Dad came home, had dinner, wished me luck on System Day, got out of his armor, and went directly to sleep. In that order. The last two items had occasionally been mixed up.
Time was funny without clocks. Things weren’t done at a particular time, just “Around noon” “Before dark” “Right after sunrise”. After so long of not needing to deal with being exactly on time to things, it was easy to slide right into the new way of handling time. It did make starting important things – like System Day – a bit tricky, but such was the way of life.
I couldn’t figure out why my system clock was measured in hours – the same hours as on Earth – but nobody seemed to use hours, nor did I even know the name for it. Curiouser and curiouser. I didn’t want to ask – I could always let the reincarnated genie out of the bottle, but there was no putting it back. It wasn’t like I was keeping it a massive “don’t tell at any cost” secret, but I figured there was a time and a place for everything.
“Elaine. Sit.” Mom gestured to the chair, comb in hand. I happily scuttled up onto the recliner, where mom started to comb my hair. It was peaceful, relaxing, stroke after stroke getting my hair out and loose. A moment of peace. A moment of calm. A perfect mother-daughter moment.
“Excited?” Mom asked, getting a particularly difficult snarl out.
“Yeah!” This was IT! This was the big day! “I can’t wait to try all of the things in the temple out! I want to know everything!” Mom smiled. “Don’t get your hopes up too high, it’s fairly disappointing really.”
Learning about magic, disappointing? Yikes. I hope I didn’t have all the fun sucked out of me when I grew up. At long last. Growing up was taking me literally twice as long as the normal person, thankyouverymuch reincarnation.
Hair finished up, I grabbed my sandals, and off we went! We left the house, looked both ways, and crossed over to the “grey zone” of the street. I frowned.
“Moooooom, why do we still have to walk here? It’s System Day! I’m allowed to walk in the real street now!”
Mom gave me that half amused, half exasperated smile. “Because you haven’t unlocked your system yet. You don’t have any physical stats yet, rascal. And when has ‘not being allowed’ ever stopped you or Lyra from anything, hmm?” Good point.
I pouted as I was dragged along. I wasn’t a baby anymore! I could walk in the main road! Instead of the tiny grey zone, full of other kids, crates, and generally pushed to the side things. It seemed to be a universal law that bike lanes were treated poorly. I hated having to crawl over and around things, when I could be in the nice “white zone” instead, strolling through without a care in the world.
Out of clear blue sky, a massive series of thunderbolts came down near the south gate, making me jump about a foot out of my skin.
“What was that!?” I yelled, startled. Lightning bolts didn’t just come out of clear blue sky. No way.
I wasn’t the only one who’d jumped. Multiple huge surprise lightning bolts tended to do that to people.
“Probably some Classer entering the city. Get high enough mana, they ask you to discharge it before coming in.” Mom said, nervously looking about.
“How can you tell how much mana someone has?”
“Well, if you get [Identify], you can tell by how bright the name is.”
“Hush now, the temple will explain. I’ve told you more than I should have. Just let them explain, and any questions after I’ll answer.”
Well, ok then.
We reached the end of the street, and turned left into the main street. You could see the town gate on one end, and the market at the center of town on the other. Well – you could see it if there weren’t food stands, vendors, two wagon-wide worth of lanes, and a massive crush of people in the way.
“Mom Mom Mom look! They’re selling pitas! And a bard’s playing over on the corner! Can we go over and listen? Please? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?”
Mom rolled her eyes at me “You’re as distractible as always Elaine. Where are we going right now?”
“And why are we going there?”
“SYSTEM DAY!!! Let’s go-go-go-go slowpoke”
She chuckled as I started pulling on her hand and arm, urging her forward. I knew she could run and go so much faster than this, why were we plodding along?
I suddenly stumbled and nearly fell over as a blast of wind hit me. Fortunately, mom was holding onto me, and kept me stable and up. My heart was pounding so loudly I could almost hear it. My palms felt like they were going to slip out of mom’s tight grasp.
Mom looked down at me with a hint of worry in her eyes.
“That was a courier. And that is why we’re still walking in the grey zone. You could barely stand the air blast of him running by – imagine if he hadn’t seen you in the crowd and ran into you at that speed? That would be bad.” I imagined a large, rolling rock and a small, delicate mango in the way. Splat. Yeah no.
My heart was getting back down to a more reasonable rate.
“I’m never leaving the grey zone. Nuh uh. No way.”
I climbed up and over another crate while mom deftly weaved from the grey zone into the white zone and back again to avoid it. I could smell the marketplace, and now I could finally see it. It was a large, sprawling mess in the middle of town, with the Athahurst river pressed up against one side of it. Guards were patrolling around with their leather vests and metal batons, merchants were hawking their wares under covered stalls, shooting off impressive displays of magic to try and attract attention – pillars of flames, living sculptures of water, flashing light signs, and so much more. The usual army recruiter was shouting his pitch – “Join the legions today! Service grants citizenship!” A large crowd of people moved throughout, going from stall to stall to do their daily shopping, find something nice, or just to chit-chat. The sky went dark, and everyone froze where they were, merchant to farmer, young to old, man and woman, looking to the sky. Street kids didn’t even take the chance of distraction to nick a purse or two – they were too busy looking up as well.
Just a crapton of pigeons. They were so shitty to have around. Literally, they pooped everywhere. There was a collective sigh, as the market resumed being as busy as a beehive.
The market was too narrow and too crowded for there to be grey zones, and it was somewhat dangerous for someone as small as I was for a reason. Fortunately, with the crowd, and everyone stopping and staring every three feet it was safe for me. It clearly wasn’t stopping some of the street kids I saw ducking and weaving about, looking for unguarded wares and purses. I eyed them suspiciously. Mom might not be paying too much attention, but I was. No sticky-fingered brat was getting mom’s pouch – and by extension, my lunch.
With supernatural agility mom worked her way through the crowd, and we reached the shores of the Athahurst. We ended up close to the south bridge, with a pair of surly guards stopping enterprising merchants from setting up on the bridge itself.
We started to cross the bridge when mom, twisting with unnatural finesse, punted a wind weasel that had been blowing towards us.
“Bloody pests” she muttered, putting me back down. “What is the guard doing that there’s so many of them running around?”
“You should complain to dad that he is not doing his job” I cheekily replied, only to get walloped over the head. Ouch.
Glaring over her shoulders at the bridge guards, muttering darkly under her breath, we continued marching over the bridge. This was exciting! I had never been over the bridge to this part of town before. Some old men tunics of various hues of red and blue were fishing on the bridge.
“Hey mom! Can we go fishing here later!?” Trout and salmon and ok fine I didn’t actually know the names of any of the fish here. A fish was a fish. Yum Yum.
I got a sad smile back.
“No dear. Only citizens are allowed to fish on the bridge.” My face fell at this. Mom, clearly seeing I was upset, tried to cheer me up. “Besides, the fishing here is pretty bad – there’s almost nothing in the river because of the grates.”
I wasn’t thrilled with this. Not at all. I hadn’t realized we weren’t citizens, and I disliked the idea that things could be barred to me as a result.
“What are we if we are not citizens? We have lived here my entire life! How do we become citizens? Dad should be a citizen, the army recruiter said they become citizens and he is a guard! I want to be a citizen!” I whined.
“Elaine. We’re women – we can’t be citizens. Only men can be citizens.” I stopped, shocked, thunderstruck. What. What the – what was this sexism? Just – what? I was short-circuiting, I had no thoughts, no words I was so shocked. And rapidly getting mad. Not just mad – fully enraged. A fire sparked in my chest, and rapidly became a roaring bonfire.
Mom was always good with the patients who came to visit her, and could probably tell I was still upset.
“Look Elaine, while you can’t be a citizen, you could always marry one! It’s practically the same thing.”
The only thing that did was to stroke the fire inside of me, and make me mad again.
Calm, calm, I need to stay calm. I need to stay in control. I can’t just go flying off the handle, and the temple was practically in sight.
As I was seeing red and taking some deep stabilizing breaths, we reached the end of the bridge and arrived in front of the temple. It was the largest building I had seen since I had been reborn, and looked like it had been a clone of a Greek temple, with large steps leading up to majestic marble pillars. I stopped and stared for a moment, taking it all in, before noticing a statue in front of the building. Flesh in marble, done by such a skilled [Sculptor] that he looked alive, a large lizard-like creature stood hunched forward on its hind legs, a jaw like a crocodile with a smile like one, claws made for rending and tearing, and a huge sail on its back.
We reverently bowed towards the statue of Etalix, the Storm. One of the guardian beasts. No idea what a guardian beast was or what they did, but I was taking no chances.
Until I had an answer, I wasn’t going to stop paying my respects to Etalix. Just in case.
Etalix, the Storm.
Etalix, the Spinosaurus.
There were freaking DINOSAURS here!