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…