Inside the capital city of Endalgia. At the centre of the city stood the royal castle surrounded by large stone walls. A road, as wide as the main road, circled around the castle. There were four main roads that all converged on this castle. In between them, there were many smaller streets connecting the main roads. The cityscape had changed but the main roads seemed to still be in use.
The castle could have been seen from anywhere in the Kingdom of Endalgia, but now there is little left. The entrance to the labyrinth sits where the castle used to. The castle wall that at one time protected the royal family was now used to contain the demons in their labyrinth.
The Demon Forest has taken over most of the northwest area of the town, but there are still several fields of grain and a lot of people have begun living there as well. By the way, the northwest area seems to be the most damaged by the stampede. In the past, this area only had fields of grain growing here and there wasn’t much to hold back the rampaging demons. These demons must have made quick work of the walls surrounding the castle. All of the buildings within the walls are completely destroyed.
It seems like a wall is currently being built in the southeastern area of the city that used to be the noble district. The road leading into the mountain range originates from the southwestern area of the city, the region of the city closest to the mountains. This road is too steep for most to climb, but it is useful to have an exit in case of emergencies
The Black Steel Transportation Corps’ carriage passed through the gate of the outer garrison city towards the southwest of the capital. After continuing along the main road, the carriage reached the outer wall of the former royal castle and then followed the road to the northeast side of town facing the mountains.
The northeastern side of town also faces the mountains. From these mountains, an abundant amount of resources were mined in the past. The road is still too steep for a horse-drawn carriage to climb, but it is the safest road to use when travelling to other countries if you don’t wish to go through the Demon Forest.
Due to this area of the city being positioned near the mountains and the entrance to the labyrinth, merchants peddling wares from the mines and materials obtained from the labyrinth had set up shop here. They appear to be the most prosperous people in the labyrinth city. Unlike the rest of the city, all of the partially destroyed Endalgian style buildings had been completely demolished. In their place, the merchants had set up shops and large warehouses along the wall closest to the mountains. The side of this area closest to the labyrinth was filled with commercial shops such as inns, shops resembling crude restaurants, and an Adventurers Guild.
All of these buildings must have been built after the stampede. It really is an impressive feat. This entire city has been rebuilt as a fortress. Each individual building was constructed with an emphasis on protection.
Our destination appeared to be a comparatively nice looking building located close to the labyrinth. As we approached the building, we turned away from the front entrance and headed to a side street that led to the back door. Although, back door may not be the best way to describe this entrance. The gate at the opening of the street was wide enough to allow all three of the carriages to pass through simultaneously. After passing through the double gate, the armoured carriages entered a spacious courtyard.
At the front of the courtyard there appeared to be a trading company. There were high walls on both the left and ride side of the courtyard with buildings for housing the beasts and carriages.
The three armoured carriages entered the courtyard before stopping side-by-side. From the back door of the trading company, a man that looked in charge appeared. He was well-dressed and had a nice physique. Following after him were a few subordinates and two guards. Captain Dick and Vice-Captain Marlowe started speaking with this man while they all looked over a book.
Five men climbed out of the carriages and began detaching the raptors from them. A younger man approached the raptor the captain had been riding and, after releasing a sharp whistle, guided the raptor towards the stable.
A raptor should be hard to handle. Yet, this young man is easily able to control this beast with minimal effort. Not only that, the other raptors followed after him without anyone controlling them.
“Ulrike is a tamer. His ability is amazing. Anyway, let’s go.”
Lynx followed after the raptors while leading Mariela as they walked towards the stable. A man that appeared to be the caretaker for the beasts already had food prepared for the raptors. Lynx grabbed some of the food to give to the raptors that had been running tirelessly through the Demon Forest.
“We don’t have a lot for them, but when prepared right, it can be a nutritious meal. Raymond is quite generous.”
There didn’t appear to be any other animals being kept in the stable. Ulrike guided the other raptors into the stable before starting to hand feed them.
On the other hand, the caretaker seemed intimidated by the beasts and attempted to feed one by pushing a basket of food towards it.[Gya gya]
The caretaker had yet to give the beast any water and it let out a strange cry as if to complain to the man.
“Alright, alright. There’s no need to get angry. You’ll get some soon~. There’s plenty of water for you.”
While stroking the side of the raptor’s head, Ulrike spoke with a bit of an accent and calmed the beast. The caretaker took this chance to place his hands on either side of a basin and spoke.
The man used life magic to fill the basin with water. Ulrike picked up the basin and filled the trough in front of the raptor.
“Lynx, do you mind helping?”
Ulrike appears to be around fourteen years old, while Lynx looked to be in his late teens. They’re close in age and gave off the impression that they were close friends. Lynx began following Ulrike’s actions and hand fed one of the raptors.
“Mariela, would you like to try? It takes a little guts your first time, but you don’t have to worry about them biting.”
“Can I help in another way? I feel like I’d be more help with this.”
Although this beast is carnivorous and rather intimidating, it has a certain charm when peacefully eating its meal. Once it has grown used to you, this animal is even okay with you petting it.
(The caretaker already did this, so I’m guessing it’s safe to use life magic in front of them.)
I placed my hand over the water trough that had yet to be filled. The raptor patiently watched Mariela’s hands, eagerly anticipating the water. The raptor was incredibly well-trained as it stood stock-still watching Mariela.
The moment the trough began to fill, the raptor enthusiastically began gulping down large mouthfuls of water.
“Were you thirsty?”
And an answer was given.
“How is it~? Is her magical water delicious?”
The raptor made a motion that resembled a nod and let out a pleasant, [Gya] [Gya] [Gya]
After each raptor had been fed and provided with water, Lynx and Ulrike began wiping down the beasts’ bodies.
When Mariela attempted to wipe one down, the beast let out an irritated, [Gyi] sound. Ulrike interpreted for Mariela.
“He’s a little ticklish in that area.”
In response to the raptor’s annoyed cry, Mariela moved away from its body and began wiping down its neck.
It felt a lot smoother than Mariela expected.
She was also surprised to see the raptor “speak” so much.
She was unsure of what the raptor was saying, but the beast looked pleased as it ate the food and drank Mariela’s water. She had no idea a creature like this could be so charming.
“Once we arrive at the inn, you can rest for as long as you like~. Just keep going a little longer~”
Lynx and Ulrike continued wiping down the raptors’ bodies. The caretaker had begun taking care of minor tasks that didn’t involve interacting with the raptors. He’d change out the water Lynx and Ulrike were using to clean the raptors and kept busy cleaning the saddles.
There was nothing for Mariela to do. She began wondering if the rest of the Black Steel Transportation Corps had finally finished unloading the carriages. She casually cast a glance towards the courtyard.
Several people were now lined up alongside the armoured carriage.
The Black Steel Transportation Corps was transporting people.
There were men lined up on one side of the carriage and women were on the opposite side.
The men wore a small cloth covering their waist and the women wore tattered tunics. Each of them had their hands restrained in front of them.
Slavery was commonplace in the outer defensive city. In fact, all of the prostitutes that Mariela sold contraceptives to were debt slaves or women that were born into slavery.
Debt slaves were all over the city. They were people that owed substantial sums of money but were unable to pay it off. They would agree to work off their debt for an agreed upon amount of time. They’d work as shopkeepers, support adventurers, work as maids or butlers, or even help subjugate demons. Whatever they were capable of doing, they’d do. In return, whoever they owed the debt would be required to provide them with basic clothing and enough food and water to survive off of. Some could even be provided with a little bit of pocket money.
Mariela knew a few of these slaves. One of them she was close with and he was treated well enough that he looked like any other citizen….
Yet, all of the men lined up there were thin and unhealthy. Their hair and beards were matted and unkempt; their bodies were so covered in filth that Mariela couldn’t identify their original hair colours.
The man that appeared to be the boss of this business was using life magic to conjure water and wash the slaves on the spot. One of his subordinates was following after him, inspecting each of the slaves as if he were examining livestock.
He would use a long stick to poke at their bodies as if he was too disgusted with them to touch them with his finger. He would use this stick to thoroughly inspect every inch of the slave.
Any signs of rebellion or defiance were quickly, and ruthlessly, shut down by the guards.
If there was even a slight hint of resistance, multiple guards would force the offending slave into a more humiliating position and conduct the inspection like that. Even after the inspection had ended, the guards would then tie the slave’s hands behind their backs to their feet and leave them face down on the ground.
After seeing this, the rest of the slaves remained obedient. They said nothing no matter what the man did. He’d put his stick in their mouths and occasionally lift their waistcloth to inspect their privates.
The final man to be inspected was clearly injured. He was swaying back and forth and looked as if he may collapse at any moment. The inspector forcibly jabbed his stick into the man’s chest, causing him to fall backwards.
The guards showed no mercy. They grabbed him by the hair before he could fall and forced him to stand. While standing their half-conscious, the inspector poked and prodded all over his body.
Mariela was surprised to hear a voice near her.
“Is this your first time seeing criminal and lifelong slaves?”
Lynx had approached Mariela without her noticing.
“That is the life of a slave in the labyrinth city. Many of them are killed when they’re transported here. Since debt slaves still have rights, and the city is always in need of labourers, these types of slaves are in high demand.”
A criminal slave is a person that committed a serious crime like murder or robbery. A lifelong slave is someone that will live every day in servitude until they die.
These slaves hold no rights and are no longer treated as humans. They’re the slaves tasked with more dangerous and harsh forms of labour. They’d work deep in the mines or even act as the frontline defence against demons; often referred to as a ‘meat wall.’
“Are you a slave merchant?”
The question escaped Mariela’s lips before she could consider how Lynx would react.
“We transport whatever we’re ordered to. This time our cargo was slaves. Other times we’ve transported sake, tobacco, sugar and spices, and sometimes we’ve transported clothing, books, and musical instruments. The people of the labyrinth city need all sorts of items; many things that are impossible to get in this area. Us, and transport companies like us, are the only way they can get the things they want and need.”
This was his answer.
“I hate transporting slaves the most. Don’t you feel the same, Ulrike? They smell worse than the raptors.”
“That’s because they soil themselves and sit around in it. Cleaning the carriages after that is the worst.”
Mariela felt light-headed after listening to these two speak about people as if they were livestock.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.