We arrived at the gates of Temp Pines. Replete with guards keeping watch the town its massive stone walls bearing down hard on us to erode our significance — our presence diminished.

Nadiah explained to us that the town is an abode for the elite of the Southern Region, many officials claim sanctuary in the town with security as robust as it could be, and a wise choice it is, given the disastrous living conditions overshadowing the region.

Finally! After what seemed like an eternity. A voice sharply pierced the calm of dusk, “Hold!”
A group of shadows poked from the top of the gate as if judging and mocking our existence—a trio of pathetic ants in a dying light.
“State your purpose!”, one of the shadows barked.

I should tell them the truth to avoid any trouble, but they’d have no reason to admit Nadiah. Now that I think of it, we don’t yet know the reason for her need to be here. Time to get a little cunning; being vague by omission wouldn’t count as lying, although it could raise suspicion, beating around the bush wouldn’t land us into as much of a pickle, it could also give us the upper hand, too.

“Greetings, I’m Karen. And that guy with the weird facial expression standing behind me? He’s Sakaki Sakurai.”, I beckoned.

“We’re Karma. That woman over there is our guide, Nadiah.” I continued.

The shadows continued to scrutinize us in a cynical manner with utmost skepticism… The number of guards on the ground inspecting us as well as on the walls meant escape was never an option. Of course, the guards would have known most tricks and responses an intruder would give, like a teacher invigilating examination candidates year after year.

“Show your artifacts”, said another, in a low, flat voice. “You, with the sword, slowly”, signaling to Sakaki,

“Slowly? Really?”, cried Sakaki as he began to pull out his long weapon to reveal his Katana to the guards in a cocky manner that solicits commendation.

The shadows stepped forward into the waning sunset. In stark disbelief and then in awe at what appears to be a strip of red— a katana that is not of metal, but glass.
“You may enter. Welcome to the town of Temp Pines”, cried an authoritative voice.

As we pass through the gates we could finally make out the shadowy figures. The guards heavily clad in black leather armor shielding their torso and limbs, and sporting long spears. The others behind and on the wall were armed with short-bows. Their chest plates bear a crest of three straws positioned left off center of the armor.

I remembered that I wanted to inquire the guards and slid back to allow Sakaki and Nadiah to pass the gates before me to a sight of balmy verdure.
“Oh, I’ve heard that another Karma has recently entered town?”
“You’re talking about Missy Hearth? Don’t know where in town she might be, but she’s a wild one… The pub might be a good start, miss.”, one of the guards replied.
“Thank you”, Miss Hearth, huh? And “Missy” Hearth at that?

“What a relief! We made it!”, cheered Sakaki.
“Now that we’re here, let’s look for Hearth, the Karma that recently arrived here.”, I suggest.
“Right now? Nuh-uh, I’m gonna find a decent inn and take a nice, long bath. Seeya gals later!”
“Well, fine, make sure it has room for us. The guards said we might find her in a pub, so meet us there when you’re done!”, I shouted as he walked while waving his arms.

“Now then, Nadiah, you haven’t told us why you’re coming to this town.”, I questioned Nadiah in a paranoid way. “You’re not here to assassinate the government officials, are you?”
Being paranoid is one thing, but taking lives would brood worse enemies, something my mentor instilled into me.

“Huh? Assassinate? God, no.”, she replied, calmly, “Yes, I’m a mage, but I don’t intend to kill anyone. I’m just here to try to convince the officials to repeal the collectivisation policy. Though, stumbling into you and Sakaki did make my task a tad easier.”
That’s a relief. I hope I wouldn’t have to doubt what she said.
We proceeded to go to the nearest pub we can find.

“Rolling Stones Pub… Does that mean anything?”, I read aloud a signboard.
“Eva! Eva! Eva!” cheers could be heard from the outside.
Nadiah and I opened the door to everyone cheering for the woman who is scantily dressed sitting in front of the counter downing herself with a flagon of booze. Her face is a solid pink. From the looks of it, she might have been here awhile.

It’s the pub’s candlelit ambiance that I am not comfortable with, nor will I ever be. Obese men dressed in western style suits stuffing their faces with meat and beer and woman. She might be the one we are looking for.

“Kyahhh!”, she moaned defiantly as she slammed the jug onto the wooden counter.
”Another!”