"The Holy Capital of the Empire was an advanced city by all standards. The city was so large it would take four hours to travel from one end to the other on horseback, at least 500,000 citizens lived in this city at any given time. In regards to defense the entire city was surrounded by a massive 30m high stone wall that was 10 men thick. It was so thick horses could run atop it, every 100m or so a trebuchet was built into the structure."
"As for infrastructure the city was the most advanced in the country. An intricate road system easily connected every part of the city and the sewer system ensured the city remained spotless. Homes and buildings were built tall which was extremely expensive and laborious but resulted in the most efficient use of space. The city was also self-sufficient and had various underground sources of water and internal pillar farms for growing food."
"The Capital was home to a number of key government offices and important organizations like the Church, Holy Knight Trainee schools and Holy Knight headquarters."
"However, as one would expect all this luxury came at a heavy cost and only the most wealthy and influential people could afford to live in the Capital. There were no slums in the city to be seen not because the city did a good job at supporting the non wealthy but because they would be quick to send guards to chase out the poor. You even required a certain amount of wealth or prestige to be granted entry for a simple visit."
"At the gatehouse seeking entry into the Capital was the party of Luna, they had finally arrived at the Capital after a couple weeks journey."
The Holy Capital of the Empire had finally come into view, it's huge walls were something Zera and I saw everyday during our studies. I stretched and let out a big groan.
"Gwahhhhh! We're finally here."
"Yes, the journey took two-weeks by foot, it would have been faster by horseback but alas we didn't have any. But look."
Zera pointed to the huge line of caravans and people that sprawled in front of the gatehouse.
"The Capital is as busy as always."
"Of course, it's full of the wealthy and wealth always attracts merchants. And while we may be used to it..."
I scratched my cheek a bit and looked at the three teens who had come with us. They were currently staring in awe at the huge walls of the Capital and excitedly talking to each other.
"Look at the walls! They must be 5 times taller than the walls at Itzes!"
"Indeed! And look at the huge thick wooden doors. That must be a small forest worth of lumber!"
"And look at how many visitors are trying to get in, there must be ten merchant caravans trying to get in. All of them are twice as big as any that ever came to Itzes! I wonder if they sell silk..."
Zera and I looked at each other and smiled, then I motioned for the teens to follow me.
"Well come along then, it's even more amazing on the inside."
All three of them nodded excitedly as we approached the huge line waiting to get in.
"I wonder how long we will have to wait to get in."
"Even if we had to wait a day I'm sure it would be worth it."
"Oh, we won't have to wait."
The three teens looked at me curiously as we began to walk through the lines of the caravan. Merchants shot us cold looks but when they saw the sigil of Holy Knight on Zera and I they could only sigh and shrug.
Nel had shifted behind me trying to hide from all the gazes of the merchants as she tapped me lightly on the shoulder.
"S-should we really be cutting the line l-like this?"
"Not to worry, Holy Knight's get instant access to the city, consider it a job perk. Once you three become Holy Knight trainees and get your sigil you will be able to get instant access as well."
This was where the Holy Knight headquarters was located after all. It would be quite troublesome if Holy Knight's had to wait in line to reach their own headquarters.
After a bit of walking we finally reached the front of the line where a few guard boxes were set up. We walked up to a free one and a bored looking gate scribe greeted me.
"Welcome to the Holy Capital state your access level and reason for visit."
"Access level of Holy Knight and reason of visit is to meet Border Manager Farks."
The scribe yawned then jotted down my responses in a thick book. He then looked up, took note of our Holy Knight sigils then looked at the three teens with us, he seemed to take note of their commoner clothing.
"What about those three."
"These three are to be advanced to Holy Knight trainees at the Cathedral."
The gate scribe scribbled a few more notes into his book then nodded.
"Alright make sure they don't get separated from you or they may be kicked out. Enjoy your stay in the Capital."
I nodded then led the group in through the gates.
"Why did he say we may be kicked out?"
"If you are not visiting the capital with a certain amount of wealth or prestige the guards have authority to kick you out."
"Eh? Why's that, sounds scummy."
"It's because everything in the Capital is very, very expensive and if they don't limit access to a certain type of people many of its features would go unused and the Capital would lose money."
"Even after you explained it, it still sounds scum-"
Uzair quickly went silent as the group finally emerged from the entrance into the main street of the Capital. They were greeted with beautiful and intricate high wooden buildings and a bustling street of carriages and caravans. The street level was lined with window shops that contained beautiful looking clothing and goods. In the distance they could see a massive white cathedral that dominated the view.
"Ah this sight never gets old."
Zera pointed to the huge white cathedral.
"That's where you three will be going to get your Holy Knight trainee contracts."
I saw Nel, Uzair and Omar take a noticeable gulp, I laughed.
"No need to worry, well be going with you! Come lets get a carriage."
"A carriage? I've never ridden in one, do we really need it?"
"The Capital is huge, to get to the Cathedral by foot from here would take an hour by foot. If we take a carriage it should only take 15 minutes."
"A-n h-hour by foot!?!"
"I don't think it even took 15 minutes to walk across Itzes..."
"The Capital is quite overbearing indeed."
I signaled a nearby carriage and paid the driver the fee and told him to take us to the Cathedral. We then all shuffled in as the carriage took off along the stoned streets.
Zera and I looked at the three teens in front of us, oh, it seems I made a mistake. Omar was sitting in the middle of the opposite seat taking up most of the space squishing Nel and Uzar to the side, although those two didn't seem to mind as they stared out the side windows in awe. Omar on the other hand actually had his head squished up the ceiling...
"Errr, sorry Omar I should have gotten a bigger carriage. I didn't have much funds on me so I took the cheaper one that was only 15 silver."
"I'm starting to understand what Zera meant when she said if you weren't at a certain level you wouldn't be able to utilize the cities functionality..."
I curiously tilted my head at them confused as to what the problem was.
"15 silver a month was already considered very rich in Itzes and to think that you would spend that all just for a short carriage ride here in the Capital. I shudder to think how much necessities like housing or food cost."
"You must be very rich then Luna..."
"Not at all. As a Holy Knight all your necessities like weapons, food, and housing are provided by the church. We also get a salary as a full Holy Knight but because my necessities are provided for I've never really used it much."
"How much is the salary?"
"Uhh, about two gold a month I believe."
The three stared at me with blank faces for a moment before letting out a screech.
"You really are rich!"
I became flustered as I was unsure of what to say to them.
Two gold a month wasn't rich at all!
Zera laughed then set the three's expectations.
"You three have much to learn about the capital, two gold a month is not much, the bare minimum to enter the Capital is to have wealth of at least 20 gold, the Holy Knights are given special access because of the role we serve. Like I said things here in the Capital are very expensive and if the church wasn't providing necessities two gold wouldn't be able to support life in the city. Also, you only get a salary once you advance to full Holy Knight."
The three sat back a bit dejected as they looked out the window.
"Things really are different in the Capital."
"But look at how beautiful it is, every way I look I see rows and rows of shops and beautiful homes, no wonder it's the Capital. Now we can say we visited a place where only the wealthy are supposed to gain access to."
The three nodded in agreement to that. They seemed to gain a bit of pride.
"You won't just be visiting here, you'll be living here for a while."
"The Holy Knight Trainee school is also located here in the Capital. You would be staying there after gaining a contract to train and get ready to approach full Holy Knight. Both Zera and I studied there for a year before we advanced."
The three looked at each other worried.
"It's paid for right?"
Zera and I looked at each other then laughed.
You could take a person out of the boonies but you could never take the boonies out of the person!
"Yea, all paid for so nothing to worry about! Anyways, we've arrived at the Cathedral, it's time for you three to get your contracts."
As we stepped out of the carriage we were greeted with a humongous overbearing white cathedral that depicted the essence of 'Holy' perfectly. As the three stared wide eyed at the cathedral Nel spoke out softly.
"Can we really advance just like that?"
"For trainees, yea it's fine. Zera and I have more than enough prestige to recommend three individuals to advance to trainee. And also you three have an iconic achievement under your belts."
"Yes, you three are the only survivors of the Itzes massacre."
The three teens went silent at that and looked down at their feet. I felt Zera slap my shoulder and give me a look that said 'really'?
She pulled me to the side and whispered to me.
"Why would you say that!?!"
"You know what's waiting inside the Cathedral and in trainee school, they will be put through much worse by the snobs within the organization."
"Look, they are already fine. They are stronger than you think."
The three who had been looking at their feet depressed just a moment before were now back to looking at the cathedral in awe. I motioned for them to follow me
"Let's go in and get you three to advance."
The three nodded and stepped forward, at least they were able to rebound even after I mentioned the tragic events of Itzes, they would experience much worse if they really wanted to become full Holy Knights.
As we entered the cathedral we came into a vast open space filled with rows and rows of church benches. The entire area was lit with massive skylights and the massive room showcased an expensive looking white marble interior.
At the far end of the cathedral hall three giant marble statues stood, they were nearly as tall as the roof of the cathedral itself.
One of the statues was a woman in flowing robes who had a piece of cloth covering her eyes, she wore a kind gentle smile. She had her arms open in a welcoming gesture.
In the middle standing the tallest was a broad chested man whose figure showcased rippling muscle. He had a rough stoic expression on his face and held out a scale in one hand and raised a clenched fist with the other.
The last figure was a thin male who didn't make any grand gestures but only stood in a simple sharp robe with his hood up. He held a book close to his body in one hand. Appearing from within the hood were a pair of cold eyes and a thin smile.
These were the three Holy gods that the Empire worshiped and got their power from. Hema, the gentle god of healing. Justicus, the stoic god of justice and Paragon the cold god of purging. Hema to save, Justicus to judge and Paragon to cleanse.
A nun dressed in simple white robs approached us, when she reached us she bowed curtly to Zera and I before addressing the trio.
"Hello, may the Holy gods bless you. I am Nun Sara and I manage trainee ascension, Luna sent word in advance that she would be bringing candidates for ascension. I assume it's you three?"
"Yes it's them, have you made the preparations?"
"Indeed, everything is set up, I don't know why you would recommend such bumpkins but alas it's your reputation not mine, shall we begin?"
Sara who had been talking mainly to me turned to look at Nel. Sara looked Nel up and down then scoffed.
"You wouldn't be able to advance in your lifetime if it wasn't for Luna's recommendation, I suggest you advance quickly while you can before someone more caring objects."
"Oi! That's a bit harsh-"
"Harsh? Listen stick boy, I'm not your friend and I've seen hundreds of people ascend to Holy Knight trainee and every single one of them had an incredible amount of achievements under their belt, all you three have is surviving and from what I heard a Holy Knight trainee had to sacrifice himself for you three, pathetic."
Uzair and Nel didn't respond, everything the woman had said was right, they only clenched their fists and looked down. Omar stepped out between them and the woman.
"Hoh? Well aren't you a big lad. You may have had some potential to become a trainee by yourself, kill a few bad guys with those big muscles of yours or something. But what did you do when your families and friends were being killed, based on the report I read all you did was run away."
Omar had his face down and had his fist clenched at his sides. I put my hand on my sword hilt afraid that he was about to attack Sara. But all he did we let out a deep breath.
"Yes, we were helpless when our families and friends were killed. Yes, Pontius sacrificed himself to save us. Yes, all we could do was run away."
"Hah! And that's why-"
Omar put up his hand cutting Sara off.
"But you need not remind us Nun Sara, for those facts are already embedded deep into us. It's because of those we loss that we want to become stronger."
"Ridiculous! Your families and friends are already dead! What do you hope to achieve with power now?"
Uzair stepped forward, tapping Omar on the shoulder, then he turned his attention to Sara.
"It seems all those high achievers you've seen have skewed your view of purpose Nun Sara."
Nel also stepped forward and spoke up.
"We're not doing this for our gain, we don't want power for ourselves, we simply want to be able to save anyone else from what we experienced. We couldn't save our families and friends but maybe we can still save someone else's."
Sara blinked a few times, she seemed shaken by the three's sincerity.
"Hmph! Foolish children, I'm tired of you three already, let's go in and get your contracts signed and get you all set up with trainee school. Oh, and say your goodbyes to Luna and Zera you'll be far too busy for the next year to even consider visits, unless you drop out sooner that is."
Sara turned and started walking away. The three teens looked at me unsure, I smiled at them.
"I told you that this is as far as I can get you, the rest is up to you three now."
The three all looked at me for a moment then Nel rushed forward and hugged me.
"Thank you so much, we won't forget you!"
I smiled and patted her head.
"Don't act like we'll never see each other again, I'll see you all after you become full Holy Knights right?"
Omar laughed and nodded.
"Indeed, we'll meet again once we are much stronger! Come, let's go."
Nel and Omar waved at me then walked to follow where Sara had gone, surprised I saw that Uzair had stayed behind and was looking at me.
"When I first met you I blamed you for the death of my family, I was looking for someone to blame, I was hurt, I still am."
Uzair walked up to me and held out his hand to shake.
"I can see that we will hurt your reputation for recommending us. And while I still think the border guard messed up, I don't think you were to blame for what happened to my family, so thank you, for going this far to help us."
I grinned and clasped Uzair's hand firmly and shook it.
"It was the least I could do, and don't worry about my reputation, I expect great things from you three."
Uzair nodded then also turned to follow Omar and Nel. I watched them walk away, this would be the last I would see of those three survivors for a while.
They chose to walk down the path of Holy Knight to save others from the misery they had experienced first hand. They had rebounded quickly from the horrors they had faced and within them a strong determination had brewed and yet Uzairs words echoed in my mind.
'I don't think you were to blame for what happened to my family'
The smile I had worn before slowly slipped away from my face.
If you knew that it had been allowed on Empire orders.
If you knew what happened at the border that night.
If you knew what I had let happen.
Would you still be able to say that?