“I.Ds, I.Ds; take out your form of identification.” A guard said with a lazy drawl. His body was straight and he seemed alert, but his tone was the complete opposite. The contradiction was perturbing. So perturbing that it put Navari on edge.
Alaina1AlainaWow's walked ahead. Her hood was still up, not moving in the slightest to put it down. All she did was unfurl the right flap, revealing a thin wooden plaque with something deeply grooved into it.
When the guard saw it, he went quiet. He didn’t ask her anything more, only keeping his sight on the plaque. The man’s eyes were dark, the only thing you could see of him as he was top to bottom in gear, with the exception of his goggles seated on top of his forehead. He was also tall and looming. But even so, he didn’t seem intimidating. Just weird.
Navari watched as the man’s eyes moved from the plaque, and traced up and down Alaina’s cloaked figure, only to stop at her shrouded face. After a long moment, he finally nodded.
Alaina let go of the flap, letting the cloak to close completely around her.
To others, it wouldn’t have been an odd thing. Many forms of identification came in plaques as Navari had seen by those who went through ahead of them. So, he didn’t think anything of the transaction in itself. It was obvious that the plaques were either good fakes or the real thing. How Alaina’s contact obtained them to give her? That was not something Navari cared for. As long as he got through. But even though things seemed to be going smoothly, he couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. Something’s amiss.
Navari tensed. If things went wrong, he would be ready. But just as his hand shuffled underneath the cloak, reaching for that sheathed sword he took from Alaina, the guard stepped back, letting her through.
After, the guard looked towards him, and in response, Navari walked up. There was more than one guard at the wall as he came up. Several in fact. Some at the top, some at the sides on the other side, hidden from front view, but most were covering the wide entrance, leaving just two who stationed themselves on either side checking those for their identification. That made the others at the entryway seem as if they were just there to make sure no one barged through.
Navari felt for a plaque on the right flap of the cloak. He got a bit nervous at first when he didn’t feel anything, but eventually, he found it. Doing as Alaina had done, he revealed the right inner flap to the guard. The guard scanned him up and down, and nodded, albeit Navari saw his eyes pause at it swept across his cloth-wrapped feet. But there were no questions asked. And Navari was surely not going to explain.
As he walked for a few meters, a sigh passed his lips. It was an unconscious sigh, one that was supposed to be of relief, but he could not help but feel on edge. It was a growing feeling. More as if there was something he was missing. But it felt more familiar to him. As if he had been in that situation before. Just as if someone had been watching him……
Navari looked back. And as he did, he caught the guard glancing at him. It wasn’t the guard that checked their identification, but the second one. His goggles were down, shrouding his eyes – leaving nothing but the metallic-like glass sheen that reflected a bit of light from the distant sun. The falling snow melted as it touched him. Heat gear.
The guard didn’t seem flustered as Navari looked at him. He just calmly, and smoothly, turned back to the next person in line as his partner continued checking I.Ds.
Navari felt his blood rush. He felt his adrenaline kick in… Something was certainly wrong. Was he watching me? Had Alaina’s contact betrayed her? Did we mess up somewhere? Or have we been watched from the very beginning? Regardless of what questions he had, there was nothing he could do now. They already went through the wall. So for what came next may be difficult to deal with, but it was also easy in a way. I could simply just get lost in the city. No one knows what I look like.
Turning back around, Navari was prepared to do what he had to do. Ditching Alaina would not cost him any grief. He barely knew the girl. And he hadn’t expected much from her anyway. As far as he was concerned, their deal was accomplished. He was passed the wall; he was in the city. But as he took a good look, his body tensed.
Standing before him was a small town. There were buildings, walkways, people, shops, and more. But more importantly, there was another large wall. That wall was exactly the same as the first, only behind the town. On it, were even more guards.
Looking around, the town itself was like a central plateau, albeit the elevation remained the same. Though as far as Navari could tell, they were still on the bridge. The only thing was, the ground underneath the small town was a large circle in the middle of the bridge that was made of the same stone.
Navari’s jaw clenched. He knew exactly what this was.
And he did not like it.
Alaina walked on. She heard Navari’s footsteps stop for a moment, but she didn’t look back. She kept on, and soon Navari’s footsteps continued. But as she heard them do so, she felt relief; and that relief shocked her. Am I already getting too close to him? Alaina shook her head. That was unlikely. It was more like she wanted to know who this guy was. He was a mystery. And Alaina liked mysteries. She liked ‘the knowing’. After all, she, along with many of her history, learned quickly the importance of information. It drove them, and soon, it became somewhat of a fetish for them.
As they traveled, Alaina led Navari towards the far left side of the bridge. There was a rope ladder going down. Alaina took a glance over, and seeing a small boat there, she nodded.
“We’re going down.” She said. The first words she spoke since they put on the cloaks. But just as she was about to put her feet over, a hand grabbed onto her shoulder.
Again. This happened again. Alaina didn’t know Navari well, but she had realized to her dismay that she had let her guard down. This guy could have just stabbed her, throwing her over the rails, and no one would have been any wiser. All this time she had practically given her back to him.
Alaina turned around. She was mad. Not at Navari but more at herself. I cannot keep doing this.
“What is it?” She said, her voice was cold. Colder than she had intended; but a part of her couldn’t help but let her anger slip. For some reason, the boy had gotten under her skin.
Navari shook his head. “Was this planned by your contact?”
“Yes. Is that all?”
“… I don’t think we should go.”
“You don’t think we should go? Well then, how do you expect we get into the city?”
“Walk right in.”
“I have a bad feeling about this.” Navari’s voice was flat as he gestured towards the rope ladder. There was no emotion in his voice, but still, Alaina could sense the worry.
“My contact has never failed me. And more importantly, he, well… Regardless, if you think my contact has betrayed me then that is even more unlikely. The things any of my enemies would be willing to sell for my head would not be enough for him to be willing to tarnish his reputation.”
“That’s with the assumption that you know your enemies. For all you know, you may have more. Or they may be willing to do more. As I’ve seen it, we may have been watched for a long time now. Like this crossbow. Why would you need to have wrapped it up at the time that you did? Perhaps someone saw when we covered it. Someone who is very skilled; and for the same reasons you cherish it, the could be following us to take it.”
Alaina was about to retort, but she shut her mouth. She went quiet for a while. Her eyes swept past Navari, only to lock on his eyes and bore into the dark color of his. “What do you know of the crossbow?” She finally asked, her voice flat.
Alaina looked back at the rope ladder and then back at Navari. “Have you done this before? Snuck into cities, I mean?”
“Then what makes you so confident that my way, the way that I have been doing things for years now is wrong? Anyone who goes through the second gate is greatly watched. I will be greatly watched. And I cannot have that happen. Not to mention where we are. My contact can get us through the first wall, but if we screw up at the second? We are trapped! Trapped! The two walls are made for that precise purpose. They make it easier to go through the first wall, just to check to see if you are a citizen or not, or the possible benefits your presence may provide to the free cities if you are not, but the second wall does a much thorough check to see if you are dangerous. That way, for example, if someone comes in and they are on a criminal or most wanted list, they can be stopped at the second wall, but also are unable to get away as they have to go through the first wall to get out. Once we crossed that wall,” Alaina pointed to the one they just came through, “we were at the point of no return.”
Alaina breathed in and out. She was almost breathless from the rant she made. There was an anger in her. An anger forged from the ordeal she had been forced to go through; an anger forged from the prospect of those that put her in that situation may try to kill her; an anger forged from the trouble she is forced to go through to keep her movements hidden. She needed to get home. I need to make sure they are safe.
But Navari’s next words drew her from her thoughts. “You can decide your fate. But I decide mine. I will not get on that boat. I do not know your friend, and nor would I care if I did. Living out there, in that wilderness, I’ve learned the hard way that I must trust my instincts. And right now, my instincts are telling me not to take that boat… But remember this, Alaina, you are a citizen of one of the cities. If you were a criminal, I doubt you would have attempted to go to and fro through the walls. So the only thing keeping you from traveling that way now is fear. Fear that someone will spot you and hunt you down. If you were afraid of the guards, and their lists, I doubt you would have stepped through the first wall. Which means, whoever your enemy is, they cannot influence those guards’ direct orders. So don’t worry. All we need to do is avoid whoever’s notice it is that is watching us. Then they will only know that you are in the city. Not your precise movements… So follow me. I can help you do it.”
Alaina sighed. The boy was adamant. He was not going with her. And even if she was a bit curious, she would have left him right there. But… Alaina glanced at the rope one last time. If he’s right, then I am doomed. There is a 50/50 shot. Go or not go. But if I do it his way, I will get into the city. The guards would not stop me, even if they were paid on the side by someone powerful. All they would dare to do would be to watch and rat me out. So what I really have to worry about is after the wall… And Alaina thought back to how Navari got her through the forest without running into anymore of those creatures. We couldn’t use boats from the first wall because there are guards stationed on the water at the front end. But after, it’s almost free rein. The top knows this, but they let the smugglers go through anyway. Going on that rope could be a really good chance…
“You will have to go in as a visitor and get registered… It’s rare for those to visit the cities unless they are from other major cities on the coast. But you don’t have any credentials from there either. They may watch you closely… I would also need my crossbow. They don’t check the inner contents of citizens. But they do of strangers.”
Navari just shook his head. “I can handle that.”
Author’s Note: Please donate. I will be able to release more chapters faster. Haven’t received any so far. Also, I would appreciate any comments or reviews. That way I can learn and adapt as I go on. Anyway, next chapter coming out in an hour or so.