Owen stood in front of a wooden gate with the two axes’ blades resting on the ground, the handles barely held up by his arms. Two blue lizardmen stood on a platform above the gate with bows in their hands. They glanced down at Owen and frowned, recognizing the axes he held. Owen dropped an axe and raised his visor, tilting his head upward at the lizardmen. “I have come to see Anidun. I bring a message from his demon.”
One of the lizardmen flickered its tongue. “You come alone?”
“Yes,” Owen said and released the other axe. He exhaled and rolled his shoulder before crossing his arms over his chest. “It is an important message. There is no time to waste. Anidun will see me; I know you lizardmen are not allowed to enter his residence.”
The lizardman who spoke scratched its scaly chin before nodding. “I will tell the chief. It is up to him to decide whether you may enter,” it said and climbed down the watchtower, its claws sinking into the wood.
Owen’s face relaxed and he exhaled again. He glanced at the remaining lizardman who had its bow nocked and pointed at him. The body of the bow was made of a pitch-black piece of wood, and the bowstring was made of an animal’s tendon. The body of the arrow was made of similar material to the bow, but its head was made of silver metal. Owen frowned as the sun glinted off of the arrowhead and lowered his visor.
After waiting for what seemed like ten minutes, two lizardmen crawled up the watchtower; one of them—the guard that went to fetch the chieftain—pointed at Owen. The chieftain was a green lizardman, wearing a headdress made of red feathers. A black symmetrical tattoo started from its chest and snaked towards its arms, ultimately ending at its clawed fingertips. “You are seeking our holy guardian?” the chieftain asked as it narrowed its black eyes at Owen. “You have our warrior’s armaments. Where did you get them?”
Owen raised his visor again. “The demon gave them to me to use as proof of identity,” he said. “The army he led was gravely injured and he asked me to deliver a message. It must be delivered directly to Anidun; it could mean the life or death of your people.”
The chieftain frowned as its tongue flickered in and out of its mouth. It peered at Owen while scratching its chin. “You may enter, but first relinquish your armor and weapons,” it said. Owen nodded as he unstrapped his lance and placed it on the ground. He undid the straps holding his plate armor together and stripped himself, leaving a leather bag by his waist and a cloth shirt with leather pants. The chieftain frowned. “The bag too.”
“Part of the message is in the bag,” Owen said and crossed his arms, sticking his chest out. He held his breath as the lizardman guard continued to train its arrow on him.
“Fine,” the chieftain said and nodded. He turned to the guard next to him. “Open the gates and take his items.”
Owen wiped his sweaty palms on his pants, leaving a dark stain by his thighs. A clunking sound resounded from the door and, moments later, it swung open, revealing a crowd of lizardmen on the other side. Their reddish-orange bodies were smaller than that of their green and blue counterparts. They held onto even smaller lizardmen—who were half their size—by their tails. One of the smaller green lizardmen turned its head towards the one holding its tail and asked, “Why hasn’t Dad come home yet?” The corners of Owen’s mouth drooped as he walked past the crowd of lizardmen, following after the naked chieftain with two armed guards behind him.
The parts of the city closest to the walls had houses made of wood with mud splattered on the sides. Their roofs were thatched and the ground was bare, save for a few cluster of weeds sprouting from the brown dirt. Lizardmen and goblins with metal manacles around their ankles and brands across their chests tilled the earth with stone tools. “They are slaves?” Owen asked and raised an eyebrow as he turned his head towards the chieftain.
“Yes,” the chieftain said and nodded as its lips curled. “Our warrior brings them back to help our territory expand. Why did he give you his armaments? Is he in danger?”
“The situation is complicated,” Owen said and broke eye contact. “He said only Anidun can know.”
The chieftain hummed and clacked its nails against the scales on its bare leg. It nodded and continued forward. As the two walked further and further towards the center of the city, the buildings progressed from muddy wood walls to baked mud-brick walls. The roofs were tiled and stones paved the road in between the buildings, but the streets were emptier compared to the outskirts.
“This is where our warriors live,” the chieftain said as it noticed Owen glancing around. “Our holy guardian’s residence is ahead.” It nodded at a hill-like boulder in the center of the city, the surroundings empty except for a stone fence. “Only guests of the guardian may proceed beyond those walls.”
Owen’s brow furrowed. “Do guests come often?”
“No. It is just a rule we created,” the chieftain said as its tongue flickered. “We dare not anger our holy guardian.” The chieftain shook its head and sighed. “He asked to not be disturbed unless it was a matter of utter importance. If you anger him, then not even Elbegon can save your soul.”
Owen snorted. “Are you worried? I assure you, my message is important.”
The chieftain stared at Owen’s face for a minute before nodding. “He can see through lies, my dead father can attest to that,” it said. “When he first arrived, he declared himself king and promised to bring our tribe great fortune as long as we listened to him. My father disagreed and the guardian killed him by blinking his eyes.”
“Do you hate him?” Owen asked as the two got closer to the stone walls.
“No. He has done what he said he would,” the chieftain said. “Our tribe is now the greatest in the region, even the angels do not dare to interfere with us after our warrior slaughtered them. Our guardian needed to make a show of strength, and it was my father who was the unlucky demonstration. As we grow older, our attachments to others—except for our mates—fade, that is, if we even had any to start with. I can barely remember what my father looked like.”
“I see,” Owen said and touched his hand to the leather pouch by his waist. His face hardened as he stared at the boulder. A road made of mud-bricks led from the stone walls to a pitch-black entrance by the base of the boulder. The chieftain and his two guards stopped in front of the wall.
“I will wait for you out here,” the chieftain said and crossed its arms over its chest.
Owen nodded and took in a deep breath as he crossed the threshold, stepping onto the brick road. The chieftain stared at the angel’s back as he walked along the road before his figure disappeared within the shadows of the entrance.