“This has got to be the most imbecilic thing ever conceived. I am starting to lose faith in our employer.”
“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” She said, practically skipping as they walked through the strange forest,” You need me, besides, don’t tell me you don’t love my company.”
He grumbled a few curse words, comforting himself with the daydream of strangling the girl as he took a few steps to the side. The forest was thick and full of strange sounds, odd clinking and metallic tinkling along with tones and hums in the wind set him on edge, the wind blowing through the trees in sporadic bouts. The sun shone brightly through empty spots in the thick canopy, but offered little comfort. To top it off, he hadn’t seen a single creature since they entered the wood, just deserted like the camp. It still bugged him that he didn’t know how he got there. The girl swore she was just told where to find him, but he refused to trust someone like her.The forest was far from the comforting woods he explored in his youth, and he hated it more with every step.
“F***ing magic,” he mumbled, resisting the urge to burn down the entire thing.
The girl began happily humming some strange tune as she led the way, joyfully swaying to the music.
“Dance with me!” she said, twirly to John, her hands held out.
“Go to hell.” he responded, his face stone.
“What is wrong with you, you are never any fun!” She said, her face showing exaggerated hurt.
“Thats the plan.”
The girl threw her hands in the air and scoffed and continued onward, skipping and humming.
They continued on in silence for a few minutes before John spoke
“You haven't even got a map, and I see no obvious trail, how in hell do you know where you are going?”
“Calm down and enjoy the walk, honey,” she said, smiling slyly,” I always know where I am going.”
“Well pick up the pace. The sooner I get to this town, the sooner I can get my provisions and the sooner we can end this.” and the sooner I can throw you off a bridge, he thought.
“But aren't you having fun?” She responded playfully,” It’s such a beautiful day, enjoy-” the look he gave her silenced her fairly quickly.
“Ok, jeez, its not much further. Just stop being on such an edge, we are gonna have to get along somehow.”
He still wondered why and hated the fact that the witch had to come along and “keep track of the parameters and assets.” Yes, he didn’t know the strange land or had any idea where to go, but it wasn’t the first time he was lost in a strange land. Albeit not a magic land, where a compass didn’t exactly work. Yes, he didn’t know who or what he would encounter here, but he was almost sure he could handle it. Yet he was still stuck with the most annoying creature ever conceived. Maybe this was hell.
The leaves and sticks crunched under his boots as they continued on in much needed silence. Suddenly, the wood gave way to a large stone wall with a weathered, studded oak door. The wall went on strait as far as he could see between the trees in either direction. The large stone brick were covered in aging green moss, sprouting from the cracks.
“Here we are,” she said happily, moving to the door. She reached in her satchel, pulling out a large iron key and placing it in the door lock, turning it. There was a distinct sound of heavy tumblers turning, and the key began to spin on its own, slowly at first then faster. John watched on in mild interest. The key slowly ceased its movement as the sounds of cogs and clicking stopped. She reached out, took the key, and stood back. The entire door began sinking into the ground revealing a long tunnel.
“Pretty cool, huh?” she said, walking in.
“Seems extremely unnecessary, all that work to move a door into the ground when a few hinges and lock would serve the same purpose.”
She scoffed,” Its comments like That that label you as having no imagination.”
The tunnel was as narrow as the doorway, made out of the same mossy stone, with only a faint light ahead keeping their surroundings from being completely black. He simply fell in step behind her as they continued on.
"You know, you don't ask many questions," she said, looking back over her shoulder at him.
"Like why you were chosen for this job, why he brought you here, why-"
"I don't like asking questions i don't want to know the answer to., and you weren’t exactly helpful with the single one I did ask. Anyway, do you even know?"
"No, not really-"
"Well, what about all the other stuff? You'd think most people would want to know more about this strange, magic world they just entered. I mean, aren't you even curious about the town we're are about to enter?"
"Well I'm not like most people." he grumbled." I've had enough magic, I could care less how it works or what this damned realm is. "
"Seriously?' She said, talking excitedly," When i first got here, I couldn't stop marveling at everything! The way fire could be spit from thin air, the healing powers of things, how nothing is as it seems, and all the creatures and races!, oh, yea, you haven't seen those yet."
"Other races?!" he said with a groan. So the rumors were true, there were intelligent beasts. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that the town wasn't going to be a human town. He hadn't expected it to be full of normal people, more like strange witches and heathens, but it didn't cross his mind he would have to deal with them.
"Of course, and they will NOT be happy to know you're a full fledged human, so try to keep a low profile."
"I plan to."
"Good, finally something you agree to." she said, smiling gleefully as always
The tunnel brought them out into an alleyway in between two cobblestone buildings. Lights showed behind curtained windows, and he smelled cooking, an unfamiliar spice lingering in the air. He could see a the stars and night sky in between the rooftops, smoke slowing flowing out of a chimney.
'What the hell" he said, looking up at the sudden change from sunny woodland to starry night.
"Yea, like i said, nothing is as it seems here, but we did travel a far way."
'No we didn't, I can still see-" he stopped himself, turning back to the tunnel entrance to reveal simply a stone wall."Shit, I hate Magic!"
"Be quiet! In case you hadn't noticed, we took a discreet way to this place, so act natural."
He sighed, resigning to the mumbo jumbo.
"Fine, now where do we go next."
"This way," she said as she motioned with her hand and walked down the alley. They turned a corner, moving to a well lit street. Carts full of random goods and passengers bustled down the cobbled streets, pulled by horses and strange, large animals he didn't want to look to closely at. Lanterns hung from the doorways of crowded inns and restaurants, "people" milling about on the sideways of the street and going about their business. The architecture was nothing all that new, cobblestone, brick, oak, with wood struts and whitewash that seemed not far off from humans. Besides for the occasional excessively tall, short, or disproportioned figure, he could almost imagine he was in a busy Forsthsmith town. How he hated Forsthmith.
The young witch reached in her satchel and pulled out a piece of parchment. "Ok, so we need travel equipment, shouldn't be too hard, just the usual tents and cooking suppli-"
"I KNOW how to travel, anything more specific?" he said, interrupting her.
"Jeeze, rude!" she said in annoyance," could you like, for once, be in a good mood. If I knew you were gonna be this much of a grump I wouldn't have taken the job-
"Just tell me what else we need!" he snapped.
"Fine! just medical stuff, potions, some stuff for me, clothes, and whatever you feel you need."
"Give me some coin, then, I'll get weapons and what I need, you can get the rest."
"Well shit, thaaaanks. And how are you gonna buy stuff? You don't even know it works here-
"I'll figure it out, witch, just give me some money. I've been across most of the known world, and traders are usually the same to outsiders, all slimy bastards, but i can handle it."
"You know what?!" she responded angrily, her normal cheerfulness evaporated. To be honest he was surprised it lasted as long."Maybe you'll get your sorry ass kicked, here!" She reached into her purse bag and threw a few coins at his face. To her surprise, he caught them expertly.
"Gahhh!" She yelled, stomping her foot in frustration. Yes, he didn't even know people actually did that out of books, but she did."Fine! , just meet me back here when you're done!" And with that, she spun around and stormed off as a small grin grew on his face. He took no shame in the satisfaction of pissing her off, there was little he actually enjoyed these days. He jingled the heavy coins in his hand. He wasn't sure what they were worth here, but they were worth a small fortune in any human city. If their patron was this loaded, he wondered briefly why he hadn't just ordered a transport to meet them with all they needed, or transport to their intended destination. Then again, nothing seemed to make sense here, and he resigned himself to not caring as he turned and started walking down the street and with the crowd.
He walked purposefully down the street, trying to avoid bumping into strangers as he searched for a familiar looking storefront. Finally, he spotted a sign with the familiar shape of a hammer and anvil in black and blue against an aging wooden sign hung haphazardly by bent and broken metal hinges above a doorway.
He pushed through the heavy studded door and into the musty shop. The interior was dimly lit, most of the light coming from a large cigar, resting in the mouth of an old large bearded man in typical blacksmith clothes, sitting in a chair behind the counter, head hung down and hat pushed low over his eyes. The few shelves behind the counter remained bear but for some pots and pans, a set of silverware, a few rusted daggers and and old greatsword. John waited a few seconds in silence before quickly wrapping on the worn oak counter. The man jerked upright with a grumble, moving his hat out of his eyes and looking at John for the first time. Or what he thought was looking at him, the man had bands of black cloth wrapped around his eyes and forehead.
"Wha yer want?"
"I'd like to buy a set of hunting and skinning knives, some cooking wares, scabbard, climbing hooks, musket balls, and a look at what you have in the way of heavy cutlery."
The old man laughed,"Well I'll be damned, it's been a while since someone like you has come in here, christain."
Damn, he thought, tensing up, ready to leap over and strangle the man.
"Don't worry, son, you're safe with me." said the old man," Just do a better job of hiding it next time."
"What did I do?" said John, still ready, his voice calm, looking into the black cloth.
"First of all, no one but our kind asks for musket balls, not normally used here. Second, you're clearly not from around her if you're shopping at my damn store!" he said, laughing again to himself.
"What do you mean, are you not a blacksmith?"
"Well of course I am, just those damn elves have practically ran me out of business! Good, cold steel isn't enough anymore!" he said, disdain in his tone," It needs to be fancy, and stylish, and have a bunch of useless ornamental shit on it! And they claim their metal has special qualities about it, like it will help witches conjure more and give you luck. Luck my ass! Its brittle as a Cladian's bones!"
"Well i guess it's good I came to you, then, I couldn't care less about that stuff. As long as its sturdy" said John, easing slightly," So can you give me what I asked for?"
"You're damn right its sturdy! and Yea, yea, give me a sec. I'll have to go to the back to get the recent stuff. Stopped putting it out cuz no one comes in anymore, what's the point, plus those glink bastards steal the stuff on display when I drift off." The old man turned and walked through a back doorway. John heard the familiar clinking of metal and some objects being moved about. Within a few minutes the old blacksmith had placed all john had asked for on the counter before going back one more time into the back and bringing out a large object wrapped in leather.
"You, son, look like a man who knows quality, so I'm gonna show you this beauty. Nothing fancy, mind you, but its the toughest and hardest steal you'll find this side of the abyss." He said, setting the object down and pulling back the leather, revealing a long, shining saber.
"Made this beauty as kinda a last hurrah sorta thing, was thinking about packing up shop, heading back to the normal world. Lord knows this one has taken enough from me, damn magic" The old man said, pointing to his covered eyes.
Indeed, John was impressed. All the equipment was indeed simple, but well built of thick tin, steel, and iron. "May I?" he asked, his hand hovering over the sword. The man nodded, and John picked up the sword, standing back to give some holding room. The blade wasnt that light, but felt perfectly balanced, and as he took a few sways and felt the weight in his hands, he felt a glint of happiness for the first time in a while. He gently set the weapon back down on the counter.
"You were not lying, its quite impressive. How much?"
"Depends." said the old man, smiling.
John waited a second, wondering if it was worth answering. "On what?"
"Well, you seem to be a man after my own heart, as in you seem to understand the value of good steel and as in you actually have a human heart like me," he said, chuckling at the last part," so you see, the sword is all yours, free, provided you do me a favor."
"And that favor is?"
"Well, if you're just passing through, and don't look like you'll be in town anytime soon, think you could pay a visit to our lovely, arrogant elvish bastard friends?"
John smiled, grabbing the sword and putting it in the scabbard on his belt. "Just point me in their direction."