Chapter 42: The Wandering Legend
Mahaila calmly walked along the river bank relishing the sun on her face. It has been so long since she has worn the skin of her kin. She always felt the bare skin of the other races to be too… vulnerable.
Her master for instance, god rest his soul was covered in a layer of fur thanks to his boar like nature. She can still remember his booming laugh as the blows of weaklings bounced off his hide like common sticks. His punches shattering shields and his sword cleaving through armor as easily as a scythe harvests wheat.
Mahaila has found over the years that she has become wistful. Her mind constantly wanders to the past, to a better time when those she held dear still drew breath. Even now as she calmly walks the banks of the river in the land of her birth her mind wanders. It has been so long since she returned to the Plains of Glittering Sand. This name was not commonly used anymore, most call this place the Kingdom of Karukrima now.
Now here she was next to the small river that led to her hometown. How long has it been since she has felt the sand between her toes? Centuries? A millenia? Well either way it was good to be home.
As she serenely walked along the river bank soon she saw the silhouette of her hometown in the distance. But the moment she caught sight of it she felt the smile fade from her face. Her once prosperous town looked… run down…
Mahaila found her mood rapidly deteriorating when she finally got into the town. The town was a dilapidated mess. Her kin were all wearing rags and buildings were close to falling apart. The other lizardkin were also bone thin and she saw the stalls were closed.
This was the town market, Mahaila could still remember how busy this place used to be. This town was on the border with the Volerian Empire… well the successor states anyway. It’s been awhile since she returned. What were the names of the states? Bororia? No wait, it’s Vororia and Boria with that smaller weaker one down south. What was it again? Jeria? Jaria, yes that was it.
Her town being on the border benefited greatly from trade from those states, so it was usually quite prosperous…
Well she wasn’t going to get answers standing in the street… she needed to find a tavern and ask around… if there still was one with the town in this state...
Mahaila scanned the surrounding streets and saw it filled with beggars. Well, any of them will do…
She walked over to a nearby mother with two children sitting on the side of the road. The woman looked up wearily as she saw Mahaila approach.
“Alms for the poor?” the woman asked weakly, her tone betraying the fact she didn’t actually expect any money.
Mahaila was in a disguise naturally, her scales were a light blue instead of her natural pink. She also had a special amulet that could change the appearance of her equipment. So her ornate armor and swords just looked like a simple leather vest, cloth tunic, cloth pants, ragged cloak around her shoulders and a steel sword at her waist.
She reached into her pouch and pulled out three gold coins. This was quite a hefty sum for alms but her coin pouch was a magical artifact. She had a king's ransom on her person at all times so this was no issue.
The mother’s eyes widened when she saw the gold coins glinting in the desert sun. Mahaila knelt down and handed her the precious gold. The mother’s hand was shaking, no doubt this might just save her children’s lives.
“I have some questions if you wouldn’t mind.” Mahaila said as she placed the coins into the mother’s shaking hands.
“Of course my lady. Anything within my power.” the mother said as she bowed her head.
“First off, what happened here? This place used to be a prosperous town.” Mahaila asked.
At those words Mahaila saw the face of the mother twist in anger and grief.
“Tralis to the east is at war… the successor states have stopped trading with our nation to prepare for a potential invasion…
No more traders now visit our town and the Dragon Emperor has also increased the tithe to prepare our nation for war. With our income gone and our goods now worthless the Dragon Emperor took the dragon’s share of our food and coin. There just isn’t any money in this town anymore…” the mother replied.
Mahaila's eyes narrowed as she heard this. The Lizardkin states took a tithe and a tax from their territories. The problem was that the tithe was based on the market value of the goods, so if the goods are now worthless this town had to send all of their goods to the capital.
Her hometown the town of Varakkara was a way station in Karukrima. Their main goods were food and drink, it was to be sold to merchants and travelers. This town also had many inns and taverns to provide lodging for travellers. So now they have no income plus all their money and food has been taken by the Dragon Emperor…
Most likely the Emperor now felt this town was useless to the Empire so he decided to take what he could from this place before it died off. Short sighted fool… wars end and trade resumes at some point. If that Bandit King really snuffs out the successor states there is nothing much Karukrima can do to resist if Tralis marches west.
Mahaila will bet her right hand that nation states of her kin have not allied, they were still probably arguing about who is the true successor of the old empire. Fools all of them…
If they were allied, this wouldn’t have happened. It doesn’t even have to be an alliance, they could just sign a trade treaty. But no, they were more willing to drag each other down rather than grow strong together. Blithering idiots…
“I see, is Tralis attacking the successor states?” Mahaila asked.
“Not yet… last news I heard was that they are attacking Beralis. After that they will most likely either attack the Elysian states to the south or the Volerian successor states. Either way we will be dead by the time that happens…” the mother said bitterly.
“I see… My sympathies, madam.” Mahaila said.
“Thank you, may the goddess Mahaila curse that bandit king. May his conquest end in fire and blood for his nation.” the mother said spitefully before going into a coughing fit.
“You are ill.” Mahaila stated as she saw the yellow pus leak out of the mother’s slit like nostrils.
The mother looked really unhealthy, she was thin to the bone and some of her scales were flaking off.
Mahaila knelt down as she held out a hand, her hand glowed and the mother was bathed in a soothing green light. The mother’s scales reformed and her parlour instantly improved. The mother looked at Mahaila in shock and awe. The mother took in a deep breath as she touched her chest, probably getting a full chest of air for the first time in a long time.
“Better?” Mahaila asked kindly.
“Yes, very much so. Thank you.” the mother said.
Mahaila looked to the side and saw the son and daughter looking up at her in wonder. Mahaila smiled as she reached into her pouch and pulled out a piece of bread. It was her travelling rations but she could always restock here. She didn’t need to eat much anyway, as a heir of the firstborn she had a very resilient physiology. She just didn’t like feeling hunger was all.
“Can you buy food even with the gold I gave you?” Mahaila asked.
“With what you gave us, yes, we should be fine for a few months if we spend it carefully.” the mother said.
“Good, here you go you two, you look like haven’t eaten in awhile.” Mahaila said as she handed one piece of bread to the younger daughter first before handing another piece to the older brother.
The pair immediately began to wolf down the bread, it was a pitiful sight. Mahaila could only do something for these three, she couldn’t fix the ills of this nation. If she revealed who she was and tried to save the people here Heaven would bear down on her like vultures and destroy this country in the process...
The pieces of bread weren't large, just a small bun that could fit in your hand. Mahaila had more but she didn’t want to reveal that she was covered in enchanted equipment. She actually had a whole loaf of bread but it would look weird if she pulled it out of a small pouch.
“I don’t have another loaf but I think I can help you with that. Could you tell me where a decent tavern is?” Mahaila asked,
“Huh? Oh, most of them have closed down but there is still one down the road.” the mother replied.
“I see, can you show me, you can join me for a meal as well.” Mahaila offered kindly.
“Oh please do not bother yourself my lady, you have already done so much.” the mother replied as she waved her hands in protest. Her kin had their pride, that was what set them apart from the other races. They were strong willed and did not bow easily.
“It’s fine, it’s a sad thing to eat alone, don’t you agree?” Mahaila said with a smile.
With that Mahaila helped the poor woman to her feet and the small group headed down the road to the tavern. When they reached the tavern Mahaila realised it was an inn with a tavern in the lower floors. Well this would work…
Mahaila and the family sat down at a table and a server approached with a small menu.
“Order what you want, the meal is on me.” Mahaila said, but she noticed they were ordering the cheapest things on the menu.
“Do you have a chicken?” Mahaila asked.
“Yes, madam but it will be quite costly, 50 silver coins, we only have two left.” the waiter said. Now that is quite pricey but it was nothing Mahaila. The food situation must be bad if luxury food like meat is going for the price of a steel sword… well a cheaply made sword anyway...
“Very well, give me both chickens and… some bread… ah yes, could I have a jug of juice for the children and a bottle of wine.” Mahaila said.
“Madam, that will cost…” the waiter began, but Mahaila held up a platinum coin which was worth a hundred gold coins. The waiter’s eyes bulged at the sight of the coin and Mahaila cast a glance upwards at his shocked face.
“That's enough? Also for the change, put it towards food and lodging for these three. Should last quite a while.” Mahaila said calmly.
“That’s… about a year and a half madam.” the waiter said.
“Then a year and half it is. Now then, I’m getting hungry.” Mahaila said.
“Of course madam.” the waiter said with a bow as she left.
Mahaila took small bites of her chicken leg and she smiled slightly as she watched the family eat. She watched as the mother chided the children for their table manners as they wolfed the food down.
Mahaila took this moment to relax, just a moment of serenity from the horrible things going on outside this tavern. Her long dead people the Draconians had a saying, those who share a meal with you are family. Though the Lizardkin that came after adopted many of their traditions but like their power this too eroded over the millenia.
Well this wasn’t news to her, as old man gramps said, “Beauty fades that is why it is beautiful.”
Then she heard the door of the tavern and the sound of loud boisterous voices echoed out into the tavern. Instantly the small family in front of me froze in fear. The mother lowered her head and looked down at her lap, Mahaila could see her and the children trembling slightly
So she recognised the voice… and she’s afraid… there’s more to this then? At least beyond poor state policy…
Maybe she could help the people here after all…
Mahaila was hoping to get some information from the tavern staff since they get alot of travellers but if she is right about who was at the door… If Mahaila was to guess who was at the door, her best guess would be corrupt soldiers or something like that…
Sure enough when the owner of the voices stepped into the tavern she saw them wearing the colours of the Karukriman Empire. Four Lizardkin wearing plate armor of red and gold strode into the tavern like they owned the place.
The moment they entered the lead Lizardkin, a large red scaled male paused as he caught sight of the table Mahaila was sitting at.
“A feast and we aren’t even invited.” the soldier said with a smirk as he strode over to the table and picked up the mother’s cup of wine.
Mahaila could see how much the family was shaking so she gently motioned for them to leave the table. The mother gave her a slight nod in thanks as the three scurried away into the corner of the room.
The lead soldier took a seat at the table along with the rest of his men and downed the cup of wine.
“Ah that’s good stuff, I think the people running this place are holding out on us boys!” the lead soldier said as he grabbed the bottle of wine and started handing it to the other three.
“Captain Bardak, I took over the guarding of this place when most of the border guard were sent to the capital. And who might you be madam? I’ve never seen you here before.” the lead soldier asked.
Mahaila smiled as she took another sip from her cup of wine.
“A traveler.” Mahaila replied calmly.
“Oh traveler you say? Where you traveling to?” Bardak asked.
“Just passing through, as to where... well that’s my business.” Mahaila replied calmly, these four were no threat to her. They were no different from baby lambs in terms of power, at least relative to her.
“Oh? Well I’m in charge of the safety of this town so it is my business.” Bardak said.
“Well I don’t know then, I’m just a wanderer, maybe I’ll go west to the Varakrima maybe to the east to the Volerian successor states.” Mahaila replied calmly.
“I see... “ Bardak said slowly as he narrowed his eyes slightly, clearly not buying her story.
“Waiter, get us another of these bottles of wine.” Bardak said and the nearby waiter jumped.
“Are you going to pay for that?” Mahaila asked as she raised an eyebrow.
“No, these are the kings' colours traveller.” Bardak replied as he tapped his shiny breastplate.
“Of course…” Mahaila said dryly.
The waiter came over with another bottle of wine and nervously placed the bottle on the table along with four new cups. As the waiter turned to leave, Mahaila raised her hand stopping him. Mahaila calmly took out a pair of gold coins and paid the waiter. From what she could see life is hard here, no need for her presence to make it harder.
“Oh you seem pretty rich, traveler. You know there’s a tax here in this town.” Bardak said.
“I noticed, this town didn't always look like a ruin, you know.” Mahaila replied.
“So how much you got on you?” Bardak asked.
“Not a single copper.” Mahaila replied with a smirk.
“Huh, is that so?” Bardak said as he eyed the family behind Mahaila.
“Well I guess I could take your share from the coin you spent here. There’s a war brewing you know, the empire needs every coin it can get.” Bardak said.
At those words Mahaila let out a small laugh. She eyed the brute infront her as his eyes narrowed.
“You like to talk don’t you? Listening to people like you makes me thirsty…” Mahaila said as she reached across the table and took the bottle of wine. She raised it to her lips as she slowly began to down the entire bottle. Soon the bottle was empty and Mahaila calmly placed the bottle back on the table.
“What? I paid for it.” Mahaila said with another smirk as she flicked the bottle over to reveal it was now empty.
“You don’t seem to understand the situation.” Bardak said coldly as his men stood up from their seats, their chairs scraping along the floor.
“I understand if any more words come out of your mouth I’m going to have to drink this town dry…” Mahaila said as mirth in her eyes was replaced with an ice cold glare.
There was then a silence as Mahaila stared down the four men in front of her. The tension slowly mounted as she waited to see if these four idiots would make the first move. Sure enough, Bardak eventually cracked as he sprang to his feet.
Quick as lightning Mahaila snatched… the plate of chicken off the table. No sense wasting good food after all. She then kicked the table up before kicking it again and sending it flying into the four men. The table was rather large and heavy so it ended up sending the four of them to the floor.
Mahaila calmly stood up and put the chicken on a nearby table as she walked over to the four idiots struggling to push the table off them. She considered seeing if they could get out from under it by themselves but she had things to do so she yanked the table off. Immediately the four of them sprang to their feet.
The first one charged, raising his sword upwards preparing for an overhead swing. The sword proceeded to hit the ceiling and lose most of its power. The man stumbled and Mahaila kicked him in the chest, denting his chest plate and sending him flying into a nearby wall.
The second one moved forward and thrust towards her with his sword. Mahaila shifted her body slightly and dodged the thrust. She grabbed the sword by the blade, tore it free from his grip and beat him across the face with the cross guard sending him to the floor.
The third froze but Bardak shoved him forward and after a moment of hesitation he charged. Mahaila calmly took a step back and the swing missed. This one swung too wide leaving himself open. Mahaila shot her right leg out and grabbed his head with her three taloned feet. Then in one fluid motion she slammed his head into the floorboards.
One more left…
“No wonder all of you are here, all the real soldiers are readying for war.” Mahaila said as she calmly walked towards Bardak who had now lost all of his bravado.
Bardak turned and ran but he only got two steps before he felt Mahaila grab the back of his collar and yank him back into the tavern. Mahaila bodily threw him onto the ground before putting her foot down on his neck. Bardak stiffened as he felt the sharp points of Mahaila’s talons press against the side of his neck.
Bardak knew what this meant, Lizardkin commonly used their feet talons to kill humiliated opponents. So this threat was very real…
“Now then I have some questions for you…” Mahaila said.
“What?” Bardak sputtered in confusion.
“Questions, I ask, you answer. It isn’t hard.” Mahaila said as she tightened her talons around his neck.
Bardak just nodded mutely eyes wide in terror. This poor idiot, he has no idea he just tried to rob their goddess of war…
Mahaila can only imagine his face if she told him who she was, but that would be stupid and very reckless. At first she wanted to ask those at the tavern but someone in the military might have better information. This is especially true for the kind of information she was after.
“Now then anything interesting happening in the region, especially down south?” Mahaila asked.
“Huh? Erm… there is a war between Tralis and Beralis…” Bardak replied.
“Yes, yes, I know that anything else?” Mahaila snapped, cutting him off.
“Well… there were some rumors that the Elysian roads are closed because of a monster or something…” Bardak said.
“Rumors?” Mahaila asked.
“I’m not really sure, all I heard was that the roads were closed and adventurers were dying. Some adventurers have left the region because of… something… they brought news of the closed roads and the deaths. So that means a monster right?” Bardak replied.
Now this is interesting, an old monster from an old Elysian Vault perhaps… something old perhaps… something Elysia couldn’t control so they sealed it away. Maybe some idiot released it into the world.
Is that the Syndicate’s game? Did they perhaps find a new weapon to point at Heaven and they don’t want the Seraphim catching wind of it?
Well the Elysian region is as far south as south goes so it’s certainly in the right direction.
“Where in Elysia?” Mahaila pressed.
“I don’t know.” Bardak stammered.
“Fine.” Mahaila said as she got off him.
As he stood up Mahaila snapped her fingers and a blue light appeared at her fingers. The small blue orb flew right at Bardak. He yelped expecting an attack and fell back onto the floor shielding his face in terror.
“It’s a tracker…” Mahaila said coldly.
“What?” Bardak sputtered.
“I’ll be gone from here for a while but I will come back. I will have something in place here to make sure I will know if something happens here.
If I catch wind you are still doing anymore of this thinly veiled banditry I will cut out your guts and make you eat them. With that tracker on you, there isn’t a hole deep enough in Terra for you to hide from me…” Mahaila said as she picked him by the collar and brought his face an inch from hers.
“You understand?” Mahaila said as she narrowed her eyes.
“Yes…” Bardak stammered.
“Good.” Mahaila said as she released him and dropped his shaking body on the floor.
“Now get out of my sight before I decide to draw my sword.” Mahaila said and Bardak scrambled out the door leaving his other three unconscious men on the floor.
Mahaila turned to see the mother and the two children looking at her in awe. She turned to see the tavern staff looking at her in the same way. Mahaila calmly walked over to the bar counter and placed a platinum coin on the table.
“For your trouble and the damages.” Mahaila said calmly and the man at the counter nodded mutely.
Then she walked over to the family, Mahaila could tell the mother was worried. Mahaila knew that those without power will fear those who pretend to have power. The soldiers here may take their anger out on the people here. Hopefully that threat of hers will cover them for a while.
There was something else she could do as well, it was an old trick her master taught her.
It’s an advanced technique… called LYING!
Mahaila took out a small trinket, it was a simple necklace with a silver chain and a small ether crystal at the end. It was functionally quite simple, one could use it to power some extremely simple enchantments like a basic warmth or coolness spell to regulate body temperature but nothing too fancy.
She always had some of these random things lying around on the off chance she needed them for something. Her master was always prepared thoroughly for each endeavour and he taught Mahaila to do the same.
“This is a special artifact, if you ever need help use this but it’s one time use so it’s more useful as a threat. If that idiot ever bothers you again, take this out and tell him what it does, it should be enough to get him off your back.
Men like him won’t risk their own necks, they rather have their cornies do all the work.” Mahaila said.
The trinket could do no such thing but if the ruse worked it would be effective. Afterall Mahaila beat them four against one without even drawing her weapon. So that should be quite illustrative to them.
“Thank you, truly.” the mother said as she moved to kneel but Mahaila placed a firm hand on her shoulder stopping her.
“I need no thanks for doing what is right. Good luck to you three.” Mahaila said as she turned around.
“Will we see you again?” the daughter asked suddenly.
“Perhaps, maybe our paths will cross again.” Mahaila replied as she turned her head.
“bard aram jov teye devr lu hāk...” Mahaila said in old dracoviss, the now dead language of the Draconians, the phrase meaning “Live well you three, family first always.” The mother’s eyes widened at those words, those who could speak old dracoviss were few and far between.
“You speak the old tongue?” the mother asked in surprise.
“buyo ka ja ža a nu buyaspu, Dracoviss va lier reh. Farewell,” Mahaila said, news of her being able to speak the old tongue of the Draconians will surely spread, just another layer of protection around this family.
As she began walking towards the door as she walked past the remains of the food on the table, she spotted a piece of bread on the floor. Mahaila calmly picked up the bread, lightly dusted the dirt off, and put it into one of her pouches.
“Waste not…” Mahaila muttered as she continued out the door.
As Mahaila exited the tavern and back into the beating sun she sighed. The world changes surprisingly little over the centuries… there are always bandits, thieves, tyrants…
The good men, women and kings are few and far between…
Well she has gotten used to this by now…
With that thought in her mind she began moving towards the eastern gate. It’s time to visit Elysia…
As she started to walk she began to sing a little tune…
Murder lives forever and so does war
It’s survival of the fittest, rich against the poor
We aren’t gonna behave as we think we always should
We can be bad as we can be good…
Underneath it all, we’re just savages
Hidden behind shirts, titles and marriages
How could we expect anything at all?
We’re just animals still learning how to crawl
We live, we die
We steal, we kill, we lie
Just like animals but with far less grace
We laugh, we cry
Like babes in the night
Forever running wild in the eternal race
I’m not the only one who finds it hard to understand
I’m not afraid of Gods, I am afraid of man...