“Revered Guildmaster!” Shouted the multitude of guards that were guarding the bridge that led to the royal palace. The guards that were stationed here were the elites of the elite. They swore to defend the palace with their lives. Their faces were stiff and focused, as they were currently on high alert due to the many important guests that would be arriving. Dukes, Counts, Barons, Bishops, and a myriad of important officials would all be gathered here tonight. And of course, Bastille Rumare was invited, as he is the Guildmaster as well as one of the King’s closest friends.
“His royal highness has ordered us to escort you directly to him.” One of the royal guards said.
“Very well, we wouldn’t want the King to wait,” Bastille replied before the royal guard escorted his carriage across the long bridge that connected the city with the royal palace.
The city of Vanden was separated into two distinct parts. The northern and southern halves were divided by a narrow river that connected the bay with an inner lake. The palace resided on an island in the middle of this lake. This gave the royal family an advantageous location to rule from, as the island would be safe in the event of invasion or rebellion. Of course, this meant that a long bridge had to be constructed in order to reach the palace on foot.
“I just want this to be over…” Bastille grumbled. “Emeric knows that I hate these kinds of events, he should know not to invite me…” Of course, Bastille could not refuse the King’s invitation. Even though he was his friend, it wouldn’t be wise to cross him. And that was especially true for tonight. After all, it was the princess’s sixteenth birthday! Bastille had to attend as he was essentially her uncle!
Bastille looked out the carriage to the spectacular sight ahead of him. The royal palace, also known as the White Palace, was an impressive sight to behold. The name of the palace derived from the marble that was used to construct it. From the many columns, arches, and balconies, everywhere one looked they would see of white marble. Black silver was also used in the palace’s construction, albeit sparingly. This precious metal was used to guild the frames of windows, doors, lights, and the flower-like designs that covered the walls and columns of the palace.
The location of the palace further accentuated its majestic appearance. The thousands of lights that glowed from the palace reflected off the water that surrounded it, causing the surrounding area to glow like a radiant beacon that proclaimed the wealth and power of the Vanden royalty!
Even though Bastille has been in the palace numerous times, he couldn’t help but be astonished by the amount of wealth the royal family wastes on their home. This was in direct contrast to his humble life as a Seeker. And although he had long since been promoted to a position of power, he did not use this power to generate wealth. Instead, he preferred to live modestly, partly because he preferred the simplistic life of a Seeker as well as to prevent younger Seekers from rushing to their deaths in search of wealth.
As Bastille was well-renowned, many of the younger Seekers looked up to him as a role model. Bastille wished to prevent these younger Seekers from solely focusing on the wealth aspect of Seeking and to instead use their strength and courage to support their community. Bastille had seen many young Seekers die horrible deaths in search of riches during his lifetime. This was partly due to the fact that many self-confident Seekers would take on missions that offered high rewards but were too difficult for them.
After two minutes of riding, Bastille arrived in the courtyard where he saw a myriad of palace servants attending the arriving lords and ladies. The servants were dressed in black and white attire. The men wore simple white jackets and white pants with black buttons and accents. While the woman wore black dresses with white buttons and accents.
As his carriage stopped, Bastille disembarked and followed the royal guards into the palace without stopping to chat with any other guest. The guard escorted him through large mahogany doors and into a large foyer where a long red carpet led to another pair of equally majestic doors. The guard pushed open these two large doors for Bastille, and as they entered, hundreds of eyes burned into Bastille’s large frame.
“The Revered Guildmaster of Vanden, Bastille Rumare!” Announced the master of ceremonies, his deep baritone voice echoing throughout the impressive hall. Just like the rest of the mansion, marble and black silver was the theme as every inch of the room was covered in a sea of white and black. Even the flowers that accented the ivory tables were black orchids, and the sleek marble flooring of the dance floor was detailed with the design of an eagle. The only contrasting colors were the variously colored attire that the nobility wore.
As the last echoes reverberated off the walls, only silence remained as no one dared to say a word. A few nobles shifted their eyes away from Bastille while two of them excused themselves from the room.
I’ll make sure to keep an eye on those two…
Although Bastille had dug up a large amount of corruption in the city, he could not cleanse it all! Many nobles had various sources of illegal revenue, and it would be impossible to imprison them all, as that would create large amounts of resentment towards the King who endorsed Bastille. If enough powerful lords were displeased with Bastille’s actions, they might even threaten the kingdom with rebellion! Of course, this has created many enemies for Bastille, even the nobility that were not involved in any illegal operations would avoid him!
“Bastille!” One loud voice interrupted the deafening silence that resounded throughout the ballroom.
“Greetings, your majesty.” Bastille respectfully bowed his head slightly as he said this, as the man who shouted his name was no other than King Emeric Kasper Vanden.
“Haha! No need for the formalities old friend! Tell me, how are Maria and young Clover?” Emeric casually bellowed, disregarding any sort of formal procedure.
Emeric was a tall handsome man in his early forties, with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin. He was wearing an extravagant silver and black robe with an elegant cloak made from the plumage of eagles. Only those of the royal family were allowed to wear such a magnificent bird’s plumage as clothing.
“They are doing well. As you know, today is Clover’s fourteenth birthday.” Bastille simply replied.
“Of course, how could I ever forget that our children share the same birthday? Tell me, did Clover like his present?”
“Oh…Yes, your gift…Clover wanted me to thank you for your highness’s most magnanimous gift…” Bastille muttered as he recalled an earlier scene from this morning.
Before the sun had peaked over the Atlan mountains, a small chest had arrived at the Seekers guild. Bastille, Maria, and Edward were well aware of what was contained inside when they opened it, as King Emeric sent Clover one of these chests on his birthday ever since Bastille found him. Within the chest were hundreds of gold coins that filled the volume of the chest. The nearly solid cube of gold was blanketed by a multitude of gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds. Although it was a small chest, this was still more than enough wealth for a family to live off of for many generations! Of course, every year Bastille would order Edward to deposit this in the Dravine Bank, where other similarly sized chests resided. To this day, Bastille and Maria had no idea on when and how to explain to Clover that he was wealthier than most nobles.
“Fantastic! I do worry about that child…After all, he is being raised around a bunch of ruffians!” Emeric snorted.
“I’m one of those ruffians, your grace,” Bastille smiled
“Of course, of course. You never let me forget! No matter how many times I offer you a title of nobility, you always decline!”
“I have never wanted a rank of nobility. I am much more comfortable as the Guildmaster. It better suits my lifestyle.”
“Really? Not even if I were to offer you…Oh, let’s say… The Dukedom of Cyrelle? It’s the second wealthiest province in all of Vanden!” Emeric slyly smiled as he gauged Bastille’s reaction, only to be disappointed as he didn’t make a single response.
“No. Although it is tempting, I must still refuse.”
“Oh well…I had hoped you would agree. That way it would be much more proper for my daughter to marry Clover once he became of age…”
“While that is tempting, Maria and I believe that Clover should find his own path in life. That includes his future spouse.” Bastille replied simply. This was not the first time King Emeric had voiced his intention of having Clover marry into the royal family.
“Must you always deny my requests, old friend?” Emeric sighed. “Very well, I will respect your decision. This time.”
“Thank you, your highness.” Bastille knew that the next time he met with the King that he would once again bombard him with titles of nobility and marriage, so he didn’t keep his lord’s promise at heart.
“Anyways. Let us leave the ballroom and discuss an important matter.” Emeric said before leading Bastille another exquisite hallway, and into a large meeting room. Inside the room were three other men.
“Bastille, it is no doubt you know the Lord Commander of Vanden, Maximillion Adair.” King Emeric casually said as he pointed out a tall tan man.
This man bowed his head in respect as he greeted Bastille. The two of them had worked with each other on various occasions. Maximillion was a tall battle-scarred man with brown hair and blue eyes. As the Lord Commander, he was in charge of all military activities in the city and the surrounding region.
“And of course, this is my right-hand man, Minister Andries Oddo Urbano,” Emeric said once more.
“Bastille. It has been far too long since we last met. It has been more than ten years, has it not?” Andries inquired. He was a scrawny pale figure. His greasy black hair and dull black eyes suit his dubious form.
“Yes, around ten years, on the night we last deposed King Kasper.” Bastille awkwardly replied.
“But you have visited the palace on numerous occasions before…You wouldn’t have been avoiding me? Would you?” Andries inquired once again as his sunken eyes squinted questionably at Bastille.
“Of course not. It is just that I have limited time whenever I visit, and I must give my full attention to the King…” Bastille huffed. It’s not that I have been avoiding you because I don’t like you…It’s just that you are so…Strange… He thought to himself.
“Harumph.” King Emeric coughed as he interrupted the two. “Bastille, I must present to you my guest of honor…His Most Serene Doge of Omalfia, Emilio Edmondo Mariano Teo Omalfi.”
“I have heard many good things about you, Bastille Rumare.” Doge Emilio replied. The Doge was a tall and fair skinned man. His blonde hair resembled golden strings and his deep blue eyes were like pools of water. The Doge wore majestic blue and orange attire laden with gold. In fact, his outfit was even more illustrious than that of the King’s!
“My Doge. It is an honor to finally meet you.” Bastille bowed his head as he said this. After all, this was the Serene Doge of Omalfia! Even the King had to show him respect!
“It is my pleasure.” Doge Emilio replied before continuing. “Now then, since we have all arrived we should commence.”
“Of course. I was informed by Andries that there is a special matter that must be discussed.” King Emeric said as they all took their seats. King Emeric took the seat at the end of the table, while Doge Emilio took the other end. Bastille, Andries, and Maxillion took their seats on the sides of the table.
“Yes. It is unfortunate for me to say, but we have reason to believe that a significant threat has appeared in the Aleesian continent, specifically in the Deadlands. In Bastille’s Seeker terms, it would be a Black rank threat.” Doge Emilio replied, his eyes squinted with caution as he said this.
“Black rank?!” Everyone in the room was stunned as they heard this. Black ranked threats were such a rarity that there had only been a few handfuls of such threats occurring. In fact, the rank of Black has not been used since its conception! Since the ranking systems conception one hundred years ago, not a single Black rank threat had appeared. In fact, only a couple dozen people knew that a Black rank existed! The last similar threat that had occurred was over two hundred years ago when a Phoenix of the Suren Dominion had escaped and razed multiple cities to the ground!
This event was known as the Crimson Year. For an entire year, the escaped Phoenix roamed the world and burned entire villages, towns, and major cities to the ground. It was not until members of the Suren Family were able to catch up to it with another Phoenix that they were able to pacify it. But by the time it was defeated, hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost during this cataclysmic event.
And now the Doge is saying that they may face another one of these destructive events!
“How do you know of this?” Bastille asked.
“We have our ways.” Doge Emilio simply replied.
“Nevertheless, I do have some information regarding the speculative nature of this Black-Compass threat.” Andries piped up. “My spies have recorded numerous reports of individuals leaving the Deadlands and into the surrounding Kingdoms. Around a month ago, one individual had crossed over the Ga’jong mountains and into the Cenatius continent. Of course, it is unknown if these individuals are part of the threat. But it is wise to remain cautious.”
“I agree. We should inform the Seeker Guilds and the Kingdoms around the Deadlands to be on full alert for any suspicious activities that may have a connection with this Black ranked threat.” Bastille said.
“We must also keep a close eye on the borders, as well as denying access to any dubious persons. After all, these individuals left from the Deadlands. Anyone of them could be a Gold or Blue ranked threat on their own…” Maximillion solemnly said before continuing. “And depending on how many escaped and if they are working together. Those individuals may be a Black threat themselves.”
“From our knowledge, we know of three so-called threats in the Adlan Kingdoms. We believe that one is currently operating in the Domantius Empire. While another arrived in the Rylos Kingdom last month, but we have not heard another word about him since then. The third one we believe is in your kingdom, King Emeric…” Doge Emilio warned.
“My kingdom?!” Emeric shouted in shock. “How can this be? Maximillion and Andries! Do you know anything about this!”
“No my lord!” The two retainers shouted in unison. Both of their brows became moist with sweat due to their embarrassment. After all, how could someone outside of one’s kingdom have more knowledge about the situation within their lands?!
“Do not be concerned, King Emeric. From what we have last heard of that individual, they were being chased by a member of the Suren Family.” Doge Emilio nonchalantly replied.
“Suren? Perfect! That so-called threat will be eliminated soon enough.” Emeric exhaled a breath of relief.
“In any case. Suren member or not. I’ll notify all Seekers to be on full alert whenever they leave the city. We will also post a Blue ranked mission for any information regarding suspicious activity in the kingdom.” Bastille said.
“And I will inform the city guard to remain vigilant against any threats that may befall your kingdom, your majesty,” Maximillion said.
“My spies will keep a closer eye on the situation as it develops, your highness.” Andries bowed his head to the King.
“In any case, my agents and I have decided on calling this Black threat by the name of Autarch. It is important that we keep this knowledge a secret as any leaks may cause the threat to become aware of our interference. ” Doge Emilio muttered.
“That would be for the best. We wouldn’t anyone to know about this, as it may incite a panic.” King Emeric confidently said. “Well, let us change topics, we have many matters to discuss and little time left. Besides, it would be callous of me if I did not attend my own daughters coming of age ceremony!”
By the time Bastille and the group finished discussing the affairs of the Kingdom, the sun had long set. It had become dark and the moon illuminated the black sky along with countless stars.
“If that is all, let us return to the festivities.” King Emeric said as he stood up and began to leave the room.
“Yes, let us.” Doge Emilio agreed and followed King Emeric out of the room with Bastille, Andries and Maximillion following.
They soon entered the noisy din of the ballroom which had become much more lively from the arrival of more nobles. After talking with King Emeric for a while, Doge Emilio departed to a separate corner of the room filled with other individuals who all wore similar blue and orange attire. Andries and Maximillion said their farewells and departed as well. Leaving Bastille and King Emeric alone.
“Uncle!” A loud yell nearly burst Bastille’s eardrum, as a young girl ran up to him and hugged him tightly.
“Your royal highness, it is good to see you again.” Bastille warmly replied as he looked at the young girl in front of him. This was Princess Violet Rosalie Vanden.
“Uncle! I’ve told you countless times that you don’t have to be so formal with me! Just call me Violet!” Violet pouted as she said this.
Bastille could only smile at this sight. He had known this young lady since she was an infant. And now she had become a beautiful woman. Violet was a gorgeous brunette with brown eyes and white skin that seemed to be crafted from the clearest ivory. Her silver dress was the most splendid in the hall, as it was lavishly detailed with designs of black flowers while a long black ribbon accentuated the piece around her waist.
“As her highness wishes.” Bastille mocked as he bowed his head, which only made her pout even more. Before she could unleash a fierce rebuttal, Bastille spoke up.
“Did you like my gift?”
“Of course I do! They’re beautiful! Black orchids are my favorite!” Violet exclaimed in joy as she looked around at the elegant black flowers that dotted the ballroom.
Black orchids were only found in the Veneshite archipelago. It was only after many deals with various merchants that he was able to have some imported for Violet’s coming of age ceremony.
“Nevermind that. Bastille and I were talking about Clover and your marriage arrangements.”King Emeric interrupted. “After all, you will be leaving for the Aredos Academy next year. It is necessary that you be betrothed in order to deter any would be nobles looking to take advantage of a beautiful single lady…”
“What!” Violet yelled as a noticeable red blush appeared on her face. “Marriage! I…I’ve only met Clover once before! And we were only children…” Becoming increasingly flustered, Violet looked at the ground as she played with her fingers.
“Violet, your father is only joking around. I told him that it was up to debate…” Bastille groaned while glaring at his King.
“Ah, you ruin all the fun…” King Emeric snapped. “Anyways, Violet made a good point. Why have you made it a point to never have Clover visit his uncle?! For Adlan’s sake! I’ve only seen the boy twice!”
“I do not want Clover to want or expect this type of lifestyle.” Bastille simply replied as he looked around at the ludicrous display of wealth that surrounded him.
“Bastille, why must you disrespect me so? I only want Clover to leave a happy and carefree life!” King Emeric snorted, obviously not accepting Bastille’s reasoning.
“My lord I am not disrespecting you. I am only saying tha-” But before he could finish his sentence, Bastille was interrupted by a palace guard.
“My lord, I have an important message for you.”
“How dare you interrupt my guest!” King Emeric snapped as the frightened guard could only bow his head in shame as he bit his lip and continued.
“My lord, Captain Strauss has an urgent message for you. He said that it is an emergency…”
“Well spit it out then!”
“He said that he must tell my lord in person…” The guard mumbled awkwardly.
“Very well. Take me to him.” Bastille said as worry began to fill his face.
Gregory has never come to me before because of an emergency…
The royal guard escorted Bastille out of the palace and into the courtyard. There, Captain Strauss awaited him.
“Gregory, what is the matter?” Bastille inquired. He had long noticed the solemn look on the Captain’s face.
“I’m sorry, Bastille. This is all of my fault…” Captain Strauss began. “If I had not let them leave, this would never have happened…”
“Calm down. Tell me what happened, Captain.” Bastille felt a pit enter his stomach as he asked this.
“It’s Clover…” Captain Strauss whispered as he informed Bastille of the events that transpired.
Next Chapter: Chapter 8