The Shining City
Baron Von Riker
“There is an entrance not far from here,” Hassan shouted over to them. Riker and Llorva’s horse breathed heavily as it galloped after the hippogriff, which seemed to glide across the grassy plain.
“Nightfall will be upon us soon. I hope we are not too late,” Riker said but noticed that Llorva was not listening. She looked like her thoughts were elsewhere.
“Do you think she is far behind?” she finally said.
“I think regardless Vylasgarden will be okay out here. I have never met someone as tough as she.”
Hassan lead them up a steep hill and at the top they could see the city ahead of them the reflective buildings were so bright that Riker had to shield his eyes from the glare.
“Not far now,” Hassan announced to them.
Llorva deeply exhaled. “Finally. We may rest yet,” she said with a tired smile. Not long after, they found themselves in front of a southern entrance where a six-meter-tall gate awaited them. It featured on it beautiful motifs and carvings of an ecosystem of beasts and monsters specific to the region. A party of city guards met them on the other side.
“Stop there,” the presumed leader commanded.
“We seek to answer the emperor’s call,” Riker said instinctively.
“This true?” a second guard asked referring to Hassan.
“Yes, they come to answer the majesty’s call,” he replied. His head bowed and submissive.
“Ah! A strange pair you are,” another guard commented. “We did not see many elves among the groups whom came earlier.”
“Well actually, there are four of us,” Llorva claimed. “Perhaps you have seen or have heard of them. A sarkany woman and a Principium human whom entered the city upon a hippogriff.”
“Nah we have not seen neither of them but if you wish to enter, now is the time,” the leading guard stated. Riker and Llorva exchanged a worried look.
“It is ashamed too,” the second guard commented. “If what you say is true milady then presenting to the emperor a living sarkany would be fit for a great rewarded,” Riker noticed Llorva scowling at the human and the guard laughed in response to her.
“What do you mean reward?” Riker followed.
“Dragon parts are very valuable in these lands. Scales for armor, blood and bone for ingredients, and heads for trophies.”
Llorva stepped forward looking the guard in the eye and said, “Our friend is not a prize to be won.” “Come now, was only having a bit of fun. No need getting your face in a twist,” he then took a lingering glance directly at Llorva. “What do you think boys? The emperor may reward us for just bringing this pretty elf maiden to him.”
“You would be wise to hold your tongue now,” Llorva hissed at him. “Or I might cut it out with my blade.”
“Ha! Ha! Do all elf women from where you come from possess as much fury as you girl?” one of the other guards said.
“I think I have heard enough. I would expect the city guard of the most powerful man in all the province to feature the upmost chivalry. I suppose I should explain to your emperor that we were not welcomed with that expectation while visiting his domain,” Riker said. All the guards stopped laughing. “Are you going to keep assaulting our ears with your profanity or are you going to allow us to enter the city?”
“Of course,” the leader stammered and ordered the rest to make way for them. Riker and Llorva continued forward and stepped into the Shining City leaving their escort and his hippogriff behind.
“Wait!” the guards called from behind.
“What?” Riker shouted back.
“Hassan just mentioned to us that you are a mage,” the leader said questioningly.
“Aye, I am a bardic mage.”
“Then we must escort you to where you need to go,” the guard insisted.
“That will not be necessary,” Riker said as he began to turn away.
The guard ran up and grabbed Riker by the wrist. “I must insist. The majesty’s orders. All unauthorized and undocumented mages must be escorted and processed by the officials of the city.”
Riker glared at him but gave in. “Fine, the sooner we get this taken care of the better. We need to find our friends as soon as possible.”
“Of course, we will have you in and out in no time,” the guard said as he gestured for Riker and Llorva to followed him down a path that hugged the inside of the city’s walls. Riker and Llorva followed as their eyes lingered to the bronze statues of human warriors dominating wild beasts with spears and swords that lined the main path to the heart of the city.
The inside of the city walls was a stark contrast to the outside. Instead of dry savanna, there were luscious groves and patches of fruits and flowers in the city. Immediately Riker and Llorva recognized the massive mosaic of sphinxes on the brick path that lead them to the officials’ offices which were a pair of tall buildings that were connected to the city’s wall. While Riker was being interviewed, Llorva was escorted to a private room which featured a balcony looking over the city. She took a gander over it and it became apparent to her that the Shining City was indeed circular in its design. She had pondered it the moment she stepped in. It was mostly flat throughout unlike her own home and the city rested on the inside of a curved desert mountain range just opposite of the city entrance. It was the start of dusk when the officials took Riker away. She went and laid down on a lounge and despite telling herself that she would not sleep till she met up with the others, she fell under in a deep sleep not long after her head touched the leopard fur. When she woke, it was evening and the only light she saw was from the moon and stars. She had awoken to the sound of the door opening. It was Riker looking as exhausted as she was.
“That took longer than they lead on,” he said to her.
“How did it go?” she asked mid yawn.
“They were skeptical till I demonstrated my abilities. Needless to say, we will be directly escorted to the emperor’s palace personally.”
“And Vylasgarden and Kruzco?”
“They refused to tell me anything I’m afraid,” Riker then bit his lip. “They are both strong people. I would not be surprised if they are already there waiting on us.”
“I hope that you are right about that,” Llorva said standing to her feet. “Let us be on our way then.”
The two of them met with their party of escorts and exited the building to the main streets which weaved through many fruitful groves and many decadent water fountains. The citizens, who were mostly made up of human and elf zionders, stared at them as walked through the city. None spoke to them but Riker and Llorva both could tell from their egregious looks that their foreignness was showing.
Llorva shook the lingering eyes and focused on something else. Anything else like the architecture. She noticed that the buildings were built to compliment the curvature of the city. They took a crescent shape and they all seem to be made of the same building materials. All except presumably the official buildings that looked as if they were made with gold and marble material. The raging fires that came from the sconces and braziers complimented the orange coloring of the homes and buildings made of sandstone and clay. Her attention turned to the audiences of young children sitting in the groves listening eagerly to entertainers whom told them evening stories.
“Who are they?” Llorva asked one of their escorts.
“Teachers and story tellers,” the guard replied. “They go around the city sharing stories from the outside world.”
“Traveling bards, it sounds more like,” Riker replied. One of the escorts opened the pathway to a city barrier. To Llorva’s surprise, the other side was a stark difference from the previous section of the city. “Welcome to the inner circle,” the buildings here were taller and made of pure masonry instead of sandstone and some parts of the architecture featured stone that made the structures look a bit more elegant. The weaving brick path turned into a straight cobblestone path that directly lead to what was undoubtedly the emperor’s palace at the center of the city. “All paths from here will lead directly to the palace.”
Riker stepped through the threshold and Llorva noticed his ear twitch to the sound of music. “Llorva do you hear that?” he said.
“Musician?” she replied. They followed the sound which lead to the center of the city before the palace. Under the moonlight was a small crowd of people who gathered around an elf man playing a pan flute. He was undoubtedly myrkalfr and seemed to be a wealthy based off his clothing that expressed some affinity to the Province of Civil Kingdoms. Complete with the gold hoops and silver studs in his ears. Riker stepped toward the crowd but an escort intercepted in his way.
“No, no let him through,” one of the crowd’s nobility said. “I recognize a musician when I see one.”
The escort glared at Riker. “Do you want to see the emperor or not?”
“I will only be a moment,” Riker insisted and stepped into the crowd as they parted way for him.
Llorva peered in his direction. “Riker, what are you doing?” she called out with frustration but Riker did not respond nor looked back. It was then that she noticed that she was no longer hiding her face. She reached for her cowl and pulled it over her head.
“Oh, no… Riker,” she whispered but her voice was so small and quite that even the escorts standing near her did not notice.
The bardic merchant greeted Riker in elfish tongue. “What say you visitor from afar?”
“I am Baron Von Riker of the Civil Kingdoms. I have come with the lady Llorva to answer the emperor’s call,” Riker replied in common. “What say you fellow bard?”
“I am Volkree Qinra, merchant of the arts,” he extended and shook Riker’s hand. “How adventurous, there is nothing like having a bard on hand to make a long journey entertaining. You seem like a musician of exquisite taste, perhaps you and the lady will find yourselves visiting the traveling orchestra,” he then handed Riker a parchment flyer. Riker gasped.
“You don’t mean the Lone Oak traveling orchestra?”
“Indeed! I thought you may be familiar. This be your invitation to tomorrow’s performance of course.”
“Riker lets be on our way!” Llorva shout from behind but he looked too entranced by the header of the parchment to respond. Annoyed, Llorva stormed toward him and snatched the flyer from his grasp. She read it quickly to herself:
Lone Oak Bard School Presents:
The Traveling Moon Elf Crested Symphony
For three nights only come listen to the majestic sounds of an all elven orchestra.
Enjoy scores of flutes and harps performed by the top academic moon elf students of the prestige Lone Oak College of the Civil Kingdom Province.
“How long are they here?” Riker asked. His voiced sounded desperate.
“Let’s move!” one of the escorts called out to Riker.
“Tomorrow is their last performance in the Shining City.”
“What time do they perform tonight?”
The musician chuckled. “I am afraid you missed tonight’s performance, however, with a bit of luck you can view the show tomorrow evening,” Riker gave the merchant a nod and turned away. Now was Llorva’s chance to get his attention and she was not the slightest happy with him. It took one glaring look for Riker to change his demeanor. He seemed to notice her cloak first before acknowledging her frustration.
“Riker get back here now!” She commanded and Riker rushed over to her.
“How long do you think you can keep this up?” Riker whispered beside her. “You are not going to be able to fool everyone.”
“As long as I can,” she replied annoyed by the question. She began stripping Riker’s pack and taking out his white coat. Riker sighed and allowed her to take it. Llorva dressed in it and popped its collar, to futher conceal herself. “Thank you, for keeping quiet this long.”
“Of course, I am a man of my word, but if you look around you will notice that there are a lot of people here that can identify you if the opportunity presents itself. Also, you’re wearing all of this clothing in the middle of a desert.”
“Look, once we get inside I will let you do all the talking. You are good at it anyway, even when no one wants you to. As long as I keep all this on I should be safe from recognition.”
“You are playing a dangerous game. You know that Right?”
“Well I must be gaining that habit from you. You are the arrogant risk taker after all.”
“I cannot argue with that.” Before them was the emperor’s palace. It was an impressive building that was rectangular and had golden pyramids stacked on its roofs. Its non-modest glow seemed to be the shiniest building in the entire province with trimmings of gold in the architecture and a row of large red banners hanging from extended structures. The sphinx on the banners seemed to roar with power as they approached the gates.
“We are defiantly in the right place,” Riker announced.
“It would seem so,” Llorva said with a sigh.
“Indeed,” one of the escorts followed. “This way.”
“How are we going to get in front of that crowd?” Llorva whispered to Riker.
“Good question. There are presumably hundreds if not thousands of people ahead of us to meet him. If we want to speak with him tonight, then we will need to find a way that would get us ahead of everyone else.”
“Have they let anyone inside yet?” Llorva asked the escorts.
“Yes, but it is best to be late than to have never gotten this far,” the escort said with a smirk.
“I am confident that we will get to meet with the emperor,” Riker said confidently.
“Why do you think that?” the escort asked.
“Because I have with me, the princess of Flos Sergens.”