The western sister city of Gaia is considered the beating heart of Ralian. It is the largest city on the continent with almost ten million citizens, including those that live in the farmlands just outside the city walls. Sparkling caster towers and exquisite mansions are scattered among the more common dwellings and places of business. A bustling seaport takes up the entire western edge of the city except for a solitary mountain on the southwest corner that is home to the trained griffins of the military. Gaia is well known for having a temple for every god and a sector for every civilized race of Windemere. With such a vast array of cultures and races, a person would expect massive in-fighting and daily violence between groups. Yet the strict enforcement of the laws designed to prevent fighting in the city keeps even the more violent races at peace with each other. These ancient laws are also responsible for keeping the criminal element to a minimum. Of course, there are still run-down sections of Gaia that are known for being criminal hives, but they are seen as nothing more than inevitable pieces of society.
“I never get bored in this city,” Fritz says as he leads his friends through the north gate of Gaia. He dismounts from Bessaria as soon as they pass the guards and pats the loyal sheep on the head. “There is always something to do. It has become even more splendid since the Grand Counselors passed a law that allows brothels to operate in certain areas as long as they keep to established health and safety codes. Now those are leaders who really know what the people want.”
“Who are the Grand Counselors?” Luke asks. He gazes at the brick buildings around him in an obvious state of awe.
“You don’t know about the Grand Counselors? I guess you do count as a country bumpkin,” Fritz laughs with a slap to Luke’s lower back. “They are the lawmakers and enforcers of Gaia who come from every walk of life and every race that has accepted a haven in this city. Each member is a specialist of some kind, which ensures that there are many points of view when new laws are required. For example, Daniel Skyblade is one of the more recently appointed Counselors and he specializes in honorable combat. This means that he is the one who judges combat in the arena. You can’t see the arena from here, but it is huge and takes up the center of town. Nobody knows where the arena came from because it was here when the early settlers arrived. The architecture is believed to be elven and possibly from the era where all elves were the demon corrupted Hejinn. Sadly, no records of that time exist outside of oral records. Anyway, Gaia is actually built around the arena since it would have been too much work to take it down. That and the early settlers didn’t know if tearing it down would wake something up.”
“That was more information than Luke asked for. Guess we don’t have to hire a tour guide with this blow-hard around,” Nimby mutters under his breath. His legs throb in pain reminding him of the two-day journey as he continues to follow his friends through the streets of Gaia.
“I believe we can learn about Gaia later,” Aedyn says, his voice filled with exhaustion. “We should find a place to stay for the night since we arrived earlier than expected. Tomorrow can be used for gathering supplies and meeting this caster apprentice. We should also send a message to Kellia to let her know of our arrival.” His stomach roars soon after he finishes talking.
Fritz shoots Aedyn a sideways glance as the group steps out of the street traffic. “It sounds like we need food, too. Maybe we should split up to get all of these things done by tonight. Fizzle can teleport to Kellia and let her know that we have arrived. That way we don’t have to hire a messenger. More importantly, we won’t have to try to get into whatever mansion she is staying in. Some of the guards in this city can be on the jumpy side and take our road-worn group for kidnappers instead of guests. I would not be surprised if the guards are being kept in the dark about Kellia and us.”
Fizzle remains invisible on Luke’s shoulder as he chirps, “Fizzle go. No like city. Busy. Stinky. See friends at boat. Bye.”
Luke can feel the drite disappear from his shoulder and a small ring of smoke hits his cheek before the wind takes it away. The forest tracker pays little attention to the smoke as he continues to stare at the busy city around him. He can feel his palms sweat at the thought of pushing through the busy streets. It amazes him that anybody can get to their destination on time considering how clogged the streets appear. His nerves grow increasingly strained when he tries to listen to the noises of Gaia. A chaotic mess of yelling and talking combined with stomping feet, clopping hooves, and all manners of bells. Luke begins to feel like he is being choked by the air until he takes a deep breath and relaxes. He concentrates on filtering out the noises from his well-trained ears like his grandfather taught him when he was a child. Within a few torturous minutes, Luke’s anxiety melts into a mild sense of unease that he can easily ignore.
The others don’t make a move to continue walking as they feel their muscles ache and groan. It had been very hot during their walk through Visindor Forest. Even Luke was unable to shrug off the combined effects of heat and exhaustion. As much as he tries to concentrate on taking in his surroundings, he finds himself mentally exhausted and easily distracted.
“We’re all tired, but I want to make contact with this caster today. I think it best to make our presence known to our allies right away. For all we know, our new friend could be planning to spend all of tomorrow preparing for the voyage. It is getting close to evening, so he or she is more likely to be home if we visit now,” Luke says, rubbing his aching neck and shoulders. “It might be a good idea to split up. Two of us will find a place to stay for the night and the other two will go to this Rainbow Tower. As for tomorrow, I want to get a small tour of the city. Not to sound lazy, but I don’t know when I will get another chance to see Gaia. It’s so much bigger and denser than Gods’ Voice and Darkmill. Do you guys mind if I leave the supply run to you and take a look around after breakfast?”
“I mind. I want to relax too,” Nimby replies.
“I have been in Gaia before, but I would like to be around for a local tour,” Fritz casually admits. “Supply runs are simple matters, especially with Aedyn here.”
“Why is that?” Nimby asks after a lion-like yawn.
Fritz looks directly at the robed half-elf before explaining, “Aedyn is a priest. All temples give discounts to priests of their order when they request supplies for a voyage of importance. Protecting a political figure from an undead caster, demonic assassin, and chaos elves fits perfectly into the Duragian definition of important voyage. We can leave all of the shopping to Aedyn and enjoy the day. Sorry, kid. Looks like you have to suffer for our cause. I promise to tell you all about my brothel exploits during our voyage.”
“You’re going solo to the brothel, old man,” Nimby declares.
“I intend to,” Fritz claims with a lecherous smile. “Besides, you have to visit the produce market, Nimby. I will remind everyone that you and Fizzle were the reasons we ran out of apples during the first three hours of our journey. Since Fizzle has no money to pay for what he ate, it comes down to you alone. I demand that you get us more apples.”
“Fine, I can get us fresh apples without a problem,” Nimby swears in annoyance. “Now, can we get on with the real planning? My stomach is eating itself . . . again.”
Aedyn finally breaks his silence, which causes Bessaria to jump in surprise. His voice is louder than he intends and he blushes slightly at the mistake. “I have to agree with Nimby. I am getting tired. I will go with Fritz to find lodging and food. Fritz can take the time he needs to purchase and send his gambling debts to Kevin. Luke and Nimby can find some food on the way to Rainbow Tower. There are some street vendors along the way that serve high quality food at cheap prices. As for tomorrow, I would like to accompany you on your tour. My time in Gaia has normally been spent in the temple or running errands.”
“I can’t believe you sound more boring and dull when you’re tired,” Fritz mentions.
Aedyn groans and looks around the bustling crowd around him. “On second thought, I will take Nimby and Luke can take Fritz. I do not believe my mind can handle the gnome tonight. I believe we have drawn enough attention to ourselves since we have been standing in a small group and whispering to each other. If anything, the sheep with a saddle has been getting us strange looks.”
Aedyn flashes his holy symbol at the two guards who have begun to move toward the group. They stop and nod silently to the priest before going back to their posts near the closed gate.
Luke stares back at the guards and notices that one of them is keeping a close eye on him. He wonders if it is because he is one of the few people walking around with his weapons in the open. He loses interest in the guard when a sense of curiosity starts to grow in the back of his mind. It is a feeling that is urging him to explore the city. Luke begins to realize that while Gaia is not a forest, it holds its own type of nature with adventures to be found. He can childishly imagine the types of people who live and thrive within the city walls. His thoughts are filled with vague images of hardened warriors, pampered nobles, lurking thieves, and all manner of stereotypical city-folk that he has heard about over the years. Fritz’s words about going to a brothel, brings vivid thoughts of attractive women in dimly lit rooms to his mind.
Luke begins to feel his loneliness return until he remembers that Kira’s family has a merchant office in Gaia. He becomes even happier when he thinks that she might have ignored his request and is already in Gaia waiting for him to arrive at her family’s office. He is already considering finding his way there when he notices that his friends are no longer talking. His mind returns with a jolt from his hazy daydreaming to find the others waiting for him to say something.
“Is something wrong?” Luke asks everyone.
“I asked if you agreed with my suggestion that you take Fritz with you to Rainbow Tower and if you mind us joining you on your tomorrow,” Aedyn replies.
“Oh, I don’t mind you guys tagging along tomorrow, but we really should find a way to get the supplies,” Luke mentions, trying to sound confident.
“We already went over that,” Nimby groans.
“Where was I?”
“Standing there and staring straight at Aedyn as he talked.”
“I guess I zoned out.”
Fritz chuckles before loudly announcing, “Everyone, I give you the great awareness of a forest tracker! A troll could have sneezed on the boy and he would not have noticed the burning, agonizing stickiness.”
“That is a very precise explanation of troll snot,” Aedyn says curiously.
“I’m old. I’ve been on hundreds of adventures and would rather not go into the details of that one,” Fritz whispers, a shudder running along his spine. He takes Luke’s backpack and gently straps it to Bessaria’s side. “I believe it is time that we move along and continue our business. Please, reveal our great plan to our fearless leader, Aedyn.”
Aedyn clears his throat before slowly repeating himself. “I will explain this again, Luke. Nimby and I are taking Bessaria and the gear to find lodging. You and Fritz will go to Rainbow Tower to introduce yourselves to our new companion. I will contact you later or you may ask one of the casters of Rainbow Tower to contact us. Our supplies can be purchased from my temple as long as we give them a donation, which we can ask Kellia to take care of since she is our employer. I will also have to spend part of tomorrow afternoon helping around the temple. The temple here is our second biggest location and they always have a need for an extra priest. This means that I will have to depart from our tour of Gaia by lunch. Fritz has stated that he would like to come with me to the temple, so I will take him off your hands as well.”
“Why is Fritz going with you to a temple of Durag?” Luke asks, hoping to regain some level of leadership.
Fritz takes Luke by the wrist to start leading him away. “Business. The temple here is always heated by sunlight, but they have a problem cooling down the springs that give them water. Even at night, they have special windows that amplify moonlight to the point where it might as well be daylight. All of their non-ritual water has to be purchased from outside sources, which is a waste of temple funds,” Fritz explains in a very serious, but low, voice. “So, I have devised an invention that will cycle a cold liquid under the springs and cool the water without significant cooling to the air. The liquid is easily processed from melting ice gems that can be found in Gaia’s surrounding waters, which can be gained by making a trade agreement with the local sea elves. With my method, a single gem can produce two months worth of cooling liquid. I am going to give the temple this invention and the ice gem melting process in return for access to their library. It’s a fair trade in my honest opinion. Before you ask, the cooling liquid is harmless and is similar to sugar water. There is no danger of contamination, so the deal is as good as sealed.”
“Can we get some food?” Luke asks, rubbing his eyes.
“Well, that was five minutes gone to waste,” Fritz says. He starts to lead Luke through the streets of Gaia. “There is a beef pie vendor two blocks to the east.”
“This is going to be very interesting. I never worked with a caster before,” Luke excitedly declares.
Fritz shakes his head and pats Bessaria on the rump. “Nothing good . . . or easy . . . or safe ever comes from you saying that something is going to be interesting.”