After being cooped up in the shuttle for an hour, everyone on the team was glad to get out and stretch their legs.
“We’re going to check out the town up ahead and try to find a trader who deals in precious crystals, the kind the ship’s power distribution system uses,” Caroline explained for the benefit of anyone who hadn’t caught the gist of the briefing. “We don’t know for sure if this trader has what we’re looking for. In case she doesn’t we might be here a while, so try not to piss off the natives.”
“Be assured, they will not threaten you so long as I’m at your side,” Isamura added.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Around these parts, I am known for my heroic deeds and accomplishments.”
“So, should we expect a crowd of well-wishers then?”
“It has been a while since I passed through. Maybe not.”
They all continued on foot, reaching the town’s outskirts. Isamura stopped to converse with one the sentries, and after a minute of earnest discussion she waved Caroline over.
“Greetings,” the sentry said as she approached, “I’m told that you’re the leader of this group.”
“I would rather that you didn’t walk around with armed guards,” he said frankly, indicating Tegan and her security team. “We’re short of men, and we don’t have enough to watch you and protect the gates. You can go in, but they have to disarm before I’ll let them past.”
“At least one of them needs to remain armed and on watch near this gate. If there’s trouble coming to this town, I want some advance warning.”
“Very well. Welcome to Dezhac.”
“Rhona. Stay here and hold the gate,” Caroline ordered. “Rest of you, with me, but leave your weapons. We’ll pick them up on our way out.”
As the security detail reluctantly turned over their weapons, the rest of the team advanced into the town itself. There were no people on the main street, but from several windows frightened faces could be seen peering out at the outsiders.
“It is not us they are fearful of,” Isamura told the others as they continued along the thoroughfare. “Several days ago, a party of orcs waylaid a caravan, and staged a surprise attack on the town. Ten of the guardsmen were killed and more were injured before they could be driven off.”
“Should we expect another attack?” Tegan asked.
“Yes. But the other town gates have been closed and sentries are watching every approach. There is little chance of another assault going unnoticed.”
“All the same, I’d rather have my weapon close at hand than locked away.”
“I understand your concerns and I will keep an eye out for trouble,” Isamura assured her, patting the sheathed blade at her side.
“I noticed that you didn’t have to turn your weapons in. Why’s that?”
“I told you, I am known around these parts. In fact the sentry at the gate is someone I know well.”
“How do you know him?” Caroline asked curiously.
“I rescued him from captivity, along with a number of other townspeople. Such deeds are not quickly forgotten.”
“I’m going to be hearing that answer a lot, aren’t I?”
“I have a lot of experience with daring rescues, yes,” Isamura remarked.
At last they arrived at the trader’s shop. It was a well-kept establishment in the centre of town, with a sign that simply read, Seeble’s Goods. Written in white chalk by the door was a notice that read, Missing person! Inquire within.
“This the place?” Caroline asked.
“Yes. It’s just how I remember it,” Isamura said.
“Well, we don’t all need to go in,” Caroline said, peering in the window and thinking that it would get rather crowded if they all trooped inside. “Erica, Isamura, you’re with me, everyone else, take five minutes and… sun yourselves or something.”
Caroline pushed the door open and a tinkling bell announced them to a young woman standing behind the counter, who seemed pleased to see them.
“Good afternoon!” she greeted them. “What can I get for you fine people?”
Caroline cleared her throat and glanced at Isamura. “We’re looking for a trader.”
“I deal in all sorts of goods. What you see here on display is just a selection.”
Isamura gazed at her curiously then asked, “We’re actually looking for a trader by the name of Varah Seeble. This is her shop, or I suppose it used to be.”
The woman looked crestfallen. “I’m terribly sorry. The woman you’re looking for, she passed away a few years ago. She was my mother.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Isamura replied. “Then you must be… Meg?”
“Yes I am… do I know you? You look somewhat familiar.”
“It’s Isamura,” she filled in helpfully, then added, “I’m afraid you might not remember, you were just a young girl then. You’ve really grown up!”
“I remember!” Meg said, her eyes lighting up with recognition. “There was one night, oh it was so long ago… you told a story at my bedside. You know, the one about the princess locked away in the tower?”
Isamura smiled. “Meg, I hate to cut short the reminiscing, but these friends of mine need some help acquiring a rare crystal. They’ve brought some medicines to trade with, if you have what they’re looking for.”
Erica produced an image of the crystal on the slim tablet she’d brought with her. “It looks like this,” she said, tapping at the display.
“I would love to help,” Meg said as she studied the image. She frowned and directed her gaze back at Isamura. “I know someone who usually comes by with rare finds like this, but I haven’t heard from her since the orc attack. She’s usually in here every other day and I’m worried she may have been kidnapped.”
“Is that the missing person from your notice out front?”
“Yes it is.”
“Do you have any idea where she might have been headed?” Caroline asked.
“Last time that Julienne was in, she said she was going to explore some caves to the north. I warned her against it, because apart from the chance of being waylaid by orcs along the way, there’s a rumour that the caves are haunted. Or maybe something terrible makes its lair there.”
“And you still let her go?”
“Oh, she wouldn’t listen. She said that if I wasn’t so tied down by the shop, she would ask me to come along. Imagine it, really, me going off to some caves! Anyway, I had a word with the city guards after she left, but they can’t spare anyone to go looking for her.”
“How many days ago did you see her?” Caroline asked.
“Five days now.”
“Do you know if she had enough food and supplies to last that long?”
“If she still has her pack, then I think so. She may be pig-headed but in all the time I’ve known her she always heads out prepared for these escapades.”
“We will find her,” Isamura promised.