The Ringworld Hero
As the inner gates opened up before us, two of the guards broke off to follow us through the streets. I stepped out of the grimy guard post and out into a city that felt unreal.
Laid out before me was a massive city, full of people and beautiful classical architecture of both familiar and foreign design. Some styles of construction looked very familiar, others were completely alien. For some reason, there were a lot of Asian elements to the designs, especially Japanese stylings. No doubt the result of those who came before me bringing them here.
As for the people, there was a massive diverse mix of both elves and humans, but there were some strange people who trended short and almost always seemed to be really muscular and often very heavily armed. I made a mental note to ask about them later. The entire city buzzed with activity as merchants tried to sell their goods in street carts and shopfronts. It felt oddly familiar, like the alleyways and little shops in the back streets of Melbourne. The thought of it alone was already making me homesick. I'd never be able to wander the back streets and stumble on something new. I never thought I'd have to miss that place, because I never wanted to leave it. But now, there would be no possible way to get back. Holding back the pain, I strode confidently into the street.
The silence that rippled through the crowd was almost perfectly visible
'So it's true…'
'Never thought I'd love to see the day…'
'Gods help us…'
'Get your mother, we're leaving the city.'
I turned to face Leena, slightly alarmed that we were already flanked by guards. "Can you clear up what exactly is going on? Everyone is looking at me like my presence is heralding the end of the world."
Leena sighed, seeming to grow more and more frustrated with each of my seemingly childish questions. "Your coming is a bad omen for the common people. They know what those who have come before have done. They fought for all that is good, but left naught but destruction in their wake. Many hoped to never see one of your kind in their lives, but some have prayed every day for your coming."
As we walked and she explained, the guards kept an easy pace, one on each diagonal corner walking in perfect lock step with one another, not making any sound beyond the clink of metal and rustling of fabric. Their perfect uniformity was both impressive and kinda creepy, probably something they did intentionally to terrify their enemies. I already didn't like these guys, but it seemed advisable to just play along for now
"You're making it sound like I'm a war and natural disaster rolled together." I commented nonchalantly.
Her face turned ominous as her voice dropped in tone. "In a way, you're kind of right. Many who have come before left the scars of war on the ground they walked. I hope that you are different, for all our sakes."
Sensing the dark hostility in her tone, I dropped that particular line of inquiry. As we walked, the people that milled around on the main street parted like the water at the bow of a mighty ship, spilling to the sides and gawking at the sight of the blood-soaked boy with a glowing chest.
Oh yeah, I still hadn't gotten a change of clothes in the two days I've been here. Doesn't leave a very good impression, but that could be fixed later, now all that mattered was getting my bearings in this bizarre place.
In the distance, I could see a set of glittering steel gates, polished to a near mirror shine, flanked by several tiny blue figures.
"That where we headed?
"No, look for a green sewer grate. Of course that's where we're going, moron! Don't ask stupid questions."
"Well excuuuuuuuse me, Princess!"
Oh how long I had been waiting to use that one. It felt like letting out a fart that had been held in too long and left to fester in your guts. The mixed look of disgust seemed to hide a tiny drop of respect. There probably weren't many people willing to talk back to her.
Though there seemed to be no change in their behaviour, one of the guards seemed to start radiating a barely perceivable anger that nobody else seemed to notice. Moving my hand ever so slightly around, I could feel a change in the strength in the emanation. It was the guard to my right, in front of and to the right of Leena too far out of reach to hit me, not that he would dare. As long as the Princess didn't order it, I'm sure they would never touch me, even then they might fear me from the old stories.
It was only then the realisation hit me.
Holding my hand up to my face for a closer look, I remembered what new features it had acquired. Had the core detected the hostile emotion and alerted me to it? This thing would be sure to save me a lot of pain.
But how was it detecting it? How does this thing work? These were the sorts of things I would have to learn if I wanted to survive.
My retarded arse decided that antagonizing this elite soldier was a good idea.
"You got something you wanna say to me, mate?"
"Don't bother hiding your anger, I can see it plain as fuckin' day."
I thought I saw a slight reaction, a break in his step putting the soldier out of sync with the other three
"Leena, make him stop."
Without the Princess even giving the order, the soldier stood dead still, turn on his heels, slammed the base of his spear into the ground and glared at me
"I will not allow anyone to disrespect the Princess. Hero or not, don't think I won't put you in your place."
I held out my hand to Leena
"Your pistol, if you would."
She looked at me in confusion before wordlessly handing it over, grip first and barrel down as would a trained shooter.
'I can't believe that actually fucking worked' was all I could think at that moment. Taking the pistol, I held it casually in my right hand. The strange device was oddly comfortable, if a bit heavy. Swapping it over to my left for better comfort, as is my preference, I looked at the guard again.
"Now I will ask again. Do we have a problem soldier?"
I could see the shock on his face begging to be let out from behind his soldier's stoic mask.
He replied with a curt salute, as if he were formally addressing an officer.
'Holy fuck, that actually worked. +1 Intimidation for me.' Handing the pistol back to Leena, she inspected it for some reason.
"Hang on a second, this thing was almost empty when I handed it over, how did you do that?” A mix of confusion and slight alarm on her face as she looked at what appeared to be a battery or ammo indicator (probably one and the same).
It was only then that my left palm started flashing. Holding it up, the tips of my fingers began to glow and an apparition of the pistol appeared over my hand and slowly began to spin. A small block of text appeared beneath it.
I could see the blood drain out of the soldier's face, his open-faced helmet doing nothing to hide his expression. I could see plain as day how something this simple for me terrified him, wondering how strong I must really be.
A masterstroke of bullshitting.
After attempting to regain his composure, the soldier turned around wordlessly and began to march as if he were on parade and not just walking around, the other men falling into perfect lock step. As we walked, I noticed that his left shoulder had a slightly different insignia than the other three. Only then did it dawn on me that I'd pissed off the commanding officer.
The four of them had split up, creating a larger area in which their spears could all cover one another. No pedestrian dared cross the lines of the invisible box between the four of them, often backing away or abruptly turning to avoid them. The crowd had grown in size as we approached the castle. Between the crowds of people, I caught the glimpse of stall shades and began to hear haggling merchants. We were approaching the market on the main street.
"So why did you actually let me have your pistol?"
"I was hoping you'd get your head kicked in and learn a lesson in humility. Apparently that plan didn't work."
"Why didn't you order him to hit me? You could've done that and he would do it without hesitation."
I saw her expression slightly betray her annoyance at a lost opportunity, but her practice composure brought it back to her nonchalant but regal tone. "I wanted him to hit you of his own accord, so you wouldn't think that it was me who was punishing you. What would have been the point?"
I smirked slightly and turned to her, trying to flash my most handsome smile. "I get it now, you didn't actually want him to hit me, but you couldn't admit that to my face."
Her face gave me nothing, but I saw the tips of her ears turn red. I'll be honest, I was extremely tempted to flick them just to see what'd happen. Okay, she was a bitch but she is pretty damn cute, I am willing to concede that.
"If I wanted, I could have ordered him to hit you. I could still order it. I'm not going to."
"And why is that?" I chirped smugly "Don't wanna have me come to harm is it? Has the cold princess finally warmed up to her hero?"
She didn't let slip a single thought in her beautiful head, her angelic face seemingly made of marble. "I'm going to let events run their course. If this comes back to bite you, Arbiter, you'll have none to blame but yourself."