Chapter 3:

Sunsets & Croquettes

Ad Novum Initium

19:10 - September 13, 3756 - 12 Years after reset (12 A.R.)Bookmark here

New Pastoria Kingdom - Province 3 - Burbank Township - Residential DistrictBookmark here

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“I don’t want to join the first.”Bookmark here

There was still a possibility this was a trap.Bookmark here

“I understand your misgivings, but I assure you that there is nothing to worry about.” He replied calmly.Bookmark here

“Why do you need me of all people? I haven’t even graduated from the academy.”Bookmark here

Simple and blatant facts. The sunset peaking—the village stained in blood.Bookmark here

He tilted his head curiously. A large shadow is cast over me, the sunset peaking—the village stained in blood. I'm hidden away behind his valiant build that put him more than two heads above mine. Despite his bold appearance, he exuded a tender softness, a warmth that made his presence comfortable; the novel hero ripped line-for-line straight off a page.Bookmark here

“Where’s the best place to get food around here?” He asked, his eyes closed, outstretching his neck like a dog sniffing around for food. Just like that, the author destroyed that image, might as well toss the whole novel out now.Bookmark here

Being part of the military academy meant I had a food plan. I rarely ate anything other than that. A certain place came to mind though.Bookmark here

“Do you like croquettes?” Bookmark here

He looked at me confused.Bookmark here

I took him over to a food stall I passed on my way back home every day. I had never eaten there before, but I had been tempted to. Occasionally, the lady who ran the stall would offer me some since it’d be around closing time when I would come through, to which I accepted but ended up giving to a less fortunate person on the street or my glutton of a roommate.Bookmark here

“Oh my, this is a nice surprise,” the old lady greeted me kindly.Bookmark here

Bram knelt under the curtains as he entered. This place definitely wasn’t made for someone of his height. We sat down, taking up two of the five empty stools. Bookmark here

“I’ll take one and…” I turned to look at Bram who was taking in the delicate aroma of the freshly deep-fried croquettes, “and he’ll have three...”Bookmark here

As we waited for the croquettes, the old lady started a conversation.Bookmark here

“Important business today, Ritsu?”Bookmark here

An odd way to put it. Since I had never actually come to eat here, my sudden appearance with Bram was deemed as important.Bookmark here

“Somewhat.” I turned to look at Bram who was sitting patiently.Bookmark here

“This kind young gentleman invited me to try these croquettes. I’ve never had one before.” Bram spoke up, his tone once again exemplifying his calm professionalism.Bookmark here

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a familiar head of light brown hair as he attempted to hide behind a stack of fresh produce. I didn’t react, rather just made a mental note of his presence.Bookmark here

Shortly after, the old lady laid the freshly made croquettes before us. Bram looked at his curiously.Bookmark here

“Be careful, it’s hot.”Bookmark here

I grabbed my croquette which was in a little wrapper, making it easier to eat. Bram followed suit. I took a bite, keeping my mouth open allowing for the heat to escape from my mouth in a visible cloud due to the chilly autumn air. The warm deep-fried potato crust melted in my mouth while the semi-sweet ground beef and onion filling warmed my belly. Bram took a bite, taking the piping hot croquette head-on without flinching.Bookmark here

His warm earthy brown eyes lit up after the first bite. Without even having to ask him, I could tell he enjoyed it as he quickly wolfed down his first.Bookmark here

“A friend or acquaintance of yours?” He asked me, still fully focused on his second croquette.Bookmark here

I thought he was referring to the old lady, but something told me he wasn’t referring to her.Bookmark here

I turned over to him, confused.Bookmark here

Without taking his focus or eyes away from his food, just a raise of his thick eyebrow in the direction of the stack of produce told me everything I needed to know.Bookmark here

“That’s my friend and roommate, he’s also part of the academy.”Bookmark here

“He can join us if he wants.”Bookmark here

I had been hyper-aware of Bram this entire time. Not once did I sense his gaze head in that direction, yet he was able to discern someone’s presence behind the stack of produce. From his seat, a large pole obstructs the view as well.Bookmark here

“Henri, get over here,” I called out to him.Bookmark here

The light brown head of hair flinched from behind the produce. Henri emerged from his hiding spot, he was dressed in the exact same casual military academy attire as me. Slightly embarrassed, he quickly took the seat next to mine.Bookmark here

Bram finally took his eyes off his food to get a good look at Henri.Bookmark here

“You’ve been watching me ever since I arrived.” Bram turned to look at him. “The names Bram Bennett, you can call me Bram. Nice to meet you.”Bookmark here

Even I hadn’t noticed Henri. Since he had been cautious of Bram the moment he arrived, he had been watching from even before I had gotten back.Bookmark here

“Henri Milford, Nice to meet you as well,” he replied politely, a bit intimidated.Bookmark here

“Are you a good friend of Akamori here?” Bram asked.Bookmark here

“Y-Yes, we’ve been friends for the past six years or so.”Bookmark here

He looked over the two of us curiously.Bookmark here

“I assume you heard what I told him earlier?”Bookmark here

Henri hesitated before replying.Bookmark here

“Yes, I did.”Bookmark here

Once again, Bram stared at us curiously, deep in thought.Bookmark here

“What if I were to offer you the same?”Bookmark here

Huh.Bookmark here

“I-uh, I’m not sure, b—“Bookmark here

“I’d be glad to extend you an offer, it wouldn’t be mandatory like Akamori’s here, you’re free to decline.”Bookmark here

Henri, nervous from being put on the spot, looked uneasy.Bookmark here

“You still haven’t told me why.” I butt in, relieving Henri from the spotlight.Bookmark here

Bram raised a burly hand from his side placing it gently on my shoulder. I could feel its weight as well as the years of experience that radiated from him. His aura—unyielding and tenacious, a man who has experienced and overcome it all—a man with a strong will and purpose. He lowered his indomitable structure to meet mine as he knelt down and whispered a familiar name in my ear.Bookmark here

“Gunslinger.”Bookmark here

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22:05 - December 4, 3748 - 4 Years after reset (4 A.R.)Bookmark here

New Pastoria Kingdom - Province Unknown - Location Unknown - Area UnknownBookmark here

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It was shiny, something I’d never seen before. It glimmered slightly, reflecting off the fire that I made. The cold of winter was upon us and luckily it hadn’t snowed yet. Even though I enjoyed the beauty of a white winter, the way I was living now made it hard to deal with snow.Bookmark here

“I’m giving this to you.” The man told me.Bookmark here

I looked up at him, his warm earthy brown eyes glowed, lit up by the flickering flames of the fire.Bookmark here

“What is it?” I asked the man.Bookmark here

He opened his coat exposing many of them, all of different shapes and sizes. He reached inside his coat and pulled out a rather fancy-looking one. It was a shiny silver, showing no signs of age other than the worn wood handle that he gripped it by.Bookmark here

He gave it a twirl in his hand before catching it and pointing it at the tree across from us. Before I could even react, a loud boom sounded from the shiny piece of steel in his hand and a hole appeared in the tree.Bookmark here

“This is a gun,” he said casually, blowing out the smoke from the piece of rolled paper in his mouth.Bookmark here

He placed his gun on the ground in front of me.Bookmark here

“This is what you call a revolver…” He explained in detail the many components of a gun.Bookmark here

“Why does mine look so different?” I asked.Bookmark here

He took mine in his hand and with a swift flick, a cartridge fell out from the bottom of the grip. Unlike the revolver that he had, my bullets were stored in what was called a magazine.Bookmark here

He pointed to some etching that was made into the gun.Bookmark here

SIG Sauer P226 - W.B.Bookmark here

“This has been handed down in my family for a while, over ten generations.” He looked up at the stars above us, reminiscing in what seemed to be a time far-far gone.Bookmark here

“If it’s so precious to you, why are you giving it to me?”Bookmark here

“Y’see my family originated from the United States of America, land of the free, home of the brave,” he boasted with a smile, once again blowing out a large cloud of smoke. “I come from a long history of military. That gun ya have there was the designated sidearm of the Navy SEALs, a branch of the U.S. Military.”Bookmark here

He pointed to another etching made into the P226.Bookmark here

“This is an anchor, the symbol of the Navy and the symbol of unity.” He turned to look me in the eyes. “Family needs unity, and kid, you’re family to me.Bookmark here

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07:39 - September 14, 3756 - 12 Years after reset (12 A.R.)Bookmark here

New Pastoria Kingdom - Province 1 - Imperial Palace - South Wing Auxiliary Military DormitoryBookmark here

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Henri was still sound asleep on the cot next to mine. The Imperial palace was somewhere I never thought I’d be. The cot I spent the night in was woven from materials I had never seen before. It was soft like silk to the touch but firm enough to support someone of Bram’s size. They were extremely comfy unlike my bed back home.Bookmark here

Military academies weren’t too common across the entire kingdom. In the 1st province, military academies were composed of the offspring of nobles and the rich. Due to that, most enlisted after in official positions, way behind the front lines. These people would probably never hold a weapon of any sort for the entirety of their lives.Bookmark here

The 2nd Province—also known as the military province—houses almost all the academies in the entire country. This is where most commoners end up, and thus, most of the military is composed of commoners who were either drafted or had nowhere else to go.Bookmark here

The 3rd and 5th are the only other two provinces that have academies. The 3rd, with its large open fields, is home to the military police. Military police are stationed across the country in different provinces to keep order within the kingdom. An easy, stable, and worthwhile job in my opinion.Bookmark here

The 5th province academy produces military engineers. Since the 5th is our industrial province, most products, goods, and most importantly, weaponry, are produced here. My basic knowledge learned in class on the military structure is that each unit or company has a designated engineer.Bookmark here

I got up from my bed and put on the new casual uniform that Bram had given us the night before. It was actually rather plain—which I liked—compared to what I had seen many of the 1st usually wear.Bookmark here

A dark grey but not quite black cargo blazer paired with matching trousers, underneath, a slightly lighter button-up, all made up of extremely light and flexible materials. It almost felt like I was wearing nothing. My insignia was displayed on my left shoulder, the exact same one as Bram. On my right, was the number “1” embroidered in white, below in smaller cases was “S-022” signifying that I was part of a special unit number twenty-two. There were no useless frills or excessive glamor—a tasteful uniform which I was told was designed and manufactured by our unit engineer.Bookmark here

I quietly made my way out the door, not to disrupt Henri. Last night we made a seven-hour trip by horseback to the 1st province. After our talk at the croquette stall, Bram didn’t touch on the subject again. Most of the trip was in silence, except for the crunch of the ten croquettes that Bram had ordered to go. When we arrived, Bram laid down some basics, saying that we’d go over everything in depth the next evening after some rest. In that, he told us about where we’d be staying within the imperial palace, gave us IDs that allowed us to enter in and out of the South and East wings. The North wing was reserved for royalty while the West was where most of the government functioned. He also said that we could meet him at 08:30 for a late breakfast and meet another member of the unit.Bookmark here

I walked around the south wing of the palace. The walls were a plain and refreshing white. Simple and easy on the eyes. The hollow echo of expensive shoes and heels clicking against the marble filled the halls. Unlike late last night, it was crowded with people, all headed in different directions.Bookmark here

I reached into my pocket to grab the map that Bram gave me and quickly found the place I wanted to check out before breakfast.Bookmark here

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08:16 - September 14, 3756 - 12 Years after reset (12 A.R.)Bookmark here

New Pastoria Kingdom - Province 1 - Imperial Palace - East Wing LibraryBookmark here

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It took quite a while to get here, mostly because of the bustling hallways. As soon as I stepped into the library, my jaw dropped. Neatly organized shelves of books were stacked all the way up to the ceiling which was at least 50 feet tall. If I had known the Imperial palace had such a big library I probably wouldn’t have slept last night and just spent it here. I looked over at the large clock situated on the far wall and realized if I wanted to make breakfast I’d only have a few spare minutes here. Luckily tho, the cafeteria was just down the hall. The library was peaceful unlike the chaos outside, completely silent, the only thing I could hear was the occasional ruffle of pages.Bookmark here

I quickly made my way up and down the aisles of books, scouting for anything and everything that caught my eye. To be honest, everything did. I made mental notes of places I had to check back on.Bookmark here

Books were extremely hard to come by in the country, meaning they must have someone with an ability here in the palace. I finally looped around the last aisle of books that I skimmed through and checked the time again to see that it was now 08:24. I had enough time to pick up a book. The books were arranged alphabetically by author, meaning that I’d come across one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde, in this last aisle. Bookmark here

When I came to the section, I found myself next to a girl who looked to be my age. She seemed to be deep in thought since she definitely didn’t notice me. She wasn’t dressed in military or government attire. She wore a simple white dress with a cardigan over top. Her long blonde hair spilled elegantly over her back. Her posture was proud and intimidating.Bookmark here

What immediately caught my attention though, was her aura. It was loud and overwhelming. I assumed that she was probably the daughter of some noble, but it wasn’t the same. On the surface, it was cold and off-putting, but there was something beneath that I couldn’t exactly describe. I could feel her yearning for something. It radiated from her similar to that of Bram. They both shared an intense will and desire, but unlike Bram, it didn’t bring the same warmth.Bookmark here

As I reached for a book that caught my attention, I felt her hand brush against mine. I skimmed through the pages and could feel her gaze burning into my side.Bookmark here

“H-Hey!” She blurted out.Bookmark here

I turned over and looked at her.Bookmark here

She was a true beauty. Her face had delicate features accented with bright blue eyes, innately curious bright blue eyes. It was like looking into a fluorescent starlit pond, vibrantly brimming with curiosity.Bookmark here

A hint of red spread across her cheeks like I had offended her. She quickly changed her expression though.Bookmark here

“Could I see that after you?” She asked politely, a small and cute smile spread across her face.Bookmark here

“Yeah of course. Are you a fan of Oscar Wilde?”Bookmark here

Her expression changed slightly at the mention of his name.Bookmark here

“Yes, I am.” A genuine smile spread across her face this time.Bookmark here

“The library here has an enormous collection, I’ve never seen anything like it.”Bookmark here

“I’ve read this one already.” I handed over the book and continued. “I definitely have to come back here in my free time.”Bookmark here

Turning and walking away, I left her with those parting words.Bookmark here

I quickly stored the title of the book in my long-term memory. The Decay of Living by Oscar Wilde—I hadn’t read that one yet.Bookmark here


Ad Novum Initium

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