Into the Wild – Chapter 23
Neither Mat nor Devon had any idea where they were going or what they were getting themselves into. They soon found themselves off the main road and headed into the dense wood’s half an hour outside the city.
At first, they weren’t sure if they’d followed Burf’s directions correctly until Mat started to notice little things, nothing obvious. He’d seen several people camouflaged watching, they ignored them choosing instead to keep up the air of importance Burf had recommended. Several times they stopped simply too enjoy the day or take in a strange plant; at least that’s how it seemed; in fact, Mat was gathering information from Darth who’d flown ahead.
As they turned a corner, several things happened simultaneously. First, they saw the gates of the Druid’s compound a few hundred yards down the path. Secondly, Devon noticed Mat was gone, but he’d expected that. Lastly, a dozen yards down the path, three guards stepped out from hiding onto the road, blocking his way. “That will be far enough,” announced the center guard.
“Greetings, I’ve been told the city guilds require visitors to identify themselves, seems a bit control freakish, but here I am to pay my… respects,” said Devon as he installed a broad grin on his face.
“You’re a Druid? I do not recognize your dress,” commented the center guard again.
“I’m visiting from across the sea. As for my robes, if you don’t know us by the crest, then you will not know us at all,” answered Devon as he continued his haughty air. The comment received its intended reaction as he watched the guard’s back straighten. “I’ve come simply to obey local customs, nothing more.”
“Where is the other one you were traveling with?”
“Other, I seem to be alone,” commented Devon as he looked around pretending to search for someone.
“We’ve been watching you for some time, until just now you were accompanied.”
“Let me see if I have this correct. You claim to have been spying on me as I’ve come to fulfill the silly requirements of your order, if for no reason other than to keep the peace. And now you confront me, call me a liar, and say my mystery companion just vanished while under your surveillance. I guess my question is, should I be the one under scrutiny, or should you and your tracking abilities?”
Devon knew he was playing it a bit rude, but already he could see these guilds were focused on image and not security. He’d read enough books, fantasy books but still, to know how this worked. He would’ve bet that the vast majority of these medium-sized cities would have a far higher sense of themselves than was necessarily the case. Little people trapped in little worlds, thinking themselves grander than they were.
“You’re denying you were traveling with someone?”
Devon thought for a second, “No, I’m neither denying nor confirming. Whom I was or was not traveling with has little to do with why I’m here. If there is nothing else, please lead the way for I dare say, if those silly little pikes are all you have at your disposal, the effectiveness of your weapons will soon be eclipsed by my growing impatience.”
The guard studied him for several more seconds while Devon tapped his foot. Finally, with a snap, the three turned as the main guard barked, “This way,” and started towards the gates.
Devon continued to study the situation as they drew closer to the compound, there were more “hidden” guards, now even he could see them. As they walked, he noticed off to his right, about twenty feet back in the brush one of the “hidden” guards stumbled and vanished as if he’d been struck. Devon shook his head, Mat was being Mat, this was soon confirmed when a massive bat-like creature flew low over the path. “Darth,” Devon said under his breath.
When they reached the gates the guards there let them pass with little more than a nod. Unlike the three escorting him, these new ones were smiling and welcoming.
The moment he stepped into the Druids enclave he was overwhelmed by the life and tranquility within the walls. From the outside there’d only been a high wooden enclosure; everything beyond seemed like little more than an extension of the forest. Now stretching out from the city gates were lawns of the deepest green with paths running in every direction. Children, of all races, played while deeper into the compound, instructors lectured middle-aged teens in the workings of magic, every few seconds Devon would see the spark of a spell. Across the enclosure were trees rising to massive canopies which cast jigsaw puzzled shadows down upon the population. The base of each tree was surrounded by flowers of various sizes and colors, many seeming to have minds of their own. “This way,” instructed the guard as they continued towards the building directly in front of them. It was by far the largest but not the only one, there were homes and shops where a variety of creatures chatted, laughed, and went about their daily chores.
Devon was smiling in earnest now. This wasn’t like Yalum, that was more Mat’s type of city, crowded, loud, and with a hint of danger. As much as Devon liked this place, he could also tell it would quickly start to grind on his nerves. If the Druid's compound did nothing else, it served as another example, a different one, of how people lived on this world. Devon was pulled from his thoughts when he heard the guard say, “You can go on ahead.”
With no fanfare the guards turned and marched away leaving him alone at the entrance. When he was sure they were gone, he turned and stepped through the opening. The entrance didn’t have a door.
He kept being surprised. He wasn’t sure why, but he’d initially thought this meeting would be little more than him being subjected to an inquisition in front of a panel of stogie old men sitting behind a long table looking skeptical. He was wrong.
What he found was an explosion to the senses. The massive circular space was built from many different marbles, veined with flecks of silvers, golds, and bronze. The main walls were white with snaking green striations, the twelve columns which supported the roof, what there wasn’t of one, were each five feet in diameter and made from vastly different granites. The architecture, the flurry of people, the smells of food, and the music intermixed with the dozens of raised planting beds caused the room to engulf Devon in sensory overload.
When the chaos finally settled upon Devon to the point where his mind was again engaged, he realized he had no idea what to do next. He spotted a small weasel-like creature walking towards him and stopped her, he knew it was a female from the four sets of breasts, “Excuse me, I am here to present myself and I have no idea where to go.”
“Oh wonderful, welcome…welcome…yes, yes, this way I will take you to Lac, he records visitors,” she explained as she darted off. Devon was a good three feet taller with legs twice as long, but he found himself almost running to keep up. This was made more difficult since he kept getting distracted. There were creatures like the one leading him tending to strange-looking blue gourd plants while others were feeding what appeared to be chunks of meat to small irises which were hungrily devouring the tiny morsels in their brightly colored mouths.
“Ease up there,” he heard as he realized he was about to bowl over his guide. “Lac, this is...oh I didn’t get your name…”
“Lac, this is Devon, he says he’s visiting,” said the guide.
Devon was relieved to have something finally appear precisely as he would’ve expected, the leader was a cow, that seemed right. Lac was bovine, six-feet tall standing on two back legs, male with prodigious horns and a long snout full of large molars. He was dressed in a beaded loincloth, vest and wore dozens of bracelets around his hooves and hands. The hands were the strange part, they weren’t hooves like you’d expect, they were more human but with only two thick long fingers and a thumb. Where humans’ hands had a two knuckle and three digits, Lac had three knuckles per finger.
Devon’s smile faded as he watched Lac’s eyes travel the length of his body and back up to meet his gaze. “As I understand it, you are a myth?”
Looking down at himself and then back, “I seem pretty real to me,” answered Devon but he knew what the leader was talking about.
“You do seem real. A real Kharvan stands before me in robes of a guild which is a rumor at best. Having met many people, you’re the first from the mysterious Xirians. It brings me to wonder as to your true intent.”
Devon shrugged, remembering to be aloof, “My standing before you is all the proof I have or plan to give. I am here simply as a courtesy.”
“And your friend?”
“Yes, the one lurking in our woods accosting our citizens.”
“I cannot say what he is doing since I’m here and he’s not.”
“But you admit there is another?”
“Of course, we travel together to ensure there are no problems,” answered Devon.
“We’ll see, this is my problem. He has caused us harm…”
“Has he killed anyone or seriously injured them?” interrupted Devon praying the answer was no.
“No, he has not, yet that in itself does not reduce my concern, and you both are here representing a lie,” answered Loc motioning to Devon’s robes.
“I do not feel it’s my place to point this out to you, the leader of the Druids in this area, but your ignorance on a specific topic doesn’t necessarily make it untrue.”
“True, so you are telling me the Xirians exist?”
“I stand before you, take from that what you will.”
“Yes, you do stand before me, and knowing what I know, if you were me, what would you do under these circumstances?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I…we…are just passing through and trying to respect your local customs, regardless of how unconventional. I would say I would be a bit more gracious, get what I needed quickly so the visitor could continue with their real reason for visiting. But, as you said, that is if roles were reversed.”
“Enough, I will have your friend found and brought before us. I will have you both held until we get to the truth of the situation,” barked the Druid Leader as a pair of daggers thudded into the floor less than an inch in front of his hooves.