The next few days passed like something out of a dream for Alessandra. She didn’t see Bezzum at all, and as far as she could tell, nobody did. He hadn’t left his quarters at all since Alessandra had given him her report. Alessandra went about her daily chores, ignoring everyone and being ignored in return. Even though she’d returned from a successful mission, she was still being ostracized by the rest of the clan, except for Mikaelo and Halidasa, and she avoided those two as much as possible. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see them, but she needed to be left alone with her thoughts. She was having trouble wrapping her mind around the events that had taken place in the Morkal District, and she felt like she needed to straighten her brain out before she could interact with anyone. Nobody seemed to know what had happened. Apparently, Bezzum and Torea had not told anyone.
Four days after her encounter with a demon, Alessandra had a free day. Once a month or so, each member of the clan had a day where they weren’t scheduled for any chores, and could spend their time however they wanted. Alessandra woke up that morning, stared at the ceiling for about an hour, and then suddenly, jumped out of bed, dressed in a rush, and swept out of the clan house like a whirlwind.
She stormed down the middle of the street, walking as fast as she could without running. Any thugs from rival clans that saw her and were tempted by the prospect of accosting a young woman out by herself took one look at the fire in her eyes and thought better of it. She didn’t know why she was fired up, but she knew where she was going, even if she didn’t have any idea what she expected to find there.
After she’d gone a few blocks, someone stepped out of the shadows and began walking beside her. It was Mikaelo. She wasn’t sure if she was surprised to see him there or not, but she didn’t say anything. For a few minutes, they walked together in silence.
“So, where are we going?” Mikaelo finally asked.
“I don’t have any idea where you’re going,” Alessandra retorted. “As for me, well, you’ll find out eventually if you keep following me.”
“So that’s how it’s going to be,” Mikaelo replied with a smirk. Alessandra glanced at him, and decided to just ignore him. Mikaelo, perhaps sensing that she was in no mood to talk, kept his silence for awhile.
After several more minutes of walking in silence, Mikaelo spoke up again.
“You know, there’s nothing down this way,” he said, slightly uncertain.
“That’s what you think,” Alessandra said mysteriously. They were walking toward the edge of the city. Serotopolis was arranged like a great wheel, with the Hall of Elders in the very center, and 8 huge roads radiating out from it like spokes. As one got farther and farther from the city center, the districts got poorer and poorer, until one finally reached the slums, which sprawled on the edges of the city like a great parasite infesting the city on all sides. Beyond the slums, there was the barrier.
It was a huge purple dome that surrounded the city on all sides. Or at least, that’s what Alessandra had always assumed. Maybe the barrier was invisible, and the sky was purple. But ancient stories always insisted that the sky was blue, so it was probably more likely that the barrier was purple. It was always up there, overhead, generally ignored by the people of Serotopolis, but a comforting reminder that the city was safe from the demonic threat that had overcome the rest of the world. Or at least it always had been.
The buildings became shabbier and farther apart the closer Alessandra and Mikaelo drew to the barrier. Even in the slums themselves, it was true that the farther you lived from the center of the city, the poorer you were. The people who lived closest to the barrier were destitute even compared to what Alessandra was used to. There were very few people about out here, and the ones Alessandra did see sat and stared at her as if they’d never seen anything like her before. Maybe they hadn’t. The one advantage of living near the barrier was that the people here were ignored by the clans and everyone else. They simply were irrelevant to anyone’s interests.
Eventually the buildings on either side of the road petered out entirely, and several yards after that, the road itself disappeared. Alessandra stood at the edge of the road and looked out over the blasted wasteland beyond the edge of the city. She could see the barrier from where she was, but it was still a couple of miles away. She stared at it for several minutes, expressionless, while Mikaelo stared at her with a bemused look on his face.
“Is there a reason we’re out here, staring at nothing?” he finally asked. She looked at him with a look that was a cross between a grin and a sneer.
“I told you before, I have no idea why you’re out here,” she said, and then she turned away from him and started jogging toward the barrier.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Mikaelo said, exasperated. He hesitated, as if unsure whether to follow her or not, and then he sighed deeply and started jogging after her.
Several minutes later, Alessandra slowed down and stopped, and Mikaelo stopped next to her. They were standing directly in front of the barrier now, and now that they were up close to it, it was very clear to Alessandra that the barrier was, in fact, purple. It was translucent, and it seemed to twist and warp and pulsate as she stared at it. Glancing behind her, she could see the city of Serotopolis rising into the sky behind her, the Hall of Elders and the Avaroth seeming to compete with each other as to which building could reach higher into the sky. All around the edges of the city, the land was blasted and broken and brown, and nothing grew there. It was difficult to see through the barrier, but as far as Alessandra could tell, the land on the other side of the barrier was the same, as far as she could see.
To be continued…