Slowly, I set the journal back into my bag, and look up to take stock of the village that I am approaching. Malachite hills. The village that Samantha had mentioned.
I had ridden on horseback for several days, then had left the horse at a garrison in a nearby town, and walked the rest of the way. Now I was here.
Slowly, I walk into the village. No one looks twice at me. I am wearing the simple, drab clothes of a commoner, and I hum idly to myself, as if I haven’t a care in the world. However, my eyes are always alert, darting back and forth between the buildings, searching for the tavern.
It isn’t long before I spot it. The Golden Mushroom. I hurry towards it, head down, shoulders hunched. I open the door, and slip inside.
It’s late morning, and the tavern is just starting to fill up for lunch. I drop myself down at one of the tables, and wait patiently until a young serving girl approaches me.
“What can I get you, miss?” she asks politely, dropping into a deep curtsy.
“Do you have any water for a thirsty traveler?” I ask, letting my voice drop into slightly deeper tones. “I’ve been on the road for hours now.”
“A traveler?” she’s interested now. “Really?”
“A trader,” I sigh, as if I would rather not have told her. “Searching for machines. I’ve heard good things about the inventions of Malachite Hills.”
“Oh!” she perks up.
“Could you find me someone to talk to?” I ask.
She shrugs. “Maybe.”
Then she’s gone, off to the front of the tavern. She returns minutes later with my water, but doesn’t speak to me. So I sip patiently at it, and wait.
More people file into the tavern. I scan each of them, searching for the man that Samantha mentioned. Perhaps he’s here, right now.
Suddenly, the serving girl is at my side. “There,” she whispers, almost making me jump. I glance over at her, to see her pointing at a large table that has been dominated by three men. Several other men- large and burly, all carrying weapons- stand behind them. “If you’re looking to trade, they might welcome you.”
“What do I need to do to speak to them?”
She grins. “Sit there.”
I look up, confused. She is pointing to a small, unobscured table. It must be some sort of secret code. They certainly are set on keeping things quiet then. Interesting.
I move to the table, and slouch down again, sipping my water thoughtfully. It isn’t long before I hear someone sit down at the table near me.
“Who’re you?” a deep voice asks me.
I look up to see one of the three men sitting across from me. On his hand is a gold ring, topped with a twisting, wire design. This is the man I’ve been looking for.
“A trader,” I reply lazily, “searching to buy some of the fascinating contraptions of Malachite Hills.”
“I see. Well, I’m afraid that we don’t have anything that would interest a traveler like yourself-” he begins. I cut him off swiftly and coldly.
“Do not meddle with me, merchant,” I snap. “I’m looking for the inventions designed by Kane.”
He goes silent. Then his eyes narrow. “I see,” is all he says. “Come, follow me.” He stands, and head towards the back of the inn. I follow, slipping a hand into my bag, my hand closing around the hilt of the dagger that Tallin gave me.
We reach a trapdoor, and the man climbs down into a small room. I follow, and a moment later, several of his guards enter the room.
He lights a torch, and I look around, fascinated.
On shelves all around me are strange metal contraptions. Each one is sleek and somehow beautiful- almost alive looking. Without doubt, these are the work of an incredible intellect- a mind beyond compare.
“You’re not a trader,” is the first thing the man says.
“What makes you think that?” I ask.
“Traders carry more with them. Also, you are a girl, and no one in their right mind would send a girl to do trade for them. Now, I don’t know where you heard of Kane, but you must understand that these are rumors alone.”
“And these contraptions?”
“Made by crafters in the high cities.”
“No, I don’t think so,” I reply. “You’ve met and traded with Kane, Andrus. And you wish to keep me quiet, lest rumors reach the Queen that you know of Kane’s location.
“Truly, you have a brilliant intellect,” he remarks quietly. “I see you understand. Now, how do you know my name?”
“I had a friend,” I reply, equally quiet. “She told me about you. Now, let us talk business. You’re a sensible man, I’m sure, and fond of your life. If you value it, I suggest telling me where Kane is, and how I may find him. Now.”
Andrus clicks his fingers, and four of his guards move in front of him. “You are not in the position to be threatening me, girl.”
“I’m not just any girl,” I correct. I lift the hood from my face, expression dark. “My name is Natalia, and I am a Devia of the Queen. Tell me where Kane is, or I will bring in others, and raze this entire establishment to the ground.”
“A Devia?” he growls. “Then you made a mistake coming here alone. Kill her!”
The guards lunge for me, but I am already moving. One knife comes out of the bag, and whips towards the first guard, killing him instantly. A second knife takes out the second guard in the same manner. By now, I have already reached the trapdoor. I scramble up the ladder, and back into the main part of the tavern.
The guards are at a disadvantage, and as they come up the trapdoor, I kill them both with strikes to the head. I nearly drop back down into the room, now that all the guards are dead, but I hear weapons being unsheathed. I turn quickly, to see the rest of the guards coming towards me, weapons out. I grit my teeth. There are too many of them for me to fight- possibly. But I am a Devia- a master of combat. These are simply hired mercenaries- no match for a trained warrior like myself. It would be childishly easy to kill them- as long as I use the terrain and my size to my advantage.
Andrus mounts the ladder, holding up a hand and barking sharply, “Careful! She killed four men easily. She is a rogue Devia of the Queen, and a considerable threat.”
The men rush at me. And that is when the true slaughter begins.
I leap up onto a table, brandishing Tallin’s dagger, and baring my teeth in a vicious snarl. That does nothing to dissuade my attackers. They think nothing of attacking me- lean and skinny as I am. However, they underestimate me.
As they converge on the table, I suddenly shove my dagger back into my bag, and toss it up, looping it over one of the beams holding up the roof. I leap up as well, catching the beam, and swinging myself up onto it, out of the men’s reach. They hesitate, then slowly begin to climb up onto the table, attempting to hack at me with their swords, and hit me with their cudgels. The roof is low, but they are inexperienced at stabbing and hitting straight up, so I am at an advantage.
When enough of them are upon the table, I leap down, landing lightly like a cat. I leave my bag on the beam, out of reach.
Quickly, I cut through the wood supports of the table. The dagger that Tallin gave me is strong, and cuts easily through the soft, weathered wood. The table collapses, spilling the men into their comrades in a tangled mess. Some are caught on swords. All in all, it is a total disaster. I simply laugh. This is what my years as a Devia have turned me into. A trained, powerful, killing machine. No common man stands a chance against me.
I sweep through the men like death himself, dealing out blows left and right. Still tangled, they try to strike at me, but it only ends in failure.
The cleverer few release their weapons, pulling back and drawing short swords or daggers. These will be the more experienced ones then. Not enough to present any threat to a trained Devia, of course, but enough certainly to irritate me.
As if that isn’t enough, Andrus and the two other men each also draw weapons, and advance on me, expressions wary.
I tense, preparing myself for combat. Then the door slams open.
Despite my best instincts, my head turns, searching for the cause of the sound. Standing in the doorway, pouring into the room, are almost twenty local guardsmen.
As quickly as the fight was started, it is finished as the guardsmen move amongst us, subduing each of the men in turn, including Andrus and the two others. They move to me, but I lazily reach into my jacket pocket, removing a document from the Queen herself, giving me safe passage wherever I should choose to go. They avoid me as best they can after that. No one crosses a direct order from the Queen.
Nearly an hour later, I walk past the guards, and into the prison. The men guarding it snap to attention, hurriedly muttering, “Lady Devia,” as I pass them.
I ignore them, and stop outside of Andrus’s cell. He spits at me as he sees me, his expression murderous.
“None of that,” I say sharply. I hold up a hand, warning him not to speak. “Now listen. I could have you executed if I wished. However, if you comply with me, then I will say nothing. You will pay a single day in prison, and then will be free to go. All you need to do is tell me where Kane is.”
“You’ll get nothing from me, girl.”
“Don’t be proud just to spite me,” I sigh. “I would leave you your life, and the machines you have already traded for. A small fortune in gold, I believe. For one name. It’s that or face the penalties for obstructing an agent of the Queen. I could come here and burn this entire place down if I wished, and kill you and your associates. I could order you tortured until you told me where he is. Either way, it’s the same end. Except with one option, you keep what you’ve built, and your own life, and I get what I want. It’s a simple decision, really.”
He spits again, his expression full of contempt. “Demons take you, girl! You and all the others of your kind!”
He licks his lips. He is considering my offer, and I know it. But I cannot afford to wait. Each minute wasted is a minute off of my allotted month.
“Oh well,” I sigh. “I suppose I had hoped-” I raise my hand to call for the guards.
That is the last straw for him. “No! Wait! I will tell you where to find Kane.”
I smile. He takes a deep breath, then speaks, his voice still full of spite and malice.
“Tarvin hills. But blast you, you won’t find him anyways.”
“Where in Tarvin Hills.”
“There’s a secret cave system. The entrance is by the roots of the largest Callaran tree. You’ll know it when you see it.”
“Wonderful.” I do not thank him. My task is far from over. “And just so you know. If this information is false, then I will bring the wrath of the gods down upon you.”
“No need,” he replies. “The caves are real enough. You’ll find Kane easily once you find the entrance, I’m sure. If you can get past his security.”
“I’ve never seen it,” he shrugs. “But it’ll kill you. Just you wait- it’ll kill you as easily as if you were a newborn child.”
“We’ll see,” I snarl. Then I turn and stalk away, out of the prison. I have an inventor to find.