It took another three days until they were able to see in the distance a small town with a medium-sized mud wall surrounding it.
Although they could see the town due to the flat plains and swamps mixing together, it was still far away and would take them a while to reach.
It was several hours past noon when they arrived at the wooden gates of the small town that the map said was named Madham.
Akira was surprised to see the town’s gates were closed. This was unlike every other city and town that he had been to before.
Normally most towns and cities would have the gates open during the day to allow citizens and travelers to enter and leave without much hassle. The gates were only closed at night or if there was a war going on.
Akira looked around and found no army big or small camping near the town.
Scratching his head he looked to the others. They shrugged just as unsure on what to do as he was.
Since there was no other choice he just walked up to the wooden gate and knocked on it.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
“Yeah…? Who iz it?” asked a drunken voice above the gate.
“We are travelers looking for a place to stay for the night and replenish our supplies. Can you open the gate and let us in?” asked Akira.
A head full of messy curly black hair and a red face from to much drink popped out of a window above the gate.
“Travlerzz Yuss say? Yuss gots ta pay the tax to get in,” said the drunken man, “Jus a second I gots ta find za bucket.”
“The bucket?” asked Akira but the man didn’t answer and disappeared back into the room above the gate.
Loud stumbling footsteps and sounds of several bottles and boxes being knocked over could be heard along with a few choice drunken curses.
Several seconds later a bucket with a rope attached to it was thrown out the window almost hitting Akira in the head as it fell.
The drunken man’s head popped out of the window again now holding onto the rope.
“Put the tax money into the bucket and you can enter.”
“2 silver,” slurred the drunken man.
One silver was already nearing what you would pay to enter the larger cities if they were in need of gold.
Most capitals would not stoop so low as to charge people just to enter the city. This made the travelers and merchants feel more at ease, but there would always be other ways for the cities to earn a large amount of silver and gold from taxes of the purchases and sales that would happen in the city.
Seeing Akira place two silver into the bucket the drunken man coughed.
“That’z 2 silver for each perzon,” said the man exasperated. He acted like Akira should have already known something like that.
“That’s highway robbery!” said Varbu unhappily.
“Even the large cities don’t charge that much just to enter,” said Maya.
“If you don’t want to pay an extra 6 silver then only one person can enter,” said the drunk man grumpily jerking the bucket up out of their reach so that they could not take back the silver coins inside.
“Fine, I’ll pay the other 6 silver,” Akira pulling out the coins and tossing them into the bucket that was lowered again.
“Thank ye very much.”
The man and the bucket disappeared back into the room. Loud clunks could be heard as the wooden beams behind the gates were removed and the gates were slowly pushed open.
Two guards in shabby leather armor stood on either side of the opened wooden gate inspecting the four as they walked through the gates and under the mud gatehouse.
As they continued to walk Akira inspected the town and found that it was a rather poor looking place. All the buildings they passed were small drab one-story mud houses with thatched roofs.
The atmosphere inside the town was very bleak, the townsfolk did not have smiles on their faces and avoided eye contact with the new unknown people.
Akira was unsure where the shops where since all the buildings looked the same. So he decided to just walk up to one and ask for directions.
“I wouldn’t knock on that door. Mr.Cranb, is a grumpy old man and would just yell at you for disturbing him,” said a young female voice from behind them.
Akira turned around to see a girl around his age standing behind them with an empty basket.
“Are you looking for the shops?” asked the girl before Akira could reply or ask anything.
“Yes, but everything looks the same here so it’s hard to find,” said Akira.
“If you live here long enough you get used to it. I can take you there if you would like,” said the girl.
“Ah thank you that would be a great help. My name is Akira and yours is?” asked Akira his hand outstretched for her to shake.
“Beadtrice, nice to meet you. If you follow me this way I can lead you to the store,” said Beadtrice.
She began to walk ahead of them and led them through the streets and past many alleys that all looked the same.
She came to a stop in front of a building that was slightly larger than the others and turned to Akira.
“Just a warning the prices in the shop are not cheap.”
“Nothing to worry about we have enough money,” said Akira.
The store had very little variety partly from it being so far away from other cities and the other part was due to laws and regulations passed by the lord of the city.
When the total price was given Akira’s heart ached. Ever since he entered this town he was leaking money faster than a boat with a hole in the bottom of its hull.
Outside the store, Akira stopped Beadtrice to ask her another question.
“Do you know where the towns Inn is? We need a place to stay for the night.”
“Ah! I’m sorry but we don’t have an Inn here. There used to be one but due to the lord’s laws it was driven out of business because of the to the high cost of operating it,” said Beadtrice.
Akira felt a headache coming on ‘No inn?’ Just when they thought they could get a good night’s sleep they would still have to leave the city and camp outside.
“Ah, but don’t worry I have an extra room at my house if you want you can stay there. It’s big enough to have four people stay for a night,” said Beadtrice.
“Are you sure we aren’t inconveniencing you?” asked Mileena.
“No problem at all! As long as you follow the city’s thousands of rules that change everyday just to go along with however the Lord feels you should be fine,” said Beadtrice.
“Is it that bad here?” asked Maya.
“We shouldn’t talk about it out in public others could be listening,” whispered Beadtrice looking around suspiciously.
Beadtrice took them away from the store and walked for several minutes until she reached her small home on the outskirts of the city near the mud wall.
“Hey did you hear that guy said his name was Akira,” said a grubby looking guard near the store.
“Isn’t there an Akira on the bounty board?”
“Yeah! I looked and there is one but the picture doesn’t fully look like him.”
“Should we tell the lord?”
“If we do and he is the right person, then we might get some money for reporting it!”
The inside of Beadtrice house was clean but lacked most of what you would find in a normal house in other cities. There was a vase of flowers on a table to try and brighten up the place.
“What’s up with this place that you have to be so secretive?” asked Akira.
“The city wasn’t always like this several years ago it was a very rich and vibrant place to be. But then the old lord that had watched over the city died and his son took over.
With the promise of giving everyone free stuff if we allowed him to take the position of the lord of the city. Although there were many that opposed him he still won over enough people to get the spot with promises of free this and that to whoever he was talking to.
As soon as he took over for his father he started to put high taxes on everything he could touch and made new rules and regulations on what can and can not be done in the city as well as how to do it. According to the lord, the high taxes were put in place to give us the free stuff.
But here we are, poorer than we were before and still, nothing free has been given to us as he promised. Even if he were to complete a small portion of his promises it would still not be free since he would be paying for it from the taxes we have already paid him,” said Beadtrice.
“Then you should just leave this place,” said Mileena.
“I would if I could but everyone in this town is in debt to the lord. We can not leave. The money that he receives from taxes all goes to his pockets. He used a large portion to build his own mansion and to fund his own private guards that stay inside the stone walls surrounding his mansion. There is no way to leave unless you die,” said Beadtrice with a sad pained look on her face remembering many people that had died over the past few years.
“So… umm… what does the city make or do for money?” asked Akira trying to change the subject and cheer up Beadtrice.
“Oh normal stuff, we farm rice and fish mainly. That’s most of what we all eat here. There are some vegetables but the monsters around here are too many and they often get into the gardens and tear things up eating whatever they can. The rice fields are guarded fiercely because of the large amount of money it brings in when it is sold to the other countries that don’t have the right climate for growing rice.”
“I’ve been wondering for a while now. Why is there no country in the swamp continent? Aren’t the other countries are strong enough to put up cities and tame the wild here right?” asked Varbu.
Beadtrice shook her head, “No, multiple nobles have tried to start their own countries only for it to end in disaster. The land here is not forgiving and the monsters are even more vicious with all their different types of poisons they can use. This place is truly a land where everything wants to kill you even the normal animals have poisonous bites and stings. If you are not careful you will lose your life.”
They spent the rest of the day talking about the outside world, answering all of Beadtrice’s questions.
She had many and wanted to one day pay off her debt and leave the town but with the new taxes that were always popping up everywhere, she didn’t know when or even if she would be able to leave.
A knock on the door startled them as they ate a late dinner of rice and fish soup.
”Who is it?” asked Beadtrice standing next to the door.
“In the name of the lord Madham, I have come to invite the travelers for a late dinner with the Lord himself. There will even be an entertainment show after dinner,” said a female voice from behind the door.
Beadtrice mouth gaped open. Something like this never happened who were these people to be able to have the lord invite them and even provide entertainment?
“Should we not go?” asked Akira looking at the odd facial expression on Beadtrice’s face.
“No! You should definitely go. This is a rare thing for the lord to show interest in others. He would definitely not let it go if you ignore him.”
“Then I guess we should indulge him just this once. We’ll come back later I hope that we won’t cause you any problems.”
“No problems at all,” said Beadtrice.
They walked to the rear of the city escorted by a female mercenary who was wearing old plate armor that had seen better days.
The night’s full moon was already out and brightly shining there was no need for lanterns or torches to see where they were going.
“Can I ask why the Lord would want to talk to us and how it was that he hear about us?” Akira asked the female mercenary as they reached the stone walls of the manor.
“Don’t know, don’t care. The lord will explain everything to you when you see him,” said the female mercenary.
She stood aside slightly behind them motioning for them to walk forward to the closed gate.
From the side of his vision, Akira noticed both Mileena and Maya’s ears twitching in agitation.
His hand that was placed on the gate ready to push it open paused as he sniffed the air. The odor of a group of several people in the surrounding area entered his nose.
Akira’s gut churned and growled. Something didn’t feel right about this.
He took a side glance at the mercenary and saw that her hand was on her sword ready to draw it at any moment.
“I’m sorry, on second thought we have somewhere else we need to go. So we’ll be leaving now. If you can tell your boss I said hi,” said Akira backing away from the gate.
“I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that. You don’t understand, the boss was not asking you to come he has ordered that you come or else,” said the female pointing her sword at them.
“I’m sure you don’t know who we are otherwise you wouldn’t be pointing your sword at us,” said Varbu.
“Oh, we know who you are. That is the whole reason for inviting you to dinner.”
Akira tried to discreetly signal to the others to get ready to flee.
“I won’t let you get away!” shouted the female mercenary before blowing hard on a horn.
A net from atop the wall was thrown down and managed to capture both Akira and Mileena. While Varbu and Maya jumped to the side and escape the entanglement of the net.
Bam! The manor gates flew open and over thirty mercenaries of the lord’s personal guards rushed out with their weapons out ready to fight!
Before they could reach the net a dark light covered the two people inside and a second later a large werewolf tore his way out of the weak net that was made out of old rope.
“Awooooooo!” howled Akira angry at such a thing happening when he was so close to reaching his goal of finding his clan.
Nox was immediately summoned and jumped out of Akira’s shadows to see the mercenaries that were frozen in shock from the unexpected change of events.
“What’s going on!? No one said he was a werewolf!”
“Is the lord trying to start a war with the werewolf clans?”
“Quiet! The Lord has given us the order that if we catch him we will get enough gold to last us several years!” shouted the female mercenary.
Akira and the others did not give them any time to gather their thoughts and escaped down the street and into an alley.
“After them! Warn the guards at the gate to keep it closed!”
The chase was on! Anyone that got in their way was pushed or kicked aside.
When Akira’s group reached the city gates there were already two rows of guards all with shields ready to block them.
They were only there to stall for time until more people could come and allow them to take down the dangerous enemy with a large enough force to guarantee success.
“I don’t have time to be playing around with you people move aside or die,” growled Akira charging forward still several yards away.
The guard’s legs trembled but they still stood their ground.
“Fine Varbu, Nox, let’s plow our way out of here,” shouted Akira.
They slammed into the guards Akira with his shield and Varbu with his shoulder lowered, sending several guards flying into the air.
The guards behind them stepped forward to block their path only to get clobbered by Varbu’s large quarterstaff as well as Nox’s teeth that bit into their necks paralyzed them.
Akira continued to use the skill [Shield Slam] to plow his way through the guards.
The gate was right in front of them but was closed.
Needing no words to be spoken both Akira and Varbu lowered their shoulders and rammed into the gate snapping the wooden blocks put in place to stop the gates from opening.
The gates slammed wide open and Akira and Varbu continued to plow forward.
The four of them continued to flee into the swampland’s trying to get as far away from the town while killing anyone that came near.
Beadtrice had heard a loud commotion near the gates and left her house to see what had happened. When she arrived she saw the bodies of the guards sprawled all over the ground or slumped against the mud walls.
Most of the bodies were caved in from a powerful blunt attack but some were missing body parts that looked to have been ripped or bitten off while others were missing their heads.
“What sort of monsters could have done this?”