“What did she say?” Perceval asked Lila.
“Oh, I suppose you don’t speak our tongue. That answers my question.” The woman’s reaction was defeated. Her fellow onlookers also deflated. “We were hoping that someone survived outside of our city. The residents also spoke Glyph.” From the expressions of comprehension on Glue Pot and Perceval’s faces, they must have understood what the woman said now.
The woman blinked heavily golden lashed eyes. The irises were an electric green and her pupils were slit like a cat’s. Her nose was long and sharp at the end. Tufts of feathers on either side of her head must have been her ears. Everyone’s necks were longer than a human’s and more graceful. They seemed to have evolved from a bird of prey like the silent and judging golden eagle.
“Were you perhaps on your way to meet with Queen Inana?” The woman clasped her hands nervously. She had two long fingers with perfectly manicured talons and one thumb on each hand. There were golden feather shafts all along her arms, which made the robes seem more practice.
“Erm, yes. Yes, we are.” Perceval stepped ahead of the group. “How far are we from the capitol?”
“An hour’s brisk walk.”
“Good! First, we have to wait for our friends. They ran into Bull Fist trouble.”
“Bull Fists,” the woman hissed. “A nasty lot.”
There was a ripple of discontent along the Crat’s citizens.
“Are your friends half human like the ones you brought here?”
“Yes,” Glue Pot cut in before Zane or Lila could correct the woman. “Although, there’s barely any human in them. Just a drop of blood. That was enough to make our friends look like them, isn’t that right?” Glue Pot nudged Zane.
“Yeah. My mom and dad are ground elves.” Zane nodded his head as if even he were convinced.
“I see,” the woman mused. She didn’t look entirely convinced. “Well, shall we find a place for you four to rest after such a tough journey?” She grinned and her face nearly glowed from her graceful beauty.
“What about our friends?” Asked Glue Pot.
“We shall send out a search party. It’s no good to stay out in the valley too long. There are more dangers than just those nasty Bull Fists.”
“Then we humbly accept your offer,” Perceval said while bowing his front paws. “Is there anything we can do for you in return for your hospitality?”
“Just the thought that there’s someone beyond Crat gives me a piece of mind.” She shooed away the crowd with her hands. “Go. Go! I’m taking them to the best Inn in Crat.”
“Sophia, aren’t you out of favors with them? What makes you think you can wrangle a night’s stay out of them, let alone for four travelers?” A man with broad shoulders and a well quaffed beard barked.
“They’ll have no choice but to help,” Sophia shot back. “Now, git!” She turned back to her guests. “This way. I’ll take you to the Night Mare.”
“I don’t really like the sound of an Inn being called the Night Mare,” Zane said aloud. Perceval kicked the boy. “What? The name isn’t particularly inspiring good thoughts.”
“The Night Mare isn’t malignant, I can promise you that,” Sophia said. “It’s only named as such because the owner had a nightmare about his parents’ inn never closing down.”
“A nightmare. About that?”
“Yes. If his parents’ inn never closed down, then he wouldn’t have been able to open his own.” Sophie weaved through walkways crowded with people watching the travelers ranging from young to old with wide eyes and open mouths. “Thankfully, his parents really did close their inn and he was able to construct an inn even better than the inns housed in the capitol!”
“SO his nightmare never came true. Hmn.”
“Oh, it did. The Inn’s owner was cursed with me as his grandchild.” Sophia held a clawed hand above her mouth and giggled. Zane knew it was overused to think of a laugh as the tinkling as bells, and so he revised his first thought to—her laugh sounded like his mom’s glass figurine falling off of the kitchen table because the cat knocked it off.
“What’s the story, then? Your grandfather doesn’t seem to like you for a reason. That guy from before said as much.” Glue Pot trotted side by side with Sophia. She looked up at him with a nonchalant expression.
“Gerard, that gossip.” Sophia shook her head. “Yes, my grandfather is a little upset with me. I married out of the family.” She twisted her hands and surveyed the bustling streets. “My wife and I may be struggling financially, but getting out was the best option at the time.”
“Oh. What’s your wife’s name?” Zane asked.
“Poni. Mind you, that’s just her nick name. She’d kill me if I spread her real name around,” Sophia laughed.
“I bet Poni is as pretty as you are. Actually, all of you are pretty,” Lila commented. I’ve never seen a city so, um, golden before.”
“You haven’t? Gold is a very common mineral.”
“Lila here lives near where my people disappeared. The Seven Isles,” Glue Pot hastily supplied. “We don’t mine gold there as much as up in the north.”
“I heard that there’s electricity in Crat. I’ve, er, never been yet.” Zane jogged up to Sophia and gave her his best boyish grin.
“Then today is a great day for you. The Night Mare specializes in supplying its guests with nothing but the best quality stay. You’ll have food cooked from an electric stove and your room heated with electric heaters.” Sophia then bent down and cupped her around around Zane’s ear. “You’ll even have heated baths!”
“Wow!” Zane didn’t hide his excitement. He never thought that he’d take baths for granted.
“And was I right? Do you have porridge here?” Glue Pot asked.
“Yes, my friend. We do.”
“Thank the Seven Patrons. Sign me up for the Night Mare!”