Alright, finally another longer chapter. I worked really hard on this one. Due to my broken laptop I had to sit in the university’s computer lab, but it’s done. For some reason I felt almost pensive at the end. Must have been a combination of what I wrote, and the music I was listening to (World End by Flow – Animenz piano version; Departures by EGOIST / Chelly – Animenz piano version) whilst writing. So, I suggest listening to those two songs for the last scene in the chapter for the full effect.
Anyway, please enjoy.
Antoine looked at the old man. His eyes shone partially, and yet behind their sheen was hidden slight waves of confusion. The tale the old man had told him was fantastical. It was something he had never heard before. But there were things the old man had mentioned that didn’t make any sense to him. Some of the concepts were completely foreign, and he had asked the old man repeatedly to explain them to him, which he had done with great patience, but despite that, he still didn’t understand them.
The old man merely looked at him warmly and smiled.
“Well, that’s all I have time for today. I should get going, I still have a few things to do. Oh, child, could you help me up?”
Antoine woke from his daze. He quickly stood up and offered the old man his arm, helping him stand up.
“Thank you, young man.”
“But what happened? You’ve only just begun the story,” Antoine asked, trying futilely to hide his interest.
“No time, my child, no time.”
The old man thought for a bit before continuing, “Tell you what. If you want to hear the rest of the story, why don’t you meet me back here in three days and then on the same day each week? I’ll tell you a bit more of the story each time.”
“Is it such a long story?” Antoine asked.
“Indeed. Can’t you tell already? It’s an epic tale that will take a lot of time to tell. But I promise, it is worth it!”
The pair reached the edge of the park, and the old man and Antoine went their separate ways. Antoine watched the old man walk towards the main building at the other end of the park. Only once the old man vanished through the doorway, and all chance of hearing any more of the tale was finally gone, did Antoine turn and head towards his next class.
“Where the hell have you been?!” Lily yelled into Antoine’s ear.
Class had just ended, and everyone was leaving. The old man’s story had lasted much longer than he had expected it to; he had spent four hours listening to the story, and had ended up missing two whole classes.
He rubbed his ear a few times before answering.
“Sheesh, Lily… Do you want me deaf?”
“You’ve been deaf for as long as I’ve known you,” Lily answered dismissively, “So, where have you been?”
A slight shiver ran down Antoine’s back as the last sentence emerged from Lily’s mouth. It was like being doused in cold water. Just as he was about to answer, their lecturer interrupted.
“Antoine, what are you still doing here?”
“I was going to explain why I missed most of the class.”
“No need, I’ve already been informed.”
The lecturer, late into his fourth decade, waved a letter in front of him.
‘What? How on earth did the old man get a letter out this quickly? No one besides me came into the class after me, so the letter had to have been delivered before I arrived. But I came here straight from the park, so there shouldn’t have been time to write the letter, much less have it delivered. Mr. Platinus was also lecturing from the moment I entered the classroom. He didn’t at any point stop to read the letter, which means that he didn’t get the letter just before my arrival. The letter must have been delivered well in advance of my arrival, but that means the old man had known that he would meet me… But why would he essentially arrange to meet me, just to tell me a – admittedly intriguing – story?
Antoine stared at the letter which the lecturer now had dangling at his side. His eyes widened.
‘That material! The paper’s made of silkweave! That stuff is more expensive than gold of equivalent weight. Who on earth could afford to use silkweave paper just to send a small note to a lecturer about a kid late for class?!’
Antoine felt his head spin slightly. He took a few staggering steps back and fell on his rear, staring at the paper in the lecturer’s hand all the while.
‘Just who is that old man?!’
Two figures stood waiting at a carriage. Their backs were stiff, their necks straight, and their arms held tightly against their sides. Their middle fingers ran right along the seams of their trousers, which was a purple line that ran down each of their sides, from shoulder, to sleeve, to shoe. Their feet were exactly beneath their shoulders, and their eyes pierced straight ahead.
They wore white uniforms. The only dashes of colour were the crystals hanging on the tassels of their epaulettes, the lines running down their sides, and the crests on their chests where their hearts would be. The crests were a simple heater shield, with two crossed swords on it, a crown resting on its top, and a streamer banner curving along its bottom upon which the words “eien teom, clinkon; eien roges, shwerin” were embroidered. The motto on the streamer banner translated to “in peace, a shield; in war, a blade”.
An old man, bent from age, exited through the door to their front, flanked on either side by two more figures in similar dress to them. As the group came closer, the two stamped their heals together, straightening their backs even more, placed their right hands over the crests on their chests, and bowed deeply.
The old man smiled at them, patted the shoulder of each the closest to him, and entered the carriage.
“Thank you for your hard work,” the old man said as he vanished into the carriage.
The two quickly stood upright once more. Two of the others who had come with the old man entered the carriage as well. The remaining two of the four closed the door and the four took their positions on the carriage. The reigns flickered in the air and the carriage took off. Behind the carriage, eight soldiers on horseback flicked their reigns as well, and followed.
“Your Majesty really should stop leaving the palace with so little guard,” one of the two youths in the carriage said, “It leaves Your Majesty vulnerable to attack.”
The old man merely waved the man’s concern aside.
“Teal, I am the emperor of the Twinstar Empire. I am beloved by my people, adored by my retainers, and admired by my loyal soldiers and servants. Who would wish to bring me harm?”
“Your majesty, had you yourself not said that ‘in a body of people of any sizeable volume, there is bound to be great diversity’? A diversity of both the good and the bad, both the holy and the evil? Our empire stretches from the western waters to the eastern rocks, from the northern frosts to the southern sands. Our empire has nearly forty million citizens, and at least eighteen million slaves. The nobility consist of several thousand barons, nearly two hundred comtes, forty dukes, eight kings, and the three Dukes Primaire. We border six other kingdoms, eight principalities, and twelve duchies, not to mention the Lands of the Fae, the beastmen’s lands, and the desert monster tribes. Surely amongst all of them there are a few who wish harm upon you.”
“Yes-yes, we’ve had this conversation several times already, Teal.”
“And yet we keep having to have this conversation, Your Majesty.”
“Aghhh… Can we not just enjoy our ride back to the palace? You know very well His Majesty listens to your advice on many things, but this is not one of them,” the other uniformed youth interjected.
“If His Majesty listens to me on only one thing, this should be it,” Teal complained, but he didn’t pursue the matter further.
The carriage rolled along the streets in silence. The emperor stared out through one of the windows on either side of the carriage at the city slowly scrolling by. It was in the middle of the afternoon, and the shadows were just beginning to pick up the pace as they stretched out across the street. The streets were wide. Even the narrowest could still accommodate two carriages side-by-side, and the widest of the streets, the Avenue of the Elysian Fields, could take fourteen carriages side-by-side, it was a total of seventy paces across, including the sidepaths.
“Have I told you the story of the Avenue of the Elysian Fields?” the emperor asked as the carriage turned onto the broad avenue.
“I have heard the story, Your Majesty, we all learn of it in the academy.
“But have I told you of it before?”
Teal sighed before answering, “No, Your Majesty.”
“This avenue is as old as the city, and its length has increased several times since it was first constructed. It is the widest avenue in the entire city, in the entire empire, mind you, and likely there aren’t any others that can match up to it even outside of the empire. It is paved with fallen heroes, soldiers, and individuals who sacrificed themselves for the empire and its people. These fallen are cremated, and their ashes mixed in with the mortar that binds the paving stones to one another and the ground beneath them. The stones themselves are also inscribed with their names, the year they were born, the day they died, and what they died for or what they died doing.
“The most interesting parts, however, are the annual even held at the end of the apollonian cycle, and the victory parades. The first is called the ‘March of Remembrance’. Over the course of two weeks, pilgrims from all across the empire come to crawl the entire distance of the avenue on all fours. All the way they read the names and stories on every pavement stone they pass over. The third week of the ceremony, the final week of the apollonian cycle, the inhabitants of the capital itself make the same march. Every person, regardless of social standing, from slaves to even myself, must complete this march.
The emperor looked at the stones as the carriage rolled along.
“Tell me, Teal, why do we do this every year?”
“It is so that we never forget those who gave up their lives for the peace and prosperity we enjoy.”
“Indeed. I hope to one day join them, to become another pavement stone on the Avenue of the Elysian Fields.”
The emperor was silent for another few minutes before continuing.
“As for the victory marches, they are called ‘The Victor’s Pilgrimage’. A victorious army, returning to the capital, must march along the Avenue of the Elysian Fields, always looking down to the names written on the stones. They may not look at the crowds, nor may the crowds cheer or speak with them, nor make any sounds what-so-ever, until the entire army has crossed the entire length of the avenue.
The emperor turned to Teal, and looked straight at him. The weight of his gaze made Teal recoil slightly. Cold sweat began to run down the back of his neck.
“Why, teal, do we have this custom?” the emperor finally asked.
“S-So that those who are victorious do not forget the sacrifices they have had to make. So that they never become arrogant in their victory, but remember that there are always others who have sacrificed more, and that until their death, they have not fulfilled their duty to the empire, and to its people.”
“True,” the emperor answered, “but you’ve forgotten something.”
Teal scratched his head but couldn’t think of what he had forgotten. The emperor gave him several moments to try and come up with an answer, but finally answered himself.
“To remind them that it’s not just that their duty is only fulfilled with their death, but that their death itself has to serve the empire as well. Only those who die to preserve, to save, the empire and its people are interned in the Avenue of the Elysian Fields. If one is interned in the avenue, then even in death, one can still serve the empire. This is the greatest honour one can receive.”
Teal thought of his father, who was interned in this very avenue, and couldn’t help but nod his head. For as long as the city was inhabited, his father would be remembered, his story read and told at least once every year. To be remembered by those for whom one sacrificed oneself, to become part of the city for whom one fought and died, is truly the greatest honour. It was the dream of every child, and indeed of every soldier and citizen of the empire, to die in such a way as to be interned in the Avenue of the Elysian Fields. Such a death was a sacred, holy thing.
‘I’m in no rush to be interned there. I would rather live a long life, for every day I am alive, is a day more that I can serve His Majesty. For me, this is enough.’
Teal looked at the old man whose gaze had once again left the carriage and returned to the stone outside. He looked at the old man’s gentle smile, his intelligent eyes, and his aged and delicate features. The emperor was an old tree which had seen the ages pass it by. He was in the autumn of his life. His leaves were ready to fall from his branches and send him into the eternal winter at any moment, but they held on, determined not to drift in the breeze until everything that was needed was done.
‘My father has already earned his place in the Avenue of the Elysian Fields,’ Teal thought, ‘I’ll earn my place at His Majesty’s side.’
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