Even with the large black gate down, the skunk just took a deep breath, strutting forward with a confident smile. He did not stop to look at the two guards nor signal out to the top as he had done at the outer wall. That brought up some questions. Delias was going call out and say something, but with a bit more thought, he ultimately decided to keep his mouth shut.
Suddenly, the air distorted. Like a rock being thrown into a still pool, waves undulated out just on top of the gate’s surface, and the skunk vanished all together.
Delias paused. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. But remembering where he was, he quickly closed it and continued towards the gate. Many thoughts crossed his mind. What in the realm is this? How the hell? Delias’s heart quickened. Another portal? Do I need to be an Averati to use it? How does it work? Damn you, you stinking stinker! Why didn’t you explain any of this beforehand!
Delias kept going at an even pace, but his steps were not as firm. As he passed the two guards, a penetrating cold washed over him, and an icy feeling seeped deeply into his gut.
Delias’s heart trembled. He remembered that feeling. It reminded him of that piercing gaze from the first gate, but this coldness was aptly far more invasive. Could this be a way of screening? Trying to see if I’m human? Can’t be. That skunk said that it’s hard to find a single one that knows what a human looks like. Why would they be on alert for such a thing? So… just what are they looking for?
Delias did not look at the guards. He felt as if glancing into their eyes, and them into his, would give himself away. So he staked everything on that as long as he went forward, he too, could pass through the portal.
At the place where the skunk disappeared, Delias stepped forth. As his leg inched forward, the air rippled, spreading along with his movement; it felt like stepping into a vat of honey. Time seemed to slow in that moment, and soon Delias could not breathe.
Before Delias’s mind registered what happened, he was standing within the perimeter of the second wall. He felt dazed, but with a few moments his mind began to clear.
Meters away, the skunk was there waiting for him. There were also two guards that looked just like the ones on the outer side of the second wall standing still at each side of him. Delias could see the guards from the corner of his eyes. He was sure those guards were not the same as the ones on the other side, but the similarity was creepy none the less.
In the end, Delias sighed with relief. He had gotten through the portal and that penetrative feeling from before was no longer. What more could one ask for? But though Delias was somewhat relieved, he still maintained some level of caution.
“Why are you so slow?’ The skunk called out, breaking Delias’s train of thought. “Hurry it up.”
The second part of the city was like a different world. The seamless silence between the first and second perimeter was starkly different than what laid beyond the second wall. There was just one word to describe it. Boisterous.
Averati of all kinds were everywhere. It was a bit sparse near the gate, but down the road, leading in deeper, a large market was held. The streets were busy, and children played around. And some areas were so packed with people, Delias thought he could fit a quarter of Northcroke city’s populous in there.
What was even more surprising was that except for a few defining features, a majority of the Averati looked human. Those defining features may be termed as demonic, with some having horns and all, but they were almost negligible to the eye. Some of those qualities showed signs of being derived from animal counterparts; other groups had odd designs on them, different amount of limbs, different skin or eye colors, or rarely, traits of a species that Delias had never seen or heard of before. The scene was simply striking.
Delias stuck close the the skunk. He did not know these people. It was always best to stick with what you know. And he knew the skunk had a plan. The stinker knows he can’t just abandon me now. “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to a bar. Where else would we go?”
“Ah, my sweets. Come to papa!” The skunk mumbled.
Delias was dumbfounded. His lust is unmatched; unbridled.
Delias followed the skunk deeper into the city. Not too long past before the skunk turned to Delias and its face turned stern. “I will give you a warning, Delias. Never go into the central part of the city. I’m sure you’re confused about before; about the first sector; and how desolate it seemed. Don’t ask. But I will tell you about the other two sectors. The second sector houses the general public. The poorer civilians are closer the second wall while the richer ones are closer the inner wall. Within the inner perimeter lies the elite.
“Never go there. If you look at someone over there the wrong way, or even if that person just happens to be in a bad mood, they can order your execution. And there won’t be a trial. Second, though the second sector houses the general public, there are still some powerful families here so don’t be careless. And lastly, when we reach the bar, don’t touch Shara.”
Delias was listening readily. He needed every bit of information at this point if he were to last long. But for the skunk to group a lot of people who he thought were powerful figures and then single out one. Must be one powerful individual. Delias gulped. “Who’s Shara?”
The skunk gave Delias one stern and defiant look and then said, “My female!”
Delias nearly spat blood. This… this… Damn fetor! Getting me all worked up. Why would I be interested in a skunk? Delias felt like choking the skunk to death. But the Averati are indeed weird. It might not be a skunk. He did have relations with that King Fisher’s wife… Delias felt sick after thinking about what could be wife to that hideous giant creature so he steered his thoughts elsewhere. Now that I look at it, none of the Averati are talking animals like the skunk. They are closer to human than anything else. Delias looked at the skunk’s back as it strutted on. He was curious, but he did not pry into the skunk’s affairs.
After a few twists and turns on a few various roads, Delias and the skunk went somewhere east of the city gate – west was more of a residential district while east housed more of the shops and markets – and they came onto a large road, about an acre in width.
“Wait here.” The skunk said before he walked off into a large tent. Minutes later, the skunk came out with a large creature. It looked like a duck. A large duck.
“We’ll ride this to where we are going.”
“What is it?”
“Oh? Do they not have ducks where you are from? Now quit squawking and get on. This stupid thing cost me an arm and a leg.”
Delias’s eyes shifted to the large, but shabby looking tent, and back at the big duck. He looked around. He did not see many people with rides, but those that did have one were riding on graceful or terrifying looking beasts. An arm and a leg, my ass. But Delias did not voice his thoughts. Compared to the skunk he was broke.
Delias managed to get on the tall beast, though it took him a few tries. He was nowhere near being graceful, and some of the nearby kids laughed at him. As for the skunk, it just jumped on with ease.
The two went farther north east of the gate they came from and closer to the inner wall. Soon they arrived in front of a large building made of white stone with marble steps. The building was three stories high, but contained only one story with four walls that covered half an acre. On top of that first story was a two story high pavilion. It was large and made out of brown lacquer wood that circled around everything within it like a giant tidal wave. At the very tip of that tidal-waved structured wood, water flowed down into a side fountain.
The place was lit nicely within the late afternoon, making it breathtaking, and a large sign was hung up with bold faced words. Wine Water Pavilion.
“There is a side area where we can change and freshen up before we go inside. I have to talk to a few people. I am sure you will be able to ask and get answers here. We might even be able to make a plan to get you home. But we need to go over some things before you blow your cover. So just wait here while I set things up.”
The skunk left, leaving Delias in front of the bar. Delias felt a bit awkward. Even though he was not really close to the entrance, this particular area was for the rich and the entire street flared with an air of noble or rich glamour. Looking down at his linen shirt and pants, he felt out of place.
Just as Delias felt like moving his duck-steed off to a dark corner near some building where no one would see him, he heard a commotion.
Delias raised an eyebrow. A few meters away, there were two groups of children. They looked to be about fourteen to fifteen years old, a bit younger than how Delias looked at the moment. The first group crowded around a single kid while the second group, with a few lesser in number, watched in a distance with distraught looks plastered over their faces. Some of the people nearby seemed to ignore the commotion, or pretend as if it was never happening.
“The Averati look and act so similarly to humans.” He sighed. The first group was obviously bullying a member from the second group, and the second group was scared because the first group looked stronger and had a more dominant air.
Delias then smirked. This area was rich and fancy, but it was not within the inner wall. He was warned to be careful there, but within the second sector? He was bigger and smarter than those little kids, he could stop the fight and appear heroic. The idea seemed exciting. It reminded him of his past. And in that moment Delias did not care much about the looks of his clothes. After all, he now had a plan to remedy that.
Delias got off the duck and tied off its reins on a nearby area with poles in which appeared that others kept their mounts.
He walked up to the two groups. Though he was a bit older, in body, to those other kids, he was only taller than the biggest kid by half a forehead. But that half a forehead gave Delias unbreakable confidence.
“Please, Parker. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please. Stop hitting me. I’ll get more money nex… Ack!” The boy in the middle cried as a large boy stomped on him. Even with the boy’s pleas, he was ruthless.
“Parker. Shouldn’t you ease off of him a bit. If we go too far, the elders won’t let us off.” Whispered a boy from the first group.
Parker kept stomping on the boy. “Even if I don’t let him off, those elders won’t do anything to me just for this one. He is the lowest of the class. He will eventually be kicked out. When he is…”
“Then someone would say it was because you pushed him out, bullied him so much that he could not train. That would lower the reputation of our school. And we would all be in trouble, and no matter who your mother is, the elders will punish you. No one damages the school’s reputation. No one!”
Parker stopped after hearing this. He stepped back and wiped a sheen of sweat off of his forehead. “Hmph! Next time when I want you to buy me something, make sure you have enough money!” He seethed. He gave one last cold glance at the boy on the ground, turned, and was about to leave when he heard clapping.
“Ok. Ok. Enough!” Someone called out. The group parted, allowing Parker to see a young man. He looked older, and was a bit taller than everyone. His hair was like blood. The whites of his eyes were red, as if he was up all night, and he looked dirty, wild even.
Parker stepped back. He was startled. The kids around him were a bit startled as well. They seemed to shift where they stood, tensing as the young man grew near. Just where did this guy come from?
Parker did not believe that the guy was of well repute, but then again, there were many eccentrics out there that his mother always warned him about. He did not want to insult one at the moment.
“Who are you?” Parker’s tone seeped with wariness. This guy is too young. He can’t be stronger than all of us. Is he an eccentric of some powerful family?
The young man before them just chuckled. That struck something in Parker. He was annoyed, but he did not show it. He had to be careful.
“Are you not going to answer?” One of the kids around Parker spoke up. “Do you know who we are? We have been selected to be students of the Crawfields Academy. Thee Crawfields Academy! Don’t mess with us.”
But the young man just seemed to frown. “You batter fellow citizens of this great city on road like they are some wild dog, and all you say is this? Is this the pride of a fellow citizen of this great city? How shameful.”
Parker frowned. He felt the others tense further. More and more people began looking their now. Some even stopped to watch, listening in. Usually a scene like this was common among younger generation. The richer and more powerful would bully the less fortunate. That’s how their society was run. Power meant all. But he did go a bit far this time, and people could see just how badly injured the boy he hit was. But even if he was from a powerful family or had a powerful background, he didn’t want this to become too big of a scene. All powers depended on common people, and it was reputation that brought influence. If he dampened the reputation of his family or school it would affect business. His family would not let him off then. He could not let this get out of hand and continue.
“What do you want? What business is this to you?”
“Business? For common decency, that’s my business!”
Decency? Just look at you. What do you know of decency? Parker thought. And many of the others thought that way too.
“Two hundred.” The red-headed young man said.
“What?” Parker responded.
“I said, two hundred. Compensation for that guy’s injuries.”
“How dare you?” Parker fumed. He had enough. The red headed guy was not only making a scene that could get him in trouble, but now he was extorting him? An anger bubbled inside of Parker. His family was powerful, and he was accepted to a famous academy in which no one messed with their disciples. Many would let him have his way. So he may be a bit afraid of bringing the elders of the city school into action, as they could send a reference to have his acceptance to the Crawfields Academy pulled, but for some stranger, who seemed weak and delusional, to extort him was just not going to happen.
“Screw your granny. Beat him up!” He roared.
The students that were with Parker were thinking along similar lines as him. They were just getting into action when…
“Stop!” Someone called out. That someone was at tall, heavyset Averati. He wore a white robe, striped with gold. He had dark hair, the sides streaked with grey, and his eyes were of a golden hue.
Recruitment Elder! Parker frowned. The last person he wanted to see at that moment was the elder that recruited him for the academy. The elder could easily take back his acceptance.
Parker gave a cold look to the red-headed young man. If you hurt my chances, I will make sure you die!