The Centurion Cycle: Book Four ~ The Road to the Future

Chapter Seven: The Road to the Future ~ The Lahorian Empire  

 

Harper was amazed at the wealth he saw before him. It seemed that nearly every domed roof of the capital of Lahore was leafed in gold, shining like a small sun. The streets of the city were white, made of large concrete blocks, free of weeds or the foul smell of horse droppings. In fact, not a single horse could be seen in the entire city of Purrsha. Instead, the people moved in small rickshaws pulled by men in short gray pants and straw hats.

Compared to the narrow streets of Jadoor, with its limited and decaying sewer system, Purrsha was a city that could truly call itself the capital of the world. Everyone seemed well dressed and well fed without a beggar in sight. Large crews of street sweepers were ever present, removing weeds and any litter that dared to blemish the perfection of the city.

With all the imposing structures that made up the capital, two were most impressive. The first, located in the center of the city, was surrounded by roads spreading out from it like the spokes of a wheel. It had the largest of all the gold domes. Hundreds, if not thousands, of fires burned around the rim of the dome, colors dancing along its surface. Under the dome was an octagonal building with five-story towers soaring at each corner.

Harper did not know much about Lahorian culture, but he was sure the building had to be the center of power for the empire. That, however, was not the building to which they were lead. Instead, they were taken to the second largest building in the city. It was an arena, eight stories high with benches that could sit tens of thousands. The walls seemed to be made primarily of arched windows, each one decorated by a marble statue of a man dressed for battle.

It was to the practice yards and barracks of the arena that Harper and the men were led, while Warren was taken aside and led away toward the road leading to the domed building.

As he watched their leader being taken away, Harper hoped that Warren would be able to gain their freedom for, if he could not, the sea captain was sure that the Lahorians would soon use them for their own amusement.

In fact, the Lahorian stadium masters did not wait to see what deal Warren would be able to make with the emperor. As soon as the Inquisitors were lined up, the Lahorians started passing out wooden swords to Harper and the other Inquisitors. They were then forced to fight against gladiator veterans while the masters watched. Harper, sensing that it would be better to show off his skill rather than hide it, quickly overwhelmed the man sent to fight him. In return, he was handed a gold-dyed shirt as were most of the Inquisitors. Only the ones still weak from their crossing were given different shirts; some who had tried their best even though they were beaten by the gladiators were dressed in blue. The ones who were too weak to put up a fight were dressed in white shirts marked with a painted lion.

It was not hard for Harper to figure out what fate those men had in store for them… food for the beasts.

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The aged Emperor of Lahore sat on the gold Rising Sun Throne, enjoying the pageantry of the court. He was dressed in gold and white layered robes, his head topped by a tiered crown so encrusted with rubies it made his head appear on fire. The emperor looked as much in uniform as his bonze-armored, brown-cloaked, ceremonial guards as they marched up and down the cavernous granite hall as the two "guests" were escorted in.

The Emperor Korish, twenty third of his line, had been looking forward to this meeting since a cleric of Kaal had brought to his attention that a group of men from the "West" had been captured by one of his scouting parties in the Desert of Flames, near the Oasis of Tears.

Back during the time when his great-grandfather was just a child, an army from the west had made its way across the Desert of Flames, half dead from lack of water and the constant burning of the desert sun. Still, the invaders were able to break their way past the border guards and take over three small villages before the empire's Horde overwhelmed them. The survivors were sent to the capital where they were fattened up, only to go back into battle again… this time for the entertainment of the emperor, fighting against each other in the arena.

For the twenty years that followed, they proved to be the finest warriors to ever fight in any of the arenas spread across the empire. Then, in a last attempt to escape, the westerners had revolted, taking control over a third of Purrsha. During the three weeks it took to summon the Horde, the collective force of hundreds of thousands of tribesmen, the city and palace guards fought a desperate battle to keep the westerners inside the city. When the Horde finally made its way to the capital, it found the city half destroyed from the westerners' desperate attempts to burn their way through the tightly packed buildings. With tens of thousands of warriors flooding into the city, it was only a matter of days before the westerners tried to surrender. But, seeing the heart of their nation and religion half gutted, the tribesmen showed no mercy. By the end of the fighting, the grand avenues and streets were lined by the bodies of the westerners, hoisted high on long pikes that ran through their bodies. There they were left to rot until their bones fell to the streets below.

Since that day the arenas had lost their luster of blood, and faced a decline in popularity. That tragedy was mostly mourned by the nobles of the cities. The tribesmen, however, continued to train their men in the arenas even if they lacked an audience. They looked forward to the day when an Emperor of Lahore would finally order the Horde across the Desert of Flame, to wipe out the westerners once and for all.

Korish, raised on the old stories about the days when the arena had been the center of Purrsha's life, had dreamed that one day the arena's former glory would return. Now, with a group of three hundred westerners captured and brought to Purrsha, it appeared that dream would come true.


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