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[Kuramen] Chapter I: City of Steam

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Sengril, the mightiest city-state on the Hollow Continent; built of polished stone and gleaming metal, it rises in the near distance to seemingly absurd heights as the caravan, at long last, rolls over the last few miles holding it at bay. Already, the delicate trails of steam cooled to mist can be seen threading amid the needle-like towers, and a faint breeze blows by, heavy with the exotic stink of the city. A sensitive nose can unravel the scent of things being scorched, the cool damp of the condensing steam, and a thousand smells of life - beasts of burden, oils, and spices mingling into a blend half-repulsive and half-enticing.

The trip has been long for even those newest to the caravan train; the nearest city considered worthy of attention is nearly a month's travel away, skirting the edges of the Blightwood and even, daringly, taking a shortcut across the Amber Wastes. Luck had been on the caravan's side, as none of the wagons or travelers had been lost to the strange petrification of the Wastes, and the attack of a pair of trolls along the Blightwood had been successfully fended off with blade and magic, leaving ashes in their wake. Now, at last, the travel is over, and new opportunities beckon ahead.

Everyone in the caravan has been forced to make alliances and friendships to some degree. Even the halfling and the orc have some form of tentative peace, a thing nearly unheard-of. There is time for a few last discussions and offers, yet, before the caravan passes through the gates and disembarks.

Siren no Orakio:
As the orc looked over the city, from his place along the side of the caravan, he scowled, his scarred and tattooed purple face looking even more dyspeptic than usual. Even out here, he could feel the writhing oppressive mass of the city, and for a split second, he remembered why he had once forsworn them. But no. There were things that cried out for him to do, even here.

Still, Rages-Inward shook his head, and turned his attention back to the flask that he had been observing since leaving the Blightwood. Made of glass, he had bartered for it from an elf in exchange for a dose of simple soporific from his herbal kit, before filling it partly with the ash of the trolls, calcining it in the open flask until he had been satisfied that the ash was thoroughly dead.  At last he shrugged, and slipped it in among the other elixirs and leaves that filled the herbalist's kit. Though he had barely stuck his spears in the trolls, leaving his contributions to the battle more subtly, that same herbalist's kit had proved invaluable in stitching up the injuries the trolls had left, gaining him some small measure of popularity through the caravan.

Yet, with the city so close, yet so far, his eyes could not help but return to it, as he said, simply, to any who cared to listen, "In a place so large, even the Small Gods must jostle each other for elbow room."

Jolly lounged comfortably in the cart in the little halfling-shaped den he'd made for himself as he watched the city grow larger and larger in front of the caravan.  A broad friendly smile crossed his lips as he daydreamed about returning home one day to exact vengeance on his entire tribe and family for their unforgivable betrayal.  They would burn... slowly.

His warm grin was noticed and returned by one of the caravanners as he passed to tend something-or-other that was beneath Jolly's notice.  These people were even better than he'd hoped, so simple and trusting.  Help them stick a few blades into a couple of trolls and you were their friend for life.  It was refreshing and disconcerting that no one had tried to force his meager possessions from him yet - something he was used to defending several times a day at home.  He guessed they were just to afraid of him to try, but the nagging doubt that he didn't have anything worth stealing crossed his mind from time to time.

The city was his hope, and the support he could garner from some of the others in the caravan were central to his forming plans of revenge.  That daydream was his bright spot, and smiling at another passing caravanner, he nursed his revenge.  He'd need time, but he would have it and they'd all pay.  Every last one of them.

Being a good shot earned Bergenord a position atop one of the armored wagons; though he felt uneasy with the haphazard human contraption under his feet, it was still more secure than trudging along the ground. A man had to weigh his risks, otherwise he might not be around to spend his gains.
He puffed from his cigar to the rhythm of the tank's engine, and looked towards the city. His marks were there, and once they were goners, a whole lot of Reiksmarks would be rolling his way, yellow like little suns to brighten his day and shine on his road to a better tomorrow.

With the city in sight, he relaxed a little, and ceased his watch. Nothing would ambush them so close to the town. He had some time to page through some materials about the mercenary guilds in town; it would not hurt to find employ until he knew enough about the von Gaarders to make his move.

From what he gathered, only three others from the caravan would be staying in town, an odd assortment of merry misfits, as it seemed. Still, it would not hurt to keep tabs on them, just in case; also, they seemed to be a rather amusing company for a drink, and easy to motivate towards violence, which might come in handy in case he needed someone beside him in a fight.

He put on his jovial-and-always-drunk-dwarf mien, yelled a toast in their general direction and emptied the cup.

After a few more hours winding down along the rough roadway, the grassy dirt and gravel gives way to stonework, and the caravan slowly rolled through the massive arches that marked a passage through the city's lightning wall, flanked by massive gates of steel, stone, and copper. Almost instantly, the character of the surroundings transform; on one side of the scorched and glassy line was the loose patchwork of farmland that served to feed the city, while on the other were bulky structures of crimson and black stone, decorated with abstract patterns in homage to the city's patron deities. The smell, too, is a nearly instant transformation as the caravan passes between the structures, the previously faint scents becoming cloying, and tendrils of misty vapor visibly reaching out from the alleyways and the city's depths with an almost eager appearance. Rattling and ticking sounds come from all directions, along with the sound of numerous inhabitants bent on their daily routines.

Finally, the caravan rolls into the West Market, a large square surrounded by looming warehouses and shops, the space filled with caravan wagons, colorful stalls, and a low thunder of sapients conducting business. The caravan itself draws into a circle, presenting large windows to the outside for the inhabitants to conduct business from while ensnaring a neatly controlled circle of space for personal use.

It is here that the caravan master and his guard captain beckon those who are departing at this time, drawing them close. The hulking emerald-scaled lizardman and the kobold gunmage both offer to shake hands with each passenger, the captain adding a gracious nod. "It wass a mosst ssuccessful trip here, thankss in no ssmall part to the actionss of you all. The trollss were an unexpected trial, but readily handled. I would not mind having you along the resst of the way to our desstination, but I undersstand you all have bussiness here. Sstill, if you reconssider, we will be here for the next week and a half. Perhapss if you come back, Wesscran here will hire you to be guardss for the next leg." A sardonic grin full of sharp, curved teeth flashes briefly, and the lizardman's tail strikes the ground in what passes for a laugh among his kind. "He payss hiss employeess well enough, to be ssure."

The kobold, for his part, simply ignores the captain's banter, acting only to confirm the offer with a nod of his red-scaled head, the bright yellow and turquoise paint slashed in war stripes over his facial features flashing in the sunlight.

With that, the city itself beckons, the clamor of thousands of voices both mortal and otherwise ringing in the air, and the lure of riches in coin, magic, and glory almost palpable.


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