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Imperial Capital and Royal City, Taian, was built by Krissen II using near 100000 slave laborers and countless resources over a span of eight years. It was named as such in hopes that the empire would be mighty with its people living peaceful lives. However, as Taian was a word that was derived from the ancient language of fairies, when it was pronounced in the Grindian Common Language, it sounded almost like a word that meant 'goner', so the later Krissen Empire Emperors considered that word taboo and neglected using it. Even in official correspondence or documents, Taian City was simple referred to as the imperial capital. Eventually, after two to three hundred years, while many people would know what the imperial capital referred to, not many could recall its name.

The imperial capital was protected by three walls with the royal court located in the very middle. In the early days, the Royal City of Taian was comprised mainly of those three walls with the residence of the Krissen Emperor at its very center, which was recently used as the residence of the Andinaq Royal Family. Beyond the second city wall was where the heads of the various departments and high-ranking officials of the empire stayed and it was known as the inner city. Within the third wall was the where most of the citizens of the imperial capital lived.

When Krissen II designed the city, he didn't imagine that its population would multiply by ten times within a few hundred years. His initial designs only provided for 100000 citizens and the farmland that could sustain up to 100000 people was gradually turned into residential areas, prosperous business areas, horse-racing facilities, a stadium as well as academies and workshops.

In the golden age of the empire that spanned for 30 or so years during the reign of Krissen V and Krissen VI, the imperial capital was one of the largest cities on the whole of Grindia, boasting a population of up to 1 million. However, when the Forde Trade Union was formed, Morante City later came to don the mantle of the most prosperous and greatest city of the Grindia Continent and the imperial capital only continued to spiral downhill, especially with the 7-year-long civil war that further exacerbated the imperial capital's downfall.

The fatal blow to the imperial capital was dealt during the final days of the civil war when the First Prince sent half of his forces to one way and led the other half to attract the attention of the Third Prince's forces. As a result, the first half managed to raid the imperial capital and their men truly did their worst from plundering to killing. Even though the Second Highness sent reinforcements, he was entangled at the business area with the other forces and the battle even lasted for three whole months. By the time the Second Highness eliminated the enemies, the interior of the third wall of the imperial capital had already been razed to the ground with more than 200000 citizens perishing as a result of the conflict and the business area completely reduced to rubble.

Even after the civil war ended and the empire split into 3 kingdoms and 7 duchies, the population of the imperial capital continued to dwindle. The newly-arrived peace didn't provide the citizens a stable life. Instead, having lost the places that used to provide food supply for the imperial capital, an inevitable famine further deteriorated the city. The fact that the Third Prince offended the merchants from the Forde Trade Union only served to worsen the situation. Not only the imperial capital, the whole of the Andinaq Kingdom was embroiled in a storm of uncertainty.

By the time the Second Highness stabilized the situation of the kingdom using the forces of the Norton Family's northbound convoy and firmed his position within the kingdom, the population of the imperial capital was less than 70000, not even a tenth of what it used to be during the golden age of the empire. The Second Highness rebuilt the inner and outer cities and gave up on the residential and business areas outside the third wall and converted them back to farmland while greatly simplifying the bureaucratic procedures of the administration. After five years, the empire seemed to have a renewed chance for vitality.

On the 18th day of the 9th month, Lorist brought 500 soldiers from the Local Defense Brigade and some knights to the southern entrance of the imperial capital and heard some bad news. The Second Highness had gone to the frontlines to inspect his troops and he would only be able to return by the end of the 9th month or the start of the 10th. That way, Lorist had to wait for up to 10 or so days.

The City Defense Army's company leader politely declined Lorist's request to let his 500 or so soldiers enter the city to set up camp and said that the Second Highness explicitly ordered that the forces of nobles could only set up camp at the west side of the city and each noble could at most bring 10 guards with them into the city. That was a new regulation of the imperial city.

And so, Lorist brought the rest of his men to the west entrance and registered to occupy a small area there for a camp and changed the lookouts and their secret signals to each other.

As Lorist was figuring out what to do within the next ten days in his own room, Dulles walked in excitedly and said, "Milord, look who's here?"

Behind him was a man equipped with the armor of the Local Defense Force of the Royal Family. When Lorist saw him, he broke into laughter and stretched out both his arms for a hug. "Karitoke, long time no see! Are you doing well?"

Karitoke was one of the 36 Dawn Academy students that joined the convoy formed by Charade and Terman in the early days and he was also one of the elite members of the Swordsmanship Society with Battle Force of the Three Star Silver rank. But when the northbound convoy was held up at Nadegas City, he and many others believed that there was not much of a future for the convoy and were poached by the Second Highness in the end. He was one of the 7 academy ex-students who left the convoy to serve the Second Highness.

Even though those who left the convoy were cursed at quite harshly, when the people of the convoy realized that the Second Highness's forces suffered heavy casualties, they began to miss the ones that had left them. Back then when Second Highness Auguslo led his troops to encircle Lichtana Citadel, the soldiers that defended the citadel launched a surprise attack during the night. While the forces of the Second Highness managed to defend against the enemy's assault, many of the Silver ranked knights from the Dawnn Academy who had joined him perished in battle. Terman and the rest were even hugging the corpses of two of the ex-students of Dawn Academy after the battle while tearing up nonstop. It was truly a tragedic sight.

When Karitoke received Lorist's warm hug, he began to tear up as well and said, "Lord Locke, I miss you guys so much. If I only we could go back to the days of the convoy..."

Of the 7 Dawn Academy students and 19 Silver ranked knights from the convoy that sided with the Second Highness, only 14 of them remained. Just recently during the Second Highness's battle at Flowater Creek that brought him to fame, three ex-students of the academy and four Silver ranked knights from the convoy lost their lives. Coupled with the two ex-students and three Silver ranked knights that died at the battle at Lichtana Citadel, almost half of those who left the convoy had perished.

"Of the 7 students of the academy, only Sander and I are left. Even though we've managed to become the knights of the royal family, we don't feel happy at all. Right now, the Second Highness is already preparing for the battle to unify the empire... I don't know if I can live long enough to see ourselves victorious..."

Karitoke was completely demoralized as he briefly described the things that happened after they left the convoy.

"What position do you hold currently?" Dulles asked.

"I am the regiment leader of the First Local Defense Legion's Second Heavy Infantry Division's First Regiment. We're currently stationed at the west gate of the imperial capital and tasked with cleaning up the rubble of the business area. As I didn't have anything important to do, I rushed to the south gate because i heard that you, Count Norton, is here," replied Karitoke.

"Eh? Even though you were already a regiment leader back in the convoy, why are you still in the same position after joining the Second Highness?" Dulles asked straightforwardly.

Karitoke shook his head and said, "The ones the Second Highness truly trusts are the subordinates that has been by his side for a long time. Currently, the only ones who hold high positions over all six legions and 300000 soldiers are his old subordinates or the nobles who allied up with him. Common born knights like us should only heed our orders and be the ones to lead the charge. I already regret leaving the convoy right now..."

"You can always come back," Dulles said.

"I no longer have the honor to do so. As knights, we can't be that half-hearted. Since I chose this path for myself, I will persevere till I reach its end," Karitoke expressed his thoughts honestly.

"Karitoke, you mentioned just now that you were put in charge of cleaning up the wreckage at the business area? Isn't the Royal Family's First Local Defense Legion the main force of the  kingdom? Why are you guys tasked with a menial job like that?" Lorist asked curiously.

"Hmph! You guys don't understand..." Karitoke exclaimed as he patted hard on his thigh. "There is a person called Marquis Reid by the Second Highness's side and he is well-trusted by him. That person gave the Second Highness a suggestion. He said that even though the business area of the city is already reduced to rubble, many merchants stored their goods and resources in the basements. The Marquis said that the unearthed resources would greatly alleviate the burden to the treasury of the kingdom. That's why the Second Highness ordered us to secure the whole area and sent some others to start digging there. Just as Marquis Reid had predicted, we did find a number of those underground storehouses and the combined worth of those resources are as high as 100000 gold Fordes. Not only that, we have only excavated about a third of the business area so far."

"Isn't that a little unfair? These resources should belong to those merchants, right? How could they dig them up and claim them as their own?" Dulles commented.

"Marquis Reid argues that since the merchants didn't bother to clean up the rubble and reclaim their stuff so many years after the civil war ended, the Second Highness is perfectly in line to absorb them into the treasury. In actuality, when we began excavating, a few people claiming to be the descendants of those merchants who owned those stuff came up to us, but they were all given a fine for the fees incurred to clean up area as well as their neglect by leaving the rubble and trash occupying the business area for so long without bothering to clean them up. In the end, those people gave up on their claim to the stuff and left. After that, nobody bothered to show up to request for the return of their resources," Karitoke said.

Dulles sighed and said, "That is far too underhanded. It's all because of the royal family's incompetence in the first place for letting the enemy barge into the imperial capital and cause so much loss to the merchants and other residents. After that, not only did they not provide reimbursement of some sort to make up for the lost lives, they even dared to forcefully possess the things that belonged to the merchants. If they continue to do that, people would lose even more confidence in them!"

"That was what I thought too, but I was rebuked by the commander of my legion after saying a few words. The Second Highness doesn't care about the livelihood of his subjects at all. He only wants to reunite the empire. Don't let the knights who are busy discussing what to do during the unification war fool you. Actually, I understand that the soldiers don't wish to go to war at all and their morale is incredibly low.

"Even though the Royal Family's Local Defense Force absorbed the Fiercegale Legion and split into three separate legions, there are many others who are secretly opposed to the policies of the Second Highness. For example, some of the ex-generals of the Fiercegale Legion believes that the Second Highness intentionally didn't send reinforcements and allowed the commander of the Fiercegale Legion, Gold ranked knight Nedram and 5000 other elite soldiers perish so that he could more easily absorb the Fiercegale Legion into his own force without much resistance," Karitoke nagged.

Lorist poured him a cup of tea and advised warmly, "Karitoke, Dulles, the two of you studied at Morante City just like me, so values like freedom, equality, and the sanctity of private property have heavily influenced our own worldview. But don't forget that we're now within the former Krissen Empire. I am a dominion lord, so I am confident that I can practice my values within my own dominion. As for the two of you who are just knights, it's understandable that you don't feel like you fit in with the other nobles of the empire.

"The nobles of the Krissen Empire have never considered the welfare of their people. Given their high status, they still think of themselves to be above the common man despite the collapse of the empire. The Second Highness himself only cares about his ambitions of being the sovereign who reunites the empire but doesn't consider the consequences should he fail in his endeavor and whether he can rise once again after that. Nobody likes a warmongering king. Right now, he is counting on the nobles, but they are far from a reliable bunch. Karitoke, I hope that you will be wiser. If you feel that things are bad, please leave right away and don't let yourself be dragged down into the quagmire. That is far too wasteful..."

In the end, Karitoke continued drinking with Lorist until he was dead drunk before he was sent back by the two guards Dulles brought over.

The next day, Lorist brought Howard with him to take a casual walk around the imperial capital. It didn't take long for him to realize that the cheapest things up for sale there were books, and most of them were those that were collected by noble families. After asking around, he found that those books that were valued highly during the times of peace had become useless piles of trash that took up space as it couldn't be consumed nor put to practical use. Back when Charade led the northbound convoy through the three provinces of the Andinaq Kingdom, over two-thirds of the nobles there were hanged and the residences of those nobles were later taken by the Second Highness as his own.

To gather enough funds to feed his army, the Second Highness began to auction away all the belongings and collections of those nobles. The best-selling items were armor and weapons and they sold for the highest price. As the nobles' residences would usually have a study with more or less 100 books in them, those books were all put up to auction in one go, causing the sky-high price of books in the imperial capital to plummet almost instantly.

Lorist experienced a tumultuous wave of complicated emotions when he thought about how the books he purchased for one gold Forde could be bought for only two to three large silvers there. As he and Howard were both book-lovers, they spent many of their days among the book markets to fish up rare gems.

One day when Lorist returned to the campsite, he saw Dulles and Karitoke waiting for him at the entrance suspiciously.

Right after Lorist asked them what was going on, the two others pulled him into the building and shut the door.

Dulles said, "Milord, Karitoke is here to borrow some money..."

"How much?" Lorist asked curiously as he wondered, why are you behaving like underworld criminals just to borrow money?

"100 gold Fordes," Dulles replied.

Huh?! Lorist was slightly surprised as Karitoke was a regiment leader of the Royal Defense Force and his salary was only at a low 10 large silvers each month. His annual salary would only amount to 6 gold Fordes, so what in the world did he want to buy for 100 gold Fordes?

Dulles quickly explained, "Milord, Karitoke just received an invitation to an event and if he wants to attend, he has to dress up properly and purchase some suits or something. Originally, he only wanted to borrow 10 gold Fordes, but after I considered his request, I decided that he should borrow 100 gold Fordes from you, milord."

"Alright, I'll lend out the money," Lorist said. During this trip to the imperial capital, he brought around 10000 gold Fordes with him and had only spent around 2000 or so buying books during the past few days. Since he had so much left, he figured that it wouldn't hurt him to lend it out. However, his curiosity was piqued and he asked, "Can you tell me what kind of function costs so much to attend?"

Dulles laughed out loud and said, "Milord, since you're lending us the money, we'll bring you along to experience it for yourself. Each person invited can bring along two others with them. We'll have Karitoke take us along with him."

Karitoke said, "It's like this... Milord, do you know about Princess Carey?"

"Princess Carey?" Lorist mused, before he shook his head and said, "Never heard of her."

"Princess Carey is the sole daughter of the late First Highness..."

"What did you say? The First Highness has passed away?" Lorist exclaimed in shock.

"That's right. Two years back when he was put under house arrest, he suddenly spit out a huge mouthful of blood and stopped breathing within an hour after that. It was said to be a sudden manifestation of the symptom of his disease, but many suspect the Second Highness had played a part in the First Highness's death. However, that's only speculation and nobody really knows the truth."

Lorist thought deeply before he said, "Go on. What's going on with that Princess Carey you mentioned?"

"Princess Carey is 25 years old this year and she possesses incredible beauty and is said to be one of the most beautiful women within the whole kingdom. However, she is extremely promiscuous and she has countless admirers. It's said that she believes in the Goddess of Desires and Pleasure, Mishla and even organizes a 'Paradise Gathering' participated by many other noblemen and noblewomen who believe in the same faith. Every month, she will organize that gathering and I've heard from some of my colleagues that one will get to experience the greatest pleasure should one be a part of it. Even though there isn't an explicit fee, participants must tip at least one gold Forde and most people aren't able to afford that kind of money. That's why I've come here to request your help, milord."

Dulles said, "Milord, can we go experience it for ourselves tomorrow? I haven't attended a function with nobles of the empire before. Let Karitoke bring us along to expand our horizons."

After Lorist considered it while stroking his chin, he said, "Alright then."