The wagon moved along the dirt path across the plains, the smooth road offering little to obstruct their journey. Dawn had not yet arrived, and the darkness of the night reigned. Lily rubbed her eyes tiredly, having driven the wagon continuously throughout the night. It had been some time since she had last gone two nights without sleep, and it was beginning to take its toll. She doubted she would be able to go another night without sleeping.
As she traveled, the only sounds that accompanied their journey were the soft rattle of the wheels against the uneven ground and the hearty chirps of crickets in the pre-dawn. When the sun rose, it would mark the third day of their journey. They had set off in the late afternoon on the first day, so she estimated that they had been constantly moving for about thirty-six hours. Across from her, lying on the bench that was built into the design of the wagon, Tate’s chest was slowly rising and falling as she slept, her breath forming white clouds of mist in the cold air.
Feeling warmed by the endearing sight, Lily returned her attention to the road. She was able to move the wagon without much conscious effort, but she still had to stay alert in case they came across an obstruction on their path.
While moving, Lily made a mental list of the items they would require. They needed to get bricks and mortar, certainly. The question was what else they should buy. Ideally, she wanted to buy some kind of raw material that could be processed and turned into profit. The gold coins they currently held, if melted down, would probably be valuable enough to fund this trip, but if they were to make future trips, they would need to secure some way of generating income. She turned her gaze to the sleeping Tate. If they were to make products to sell, Tate was their key to success. Armor and weaponry were constantly high in demand, especially if they were of good make. Lily had considered ceding some of the metal from the Wasteland to Tate so she could try working with it, but the supply of it was too limited for mass production, and Lily was loathe to surrender the advantage she held in the form of this unworldly material to the demons.
As such, they would need to purchase several ingots of raw metal as well, enough for Tate to work with. Having no experience in that field, Lily decided to let Tate decide how much she would need, when the time came to purchase their supplies.
Of course, even before that consideration, there was a pressing problem: There was no guarantee the demons would even be willing to trade with them. Lily did not know anything about the demons; it was entirely possible that they bore the same animosity towards humans as the humans did towards the demons. The best scenario would be if the demons bore no such ill will, but Lily knew how foolishly optimistic that was. If things went badly, they would have to try to intimidate the demons into entering a trade agreement. In the absolute worst case, they would have to either retreat and think of another way, or attempt to massacre the village and take what they needed by force. As much as Lily resented the demons for taking away her home, the sheer necessity of forming a commercial relationship with them meant that she wished to avoid the negative outcomes as far as possible. She could only foolishly hope that the demons would be willing to deal.
Feeling slightly hungry, Lily reached over to Tate’s pack, resting on the floor of the wagon between them, and retrieved one of the food packets that they had carried back from the Wasteland. She lazily opened it and started pouring some of its contents down her throat. A slight tint of orange was starting to break through the darkness of the night as the sun began to rise. Across from her, Tate stirred.
As Lily watched, Tate slowly sat up, stretching her arms while yawning loudly. She blinked sleepily, her short hair flattened on one side after having spent the night pressed against the hard wood of the bench. As she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, Lily spoke.
“Good morning Tate. Did you sleep well?”
Tate said nothing at first as she slowly became more awake. She slapped her cheeks with her palms to wake herself up fully, then shook her head free of slumber and replied.
“Nn. Morning Lily. Wait. Did you stay up all night driving again?”
Tate’s face took on an expression of disapproval. Lily did not reply, averting her gaze.
“…Seriously. I told you, you shouldn’t do that. Make sure you sleep tonight, ok?”
Lily nodded in agreement even as Tate scolded her. Subject to such reprimand, she made sure not to make eye contact with Tate. Looking at the behaviour of the two girls, it was rather difficult to tell who, in fact, was the older one. When Tate’s expression relaxed, Lily smiled and handed the half-finished food packet to Tate. Tate accepted it gratefully and finished the rest of its contents, showing a look of dissatisfaction. While Tate was less averse to consuming the food packets than Prei, she still vastly preferred food that actually held a taste. Admittedly, Lily felt the same: although she appreciated how the food packets had saved her back in the Wasteland, she preferred Tate’s cooking by far.
With the daylight illuminating the plains and piercing through the low visibility of night, Lily sped up the carriage, accelerating until the wind was blowing through their hair in a comfortable manner. As they traveled, Lily spoke up.
“So, Tate. What would you need to start forging equipment?”
Tate blinked, startled by the abrupt question. Lily explained.
“I was thinking of asking you to forge equipment that we could sell – if you’re okay with it, of course. What would we need to buy?”
Tate blinked several more times. Then she cocked her head to the side, eyes gazing to the side. It was an expression which indicated she was thinking. Lily said nothing and waited for her response. After a few minutes, Tate nodded decisively and spoke up again.
“Of course I’d be willing to make stuff. I love smithing, after all. I still have most of my tools, so I guess I’d just need… an anvil, stakes, a furnace and a grindstone.”
Lily placed one had to her chin as she thought.
“Hm. I can make an anvil for you from the Wasteland’s metal, no problem. Prei can manipulate fire at will, so she could probably serve as a makeshift furnace. For now, at least. So the highest priority to get will be the grindstone. Stakes are…?”
Tate’s eyes lit up as she delivered a brief explanation.
“Stakes are like, long pieces of hard steel used to shape metal when making rounder shapes, like armor pieces. Usually a smith has several of them in various shapes and sizes, and they’re super useful!”
Lily smiled and spoke.
“Alright then. I can make you a set of those from the Wasteland metal too. So, go think of the exact shape and size of the stakes and anvil. When we get back, I’ll get to work on them.”
Tate’s expression turned into one of pure joy, then her expression acquired a distant quality, probably due to her thinking of how she wanted her anvil to look. Lily giggled, then turned her attention back to the road.
After several more hours of travel, they began to see the first signs of civilisation. Far off in the distance, at the end of the road, grey walls emerged, with the pointed rooftops of houses peeking out over them. Five raised towers stood atop the walls, and Lily could faintly see small figures moving around along the top of the walls. At the part of the wall which faced the road, there seemed to be a pair of large wooden doors, flanked by a figure on each side. Lily narrowed her eyes and called Tate’s name to jolt her from her daydreaming. Tate was flustered for a moment, then focused on the rapidly approaching walls, her gaze turning sharp. As they moved along the road at an uncommon speed, there seemed to be some kind of commotion along the tops of the walls. Lily slowed down, hoping not to unduly alarm the demons. Alas, it seemed her discretion was exercised too late. Even as they continued their approach, she watched the large wooden doors swing shut, accompanied by a good number of the small figures clustering outside the door in organised ranks.
Lily sighed and prepared herself for the inevitable confrontation.