“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…