The first thing Emerson Brooke noticed when he got off the train with his bag was a giant black tower in the distance. The second thing he noticed was the hurry everyone seemed to be in this place: Scaleheart, the capital of the Dragon Imperium.
“Excuse me?” Emerson called out to the lady that passed him by the train exit. “Where do newcomers go once they arrive in the city?”
She looked confused by his question.
“You mean for touring the city?” She asked.
“No, for living and finding a job.”
“I don’t know,” she said and turned to leave.
“Okay then. Can you at least tell me about this tower?” Emerson said and pointed towards the tower off in the distance.
With her back still turned towards Emerson, she looked forward at the building and said, “That is a remnant from a time long past when Dragons still ruled this city. You’ll find many such relics even here, farthest away from the sealed parts of ScaleHeart. Enjoy your visit.” The woman started walking away.
The train station slowly emptied and filled with people like a beating heart. They were leaving and arriving at Scaleheart from all over the Dragon Imperium. Emerson wondered how many people from far-off villages came here just like him to try and make something of their lives. He asked about the station and saw people selling goods. Some were selling spices and herbs, others selling hot dishes. The smell woke up Emerson’s stomach, and it growled to remind him he was hungry.
Emerson checked his leather wallet to find seven gold crowns and five silvers. The change he was left with for the ride to ScaleHeart from Caershire, his home village. He didn’t have a lot of money, but perhaps starting his search for a home and a job here with a full belly would be best.
“Excuse me?” He asked the hot dish seller. “What’s the dish here that makes this smell?”
“Oh, that would be the Roasted Oglion.” The man said and pointed towards a steaming green dish.
“I’m not from here. What’s in it?” Emerson asked.
“Oh, certainly, traveler. The Oglion is a plant that grows only in our Dragon Imperium realm. It doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world. It’s said that it’s a gift from Cornelius, so we will never go hungry.”
Emerson didn’t understand half of what the man was saying. He understood Cornelius because his mom was praying for Cornelius so that his journey would be successful.
“So, it’s a plant?”
The man chuckled.
“Yes, lad. It’s a plant. It’s served with some herbs and spices for flavor.”
“How much is it for a meal?”
A while later, Emerson found himself sitting down in a food court and eating a roasted plant that looked like a four-legged animal with a tail and lots of hair around the neck. It was weird and delicious at the same time. He never had something like this in Caershire, even though this plant should be growing all over the Imperium.
He saw a woman with a long red robe putting down a Wanted sign as he was eating. The robe had designs of fires, all rising from the bottom until the midsection. And the waistline had two Dragon wings enclosed within a square that was enclosed within a circle - the symbol of Cornelius. Maybe he could find a job there? He wasn’t a believer, but perhaps they needed a cleaner or a cook?
After finishing his meal and cleaning his blonde beard from food leftovers, Emerson went towards the sign posted at the entrance of a well-decorated hut. It was like stepping from the street into a nobleman’s house. At least, that’s what Emerson thought a nobleman’s house should look like.
The floor was carpeted with red and the symbol of Cornelius in the middle. The walls were white marble and held religious portraits of Cornelius and the Dragon Imperium.
“Well met, visitor” the woman sitting at a desk in front of the entrance looked up at Emerson. “What brings you to seek Cornelius’s grace today?”
“Hello,” Emerson said. “I was just wondering about the wanted sign outside?”
“Would you like to work in the service of our protector?”
“Um, what does your protector need?”
The answer seemed to annoy the lady.
“Young man, our protector needs for naught.” She stopped to make sure Emerson paid attention to her response. “But we, his servants, need just like any other people. We need food, shelter, and protection. If you would like to work in the service of our protector, there are open positions for those options.”
“And does the job come with housing? I just arrived in the city and have no place to live.”
The woman pondered for a moment.
“Well, there are no worker lodgings. But, if you were to become an acolyte, you could live with us in The Fire Breath Temple.”
“What does becoming an acolyte mean?”
“You will need to swear fealty to Cornelius and live by our code.”
“And will I still be able to come and go and do as I please?”
The woman seemed displeased with his question.
The market seemed to be more fun than the train station and its surrounding shops. Emerson was thankful to blend in with more people. After the woman from the religious hut trained an arrow straight at his head and didn’t hesitate to release it and two others after Emerson started running.
Was he so at fault for trying to retain a sense of freedom and not enslave himself to worship a god he didn’t believe in?
In stark contrast to the train station, people gave him free stuff here in the market. He got many invitations, samples, and other trinkets he put in his backpack. He even got a kiss on the cheek on two different occasions. It was from a burly man who gave his body a very suspicious once over that made him blush. The other time was from a young lady dressed in very little that he gave her a once over because he couldn’t help himself.
A few stalls over, he finally saw what he was looking for - a Wanted sign that said lodging included.
“Hello,” Emerson said to the man standing in the kiosk, “I’m here about the wanted sign?”
“Well, let’s look at you,” the man said and pulled him behind the kiosk.
The man gave him a very surgical look all over his body. And then he squeezed his shoulders, pecs, butt cheeks, and legs.
“You seem muscular enough,” The man said.
“I was born in a village and did farm work all my life.” Still flustered and shocked from the violent invasion of privacy, Emerson said to the man who might give him a job and a place to stay.
“But the question is, are you experienced in milking?” The man said, and he reached to pull Emerson’s pants. Emerson stopped him.
“When you checked my body, I thought maybe you need someone to lift heavy weights, and you wanted to check to see I’m strong enough. I can’t find a reason for you to need to shame me even more.”
“Did you not know-?” the man started saying, and recognition and instant regret appeared all over his face.
“Oh, Cornelius, save me.” He said and moved away from Emerson and raised his hands in surprise. “This is a job for working as a pleasure servant. Have you never been in this part of the market before?”
“No, I’m new to the city.”
“Well, then get out. This job is clearly not for you.”
The setting sun in ScaleHeart was a beautiful sight to behold. But for Emerson, it was also a dreadful reminder that soon it would be night. He still hasn’t found a place to stay and a job. For now, he found a little garden overlooking the market square that still bustled with many people. Some of the stalls were closing for the day, but others shifted their appearance to provide a nightly service.
People played instruments, and to the side of the market square, Emerson could see a building light up with laughter, music, and purple light. That was most likely the inn where tourists would stay. He didn’t see people practicing magic, but he knew that purple light wouldn’t have been a natural fire.
“That will have to wait,” he said to himself. “I won’t let my father have the last laugh.” He could vividly see his father yelling at him that he would come crawling right back, begging to return home, and he won’t let him.
But Emerson had big dreams, and he’d rather see them through instead of live with regret.
This garden was so quiet that he wanted to stay there for a while. Leaving this place felt like he wouldn’t be protected by the calm it provided anymore.
Suddenly, a leather ball fell right beside him.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, sir” A child came to grab the ball. “Are you okay, sir? You look sad.”
Emerson smiled and wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just new to the city and looking for a place to live.”
“Oh, that’s easy!” The boy laughed. “You need to ask miss Silvervale. She gives us orphans a place to stay.”
“Can you help me find her?”
“Sure, come with me.”
“Jonas, where have you been?”
The blonde woman yelled at the little child leading Emerson. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Miss Silvervale, this man says he needs a place to stay!”
When she rested her grey eyes upon him, he felt like he could get lost in that misty color.
“Hello, I’m Emer-“
“How did you know?”
“Cornelius gifted me with some abilities. You need my help.”
Emerson didn’t know how to respond to that.
“I can’t offer you money because we are poor and trying to survive. But I can arrange to find you a place to stay with us if you could help with the kids.”
This woman still dumbfounded Emerson. He wanted to know more about her, to help her. His cheeks felt hot.
“Look, miss Silvervale!” The little Jonas pointed at Emerson’s face. “The man loves you! He’s red as a tomato!”
She laughed and hushed the kid.
“Yes, I- I agree.” Emerson stammered.
She nodded. “Well, welcome to Scaleheart then.”
He smiled and asked the woman, “by the way, do you know the name of that tower off in the distance?”
She smiled. “Yes, it’s called The Muted Tower. I can tell you all about it over dinner.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful! Maybe you can tell me about Oglions too.”