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Chapter 2: The Imperial GuardChapter 2: The Imperial Guard
Signs of dawn peeked through the windows as Teo prepared his gear for his journey north. Gremio had already carried his baggage outside, so only his sword and armor remained in his room.
The armor gleamed coldly in the bluish purple darkness. Prakk, the sword he’d received from His Majesty yesterday, still lay by the bed as if it might be sleeping.
Teo picked up his armor and quickly put it on. His armor was like a second skin, but it felt heavy that morning for some reason. He well understood the reason why. There was one worry on his mind at this moment when he was leaving the capital. He strapped his sword to his side and, all his preparations complete, sighed despondently.
Gremio’s voice came from the hall.
“All your luggage has been loaded onto your horse, Lord Teo. Will that be all?”
“That’s all. Thank you, Gremio.”
Teo moved slowly out to the hall so his armor wouldn’t make a sound and wake the others.
“Please take care, Lord Teo. We’ll be there for him.”
“Yes, about that…”
Teo spoke to Gremio in hushed tones.
“I believe I spoke of this last night as well, but Kraze is the commanding officer of the Imperial Guard unit Tir has been assigned to. I can’t help but wonder how a coward like Kraze climbed to such an important rank in the government, unless he knew the right people in the right place and pulled strings.”
“I share your suspicions, Lord Teo. I’ve often thought the same of Kraze.”
Teo sighed once more at that, then continued down the hall until he stood in front of Tir’s room. He opened the door quietly and went in, then turned to Gremio.
“I’ve said it before, but I entrust you with Tir, Gremio.”
“Y-yes sir. No matter what happens, I’ll protect the Young Ma-”
Without waiting for Gremio to finish, Teo knelt by the bed and looked at Tir’s sleeping profile. Though Tir seemed young to him, looking at the sleeping face of his son who was certainly growing eased Teo’s worries somewhat.
“Once again, I’m not going to be able to see your face, Tir. ”
“Shall I wake him?”, Gremio asked.
“No, it’s fine. Let him sleep. This isn’t farewell. We’ll meet again.”
Teo left the room, his cape billowing.
Teo exited the castle walls on horseback, leading the squad who had been waiting for him outside the city. They first took the western route to head to the northern border that spanned Lake Toran. While they passed through the meadows, the sun rose from the mountains in the east. It was quite a magnificent sight, their armor reflecting the sun, banner waving.
When they could see the face of Toran Lake, Teo thought of something, turned to two of his nearby subordinates and asked:
“Alen, Grenseal… do you think the Empire and the Emperor have changed?”
“Well…” began Alen, seemingly unable to gauge the true meaning of the question.
“It’s difficult to say. I hadn’t returned to the capital in so long, and I didn’t meet with the emperor this time around.”
“I see. Sorry. It was a foolish question.” said Teo, and suddenly looked back at Gregminster, towering under the morning sun, as if looking for an answer to his question.
Tir was woken up by a cacophony of noise that echoed around the corners of his room. Squinting against the light of the morning sun shining through the window, he turned his head towards the source of the clattering noise and saw the familiar green cloak, the tied-up blonde hair.
Gremio was the one making the noise, beginning the morning cleaning.
“Oh, did I wake you up? Good morning, Young Master.”
Now awake, Tir rubbed his sleepy eyes, sat up, and looked out the window again, startled. The sun had already risen into the eastern part of the sky and the townspeople were beginning to move about.
Tir leapt out of bed and cried, “what about father, Gremio?!”
“He has already left. You overslept, Young Master…”
“Huh?! Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“Lord Teo said to let you sleep. Besides…” Pausing in his cleaning, Gremio turned to look at Tir.
“From today forth, you too must do your best as a member of the Empire.
Hurry and get ready to go to meet with… Lord… Kraze, your commanding officer.”
Gremio’s momentary pause made Tir uneasy, but was so caught up thinking of his father that he soon forgot all about it.
“…Oh, yeah. It’s too bad I couldn’t see father off, but I’ll just have to work my hardest at my Imperial Guard job and make him proud.”
“Yes, that’s the ticket!”
“Yeah! I’ll do my best!”
And whispered in his heart that he wouldn’t lose to his father, Teo the general.
After Gremio went downstairs, Tir quickly finished getting ready and left his room. He looked down from the second floor stairwell and saw Pahn and Cleo were already waiting at the door on the first floor, all ready to go.
“Morning, Pahn, Cleo!”
“Hoh, finally up! Yer late, Young Master.” Pahn said, dressed in red, his green breastplate glittering.
“Your first day on the job, eh, Young Master? Whether it’s clearing out the rumored bandits of Mt. Seifu or killing the monster of Lake Toran, just leave it to me!”
“Not this again… Jeez, Pahn, can you get any more worked up?” Cleo said, also wearing a green breastplate and carrying several throwing daggers at her side.
Pahn frowned and shrugged.
Then Gremio joined them, shouldering an axe sheathed in leather.
“Now everyone’s all here and ready to go.”
“No, wait!” Tir cried, flustered. “Ted’s not here yet.”
“Ted’s coming too?”
Just when Cleo asked, a voice called from the foyer.
“Heey, wait for me, Tir! You aren’t thinking of leaving me behind, are you? That’s awful…”
They heard light footsteps, the door opened, and there Ted was, bow in hand.
Wanting to tease Ted a bit, Tir flashed an impish smile.
“Oh, were you awake? And here I thought we’d go to all the trouble of letting you sleep peacefully.”
“You jerk! You know you’d be lonely without me. Ain’t that right, Tir?”
After they caught each other’s eye and laughed for some time, Tir turned to the other three. “Okay, let’s go!”
At the signal of Tir’s energetic voice, the party went out into the city of Gregminster and headed to the castle. Tir, accompanied by everyone, exited the hall on the first floor and excitedly led everyone into the Imperial Guard waiting room. And then…
A haughty voice came wafting out of the room.
“Oh ho. So you’re Teo’s son.”
Surprised, Tir turned towards the source of the voice; a thin-faced man dressed in gaudy purple and pink clothes sitting behind a large desk. Behind Tir, Cleo muttered “Kraze…”
Kraze? This was his commander?
Tir entered the room and took a second look at Kraze, forming the impression he was listless and ignorant. He had expected a commander of the Imperial Guard to be someone with more presence, like his father. But this man called Kraze neither wore armor nor carried a sword. His greasy, slicked back hair gleamed with oil, the thin whiskers drooping over his mouth trembled, he dressed frivolously. Even worse, his voice was painfully high-pitched.
“Name?” Detaching himself from the desk, Kraze approached Tir. “You deaf, brat?”
Though surprised at his arrogant attitude, Tir answered, “Uh, no sir… my name is Tir.”
“Ah, yes, that’s right. Hmph.” said Kraze, stroking his thin whiskers and giving Tir a sidelong glance. “You’ll get no special treatment here, even if you are the son of a general. You’re late, and yet you still play the Young Master card. You should be ashamed.”
“I’m not - ”
He had spoken without thinking, but caught the look Gremio shot him and stopped himself. Seeing this, Kraze gave an ugly laugh.
“Good. I’ll tell you this now, at the start: A superior’s orders are absolute. If I tell you to die, you die! Remember that, for your own sake.
“What?!” Tir and the three waiting behind him were dumbfounded.
Kraze briskly returned to his desk and, while skimming some kind of document, said, “Incidentally, without delay…I’m to grant you one mission. Head northeast from the castle to reach Magician’s Isle, home of the astrologer Lady Leknaat. You’re to go there, obtain and bring back the results of this year’s astrological predictions. Got it?”
Casting his eyes downward, Tir answered, “Yes sir, I understand.”
“Magician’s Isle can’t be reached by boat, so instead we’ve called for a dragon knight from the Dragon Knight’s Domain. You will be taken to the island by dragon.”
“Woohoo! He said we get to ride a dragon!”
It had been Ted who had whispered to Tir, but Kraze shot Tir such a withering glare that he snapped his mouth shut.
“Well, go! You must keep Lady Leknaat waiting.”
Tir left the room as quickly as he could and exited the castle.
Tir was about to sigh a huge sigh, feeling as if his dreams had been crushed somehow, but then…
“Sigh… just as I thought, he hasn’t changed.”
Since Gremio had sighed before him, Tir couldn’t help turning to him and asking, “You know Commander Kraze?”
“Well, just barely. As he is now, he’s completely drunk on his own power. It’s embarrassing.”
“I don’t think we have to worry about him”, Tir said, trying to comfort Gremio. “As long as we do what we’re told, even he can’t get us in trouble.”
“He’s right, don’t worry about Kraze”, Cleo chimed in, cheering up Gremio.
“Right now it’s our duty to focus on accomplishing the mission the Young Master was given.”
“Calling it a ‘mission’ is a bit much”, Pahn said, crestfallen. “We’re just messengers, aren’t we? We’re not a buncha kids! Makes my blood boil.”
“Don’t say that, Pahn. This work’s not as bad as you think it is. The astrological predictions are indispensable to governing our country.”
“You’re right!” Gremio’s face brightened at Cleo’s words. “With work like this, the Young Master is less likely to face danger!”
“Okay then! Let’s get this job done right away and surprise Commander Kraze… huh?”
Tir had been planning to motivate himself and everyone else with a few words, but, looking around, Ted was nowhere in sight. But he had been with them when they left the castle…
Ted’s voice came from a little distance away. Tir turned and there Ted was, standing at the corner of the castle.
Ted beckoned and called, “Hurry up and come over her! The dragon’s here!!”
His earlier unhappiness vanished and, his heart pounding, Tir ran to Ted’s side. At the place where the castle base curved he stopped in shock. There was a dragon next to the stable behind the castle.
Its whole body was covered in black scales that shone under the light of the sun.
“It’s the dragon!”
Given that there was a basket on its back between its wings, there was no doubt it was the dragon from the Dragon Knight’s Domain Kraze had spoken of.
The Dragon Knight’s Domain was located at the base of the Lorimar mountain range to the far west of Gregminster and, a potent military force, had established relations with the Empire. So Tir had, from time to time, turned his eyes to the sky and caught sight of a dragon, but this was still the first time he’d seen one so close up. Black scales covered its body, big as a barn, and white teeth gleamed in its mouth.
With forefeet so large they could easily pick up and crush a grown man and claws like scythes, Tir thought it must be a terrifying sight to see this beast angry, but at the same time he was fascinated by its sheer strength, so far beyond that of other animals.
“Come on Ted, let’s go!”
Watching it all the while, they raced each other to the dragon resting with its wings folded next to the barn. Then a boy stepped out of the shadow of the dragon’s tail. Though he was younger than Tir, there was no doubt he was a Dragon Knight;his torso was covered by a thin breastplate and on his brow was a circlet stylized after the wings of a dragon. Ted was entranced by the dragon, but Tir stopped in front of the boy.
“Are you the Dragon Knight?”
The boy turned towards Tir, his face innocent and his eyes shining.
“Yeah, that’s me. Who’re you?”
“I’m Tir, an imperial guard. I believe Commander Kraze ordered you to, but will you take us to Magician’s Tower?”
Gremio and the others ran over just as Tir finished his sentence. Looking around at all the new faces, the boy said, “Hmm. So you guys are the imperial guard, huh? I’m Futch, an apprentice Dragon Knight, and this is Black, my dragon. Nice to meet’cha. Hey Black, say hello to everybody!”
Black’s eyes widened as soon as Futch gave his order, then he suddenly opened his huge mouth and roared loud enough to reach the heavens. The roar was impressive, just what one would expect from a dragon. Tir, Gremio, and the others jumped and the horses in the barn stamped in surprise. But most surprised of all was Ted, who had been standing right in front of Black and so got a good look down his throat.
Ted had been surprised by the dragon’s huge mouth suddenly opening,and he had been too close to the dragon for its greeting, too loud for human ears,so he stayed huddled over for a little while, covering his ears.
But then he suddenly raised his head and strode over to stand in front of Futch, folding his arms proudly.
“I see. So you’re Futch the Dragon Knight, then?”
“Huh. That right?” Tir couldn’t stop Ted before, his voice dripping with contempt, he said,
“I got my hopes up when I heard you were a dragon knight, but you’re just some apprentice kid!”
“What?!” Futch bristled.
“Don’t talk like you’re such hot stuff! You’re just a brat yourself!”
“Don’t lump me in with you! I’ll have you know I’m three hundre–huh?!”
“All right, that’s enough, boys.” Gremio said, appalled, and grabbed Ted’s back.
“Let’s hurry and depart. We may be flying there, but it’s still a long way to Magician’s Tower.”
“Lemme go, Gremio! That jerk called me a brat!!”
Still restrained by Gremio, Ted flailed his arms and legs, but was forced to stop when Pahn elbowed his way through to stand between him and Futch.
“Maybe you’ll feel better if we hurry up and get out of here, Futch”, Pahn said.
“Yeah… all right, quick, climb on Black’s back!”
Glancing at Ted, who was hanging limp in Gremio’s grasp, Futch jumped on Black’s back. After that Tir and the others filed into the cramped little basket on Black’s back.
“Okay, we’re ready, Futch”, Tir said.
“All right, hold on tight and make sure you don’t get thrown out!”, Futch called, lightly patting Black’s neck.
“What?!” Ted cried.
“And we’re off!”
At the same moment Futch shouted, Black flapped his wings with stunning force. Tir reflexively closed his eyes against the increased wind pressure. The basket gave a lurch and then he had the strangest sensation that something was pressing down on his head and his whole body. When the wind lessened somewhat, Tir opened his eyes a crack. Black was already high above the ground, soaring through the sky.
CHAPTER 02 ENDCHAPTER 02 END
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