Traveling through Ashia was quick and easy- even with Barrett dragging two wyverns along for the first part. It wasn’t an exceptionally large country, nor was it really dangerous, even for non-cultivators. Soon enough the city of Durham came into sight.
“It’s so… small…” Reina said.
Barrett shook his head, “Yeah… compared to Stredo it’s… nothing.” Stredo actually stretched from horizon to horizon from kilometers away, while by the time Durham would do the same they would already be inside the city. “The last time I was here… there were wanted posters. Obviously they didn’t have my real name but they had a good sketch. That was a few years ago, but it’s possible they’re still around. I doubt almost anyone will remember, but the guards at the gate have a chance to notice. I’ll go in another way and meet you inside.”
“Alright,” Reina nodded. “I’ll see you soon.”
Barrett split off from Reina and moved away from the gate. There was a city wall around Durham, but most of the wall would be unguarded. They shouldn’t actually be expecting an attack. Barrett looked carefully just in case. The real problem was all of the open area near the city. It wasn’t empty plains around, but there was a good fifty meters of clear space in almost any direction, and often more.
While there were only guards every hundred meters or so, that was actually sufficient. Forty or fifty guards could watch the entire perimeter of the city. However, guards weren’t perfect. They couldn’t spend all day standing in one spot, watching straight ahead and paying attention to any movement in their peripherals. Instead, they looked around, scanning different places- which was better overall, but still left gaps. They also had lapses of concentration, especially if they didn’t expect there to be any trouble.
Barrett found a spot near the city that was as close to the walls as possible while still affording him the cover of trees. Perhaps a keen eyed guard could spot him, but he was still far enough they would have trouble picking him out. Meanwhile, he could see them just fine, even without using Pure Body Tempering to enhance his eyes. However, if he wanted to watch exactly where they were looking, then he needed to concentrate on that. When he did so, it was almost like he was standing across a room from them- and he could easily see their eyes flicker back and forth.
In particular, Barrett was watching two guards. If they both looked away at the same time, he could run up to the wall between them. It would only take a couple of seconds. Even if their peripheral vision picked him out, they might not actually look over until he was at the base of the wall. It was possible he would still get caught, but he thought it was less risky than the other option. First, though, he had to be able to watch them both at once. Flicking his eyes from one to the other wasted precious moments.
His eyes could only focus on one of them at a time… but he had two eyes. Why couldn’t he just focus one on each? Barrett thought about that, then immediately realized why. Or rather, why eyes normally focused on just one thing. It was extremely disorienting, like looking at a finger right in front of his nose… except everything was doubled instead of just that.. However, while it was confusing at first, it was no worse than trying to use energy, mana, and stamina at the same time. The actual amount of stamina used was very low- there was nothing physically stopping him from moving his eyes separately except the signals from his brain didn’t usually work that way. He could ignore the weird parts where the eyes tried to reconcile their different views.
He finally got his chance when one guard turned to patrol along the wall- probably out of boredom- at the same time the other yawned, closing his eyes. Then he ran. A good sprinter could have reached the wall in less than ten seconds- but Barrett wasn’t a good sprinter. He was a cultivator. Even if it wasn’t his specialty, he was a third tier warrior after all. It only took him three, and that was with some care taken to not throw huge clouds of dirt into the air.
Then Barrett scaled the wall of the city. It was only five meters high and had plenty of handholds- it was nothing compared to the Raging Fire Sect’s wall. It only took a few more seconds, but he slowed down at the very top and climbed over carefully. He avoided moving fast so the guards who hadn’t turned wouldn’t notice anything in his peripheral vision. Barrett watched both guards- which was even more disorienting when he had to track them with just peripheral vision with his eyes going as close to opposite as they could. The yawning guard finished his yawn but didn’t turn, and the other was only a few steps into his patrol.
Barrett dropped down the other side, doing his best to shield the sound of him dropping. Then he casually walked along to go find Reina.
“So…” Reina asked Barrett as they met up near the city square, “What is your plan here?”
“I want to start with observing the city. See how things are being run. If everything is going well…” Barrett took a deep breath, “Maybe I’ll forgive Melody.”
“Then you brought me along with you to do… nothing?”
Barrett shook his head, “Of course not. You can still do whatever you want… and while it may bias my results, I’m doubting the city is being run well. Oh, sure, they may catch a lot of criminals or junk like that, but I doubt the lives of the citizens are being enhanced by the current ruler. I do remember what it was like when my father ruled.”
Reina nodded, “I remember you asking your father why there were poor people in your city when you had so much money. He went over every piece of spending- guards, workers, and even family expenses.”
Barrett nodded, “He talked of prestige as a currency. We ran Durham, so we had to look good. In his estimation, it affected our relations with other rulers and brought in more trade, resulting in a net benefit to the city. I wonder what he would have said about fat bankers if I had thought to bring it up…”
Reina and Barrett walked around the city. Reina shook her head, “People definitely look worse off. I don’t see any people begging… but there are many who look as though they should be. I’d bet on laws against begging.”
“I wouldn’t bet against that. We should find out for sure. Let’s find some people to talk to.”