Wizard! Chapter 163
William was surprised to hear that the city they were heading away from was not the real capital, but he supposed that was the point. He certainly remembered that people could reach the capital in his previous life, people not from Ustil. That had obviously changed. As for having another secret capital, William wasn’t sure what purpose it would serve if you could just prevent people from getting to it anyway. However, as they rode along William gained some ideas of why it might be secret. The approach to the real city of Jeim itself was not as William had expected. While the various towns and villages seen previously had each been built around an oasis and even the “fake” capital, that was not the case with the capital. It wasn’t entirely the wrong thing to say, but William felt that oasis was too weak a term for what he was seeing.
The desert sand quickly faded, becoming somewhat dry grasslands, then becoming actual green. William saw a stream bubbling out of the ground. Trees started to be visible, not cactus or the palms that would be expected to be found in an oasis.
It also became clear that the “capital” wasn’t just a city. William started to see houses… perhaps even whole villages, and farms. As they continued on the into the afternoon, William noticed more and more streams, some of them combining into rivers. More importantly, they were flowing in the same direction they were heading. Though it was a gentle slope, it still seemed to be downhill. Then, the actual capital came within sight. First, there were the outlying buildings. There were no walls around the city, though there was little reason for that if nobody could reach the area to begin with. The structures became more dense as they moved on, continuing until the edge of an enormous lake. William couldn’t actually see the whole lake, but upon getting closer, he actually noticed that the structures didn’t stop at the lake… some of them continued to be built out over the lake, supported by massive stone pillars.
William wondered how such a place could be kept secret… but then again, people from outside of Ustil weren’t even allowed to visit the ‘public’ capital. In the past where they had, they would have not even known this place existed. William supposed there were likely even more powerful wards preventing approach to this place, but he wasn’t sure. However, it seemed that this true capital had been secret for a very long time. That made William wonder why he was being brought there. He could have very easily been made to wait around in the capital he knew about, and those who needed to know what he had to say could have come to visit him. Although having important figures effectively come to him would somewhat demean their status, William thought that it would be better than displaying their secrets to William and his group.
All of the implicit trust bothered William. He had no intention of betraying that trust, but at least everywhere else had been cautious to some degree. Here, they had been looking for him. Well, they were actually looking for Chris, but regardless it was strange. Though Chris was somewhat of a famous or infamous staff from the past, he’d only seen real use once. Before that, he was just an interesting anomaly that was around. Thus, though they could have been looking for Chris because of that, it seemed unlikely. More importantly, they seemed to have some idea when he was going to appear, since they had been very vigilant in spotting just a small part of him. On the other hand, they could have gotten lucky.
Unfortunately, the people escorting William, Dong Xin, and the two others didn’t know why or how people were interested in them. The other possibility was that they wouldn’t speak of it. William had learned that the denial of knowledge didn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t known, and in Ustil denying knowledge of something wasn’t even considered deception, unless asked in a specific way. William didn’t want to push anything, however, and whether they didn’t know or didn’t want to say wasn’t extremely important.
As they entered further into the city, the real capital this time, William noticed a distinct lack of magic. That was mostly because he had just come from Eclea where magic was quite prevalent, but regardless William still noticed it. Though, he hadn’t been sure until he asked Chris and Dong Xin. William felt that was somewhat odd, since they had large wards that kept people away, they obviously had some capacity for magic.
The group approached the waterfront, and actually boarded a ferry. William enjoyed the crossing, since the lake was quite beautiful, and a welcome change from the desert that had occupied the last weeks. At the bare minimum, there wasn’t any sand blowing in his face, though there was still a nice breeze and a good, clean smell.
Once they disembarked on the other end, they headed for a larger building. It wasn’t excessively large, but it did stand out. It wasn’t ornamental, instead being built in a very practical fashion out of stone and plaster. They went into a small waiting area, its function made clear by the various reasonably comfortable seating arrayed around the room. “This is the council building. I will go announce you, and they will meet you… soon.” Then their guide went off to explain the situation to the man who appeared to fulfill the role of receptionist, among other things. William saw that there were not too many people waiting, but was rather pleased to see that there were both rich and poor among their numbers.
While poor petitioners didn’t necessarily mean that the process was fair, at least it tried to appear that way, which was a step in the right direction. Everything was pure speculation on William’s part though. The lack of numbers could also mean that either there weren’t many problems, or it was hard to receive an audience with the council. Since he had time, William continued to observe the others. The poorer citizens, based on their dress, at least did not appear to be too poor. They looked healthy, anyway, and seemed to have sufficient food. There was even one with patches in his clothing, so it wasn’t that just the less-poor were present. William’s speculations continued as he saw one of those in finer clothing strike up a conversation with the poorer man who was sitting next to him. The conversation was pleasant, which pleased William. Perhaps that didn’t say anything for the country as a whole, but at least this particular person was civil to those who had less, which William couldn’t say for many of the nobles in Ostana. Then, one of the guards by the door to what was presumably the council chambers announced that it was William’s opportunity to see the council. Nobody else had been called in before him, so he knew he had a special priority. He just hoped he didn’t disappoint the council… and that they didn’t disappoint him either.