Ellis and Louise were currently in the inner sect of the kingdom, the sector where nobles live. Knights could be seen patrolling the place, some with a sword strapped to their waist, others holding terrifying halberds that could easily slice a grown man into two.
Haital was divided into four regions. From the centre moving outwards, the first region was known as the royal grounds. This was where those with royal bloodlines would stay. Outside that region would be the inner sect, some dub it the noble's playground. This was where the red-light districts were found after all...
After that would be the outer sect, where commoners like Ellis stayed. The last region— the most outer region, was the agricultural zone and (sky) maritime zones combined. This region consisted of the many individual mini-pillars around Haital. Although the pillars in the surrounding could not compare to the size of the main pillar, each pillar was about a kilometre or so in diameter.
The agriculture zone and maritime zones had the largest area among the four regions. And as one could guess, the outer sect had the second-largest land area. The inner sect came after that, followed by the royal grounds.
In the inner sect, the architecture of establishments was profoundly different from the ones in the outer sect. Commoners would rarely have the chance to visit this area because it required a certain pass to cross the gates that separated the two regions. Each region had been divided by colossal walls, except for the agricultural zone which was merged together with the outer sect. To put it simply, both regions were divided by 'air'.
Well, there were immigration counters separating the maritime zones and the outer sect. That at least counted as a 'wall' right?
With Louise's position as a royal, Ellis was allowed entry the inner sect without any issues.
Walking down the streets of noble town, the streets were constructed from cobblestone cut-outs, forming a repetitive arc pattern that extended outwards like a fan. The buildings were built similarly with wood and stone bricks, but the effort and attention to detail that went into each construction were what separated the architecture here from the outer sect. It could be easily pointed out as— extravagant. Every building present had been decorated with curlicued designs or engraved structures, adorned with lush patterns, each having their own flair of originality.
The varnished wood carvings around weren't the only thing that stood out among the buildings. Fine stone sculptures carved by incredibly skilled artisans, to represent various creatures were built and lined along the sides of the streets.
From a few verandas, there could be seen beautiful hedges that acted as parapets, identifying with the garden-city concept. With ivy plants crawling down from the top, and beautiful sweet-smelling flowers overflowing from between the leaves, Ellis thought that these should also be practices utilized by people in the outer sect.
Passing through the crowded housing area, they reached the streets where only large mansions could be seen. Considering the scarcity of land, these mansions that could fit in at least half a dozen similar noble houses from before made Ellis breathe in an air of awe. Most mansions had wide green plains, emphasizing the lone, single building in the centre. Ellis even saw a mansion plot with a complete hedge maze.
"This is amazing," Ellis spoke after a while. Thinking about it, it was probably because she was at lost as to what to say.
"Haital's architects are some of the most amazing among the kingdoms in the empire. About this form of mixed floral-medieval design, I've never really seen anything like it before," Louise voiced her opinion.
From the viewpoints of the other nobles passing by, Ellis and Louise stood out like a sore thumb. Mainly due to the 5 knights that trailed them wherever they went. Moreover, one of the knights was wearing the insignia representing Haital's higher-order royal knights—Harold. To have such a person conferred this rank protecting the two, it was inevitable that a new rumour would sprout, whatever the contents were.
Ellis noticed that people here all wore neat dainty clothes that had an air of nobility. And, they were whispering something related to Louise and the knights. No, they were talking about her.
"Uh, Louise, how come you're able to come out like, normally today? Rather, why are you coming out normally, wasn't there the sneak operation thing?" Looking at the three knights who walked behind them. The other two stood out in front, acting as the tour guide.
"Today? I couldn't possibly sneak you in, can I?" Louise chuckled, "This opportunity was given to me by the prince, I'd say it was him who made this trip a lot easier to pull off."
"Why so?", Ellis was starting to feel a difficulty catching what Louise was saying.
"There's a conference being held today, but under the prince's discretion, I was allowed to not attend it, you see," Louise spun her fingers while explaining.
"Conference? A talk between two kingdoms, something like that.." Ellis softened to a mutter.
"Yes, something like that."
Ellis knocked on some hard object.
A small stone brick chunk.
Raising her head over to look at the next mansion.
It was blown to bits.
At the current moment, constructions were underway.
A portion of the grassy field had been scorched into ashes. The street had been charred in black patches, the cobblestone melted into one another. Chunks of rubble were left along the path here and there, all of them smaller than the size of a fist, similar to the one Ellis nearly tripped on.
Louise turned to the knight standing at the back. Her eyes shot towards Harold and she expressed a curious look, "What happened here?"
Harold didn't stop them when they chose this route at the intersection before, which meant that he had no intentions of hiding the ineffable destruction in the first place. Normally, such a scene shouldn't be shown to the visitors, as to not show the weakness of the kingdom. This was what Louise concluded.
Harold walked out front from behind, now guarding their flank.
Just as he was about to speak, Louise asked again, "Was it a mage?"
Harold's eyes widened before narrowing at the sight of the dilapidated mansion— the melted, deformed rock crusts.
"The king wasn't wrong when he said that Rozel had seen similar incidents before."
Louise made a nod, "From your remarks earlier, I believe His Highness Sartus of Haital would discuss it during the conference. I believe there isn't any point talking about it here?"
"I'll assume so."
Harold didn't continue further, though he was curious why Louise refrained from talking about it. He expected her to ask or have him explain the details. It would've been a chance to share information.
In any case, they continued moving forward, walking away from the mansion's vicinity.
Ellis was, genuinely confused. This tied in so well with a rumour she heard about the Jesters.
His hair was golden brown. A narrow face that brought together with it a mature look, someone at his early 20's. A few scars on his face, scars that represented the many battles he had fought before. All of them seem like small cut wounds. Most of them concentrated below his left chin
Behind that amiable smile, Curtis sensed that Hermit was an incredibly powerful person, different from his gentle outward appearance.
His brown, round eyes looked right at Curtis.
Curtis returned a handshake.
"I still haven't thanked you from before," Curtis flashed an awkward smile.
"That, so you still remember me then? That's fortunate."
Tia's head appeared from the entrance, "You two— know each other?" her figure was still basking in a golden light.
"It was back at the whaling port. He helped me carry and sort the load up onto the counter."
"Is that your doing? To Tia I mean," Hermit pointed at the glowing light encapsulating Tia.
"Yes?" Curtis was stunned at the calm reaction he gave. This sort of thing wasn't something people knew about. If they did, they would've reacted in an exaggerated manner, like what Tia did when she first experienced it. It wasn't like anyone besides Curtis' closer peers knew about his abilities. "Are you not surprised?"
"I am," Hermit tried to scrutinize Tia. Really scrutinize...
"Are you seriously going look at a woman like that!" Tia spewed out words that Curtis would rarely hear. Ruth even tiled her head and had one of her brows raised.
"Ah," Hermit seemed to have snapped out of something, then he inadvertently scratched his cheeks. Realizing that it was no good either, he started shaking his head as if trying to rid of something imprinted in his mind, "So what spell is that?"
"Recovery magic— something like that," Curtis didn't have a name for every spell, nor did he think anyone had.
"Interesting, I've never seen it in this form before."
'Never seen it in this form before?'
"You know this spell?"
"Yes, in fact, my master had used this numerous times before, just a different variation."
Thinking a little bit deeper, Hermit didn't look to be the thug mentioned by Ellis. A thug like that wouldn't be acquainted with Tia in any sort of way. It should be fine to cross him out of the list.
"Tia, he is?" Curtis asked. Something was fishy. His senses were telling him so, just like when he was with Louise.
Hermit gave Tia a troubled smile behind Curtis. Curtis didn't see it but, it was a signal.
"A month ago. He stopped by the store to fix his equipment. Then by chance, we had a short duel," Tia made wryly smile, sighing after that, "He beat me."
Perplexed that Tia was actually beaten, Curtis felt that his instincts were strangely on the mark.
"Then I decided that he should stop by more often and spar with me when we had another chance."
"Curtis, by any chance are you free at any time this evening?"
Tia looked at Hermit curiously when he said that.
"This evening? Well..." Curtis glanced at Ruth. He had to tutor Ruth about magic later in the afternoon. Then he also told Ellis about visiting Whaley at the dock.
"I need to go check on my whale," Curtis poised a thinking posture, "It depends on Ellis. I'm not sure when she would be back.." Curtis blurted so, knowing that Hermit would probably try piece together from his encounter that, Ellis was that girl beside Curtis all the time.
"Her name is Ellis, was it? From the looks of it, she isn't here today."
"Yeah, she's busy... I'm not really sure when she would be back though," it would be interesting to get to know Hermit a little better, dig out his secrets or something, "How about tomorrow?"
"I'm afraid that's not possible, my party would have to leave to undertake a quest. It would be a few days before we return after that."
"Then how about this, I'll come over to Sid's forge every morning as I do normally for the next week. You should be around after that right?"
"Hm.. that could work. Then I'll be troubling you for that."