*Third Person Perspective*
After following the river for a mile or so, the three Pink Goblins finally reached the edge of a cliff and a massive waterfall. It was at that moment when they finally saw the first piece of civilization since they entered the Forest of Lorthon.
“This… This is incredible…” Ariel had been through a lot and seen many human cities, but Gator Brook was far beyond her wildest imaginations. Not long ago, it was just a random village in the middle of nowhere, that only adventurers and soldiers would occasionally pass through. However, everything changed when Lorelei and Michael started the Northern Expansion Project.
The sheer size of the town was expanded by a few more miles in every direction. An enormous metal fence was erected to protect everything, with watchtowers, small fortresses and dozens of colossal structures that the Pink Goblins couldn’t even recognize. There were boats on the water… Metal ones, which defied their limited common knowledge about buoyancy. They were slaves in the human lands after all. So it’s not as if they were taught a great many things. The strangest thing about those ships was that some of them actually travelled upstream… Up the waterfall. Through the assistance of Water and Earth Mages of course, but it was still impressive to the three.
“What is that creature?!” Even Ariel trembled in fear when she heard the loud whistling noise and saw the seemingly endless metal snake gliding across the ground in the distance. It wasn’t until she focused mana into her eyes, that she notice the strange wheels underneath and the mechanical nature of the ‘beast’. It was just a cargo train, carrying supplies from Angren. There were several other railroads being laid down, but they rarely traveled long distances in the Third Ring of Lorthon. It was much easier and safer to simply head north and then go around, similar to the ancient underground pathway that Michael discovered all those years ago.
At least a mile around that chain-link fence was completely deforested. Either the trees were cut-down and used for materials, or they were simply blasted apart or otherwise destroyed in the many violent conflicts the town endured. There were still plenty of orchards and farms within the metal wall though, and even the factories didn’t produce much smoke due to the heavy use of elemental manipulation. There were also certain types of plants that were specially altered by Yuri and her apprentices, in order to clean the air more effectively. Those pink and purple vines looked like veins pulsating across the otherwise lifeless concrete buildings.
The entire ‘town’ within those fences was almost a hundred square miles in area. It wasn’t a perfect square, but it was about ten miles from east to west and another ten from north to south. The river cutting through the middle was a mile across at the widest parts. It was technically a city, since it had a population of over a million… Which only included ‘large’ sentient life forms. People like the Yuri Mice and Pixies didn’t count, since they were so small in comparison to humans and even Goblins.
Many furry and powerful Races like the Kodiak Tribe and Tiger Tribe actually found the climate much more pleasant in the mountains. They could obviously survive in both hot and cold weather, but it was harder for them to cool down than heat up for the most part. Thus, most of the residents in Gator Brook were closer to Ariel and her ‘children’ in size. Aside from the original residents of Black Mithril, it turned out that there were actually quite a lot of Rodent Tribes, Goblin Variants and Dwarf-Elf Hybrid Races out there on the surface world. Most of them were living in small villages like the Wood Elves, or migratory groups like the Squirrel Tribe, but all spoke similar languages for the most part.
The most important thing was simply the allure of a powerful country that could protect them. People in the First Ring used to fear the Human Kingdoms and Dwarven Empire, while the ones in the Second Ring had to worry about powerful monsters simply wiping out their whole Tribe or Village. As for the Third Ring, it was always seen as a land of terror. Unconquerable and unreasonably dangerous to just pass through swiftly.
For the powerful Races who lived there, it was also extremely dangerous until Michael arrived. Then he introduced some order to the chaos, with the help of other now-famous Spirits like Puriel, Maeleth and Uriel. Tribal warfare had ceased completely once Beatrix, the Spirit of War, moved to Angren. Although she was hated by many, due to her ruthless methods, ultimately she did manage to save many Races that would have gone extinct if her forces hadn’t intervened.
Of course, the three confused Pink Goblins didn’t see the process, but only the result. It took them awhile to find a pathway down the cliff and walk over to the nearest gate, one that was surprisingly close to the river. Fortunately, parts of the fence also black off a large stretch of the riverbed, preventing the gigantic alligators and other powerful Magical Beasts from attacking the pedestrians.
Gunshots and cannon blasts rang out from the watchtowers occasionally, startling Ariel and her kids. They looked around, but couldn’t see any monsters or armies sieging the walls. Then there were some similar sounds echoing from inside the town in various places, along with other kinds of ‘bangs’ and ‘booms’, that weren’t quite the same. It was still incredibly intimidating, and made the three of them feel like they were entering the jaws of a massive beast.
Guarding the gates were two enormous black-scaled alligators, who were lazily sleeping along the sides. The gator on the left actually had a group of six Rat Tribe men and women sitting on it. They were casually gathered around a round table, playing with cards and gambling with each other, while laughing and chatting in high-pitched voices. While they were slacking off, there was only one person actually doing their job.
“Welcome to Gator Brook.” It was a pale-skinned, red-haired Dwarf woman, wearing heavy black armor that covered everything but her exposed face. There was a strange humming device on her back, while condensation constantly emerged from the helmet. She had a silver pump-action shotgun in her hands and a backpack full of supplies by her left side.
“Umm, hello… We don’t have any identification, so-”
Before Ariel could finished talking, the curly-haired ginger Dwarf interrupted: “This isn’t some military outpost or fancy club. Just go inside and stay on the sidewalk. The roads are for vehicles and mounts only. If you haven’t seen them before, the crosswalks are pretty colorful and there are signs… If you can’t read, there are pictures too. If you need to get some proper Identification, there’s a small building near the northern gate called Alfirin Registration Services. Just cross one of those big bridges over there and keep walking down the main road. You’ll get there eventually. If you get lost, don’t be afraid to ask for directions or buy a map.”
*Third Person Perspective*
“Hey! You there! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”
Only a few seconds after Ariel and her children entered through the big metal gateway, they saw a huge green-skinned man roaring and pointing at them. He was relatively short for an Orc, but still at least seven feet tall. However, he quickly walked past them and they noticed that there was a strange creature loitering on the concrete sidewalk behind them. It was similarly huge, with the body of a black-furred horse, and the upper body of a Dark Elf where the head would normally be.
“Bitch, can’t you read?! Clean that shit up right now or you’re getting a fine!” That Orc was holding a long black rod, and had a triangle-shaped golden tattoo across his exposed back. On his bald head were some other runic markings, but there was no ‘uniform’ or status symbol that would normally indicate that someone was a police or military officer of any kind.
“Fuck off!” The centaur shouted angrily and aimed the spear in her hands towards the angry man.
There was a big sign right on the fence that read: “NO DEFECATION OR URINATION ON THE SIDEWALK AND ROAD!” The illiterate and socially awkward horse-person obviously didn’t understand what was happening, and just continued following her natural instincts while preparing for a life or death battle.
“Are you serious?! Stop pissing right now! Go over there in the grass if you have to go, but keep it off the walkway!” He actually smacked the side of the horse with his staff, knocking her five meters into the lush green grass. It was a rather large area between the tall chain-link fence, which blocked off the alligator filled riverbank, and the concrete sidewalk.
While the two of them started fighting and drawing a crowd, Ariel quickly headed deeper into the town while pulling along her curious kids. Once they were away from that scene, they almost walked out in front of a huge silver Earth Dragon. Then some weird automated ‘carriages’ and ‘wagons’ passed by, followed by a group of people riding giant chickens. It all happened so fast that the three Pink Goblins were a little shell-shocked.
The street to their right was at least 12 meters across, with two lanes so that traffic could go both ways. On the other side of the road was a huge wall of buildings. Most of which were still under construction, including some that were already 30 meters tall. Behind them, Ariel could see some towers and spires that shot up into the sky, causing her to wonder: “How is any of this even possible?”
There was an ever present and deafening cacophony of hammering, explosions, shouting, roaring, growling, and all sorts of horns blaring. It was midday and the sun was bearing down on the bustling city… It was normal for her to be amazed and dumbfounded. She wasn’t the only one like that either.
“I guess I don’t need to worry about standing out…” She was taller than most goblins and dwarves, and some people could even see those gigantic tentacles writhing around behind her back. But the further they walked along that sidewalk, the more they got lost in the sea of oddities. On the other hand, there was someone who stood out no matter how tiny and mundane they appeared.
“It’s the Supreme Commander!” Someone screamed in shock, then the crowd exploded in cheers, jeers and screeching noises. Across the crowded street, there was a small black-furred Rat Tribe woman, wearing a suit of dark-green leather armor. She had a sniper rifle slung across her back, a pistol on her right hip, a combat knife on the left and really nothing else of significance. There was no entourage or any bodyguards. Still, everyone made way, even the paparazzi and reporters. An intangible barrier surrounded the small woman and only someone close to Ariel’s level of power would be able to enter that ‘aura’.
When she looked up, Ariel noticed that the swirling crimson mana formed a gigantic heavily armored man. He was standing still, and was at least ten meters tall, but his spiked metal boots were gliding across the ground.
“Hmmm, interesting.” There was a deep and terrifying voice echoing through her mind as that ghostly figure glanced in her direction. Its helmet lifted up and there was nothing but a pitch-black, swirling abyss. At the very center though, there was a bright-white light that flashed for a moment, causing Ariel to temporarily go blind.
When she came out of her daze, the Pink Goblin noticed that the giant and the rat were both gone. The sidewalk across the street was crowded with people once again. People were going in and out of various shops. There was a strange building that was literally shaped like a giant anvil, called “Smithy’s Diner and Grill” that seemed to have a lot of traffic.
“Mommy, can we go over there? It smells so good…” Mary was looking up at her mother and salivating, though her husband-brother Tommy wasn’t much better. Neither of them had a decent meal in… Well, ever, so the scent of the roasted meat, vegetables and sauce was incredibly alluring.
“Okay, let’s just find one of those ‘crosswalk’ things… Oh, there it is!” Even Ariel was excited. She experienced so much in her long life, but everything in Gator Brook seemed new and unpredictable. When the strange ‘street-lights’ above the road turned red, all the Magical Beasts and vehicles stopped moving obediently, and allowed the stream of pedestrians to pass through.
The doors to the restaurant were enormous and wide open, allowing even Centaurs and Bear Tribe to pass through easily. Fortunately, Ariel had been to restaurants before in Black Mithril, so she already knew what to do… Although most people just went to the counter and bought their meals to go, the three Pink Goblins picked one of the dozen small circular metal tables and sat down.
“This is so cool… It’s like we’re nobles!” Mary grinned as she leaned back on the ‘comfortable’, steel chair. While Tommy was looking around excitedly, trying not to drool as he watched people eating at the tables all around them.
“Welcome to Smithy’s!” At that moment, the three of them were startled by the sudden, high-pitched voice coming from the middle of their table. There was a tiny elven girl floating above the center of the table, with wasp-like wings buzzing behind her back. She was less than six inches tall and at first, Ariel thought she was just some kind of fancy glowing magical decoration. After a while, the small creature pointed the palms of her hands at the three guests and holographic screens appeared in front of their faces.
[Smithy’s Diner and Grill Menu!
*Third Person Perspective*
Their ragged and dirty clothing didn’t stand out in Smithy’s Diner and Grill. In fact, a lot of people didn’t wear anything at all, only carrying weapons or luggage. Not just the ‘furry’ or ‘scaled’ races either. There were some goblin, dwarven, even elven nudists sitting around, eating their food and talking to each other happily.
Both Tommy and Mary were illiterate, so Ariel read aloud: “Appetizers… Mystery Hardboiled Egg, 1 Silver? Breakfast Sausage, 2 Silver. Deep Fried Earth Dragon Testicles, is that real?”
The little blue-skinned pixie giggled and nodded her head, “The menu doesn’t lie! Supposedly Earth Dragons store a lot of Mana in their balls, but I think people just like the taste? I’m a vegetarian though. I only eat plants, and insects for the most part. I don’t know if you’re interested, but I recommend the Riverweed Salad or the Apple Turnovers. If you’re feeling adventurous, the Millipede Spaghetti is one of my personal favorites…”
Fortunately, Ariel didn’t know what a millipede was, but she still shook her head and asked: “Are you… A slave here?”
“Slave? Hehehe~! You’re funny~… My name’s Telestia Bluespark, I’m a waitress, and I definitely don’t work for free. I make 10% of what my customers spend on meals… Where are you from? Have you guys been lost in the wilderness for a few months? I was only born two months ago, but even I know how my parents and grandparents fought in the War for Salvation, overthrowing the Pure Elf Slavers and… Well, I forgot the rest, but I heard that similar stuff happened down here too. Hmmm, anyway, have you found anything you’re interested in yet?”
Although the ‘kids’ couldn’t read, some of the more popular and expensive dishes had pictures. Thus, it didn’t take long for Mary to point at one and say: “Mommy, is it okay if I get this thing? It looks so cool…”
“Gator Head Soup?” Ariel looked at the picture of a barely cooked green-scaled alligator head, floating in a giant cauldron and sighed. She looked at the price and asked, “How many servings is this meant to be for it to cost twenty Silver?”
Telestia giggled, “The head is probably as big as your whole torso… But it’s a lot of bones and scales. The three of you should be able to eat most of it? There’s also a Riverweed Dagger-Prawn Salad that comes with it though, so it’s a nice deal.”
“What do these numbers mean?” The pink-skinned woman had a frown on her face as she pointed towards the (3.5) that was placed after the price.
“Oh, wow, you really are ‘new’ huh? That’s the grading system for Magical Beasts and Humanoid Races…” There was a smirk on the little blue girl’s lips, as she explained: “Like, how strong the person or creature is! The stronger things are, the more nutritious, but it’s also dangerous for weaker people to eat things that are more than two levels higher than them. Size and age aren’t really important, since I’m only two months old and so small… But I’m already at Level 3! They used to use a letter grading system, but it was too complicated.”
“We’ll take the Gator Head Soup with the Smithy’s Special Brew Tea.” There were so many different things that she had never seen or heard about before, but Ariel didn’t want to ask the ‘wrong’ questions and draw any unwanted attention.
“Your order has been placed and your food should be ready in five to ten minutes. Until then, feel free to ask me any questions or we could just chat about random stuff. I can also shut up, if that’s what you’d prefer… You’re paying me the same either way, hehehe~!”
At that moment, Mary suddenly groaned and then hunched over, hugging her swollen abdomen. Tommy immediately turned to her and asked, “Are you okay?”
However, before the whimpering Pink Goblin could respond, Ariel murmured: “The baby is coming…”
“Woah!” Telestia gasped, then shouted: “Ah, ahum, I’ll call an ambulance right away! Hehehe~! This is so exciting!”
“What’s an ambulance? Who are you contacting?!” Ariel’s aura suddenly became extremely violent and condensed around her, to the point that the tiny Pixie almost fainted from the abrupt increase in Mana-Density. Although the pink woman was powerful, she didn’t completely understand her own strength yet. Those tentacles whipped around and caused crackling noises, as they broke the sound barrier occasionally.
However, no matter how powerful Ariel had become, she was still only a ‘Level-4’ life-form. Similar to basically any random Demonic Beast that dwelled in the Forest of Corruption.
“Quiet the fuck down!” A deep and terrifying masculine voice shook the whole diner. Ariel calmed her aura and tentacles a bit, but was even more on-guard when she saw a massive, four-meter tall gray-scaled creature glaring at her from the entrance of the restaurant. He was humanoid, with the head of a velociraptor, and a mane of brightly-colored red and yellow feathers. He wore a black and white flannel button-up short-sleeved shirt, with baggy black shorts covering most of his incredibly thick and muscular thighs…
There was a thin and long tail wagging around behind his back, while his lower-legs resembled an actual velociraptor’s. His specific Race was relatively complex and rare, but there were plenty of Reptile Tribe variants living in the Third Ring.
As he briefly scanned the room with his glowing silver serpentine eyes, he immediately locked onto the pregnant Pink Goblin woman and said: “I’m Arakan Raota from the Medical Emergency Transportation Service. I’ll take you to the hospital now.”
He rushed over, ‘gently’ picked the tiny groaning woman up into his massive arms and briskly left the building before Ariel and Tommy could even react. However, when they were about to get up, Telestia shouted: “Wait! You already ordered your meal, so you have to pay twenty Silver if you want to cancel your order!”
*Third Person Perspective*
Medicine in Black Mithril had consisted of some basic herbal remedies and minor healing spells. The Human Kingdoms were even more primitive when it came to health care. Thus, words like Ambulance and Hospital were all foreign to Ariel. Not to mention that within a few seconds of Telestia making a telepathic ‘call’, some gigantic monster appeared and abducted Mary.
By the time she made it to the open doorway, the enormous lizard-man was nowhere to be seen. Ariel went back inside and over to her table, where Tommy was still standing, then asked: “Where did that bastard take my daughter?!”
“Calm down Lady!” A huge tiger-woman roared from the table behind theirs. She had black stripes and orange fur, with bright-blue irises. Like many of the ‘furry’ Races, she didn’t bother wearing any clothing. Across from her, was a comparatively tiny Rat Tribe man with grey fur. He was topless, but his lower-body was covered by blue-jean shorts, with a holstered silver revolver on his right hip.
As the Rat man stared at Ariel, she glared at him, growling: “What are you looking at?!”
He chuckled and shook his head, “You’re so much older than me, but still acting like a spoiled brat. I’m surprised you’re still alive after all these years… ‘Matriarch’, haha~! Sit down and relax! Your little friend is in good hands. There’s a hospital only a little more than a block away.”
It took awhile for Ariel to recognize him, but eventually she sat down at his table and asked: “Walter Weber? You look so much younger than I remember… How did a decrepit old geezer like you manage to make it to the middle of the Third Ring? And what’s a hospital?”
“You sure are one to talk!” Walter cackled, slapping the table with his left hand as he complained: “I’ve been working my ass off since that damn crone Nadja died of old age! What use is an ‘Advisor to the Matriarch’, if there aren’t any more Matriarchs to advise? The political game changed when the city turned into a country and well, I never had any retirement plans in the first place… So I figured I might as well die out here in the middle of the fucking jungle! Except, I didn’t die. And Gator Brook went from a tiny little outpost to a full-blown city! Now my little plot of land downtown is worth a fortune, and I could live for at least another fifty years… Oh, and I’m married to this beautiful young lady here. Melinda, this is Bariel Gurguranor, the former Matriarch of the Red Goblin District in Black Mithril.”
The tigress shrugged her shoulders and continued gorging herself on the massive plate of barely cooked bloody boar ribs that took up most of the table. She didn’t even bother using her hands, and just shoved her face directly into the food, while growling incessantly. Meanwhile, Walter was using a knife and fork to carefully slice off a piece of tender, well-cooked steak. And occasionally took a sip of white wine from a fancy fluted glass.
“You still haven’t told me about this ‘hospital’ place that my daughter was taken to…” Ariel tried to keep her tentacles and emotions under control, but her anxiety was overwhelming.
Walter chuckled, “You really are out of the loop, huh? Hospitals are huge medicine clinics… Basically a giant congregation of healers of all kinds. Generally, they deal with urgent situations, including childbirth and the various complications that may arise. Even powerful beings can get sick… And when they do, it’s even more difficult to treat… Or so I’ve heard. To be honest, I haven’t even gotten a hemorrhoid since I broke into Level Three a while back. Since then it’s been pretty great. Mmn~, this Basilisk Steak is fantastic, you really should try some when you get the chance.”
He eventually finished chewing and said, “Listen Bariel-”
“It’s Ariel now… Just Ariel.” She murmured quietly, with her glowing golden eyes faced towards the table.
“Hah~!” Walter snickered, shaking his head: “Listen ‘Ariel’, you can’t just change your name and try to start a new identity. Not in Alfirin, not even in the tiniest little village out in the middle of nowhere. You can’t escape your past, or the consequences of the things you’ve done, just because you ‘changed’ or became a better person. No one cares. Michael might not give a damn that your tried to murder him all those years ago, but your fucking son might. And not only that… Don’t you remember what happened back then? You and that bitch sent hundreds of people to die, trying to stop Nadja’s plan to ‘feed’ the fucking city! Those people had families, Bariel. They had kids, spouses, parents…”
“So what? You’re saying I should run?! Where the fuck can I go?!” Ariel screamed, digging her claw-like fingernails into the incredibly hard wooden table.
“Hell no!” Walter took a sip of wine and explained, “There’s nowhere for you to run. And they already know you’re here. You can’t hide and escape is impossible at this point. I know you definitely don’t have enough money to pay off the families of everyone you’ve ever fucked over… But your son does. If you want to survive this ‘trial’, you better do whatever it takes to get him to forgive you first. Because he’s the only one that can save your life right now. President Lorelei Fleisher, another person you conspired to murder, has the power to officially pardon you as well, but I’m not sure why she would… Or if she even has time to deal with something like that. The Supreme Commander can give you a military pardon, but I’ve never heard about her doing that for anyone aside from her own soldiers. Oh wait! There’s someone else… Especially with your umm, current ‘condition’.”
“Who is it?” Ariel sighed, feeling like all the energy and rage was being drained from her chest. She honestly didn’t want to meet any of those people, at least not yet. And not as a criminal on trial.
“I heard that she’s actually in Gator Brook right now, which is weird, since she usually stays in Ael Tol… Well, maybe it isn’t that strange, since there are Snow Elves, Red Scale Tribe, Yeti and other Races or species of Magical Beast that weren’t available for her to study yet. I’ll warn you though, that bitch is absolutely bat-shit crazy. But she does have the power to pardon you of most crimes. You never raped anyone, and technically, you were never a slaver, so murder can be absolved… But Uriel, I think most people would rather face a summary execution than do her any favors.”