Maizel didn’t like coming to Droca, the city gave him creepy vibes. The black and grey walls hewn from heavy stone stood ahead of him at least eight river boat lengths in height, and although still far away he swore he could see bones jutting out from the walls as though their owners had long ago been entombed there, their flesh long since rotted away. It gave him chills as the road wound closer to the gates and all sunlight was lost to the wall’s shadow. The far side of the city didn’t have walls, but it was far too dangerous to attempt entry through the torrential currents of Reaper Brooke, especially with the horses and buggy.
The velvety finish of the finely crafted solid wood crates made guessing the contents more interesting to Maizel. More interesting than any other journey in which he had not already known the contents of his wagon in advance. The crates were both long and tall yet relatively narrow in comparison. The weary-looking cart driver had already discarded the idea that anyone would waste such nice containers on bodies or parts, and anything that valuable and dangerous would have a more experienced escort, especially when going through a war zone.
The ride out of Port Enoth and towards Bitura had been uneventful. As instructed by the Duke who had hired him, Maizel avoided large communities and cities along the route, only stopping at small villages to gather provisions. It was a lonely trip, having expected one of the identically faced clerics to come along with him. When the two had left the ship without a word to him the idea that he had a guarantee of company evaporated.
Leaving Bitura was a bit more hazardous. Droca had been at war with the Dwarven kingdom for so long that the Biturians no longer felt the need to destroy the undead forces that marched through their land on the way to battle. This led to there being more highwaymen, and vigilantes in these parts. Also, Maizel had been warned that there were people who would do everything in their power to stop these boxes from arriving.
The need to avoid large communities became less and less of a concern for Maizel as most Biturians had no interest in living anywhere near their Necromantic neighbors. One evening, a day or so before he crossed the river border, Maizel treated himself to a stay at an inn with a real bed. He did not sleep well that night as he was plagued with a sensation of being watched or followed.
After a hearty breakfast of mystery meat and over-cooked grains, the humble traveler returned his load to his cart and double-checked it was secure before preparing his horses to continue the journey. He was interrupted before he could begin to hitch his cart and fought the urge to take a step backward as he looked up, much further than usual, to meet the eyes of the newcomer.
From behind the crimson-haired giant a chipper voice called out, “Excuse me, sir! We are a little bit stranded. My good friend here and I are looking for a way to Pulabuta. Could you help us?”
It took Maizel a few moments to calm his horses before he spoke, “Pulabuta is a dangerous route unless you want to go by boat. I’m currently on the road to Droca but I believe I can help you if you are willing to make the detour with me. However, ma’am, your friend who is scaring my horses is a bit too large for a seat on my cart.”
“Oh, sorry.” The giant said stepping backward out of the barn. “Many creatures seem to be afraid of my size but I promise I’m gentle. I only kill what I eat.”
“That is an honourable philosophy,” Mazel replied. Turning to see the other traveler for the first time, Maizel jumped in surprise. “You’re a cat-folk?”
“Why, yes, I am,” she gasped, ” I do hope that will not alter your offer of aid. I am aware that my people are not well-liked since The Cat-astrophe.”
“I hold no prejudices based on a person’s parentage, I’ve just never seen a living cat-folk outside their refuge of Meowntain Town”
Together they finished hitching the cart to the horses and began the trek towards Droca. It was comforting having conversation partners, even if they could pose a risk to his cargo. The giant walked behind the cart to keep from spooking the horses while playing with a leather band on his arm. Sithik claimed it brought him luck during his travels around the mainland. The cat-folk, Miao Cat, didn’t say much during the days, preferring to nap in the sun, but as the shade from the city-state fell over them she became alert and kept looking behind them. “I do believe we have company,” she purred.