When Alex Roth imagined his arrival at the city of wizards, he’d always imagined the sun being high and his mood being high too. That morning as The Red Siren passed among the outer islands, the sky was grey and the rain poured.
He’d hardly slept, and he was still thinking about the fight from last night. His entire body ached from his fall down the stairs—he’d been lucky it hadn’t been worse—and his hands shook against the rail. At least they were shaking less than the night before. He hadn’t had any nightmares, which had been a pleasant surprise. Maybe he was getting a little more used to danger, and maybe that was something to take comfort in.
Even considering last night and the rain now pouring around him as they stood on the ship’s deck looking out, this moment was incredible.
“I can’t believe it,” Theresa gasped beside him, as Brutus stared at the city ahead.
Selina gaped under her hood as the rain dripped off her cloak.
In the distance the city of Generasi rose high upon a massive hill, stretching as far as the eye could see. Itseemed to rise from the mist and rain like a titan. The city’s walls were of white stone and at least fifty feet high. Massive gates to a broad road lay open, with carved statues standing guard beside each: on the left was the towering figure of a djinni and on the right, a horned demoness stood.
Deep behind the city walls, a tower that seemed to touch the clouds rose, high above all the other tall towers. It seemed impossible that it could stand against the wind.
Above even that, floated wonders.
Objects flew through the rain.
Most were too far away to make out from the deck of The Red Siren. But, a couple were enormous: entire flying ships cutting their way through the downpour above the peaks of the towers. In some spots the clouds swirled, revealing holes leading to clear, blue, sky-like tunnels.
Before the city walls—closer to the shore—was a port station the size of a small town, and its docks were bursting with ships. A lighthouse rose from the centre of the station, lighting the way with a shining blue magic. Alex realized that must’ve been what he’d seen the night before the mana vampire attack.
Mana blazed from the city, almost as strong as it had been in the Cave of the Traveller.
Truly, this was the city of wizards. The City at the Center of Creation.
They had finally reached it.
Sure, it was a place where mana vampires might lurk, and where Alex would need to research a doom conspiracy, but he didn’t let those things ruin the moment.
The sound of metal sliding on metal came from his side.
Captain Fan-Dor had approached him with his brother, holding out the coins paid for the passage to Generasi. The selachar men had grim looks. “Here. The first half of the fee. I don’t intend to charge the second.”
“What do you mean why? You nearly got killed by a chum-sucking mana vampire while under my watch on my ship. I’d be a real barracuda’s son if after something like that I just went: ‘Oh yeah, that’s full services rendered, pay up’.”
Alex looked from The Captain’s face to the coins.
Fan-Dor did have a point: he had almost died while on The Red Siren. But he didn’t really see how that was the fault of the captain or crew. Everyone had believed that the mana vampire was just some greedy man with odd habits until last night.
If anything, he might have seemed more suspicious and strange playing around with swords and all. And when he’d called for help, Gel-Dor and Fan-Dor came as quickly as they could. They’d finished the monster off, and the only reason the nightwatch hadn’t helped was because they’d been affected by the creature’s magic.
The more he thought about it, the more he came to the conclusion that there wasn’t really much anyone could have done, and Fan-Dor teaching him the first few steps of the Spear-and-Oar Dance had helped save his life.
If anything, the situation might actually help him in the long run: if anyone ever came looking for an eighteen year-old from Thameland that could be an escaped Fool, they probably wouldn’t consider a young magic wielder who nearly killed a mana vampire with a broken mop as their first candidate.
Still, Fan-Dor was a fair and emotional man who was trying to make amends: refusing the gesture would probably insult him.
Then Alex had an idea.
“Tell you what, if that’s what you feel you need to do, then fine. I accept,” he took the coins from Fan-Dor. “But…hold on for a second.” He turned toward where the tired-eyed Generasian administrators were leaning against the rail.
“Excuse me,” he said to them. “What’s the reward for finding and destroying a mana vampire?”
The older woman looked between Alex and Fan-Dor. “Why, twenty-five golden marks for discovery, and another seventy-five for slaying: all in all, an even hundred.”
“Well, isn’t that a nice number.” He turned back to the captain and first mate. “Twenty-five for me because I discovered the thing, then another twenty-five for each of us since we each stuck the monster once. That splits seventy-five three ways.”
Gel-Dor paused, his black eyes searching Alex. “Are…are you sure? You fought the monster longest, you brought it right onto our spears and that wound you gave it would have seen it bleed out eventually.”
“Oh, I’m sure.” Alex clapped the big men on the arm like he’d imagine Cedric would have done.
A gesture like this would both reward the captain for the lesson that had helped save his life, and likely win the two men’s gratitude and respect. Nothing wrong in building a relationship with an honest ship that regularly came and went from Generasi.
And, if he were honest, he liked Fan-Dor.
“I nearly died, so you gave me my coin back for passage,” Alex explained lightly. “You also helped save me from the monster, so you get rewarded for that. Perfect sense.”
A smile slowly broke over the captain’s face and Alex could see the relief in it. Being boarded by a mana vampire a second time, especially when the ship’s coffers were already low, would see business suffer even more. No matter what Fan-Dor said, the reward would probably go a long way to helping The Red Siren survive.
“I don’t know what to say.” Fan-Dor said.
“Then how about this: next time we meet, you teach me more steps of the dance. Sound fair?”
The selachar twins glanced at each other then broke out into identical grins. “Boy, we’ll teach you the entiredance next time we meet. Whenever you get settled in the city, come over to the docks and leave where you’re staying with the mail office. We’ll come see you when we can.”
“I look forward to it.”
“Oh and, um,” Selina moved up beside Alex. “Thank you for teaching me about ships, and thank you, thank you, thank you for helping my brother.”
Brutus, who had slept for most of the trip, gave a contented yawn.
“You’ve been wonderful hosts,” Theresa bowed her head to the twins. “I’m not sure if this is the right thing to say, but may Ek-u-Dari keep the storms away from you.”
“Hah, that’s close enough.” Gel-Dor said in appreciation. “And may whatever deities and spirits that watch over you always provide their protection.”
Oddly enough, when Gel-Dor said that, it wasn’t Uldar that came to Alex’s mind, despite worshipping the prophet-god for years.
It was The Traveller.
Then a wicked thought occurred to him.
“Actually, we worship a spider god.” He thought back to the soldier silence-spider they had fought on the outskirts of Coille. “He hangs above us all in the night while we worship him, waiting to spring down and eat our souls so we can fill his spirit-y stomach.”
The twins’ smiles dropped.
Fan-Dor coughed awkwardly. “Well that’s…I don’t suppose to judge, I mean if-”
He paused, looking at Selina as she frowned at her brother in confusion.
“Wait,” the captain said. “Is that true?”
“Not a word,” Alex chuckled. “But you should see the look on your face right now.”
Fan-Dor’s eyes widened as his own words were thrown back at him.
The captain burst out laughing.
His laughter echoed out over the waters until The Red Siren finally docked at Generasi.
“Ugh, guard reports are so tedious,” the older Generasian woman groaned as she, her husband and Alex’s group emerged from the guardhouse by the wharf. “I work with paperwork for most of my day and even I find it taxing.”
Her husband looked tired too, and both Captain Fan-Dor and Gel-Dor had departed as soon as their part was finished. Selina and Brutus had quickly gotten bored, while even the patient Theresa had to stop herself from fidgeting in the chair as they’d been buried in questions.
Only Alex hadn’t minded all that much: his supply of gold had gotten fifty coins heavier. He wasn’t going to complain.
“What now?” he asked the middle-aged couple. “Going to walk to the city with us?”
“I’m afraid not,” the husband yawned. “Unfortunately, our luggage is still on The Red Siren. We’ll be parting ways here.”
“But don’t be strangers please!” The woman dug out a small sheet of paper from her carry bag and scrawled something down before handing it to Alex. “Since it’s never too late for introductions, my name is Anna Escofier and this is my husband, Vincenzo.”
Alex, Theresa and Selina introduced themselves and Brutus as the young man took the piece of paper. He found the couple’s names had been written on it.
“If you should ever like to know anything about the city, do not hesitate to go to the Wizard’s Forum. That is where the ruling council and all the administrators work. Leave a message for us, along with where you are staying, and we shall get in contact.”
“We might take you up on that,” Theresa said. “Thanks for taking the time to help us with all…”
She gestured to the guard building.
“Think nothing of it,” Anna said. “Until we meet again.”
With final goodbyes, the groups parted.
As they approached the city, Alex and his companions fell into a shocked silence. Mausarr was big, but Generasi made it seem like a lonely hut in the woods. More people pressed around them on the road to the city than they’d seen in Mausarr’s main squares.
Humans from all over the world walked alongside beastfolk, the occasional elf and selachar, and other races of humanoids that Alex had never seen or heard of. Some were shorter than Selina, despite looking like adults. Others towered far above Alex and would have been taller than Fan-Dor and his brother, or even the minotaurs they’d seen in Mausarr.
People walked with, or rode on the backs of many kinds of beasts—giant birds taller than horses, massive red scaled lizards, or even beetles almost as large as Brutus. The smells were wild—foods and spices from all over the world drifting through Generasi’s open gates.
And, above all, mana.
The mana hit him in waves. He’d only felt it stronger in The Traveller’s sanctum. .
Surprisingly, no guards stood at the gates, though Alex did notice glowing lines of magical writing surrounding the entranceway to the city. Was it to find mana vampires that had recently fed? Or something else, maybe? After being attacked on the ship, he was pretty sure there’d be more dangers lurking inside this magical metropolis.
A strange feeling came over him as he realized just how distant this city was from the problems of Thameland. He wondered if most here had even heard of their home country.
“Thameland!” A voice shouted over the crowd as the group entered the gates. “Alms for Thameland! Donations to Uldar’s faith so that his people might be supported while his Heroes destroy the evil menace of The Ravener!”
The group froze, slowly turning their heads to the central square in front of the gate’s entrance.
On a tall podium stood a figure dressed in the familiar robes of a priest of Uldar with other priests on their knees praying beside her. In front of them hung buckets—collecting coins for the cause.
Alex sighed, thankful that the crowd between them was thick.
City at the Center of Creation, where all the world’s cultures came together. Including Thameland. Of course Uldar’s priests would be here.
They’d have to watch out for them.
“This way,” he whispered to Theresa and the group pushed through the crowd and down the street.
The priest’s calls faded behind them.