Chapter 3: Three Pines

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Even from a great distance, I can still see the telltale glow on the horizon. The Fairest City -my city- has become the scar on the face of the Earth.

***

The gate of Three Pines Village was rather large and imposing. Laidu hacked through the dense brambles with the sword. The thorns wouldn't pierce the scales on his bare chest. Kyra, however, struggled as she moved forward, the cloth now stained with mud and sap. 

  "Halt!" a voice shouted from the top of the gate. Laidu and Kyra stopped. "Who are you?" the voice asked.

"A King's Ranger and a traveler," Laidu shouted back.

"I didn't know the King's Ranger Service employed halfs!" the voice shouted back. Laidu frowned. 'Half' was a derogatory term for the Changed, implying that they were half a person. Of course, in this backwoods area it was a common term. 

"I'd like to see you come down here and tell me that to my face," Laidu said. He heard a laugh. 

"What about your friend?" the guard asked. "Let me hear her speak!"

Kyra sighed. "Why?" she asked.

"To prove yourself you're not a revenant!" the man said. "But you can reason. And talk. That's good enough." He said something to his friend, and the two colossal wood doors opened a crack. "Get in!" he said. Laidu and Kyra slipped in, and they closed behind them.

The village was built around a large field, full of grain. Laidu and Kyra looked around at the tall wooden buildings. Hopefully, one of them had a room available, and a bed for Kyra. He just wanted to be under a roof.

"Hey!" they heard the guard say. "Hold up!" He ran down the stairs. "My name's Kerras."

"Laidu," Laidu said, offering a claw, and making sure it wasn't hot. He had done that once or twice. It hadn't been fun for him or the person who got their hand burned. Kerras took it gingerly, and then when he realized it wouldn't hurt him, shook it more vigorously.

"I'm Kyra," Kyra said. She shook Kerras' hand as well, though with less vigor

Kerras thought for a moment. "In all honesty, you two look like you just got spit out of that forest."

"More or less," Kyra said. Laidu just nodded. 

"Well, Miss Anna's making a mighty fine pie for us all at the inn, Stop by, why don't you?" Kerras said. "Now, I have to go watch out for any revenants."

Kyra nodded silently. "Where's the inn?" Laidu asked.

Kerras pointed to a large building on the other side of the field. "Three Pines' pride and joy," he said proudly and joyfully. "Now, I have to go watch the wall, and keep the boys from pissing over the edge."

Laidu nodded. "Stay safe."

Kerras nodded, then paused. "Tell me, are you actually the Fever Blood Ranger?" he asked.

Laidu picked up a fallen twig, held it in his palm, and heated it up until the twig crackled and popped with fire. Kerras stared at it, eyes wide. "I guess so," he said. Then, he returned to the wall, bellowing curses at two boys who looked like the image of boredom.

"I hope they have food," Kyra said. She idly rubbed her stomach

"It's an inn," Laidu reasoned.  "They have to have food."

As they walked. Laidu studied the girl he had rescued. She was tall enough, and pretty enough that he could guess why she had been abducted. The Ajandi nation valued youth, and foreign wives were a commodity they would pay good money for. Even illegally. 

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