Chapter 4: The Emperor's Request
The messenger approached the throne in a rush. He came across his emperor sleeping on the throne. The messenger looked around nervously for someone of higher position. It was not the duty of a lowly messenger such as himself to wake the emperor. However, nobody except the some men of the Imperial Guard was present. The messenger asked the captain, the emperor's bodyguard, to wake him up.
"Sire. Sire. Sire! Please awaken, your Highness!" the man said.
The emperor awakened groggily. After a few seconds of clearing his eyes and getting his bearings straight, he spoke, "My apologies, did I miss another meeting?"
"No sire. This man has a message for you," the captain replied.
The emperor turned towards the messenger, "A message? Well then, let us hear it."
The messenger spoke nervously, "Y-yes sire. Most interesting news. It seems there are some visitors in the capital!"
"Visitors? Forgive me, but that does not seem worthy of waking me up," the emperor cut in.
"But sire, these visitors come from Aliahan!" the messenger exclaimed.
This got the emperor's attention. "Aliahan you say? Why, this is the second time in eight years! Rather odd for a land isolated from the world. Do you know why they are here?"
The messenger answered, "The rumors say they have been asking many questions about our land, the neighboring lands, and…" the messenger paused and then mumbled, "The Archfiend."
"Hmm, this is most interesting," the emperor mused. "These visitors seem eerily similar to the visitor we had eight years ago. Is he in the group by any chance?"
"I cannot say sire. Many do not remember what the other stranger looked like. However, those that do say he is not with them," the messenger answered.
"Okay then. Very good on delivering the message. If you are not too busy, I would give you another task," the emperor spoke.
The messenger got excited, "Anything for Your Highness!"
The emperor began speaking again, "Bring the visitors to me. I would like to speak to them."
"But why would the emperor want to meet with us?" Suzanne asked.
"I don't know! This guy just came up to me and told me we were all summoned to the castle to speak with him. He said to gather you all up and then we have to go as soon as possible," Alice explained.
"He must know we're from Aliahan. That's the only reason the emperor would personally meet with random visitors to his land," Thomas theorized. "But how did he find out where we are from?"
Thomas's question was a valid one. Although the group had sought information on the Archfiend, they also tried not to reveal where they were from. It turned out to be a difficult task, but not for the reasons the group had thought. They had thought that the Archfiend would be such a talked about topic that anyone who asked questions clearly had to be from an isolated region. As it turned out, little was known about the Archfiend. Nobody wanted to talk about it either. The only thing the group found out was that the Archfiend resided to the south.
"Um…that may have been my fault," Ron said reluctantly. "I went to the bar last night and may have said something I shouldn't of."
"What!" Alice yelled. "How could you have done that! We specifically agreed not to reveal where we were from!"
"Hey, I had a very good reason!" Ron defended himself.
"How good looking was she?" Thomas asked.
Ron was surprised by Thomas's question, "What?"
"Don't play dumb," Thomas responded. "How good looking was she?"
"How did you know it was over a girl!" Ron asked, very surprised Thomas guessed it.
"So it's true!" Alice yelled. "You betrayed us over some girl!"
"Okay, that's enough," Suzanne cut in. "I think we can gather that though the emperor knows we are from Aliahan, he's not going to imprison us or he would have sent soldiers to arrest us. If I had to guess, he's curious as to how and why we are here."
"That's not the point!" Alice persisted. "How could he go against what we agreed on over some girl!"
"Hey, you heard Susie. No harm done! It all worked out all right! In fact, if I understand everything right, this might actually help! You should thank me!" Ron shouted back.
However, Alice was not thankful, "You're so full of it!"
As the two continued their shouting match, Suzanne whispered to Thomas, "How did you know it was because of a girl?"
Thomas chuckled and answered, "Whenever he has a 'good reason' for doing something stupid that 'good reason' is always scoring with a girl."
"At ease, all of you," the emperor said to the four.
The four had kneeled upon coming up to the emperor and now stood back up.
"Allow me to introduce myself," the emperor went on. "I am Emperor Vilisik of the Romalian Empire. How has your visit been so far?"
The group looked at each other, unsure of how to respond to such a casual question given by a ruler. Finally, Suzanne spoke up, "It has been wonderful so far, your Majesty."
The emperor chuckled. "Good, good. You may have wondered why I called you here. It has come to my attention that you are from Aliahan."
"Yes your Majesty," Suzanne replied.
"If I may ask, is the seal on your land lifted? This is the second visit we have received in the decade," the emperor asked.
"It has been lifted, but only a week ago," Suzanne explained. "Aliahan still has no plans of coming out of isolation, but we are here on a mission."
"Allow me to guess," the emperor said. "You have come to gather information on the Archfiend and serve as a sort of diplomat between nations."
Suzanne nodded. The emperor went on, "Has Aliahan decided to become a peacemaker between nations? That is the exact mission of our last visitor of Aliahan."
"That man was my father," Suzanne explained. "Although the king has allowed both myself and my father before me to leave the land on this mission, this is still a personal mission not given by the king."
"Interesting," the emperor said. "Then I shall tell you what I know, which admittedly is not much. The Archfiend resides on the southern side of Tarasia, a continent to the south. It lives south of the kingdom of Isis, an ally of ours. Before it moved in, the region was home to many city-states and nomads that did not belong to any larger nation. Rumors say that all humans have been eradicated from those lands."
The group gasped at the emperor's last statement. Thomas was first to speak, "All humans? Eradicated? How could this have happened?"
The emperor continued his story grimly, "It seems impossible that the Archfiend could have become so powerful so quickly, but all the signs point to this being fact. Mind you, we have sent no official scouting parties to verify this fact as it seems that such a mission would be suicide. However, many neighboring lands have received a large number of refugees. According to recent reports, some have even come to the empire."
At this point, the emperor became more cheerful, "Which is why a person of my position is so willing to work with you, who will be treated as mere outcasts in any other land. If a lesson can be learned from the fall of southern Tarasia, it is that the Archfiend will have no trouble conquering independent human lands. Although they were quite small compared to the empire, even we will not be able to stand alone against the Archfiend soon enough."
"Excuse me your Majesty, but may I ask a question?" Suzanne interjected. The emperor nodded. "You have yourself stated that we will be no more than outcasts in other lands. Some might even accuse us of trying the manipulate the nations into another Aliahan Empire. So, even with what you know of southern Tarasia, why are you so willing to work with us?"
The emperor chuckled. "You will note that I am quite young compared to most rulers." His statement was true. The emperor looked to be in his mid-30's, with a head of blonde hair that did not show a trace of grey. He had a boyish face and his tone and manner of speaking were relatively informal compared to the king of Aliahan.
The emperor continued, "Excluding the queen of Isis, I am the youngest ruler that I am aware of. I know of at least one that actually fought in the Second Great War, fought against the Aliahan Empire. However, I do not have any memories of those dark days. That is not to say that I have not heard the curses uttered against your country, specifically those by the older generation. It does mean that I see no reason to hold a decades-long old grudge."
The emperor chuckled again and went on, "However, I am not about to offer my cooperation without a price. Do you see the crown I have upon my head? What do you think of it?"
"It looks quite marvelous, your Majesty." Suzanne replied.
The emperor shook his head. "Marvelous for a duke or some sort of lesser noble, but not for an emperor. No, my true crown is ten times as glorious as this silly hat! But unfortunately, it has been stolen from me. Not just my crown, but my pride and honor have been stolen. Over a month ago, I was ambushed by thieves to the north of here."
"Now the leader of their foolish band, a man named Kandar, wears the crown atop his head, and claims the western parts of the empire to be his! Worse yet, some foolish towns have agreed to follow him! This is where you come in. I cannot bear to send my troops against my own people. They are tricked by this knave's words and his possession of my crown. Being so far away from the castle, they have hardly ever seen my face, so it is no wonder their allegiance is so easily taken."
"So, I want you to get my crown back," the emperor stated. "However, I forbid you from striking any of my people down unless they should first attack you. As for Kandar and his band, you may deal with them as you see fit. But do not hurt the innocents. Do this for me, and I will grant you a great reward that will highly benefit your cause. Are we all agreed?"
"This seems like a great mission, your Majesty. We will do this for you," Suzanne agreed.
"Well then, you are dismissed. I wish you luck in your journeys."
Before heading to bed that night, the group decided to take a look at a map of the Romaly Empire. They had been given the map from a scholar in the castle library, who had also marked the territory where Kandar was setting up his reign.
"It looks like they have quite the mountain range here," said Ron, pointing north of the castle.
"According to the scholars, they have numerous paths through the mountains that should not be too hard to traverse," said Suzanne.
Thomas spoke up next, "I hope we don't have to fight our way through another mountain ambush."
"Your concerns are valid, apparently monster activity has been increasing in the mountains. They've had to drastically increase the number of escorts to traveling caravans going through the mountains," Suzanne replied.
Ron decided to change the subject, "Hey, have you guys been by the equipment shops here? The stuff they sell here is a lot better than we ever had in Aliahan!"
"That's not surprising," said Thomas. "Part of our exile included having to give up all our arms from the war. Combine that with the lack of trade and goods from Aliahan are probably inferior in general."
"Well, we should make sure to equip ourselves before we go," suggested Ron. "We're going to need all the help we can get on this mission by the sounds of it."
"That sounds like a good idea, but how expensive is the equipment? We need supplies as well," said Suzanne.
"We have gotten a large amount of money from selling all the monster parts we've gotten," spoke Alice. "We should be able to afford a good amount of gear. That is, if genius here didn't spend it all on booze and women."
"Hey, that ended up helping us! Besides, I only spent my own money!" Ron protested.
"Cut it out you two!" Suzanne interceded. "Ron's right, we should be better equipped. We'll all go to the equipment shop and see what they have for us."
When the group went to the local equipment shops, they found they had enough money to buy chain mail and bronze shields for Suzanne, Ron, and Thomas. After that, they had little money left for weapons, but they bought a chain sickle for Thomas. They also bought supplies needed for the road. Ready for the road, the team headed to the north.
After two days of traveling, the team made it to the base of the Rashal Mountain Range. The mountains covered a significant portion of the center of the continent. Towns and villages were sparse in the mountains, but the team planned to take a two-day journey up the mountain to a plateau on the northern side of the mountains. On the plateau was a village called Kanave where they could rest up and restock. The first day was tiring, but fairly routine. The four decided to head to bed a little earlier on account of fatigue. The next morning they set out again.
"After this, I never want to see another hill for as long as I live," said Ron.
"Yeah, this is a lot steeper than the hills in the eastern wilds," replied Suzanne.
Alice did not seem deterred, "Well according to the map, Kanave is about as high as we have to go. Once we get there, it's all downhill."
"Until we have to make a return trip to Kanave," said Thomas.
Alice shook her head and said, "Actually, some of the people in the castle told me there's a waypoint in Kanave. Once we get there, we get just teleport back there whenever we want!"
"Incoming!" yelled Ron.
Ron pointed further up the hill. Coming up fast were three huge green bees.
"My gosh they're moving fast!" exclaimed Ron.
"Stay together guys!" Suzanne said. "Watch each other's backs!"
Within seconds, the bees had come upon the party. Two of the bees immediately made a pass at the party. Suzanne and Ron positioned themselves in front and struck back at the bees. Ron landed an excellent attack that killed his, though the bee managed to sting him on the arm. Suzanne blocked her bee with her shield and managed to land a strike, but the bee lived and flew away. Suddenly, Ron dropped his sword and shield.
"What the! I can't feel my arms!" Ron shouted.
"Damnit! Form a triangle around Ron, keep those things away from him!" Suzanne ordered.
The bees were circling the party now, looking for an opening. Unfortunately for them, Alice had been chanting a spell and now completed it. A line of fire streaked through the air, burning both bees. The wounded bee dropped dead while the other managed to survive. The bee tried to make an attack on Alice but Thomas stepped in front of it and killed it. After that, Thomas tended to Ron.
"What is this!" yelled Ron, afraid at his own condition.
Thomas examined Ron's arms. "I read about this back at the castle. Those bees have some sort of nerve agent in their stingers meant to disable their foes. According to the books, it lasts for a couple of hours but doesn't do any permanent damage."
"That's a relief," said Suzanne, "but we better be careful for those hours. We'll be in rough shape if we get into a fight and our best warrior is out of commission."
Luckily, the four managed to avoid confrontation until Ron had the use of his arms back. From there, the team made it to Kanave without much further incident. It was late at night when they arrived, and they were all exhausted, and so they immediately went to the inn.
The next morning, after buying some more supplies, the four went around gathering as much information as they could on Kandar. In the evening, they met back at the inn to discuss what they found out.
"We've got some good news. Everybody here knows who the emperor is here and everyone is loyal to him," said Suzanne.
"It seems Kandar has set up a blockade on the land to the west," Ron began to explain, "The land is separated from the mainland by mountains and a river. Unlike the mountains we passed to get here, these are impassable. The river has only a single bridge going over it. There aren't many towns or villages over there, so apparently they didn't think they needed another. Bottom line is that there's only one good way in or out."
"Some people have been trying to escape too," Alice said. "Not everyone who's following Kandar is doing so of their free will. I talked to some people here who escaped from the region. They said many have been killed trying to escape, whether it be in trying to brave the river or being found by Kandar's men. They say he extorts money and forces the people to make him weapons. There's even been rumors of fortifying the tower to the west. It seems that's been his hideout since before ambushing the emperor."
"How does he maintain power over the people if he's so terrible?" Suzanne asked.
Thomas started talking now, "He claims to be a Duke. The western lands are somewhat isolated, so they haven't seen their Duke often. His possession of the emperor's crown makes a very convincing case. Since he has such a blockade over the region, he probably hasn't allowed any government officials in to discredit him. The people would have no reason to believe he's not actually a Duke."
"I also heard that some of the emperor's own knights in the region have sided with him," Ron cut in. "This would go further to validate Kandar as a Duke."
Suzanne was surprised, "Some of the emperor's knights have joined him?"
"No doubt they are getting some fine privileges as Kandar's henchmen," Thomas said grimly. "More power than they had as enforcers of the law. Kandar probably allows them to do whatever they wish."
"So if we can break the blockade on the bridge," began Suzanne, "and remove the crown from Kandar we should be able to break his reign over the region."