(Artwork by Darkcloud013)

Previous installment: Diving in the Desolation

The golden sandstone towers of Crestfire were revealed upon the horizon long before its pyramids. The monuments of the once glorious port town were still famous across the lands – even in the high elf, Kael’s native Aulsan. Upon drawing nearer to the settlement, the city revealed that it was no longer in its golden age. Surrounding the bases of the wondrous towers were dung piles of filthy shanties and dilapidated warehouses.

Meowzer took a last swig of rum and then tossed the bottle into an empty barrel. Kenshin gazed towards the fast approaching wharf and then to the group of refugees that he had saved back at March Crossing. He hoped that the group would find greener pastures in this golden desert.

Upon docking, the group hoisted their luggage and began towards the exit of the barge. The refugees, unhindered by luggage, made it to the dock first, just to be shoved back on board by a burly catfolk.

The catfolk was of the desert variety – thinner and less stocky than Meowzer. He wore scale armour, with an image of a flaming moon embroidered on the material covering the armour.

“These plebs aren’t in the ledger, Captain.”

“Talk to the Ronin. He got them on-board.”

The guard glared at Kenshin, who glared back. Interrupting the silent sparring, Pemnaq piped up.

“They can’t do any harm, guv. They’re refugees from March Crossing. Urks took the town, see?”

“Don’t care, bard,” the guard waved him aside. “Under the usual circumstances, I’d let them in, easy. But ain’t usual. Haven’t been since the War. Not enough water for them. We rationing. They coming in? Death sentence for them. Then we have to deal with the pestilence.”

“What happened to the water?” Kael asked, his eyes darting to the guard’s waistline, examining it for gold pouches.

“Times past, we had a magical water plant. Purified the salt water for us. Needed it after the oasis and wells dried up. Thing kept Crestfire in and above water. Thing is, it broke. Back in the day, Ankorian mages would come fix it. That can’t happen anymore.”

“Will there be enough water for us to cross the desert?” Kenshin asked.

“Surely, but gonna cost you. Might as well just suck each other’s blood for liquid. Much cheaper.”

None of the party appreciated the jest.

The guard, upset by the lack of reaction, continued:

“All in all, welcome to Crestfire – those with permits. Don’t know how you’re gonna get to your destination, but I ain’t got the power to keep you away.”

The group walked past the guard, all except Kenshin.

“Guard, what cost to the city is an attempt at survival?”

“That ain’t my business, Ronin.”

“Exactly. These refugees should be given a chance at a new life here. They aren’t costing you anything – on the contrary, they could be very lucrative to you.”

The guard raised his eye brow. “How can these flea bitten river dwellers be o’ use to me?”

“Like any trade, this is one of one set of value being exchanged for another. The survival of these people are important to me. Much more important to me than, say, a flask of water.”

The guard’s eyes opened wide as Kenshin drew his flask.

“We on the same page?”

The guard nodded, gulping and reaching for the flask.

Kenshin pulled it out of the way and then indicated at the refugees. The guard immediately stepped out of the way and allowed the refugees past. Satisfied, Kenshin gave him his water. As the group rushed past, Kenshin stopped a middle-aged woman and handed her a gold coin.

“I fear I cannot give any more than that. Please find me if you need any more help.”

Tears filled her eyes. Before Kenshin could react, she hugged him tightly and then let go.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you.”

Kenshin looked sad and shook his head. The woman had already caught up with her children and didn’t notice the gesture.

The party was waiting for Kenshin. Kael looked disapproving. Pemnaq had already lost interest. Meowzer gave out a big, tooth-filled, yawn and then indicated that they should keep moving.

Pemnaq volunteered to look for accommodation – offering to perform to pay for accommodation. Kenshin needed to restock on arrows. Both Meowzer and Kael, not wishing to pay all they had on water, felt it more prudent to try solve the problem of the water plant once and for all.