Chapter 13, Part 3

She made it pretty far down the walkway before she realized that she had no idea where she was going, and Havor had in fact asked her to follow. Pulling up short with a chagrined look on her face, she waited for Havor to catch up to her. Fortunately for Alessandra, she was smiling as she did so.

“Eager, aren’t we?” she said with a wink. “I’m glad to see it. Although, I’m not surprised. From what I’ve heard about life in the slums, you must think you’ve died and gone to Paradise.”

“It’s…a lot different, that’s for sure,” Alessandra said. “A lot more comfortable, certainly.”

“You don’t sound overly impressed,” Havor said, with a slight frown.

“Oh, I am!” Alessandra exclaimed. “I’m just…still getting used to everything here. It’s still hard for me to really believe that I’m a member of the Order of Sunaru.”

“You’re a lucky woman, that’s for sure,” Havor said. “Most of the time, new members have to go through a rigorous screening process. For every opening for an apprentice, we have at least a thousand people who apply. It’s pretty intense.” For a moment, she paused, and a grimace appeared on her face. “I remember the process well, not just for me, but for every one of my predecessors as well. It’s not pleasant. You’re very lucky that you didn’t have to experience it.”

“Oh,” Alessandra said with a small frown.

“What’s wrong?” Havor asked, slightly puzzled.

“Well, that just makes me feel even worse for Ilimay’s apprentice,” Alessandra said, grimacing. “I mean, she put all that work in, and now she gets nothing for it.”

“Oh, Fienele will be assigned to a different mage soon enough,” Havor said with a smile. “Don’t worry. Once we find somebody who deserves to be here, they stay here. People who have the mental and physical strength to wield magic are rare. We don’t let them go when we find them.”

“Ah, that makes me feel better,” Alessandra said, relieved. “I mean, I know I didn’t have a choice in what happened, and if I hadn’t been there, Ilimay’s powers and memories would be lost forever, but…”

“I understand,” Havor said. “Like I said, you’re a very lucky woman. It’s natural to feel like you don’t deserve the great fortune that has befallen you. You’ll get used to it eventually. Especially once you unlock Ilimay’s memories. Then it will feel like you’ve always been in the Order.”

“How long do you think that will take?” Alessandra asked.

“It’s hard to say,” Havor said with a slight frown. “This has only happened a handful of times in the past thousand years, so we don’t really understand how it works. Normally, an apprentice trains for years to open their minds to their master’s mental and emotional wavelengths. Then, when the master is close to death, the apprentice’s mind is ready to accept all of those new emotions and memories. For someone like you, though, you barely knew Ilimay at all, and so your mind doesn’t know what to do with all of her memories. Therefore, it’s simply blocking them out entirely.

“Like I said, this has only happened a handful of times, and every time the results have been wildly different. One person couldn’t remember a thing for three years, and then suddenly woke up one day remembering everything. Another gradually recalled their previous memories over the course of a year, starting about two weeks after they received them. A third person remembered nothing for two years, started remembering bits and pieces over the course of a month, and then suddenly remembered everything while eating lunch one day. There have been a few others in your position, but the results have been different every time.”

“So, what you’re saying is, there’s no way of knowing?” Alessandra asked.

“More or less,” Havor replied. “There are a couple of things we can be reasonably certain about though. One is that every time this has happened, it’s taken at least a year for the person to recall all of their previous memories. The other is that it’s never taken more than five years. So, the best answer I can give you is that it will take between one and five years.”

“That’s kind of a long time,” Alessandra said with a frown.

“I guess,” Havor said with a shrug, and then she smiled. “I suppose, you’re only…what? Eighteen? Nineteen?”

“Eighteen,” Alessandra said.

“When you have a thousand years worth of memories in your mind, five years suddenly doesn’t seem like much time at all,” Havor continued. They entered the inival, and went up several floors to the training level. They went from the inival into an unoccupied room that contained nothing but two chairs facing each other.

“Have a seat,” Havor said, gesturing to one chair while she sat in the other. Alessandra followed her lead. “Now, you have been able to make use of your powers to a limited extent, correct?”

“I mean, I’ve used my powers,” Alessandra said, feeling somewhat defensive. “I’ve figured out how to teleport, and how to mask myself from all senses. I know how to increase my speed and my strength.”

“There’s no need to get defensive,” Havor said with a smile. “You’ve done quite well so far. But the fact that you think you’ve gone beyond very basic levels of skill just shows me how much you still have to learn.” She held a hand outstretched in front of her, and suddenly a green-and-gold fireball appeared in the air above her hand. Then the fireball began to stretch and expand, until Havor was wreathed in multiple streams of flame. As this was happening, Havor’s form began to change and morph, and before Alessandra knew what was happening, a huge, multicolored beast was sitting in front of her, with rainbow colored wings that were so wide they shouldn’t have been able to fit in the room. Except that the room itself was changing, and Alessandra realized that she was hanging thousands of feet in midair over a landscape more beautiful and more terrible than anything she had ever imagined before. Green trees stretching for miles and miles, red cliffs towering over deep canyons, snow-capped mountains that towered even over where Alessandra and the beast that was Havor were located. It was all Alessandra could do to take in everything that was happening around her. And then, just like that, it was all gone, and she and Havor were sitting alone in a white room that contained nothing but two chairs.

To be continued…

Chapter 13, Part 2

“So that means…,” Alessandra said after a moment’s thought.

“Correct,” Shalor said. “A majority of our members must spend the majority of their time here, powering the Autorum, or else the barrier will fail, and it will no longer matter how corrupt the Circle is, or how poor the slums are. The city would be overwhelmed by demons in a matter of hours.”

“That…does explain a lot,” Alessandra said quietly.

“Once you have learned to fully control your powers, you also will be taking a shift powering the Autorum,” Shalor said. “It is the most important duty you will undertake as a member of the Order of Sunaru.” They walked along by the railing overlooking the giant crystal, simply observing it in silence for a few minutes. Finally Shalor said, “I know how people in the slums view us in the Order. I once felt that way myself. It’s a little uncomfortable to think about, to be honest. We are not gods. We are merely humans, like everyone else. We have been blessed with greater powers than normal humans, but we still make mistakes, just like everyone else. But if there is any good reason for slumdwellers to revere us, it is because of this. What we do here keeps the city safe from complete destruction.”

They walked on a little bit further, and then Shalor turned to Alessandra and said, “Do you understand now why we don’t do more to alleviate the suffering of the people in this city?”

“Yes,” Alessandra said, in a voice that was almost a whisper.

“I wish we could do more, I really do,” Shalor continued, and he sounded pained. “I remember what it’s like to live in the slums. It was horrible, and my heart goes out to everyone who is still stuck there. It would be wonderful if we could devote our powers to alleviating the poverty that is rampant there, but if we did that, and the barrier fell, what would it matter?”

“I understand, Shalor, I really do,” Alessandra said quietly. “I’m sorry I doubted.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty,” Shalor said, shaking his head. “I’m just trying to impress upon you the gravity of what we do here. This room is the most important place in the city-no, actually, the world. If this room didn’t exist, every last human being in the world would be dead.” He paused for a moment, as they continued walking. “That’s a difficult thought to grasp, I understand, but you need to grasp it if you’re going to be an effective mage.”

After this, they were silent for a long time, just walking around the Autorum and observing the mages hard at work feeding their magical energy into it. Alessandra had had just enough training to see that the mages were doing something, but she couldn’t tell what it was they were doing. She could see the flows of energy connecting the mages to the Autorum, but she couldn’t tell what they were or what they did. A non-mage wouldn’t have been able to see anything.

As she walked and watched, she also thought. Seeing all these mages sitting here, focusing so intently on this giant purple crystal, she began to really feel the weight of what it meant to be a member of the Order of Sunaru. The Order had always been so distant from her life as a slumdweller. She knew that they protected the city, but she’d never put any thought into what that meant. Now, as she stood in the heart of the Avaroth, a member-in-training of the Order herself, she finally began to realize just how important the Order of Sunaru was.

After this, her training continued apace. History was a part of it, but a relatively small part. More important was learning how to control the magic powers that had been given to her by Ilimay Ladron. These training sessions were intense, often lasting as long as eight hours a day, and sometimes longer. When she came into the Order, she thought she had a pretty good idea of what she was doing. She’d learned how to teleport, and to make herself completely invisible to all senses. She could activate superhuman speed and strength. But her first lesson with a fully trained Sunaran mage had taught her just how little she knew.

That lesson had been with Havor Kingresa, one of the mages who had been in the Vanmorzen manor when she’d met Shalor. When Alessandra had first met Havor, her impression had been that she was a fierce woman with an impressive temper. Instead, she had turned out to be one of the most patient and gentle people Alessandra had ever met. Of course, that first encounter had only lasted a couple of minutes, and Alessandra had not interacted with Havor at all in those moments, so her false impression was excusable. Still, that first lesson had been surprising.

“Come,” Alessandra said in response to the chime that sounded at her door. She was getting the hang of both responding to chime and freely allowing people to enter her quarters. Havor entered the room as Alessandra got to her feet.

“Oh, hello, um,” Alessandra trailed off as she realized that she didn’t know Havor’s proper title.

“My name is Havor,” Havor said with a warm smile. “We met in the Vanmorzen manor, although considering how chaotic that moment was, I would not be surprised if you didn’t remember.”

“Oh, no, I remember you,” Alessandra said hurriedly. “I’m just unsure how to address you.”

“Address me?” Havor said, a quizzical look on her face, and then she laughed. “Oh, you mean my rank? Well, it’s tralasor, but don’t worry about that. Just call me Havor.”

“Oh, of course,” Alessandra said with a bow. “What can I do for you…tra-, er, I mean, Havor?”

“It’s time for your first lesson,” Havor said, gesturing to the door. “If you would follow me?”

“Of course!” Alessandra exclaimed, and rushed out the door.

To be continued…

Chapter 13, Part 1

The days that followed were some of the most surreal of Alessandra’s entire life. To go from living in the slums to being a member of the Order of Sunaru was a little bit like going from being a rat living in the sewer to becoming a god. Only even less likely. Despite what Shalor had told her about having the memories of someone who experienced a similar situation, Alessandra had never heard of anyone going from the slums to the Avaroth. She wasn’t entirely convinced that Shalor was telling the truth, although he did seem to know quite a bit about life in the slums. It was slightly skewed, though, which would make sense if the memories really were from hundreds of years ago. Things didn’t change much in Serotopolis, but they did change a little bit. Once in awhile.

The Avaroth had not ceased to amaze and confound her. She was used to living in a building made of ancient stone, and being surrounded by other buildings made of rotting wood. Even the buildings in the city proper that she had been in were made of natural materials. But the Avaroth was made of some sort of material that she had never experienced before, and could not quite understand. It was white, and smoother than anything she had ever touched before, and it was slightly warm to the touch as well. Fienele told her it was called coulamin, and that it was a magical material created by mages before the barrier went up. The entire Avaroth dated from that time as well.

Bit by bit, Alessandra was learning the history of the times before and since the barrier. She was surprised at how little even the Order of Sunaru seemed to know about what the world was like before the barrier. Considering that their memories went back to the time before the barrier, she would have expected them to know more about what the outside world was like, but they didn’t seem to know much more than the average person in the slums. She learned that Serotopolis was once the capital of a great empire which had ruled most of the world, but then the demons came, and despite the Order’s power, a long and losing war had been fought, until only Serotopolis itself remained under their control. The barrier had been a last-ditch effort to keep the demons out of humanity’s last refuge, and for a thousand years it had (mostly) held. Unfortunately, it was starting to fail, and the mages of the Order were unsure as to why.

She learned much more about the history of the city since the barrier went up. The Circle of Elders were the remnant of the Imperial government that was left over after the war ended. They were antagonistic toward the Order of Sunaru, because they blamed the Order for failing to beat the demons a thousand years ago. The Order, on the other hand, disapproved of the Circle’s corruption and mismanagement of the city, but lacked the resources to do much to counter their rule.

This was something that disturbed Alessandra during her first few days as a member of the Order. As a slum dweller, she hadn’t thought about the logistics of what the Order did very much, but now that she herself was a mage, she found herself wondering what the Order did that was so important that they couldn’t wrest control of the city away from the Circle. Before, she had taken it for granted that the Order was too busy protecting the city from demons to do anything about the misery of the slums, but now that she was here, she couldn’t quite understand what the Order was so busy doing.

“Come with me,” Shalor said to her the first time she raised this concern with him, after giving her a long and searching look. Responding with a quirk of her eyebrow, she shrugged and followed him.

Shalor was not among those teaching her (he was too high ranking to spend his time on such a mundane activity as teaching), but even so, he found plenty of opportunity to spend time with her. Alessandra found herself appreciating his company. Shalor was charming, witty, and made her feel comfortable in a way that no other mage had done so far. She wasn’t sure why he went so far out of his way to spend time with her, but she was glad he did.

Shalor took her to the inival, and together they descended into the bowels of the Avaroth. Alessandra had never been down into the lower levels before, so she a little apprehensive about what exactly Shalor was going to show her.

For a few seconds after they passed below the first floor of the Avaroth, Alessandra could see nothing through the clear inival tube. Then, suddenly, the space around them opened up, and Alessandra could see that they were descending into a huge open space, seemingly as big as the central area of the building above them. Other than the size, it was as different from the upper levels as could be. Instead of being open and full of white light, it was dark and dominated by a massive purple crystal, which was several stories tall. Just like in the upper levels, the lower levels were arranged in a circle around the central area. There were probably a dozen levels underground, and on each level were seated a number of mages, all of their focus directed on the crystal.

“This is the Autorum,” Shalor said as they exited the inival. “This is what we spend most of our time on. This is the reason why we can’t do more to combat the Circle of Elders, or alleviate the suffering of the slums.”

“What is it?” Alessandra asked, her voice breathy with awe.

“It is a device for focusing magical energy,” he replied, his voice almost as quiet as hers. Alessandra couldn’t tell what emotion she was detecting in tone. Reverence, perhaps? “It is used for maintaining the barrier around the city.”

To be continued…

Chapter 12, Part 7

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “I’ll have to show you how to use it some time. You won’t have a lot of leisure time as a mage, but we do try to emphasize taking time to rest and relax. Can you read?” Alessandra nodded, and Shalor smiled. “I’ll have to show you our library then. It was one of the largest in the world before the barrier went up, and we’ve only expanded it since then. It is truly a sight to behold.”

Alessandra nodded, somewhat overwhelmed by the sudden changes in her fortune to say anything. She was having a very difficult time processing all of this. She felt like someone who’d dreamed her whole life about someday owning a rock, only to be given a diamond instead. Her mind felt like it was spinning out of control. She knew that she should be overjoyed about the change in her circumstances, but it was hard for her to have any coherent thoughts about it at all.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. “What about my clan?” she asked.

“Excuse me?” Shalor replied, looking somewhat puzzled.

“My clan,” Alessandra said, somewhat insistently. “My friends, back in the slums. I was their leader. What are they going to do without me? What can I do for them?”

“Oh, your friends will be just fine,” Shalor said, making a dismissive gesture. “They will find someone else to lead them, and life will go on. Don’t worry about them. You have a greater destiny to worry about now.”

Alessandra nodded, accepting this answer, but feeling somewhat unhappy about it. Of course life would go on in the slums, just as it had for a thousand years. But that didn’t mean she didn’t still care about the people she’d left behind, or that she didn’t still feel a sense of responsibility toward them. Not that she wanted to go back to just being the master of a thief clan. Not when she could be one of the most powerful and respected people in the whole city.

“I know what it’s like, to leave people behind,” Shalor said, obviously sensing that Alessandra was a little uncomfortable with that answer. “But believe me, the work you will be doing here will help them far more than anything you could do as the leader of their clan. What we do here at the Avaroth…well, let me just say that when our work is finished, the world will be changed for the better.”

Alessandra nodded again. That made her feel better. After all, it wasn’t as if she were abandoning her clan. She was joining the Order of Sunaru, those great men and women who fought demons and kept the city safe and made life better for everybody. If things weren’t perfect in the city, well, that was because of the corruption and greed of the Circle of Elders. The Order would certainly oust the Circle, but they were too busy fighting demons. Alessandra had seen it for herself. She was alive today because of the sacrifices of the Order. She owed them her life twice over, and she would give herself back in exchange.

“I will leave you to get accustomed to your rooms,” Shalor said with a bow. “In a little bit I will send someone up to show you around and get you started on your training.”

“Thank you,” Alessandra said quietly, returning his bow. Shalor smiled, and left.

Now that she was alone, Alessandra had no idea what to do with herself. She was alone in sumptuous, but unfamiliar, quarters, surrounded by luxuries she wouldn’t have ever dreamed of when she lived in the slums. It was all very overwhelming. All she could think to do was to sit on her couch and stare at her inactive moskore. Thoughts flitted through her head, but she was barely aware of them. She was too numb to think anything overly complicated.

A tone sounded suddenly, and Alessandra’s head snapped up. She looked around, slightly wildly, to see if she could figure out where it was coming from, and then it sounded again.

“Uh…what?” she asked, totally baffled. As soon as she did so, her door slid open.

“Hello,” said a young woman pleasantly as she entered the room. She was short with long, straight black hair and dark skin, but her eyes were bright blue, which was not a combination Alessandra had ever seen before.

“Um, what’s going on?” Alessandra asked, still confused.

“What do you mean?” the young woman asked, slightly puzzled.

“That noise,” Alessandra said. “I heard it twice, and then you came in.”

“Oh, that,” the young woman said, and giggled. “That’s just means that someone would like to enter your quarters.”

“Oh,” Alessandra said, and blushed slightly. “In the slums, we just knock.”

“Interesting,” the young woman said, and then she blushed as well. “Oh, where are my manners? I haven’t even introduced myself. I am Fienele Zhaomoran. I was the apprentice of Ilimay Ladron, and I have been assigned to be your assistant until you are settled and have chosen an apprentice of your own.”

“Oh, I see,” Alessandra frowned, and then said, “I’m sorry about what happened.”

“It is not your fault,” Fienele said with a bow. “You could not have had any idea what would happen. I’m just glad that someone was around to take on my master’s memories. It would have been much more tragic if her memories had been lost forever.”

“Still, though, you must have been looking forward to taking her place some day,” Alessandra muttered.

“I was, but perhaps I will have an opportunity to become an apprentice again,” Fienele said a shrug. “In the meantime, I will serve the Order the best I can in other ways.” Alessandra nodded. She could understand that. It was the same way in the clans. You did would you had to do to serve the clan. You had to put your loyalty to the clan ahead of your own interests. Maybe being a mage wouldn’t be that different from what she was used to.

To be continued…

 

Chapter 12, Part 6

“It’s…amazing,” Alessandra breathed.

“Isn’t it though?” Shalor said with a contented sigh. “I’ve lived here most of my life, plus I have the memories of several dozen lifetimes spent here, and I still have to catch my breath when I come out of my quarters. Surely there is no more beautiful building in all the world than the Avaroth.” He stood with Alessandra for a few minutes, just gazing at the majestic beauty in front of them, and then he turned to her and said, “Unfortunately, we have work that must be done, and we cannot spend all of our time admiring the aesthetics of our surroundings. Come, I will show you to your quarters.”

The two of them walked together along the walkway, until they came to an area with several tubes that extended from the floor of the building all the way to the top. As Alessandra watched, people entered the tubes, and as soon as they did so, they were whisked away toward a different floor of the building.

“These are called ivinal,” Shalor said, noticing Alessandra’s wide-eyed gaze. “They are used for easily transporting people from one floor of the Avaroth to another.”

“How do they work?” Alessandra asked in wonder.

“Magic,” Shalor said with a twinkle in his eyes. He gestured to an open inival, and Alessandra stared into it. There was no floor inside the tube. If she didn’t know better, she would assume that if she stepped into it, she would plummet straight the ground, which was a long way to fall, considering they were about halfway up the building. Even though she did know better, she still hesitated to enter.

“I assure you, it’s perfectly safe,” Shalor said with a smile. “Watch.” As he said this, he stepped into the tube, and hung there, suspended in mid-air. “Your turn.” Alessandra’s eyes widened even more, and she slowly, carefully, extended one foot into the tube and put her weight on it. It felt firm, like she was standing on solid ground. Even more carefully and slowly, she transferred all of her weight to that leg and removed her other foot from the floor. Contrary to everything her mind was telling her would happen, she did not fall. Very slowly, she let out a breath that she hadn’t known she was holding.

“See? I told you so,” Shalor said brightly. “Level 37.” And just like that, it was as if the floor gave way and the two of them began plummeting to the ground below.

Before Alessandra had time to scream about her impending death, their descent slowed, and then stopped, and Shalor stepped out of the tube. Alessandra blinked, and then, much more quickly than she’d gone in, stepped out of the tube as well.

“You might have given me a little warning,” she said with a scowl.

“Sorry,” Shalor laughed. “I forget how unsettling inival are to those who’ve never used them.” He laughed even harder at the look on Alessandra’s face, and then gestured for her to follow him. “Your quarters are this way. Come on.”

They walked along the circular inner ring of the Avaroth, as Alessandra openly gaped at the wonders surrounding her. Most of the people were dressed in the black-and-gold uniform of the Order of Sunaru, just as Shalor was, but there were a few people wearing flowing, voluminous purple and black robes, and one woman wearing robes that just as flowy, but were white trimmed with turquoise. This woman was also wearing an elaborate headdress that was gold and silver.

The people weren’t the only things traversing the walkway. Alessandra saw several mechanical creatures as she walked along as well. Several of them looked like dogs or other four-legged animals, but there was one that walked along on two legs like a human. Most of them were flying, however, and were small enough that she could have held them in one hand, if she could have caught one. They, of course, weren’t restricted to the walkway, but flew back and forth over the large open space in the center of the building as well.

“Those are vialis,” Shalor said. “We use them for delivering messages and other errands.”

“Incredible,” Alessandra breathed.

“It’s so fascinating, seeing all this through your eyes,” Shalor said, smiling at Alessandra. “I remember when these things were new to me, of course, but that was a long time ago. It’s refreshing to see this place as if it were brand new again. Reminds me how marvelous it really is.”

“I don’t know how you could ever get used to this,” Alessandra said in awe.

“Anything can become dull through familiarity,” Shalor replied. “Give it a few hundred years or so, and you’ll start to understand what I mean. Or rather,” he chuckled, “one of your successors will.” They walked a little bit further, and then Shalor stopped and said, “Ah, here we are.”

The silvery door that they had stopped in front of slid open automatically, and inside were Alessandra’s quarters. At least, that’s what Shalor called them. They looked more like a palace to Alessandra. Even the Master’s quarters in the Mekoval clanhouse, which Alessandra had not gotten used to yet, were not even a thousandth as luxurious as the rooms which Shalor was showing Alessandra. For one, her quarters as Clan Master comprised two rooms, a bedroom and an office, while her quarters here in the Avaroth consisted of four rooms, one of which was her own private bathroom! Never in her life had Alessandra had her own bathroom, nor had she ever met someone who had their own bathroom.

She also had her own sitting room, which was equipped with her very own moskore, which Shalor informed her was equipped with all sorts of entertainment options. Having broken into numerous middle- and upper-class homes, she was of course familiar with moskore, but she had never actually used one before. Somewhat sheepishly, she informed Shalor of that fact.

To be continued…

Chapter 12, Part 5

“Indeed,” said Shalor. “You were there when she died, were you not? She touched you, and then soon after you discovered that you had supernatural powers, correct?”

“Y-yes,” Alessandra stammered. “That’s right.”

“Those powers were Ilimay’s, and she passed them to you right before she died,” Shalor said. He paused for a moment, and smiled benignly at the confusion on Alessandra’s face. “It’s a lot to take in, I’m sure. Allow me to explain.” He stood up and began pacing back and forth across the room with his arms clasped behind his back as if he were lecturing. “Soon after the barrier was erected, the mages of the Order of Sunaru realized that they needed to do something to keep the order from dying out. With the rest of the world sealed off to them, it would be difficult for them to replenish their ranks as older members died off, so they needed to devise a way to ensure that the knowledge and power that they had amassed wouldn’t die off.” He paused for a moment, and eyed Alessandra closely to see how she was reacting to his words.

“They solved this problem by crafting a way for each member to pass on their powers and their memories to a successor,” he continued. “Each member of the Order took on an apprentice, and as they approached death, they passed on their memories to their apprentice, and that apprentice took on an apprentice, and so on, and so forth.” He paused again, waiting for Alessandra to respond.

“But…I don’t have any of Ilimay’s memories,” Alessandra said, confused.

“No, you wouldn’t,” Shalor replied with a frown. “Apprentices train for years in order to get fully in sync with their master’s thoughts and feelings, in order to prepare themselves to receive their master’s memories. In a situation like yours, without having had that extensive training, the memories remain locked in the recipient’s subconscious until they can be retrieved.”

“And…what if I don’t want to retrieve those memories?” Alessandra asked hesitantly.

“I’m afraid you don’t have any choice in the matter,” Shalor replied airily, his tone contrasted by the glint of steel in his eyes. “The memories of a Sunaran mage are too valuable to risk being lost. You must join us.”

“I…see,” Alessandra said pensively.

“I realize this is a lot to take in,” Shalor said in a comforting voice, “and I would prefer to keep the threats to a minimum. Instead, I would rather make a positive case for your cooperation. After all, it’s not as if you don’t get anything out of this. You will become – in fact, you already are – a member of the Order of Sunaru.”

For a moment, it was as if the entire world had frozen solid. Alessandra was so stunned that she couldn’t even react. Nothing in her wildest dreams had ever prepared her for the words that had just come out of Shalor’s mouth.

“A…what?” she said in a barely audible whisper. A knowing smile appeared on Shalor’s face.

“I remember how this feels,” he said. “One of my predecessors was in the same situation as you, a slum-dweller who just happened to be nearby when a mage died unexpectedly. I can vividly remember the shock and the joy I felt in the moment when I realized that I was going to join this hallowed order. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before or after.”

Alessandra’s mind was still frozen. Ever since she’d joined the Mekoval Clan, her greatest ambition had been to rise to the rank of Clan Master. Before that, living in the House of Vagrants, her greatest ambition had been to survive long enough to get out and join a clan. Even getting out of the slums and living in the city proper was a laughably impossible dream. For her, and for all slum-dwellers, the Order of Sunaru were like gods, benevolent, but unfathomably distant. For someone like her to actually join their ranks was…unthinkable. Hence, her inability to form any coherent thoughts about what she had just heard.

“I…that’s a lot to take in,” she finally said, somewhat lamely, and Shalor laughed, a deep, rich laugh that was so full of joy it finally broke through Alessandra’s frozen mind, and she couldn’t help but join in.

“That is the greatest understatement I have ever heard,” he said. “Come on, I want to give you a tour of the Avaroth.” He stood up and offered her his hand. She stared at it, confused and a little suspicious. “You’re supposed to take it so that I can help you up,” he said helpfully. Alessandra blushed and took his hand.

The door of Alessandra’s room slid open automatically as they approached it, and as soon as they walked through, Alessandra gasped in amazement. Alessandra was familiar with the exterior of the Avaroth, since it was the tallest building in the city and could be seen from just about everywhere inside the barrier, although she’d never seen it up close. It was an extraordinarily beautiful structure on the outside, tall and silver and ornate, but the exterior did not even remotely prepare Alessandra for her first view of the interior.

The very center of the Avaroth was dominated by an open space that extended the entire height of the building, from floor to ceiling. This open area was dominated by a massive statue depicting a figure that Alessandra did not recognize. Each level of the building was arranged in a circle, with rooms ringing the outside of the building, and across from each room was a balcony that overlooked the large central area. The effect was open and airy and beautiful, and it was the most amazing thing Alessandra had ever seen. In fact, over the course of her life, Alessandra would see many beautiful and terrible things, but her first glimpse of the interior of the Avaroth would always rank near the top of the list of the most incredible things she had ever seen.

To be continued…

Chapter 12, Part 4

“Hardly the reason why we were here,” the other man said scornfully. He was medium height, with black skin, close-cropped black hair, and a short beard. “Now the Storm Corps is aware that we know about the Receptor. They’re going to move it somewhere even more secure now.”

“Then we will find it again, Earva,” said the second woman fiercely. She was tall, even taller than Shalor, with olive skin, and long dark hair pulled into a braid that went down to her knees. “Everything hinges on that device.”

“Yes, well, perhaps we should not be talking about such things in present company, Havor,” Shalor said with a meaningful glance at the second woman. He turned back to Alessandra and bowed deeply. “Forgive my rudeness, and allow me to introduce myself. I am Shalor Berevay, sindunar of the Order of Sunaru. These are my companions, Mayla Farigold, Earva Landamor, and Havor Kingresa.”

“Ah, yes,” Alessandra said, trying desperately to hide her nervousness at meeting four members of the Order of Sunaru. “I-it was l-lovely to meet you all, b-but I really m-must be going.”

“Not so fast, my lady,” Shalor said, sweeping one hand out and flashing another winning smile. “You have not even told us your name!”

“O-oh, w-well,” Alessandra stammered, backing up slowly. “M-my name. Of c-course. That w-would b-be…,” and as she trailed off, Mayla scoffed.

“It’s obvious she doesn’t want to tell us her name, Shalor,” she said, tossing her head in a gesture of contempt. “And I can guess why. She’s a thief!”

“Of course she is,” Shalor said, and while his tone was still pleasant, it took on a hint of a dangerous edge as he continued. “Why else would she be here? This place is the most tempting target a slum-dweller could imagine!” He began walking slowly toward Alessandra, and his smile grew even more beautiful as he approached. “There are plenty of riches here, and I would not begrudge any slum-dweller who wished to partake of them. But what I want to know, is why a slum-dweller would be after the Receptor, of all things.”

Alessandra froze. Two deep-seated desires were warring within her. The first was her desire to keep herself and her clan secret from any authority, even the Order of Sunaru. The second was the deeply ingrained feelings of awe and reverence that any slum-dweller had for members of the Order of Sunaru. So part of her wanted to tell them everything, and part of her, somewhat irrationally, believed that bad things would happen if the Order discovered that she had inherited the power of one of their members. So she stared up at Shalor with wide eyes and kept her mouth shut, mostly because she had no idea what to say.

“You do not wish to speak,” Shalor said. “I understand. I suspect you have no idea what the Receptor is, and you do not wish to reveal your ignorance. You probably heard that a fantastically valuable object was being held here, under heavy guard, and your thieving desires got the best of you. Perfectly reasonable. Therefore, allow me to give you some friendly advice.” He paused, and then stepped closer to her and looked her directly in the eyes. “Forget about the Receptor. Forget you ever even heard the name. Go back to stealing from petty merchants, and keep your nose out of Order business. Understood?” For a moment he paused, waiting for Alessandra’s response, and then his eyes widened and he gasped. “Ilimay?” he exclaimed.

There was a moment of confusion as gasps of surprise came out of the mouths of the Shalor’s companions, and before Alessandra had any idea what was going on, Shalor had placed one of his hands on her forehead, and then all was darkness.

***

When she came to, the first thought in Alessandra’s head was that she’d died and gone to paradise. She had never seen a room that was so clean in her whole life. Every surface was perfectly spotless, and every place that the light touched gleamed like the purest braeka she’d ever seen. Every surface was white, brighter and clearer than any white Alessandra had ever seen before.

The second thought was panic. For a moment, she was convinced that she was suspended in mid-air. She flailed around for a bit, and then she immediately calmed down, as she realized that she was laying in a bed. It’s just that it was so much more comfortable than anything else she’d ever laid on, that it was like laying on nothing at all.

“I assure you that you are in no danger,” said a voice suddenly. Alessandra leaped out of the bed into a ready stance, and saw Shalor sitting in a chair across the room, with his legs crossed and a faint smile playing on his lips.

“Funny how when I tell you that you’re in no danger, you act like you’re about to be attacked,” he said.

“Sorry,” Alessandra mumbled, her cheeks growing hot. She slumped back onto the bed and eyed Shalor warily. “Instinct, I guess. In the slums, one learns to be on alert at all times. Those who don’t learn this, don’t last long.”

“I am sorry to hear it,” Shalor said gravely, his smile disappearing. “We have done far too little to help those who live on the outskirts of the city. Hopefully someday that will change.”

“Well, you’re busy,” Alessandra muttered, not quite meeting Shalor’s eyes. “Fighting demons and whatnot.”

“Indeed,” Shalor replied. He was silent for a moment, studying her, and then he said, “I apologize for the way I brought you here. It was rather rude of me to knock you unconscious without any warning, but I couldn’t risk the possibility that you would try to flee. We’ve been looking for you for some time, you see.”

“Oh?” Alessandra said, still not meeting his eyes.

“Yes,” Shalor replied, leaning forward intently. “You are the successor to Ilimay Ladron.”

“I am?” Alessandra asked.

To be continued…