The carriages and wagons which contained Aleks and Lenia, as well as all of the wealth acquired in Andor’s Edge, rolled through the gates of Kordusk. This was a city on the edge of the Federation bordering the Savage lands. It was the last bastion of Human civilization before entering the vast wilderness and dangerous wildlands which encompassed the entirety of the western part of the continent.
The Savage lands made up about thirty percent of the continent and was divided into three major regions. The southernmost region of the Savage lands was simply called the Ever Gloom and this was an enormous forest with giant trees that reached several hundred to a thousand feet into the sky. Their branches were so thick that no sun ever reached the forest bed and all manner of dark nightmarish creatures lived within. It was also the main entrance to the underdark, home of the dark elves and their dark elven matriarchs. They lived alongside the Arachne race, a race that had the lower body of giant spiders and an upper body which looked almost elvish but with a bronze hue.
The central region of the Savage lands was the Orgren Steppes. This was a region of vast steppes, mountains, valleys and the occasional grass plains which were home to Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins, Barbarians and a variety of nomads. Many other tribal races lived in this region as well as many large creatures and roving hordes of beasts. The extensive mountain range known as the Warharl’s Spine formed a natural boundary which separated the Ever Gloom from the Orgren Steppes. Dragons, Wyverns, and other Draconic beasts could even be found living in the tall peaks and treacherous mountain terrain of the region.
To the north was a land called Volksivar. It was also known as the land of the dead by most people. There, the Vampire Counts ruled with an iron fist over their subjects, most of which were considered mere cattle by their vampiric overlords. Undead creatures also roamed the land in service to the many necromancers that made that land their home. There was frequent conflict between the various Vampire Counts and the land never seemed to have a moment of peace. It was a brutal and vicious place which heavily influenced those that lived there.
It was these lands that Aleks had set his sights on. It was not only because the Origin of his world called out to him and led him there, but because in those lands the presence of the gods and their servants were mostly nonexistent. They had yet to expand into the Savage Lands and many who wished to escape the influence of the gods, or who worshipped other beings, escaped there.
The Dark Elves and the Arachne worshipped the Spider Queen who was a powerful Dark Elven Demigod, but she had yet to ascend to true godhood. Those on the Steppes believed in ancestral worship and these ancestor spirits were relatively weak with little real presence and power. They were even targets for Aleks who could devour these ancestral beings in order to increase his own power. As for the Vampires, they worshipped their Blood Progenitor who was also a Demigod of considerable power. Only in the Savage Lands did Aleks feel he could build his own power and hide from the eyes of the gods.
“Master, are you certain this plan is wise? From what you have told me of the Savage Lands, it sounds dangerous. I’m not doubting your power, I am just concerned for your wellbeing.”
Aleks continued to look outside the carriage window as he watched people gawking at his carriage from the side of the wide road that could easily fit three carriages abreast. With such a luxurious looking carriage and the many carriages and wagons following along, it gave off the impression that some grand character had entered the city and people were naturally curious.
Without turning to look at Lenia Aleks simply stated, “The path to power is often accompanied by great risk.”
Lenia clearly understood his words but she was still concerned.
“Don’t worry so much. It’s not as if we are unprepared. Kordusk is a center for the slave trade and we have more than enough wealth to purchase a small army and equip them. Brock should have also contracted a mercenary company by now as well as an adventuring party. We will need such elite beings to navigate the steppes. They should be pretty familiar with the region since this city is their base of operations.”
“I still have a bad feeling about this.” Lenia mumbled under her breath, but it didn’t escape Aleks’s ears.
He decided to ignore her comment and continued to observe the outside through the window of the carriage. Aleks had already removed his mask and his appearance could easily be misconstrued as a rich young master with his handsome appearance and luxurious robe. The mask was too conspicuous at this time due to what happened in Andor’s Edge.
From what Aleks could see through the window, Kordusk was a clean and well developed city. The population was definitely smaller than Andor’s Edge, but it was still a city with a relatively large population. The cobblestone road was wide and well maintained, the houses and shops were constructed of a type of colored brick which gave the city its own unique personality.
All throughout the city, slaves could be seen doing various jobs from sweeping the roads to maintaining the city’s structures. These particular slaves were ignored by the city’s residents and no one bothered them since they were an essential workforce that kept the city running smoothly. These slaves were owned by the city government and it was a crime to interfere with their duties.
As for those slaves purchased by individuals, they were completely under the authority of the one who purchased them and they had no rights whatsoever. Whether their owners killed them, used them as sex slaves, or for any other reason was entirely up to their owner. Each slave was branded with a slave rune and this rune could not easily be removed. The only way was to seek the services of a runemaster and so a slave’s life was usually miserable with only a few exceptions. One of those exceptions being the slaves which worked for the city government, their lives were at least somewhat better than the rest.
“An interesting city, Kordusk. The citizens receive a stipend from the slave trade and the slaves do all of the menial tasks throughout the city which means the majority of citizens can lead mostly leisurely lives. Do they stop to consider how the lives they live are built on the backs of the enslaved? There are more than one hundred thousand slaves in this city. They are treated like mere cattle and ignored as if they were insects. It is these same people who would consider me a monster.” Aleks mused out loud while watching several slaves repair the tiled roof of a shop along the main road.
Lenia wasn’t sure how to respond, but she felt as if she should say something. However she was interrupted by a knock on the carriage door. She opened the door and was informed by one of the escorts that they had arrived at their destination.
“Master, we are here.”
Aleks simply nodded and the two proceeded to exit the carriage. He was welcomed by a warm spring breeze which was much cleaner than the air of Andor’s Edge which had been polluted by the excessive amount of people and filth in that city. The carriages had stopped in a wide open courtyard in front of a five story luxury hotel.
There were over a dozen slaves clothed in uniformed suits with the emblem of the hotel stitched with golden silk on them standing outside the hotel waiting to serve the guests that arrived. They all stood at attention and wore pleasant expressions on their faces, but the rune which was branded into their skin was visible on the top of each right hand to ensure that everyone understood they were slaves. There were both beautiful women and handsome men among them. Since the hotel was an upscale establishment for nobles, much care was given to appearance and service. The escorts which Aleks had contracted to guard his caravan were gruff and barbarous in comparison.
Aleks took a deep breath while stepping out of the carriage and onto the cobblestone courtyard floor. The hotel slaves and servants didn’t immediately rush over as it would not be proper protocol and they waited patiently for someone to approach them. Aleks only gave them a quick glance before finally resting his eyes on a familiar face. It was the face of a tall and ruggedly handsome man with hair which seemed grayer than he remembered. He stood ramrod straight, his right hand resting on the pommel of a rapier sheathed at his waist. He wore a tight white and black striped battle suit with a high collar and a long black cape. An expression that showed no emotion was visible on his somewhat timeworn face, but his eyes were fierce as they met Aleks’s eyes.
“Brock… you’ve truly grown old.” Aleks said to himself as he met Brock’s gaze.
It hadn’t been long since Aleks had seen him last, but he had compared the Brock he saw now with the memory of the younger version who helped raise him in this life. He couldn’t help but feel a bit of guilt, but it only lasted a moment.