to the ground. The clutter of parchment was moved on one single side of the desk, so there could be room for the sword. The sitting man gave a courteous smile to both of them.

“Name of the blade, please,” the man said and gestured for Stellan to leave it.

“Snowshade,” he replied and left the sword on the table.

“Excellent,” the man behind the desk nodded and began his inspection. “Size and curvature of blade confirmed as recorded, yes. Although I have to say, the color of the blade is rather odd.” He looked at the soft white color for a few more moments, then continued the inspection.

“Inscription on the crossguard,” the man took the sword and angled it so he could read. “Colder than a wintery night, yes.” Each time he said yes, he made a scribble on one of his pieces of paper.

“Gemstone inserted in the pommel, emerald,” he got a small device with glass on both ends and checked his scroll several times as he scrutinized the green stone.

“Very good,” he nodded and looked up at Stellan again. “Approximate number of slain?”

“More than required,” was Stellan’s simple reply.

The man behind the desk chuckled softly as the guardsmen all around them began to shuffle in place.

“If you are not aware, the usual required number is a thousand,” he handed Stellan the sword. “Do you think you have that many?”

“The count will not be a problem,” Stellan said and sheathed the sword. “Do we need some documents for beyond the wall?”

“You do require the special summons sent to all of the clan heads in advance.”

“I can’t really get that,” Stellan said, shaking his head. “My father is dead, and I haven’t spoken to my brothers in maybe a decade, so that’ll be a pain. Any other way?” He asked the blatant question, disregarding the drooping mustache’s increasingly angrier looks.

“You are in luck,” the man leaned on his elbows and interlaced his fingers in front of his face. “I have verified your blade’s authenticity so I could create a document stating as much, but I would need some kind of incentive.”

Stellan first thought the man was referring to some kind of bribe, but he looked much too smart to do it in this obvious way. He probably was looking to secure something else from Stellan.

“I have no means to compensate a learned man like yourself for his work, but I can offer you help in the future if you happen to need it.”

The man lowered his hands to reveal a sharp, cunning smile plastered on his lips.

“I am of some import in my circles,” he said, “but having the proper friends in time of need is the mark of a man in step with the times. I accept your terms.” He extended his right hand forward, Stellan grabbed it and shook.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Sir Hammerwind. My name is Roderick Dayspine, one of the king’s scribes. I look forward to your unique assistance in the future.”

Once Dayspine’s hand was free, he quickly drafted a letter and sealed it with a different seal than the one sitting on the table.

“Good day to you and your lovely wife,” Dayspine said, then gestured with a wide sweep of the hand for the guard to make way. “You may find the evaluation is being performed near the town square. Once you spot your fellow seekers, you can just follow them.”

When they were out of earshot, Yazmin spoke in a quiet tone.

“That man was very strange. I didn’t like him very much.”

“Yeah,” Stellan nodded, “I’ve never seen a scroll rat with that much authority, but then again, he said he worked for the King.” He shrugged his shoulders.

“Maybe agreeing to help him wasn’t a good idea?” Yazmin said, her voice full of worry.

“I don’t really care,” Stellan’s voice was cold, colder than Yazmin had ever heard before. “I’m too close to get turned back here.”

Yazmin saw that his eyes were distant. Not looking at the people coming closer but somewhere far, far away. The stone corridor they were walking along amplified her foreboding feeling. She focused on the light at the end, where one of the three largest cities in the world lie.

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