352 The Second Blade part two
As large and sprawling as Free Trader City was, within a few minutes of taking the Southwest road, the settlement completely vanished from sight. The trail narrowed and winded its way through a heavily forested area that saw the trees come up to the edge of the road. There were several parts on the trail that you had to duck under the low hanging branches. Nix's thoughts as they rode through these areas was that any predator could be waiting to pounce on unsuspecting travelers.
True to Nix's prediction, the humidity increased and made travel worse for the Turtle Titan. Neither Nix nor the two Qi siblings seemed bothered by it. The hybrid demons enjoyed the trip. Sometimes they would ride double and chat with each other; frequently, they would jump in front of Nix or Gil and ride with them. Their presence made the long trip bearable.
Sasi sat sideways across Gil's saddle, one hand placed on his shoulder for balance as she talked with him. "Nope, never."
Gil's friendly face showed his doubt. "You've never been swimming?"
Sasi shook her head for the second time. "I live in Sky City, Turtle man... Do you think we have oceans there?"
Gil shrugged nonchalantly. "Suppose not. What about missions? Didn't you say your family are operatives for the ...umm... Beach guys?"
Sasi smiled slightly. "Breach, not beach. The Breach Commanders assign our missions. Nix is one of those too."
"Right. Never fought in a water zone?"
"We specialize in Nether Assaults." Sasi favored him with a smile. "How many times have you been to the Nether?"
Gil's round nose wrinkled slightly. "Why would I want to?"
"Lots of good stuff to eat. Nether rats taste like candy." Sasi pursed her lips when Gil laughed at her expression. "We don't go anymore."
Rabi, who had been listening from his own horse, nodded in agreement. "Since Nix became Nether King, everyone travel back and forth, no more fighting."
"Don't drag me into this. I'm not the Nether King." Nix wished for the tenth time in as many minutes that he brought Bali with him. Lack of visibility and space gave him an uneasy feeling.
"Huh?" Rabi turned entirely around and sat backward on his saddle. "All the Nether Overlords work for you."
Nix shook his head. "Your info is bad."
Sasi laughed from Gil's horse, she blurred suddenly and in an instant later was back on her own. "King Nix... everyone says it. You killed the old Nether Emperor."
Nix lowered his voice and leaned closer to Sasi's horse. "Don't tell anyone, but... Pon the Magnificent is the new Nether King."
"Pon? Old Fire Bastard Pon?" Sasi heard Nix mention him before, even seen them talking.
Nix nodded sagely. "That's him, but you didn't hear it from me."
Rabi looked doubtful; suddenly, his eyes darted off-trail. "Company, three people." He slipped off the horse and faded into nothing.
Sasi disappeared from her mount, leaving Nix and Gil riding together. They rode another minute before they were forced to stop.
Several deadfalls were dragged across the road, making it necessary for them to either stop and remove the obstacle or ride off-trail to circumvent it.
Three men with red singlets pulled over chainmail armor walked up out of the woods. All three of them held swords in their hands, the largest of the three men had a long blonde braid that hung down the center of his back.
"A word, please." The braided warrior spoke, his manner and accent spoke of court life. "I am Curio from the School of Swords."
"Curio?" Nix placed both hands on the pommel of his saddle. "Does being from the School of Swords entitle you to throw barricades across the road and force travelers to stop?"
"We don't mean any harm." Curio stepped closer while his two companions spread out.
Nix drew Wrath and pushed flames into it. The white blade hummed and crackled when it emerged into the air. "Remove the barricade at once and step aside, or fight."
Gil pulled both of his maces out and removed his feet from the stirrups.
"Of course, sir, just as soon as you ans..." A half dozen emerald strands impaled the braided man's chest a moment later, lifting him into the air.
Sasi Qi has landed a critical strike on Seifert.
Rabi has crippled Denxi Ru and exposed a vulnerability to Fire Attacks.
"S-STOP... Surrender.. w-we surrender!" Blood sprayed from Curio's mouth as he tried to speak.
Immediately Nix released Curio and held up his hand to stop the Qi family before they finished off the other two. "Mount up."
Nix targeted the trees that were dragged across the trail.
[Balefire: Burst] The deadfalls incinerated instantly
The group rode away a few moments later, Rabi sat backwards on his saddle, keeping an eye on their downed opponent. The demon hybrid looked disappointed that they were leaving. "I bet they had nice stuff, Sasi."
Sasi nodded, "those red singlets were pretty."
Gil glanced from one Qi to the other. They had gone from sweet and cheerful to deadly and back again in an eyeblink. "How'd you know they were there, Rabi?"
Rabi's fanged mouth split in a wide grin. "Smells them."
The rest of the trip was uneventful, Favi was a mid-sized settlement with a tall white wall around it. Nix whistled when he glimpsed the city.
Gil nodded in agreement. "Who spends that kind of credits on a wall? Marble instead of stone? What for?"
Two guards with green singlets pulled over their armor stood in front of the open gate. They crossed their spear in an 'X' when the group approached.
"Dismount, please." The guard who spoke was a female with short brown hair; she was quite muscular, her face creased with a handful of scars.
Nix slid off of Nightmare, making sure to keep a grip on the reins. "We're traveling from Free-Trader City, enroute to the Fighter's Guild to meet up with my Master."
The brunette nodded and visibly relaxed when they complied with her orders. She raised the spear that barred their path. "Any trouble on the road?"
Nix shook his head. "None to speak of. Some bandits attempted to stop us, but we were able to outrun them."
"Glad you made it safely here. The Fighter's Guild is on Academy Street; three blocks passed the Market Square."
Nix bowed slightly. "Thank you."
The group walked through the gates and tied their mounts at the hitching rail in front of the stables. A rail-thin young man came out when they arrived.
"I'm Creeble, the stable boy here." Creeble pushed his bowl-cut hair out of his eyes and gave them a smile that was missing two front teeth. "I'll water and feed your horses and keep them here until you leave, thirty credits."
"Five credits." Nix patted him on the shoulder. "Nice try."
Creeble laughed and shrugged. "Okay."
The streets of Favi were tiled with three-foot squares that had been laid out perfectly. It was perfectly smooth and angled slightly for the rain to run off into the gutters. The boardwalks that lined both sides of the roads were made from a redwood that seemed to have been recently coated with varnish.
"Damn... " Gil shook his head in wonder. "This place makes Nescari look like a shithole."
Sasi whispered something in her brother's ear, he shrugged, and both of them turned to stare at Gil.
Nix witnessed the interaction and spoke up. "It's a hole that you use to relieve yourself in."
Sasi wrinkled her nose. "Is that a turtle thing?"
Nix nodded. "Undoubtedly."
Gil smiled good-naturedly. "Hey, Nix, how come you were so nice to those guards?"
"Hmm?" Nix noticed a sign that said 'Alexa Tailoring' and was only half-listening.
"The guards, you did exactly what they asked."
Nix shrugged. "Why wouldn't I? They are just doing their jobs."
Sasi nodded in agreement. "We aren't criminals or anything."
[Whisper: Nix to Chiba] I'm in Favi.
[Whisper: Chiba to Nix] My best apprentice has finally come to see his loving Master!
[Whisper: Nix to Chiba] I'm your only apprentice.
[Whisper: Chiba to Nix} Like I said, the best one. Come to the Fighter's Guild.
Half an hour later, Nix and his party walked through a large archway connected to a gray stone wall that completely encircled a large compound. An ugly older woman was waiting for them just inside.
"Nix!" Chiba's wrinkled face creased into a grin. "At last, my apprentice shows up."