“So that’s Alestra.”
Alice said from her seat as she gazed upon the tall white walls of the newly built city. Behind her Olivia was pushing the chair Alice was sitting on, having been modified by Black to have wheels so Alice would not need to be constantly carried throughout the journey.
“Wow, the walls are so white and so tall!” As a villager at birth, the grandest structure Olivia has seen was ironically the prison tower that Alice was locked on in. Even her name Olivia was something Alice had chosen for her after she had abandoned her old name.
Even Myrddin who was walking alongside could not help but sigh in amazement. It’s been only a year, yet there is already a fortress wall here. I wonder how much of the city has developed inside the walls. The Elysius Theocracy's ability to construct is simply too powerful in comparison to the other two continents.
Black and Silver did not show any change in expression as they walked towards the city gates. When they arrived, Black showed her identification and the guards quickly allowed them entrance, not daring to hinder Black’s group with unneeded processes.
“Welcome to Alestra, Sage Adam.” The guards respectfully said.
Once inside Alice’s eyes widened in amazement. “Are all coastal cities like this?”
Inside Alestra, numerous buildings were constructed in an orderly fashion with paved roads and sidewalks. At some parts in the distance there were even canals that made a water road. Although the buildings were constructed with the same base model and infrastructure, there were still many differences that displayed the owner’s taste and personality.
One building had a front lawn full of various flowers, another had red brick walls, and another had large glass windows that illuminated the inside.
But the greatest testament of the budding city’s prosperity was the lively atmosphere of the streets where numerous residents were milling about. Although the population was skewed towards the male side, at least thirty percent were female. So it was not uncommon to see two housewives discussing outside of their homes or on the sidewalks.
On the streets numerous horse drawn carriages were traveling, the passengers inside impatient to reach their destination.
“Why are there so many yellow carriages?” Alice asked, having not seen so many carriages of this color from her peeks at the cities in the Farmosa Kingdom.
“Those are taxis.” Black explained. “The carriages are all owned by the government and residents pay a fee to have the carriage bring them from one point to another.”
“What an interesting system.” Alice said.
Myrddin on the other hand was more surprised at the higher number of civilians and not the army or navy that had first landed on this land. “Why are there so many civilians here?”
“They were brought over here by the campaign to pursue a new life here in the Fractured Lands.” Black said. “Many of them are people who are the unneeded child of their family or seeking opportunity to have a better life. I made it so that they would be able to settle cheaply here such as low housing costs.”
“Is your treasury okay?” Myrddin asked with worry. He had seen the splendor and grandeur of the Elysium, both the Orbital and Eternal City, but still seeing a city rise within such a short time was still a shock. Myrddin didn’t even want to think about how much gold went into constructing the city.
“Don’t worry.” Black waved away Myrddin’s concern. “My treasury has enough to fund Elysium for eternity.”
“How much does your treasury have?” Myrddin asked.
“Enough that even I would go green with envy, not to mention the others.” Silver said, the others in her sentence naturally referred to the other Greatwyrms.
“You guys have never even seen my treasury, how do you know how much I have?” Black asked, curiously.
“Call it our intuition.” Silver said.
“A woman's intuition?” Black teased.
“Why would it be a woman’s intuition?” Silver asked, confused.
Black’s teasing smile disappeared. “Never mind, just a little joke.”
Along the way the group passed a large administration building. The visitors of the building were all people heavily armed. However they did not have any uniform standard so they were not obviously knights.
“What building is that?” Olivia asked, unable to read the large signboard on the building.
“It’s the Adventurer’s Guild.” Black said.
“What’s an adventurer?” Olivia asked, not having heard of such a word before.
“I’m quite curious too, they look like mercenaries to me.” Myrddin added.
Black smiled in satisfaction as she spoke. “You can consider adventurers as a subgroup of mercenaries. The Elysium Theocracy has a standing army and navy that cannot be deployed for long term assignments overseas. Not to mention the army isn’t trained and are unsuited to exterminate demons. So I’ve thought of a method. I’ll hire mercenaries that will now specialize in exterminating demons.”
“I can’t imagine that it would be cheaper than fielding your own specialized army to exterminate demons.” Myrddin said. “I’m not an expert but wouldn’t cost quite a bit. You may have a full treasury but I don’t think you’re the type to waste money when there is a more efficient method.”
“It’s actually cheaper.” Black said, a devious smile on her face. “We do not pay for the extermination of demons. We pay for the magic gems inside of demons.”
Myrddin paused as he processed the information.
“Besides, we do not provide anything else besides information concerning the demon. That way even if the adventurers hunt down a beast and not a demon, they would not be paid for it. Of course they can skin the beast to sell the material to the tailors here, in fact the guild will also purchase the leather at a low price and sell it for a profit to tailors. Other materials can also be sold to the guild, but the main business is still magic gems.”
“And I’m assuming that the adventurers will have to maintain their own equipment and buy their own food?” Myrddin asked.
“Correct!” Black said. “This way, it stimulates the economy of the city. The city will eventually become a city of adventurers. Eventually once the idea of adventurers becomes popular, even the native residents of the Fractured Land will become adventurers and the guild can expand to other places beside these cities. With the threat of demons, no society in the Fractured Lands will remain peaceful.”
“How long do you think it would take for adventurers to become common?” Myrddin asked. Such profession would take many years to take root.
“Who knows, the Elysius Theocracy doesn’t have much influence here. It would depend on how much the demons affect the kingdoms here. Not to mention society is sparsely dotted throughout the whole Fractured Lands. I’m sure there are already many weaker societies that have fallen under the demon’s assault.” Black said.
“But with mercenaries as the main force in clearing out demons and the time it would take to establish them in the Fractured Lands, wouldn’t it be difficult to establish the purification magic circles?” Myrddin asked.
“This is all just a start. It’s not like the world cannot live on with these changes. When the Outer God first came, it had already left an irrevocable mark upon the world even with its death. And now this expedition is simply paving the way to fortify the Fractured Lands and prevent future similar happenings again.” Black said. “The time actually does not matter, truthfully the faster the better but the time needed would still be several generations of mortals.”
“I see.” Myrddin said. “So I wouldn’t need to worry about the new threat in my lifetime.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Black said.
After walking about an hour the group finally arrived in front of a three story mansion. It was a gated estate and it was a young man with dirty blonde hair that greeted them at the door.
“Greetings Lady Adam. My name is William Alfred and I have been ordered by Duke Alfred to cater to your every needs. Please do not hesitate to order me.”
Black nodded. “Show us to our rooms first. We just returned from a long journey so do not bother us until it is time for dinner.”
“As you command.”
Saying so William and several other butlers and maids led the group to their own rooms. Alice and Olivia watched as Black, Silver and Myrddin were led to their own rooms in a different wing of the mansion.
When a maid approached to take the reign of Alice’s wheelchair Olivia stopped her. “It’s fine, I’ll do it.”
The maid only smiled in response, not minding Olivia’s action, before walking back in line with the other maids as they led Alice and Olivia to their rooms. Perhaps in thought of Alice and Olivia’s relationship, their rooms were directly across from each other.
“Would you like anything?” The leader of the maid asked Alice and Olivia who had settled in Alice’s room.
Alice shook her head while Olivia said no.
“Very well, please enjoy your rest. I’ll return to inform you when dinner time has begun. Should miss need anything just ring the bell near the door.” Saying so the maids all bowed before retreating from the room.
“Princess are you feeling unwell?” Olivia asked after the door had been shut.
Alice shook her head. “I’m no longer a princess. The moment I left the tower my fate was no longer tied with the Farmosa Kingdom.”
“Then...what should I call you?” Olivia asked, her tone unsure.
“Just call me Alice, we are equals now.” Alice said.
“There’s no way I can do that!” Olivia said, her hands physically motioning her reluctance. “I’ll call you Lady Alice, like how the people here call Lady Adam here.”
Alice said no more seeing as Olivia was determined in her way. Instead she touched the soft sheets of her bed. “The sheets are so soft, I’ve never felt anything so soft.” The best she could gather during her days in the tower were the fabric used to wrap the food that would be sent up through ropes.
Naturally they were all coarse like the food they contained. Thinking about food, Alice couldn’t help but raise her expectations towards what a true dinner would be like. Her taste buds had already been completely conquered by Black’s outdoor cooking. If outdoor cooking was already that good, what about the actual food served in a mansion?
“Uwahhh, you’re right.” Olivia said she too stroked the white bed sheet. “It must feel very good to sleep in.”
Her eyes were lit with excitement. Comparing the bed before her to the ones she slept in back in the small fortress that surrounded the tower, there was no comparison. There was less needed to say of Olivia’s dwellings from before she was stationed at the tower.
Thinking about sleep, Olivia began to feel a slight urge to yawn rising in her.
“You must have been tired pushing me all this way. How about you go to your room to sleep?” Alice said with a smile as she Olivia resist the urge to yawn.
“But I want to talk to Lady Alice for a bit longer.” Olivia said, like an unwilling child.
“There’s no rush. It doesn’t seem like we will be leaving anytime soon. There'll be more time to talk after.” Alice said, convincing Olivia. With a reluctant expression Olivia walked out of Alice’s room and entered her own room which was an exact replica of Alice’s room only in reverse.
Once Olivia left, the smile on Alice’s face disappeared.
Ignoring the bed, Alice moved her wheelchair to the windows where she could see a clear view of Alestra, a city that shone like a beacon of prosperity. Now that she was inside the city, she could now expand her sight to see every nook and cranny of the city but she could no longer “gaze” outside the walls, her vision constrained by some sort of barrier.
Alice had already taken notice of this city months ago because they came from the Endless Seas. As the name implied it was an ocean with nothing but water and no landmass like the Great World as the residents of the Fractured Lands call the land they lived on. But to her surprise people actually rode on flying ships and arrived here, invoking great interest in Alice.
Her sight wasn’t omnipotent enough that she could see all of the Fractured Lands but she could still see the large area around her but her sight could not fully encompass the other side of the Endless Seas where the Three Greatlands existed and thus her surprise to see airships arriving at Alestra before it's construction.
Her sight had been blocked off midway when the walls had been erected and so Alice didn’t know what occurred within the walls but her curiosity did not dwindle and instead increased from having the knowledge hidden. And now that she was inside, she fully unleashed her inquisitive gaze on all aspects of the city.
There was an orderly structure that could not be matched by the Farmosa Kingdom, even the capital, and even the Elven villages that waged guerrilla warfare against the Farmosa Kingdom. She could not see any obvious crime, and all the inhabitants seemed to be well nourished even if they were common citizens.
A rueful smile appeared on Alice’s face as she looked at her own malnourished hands, a consequence of never receiving enough nutrients from when she was growing. Sometimes it was because her keepers were too lazy or perhaps they wanted to spite her to feel a sense of pleasure from abusing a member of the royal family, but they would often skimp out or even give nothing to her to eat.
They had even starved her for days when she had taken the cloth that they used to wrap the food for blankets to combat the cold weather. It wasn’t until Olivia came that she had a stable food supply, and even then it only ensured that Alice would not sleep on an empty stomach. But never would she have a full stomach either.
Just like this Alice passed the time gazing outside at the residents milling about in Alestra.
It wasn’t until dinner time that Alice was broken out of her reverie. Alice declined the maid’s aid in pushing her wheelchair and instead had Olivia push her once more.
The dinner table was not what Alice had expected, it wasn’t the rectangular table like the royal family of the Farmosa Kingdom used where the king sat at the head of the table with the queen on his left and the crown prince on the right. It was a simple round table made of polish dark wood where everyone sat apart equally. That was not to be said that there was no status difference where Black sat.
That was why Alice found herself so surprised when she was next to Black on her left with Oliva to her own left while Silver sat on Black’s right and then Myrddin.
From their short journey with Black, Alice had already gleaned that Black was the leader and rather special. Something which Alice was even more sure of when they entered Alestra. Which only made her more confused as to why she would be sitting so close to Black.
But Black only smiled kindly at Alice’s confused expression before announcing the start of the dinner.
Two maids entered the dining room within moments, each pushing carts with circular food covers. The party blinked and stared at the covered plates that were placed in front of them. It was pearl white and the edge was gilded with a golden design. Before they could even observe anymore the cover was lifted revealing white mist and the intoxicating aroma within.
The plate was tear shaped with the sharp point pointed away and at the center of the edge near them was a sapphire sphere with horizontal white segments and flecks of white showing through the blue. The meat glistened like a jewel and a cream colored sauce was drizzled in a circular fashion.
“The first hors d’oeuvre shall be a dish of Piercing Lobster, which is a form of seafood exclusively bred by the Elysium, in a velouté sauce. Please enjoy.” One of the maids said.
Even Myrddin who had followed Black for years now was surprised by how the food was presented and plated, nothing needed to be mentioned of Alice and Oliva. Alice was more calm as her sight had long since seen the food of royals, but even they were a far cry to the elegant plate of food before. Olivia had the largest reaction as she fidgeted wanting to start eating but afraid to ruin the amazing plate before her.
Black picked up a fork and started to eat. This was a signal as everyone else began to eat.
“So soft!” Olivia cried out.
Alice picked up her own fork and knife, copying the mannerism she had seen from her former family members. She almost doubted the sensation of her hands when her knife and fork seemed to move through air even though they clearly cut through the lobster. Smearing some sauce on the lobster, Alice took a bite as her eyes widened in delight before closing into crescents like a cat.
By the end, Olivia had devoured her plate like a ravenous beast even going so far as to lick the plate clean. Black watched on with amusement as Myrddin casted a disdainful gaze at Olivia's action yet his own plate was spotless.
The finished plates were carried away by the maids before covered new ones were placed before them. Once more the dishes were revealed and once again an intoxicating aroma assaulted their senses.
“The second dish will be bruleed foie gras of Ashdon. The soup will be an Vanafen-style cream of sweet potato and chestnut soup. ”
The soup was warm unlike the cold first dish. Alice gently sip the soup and felt her body warm as indescribable flavors assaulted her taste buds. It was like the gentle caress of someone who cared about her and within moments the soup was finished. Alice looked regretfully at the empty soup plate as it was brought away.
Soon the third dish was presented. “The main course shall be a marbled steak made from Elysium raised and bred Black Behemoth.”
At those words, not to mention Myrddin even Silver sat straighter causing a tense atmosphere to descend upon the table. Even the maids couldn’t help but have their eyesight linger upon the main course, desire apparent for all to see.
The dish itself was quite simple, a seared steak with an herb butter on it paired with garlic butter mash potato and a simple mint and orange salad. However the aroma was intoxicating beyond words, causing the normally calm Alice to swallow her saliva.
She picked up her fork and knife and although it wasn’t resistance-less like the first dish, the knife still sliced through the meat like butter. Picking up the sliced piece, Alice saw the reddish pink meat that still oozed with juices surrounded by the seared skin that prevented the flavor from leaking.
After a single bite all thoughts vanished from Alice's inquisitiveness mind, the next thing Alice realized was that dinner had finished and all that was before her was an empty dessert plate. In her mouth still lingered the taste of vanilla and a fresh cool feeling.
Her face reddened as she recalled her actions, but looking around aside from Black who was smiling at her no one else was paying attention too content in their own satisfied little worlds.
That night when Alice crawled under her sheets after rejecting Olivia’s appeal of sleeping in the same bed she finally for the first time in her life experienced what it felt like to sleep with a full stomach. Even the constant ache on her ankles seemed to decrease by quite a bit.
For the next few days Alice spent her days with a feeling of ease that she had never experienced before. Even though the food wasn’t as lavished and decadent as her first day in the mansion, it was still far better than what Alice had before. There was even a small part of her that feared that this was a pleasant dreamed she had conjured up and once she woke up she would still be inside her tower assaulted by demons.
But as the days passed, the feeling lessened and she and Olivia even began to take lessons to increase their knowledge. During her days in the mansion she had not left even once despite the freedom to do so, instead Olivia gossiped about the happenings of the city. There were even reports of the silhouette of the Silver God of the Seven Pillar Faith flying deeper into the Fractured Lands from the locals that Olivia had heard about.
Then a full week later Olivia was pushing Alice towards a separate building within Black’s estate in Alestra.
Upon entering the building, Alice was greeted to the sight of a large empty space three stories tall with the inside covered in metal that gleamed under the bright lights. Aside from the stairs and walkways lining the walls there was nothing else inside aside from some strangely shaped contraption and metal lying about and what Alice recognized as magic gems of various sizes.
“Alice, you’re here!” Black said motioning Alice and Olivia move closer.
“Lady Adam.” Alice noticed how Black was unusually excited and looked at the chair that was besides Black.
The chair was rather large, bigger than her current wheelchair at least. It was seemingly composed of black wood with blue cushions sewn into the back and armrest of the chair. The endpoints of both sides of the armrest were fitted with strange orbs.
It was then that Alice noticed the circular silver platform the chair was on was levitating stably above the ground with no apparent support.
“Do you like it?” Black asked as she moved out of the way for Alice to take a closer look.
“Is this a new wheelchair?” Olivia asked.
“No, you could call it a throne. No, throne doesn’t fit. How about Autonomous Seat?” Black said as she covered the lower half of her face.
“Is...is it for me?” Alice asked hesitantly.
“Of course.” Black said.
“Why?” Alice asked. She couldn’t understand. Although she was called the Witch Princess and feared for her power, Alice herself understood that aside from her sight and slight telepathic abilities she was far weaker than the mages under Black’s control. So why would Black do so much for her after rescuing her and ask for nothing in return?
“Because I felt like it.” Black simply. “Come on try it. I just finished it, so there might be a few kinks that need to be worked out.”
Black didn’t wait for Alice to respond as she gently scooped Alice from her seat and placed her on the autonomous seat.
“Well how does it feel?” Black asked.
Alice felt her emotion go into turmoil, but with Black’s question she grasped onto something to focus on. “It feels really comfortable, like the bed with some structure. The seat also doesn’t sway when I move on it like I’m on flat ground.”
Black nodded. “Try moving it around using the orb on your right side. As for the orb on the left, ignore it for now.”
Alice followed Black’s words and placed her hand on the orb. Her eyes widened as the seat began to move according to the movement she made on the orb.
“Hmmm, the controls are still a bit untuned and jerky but it's not bad for it’s first run.” Black said.
Olivia however was extremely excited. “Princess you can move by yourself now!”
Alice herself however experienced it even more as an unknown sense of liberation assaulted her heart. Her hands refused to leave the controls as she moved around as much as she could.
When her heart had finally calm she looked up to see Black smiling at her. A flash of light shined through Alice’s dull black eyes as she smiled at Black in return.