Normally, I would head down to the smithy right before dawn, and forge out weapons in order to hone my own skill. Now that I had succeeded in making not one, but two powerful weapons, I no longer felt the need to go.
Though, I still exited my room at the same time as normal. And, as expected; Bea was waiting outside my door.
“You know, I was also curious about those weapons last night. You made them yourself, didn’t you?” She asked, pointing at the nodachi slung over my shoulder, and the wakizashi tucked into the same makeshift belt I’d used last night.
I nodded in confirmation.
“Yeah, I did.”
“So then, what are you going to do now?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, it was fairly obvious that you were only really here for the library, and the forge. You’ve probably read through all the most important books in the library by now, right? And now, you’ve made those two weapons. As I see it, you’ve got no reason to stay any longer. I know you want to get back to your home.”
“You’re right. I’ve been considering what to do next for a while now. I think I know where I should go, but I need to talk with Joan first.”
“Then, do you want to go meet her?”
“Right now?” I asked. Bea nodded. “Sure. Take me to your leader.” I replied, laughing on the inside.
We traveled through the winding corridors and hallways, eventually ending up in front of Joan’s office. It was the same place I had been brought to when I first arrived here, brought by Anhara.
Joan was seated on one of the couches, reading reports of some kind when we pushed open the door and entered. She looked up, and nodded a greeting.
“Hello girls. What can I help you with today?”
Bea stepped aside, letting me walk into the room first.
Joan smiled slightly when I walked in, and she gestured to the couch across from her, as if saying that I should sit. However, before she could complete the gesture, she laid eyes on the nodachi hanging from one of my shoulders.
“Oh my. You made that, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but that’s not why I wanted to talk to you today.”
“What do you want to discuss, then?”
“I wanted to thank you for your hospitality thus far, and inform you that I will soon be leaving for the Central Empires.” I said, mentioning the massive states in the middle of this landmass, where all the most recent information was held. I would have a much better chance there in finding out where the Continents are in relation to here.
Joan didn’t look shocked, or even the slightest bit surprised to hear this.
“That’s fine then. When are your planning on leaving?”
“Two, maybe three days. I don’t really have anything more to do here.”
Joan’s gaze once again alighted on my weapons, and she smiled slightly.
“I can see that. I had thought that you only smithed as a hobby—not that you might be one of the most pre-eminent smiths I’ve ever seen. You would be hard-pressed to find blades comparable to the one on your back, even in the most prosperous of Empires.”
“Thank you.” I said, accepting her compliment. “Now, if it’s completely fine with you, I’ll be going now.”
“Go ahead. In fact, why don’t you head to the storerooms, and pick up some provisions for later, when you’re on the road? Also, please feel free to take any other materials you might need with you—within reason, that is.”
I nodded, and left.
I did end up going to one of the palace’s storerooms, to see what sort of things they had stocked there. There was quite a lot of food, clothes, armor and the like. I suppose these were here in case the palace encountered a situation where resupply from outside was impossible. But still, it took me a good few hours to thoroughly explore the whole storeroom. The deeper I went, the more interesting and unique the items inside it became. There was even a complete ballista near the back wall, with crates full of its ammo next to it. It was also obvious that some people used this place as a dumping room of sorts, since there were a few…questionable goods hidden away in various locations.
By the time I emerged from the storeroom, lunch had come around. I joined the main table for this meal, eating with Joan, Bea, and all those high-ranking military personal.
However, it was also during this meal that my troubles really began, though I didn't know that at the time.
It was Joan who first brought it up, though Bea might have had a hand in the planning.
It all started when Joan opened up a conversation with me, halfway through lunch.
“I’m sorry to ask this of you, Kai, but could you delay your leaving for about a week?”
I tilted my head in confusion.
“Why? Weren’t you saying earlier that you had no problem with letting me leave in a few days?”
“Well, It’s come to our attention that there will be a group of people leaving in a little over a week, in order to travel to the same Empires that you wish to go to.”
“Oh? And why should I wait, when I could leave sooner, and arrive quicker?”
“Because, there’s added security in traveling with a group, and less hassle. This way, you would also have things like wagons to carry food and equipment, horses to keep you from having to walk, and guides to take you through the best routes. Not to mention that you could even take certain metals with you this way, since you wouldn’t have to carry them all the way.”
I considered her offer for only a brief moment. In truth, I would have said yes, even with only the possibility of bringing along some of the metals from the palace.
“Okay. You’ve convinced me.” I said. “About how many people would be going?”
Joan thought for a second before answering.
“I’d say around twenty or so. However, most of those will be guards, horsemen, and retainers to take care of the small details. There’ll be two large wagons, and two carriages going as well.”
“Sound’s good. I guess I’ll be exploring the city until the departure time, then.”
“Go ahead. Feel free to come and go as much as you want. And, again, take anything you want from the storerooms, or the smithy.”
“Sure. I’ll be troubling you, then.”
After lunch, I amused myself outside of the palace, just as I had said I would. The only reason I hadn’t yet been exploring in the city, was the fact that I had better things to do at the time. Now that my goals have been met for now, I could afford to venture outside, and experience what life in the city must be like.
I am no fool, though, so I wore my long-coat with the hood up, which threw my face into shadows. And, with my unfortunate height, there was no way anyone would be able to peer up into the hood, and see my face—unless I wanted them to.
I didn’t want to draw undue attention to myself, after all. I just wanted to observe things from a distance.
I left the palace grounds, and walked past the gate guards no problem. The noble’s district seemed just as quiet and still as it had before. I think that the nobles here all have other manors outside the capital, in their own land. That’s probably why it seems like there are so few people here.
Outside the walls separating the noble sector from the rest of the city, though, things got plenty lively. It looked like it was market day, since there were so many stalls set up in each and every available nook and cranny, and so many voices crying out their wares in catchy little rhythms. Whole families looked to be outside, perusing the goods displayed in the open, and haggling for the best deals. Or, well, the women were haggling, while their poor husbands were stuck with carrying all the goods brought. Shopping will be the same, no matter the world, it seems.
I slipped through the crowds quickly, and without drawing much attention from the people around me. Given that I had spent one youth as an accomplished pickpocket, it took an effort of will to suppress whatever natural inclination was having my hand inch toward those exposed coin-purses. I guess the people here felt reasonably safe.
They also seemed genuinely happy—something that was too rarely found in any world. This was proof to me that most the people ruling this kingdom truly cared about the wellbeing of its citizens. Whether the ones at the top were the Royal family, or Joan, truly didn’t matter. They all worked towards the same thing.
So, I grabbed a plate of food, and settled down in a good position among the rooftops to watch the crowds steam on by. I paid for the food, of course.
However, the meandering crowds still couldn’t take away form the eagerness I felt at the chance to journey inward—to visit the great empires standing tall in the center of this landmass, rife with power. And, more importantly, with knowledge.
“Do you think she’ll be angry when she finds out?”
“No—her indifference would keep her from getting too mad at us. Besides, I think that she’ll appreciate the company after a few months have passed.”
“Right. I trust your judgment in this, Bea. I hope you know that you’ll be the one bearing the brunt of this. I certainly won’t be accused of plotting this.”
“It’s not even a plot, though. We had known that those people would have to leave for the schools in the empire sooner or later. Throwing Kai in among them is only the smart thing to do, no matter how annoyed she would get.”
“Ah! Have you decided yet?”
“On whether or not you’ll let me go with them, when the group leaves. I know you’ll be sending Anhara along as well, to give her some real world experience.”
“Let me think about it a while longer. I’m only sending Anhara because she needs to go. I’ve coddled her for far too long—even though I had ample reason to after that incident.”
“Anyone would do the same, Joan. Who could have know, after all?”
“You know about it? How did you find out—your father?”
“No, I put the pieces together myself. The late King was a real piece of work, wasn’t he?”
“Yes. It made me wonder how I hadn’t ever seen that side of him, even after bearing his child. While I don't regret having Anhara, I do wish that she hadn't had to experience what she did."
Joan shook herself mentally, and changed the topic.
"So, when will the group be ready? I want it to leave in a little under a week."
"But, didn't you tell Kai that it would be over a week?"
"Yes, however, I would rather surprise her. You know, throw her more off balance so that she won't refuse to go with the group. Plus, it would give her less time to find out who all is going with her."
Bea grinned evilly.
"I'm also going, right? Come on—you have to let me go! I can handle Kai the best, and prevent any...messy things from happening."
"Fine, fine. You can go. Though, you also have to explain to your father why his best subordinate has to leave the country for an extended period of time."
"Ugh. Suddenly, convincing you to let me go feels like it had been a bad idea..."
My computer must hate me or something. The chapter was somehow lost no less then three times during software updates and bugs.
I'm happy it's finally done—along with this arc. Next chapter, join Kai as she departs from the city, toward the center of civilization!