Chapter 6, Part 2

“Alessa, what are you doing?” Mikaelo asked, frustrated. “There’s no reason to be out here!”

“I don’t know why you’re following me,” Alessandra replied, staring at the barrier. “I didn’t ask you to come. This is none of your business.” Slowly, Alessandra lifted her right hand and moved it toward the barrier. Her hand moved normally until it reached the spot where it seemed as if the air turned purple, but as soon as her hand reached that spot, it stopped. She couldn’t feel anything underneath her fingers. It was as if the air itself was solid. She pressed her palm against the barrier and pushed as hard as she could, and nothing happened. She then put both hands against it, and continued to push, but she might as well have been pushing on a solid stone wall that was five feet thick.

“Why would you want to go out there, anyway?” Mikaelo asked. “There’s nothing but demons out there.”

“I was attacked by a demon, Mikaelo,” she said softly, still staring at the barrier, her hand still resting on it.

“You… What?” Mikaelo stammered.

“I was attacked by a demon,” Alessandra repeated in the same soft, monotone voice. “I was saved by a member of the Order of Sunaru. Her name was Ilimay. She told me that the barrier is failing.”

“I…,” Mikaelo began, and then stopped. Alessandra turned and looked at him.

“Something is happening,” Alessandra said, her voice still soft, but much more intense now. “I don’t know what. I needed to see the barrier with my own eyes, feel it with my own hands. I thought maybe that would answer some of my questions.”

“And does it?” Mikaelo asked quietly.

“No,” Alessandra replied, turning back to gaze at the barrier. “It doesn’t seem like the barrier is failing. It seems perfectly solid. But would I even know what to look for? I don’t know anything about magic. And where are the demons? If the whole world is infested with them, except for Serotopolis, why aren’t they all out there, attacking the barrier, trying to bring it down?”

“I…I don’t know,” Mikaelo said, nonplussed.

“And what does the Order of Sunaru do?” Alessandra continued. “If the demons can’t get into the city, why are they so busy fighting demons that they can’t do anything else to help the people of the slums? How come nobody’s ever seen a demon?”

“Maybe…they’re just really, really good at fighting demons?” Mikaelo said, perplexed. “Besides, you can’t say no one’s ever seen a demon. You just said you were attacked by one!”

“Yeah, but have you ever heard of anyone else being attacked by a demon? Have you ever even heard a rumor of such a thing?”

“Well…no, but… What does that have to do with anything?” Mikaelo exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. Alessandra was silent for a moment before she answered.

“I don’t know,” she finally said. “I think something is happening, but I have no idea what it is, or how we fit into it. Maybe we don’t. But I just keep thinking about these questions in my mind.”

“I guess I don’t blame you,” Mikaelo said after a moment. “But I don’t think you’re going to find any answers here. I don’t think we should stick around here either. This barrier is giving me the creeps.”

“There is something…unhealthy about it,” Alessandra said hesitantly. She brushed her fingers against it one last time, and then balled her fingers into a fist and punched it as hard as she could. Once again, it was like her hand just stopped. She couldn’t feel anything. “It’s so strange. It feels like there’s nothing there, but I can’t move my hand through it. Like the air is just solid.” She looked around at the barren and blasted wasteland surrounding them and shivered. The outskirts of the city were a couple of miles away, and she could just barely see the ramshackle huts scattered on the edges of the slums from where she was standing. Except for the fact that she could see the Hall of Elders and the other towering skyscrapers in the center of the city, it would have been easy to believe that the whole world was completely lifeless.

“Do you think the barrier caused the land to die?” she asked.

“Maybe,” Mikaelo said with a frown. “It certainly seems like the closer you get to the barrier, the less life there is.”

“Why would they build such a thing?” Alessandra asked, a thoughtful look on her face. “How much longer can we survive underneath it?”

“Maybe they didn’t have a choice,” Mikaelo replied. “Maybe it was between putting up a barrier that kills the land and getting overrun by demons. And this city has stood for over a thousand years with the barrier in place. I don’t think it’s going to die in our lifetime.”

“That’s probably true,” Alessandra said, frowning. She stared at the barrier for several minutes more, and then she finally shook her head. “We should head back. I don’t want to spend my whole free day out here, staring at nothing.”

“You are a strange woman, you know that Alessa?” Mikaelo said, shaking his head. She looked at him, and then gave him a cocky grin.

“I’ll race you back,” she said, and before he had a chance to respond, she was already running back into the city.

“Hey!” he yelled after her. “That’s not fair! Wait for me!” And then he was running after her, with a smile on his face.

***

The next few days, Alessandra was relegated to chore duty again, with no sign that she was ever going to go out on a job again. The terror and wonder of her last job had faded, and all that remained was her eagerness to prove herself once again, and her resentment toward Bezzum that he wouldn’t give her the respect she deserved. At least the chores weren’t as onerous as they had been, though. Instead of being stuck in the mess hall, she had been assigned to the training room and was running through hand-to-hand combat drills with the new recruits.

To be continued…

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