The messenger of Sevenoak reaches Almatar.
Serene hurried down the main city street. Perhaps it is more accurate to say she was hurrying relative to the street's normal speed, but in reality her pace was still positively tectonic. Almatar was the capital of Drakoldia, and its positioning - Near the coast, and at the centre of a crossroads - meant that it was a major trade centre. During the day, merchants set up stalls wherever they pleased, and when night fell, the mystics and werewolf rehabilitation clinics set up shop. Serene pushed her way through the crowds, slightly disoriented at the sharp dialogue that passed over her head.
"I tell you, this is finest mince."
"Oh yes, and that big talon in it is merely an illusion?"
"New, oxyclean deter−agent!"
"I told you these potions are rubbish. Look, ninety−two percent metaphysical."
She reached the gatehouse with relief, passing into the cool, granite tunnel where, incredibly, it was quiet.
The portcullis, a great big piece of iron weaving, was open, which was normal, but was also guarded, which was not. Upon approach, the two guards lowered their pikestaffs across the passage. One, a tall, spindly man, was trembling very slightly. Serene smiled grimly.
"Alright," she said, matter−of−factly, "What's happened?"
"Nothin' at all, miss."
"Then why are you here?"
"We always guard here."
Serene wasn't fooled.
"This morning," the tall guard moaned in surrender. Serene nodded with a grim smile.
The other guard, a man with a very large red beard, stepped in hurriedly.
"Eh, we can't tell you that," he said. There was a very real feeling that the balance of power was shifting, and Serene was sure this man knew this.
"Anyway," she said, stepping warily around them, "I really have to be going. Message for the king," which was a lie, but it was sometimes better to lie to people than try to explain things to them.* The guards didn't budge.
*Many religions utilise this strategy marvellously.
"Oh−no−no−no−no," muttered the tall guard. "You can't see 'im."
"Why?" Serene asked, an element of frustration in her voice.
"Same reason we're standing here," grunted the bearded guard. "And anyway, you can't be a messenger. They're witch's robes, them."
Serene sighed. She hadn't prepared for this, and improvisation was a dangerous route.
"Yes, and I have a message, so please move, or I'll have to flash−freeze you."
The spindly guard trembled, but beardy wasn't moving so easily.
"We're not letting you through," he said firmly.
"Oh, forget it," Serene said grumpily. She turned around and vanished into the air in a whirlpool−like motion. Both guards gawped for a second, before regaining their senses.
"Where'd she go?" muttered the taller guard, leaning on his pikestaff. He had a habit of never worrying about anything he couldn't control. The bearded man was a bit less calm about it.
"The castle!" he roared, and with that, he tore off across the courtyard towards the keep. The tall guard, speechless, followed reluctantly.