The Neutral Zone

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 20

Shiloh looked out over the edge of the balcony of the building down at the flowing river. The bed he had slept in the night previous was uncomfortably soft, and the breakfast rich and overfilling. Down below on the street running beside the central hall, two women passed by nonchalantly, glancing up at the soldier before giggling amongst each other. Shiloh quickly retreated to the chamber, his ears red.

The guard quickly walked through the simple room and out to the inner veranda and down the rickety wooden stairs. The central hall was an open space, containing a massive table carved out of stone, surrounded by chairs and cushions of random shapes and sizes. Above, the lieu of a roof and ceiling, the space peered up at the canopies of the trees covering the area. A smoldering pyre at the center of the table spat gray smoke up and out into the sky.

Shiloh spied one of the servants wandering across the veranda opposite him. “Have you seen the Arcanus?” He shouted out to her.

The woman, sporting a long reddish robe, shook her head. “The Lady is busy.” She called out. “No doubt welcoming other emissaries for the trial.”

Chin was the first to spot the gate of Arkyan. “Remove that helm, Mr. Bently.” He called back begrudgingly. “It is not for the reason of enjoying your company that I must ask you stick by my side.”

Bently slid the helmet off from his head. The cool wind flowing among the trees brushed against his ears, and he could hear the gurgling of the small river in the distance. “As long as you don’t ask for me to sleep in the same bedroll.” Bently shot back with a smirk.

Chin huffed and patted at the belongings at his sides to make sure they had remained in place. He quickly descended from the horse before the guards at the gate had a chance to approach. Chin attempted to make eye contact, but the two men’s gazes remained fixed at Bently in the rear.

“May I trouble you gentlemen for directions to the stables?” Chin chatted them up, to little success.

Bently slid off his horse gently, aware of the sights locked on him. “Why have brought your dog of war?” The guard huffed.

Chin peered back at Bently with a scowl before turning his attention to the guards once again. “He always has that unsavory look on his face as if he’s caught a stomach bug. It is quite the tool for deterring would-be thieves without even the mention of violence.”

The first guard slapped Chin’s chest with the back of his hand, nearly knocking the wind from his chest. “What of that armor, then?”

Bently’s hand reached back reflexively at the sword by his side, wrapped tightly in a heavy leather covering, and tied shut with long dangling strings of twine.

“Our King wishes to show off his wealth by providing those who travels to distant lands with the most flashy of armaments. Who knows how it would defend against a sword blow, though.” Chin lied. The guard turned towards him and looked the mage up and down indignantly.

“You may pass.” The guard grumbled. “Stable your horses down that way.”

Chin walked deliberately through the gate as Bently followed quickly after, the horse’s reins in hand. The guards eyed him once again as he sped up his pace to keep up with the mage. “Is it so safe to so boldly lie to them?”

Chin gritted his teeth and spoke sideways to Bently. “As long as you don’t cause trouble, your presence will be of no consequence. Honestly, I had no need for you to come.”

“This is Tuleforian territory.” Bently hissed. The horse under his control pulled against his grip on the reins as he looked around cautiously.

“This is neutral territory, you’ve been told this.” Chin stopped suddenly, turning and looking up to Bently. “There are no doubt going to be people from both sides, some of those from up north as well.”

Bently scanned the city, the tall buildings seeming to surround him from all angles. “Please focus on the matter at hand.” Chin rebuked him, snapping Bently out of his observations. The mage passed Bently the reins from the second horse. The soldier pushed the helmet under his arm and grabbed up the leather band. “Stable my horse, I must make sure the Arcanus is aware of my arrival.”

“Mhm.” Bently grumbled.

“That tall circular building-.” Chin pointed out. “Is most likely where you’ll find me. Try to change out of that armor when you can, you’ll draw too much attention.” The mage growled at him.

Bently nodded purposefully slow. Chin began to trot away slowly, pulling the pipe out of his breast pocket and lighting the contents with a spark from his finger. As he continued along the rode, the trail of purple smoke began to form in his path.

Bently found his way to the stable, finding many of the spots had been filled. Outside, he hefted the heavy bags belonging to both him and the mage down on the rough, dirty stone street. The horses obediently nudged their way into the cramped stable, eager to find the troughs of water and matted hay beneath their feet.

The horses around jostled against each other as Bently loosely tied up the two animals under his care. The large, dark eyes stared at him uneasily. He carefully held his gloved hand out for them to smell while the suspicious horses flared their nostrils. The heavy horseshoes on their feet knocked against the compacted dirt floor and against the wooden structure behind them.

“They recognize you.” Came a growl from behind. Bently heard the sound of a knife being drawn behind his back. His reflexes send his hand flying out behind him. His gauntlet made contact with the wooden frame of the stable door, ripping a chunk of the plank into bits.

Shiloh stood just outside the door, the short, gleaming knife poised between his forefinger and thumb. “Remove yourself from here at once.” He growled. Bently peered down at him and took a long stride forward, deliberately stomping his foot against the stone loudly.

“If I wasn’t ordered to be civil, I would have you eviscerated by now.” Bently called out loudly, trying to suppress his laugh.

“Just like our forces, was it?” Shiloh called out. He scraped his foot backwards against the paving stone and adjusted his grip on the knives handle.

“Tulefore dog, I assume?!” Bently cackled lowly. “Is vengeance so sweet that you would try something so foolish; to attack me in broad daylight, all these people around, with little more than a shiv?”

“Listen to yourself, you bloodthirsty Xiandolan Mongrel!” Shiloh ground his teeth. A few bystanders have begun to gather around.

Bently made tentative eye contact with the locals who had taken notice. Shiloh jutted the dagger at him, pulling his attention back. “Is it the armor? If you recognize it, you must know what it is capable of.” Bently rapped on the metal plating with a loud echoing series of clangs.

“That smug face of yours is uncovered.” Shiloh gripped tightly onto the dagger.
Bently pursed his lips and paused to look around at the slowly gathering group of people. He felt the sword still bound tightly and tied at his thigh, tapping lightly back and forth upon the tassets of his armor. Calmly, he bent his knees and carefully set the silvery helmet down upon the ground.

Shiloh’s eyes laid open unblinking as Bently stood back up straight. Just as he pulled his hand back to ready the knife to be thrown, Bently rushed forwards and planted his heavy-armored grip around the guard’s throat, picking him up off the ground and slamming him down with a dull crack.

Bently felt his body freeze, the armor restricting itself around his limbs. “What are you doing, fool?!” Chin called out, pushing past the rabble of people. His hand was held high, projecting a glimmering translucent aura. A woman in blue flowing robes followed quickly after, rushing down to offer help to Shiloh.

“What… have you done…” Bently struggled, his body immobile.

Chin stood up on his toes and spat in Bently’s face. “What did I tell you?”

“Why can’t I move?”

“I ought to send you back over the mountain right now. Edrian would have you stripped of rank and put to work in the mines.”

“He started it!”

“Are you a child, Mr. Bently!?” Chin said raspily, his voice going hoarse as his lungs struggled to suck down more air. “Arcanus, do you know this man?”

The woman helped Shiloh off the ground, the back of his head and clothing muddled with blood. “He came with the man whom we wish to try, from the Tuleforian front. I shall have one of my healers to tend to him.”

“I knew this was a bad idea.” Chin muttered under his breath, just loudly enough for Bently to hear. The mage balled his hand up in a fist, and the aura disappeared, granting Bently freedom once again.

Charlstine approached Bently, her eyes studying him carefully. “This is quite interesting, Mr. Chin.” The Arcanus pondered. Her long, dainty fingers brushed against the metal plating of Bently’s chest-plate. He could feel a strange tingling run through his body, and the woman’s eyes studied his for a brief second. “Shall we talk about what you’ve brought us, all the way from Xiandol?”

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