Lily slowly eased the wagon to a stop, just in front of the large wooden door. Up close, the walls were higher than she had anticipated, towering to a height of about five metres. Arrayed between the wagon and the wooden door were neat ranks of soldiers in three rows, each soldier holding a long pike, all of which were currently levelled at the wagon. Atop the wall, several more soldiers were watching Lily and Tate with alert eyes, bows at the ready. The soldiers on the ground wore heavy-looking plate armor that had chainmail under the gaps. They wore no helmets, which exposed that there were an equal number of men and women among the soldiers. They all looked perfectly human, save for two differences: first, all of them had bright yellow eyes with slitted pupils. Second, they each had a horn adorning their forehead. The men had a single, large horn in the center of their forehead, while the women had a pair of smaller horns, adorning their temples. Casting her gaze upwards, Lily noted that the archers, garbed in leather armor, bore the same physical features.
“Get out of the cart, hands above your head.”
Lily and Tate meekly complied, climbing out of the cart and holding up their hands. The motion caused Lily’s sleeve to slide down, allowing her metal arms to glint in the sunlight. The sight caused looks of surprise to cross the faces of some of the soldiers, before their stoic expressions returned. Lily smirked. These demons were, for lack of a better phrase, extremely human.
Seeing Lily’s expression change, one of the soldiers angrily took one step forward. Lily narrowed her eyes, preparing for a brawl.
“Oi! You! Get back in file!”
A sharp, loud voice caused the aggressive soldier to pale as he meekly took a step back.
The wall of pikes parted in the middle to make way for a single woman. Her plate armor was decorated more ornately that that of the other soldiers, but was charred and dented in several areas, a mark of her experience in battle. Her black hair was tied in a tight bun, and she shared the trait of possessing two protruding horns. An undecorated shortsword was fastened to her waist. Her yellow eyes glared at Tate and Lily, looking over them in appraisal. Searching for weapons, no doubt. Tate, in turn, was glancing over the state of her armor and suppressing the immense urge to cry out in indignation. Lily said nothing.
Lily and the woman held gazes for several seconds, neither saying a word. Finally, the woman spoke up.
“So, what business does a human stranger have in this town?”
“Oh? How do you know we’re human?”
The woman irritably walked up and slapped Lily across the cheek. Tate opened her eyes wide in shock as Lily fought back a rising urge to kill the woman on the spot. Successfully curbing the urge, she contented herself with an angry glare.
“I am no fool. A wagon that moves without being drawn? That can only be the work of magic.”
Lily silently rubbed her stinging cheek as she digested the information she had been given. So demons could not use magic. Interesting. The fascination at hearing this tidbit pushed away the transient anger that had arisen in her. She kept a neutral expression as she spoke to the woman.
“I am Lily Voirgaire. My companion is named Tate. Due to various…circumstances, we have found ourselves stranded in this land with no way to return home. As such, we’re trying to make a place for ourselves to stay amidst the woods. We have come here to trade. We have no intention of bringing harm upon this land.”
The woman’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
“Voirgaire, you say? Indeed…”
The woman cast her eyes upon Lily’s form again, lingering on her green hair. Lily was curious at the sudden interest, but decided to move on. She held up her empty hands, showing that she bore no weapons.
“As you can see, both my companion and I are unarmed.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed.
“You’re a magic user. A magic user is always armed.”
Lily allowed herself an indulgent smile, acknowledging the truth of the statement.
“Then you have my word I shall not use my magic to bring harm to this town. Naturally, Tate won’t do so, either.”
Tate rapidly nodded her assent. The woman looked at Tate’s anxious expression and allowed her expression to soften. It seemed their secret weapon, Tate’s youthful appearance, was taking effect. The woman scratched her head, at a loss, then spoke again.
“You say you’re here to trade, yet you don’t seem to have any wares on you…?”
“We have money.”
Lily tapped the pouch of gold coins fastened to her waist, causing the coins to make clinking sounds against each other. The woman frowned.
“If it’s human currency, we don’t use that here. Or anywhere else in the continent, for that matter.”
As expected, the coins they carried were worthless as currency. Lily sighed softly, then continued.
“That’s fine; we plan to melt it down and sell the pure gold.”
The woman closed her eyes and chuckled.
“Oh? I suppose that is an option.”
Lily and Tate said nothing as the woman furrowed her brow in thought. After a few moments of consideration, she snapped her fingers, at which the ranks of soldiers behind her raised their pikes and stood to attention. On the walls, the archers returned their readied arrows to the quiver and relaxed their stance.
“Very well. You may enter. We bear no particular animosity towards humans. However, as a first-time visitor of unknown origin, there are certain conditions you must agree to.”
“Oh? What would those be?”
Lily was surprised at so easily being granted entry, without even so much as a body search. Still, if the conditions were not entirely unreasonable, she would be more than willing to accept.
“First, your young friend must leave her pack and the wagon here, at the guard post.”
Tate looked at Lily imploringly. Lily decided to try and argue against it.
“Hmmm… What if there’s a theft? We have little enough as is, any further loss would be devastating.”
The woman rose up with confidence, pride sparkling in her eye.
“So long as you cause no trouble, nothing will happen to them. Victoria Lunus Fangheldt gives you her word.”
Lily held back a giggle. A knightly type, then. As annoying as people like them could be to deal with, they could be counted on to keep their word. Lily turned to Tate.
“Sorry Tate, but we’re going to need to do as she says, okay?”
Tate pouted a bit before she reluctantly nodded. Victoria allowed herself a brief smile, before she continued.
“As for the second condition, the two of you must move together, with an escort, at all times.”
Lily had expected this condition. It would be a foolish thing indeed to allow two strangers to wander around unaccompanied. This was both for the safety of the town, as well as the safety of the visitors.
“I have no problems with that… but who is to be our escort?”
Victoria placed her right hand on her left breast.
“It shall be I. I’ve seen over a hundred battlefields in my three hundred years. Kindly do not underestimate me. If I see you pose a threat to the safety of our town, I shall strike you down without hesitation.”
Victoria clasped the handle of her sword for emphasis. Lily smiled.
“Certainly, please do. I accept these conditions.”
Lily motioned to Tate, who removed her pack and placed it in the wagon, before two of the soldiers moved to take charge of the wagon. Victoria nodded to one of the remaining soldiers, who signaled to one of the archers on the wall. The archer nodded and signaled at someone on the other side of the wall. The wooden doors slowly opened, exposing the cobbled streets within. Victoria made a grand, sweeping gesture.
“In that case, I welcome you to Riasode, the town of commerce.”