Chapter 13, Part 3

She made it pretty far down the walkway before she realized that she had no idea where she was going, and Havor had in fact asked her to follow. Pulling up short with a chagrined look on her face, she waited for Havor to catch up to her. Fortunately for Alessandra, she was smiling as she did so.

“Eager, aren’t we?” she said with a wink. “I’m glad to see it. Although, I’m not surprised. From what I’ve heard about life in the slums, you must think you’ve died and gone to Paradise.”

“It’s…a lot different, that’s for sure,” Alessandra said. “A lot more comfortable, certainly.”

“You don’t sound overly impressed,” Havor said, with a slight frown.

“Oh, I am!” Alessandra exclaimed. “I’m just…still getting used to everything here. It’s still hard for me to really believe that I’m a member of the Order of Sunaru.”

“You’re a lucky woman, that’s for sure,” Havor said. “Most of the time, new members have to go through a rigorous screening process. For every opening for an apprentice, we have at least a thousand people who apply. It’s pretty intense.” For a moment, she paused, and a grimace appeared on her face. “I remember the process well, not just for me, but for every one of my predecessors as well. It’s not pleasant. You’re very lucky that you didn’t have to experience it.”

“Oh,” Alessandra said with a small frown.

“What’s wrong?” Havor asked, slightly puzzled.

“Well, that just makes me feel even worse for Ilimay’s apprentice,” Alessandra said, grimacing. “I mean, she put all that work in, and now she gets nothing for it.”

“Oh, Fienele will be assigned to a different mage soon enough,” Havor said with a smile. “Don’t worry. Once we find somebody who deserves to be here, they stay here. People who have the mental and physical strength to wield magic are rare. We don’t let them go when we find them.”

“Ah, that makes me feel better,” Alessandra said, relieved. “I mean, I know I didn’t have a choice in what happened, and if I hadn’t been there, Ilimay’s powers and memories would be lost forever, but…”

“I understand,” Havor said. “Like I said, you’re a very lucky woman. It’s natural to feel like you don’t deserve the great fortune that has befallen you. You’ll get used to it eventually. Especially once you unlock Ilimay’s memories. Then it will feel like you’ve always been in the Order.”

“How long do you think that will take?” Alessandra asked.

“It’s hard to say,” Havor said with a slight frown. “This has only happened a handful of times in the past thousand years, so we don’t really understand how it works. Normally, an apprentice trains for years to open their minds to their master’s mental and emotional wavelengths. Then, when the master is close to death, the apprentice’s mind is ready to accept all of those new emotions and memories. For someone like you, though, you barely knew Ilimay at all, and so your mind doesn’t know what to do with all of her memories. Therefore, it’s simply blocking them out entirely.

“Like I said, this has only happened a handful of times, and every time the results have been wildly different. One person couldn’t remember a thing for three years, and then suddenly woke up one day remembering everything. Another gradually recalled their previous memories over the course of a year, starting about two weeks after they received them. A third person remembered nothing for two years, started remembering bits and pieces over the course of a month, and then suddenly remembered everything while eating lunch one day. There have been a few others in your position, but the results have been different every time.”

“So, what you’re saying is, there’s no way of knowing?” Alessandra asked.

“More or less,” Havor replied. “There are a couple of things we can be reasonably certain about though. One is that every time this has happened, it’s taken at least a year for the person to recall all of their previous memories. The other is that it’s never taken more than five years. So, the best answer I can give you is that it will take between one and five years.”

“That’s kind of a long time,” Alessandra said with a frown.

“I guess,” Havor said with a shrug, and then she smiled. “I suppose, you’re only…what? Eighteen? Nineteen?”

“Eighteen,” Alessandra said.

“When you have a thousand years worth of memories in your mind, five years suddenly doesn’t seem like much time at all,” Havor continued. They entered the inival, and went up several floors to the training level. They went from the inival into an unoccupied room that contained nothing but two chairs facing each other.

“Have a seat,” Havor said, gesturing to one chair while she sat in the other. Alessandra followed her lead. “Now, you have been able to make use of your powers to a limited extent, correct?”

“I mean, I’ve used my powers,” Alessandra said, feeling somewhat defensive. “I’ve figured out how to teleport, and how to mask myself from all senses. I know how to increase my speed and my strength.”

“There’s no need to get defensive,” Havor said with a smile. “You’ve done quite well so far. But the fact that you think you’ve gone beyond very basic levels of skill just shows me how much you still have to learn.” She held a hand outstretched in front of her, and suddenly a green-and-gold fireball appeared in the air above her hand. Then the fireball began to stretch and expand, until Havor was wreathed in multiple streams of flame. As this was happening, Havor’s form began to change and morph, and before Alessandra knew what was happening, a huge, multicolored beast was sitting in front of her, with rainbow colored wings that were so wide they shouldn’t have been able to fit in the room. Except that the room itself was changing, and Alessandra realized that she was hanging thousands of feet in midair over a landscape more beautiful and more terrible than anything she had ever imagined before. Green trees stretching for miles and miles, red cliffs towering over deep canyons, snow-capped mountains that towered even over where Alessandra and the beast that was Havor were located. It was all Alessandra could do to take in everything that was happening around her. And then, just like that, it was all gone, and she and Havor were sitting alone in a white room that contained nothing but two chairs.

To be continued…

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…