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…