They all agreed that it was best to avoid Cruamur as much as possible so passing through the gap between the Divide of Kent and Mt. Silver was avoided. Everyone was keen on getting out of Moorcroft county all the sooner. Oakley suggested taking a boat down the Northern Tine to as far as Blackduck and getting off the river onto the western side into Brockway county there.
“Wait a moment, is my map wrong?” Booker said. “I thought Blackduck was all the way in Oakhurst.”
“That’s Black Duck Mountain. No town there. So anyway, after Blackduck we then jump on the Twelve Kanes and camp the night in Berkdale, grab some of that good butter-cheese for the road and head down the First Tour all the way home.”
“That man from Feeney told me about that cheese! Is it that good?”
“We’re going to find out!” Oakley exclaimed.
“Yes, that cheese will definitely be the most exciting thing that happens this journey,” Frayne muttered.
“Definitely more exciting than the death arena,” Arthen said to the Ovellan quietly. Frayne returned a smirk.
“We’re never going to get to Ionmur at this rate,” Talon barked.
They made it to Ravenswood and hired the ferryman there who not only agreed to take them all the way to Blackduck, but said he’d do it for free so he could have an excuse to leave the dreary town. They all helped him fish along the way and gave him all their extra catches as a thanks. From there they were able to make it to Berkdale in two days and helped themselves to butter-cheese and root beer until no space was left in their stomachs. After a restful night they set off south with pockets full of Berkdale cheese since it was to be a twelve day journey down the First Tour until they reached the first sign of civilization which was the small outpost village of Pinecreek right outside of Ionmur.
On the tenth day out of Berkdale, they had made it to the Wristbreak and underneath the Brokethumb where they dared to make camp outside of the haunted old city of Durod. Superstition got the best of them when they decided in the middle of Frayne’s nightwatch to travel a little more south when none of them could get any sleep from the eerie presence of the dead city. Without sleeping for the night, they made good time by trekking the whole day due west toward Pinecreek and made it to the outpost village the second night after Durod. While everyone slept in their one room at the inn that night, Arthen couldn’t keep his eyes closed. Throughout the whole night he shivered with excitement as the next day they would pass the gates into Ionmur and he’d be closer to finding the truth.
In the morning, Arthen had barely gotten a wink of sleep and he could tell by Talon’s sudden leap from bed when they all woke up that he hadn’t either.
Even through the morning fog, Arthen was able to see the city’s presence due west from Pinecreek. In the distance loomed the great stone wall of the city; a long strip of bare white chalk protruding from the browning landscape of the harvested fields. One end of the of the white strip was birthed from the sharp tuft of mountains that beared over the entire city-fortress–the peaks of the Five Pointed Fist–and the other end curved westward and into a bay that led into the great river of Asaru’s Handle–the river where all the tines of the Northern Trident of Ialnem fed into.
“Be wary, shitlings,” Oakley said to Arthen and Talon after they had scrounged an early morning breakfast for themselves. “A city like Ionmur is not a friendly place, even by my standards. There are kids even younger than you who’ll stab you in the eye for what’s in your pocket. Even some of the Capital Lawmen here will do the same. Heh, it’s possible someone might kill you here before I do.”
“For someone in a non-violent revolution, you seem to threaten people a lot,” said Talon.
“I’m not supposed to kill for the resistance,” Oakley said. “But I’m sure there’s a loophole for killing someone just because I don’t like them. But like I said–be careful here. Even for your own morality. This city has been known to change people, and most of the time, it changes them for the worse. Careful who you might turn into while you’re here.”
Booker returned from his early morning errand with a stumpy man with a dirty hat and hands. Booker told them his name was Bayford.
“He’s the compost-vendor who’s going to get us past the gate and into the city.”
“What?” Arthen and Talon said in unison.
“Believe me, this is not our preferred method of getting in,” Frayne said.
“It isn’t, but we honestly cannot take you through our preferred methods, since, well, you two aren’t initiated into the Broken Spirits,” Booker said with sympathetic eyebrows on his face.
“I honestly don’t mind this,” Oakley said. “Let’s just get into the dear lady already.”
They were made to take off their clothing and smear as much compost from Bayford’s cart on their bare skin as possible. There was said to be sniffing hounds at the gate they needed to get by. When they had satisfactorily covered their scents in the putrid waste of Ionmur, they were given hollow reeds to put in their mouths for air. Then all of them, naked, took sitting spots in Bayford’s compost cart and allowed him to pour the rest of the massive pile of rotting compost to completely cover their bodies. Arthen made sure to keep the top of his face, from the bottom of his eyes to this hairline, out of compost so he could still gaze onto Ionmur’s massive wall as Bayford’s cart would reach the gate.
It was barely sunrise and already the fields were filled with workers harvesting the remnants of the year’s crop. As they grew nearer to the city, Arthen could finally make out some of the architectural details of the wall. A great ancient behemoth of graystone from the mountains of the Five Pointed Fist. Barely decorated, like a giant slab of solid stone stretching across the horizon with minor crevices and texture, it was an ornament to the first walled city of ancient Ialnem, long before any of Anlaith’s Lineage or any Ovellan emperor. Its edge was unusually smooth unlike any of the other great walled cities. Those first Wall-men who constructed it at the dawn of the Emerald Light were said to have been taught to make the wall by Abnu the Stone God himself.
At the gate were several Capital Lawmen clad in white armor, more ornamental than most Golden Legionnaires Arthen had seen. The capes that draped down over their shoulders were dark eggplant purple with gold metallic floral embroidery, reminiscent of the classic style the old Reconquers such as Anlaith wore centuries ago. Several of them held leashes to domesticated bear-dogs whose keen sense of smell was used to sniff out contraband from entering the city, but Bayford’s compost was too much for their noses as the dogs’ kept their distance and shook their heads in exasperation. When Bayford was cleared to go through, they entered the city.