As we began to glide, I kept my eyes fixed on the Great Maker's airship. It gleamed white in the sun, dazzling my eyes, but I refused to look away from the holy place. Structurally it was a very large house suspended from a much larger squashed ball, but what it meant was far beyond that. This place held the Great Maker himself. I was so close to the person who was responsible for everything in the world. But I was rapidly moving away. All too soon, the airship became indistinguishable from the cloud beneath it.
It was strange to consider how much smaller the Great Maker's home was compared to a single cloud. But in a way, the entire world was his home. Or something like that. None of the clerics' explanations really made sense. I had been taught that the apparently human person who we called the Great Maker and who occasionally visited our cities was not the complete totality of the Great Maker. Just a shadow, or rather a projection of light. Comparing the source of light to a shadow had to be the least apt metaphor possible. In any case, the Great Maker took on new forms from generation to generation, as did his messengers. That helped to explain how Skögul could be so—
"Whooooo!" Skids was very audibly enjoying the glide.
The airship was now far behind me. I forced myself to put my thoughts behind me too. It would be a waste to spend the entire trip considering what it meant to have been brought so close to this place, and to the Great Maker himself. Did I really have the Great Maker's favour, despite everything I had done and been involved in? Or was delivering me to the mage hive a way of telling me I had been cast into darkness forever? Or—
"I can see so far! That looks like a city on the horizon!" Skids yelled. I could only just comprehend dro's words over the roar of the wind.
"That's Makerslight!" I shouted back. Skids shouted something in return, which I could not understand. I couldn't tell whether or not dro had understood me, so I decided to wait until we had landed. We had our helmets on, but it seemed disrespectful to use magical communication in the presence of messengers.
The landscape rushed by beneath us. It was hard to gauge distance from this height, but I was almost certain we were going faster than I had by any other method. Something had to be propelling the messengers faster than simply gliding, though I could not see what.
About twenty minutes passed, and we flew over Makerslight. I was able to make out the open cut mine, which was the source of much of our metal. Makerslight was well known for its metalwork, and also the ancient standing stones. I spotted those from the air as well. Soon it fell behind us and I could no longer see any signs of Pure civilisation. All that was ahead of us was a mountain range, empty land and the ocean beyond that. Wonambi was somewhere in that mountain range.
I shivered, mostly at the thought of being carried so far beyond anywhere the Pure dared tread. Yiwarra was within the outside border of our territory. According to the scryer's map, so was Ganayanda. But Wonambi was not. Nor were three other hives: Gulidang, Daramoolen and Tjikurrpa. I was going to a whole new world, and this time I would be becoming a part of it. I had little idea of what that would entail, but I trusted Skids to help me figure that out.
On and on we flew, from sweeping plains to wooded foothills. I was content to remain in silence, as was Skögul. I had many more questions, but it was not my place to ask any more. I would have to earn further answers. There was little chance of doing that where I was going.
Skögul flew ever lower, and gradually slower. We were not far above the treetops when she pitched us higher. We lost speed rapidly and almost stalled. She swooped down again at the perfect moment, barely dodging between trees and into a small clearing. She used her wings to brake again and fell the last couple of metres, landing in a crouch with one hand reaching forward to touch the ground and the other arm still cradling me safely.
Kára landed beside us with only the slightest crunch of dead leaves and tree bark.
"This is where we part," Skögul pronounced, in a voice that was young, yet grand. "Are you able to find your way from here?"
"Yes," Skids said. "This is perfect. Thanks. Uh..."
"You are thinking of the steeds you left behind? Fear not, your associates from Deepbloom will ensure that all the parts are returned. You will not be accountable for any further loss of property."
"How did you...? I mean, great, that's great. Er, but, what's with the sun folk having a weapon with parts made in the hive? There's no way you can't know about that if you know about me taking my spinnerbike apart to power the weapon."
Skögul's young face turned hard. "Do not meddle in affairs that do not concern you."
Skids backed away with dro's palms stretched out wide. "Alright, alright, don't call any lightning. But maybe if your 'Great' Maker wants to have his people use our stuff, he can also tell more of them not to burn us? I appreciate how accommodating some of the folks in Deepbloom and Exaltation were, but... oh."
The messengers had risen out of sight without another word.
"Not very talkative, are they?"
"They're above us," I said, as that was the best explanation I had.
"Yeah and I'm not very comfortable having someone calling themself 'leader of the Lightning Caller division' above me. I'm very eager to get back underground. I've been in the sun for too long."
There were a lot of different answers I could have given. "Yes," I said instead.
The journey up the hill to the hive entrance took us about five minutes. Every moment of it hurt. Skids walked close by my right side, so I could rest or balance on dro's shoulder when necessary. We stopped at a point where two gullies met, below a rough triangle of trees. As before, a platform lowered us down into the tunnel. Also just as before, a grey and orange trolley waited to take us down into the hive.
"I ought to officially welcome you," Skids said, sounding more serious than usual. "Since you're not in the middle of a medical emergency this time."
My eyes flicked to where my left hand ought to be. "Yeah, I'm much healthier this time. Uh, I mean, go ahead with the welcoming."
"It feels weird to be doing this since I don't think I was actually born here. But the people made me feel welcome as one of them, so I want to do the same for you." Skids cleared dro's throat unnecessarily. "You are invited to enter Wonambi, City of Darkness, City of Magic, where the blind fish stares and the water spouts. This has been the home of mages of every role, age and discipline for generation after generation, under the guidance of each member of the Think Tank, past and present. May your time in our hive be peaceful and fruitful. May the earth be close to your heart as you walk close to the heart of the earth."
"Thank you. Is there anything specific I should say in response?"
"Nah, the thanks is fine."
I tried to think of more to say, but my thoughts overwhelmed me. To have left my people and to be welcomed into a new place was a lot.
Skids seemed to understand and stayed quiet as we waited.
"Welcome travellers. Please secure all loose items and keep all parts of your body inside the trolley at all times. Safety bars have been locked. We are now departing for Wonambi Central. If this is not your intended destination, please signal a stop code. Departing in ten... nine..."
"So, here we go. I can hardly wait to start showing you around. What do you want to see first?"
"A bed," I said immediately. There was no doubt about that. I needed rest and recuperation before I could enjoy exploring a new and strange place.
"Of course. And after that?"
"I have no idea. What do you suggest?"
Skids grinned far too widely for my comfort. "The chroma dome it is!"
I tried not to groan as Skids resumed explaining the details of dro's favourite sport.