“I don’t like this.” Cronos muttered.
At the same time Callindra said, “This can’t be right.”
“See, it seems to be untouched.” Vilhylm said just as Tryst smiled.
“Nothing to fear here. Normal trade wouldn’t happen like this in a place where the Abyss held sway.” Tryst said.
They all stopped and looked at each other. The look on her brother’s faces was so comical, Callindra started to laugh. The laughter felt good and the rest joined in, even Vilhylm gave a rare wry chuckle.
“I think I’ve just been on edge since I was kidnapped.” She said, feeling a knot in her chest loosen. She hadn’t talked about it with them, had avoided even thinking about it and it took a huge weight off her shoulders. “I need to learn to let go every now and then.”
“No, I think you’re right to be worried.” Cronos said, glaring thunderstorms at her for making him laugh. “There’s something off about this place. Only servants of the Abyss would thrive in a world where it was gaining a foothold.”
“The same could be said for a place that is a stronghold against that same enemy.” Tryst said, “If the people here have been sheltered from its influence they’d be equally at ease.”
“We need to all forget our prejudices and walk into this place open to outcomes.” Vilhylm said, “Our reactions from even this distance prove that. At least we won’t need to worry about having to sneak in, it’s obvious that plenty of common folk are coming and going at will.”
With the wisdom of his words settled, they all made their way down to the trade road and toward the gate. As they joined the stream of waggoneers, famers and assorted others they listened to the happy chatter and felt their suspicion fade.
“Are you here for the contests?” One of the traveling peddlers asked, struggling under a pack twice his size.
“Contests?” Callindra asked, “What contests?”
“Uh, Lord Adbar’s contests of course.” The peddler said, glancing at their weapons and travel stained clothes. “Why else would you have come all the way out here? You obviously aren’t locals.”
“Oh, the fighting contests?” Callindra shrugged, “Yeah, I guess I didn’t think about it as a contest since we’re obviously going to dominate whatever competition there might be.”
“That’s the spirit!” The man said with a smile, “I love to see this kind of newcomers, it always brings out the best spectators and that means I’ll sell everything! Makes the trip worth it ya know?” He moved on ahead with renewed vigor, whistling a happy tune.
“What do you suppose that was all about?” Callindra asked her brothers, watching as the peddler strode toward the gate.
“Sounds like some kind of festival.” Vilhylm said, brow furrowing. “I’m not sure but maybe Count Adbar is trying to raise some sort of a resistance against the Abyss?”
All the people streaming toward the fortress city of Adbar seemed to be perfectly happy, and the atmosphere did indeed seem to be a festive one, but Callindra felt her brothers moving together as they walked. They were unconsciously keeping close just in case things weren’t as innocent as they seemed.
The gates were wide open and the guards weren’t stopping anyone from moving inside them. As they passed beneath the walls, Callindra felt her breath catch in her throat. The Citadel Adbar was a towering series of structures built into a massive mountain that thrust up from the base of a lush valley. With space being limited due to the constraints of the peaks that rose on all sides, the people of the Citadel had built up instead. Even smaller houses had at least three floors and some of the larger ones had dozens.
“Rumor has it Dwarves built this place, or helped at any rate.” Tryst said, “We used to have a Chapter House here, but haven’t for several score years. I read about it in the Temple Archives though, when studying the effects and outcomes of city warfare. This place was designed to be a fortress that could stand against any invading force and has repelled throngs of Goblins more than once.”
Callindra could see how the streets were organized in a series of long corridors that ended in blind corners and how the buildings on the ends of those blind corners had balconies or flat roofs that looked out and down those straight sections. A few archers on each could do considerable damage to anyone who was trying to make their way down those streets without putting themselves in danger of reprisal.
The keep itself was high up above the city proper, and was built into a sheer cliff face of basalt. It didn’t escape their notice that the wide stone gates of the keep were shut, showing polished bronze bands that gleamed in the early morning sunlight. Tryst began asking about inn rooms, but Callindra smelled a scent that made her head turn. Someone was smoking Karalan Imperialis.