Chapter 530 Inside The Palace Walls
When Izroth rose to his feet, he felt a gentle tug on his shirt from Selene lightly grabbing ahold of it. Then, for the first time since they met, she opened her mouth to speak.
"...Leave... Selene...?" The young girl asked in a barely audible voice.
Izroth was pleasantly surprised when Selene spoke. It seemed that the man from earlier was wrong about her being mute.
It may have been a natural defense mechanism to survive for the young child. In this type of lawless place, one wrong word was enough for someone to forfeit their life.
Seeing as how she referred to herself by the name Izroth had given her, she either failed to remember what her parents named her or was never given a name. But, it was not uncommon for orphans to be nameless. This was something Izroth knew from firsthand experience.
"The place I'm going to is too dangerous to take you along. But, you can rest assured, I will return. Until then, you should rest in this room and not wander around. Things may become a bit chaotic soon." Izroth replied.
Selene hesitated for a brief moment before she released Izroth's shirt and softly replied, "...Selene... Wait..."
The cloudy look in Selene's eyes cleared up a bit after hearing Izroth's words. Even though she maintained her stoic expression, there was now a hint of something else mixed in—though the minor change was barely discernable.
After that, Selene did not speak again before Izroth left the Blue Heart Inn. Once he departed, Selene sat on the bed without moving. Quietly, waiting.
Several moments later...
Izroth reached the main gate that led into the true heart of the town. Unlike the border where one could strut across without a care in the world, the path that led to the other side of the wall was heavily guarded. There were soldiers equipped with full plated armor and spears that stood next to the two checkpoints.
One checkpoint to verify a person's purpose and intent for visiting, as well as to keep anyone who did not belong from setting foot inside. The second checkpoint registered any weapons or merchandise brought through the gates to ensure no illegal contraband made it through, among other things.
Since Izroth's clothes were clean and his appearance was well organized, he had no trouble getting through the first checkpoint. But, when he arrived at the second checkpoint, Izroth was pulled aside to have his sword checked.
This was not to see if the weapon was dangerous or anything of the sorts, but rather the guard's primary task was to search for emblems.
Emblems hammered into weapons were one of the signs of nobility. If one tried to imitate or illegally forge such a symbol, if caught, they would be severely punished and, at worse, sentenced to death.
After thoroughly examining and scrutinizing Izroth's sword for several minutes, the guard returned it to him and approved his entry. Since Izroth used the pretense of being from faraway foreign lands, he was given a special wooden plaque with an official stamp. He was informed to keep this plaque on him at all times. Otherwise, if he were asked to present his identification and failed to show the plaque, then he would be considered a foreign spy who would be captured and imprisoned or killed on the spot.
Izroth safely stored the wooden plaque in the pouch at his side that he received from Venare. This pouch contained a handful of silver coins, and while it could not store too many items, it was useful to have in a place that denied usage of one's inventory.
When he made his way past the second checkpoint, Izroth traveled through a long tunnel that was at least ten meters high and thirty meters wide. The ground was smooth and made of a stone material that resembled marble. On the ceiling, every couple of meters were narrow openings that curved around from one side of the wall to the other.
Through these openings, Izroth observed a polished metallic-like alloy with sharp spikes that had a top half linked together like a metal fence. There were dozens upon dozens of these that, if dropped down, could create a fast makeshift barrier to block someone from leaving or entering.
'Invading outside the palace walls would not be too difficult given its poor state of affairs. But, capturing the town inside the walls... To have the resources necessary to construct something of this scale, I can see why this kingdom is described as powerful in the tale.'
After walking for a solid five minutes, Izroth finally reached the end of the tunnel, and when he came out on the other side, he was welcomed by a glorious city.
Every building was well constructed without flaw. The streets were so clean that a single piece of trash was impossible to spot. Multiple stalls were selling delicate clothes, fresh foods, fruits, and vegetables.
The town was bustling with activity, and the townsfolk all had smiles on their faces. Some laughed with joy; others walked the streets with their significant other, and the children played merrily. The atmosphere was like night and day compared to the one outside the walls. If Izroth had to use one word to describe it, the first ones that came to mind were "utopia" or "paradise".
If Izroth did not know how gruesome this tale ended, he would think that he had accidentally walked into a fairytale, not something that would eventually turn into a tragedy.
'Not a single beggar or dying citizen in sight.'
Izroth was unsure if it was complacency or sheer ignorance, but when he looked at the townsfolk's cheerful faces, there were no signs of worry or stress. This place was the real town described in the Tale of The Snow That Falls In Summer.
Izroth began to explore the town in the way a traveler should. He stopped at multiple stalls and purchased a few things, from food to clothes. He spoke casually with some of the locals and even asked about their customs. But, this was not without reason.
'They're still following me?'
Izroth walked casually as he took a bite of the meat and vegetable skewer he had just bought from one of the food stalls. His actions this entire time had not merely been him mindlessly having a good experience.
Ever since Izroth stepped through the gates, he noticed that someone had been tailing him. He decided to behave like an ordinary traveler in hopes of them leaving of their own accord, but it seemed that they had no intention of going away any time soon.
A couple of seconds later, Izroth turned around a corner that led into a narrow alleyway.
Not too long after Izroth stepped into the alleyway, a hooded figured carefully peeked around the corner. However, for a moment, their body language matched that of someone who was shocked.
The hooded figure swiftly rushed into the alleyway only to discover that it was a dead end. The person they had been following had vanished without a trace! There was a hint of panic in their actions; however, they suddenly felt something sharp press up against the back of their neck, which caused them to freeze in place.
"You've been tailing me since I stepped foot in this town. Speak, what business do you have with me?" Izroth's voice echoed from behind the hooded figure.
"?!" The hooded figure trembled. How did this person manage to get behind them?! They distinctly saw him walk into the alleyway with no other way out!
However, the hooded figure was unaware that immediately after they entered the narrow alleyway, Izroth kicked off the ground and used the walls to propel himself to the roof. After doing so, he waited for the hooded figure to enter deep into the alleyway before jumping down and sneaking up behind them with his sword drawn.
"...What is your purpose for coming to this town?" The hooded figure asked. Their voice was soft with a tinge of fierceness to it. If Izroth was not mistaken—this voice belonged to a woman!
"Usually, the one with a sword to their neck answers questions not asks them. Can it be that you have no fear of death?" Izroth stated.
"Of course, I fear death. However, you will not kill me." The hooded figure said as they calmed their nerves.
"Oh? What makes you so confident?" Izroth questioned as he pushed the tip of the blade closer to their neck.
"Because... We're on the same side, Viselo. That is your name, is not it?" The hooded figure answered.