- Jan 5, 2011
The sun hung in the middle of the sky as Senka approached the city of Ustrul. Its rays bathed the walls and all the battlements and guard towers that lined them, allowing even distant travelers to take in the sight of the city's defensive shell nearly in its entirety when combined with the careful deforestation of all the land within half a mile of those city walls.
To someone who had grown up unexposed to such things, the view from the nearby hills probably would've been majestic. Stones as large as the average human male -- noticeably larger than Senka -- had been harvested from some quarry or another before being hauled to the city and emplaced by stonemasons, some of whom had certainly lost their lives in the process, in order to build a wall that was at least four men tall and wide enough for as many abreast. Parapets lined the wall, offering defenders safe positions to launch arrows at any incoming attackers, and every hundred feet stood a guard tower with a catapult atop it ready to rain fire on incoming siege engines. The stone structure stretched for miles and could probably offer shelter to tens of thousands. In addition, it was bisected in the center east to west by a mighty river capable of providing water for that many and more. An unworldly person could likely be forgiven for feeling safe upon seeing all those things combined.
But to somebody used to Acheron's grand walls, Ustrul's were terribly lacking. What could mortals who by and large eschewed magic hope to accomplish in comparison to Xeon and the demonic lords and ladies whose loyalties she commanded, after all? Ustrul's walls weren't half as tall nor half as sturdy as those of Acheron. They weren't warded against magic, they weren't magically strengthened against conventional forms of siege engines, and they had no real defenses against flying attackers. And, in what was perhaps the most fatal blow to their ability to keep the inhabitants safe, they were guarded by simple humans who were not paid enough and didn't feel pride enough to do their jobs well.
And while Senka, with her mixture of demonic and kitsune blood, wasn't particularly affected, human perception was hampered even further by the day's unnatural heat, even relative to the norm for early summer months spent in northwestern Badaria. The stillness of the air combined with the sun's unrelenting rays combined to send most of the residents of Ustrul hiding in the shade. When the diminutive kumiho disguised as a human approached the southern gate -- more a wooden set of double doors than a proper gate and another detail that fell short compared to Acheron -- she would find no resistance to her passing. Instead she found a bald, middle-aged guard with a square face that was plastered in sweat who had cast away his pot helmet and appeared to be more engaged in a struggle with whether or not he should remove his chainmail than he was with properly vetting travelers. He waved her into the city proper with nary a word, and might never know just how badly he had just failed his duty to protect the inhabitants of the city.
From the inside of the walls, she would find a city layout which had probably never received any proactive planning. Buildings had been allowed to sprout organically wherever they would, and they were all packed so tightly together that it was rare to find a set of them which a person could squeeze between. Walking through the gate put Senka directly onto a road paved with stone which was wide enough for a few carriages to travel side by side, lined with lampposts. That same road split off into dozens of branching forks into paths which curved this way and that and were made up of everything from plain dirt to cobblestone to properly smoothed stone, though it was impossible to tell where each led due to the sheer number of buildings that lined them all and hid most everything behind them.
Of particular, immediate notice among those buildings was a tavern which was no more than a stone's throw from the gate. It was a wooden building as large as four of any of its neighboring buildings combined, and its rowdy patrons made enough noise through its many opened windows to be heard even beyond the gate. Above its main door hung a painted sign with the words The Horseless Knight upon it. In addition to the tavern, dozens of shops lined the main route into the city proper. Forges, tailors, craftsmen, merchants, and more plied their trade along the street, with numerous choices for each. And where there were shops, there were, of course, people. People of varying ages and levels of wealth pushed through the crowd as they traveled through the markets, with some traveling elsewhere, some doing their daily shopping, and some merely content to browse. There were likely as many as a hundred city inhabitants on the road when Senka first steppe through the gate.
Few, if any, seemed to take note of her arrival though, which might suit her just fine. Senka could choose her own methods of acclimating herself to the city which would likely become her hunting ground by nightfall. She could also decide what her priorities were. Shelter was, of course, always valuable for a diminutive woman when night fell, even if she was a demon in disguise. Getting more information on the city's layout might also be wise. She could also do some shopping if the desire arose, as it was likely that she'd be able to find a shop capable of supplying most Badarian desires within easy walking distance. She might also choose a more direct method of mapping out the city, like simply choosing a direction and heading that way. In the end, the choice was none but the hunter's own as to how to get acquainted with her new surroundings.