The sun was at the peak of the sky. In the world’s terms, 90 degrees day. The bell tower in the centre of the city rang, the clash of the bell and hammer reverberating throughout the whole kingdom.
One chime, two chime, three chime. It ended with an unusual fourth chime.
“What do the bells signify again?” the soothing sound of the bell echoed in her mind.
“The bell? Then that means we’ve arrived just in time then,” Curtis glanced at Ellis for a moment before reaching out to hold the reins.
“Um. I think I heard it ring four times? That’s unusual.”
“Four times...is there some special event happening?”
They reached the whale dock. Curtis helped Ellis down from big Whaley. Curtis took down their baggage from the storage bags.
Across the many other platforms, people were rushing up and down carrying immense loads. The crates were then fitted on rather somnolent whales. Supporting the platforms in the air were orange crystals devices. Each one had the size of a fist, transcribed with vector wind magic to keep the platforms upright.
Weather-beaten dark cedar wood with sea anemones and tiny barnacles growing in between the cracks. The sides of the platform with fixed in with bolts and rope.
Powerful winds would brush against their face every time a whale departed. Getting hit by a whale’s tail wasn’t a joke, it was a nightmare.
“Please take care of him,” Curtis tipped the guard in charge of the hanger for Whaley. The guard gave him a silent nod.
Ellis gave Whaley a goodbye hug— at least that what it looked like. Nearing the edge of the platform when she did that, she nearly lost her balance and fell.
They headed off towards the entrance of the kingdom with their baggage and commissioned delivery items.
Ellis glanced at her meagre baggage then at the numerous floating crates around Curtis.
‘Wind magic sure is helpful.’
The platform to the side of the pillar ascending upwards like a corkscrew around a twig. The hangers were built with an open concept to it. Whales could freely move around and interact with one another as if their own home.
Since there were many other pillar clusters close to the main pillar, the whale dock was built in a way where it overlapped each other like a wall-less maze.
Walking up the ascending path built into the circumference of the pillars, Curtis showed a bleak expression.
Ellis placed a finger on her lips.
‘Maybe I should have told Curtis to take on a lighter on-the-fly quest.’
They could call on a few guards to assist. But Curtis declined, saying that it was good practice.
To a degree, Curtis almost lost control of one medium-sized crate when a person unaware of the ‘floating’ package bumped into it. Ellis reacted in time and stop the wild package from tumbling away.
After much hardships, they finally reach the central hub of the maritime zone. Connected to it was the ship dock, built on the opposite side of the whale dock. There was an on-the-fly-if-you-can-do-extra quest post at one of the corner.
They walked towards the shortest queue. The man currently talking to the attendant noticed his focus had shifted for a moment. Curious, he turned around to see Curtis and Ellis right behind him.
The man blinked a few times, sizing up the two who was in front of him. His brilliant ochre eyes sparkled with a surprised look on his face.
“Pardon me,” he gave a smile and gestured them to go first.
“Really? Thanks?” Ellis nodded at his kindness.
Curtis looked at him and gave him a weak smile, “Thank you.”
The crates fell to the ground.
With all the items confirmed, the attendant presented them with a certificate rolled into a scroll. After which Curtis walked right to the exit and with a light head, pulling Ellis along.
The man was left there standing there with the attendant.
“Do you know that person?”
“You mean the boy? I’m not too familiar but I’ve seen him a few times before. If my memory serves me right, he should be from Croquel Guild.”
Croquel Guild, one of the three large established builds in Haital. Lion’s Keep Guild and Gleamlock Guild were the other two major divisions established.
Lion’s Keep Guild originated from Trinity Kingdom, with many many other branches in all kingdoms throughout the Empire. Its success came from the royal influences during the beginning stages of its expansion. This influence lead to the rise of the guild with a strong foundation.
Gleamlock was inferior to Lion’s Keep. However so, it remained a strong guild. Originating from Crowfer kingdom, it was said that the members were given unrestricted permission to explore the lower regions that brush the surface of the abyss. No other guild known had such a benefit.
Croquel was the worst of the three. Having only branches in 2 kingdoms currently. One in Haital and the other one in Trinity Kingdom. It was a locally established guild, first established in Haital 5 years ago.
“Thanks for the information,” the man helped the attendant raise a crate onto a wheelbarrow. “Here’s a tip.”
“Thank you,” after which the attendant’s jaw dropped in shock. The man only replied with a faint smile.
The magnificent sight of medieval buildings, one’s that could be found only in fantasies, and towering castle walls—were drowned by utter chaos.
The busy roads packed full of people, clamouring noises rang within the indecipherable chatter. Merchants shouting at the top of their lungs, trying to make a sale. The smell of food wafted in the air.
This was Haital’s well-known bazaar. The interconnecting paths of the bazaar were like links that stretch across like a messy spider web before merging into the calm domestic district.
The bazaar initially didn’t exist in the past. It expanded in size the more people came to a realization of such a ‘thing’.
Years ago, the only place where merchants could sell their items were at the central plaza. This matter was governed strictly until a glibly merchant went against the directive, setting up his stall outside the designated area. No one took noticed as he only sold unattractive petty items on a tiny wheelbarrow. It was only when his business started picking up did the other merchants notice the problem. Complaints were made in contingency.
From the rumours, it was said that the king had good ties with this lofty merchant. So instead of punishing him for breaking the regulations, the king abolished the directive, permitting merchants to set up stalls wherever they wished. Of course, housing estates and castle grounds were exceptional.
This was both the biggest mistake and fortune ever made. Since the expansion had expanded to the point of being uncontrollable.
Well, at least the bazaar was well received as a part of Haital’s culture.
Curtis held Ellis’ hands tight as they passed through the bazaar grounds. The density of people slowly diminished. With the normalcy of peace returning, Ellis made an exhale.
Now standing before a building that towered above the rest, Croquel Guild. They proceeded up the steps towards the open double door. In the middle of the room was a guild crest resting on a podium. Encase in glass, this golden emblem had the shape of a shield surrounded by winding flower tendrils. Two swords shot upwards, with the blade tips reflecting light.
The master guildhall was made of fine cut stone cut-outs. Lanterns jabbed into the stone wall, glowing in white and orange light in alteration. Mahogany overhang beams supported the ceiling. Interwoven red and grey carpet lined the floor from one end to the other.
One hall lead to the eatery. This was where Curtis and Ellis would usually head to. The food there was affordable and delicious.
The other side was the accommodation lobby. With the decent room fairs, most adventurers were able to afford to use the lodging services.
The rooms were small but comfortable. Moreover, the whole lodging was just adjacent to the master guildhall. Built in such a beneficial location, which adventurer wouldn’t want to stay for a few nights?
Close to the entrance was a large quest board. Numerous assignments hung on crude thumbtacks with adventurers crowding the spot.
Curtis and Ellis walked up to the row of counters stationed a distance in front of the entrance.
Ellis placed a box on the counter.
A wooden box with artificially coloured gold rims and calligraphic patterns around it. A hinge on the front attached a padlock with weird engravings on it.
“This? Um, the person back at the port told me to help bring this here, since we’re heading to Croquel after all?”
Before Curtis’ befuddled expression regained clarity, a receptionist came over with an all too familiar face.
“Ellis! big brother! Welcome back!” Ruth called out in a bright voice.
She wore a red blouse inside with a white coat outside. A long bubble red skirt below covering her lower torso with golden ribbons woven into multiple crosses. Her long black hair that stretched past her shoulder bounced at every step.
“Ruth. Great to see you again.”
Ellis gave her a big bear hug.
“Ellis... Ellis... there are people here,” a clump of hair fell over her face.
Like two suctions cups, they pulled away from each other.
Ruth was Curtis’ sister, and also one of Ellis’ friend— for obvious reasons.
“Here’s a box. I’m not sure what it is but I think he said it’s something the guild head will know?”
A box. On it was a tiny crest.
Ruth glanced at it twice, shifting her hair behind her ear, “I wonder what this is but I’ll take it to the higher-ups, thank you. Anything else?” she took the box from Ellis and slid behind the counter.
Curtis still had his eyebrows raised when he shuffled through his bag, “Here, the certificate for a pick-up quest we did,” he handed over a scroll.
Working away behind the counter, Ruth processed the request before handing over a mix of gold, silver coins. Curtis divided the with Ellis and passed a gold one to Ruth.
Coins were the currency in the entire Monarch Empire. With the help of magic, they were able to create coins that were almost impossible to counterfeit.
“There’s also that thing you need to say right, Curtis?” Ellis tilted her head looking at Curtis.
“You mean the pillar cluster?” Curtis said the last word inaudibly.
Ruth tilted her head in confusion. Another strand of her hair fell in front of her face, she quickly ran it back up behind her ear.
Curtis beckoned Ruth over and whispered into her ears. She furrowed her eyebrow then sent Curtis a difficult expression. Half exasperation, half-disbelief.
“I’ll call the guild master,” she stopped before the back door, “Do you have proof?”
Curtis nodded. He understood how important this matter was. If it was a lie, Ruth would get herself into quite a mess. If it wasn’t— their only hope was it wouldn’t turn into a national crisis.
“Ok then,” Ruth slipped away.