GGCE 15 – The Empire’s Capital

Prince Randol appeared from behind a carriage to their south with Ter’yut. “Good morning.” The two men greeted the newly awakened girls. Navara replied back while Avery only nodded her head in acknowledgment. “Can I speak to you, Avery? Alone?” Randol gestured out to the crossroads with a solemn expression. Avery only sighed, feeling this was going to make her already unpleasant morning worse.

She followed him, the dirt road crunching beneath her feet. The sun was beginning to rise above the horizon, chasing away the darkness with an explosion of oranges, blues, and purples. The trees that surrounded them were different from the magical pine forest that surrounded Fable’s End. The forest was filled with mid-autumn colors of yellows and oranges among the green trees. The road was big enough to fit two large carriages side by side, half the size of the northern road. The road was less used, and the further they got from the crossroads, the more packed with fallen leaves the road became.

Silence filled the forest, the cold chasing even the forest’s inhabitants into their dens. Avery kept a good distance from Randol, not for any particular reason as she took in the clean air. It wasn’t until she felt the man either had something to important to say, or he had a bone to pick. She figured she’d at least break the ice first. “So what’s on your mind, dude?” She stopped in her tracks once she spoke, her golden-eyes even more majestic in the dawn’s light. Randol felt his words slip away when he saw them.

{PF: *gag*}

Even after the days they had travelled together, those eyes were still beautiful. Not in a matter of love or the likes. More like a painting or one of the wonders of the world. Avery cleared her throat. “I hope you didn’t drag me out here to confess your love to me.” She turned away while pretending to be shy – over-dramatically. Randol chuckled, finally grasping the words he wanted to say. “No thank you. You’re a beautiful woman, but I’m into men.” He smiled before his expression turned solemn again. “I dragged you out here because I wanted to talk to you about what you were going to do from now on.”

His foot tapped nervously and he continued forward. Avery kept pace with him, pleased to at least know what was on his mind. “Didn’t I say I was going with you guys?” Randol nodded. “You did, but that was before the situation at the Northern Keep happened. Since we were at the Northern Junction, I wanted to know if you had changed your mind since then.” He looked down the road they had been walking down. ” If you continue on, there is a relatively prosperous fishing town. If you turned around, you would head towards a different country. If you went north, well. You know what’s north. If you went south, following this road, you’d eventually reach the Empire’s capital.”

Avery wasn’t really following the conversation, as she was lost in what he was trying to get at. Randol must have seen the ticking fuse of impatience on her face because he looked back at her and paused. He cleared his throat and explained himself. “What I’m trying to get at is that we’re at a place in time where you could disappear if you wanted to. Not have to mingle with us and save yourself the trouble – should that be your wish.” He looked slightly worried. He most likely hoped she’d come back with them and to be honest, leaving was a tempting offer…

But she declined with the wave of a hand. “Nah.” She shrugged. “The world has changed too much for me to just strike it out on my own – for now – so I’ll stick with you guys.” She smiled at him, but Randol felt she looked… lonely. It was only for an instant though before a mischevious grin floated onto her lips. “So about the liking men part.” He felt a cold sweat on his forehead. Her grin could only be compared to someone up to no good.

. . . . .

Dusk painted the sky with the ink black that chased the warm evening orange sky like a tide leaving the shore, Avery sat on the roof of the carriage with Navara to watch the passing scenery. Three days had passed since they entered the Empire and they had picked up fresh mounts at a village nearly forty miles back along with enough supplies to last them till King’s Crossing, the farmlands outside the Capital where all the major roads intersected. The soldiers, however, showed little vigor since the Northern Keep. It was as if all the life was sucked from most of them. Barely any of them spoke throughout the trip since the day they left the North.

Avery knew why though. Most of them suffered from night terrors, lack of sleep, and depression. Ter’yut had told her they were fresh meat and the bottom of the barrel quality meat. However, they proved themselves when they fought that horde that they had what it took to be true knights. Just… She wasn’t sure they’d stay knights after they got home. Whichever the case may be, she kept them company by the fire. Listening to their woes and giving them kind words. She told them tales from the when Eos was just a game, sang them soft lullabies, and helped lull them back to sleep.

No one thought them lesser because of it. Even Sir Glen, who was the most experienced of the Knights besides Randol or Ter’yut, sat off in the distance listening. To each, their own they dealt with the reality of what happened in that forest and it seemed at first most had not yet come to terms with it until they got further and further away; with safety in view. It wasn’t until a while ago that Sir Glen explained that the princes’ father, the Emperor, had set them up for failure.

The plan was to lead a group of fresh knights out to make it difficult for Prince Desmond to command that and if anything of value was found, Sir Glen was to take it. That was until Prince Randol joined the group. Then it turned into Sir Glen having to credit Prince Randol, whom their father infinitely liked more.  Both the princes forgave him. Such schemes were the norm in their family when it involved their father, usually just their father. However, of recent, their father was trying ever so harder to rid himself of Desmond. Even go far as trying to sabotage this expedition, which now had killed off many students who were recruited under the Royal Family’s name.

While on paper, Desmond and Randol could have been blamed, yet if the nobles were to investigate even on the surface level – it would be obvious who really skewed their chances of survival.

They passed over the last hill with mountains on either side and was greeted by the ending of the forest at the top. What welcomed them on the other side was vast stretches of farmland straddling a wide river that flowed from the northern end of the valley to the southeast side before being caged by a sprawling city that covered the mountain closest to the river’s edge Villages sat here and there among the fields as the orange sunlight was chased away by the stars and night.

Once the world slowly darkened, many bobbing balls of fire weaved up and down throughout the many side roads and within the villages, most likely patrolling knights the many roads that carved through the fields like a labyrinth. The road was well maintained and the carriages weren’t as bumpy anymore once they went down into the valley. Coming down, they passed a large fork in the road, coming down the center-path. “Another hour and we’ll be at the gates!” The knight driving the lead carriage shouted as they cut through the fields of corn, wheat, and other weird plants that Avery couldn’t name.

She felt a prickly sensation that morphed into one of longing, pulling her back to the hill they had come over once they were mid-valley. She turned to look back and saw a figure that resembled a large four-legged animal. She wanted to take a closer look, but the beast had disappeared into the forest, taking that strange sensation with it. She kept a mental note about it as she turned her attention back to the city that carved out the mountainside ahead, but now more alert.

They came to a large junction that leads to many paths leading to every direction of the valley and they stopped. The road opposite to them was an old stone draw bridge with gargoyle statues guarding it while sitting on pedestals. “This is where we leave you all.” Sir Glen had disembarked his carriage to the back and spoke up to Avery. “Why?” She asked. “We have to return to the outer camp.” He pointed down the left road. “We’re the lowest order in the Empire’s Knights. Our base isn’t in the capital with the more ‘respectable’ Orders.” With a shrug, they reshuffled carriage seats.

. . . . . .

Entering the city by the authority of the Noble Head Warrior Ter’yut and the First Prince Randol, they slipped into the city without grief. It surprised Avery that Ter’yut had a title. She hadn’t heard any mention of it during the entire trip, but then again, she should have figured he was a special character with how they treated him, over the beautiful fox-girl, with respect.

Inside the gate, the old main road continued, inclining slightly as it crawled away. Its laid stonework was weathered by countless seasons and years of use. However, that didn’t show the glaring age difference between the path and the old-Italian styled buildings that line the road on both sides. Shops, restaurants, inns and other forms of businesses lined the street, painted with blues, yellows, and a few light reds. They never stood more than three stories tall with finely crafted window panes that were semi-transparent. Some had even had balconies were their second stories were high enough to allow a carriage to pass under.

All of these lined the nearly thirty-foot wide path, bustling with nightlife. Lanterns lit the street as well as life from the open businesses. Most of the passing people paid them no mind, however, a few threw disgusted glares at Ter’yut. The orc-man ignored them with his head held high and keeping his attention on navigating the busy night road. Avery looked out the window with childish glee. “The in-game cities were never this populated” She murmured, barely a tickle in the others’ ears over the bustle of the Capital.

“What did you say?” Navara, the closest, asked curiously. “Nothing, just a passing thought.” Avery dismissed her comment with a smile before turning back to the window. Soon, the bustle died away giving way to the awareness that the carriage was far more rattly than when it was on the dirt road. The vibration and the sound of the metal plated wooden wheels made on every seem in the stone-laid path gave her a slight headache. She looked at the others, but they seem unbothered by it.

Soon, the left row of buildings dropped away as the path hugged the mountainside, banking left as the right row of buildings became more uniform. Their architecture more finely crafted. The right side now occupied with a waist-high stone barrier, crawling with bogandia branches. The leaves were vibrant green, lush with white flowers brushed with pink at their tips. Flower beds sat every so often on the right side and the path was far cleaner than the road below, but it only made the age difference much more apparent.

This went on for a quarter-mile (0.4 km), following the road to where an old watchtower sat, overlooking the road and the city. It was covered with bogandia branches on the outside face that crawled along to the street side where it was trimmed back neatly before reaching the streetside. There, Avery could see the tower – sitting at nearly forty feet – was as old as the stone path. Moss grew on the street side were a stone archway crossed over to the mountain face. {PF: ugh American measurements are weird}

The building that next adjacent to the checkpoint was actually an office. A few soldiers mulled around before three marched out of a regressed doorway of the tower and another three came out of the office. Five of the six were fitted in steel armor, polished to a near-mirror finish head to toe. The last person was a rather plump woman, dressed in a mage robe. Her black hair was tied into a ponytail and she wore thin wire glasses with transparent glass.

Her robe was dark-green with a bronze shield badge over her heart. “That’s an official from the government. The bronze mean’s she’s a low tier officer. The shield means she’s with the Order Department. The Order is charged with the security of the realm, overlooking the Enforcers, mages, and Knights.” Randol explained, seeing Avery’s curious eyes looking at the badge. Every Enforcer knew the faces of every Royal Family member, once the woman’s eyes caught sight of Prince Randol, she respectfully waited on him as he explained the girl’s job to Avery.

“Ah, so like the police?” Avery asked, her golden eyes faintly glowing in the dim carriage. Everyone was slightly enraptured by the beauty of it. Very few races had eyes that glowed. It was said that Elves, Fey, and Gods held glowing eyes. Even the old Ancient Primordials had them. After a moment, Randol managed to regain his composure. “Ah, sorry, I don’t know what this ‘Police’ is.” He said. “They’re law enforcement. They carry out keeping the peace over the citizens and ensure all laws are being followed. Detain offenders and send them to be judged. They are separate from the military, whos in charge of protecting the nation against foreign enemies.”

“Ah!” Desmond said, finally snapping out of his trance. This was followed by Navara last who just looked around at the other two men confused. Her people had a different way of handling things so she stayed out of the conversation. “I’m not well versed in all of their workings, but I believe that would be their function.” Randol turned to the Officer outside. “Could you elaborate to our guest here all that you do as an enforcer?” The plump girl nodded “Of course, your highness.” She bowed now that she was acknowledged, not showing an ounce of impatience.

“The enforcers cover both civilian and military law. My job specifically is to ensure everyone who passes into the Cloud District is noble or have a good reason to enter. Will that be all, Prince Randol?” She asked after giving a simple explanation. “Yes. Thank you. I’ll leave a good word with your supervisor’s boss.” Randol nodded. “I thank Your Highness for your grace.” She bowed once more before retreating back into the office and the gate opened, lantern light spilling out from within…

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