Darius looked back to take one last look at the city of Rising before the journey. It would only be a few weeks, but he still felt pained at leaving his beloved city. Nevertheless, he knew it was in the best interest of the city if he personally commanded the defensive troops that were soon to arrive at Tendal.
The report from the first scout had prompted Fidel to action. Tendal had extremely powerful walls, and the maroon had only attacked the walls a few times, never breaking through. They came in only few numbers sometimes, and other times came with legions of attackers. But they never attacked so much that the walls were harmed. The attacks had subsided for a few days when the scout arrived. Fidel, upon hearing about the lack of food, the constant fear, and the impending doom, decided to send out more troops than originally planned. Darius was instructed to do what it takes to secure the city of Tendal from harm.
He wasn’t sure how he was to fight an immortal enemy, or what real assistance he would be able to provide. There were transports to take in refugees; however he knew that Rising wasn’t large enough to accommodate two moderately sized cities worth of people. With those thoughts weighing heavily on his mind, he set off towards the east.
The entourage that accompanied him was quite large. This particular expedition was going to be the largest of all that were to be sent to Tendal. There were hundreds of soldiers, months of supplies, and many empty carriages. It would take eight days to reach Tendal.
The first day was over quickly. Travelling east, Darius wanted to reach the city of Monal as quickly as possible, and it appeared that they would be able to rest there the next day.
The second day saw them arriving at Monal, a small but happy city that bustled with trade. The soldiers caused a ruckus that night. Only one day of travel and they were already feeling anxious, which they were more than happy to relieve in the local taverns. Darius thought that the most amazing thing of all was that the city had enough open inns and willing citizens to house the men for the night.
Day three was important. In half a day’s time, they had reached the town of Nopass, which guarded the tunnel through the mountain. The eastern border of Rising was a mountain range, and the only way to pass the range was to go through the tunnel that had been dug through one of the mountains, or go far to the north or south, either to the forests near Lake Tershi, or to the river in the south.
They didn’t stop when Nopass was reached. Nopass was more like a fort than a town, and the commanding officer was familiar with Darius. He was very disappointed when Darius was unable to sit for a strong drink with him, but Darius promised him that he would personally come again when things settled and enjoy a bottle of the finest whiskey with him.
The pass through the mountain was quite long, as the tunnel went through one of the larger mountains. Normally it would take a day to get through, but Darius knew he didn’t have that kind of time. He sent a couple riders ahead of the procession, lighting the candle-torches as they went. They quickly went to their work of riding to a candle-torch placed on the side of the tunnel, removing its cap, and blowing on it once to light it. Darius watched as he saw a set of lights appear far down the tunnel. When the riders returned, he knew that the procession was close to the end.
Once they reached the end of the tunnel, Darius halted the procession. It was already late into the night, and staying in the tunnel would provide cover for the night. However, there was another important reason to stay in the tunnel, one of great importance to Darius. Once they left the tunnel, they would no longer be in the nation of Rising.
Among the many supplies that had been brought on the journey, there were large baskets of fruit. These baskets were enormous, and pulled in carts that bovines and swine personally pulled. They were so large to accommodate the soldiers, who may become malnourished without proper nutrition, and to distribute to the people of Tendal. Being fruit, it was expected that they wouldn’t make the journey back, so there was a great effort to make sure the soldiers got some before having to make the return journey, which was sure to exhaust them even more.
At the end of the procession, there were several carts full of baskets. The soldiers that had been pulling them had moved more towards the tunnel’s exit, where everyone else had gathered to drink the night away. No one was in the vicinity of the carts.
One of the baskets started to shake. It shook quite a bit, and almost fell over at one point. But it managed to stay upright. The lid suddenly came off and fell to the ground. No one was around to notice.
A head arrived where the lid had been. White hair, furry ears, and a penchant for trouble; it was Va’il.
“No one’s here; it’s safe,” Va’il said.
A basket next to Va’il’s started to shake. In another cart, two baskets also shook. One did fall over. Three lids fell off, in one way or another. From the two upright ones came the heads of Pete and Kelin. Crawling slowly out of the one that had fallen was Zeick, who looked like quite a mess.
“So, where are we?” Zeick asked while straightening his hair. Va’il looked up and around, then shrugged his shoulders.
“We’re underneath a mountain,” Pete said with an apple in hand.
“But which?” Zeick asked.
“The only real path out of Rising,” Kelin said, “or, the only tunnel. It’s the tunnel to Farrow, to the east.”
“Ah, okay.” Zeick went back to patting his hair down.
“Farrow? What’s that?” Va’il asked.
“Just another nation,” Kelin said. “It’s not really a nation like ours, because it’s just an alliance of several large cities, each one governed and ruled independently, which is why we are allowed to go visit them. Some of the cities trust Rising more than the other cities in the nation, so trips like this aren’t uncommon.”
“Oh. So another nation. I wonder what the cities look like,” Va’il said.
“Wait a second,” Pete said, “that doesn’t seem right. What about the soldiers, the weapons, the empty carts? It seems like more than just a trip! There was all that commotion when they were preparing to leave as well. That made it easy to sneak in, but still, what is all this about?” A very worried Pete asked all the important questions.
“Whatever, it’s fun, right? We will find out the point later. Besides, don’t you want to see the outside, learn more about it? There are cities and nations and other stuff outside of Rising!” Va’il said, full of excitement.
“Why did I let you talk me into this? You too Zeick, you’re supposed to be sensible!” Pete said.
“Come on, it’s fine. I haven’t been outside of Rising before either. Sometimes it’s okay to just run off and see the world,” Zeick replied.
“My mother is going to be worried to death,” Pete said. His words echoed the thoughts that everyone was having.
“Well, it’ll be fine when we get back, I’m sure,” Va’il said, trying to be encouraging. He felt the worst of the bunch, after leaving a single-sentenced note for Mai’ou then running off. The boys were missing school, their families didn’t know where they were, and they didn’t know where they were going.
“‘It looks exciting, let’s tag along!’ I should know not to trust those words anymore,” Pete said in between sighs, “but it’s my own fault. I kind-of wanted to go anyways. Blaming Va’il isn’t going to fix the situation.”
“Exactly, besides, we aren’t even in a situation yet!” Va’il spoke ominous words with a casual manner.
“Yeah. I’m sure we will get to see something amazing, wonderful, definitely. I hope I can get a souvenir,” said Zeick, who was starting to get as excited as Va’il.
“Do you hear something?” Kelin said while staring at the end of the tunnel. “Footsteps! Hide!”
The boys scrambled back into the baskets from which they had arrived. However, Zeick’s was still on the ground. He started to push it up, but before he could, he heard the footsteps come even closer. He took a risk and hid inside the basket, pulling its lid closed behind him.
“Must have been the wind,” a bovine soldier said.
“Your hearing has always been pretty bad,” a swine soldier said.
“Oh, that’s what it was, that basket fell. Let’s take that one,” the bovine said.
“Okay. One should do it; it won’t be used till the rest run out anyways. But captain said that we ate too much today. You got that side?” the swine asked.
“Yeah. Lift on three. Three!” the bovine said, and then lifted with all his might.
“This one is kind of light,” the swine said.
“Eh, it’s fine. You’re imagining things.” The bovine lowered his side of the basket, since he was taller.
“At least my hearing still works,” the swine said while keeping pace with the bovine.
The banter continued, however Va’il couldn’t hear it any longer. The couple had walked off while carrying the basket that Zeick was hiding in. The remaining trio quickly got out and consulted each other as to what they should do, but they couldn’t think of anything. If they tried to rescue Zeick, they would be discovered, thus defeating the purpose of saving him. They could only hope that Zeick wouldn’t be discovered too quickly.