“So, the good news is Uldar’s priests aren’t common here.” Theresa rejoined Alex and Selina in the crowd. Brutus padded behind her, his heads moving every which way following all of the new sights and smells.
The amount of people on the streets—even in the rain—was overwhelming. Despite Alex wanting to move quicker, there was no way he could without forcing through the press of hooded figures around them. He held tightly to Selina’s hand.
His eyes kept darting around, looking for the robes of Uldar’s priests.
“I asked a few people,” Theresa continued. “And they said that Uldar has a church in one of the districts where most of the other temples in Generasi are. I got good directions to both the church and the University: it's almost on the opposite end of the city from the school.”
“Well that’s good news, at least.” Alex cocked his head at Theresa. “What’s wrong?”
She was frowning. “I don’t know what I said but when I asked if there were any churches close to the school, I just got the strangest looks.”
“Did they say anything?”
“No, it was just the looks. But they did say Uldar’s priests have been out in the streets trying to collect for the war effort.” Theresa watched the passing crowd closely. Discomfort passed over her face.
“And we wouldn’t see them coming in this crowd,” Alex finished for her.
“It’s too thick.” She shook her head. “I think I’ve seen more people in the last hour than I have in my whole life.”
Alex understood. While he’d spent more time in town and less in the forest than Theresa had, Alric wasn’t large. They might’ve been able to fit fifty Alrics here. All the sounds, all the sights, the sheer amount of magic-
“Look at that! Look at that!” Selina pointed up.
A group of people were having tea where she pointed.
They were all sitting on a carpet.
The carpet was flying.
It passed overhead—the rain hitting and bouncing off of some sort of invisible shield above its passengers—and vanished around the nearest street corner.
Alex and Theresa gawked at it like country bumpkins.
All of this would take time to get used to. If they ever did.
“You know, it’s weird,” Theresa continued. “Everyone I talked to knew about something happening in Thameland, but the way they talked about it was like how we’d talk about a neighbour’s cow getting sick. It was so…”
“Yeah,” she said. “But looking at all this, I can kind of see why our troubles would look so.” Her eyes hardened. “Quaint.”
“I was thinking the same thing in Mausarr…” Alex’s eyes followed a woman in fine purple robes walking on the opposite end of the street. Walking behind her like a trained hound was a figure that must have been eight feet tall. It looked like it was made from clay and—aside from its thick fingers—it didn’t have much in the way of features. Only a pair of glass eyes and a closed mouth were set into its face. It carried a crate above its head that must’ve weighed at least a thousand pounds. Its heavy footsteps seemed to shake the cobblestones.
“Alex?” Theresa poked him.
“Oh yeah, um.” He pulled his attention back. “People in Mausarr were just going on with their lives. Like the world’s this enormous, unconnected place.”
Even here, where the priesthood had been spreading word about The Ravener, it didn’t seem that somewhere else in the world, a century-cycled apocalypse was happening. In a way, it kind of stung: seeing his people’s ‘pride’ and their greatest enemy reduced to some minor, distant issue that people could ignore while sipping tea on a flying carpet.
Then again, he’d lived his whole life in peace in Alric while people here were trying to find ways to keep out mana vampires. The world was a big place.
“I wanna see the school.” Selina said. “Are we going soon?”
He looked down at her, a bit envious of how comfortable she seemed with all the new sights and sounds.
“Well, that is what we’re here for, so I guuueeeeess we can.”
Theresa nodded toward a few streets ahead. “One of the people I talked to said we should take a sky-gondola, like Mrs. Escofier suggested. There’s supposed to be a dock for them a few streets ahead.”
“A dock?” Alex cocked his head.
It turned out that there was a dock a few streets ahead.
One that led to the sky.
It was built vertically, like a tree or a tower with multiple short piers extending off of its ‘trunk’ like branches. At the end of most of those piers, a long, lean boat floated in mid-air. People crowded around, lining up to book passage to other parts of the city on waiting boats.
“Uldar’s beard.” Theresa gaped.
“I wanna ride on one!” Selina eyed the stairs excitedly.
Brutus stared up at the boats with a look of distrust.
Alex was already rushing into the line for one.
“Welcome to Generasi Sky-Gondolas, I’m Lucia, your gondolier.” A woman said from the back of the boat as Alex’s group slowly and carefully approached along the pier. The boards beneath them seemed stable enough, but it was still a good thirty foot drop. Alex kept a good grip on Selina’s hand and the railing.
“Please show me your booking tokens and place them in the box at the end of the sky-pier.”
She indicated a box with a single slot in its front.
Alex showed her the four wooden tokens they’d received when they paid the first part of the fee to a ‘dock-head’ below. She nodded and Alex placed them in the box.
“Enter the gondola one at a time, please remain seated and don’t push on the wind-and-rain shield.” She seemed to be fighting a yawn. “Where’re you headed?”
“To the big school!” Selina said, jumping into the boat before Alex could stop her.
The sky-gondola bobbed slightly, but didn’t collapse. Slowly and carefully, the rest of them stepped onboard—with Theresa having to coax Brutus before the cerberus finally followed them.
The boat was long, but things got crowded once Brutus laid down at their feet. As soon as they got in, they stopped feeling the rain as it winked off an invisible shield above their heads.
With a single tap of Lucia’s pole against the hull, the sky-gondola shook and then lifted from the pier, rising into the sky.
Alex’s stomach flip-flopped and Theresa grabbed the seat while Brutus buried his heads into the bottom of the boat.
Selina nearly vibrated in excitement, bouncing up and down in her seat.
“Ek-u-Dari, we ask for protection from you.” Alex muttered beneath his breath.
“What was that?” Theresa asked, though her face was turned to their surroundings as they gently soared over the rooftops.
Generasi shrank below them as they drifted between its tallest towers. Throughout the city stood massive castles, buildings of different architectural styles, and titanic statues of people and monsters. Once they were high enough, Alex could see beyond the walls of the city.
Inland was a pleasant countryside of grass and small forests, dotted by estates and vineyards. Beyond them was another wall, and what was beyond that made Alex blink in surprise. A wasteland. Nothing but blasted rock—almost like what he saw through The Traveller’s portal to the fire-mountains—with strange chasms running throughout and glowing with different coloured lights.
“How does the boat work?” Selina asked the gondolier.
For a moment, Lucia cringed before she put on a forced smile. “Wizards made it to rise on Generasi’s natural mana-currents. It’s simple enough so that anyone can use it: I just turn the pole to make it go where I direct it.”
“Are these everywhere in the world?” the little girl was examining everything about the boat. “I didn’t see any in the big port on the way here, and the boat we were on had to float on water. Captain Fan-Dor said that the water lifts up the wood in the boat.”
Lucia’s eyes seemed to grow a little more dead, in contrast to the captain’s enthusiasm in explaining the ship. Alex wondered how many times she’d gotten the same questions.
“You won’t see these outside of this city. They’re a cheap design which means that a lot of them can be made. But they can’t fly outside Generasi because they have to use the mana that’s in the air here.”
“So they can’t make one that goes outside?”
“Some wizards have, but they take a lot more magic and expensive materials to make, and you’d need your own mana to drive it. If they made one that could fly outside of Generasi, and that anyone could use, you’re looking at ‘treasure of a lost empire’ kind of coin.” She sighed. “So please don’t go to Generasi Sky-Gondolas to negotiate an order for your city, or town, or merchant organization, or village elder.”
That last sentence sounded like she’d repeated it so many times, she could have said it in her sleep.
Alex wondered just how many of the other magic items in the city would only work here. Would the carpet still have carried its tea-drinking passengers over Coille forest? He glanced at the sky-ship floating above their heads, imagining some clever thieves commandeering it and cheering as they got past the city’s limits…
…only to scream as the entire ship plunged hundreds of feet to the water or ground. He looked at the wasteland beyond the wall in the distance. Or maybe they’d fall into one of those glowing chasms.
“What is that place?” Theresa pointed to the wasteland.
“The Barrens of Kravernus.” Lucia steered them past a neighbourhood of massive estates surrounded by gated walls. A couple had curved roofs, like the gate on top of Mount Tai. “The ‘game preserve’ of the University and where students go to be trained in combat magic.”
She gave a bitter chuckle.
“The mighty chancellor’s monster park.”
“What is-” Selina asked.
“We’re almost there,” Lucia cut her off, pointing ahead.
Alex turned and saw the massive campus ahead, sitting on a hill above even the rest of Generasi. Greenspace surrounded what was a small city onto itself. Its own rivers flowed along uninterrupted, and its own roads ran through the campus. The central building was an imposing castle of white stone with golden rooftops: it must have been incredible in the sunlight.
Five towers rose from the castle, and the central one was by far the tallest in the entire city. In its courtyard stood two huge statues: one of an elderly human woman with plaits running down past her shoulders, and another of a tall and stately elven man. There was a third massive platform lying close to them, but it was empty.
As they passed over the outer walls of the campus, several figures—mounted on circular stone discs that floated in the air—watched them pass. Staffs were in their hands, and swords were belted at their waists.
Their faces were hard.
“Who’re they?” Theresa asked.
“The Watchers of Roal: campus’ guardians,” the gondolier said dryly. “Keeping the university safe from the city, and the city safe from the university.”
Alex frowned at the strange response as they drew closer to the courtyard.
“You seem to know a lot about this place.” Alex looked at their gondolier closely.
“I should. I was a student here for six months.”
He blinked. “What? What happened?”
“I dropped out,” she said with no hint of embarrassment.
He stiffened. “Why? This is the greatest school of wizardry in the world!”
Anger rose in him. He’d nearly died twice to get here, and this person had attended for half a year before dropping out to drive a boat?
An odd look entered her eyes.
“It is, isn’t it?” Life entered her voice for the first time. She pointed to a building to the south. It was squat and had windows with metal shutters, most of which were closed. Some of the white stone was blackened. “You see that place? That’s-”
“Oh shit!” Alex swore, recoiling from the sound.
Selina screamed, Brutus yelped and Theresa started jumping to her feet before her head slammed into the wind-and-rain shield. Alex caught her as she fell back into the seat.
From the building, a massive blue fireball exploded, ripping two of the metal windows out. Shouts echoed from the distance as several of the Watchers shot toward the building on their floating platforms.
“Perfect timing.” Lucia grimaced as she set the sky-gondola down in front of the main castle. “It helps make my point: the University of Generasi is the greatest school of wizardry in the world, but-”
She leaned forward. The neckline of her shirt shifted.
A tremendous burn-scar reached up to the top of her chest.
“-wizardry is dangerous. Ask one day how many students' acceptances are cancelled due to incapacitation. Or don’t. Maybe you won’t have to worry about it. Anyway-”
She held out her hand.
“-I’ll be taking the rest of my fee now.”