Copyright © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Tylor Kranyak
Author of Legacy of Krazatan
Draton City
     They arrived near Draton City the next day just as Ian said they would, though their pace had set them off a few hours so they arrived in the evening rather than around lunchtime. The city was even more splendid than Nethric City. Nethric had mile-high walls that blocked the view from outside of all but the city's tallest buildings. Draton's walls were much shorter, and while they didn't look any less sturdy than Nethric's the shorter walls gave their group an unobstructed view of the sprawling cityscape.
     All the roofs were an earthy shade of red similar in hue to the various clay deposits scattered across Horagothien's steppes. Combined with the setting sun laying a hot orange glow over the many buildings and the plumes of smoke that rose from countless chimneys, the city looked like it had been set aflame. In the center of the city was a spire-like tower that easily stood twice as high as Nethric's cathedral. Dragonkin constantly landed and took off from the numerous platforms that looked to have been carved into the very walls of the tower. From their group's distance the creatures looked like tiny insects busily swarming around a tall, thin hive.
     "The political center of Horagothien, Draton City," Lukan mused as they brought their therasi to a halt. "It's one of the few places in this country where a man's words are more powerful than his blade."
     Kai merely grunted in response, he was too fixated on the large city to think of anything to say. Poking his shoulder, Kim asked, "What's wrong, is the wide-eyed country boy head over heels in awe?"
     "A little," Kai said, for once unabashed by his own childlike wonder.
     "You really haven't seen anything past that little village of yours all your life, have you?"
     He rolled his eyes at the girl's comment, though it took him great effort to look away from the city's burning skyline to do so. "Not everyone is brought up in an ivory tower like you and can afford to visit all these places."
     "Do you know how hard ivory is to get in mass? A kerosus's entire jaw would probably only give you enough to make three bricks. It'd be easier to build a tower out of gold."
     "Which shouldn't be a problem for your family, I'm sure."
     Kim responded with a droll, "Ha ha."
     "This should be as good place as any to set up camp," Lukan said as he climbed out of Rana's saddle. "Kai, give me a hand with the tents." They worked together to erect the tents while Kim gathered their spare timber for kindling to light a fire. The lack of natural forests, or even small patches of trees for that matter, across the vast steppes put a strain on their spare timber supplies. They only had enough left to light two or three fires after tonight, and even then they'd have to be small ones that would be lucky to last an hour. Fortunately, Draton was on the edge of the largest forest lands in the central region of the Horitan province so they'd be able to collect as much as they needed as they made their way along the Central Highway.
     Once they had a fire going and the tents were ready, Lukan had Kim start on their dinner while the older angel brought Kai over to the therasi. "I think we've held off on this long enough," he started as he grabbed Trak's reins and led the animal away from the camp. "The only reason you're not having more trouble with Trak is because I'm around, but you won't always have me nearby to help you whenever he gets out of hand. Taming your therasus is a necessity if you're going to survive out on the road."
     "Easier said than done," Kai said as the therasus in question stared at him with sharp, annoyed eyes.
     Lukan handed Kai the reins. "The best way to keep a therasus under control is by making sure it never gets agitated enough to lash out in the first place. A sharp command or a jerk of the reigns when it starts to growl is often times distraction enough to keep the animal from getting worked up."
     Kai remembered the previous week when Kim had taken Trak by the reins and kept him in control after their incident with the fire. A low rumbling growl began to roll its way up Trak's throat as he stared at Kai. Following Lukan's advice, Kai jerked on the reins and gave a sharp, "No." Trak's growl abated for a moment, but slowly built back up to a rumble. Again, Kai jerked the reins and, louder, repeated, "No!" It took a few tries, but eventually the growling stopped and Trak looked away in a dismissive, yet somehow still equally annoyed manner.
     Lukan nodded his approval. "Always keep your ears open around Trak. As soon as you hear him start to act up that's your cue to keep him in line. When a therasus goes over the edge there's very little you can do to get it back under control again, so the safest course of action is always to prevent its behaviour from escalating to that point in the first place." Lukan motioned for Kai to follow him as they paced a large circle around the camp. Kai pulled Trak along with him, and every time the creature began to growl he yanked the reins to make him stop.
     "What happens if he does get out of control again?" Kai asked when he remembered that day outside of Nethric City when Trak had turned on him for the first time.
     "There is no safe way to get a therasus under control once it gets to that point. Your best chance is to get into the saddle and pull the reins back hard enough to get the animal to lift its head straight up. You'll have to hold Trak like that until he calms down just like you did outside of Nethric City, though even then you run the risk of being pulled out of your saddle if you're not strong enough to hold him in place. You have no idea how lucky you were that day, and I don't mean just having your armour on at the time when he turned on you. For your sake you'd better already be in the saddle if it ever happens again." Kai held back a shudder as he forced himself not to think about what might have happened if things had gone badly that day, more than they already had been that was.
     They continued walking their circle around the camp until Kim called them back to eat. At that time the sun had lowered behind the horizon and the blanket of night began to spread across the sky. One-by-one the windows of all the buildings in Draton City lit up from the glow of candles and hearths, like stars quietly twinkling to life in the slow embrace of dusk. The once vibrantly coloured city that burned under the light of the setting sun now looked like a glittering jewel under the blackness of night. A roaring pyre burned at the top of the spire to light the way for the dragonkin that continued to come and go. The blazing flame gave the spire the look of a giant ivory candle, and Kai didn't think it could have looked any more magnificent even if it had been made of gold.
     "How long do you think it took to build that tower?" Kai asked between bites of his meal. They had gone with bread and salted meat again, as that was all they had until they found another herd of spinebeasts or alaki.
     "The Spire of Patriarchs took over fifty years to complete, and it required stone from all over Horagothien to build," Lukan said. "It's the single greatest architectural marvel Horagothien has ever built, and to this day it remains the highest man-made structure of the Rekius Era."
     Kim added, "It was such a huge accomplishment that it's the whole reason Horagothien changed its capital city from Galathi to Draton."
     "Wow, what is it used for?"
     "The first floor is a collection of courthouses and hearing rooms for political meetings and trial hearings," Kim told him. "The second floor is dedicated to Draton City's archives on all things related to politics, lawmaking, and anything else you can find of that nature. It's the second largest library in Horagothien next to the one at Breniston City's university."
     "The third floor," Lukan added, "is where the Grand Minister of Law and Order's chambers are housed. It also holds guest rooms for foreign emissaries and dignitaries to stay in while they're visiting on behalf on their leaders. The fourth floor houses the council chamber, where every five to ten years the five kings of Horagothien attend a summit to discuss the country's current status and what their plans are for improving and protecting it over the next few years. Even though the summit was originally started for the sake of the five kings alone, it has now become a time for important guilds, companies and foreign diplomats to appeal to Horagothien's leaders regarding issues of great importance."
     "I heard the Cartographer's Guild is pushing to get a hearing with them in the next summit," Kim said.
     "The bay business again I assume?"
     She smirked. "What else?"
     "What bay business?" Kai asked.
     "The Cartographer's Guild in Draton City is adamant on correcting the designations of Hurita Bay and Hunore Bay, and they've been trying to get approval from the five kings for the correction over the last few decades," Lukan explained.
     "Why? What's wrong with them?"
     "They're not bays," Kim told Kai.
     Lukan nodded and continued, "They're not partially enclosed like Anoran Bay or Zimnroff Bay. In fact, they're not enclosed at all, so that technically makes them gulfs if anything. The people who mapped out those regions in Horagothien's earliest days didn't fully understand the difference between the two types of bodies, or so the story goes. It's become somewhat of a joke across the world that a Horan can't tell the difference between a bay and a gulf. You can understand how that might ruffle a few people's feathers."
     "Huh, I never thought about that before. I always just assumed they were bays because that's what everyone called them."
     "Father Kenneth never taught you and the rest of Garrath's children about the mistake?"
     "He probably did, but I always had a hard time listening to his lectures so I don't remember. Do you think the guild will get an audience this time?"
     Lukan sighed. "Doubtful. The five kings will likely put it aside for more important matters as they had for the last few summits, especially with the war breaking out with Austranvia. I for one hope the designations are corrected, but when something has been established for two thousand years people tend to be resistant to change, even if their old way of thinking is incorrect."
     "Are there more floors in the tower?" Kai asked, turning back to look at the spire. "It looks too tall to only have four."
     "The rest of the floors are just dragonkin roosts and offices for courier and travel agencies," Kim said. "They're pretty big offices, though. Draton City sees more aerial traffic than any other city in Horagothien. It's pretty rare to see any ground-based couriers on anything but the most rural routes in Horagothien, which is one of the things that first tipped me off about you two when you showed up at my uncle's caravan."
     "You sure know a lot about the tower, have you ever been in it before?"
     "If course. Since my dad is the head of the Merchant's Guild that makes him the Grand Vizier of Trade and Finance's right-hand man, so he has to accompany the Grand Vizier for any business that takes him out of Orran. He took me with him to Draton during the last summit six years ago, so I would have been around twelve at the time. It was the first time I ever rode a dragonkin now that I think about it."
     "So, when is the next summit going to be held?" Kai asked.
     Lukan answered, "The five kings should be gathering in three and a half years, though extenuating circumstances may call for a summit earlier. The maximum time between each summit has to be ten years."
     "Why's that?"
     "It's a measure that helps prevent any one of the kings from taking advantage of the agency of his position as it forces him to report to the rest of the kings on a somewhat regular basis. It's a time when they can assess each other's performances in their roles, so if any of them feel one king is not fulfilling his roll they can call for his dismissal. If one of the kings does not show up to even a single summit then he automatically loses his position and a council to appoint his replacement has to be held."
     "That seems pretty strict," Kai said.
     "When it comes to leading the oldest nation in Pangaea strict rules must be in place to hold its leaders accountable for their actions. Running a country with multiple leaders instead of just one has its advantages, as well as its disadvantages. There's a somewhat higher level of accountability from those in charge when they have to answer to each other, and having a person specifically designated to each aspect of a country's government allows them to better focus on specific tasks rather than trying to keep track of the entire country's workings all at once. However, decisions will often take longer to be made when five men have to give their consent every decade, as opposed to a single man making all of the decisions in Austranvia or the Draknor Empire's case."
     Trak's head suddenly perked up. The therasus's lips curled back to bare fangs as a vicious growl clawed its way up his throat. They caught the sound of heavy feet tromping in the distance soon after. They all stood to see two armoured therasi approaching their camp. Riding each of them was an armed soldier in armour crafted from spinebeast bone plates. They bore Horagothien's insignia of a white sword with wings on their breastplates, and on their mounts' thighplates. Trak's growling only grew louder when they came up next to the tents. The soldier who stopped closest to them, a gruff looking man with a wide build and a jaw-line that looked like it hadn't seen a barber's razor in a few weeks, said, "State your business."
     Lukan stepped forward. "We're travellers simply stopping to rest for the night. We've had a long day in the saddle and were hoping to get some sleep soon."
     "Any reason why you're camping out here instead of getting a room in one of the city's inns?"
     "We're low on funds so we thought we might save a silver or two by spending the night outside."
     The soldier nodded to his companion, who in response took out a piece of parchment and a small stick of charcoal to write with, before turning his suspicious gaze back to their small group. "Names?"
     Kai felt a quick prick of worry about giving out their names, especially when they wanted to keep their whereabouts secret. However, that worry eased away when Lukan smiled pleasantly at the man. "I am Lucas, and these are my grandchildren, Kale and Cam." As always, the old man's lie came out as smoothly as if it was truth.
     "Where did you come from and where is your heading?" The first soldier said while the other one took notes.
     Before Lukan could answer, Trak let out a vicious snarl and took a step toward the other therasi. Both of the other two animals turned in response, their riders casting cautious glances at the brown creature. Realising the incident that was about to happen, Kai got up and rushed to his mount. He gave Trak's reins a harsh tug and said firmly, "No." Trak quieted down for a moment, but his eyes remained transfixed on the other animals.
     "You'd better keep that thing under control," the soldier warned.
     "I apologize," Lukan said. "He has some behavioural issues, but on a budget like ours he and the green one were all we could afford."
     "Budget or no, I'll not have that thing causing havoc around Draton's limits."
     Lukan nodded respectfully. "You have my word that he will not leave our sight." Turning to Kai, the old man added, "Isn't that right, Kale?"
     Nodding, Kai said, "Of course," before giving the reins another tug when he heard Trak start to growl again.
     Facing the guards again, Lukan continued, "To answer your question, we came from Harrensfield and are on our way to Sulves to stay with some family for the winter."
     "Any reason why you didn't come in from the Central Highway or the road from Lillinos?" the soldier asked.
     "We thought we could save some time by cutting across the steppes."
     "When will you be leaving?"
     "We'll be packing up and heading off at first light."
     "Are you planning on entering Draton at any point before you go?"
     Lukan shook his head. "We have all the supplies we need for the last leg of our trip. We might stop in the city for a bit on our way home, but that won't be until spring."
     The soldier sent a quick nod to his associate, who put away his notes and piece of charcoal in response. "I'll be sending some of my men to check up on your camp now and then. If any of you are not present when they come around we're going to have a problem. Do I make myself clear?"
     "Crystal," Lukan answered with a polite nod.
     The soldier gave Trak one last wary glance before turning his mount and riding off with his partner. Once they were gone Kai asked, "What was that all about?"
     "City patrol," Kim told him. "Draton is Horagothien's capital city, so its security is the tightest you'll ever come across. They have an entire patrol contingent dedicated to just watching the outskirts and plains around the city to discourage criminals or highwaymen from setting up nearby encampments and robbing people on the roads. Even the beggars can't come and go without giving their names and business."
     "Which is why we're not staying in the city," Lukan explained. "As strict as their security is the Cartel will likely have people on the inside passing around information. Our identities would have gone under much heavier scrutiny than they did out here if we wanted to get inside." Frowning now, Lukan turned to Kai and said, "You need to be more responsive to Trak's behaviour. The fact that he was getting agitated when the soldiers were approaching should have been your first indication that Trak needed a firm hand to keep him calm."
     "I know, Lukan. I won't let it happen again."
     "See that you don't."
     They were visited by two more patrols that night, both of which were just as gruff and no-nonsense as the first. One of them showed up just as they were settling in to bed while the other came by and woke them up at midnight. They all managed to get back to sleep afterward with little effort, and they were thankfully left undisturbed until the sun began to poke out over the eastern horizon. They had everything packed and were on their way at first light, just as they had told the soldier. Kai looked back at the city that glowed softly under the morning light and wondered when he'd have the chance to come back and see it from the inside.