“What was that?” Mr. Lu asked, with a twinkle in his eyes. “Some wizard thing?”
All around the dock, a wave of tension swept through the crowd. People clotted together in muttering groups, some pointing in the direction of where the sound of the blast and flash of light had come from. Some looked simply curious, others, worried.
“What was that?” an orcish sailor standing nearby asked a centaur dockworker.
“No clue,” the centaur held up his hand to shield his eyes from the setting sun. “Don’t look normal. Don’t look normal.”
Mrs. Lu turned to her daughter, her earlier cheer fading. “Theresa? What happened?”
“I don’t…know, mother,” the huntress squinted at the skyline, but the flash of light had already faded.
Suddenly, another flash.
Theresa’s hand dropped to her sword.
Then another. And another.
Alex’s mind whirled.
Something had been summoned earlier: he’d bet half his tuition on it. And if he’d felt the conjuring all the way at the docks, then the spell had to’ve been a very powerful one.
“No,” Alex said. “No, I don't think this is normal, Mrs. Lu.” He looked at Theresa. “I think something was summoned.”
Her eyes hardened. “You mean-” She glanced from Selina to her parents with concern touching her face. “-another summoning?”
“What’s going on?” Mr. Lu asked, the amusement in his voice now faded.
“It’d be better if we explained back at campus,” Alex said. “We should go. Now. Claygon, lead the way.”
“What’s wrong, Alex?” Selina looked up with worry.
Mrs. Lu looked back toward the skyline. “Is it…is it The Ravener?”
“No, but it’s not good,” Theresa said. “Let’s just follow Claygon for now, mother. I’ll explain, I promise.”
The group quickly moved toward the city, passing through the gates among a growing crowd who were also hurrying back to the city.
“Stay close to Claygon and Brutus!” Alex said. The crowd was beginning to press together, but were giving the golem and cerberus a wide berth.
Inside the gates the streets were filled with people rushing in all directions. Wizards rode on the backs of monsters, horses, camels, or constructs as they tried to quickly make their way through the crowded roads. Folks were piled into shops, or staring out from balconies or upper windows. The sky was filled with wizards zipping this way and that way, though some stopped and hovered in place, looking in the direction of the disturbance.
Mr. and Mrs. Lu gaped at the scene, clearly overwhelmed by the sight of magic everywhere, and the tense feeling in the air.
“Smoke,” Theresa muttered.
A black cloud was rising in the darkening evening sky from the area of City Hall.
“Let’s keep going,” Alex said, holding Selina’s hand tightly.
The little girl was glaring at the rising black cloud. “Okay.”
Claygon and Brutus strode through the crowd, and it parted before them. Alex and the rest of the group followed behind, staying close together to avoid being separated by the thickening crowd.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Lu kept asking questions, but Alex and Theresa just tried to keep the focus on getting everyone back to the safety of campus.
“There’s a sky-pier close by,” Alex said. “Once we get there, we’ll be okay.”
“Pardon? What’s a sky-pier?” Mr. Lu asked, looking at the smoke. “Are we under attack or something? Shouldn’t we be getting back on the ship?”
“Trust me,” Alex said. “It’ll be a lot…safer…there.”
Alex’s blood went cold.
There hadn’t been any demon summonings in months, so why now…
Baelin was away.
That couldn’t be just a coincidence. His heart began to beat faster.
Still, at least on campus The Watchers of Roal were there, and it was far from City Hall. They’d be safe there…wouldn’t they?
As it turned out, getting to campus was a lot harder than he’d thought it would be.
“We’re all booked!” the sky-pier attendant waved her hands. “We won’t have openings for awhile!”
“Shit,” Alex muttered, forgetting not to swear in front of his sister.
“Dammit!” a man nearby cried. “I’ve got to get over there! My wife works at City Hall! I need to get there! Can’t you make room?”
“Sorry, but you’ll need to find another way, then!” the attendant shouted back over a bunch of jeers and angry voices.
“Do you know what happened?” Alex asked the man.
“What?” he whirled on him, blinking almost in confusion.
“Do you know what happened at City Hall?”
“It was an attack!” another man shouted. “A bunch of demons were summoned outside the main entrance. I saw some flying over the buildings down there, you don’t want to go there, friend!”
“Demons?” Mrs. Lu gasped.
“Mother, it’s okay,” Theresa said. “There’re people in the city who know how to deal with these kinds of things. We’ll be okay.”
“This happens often?” Mr. Lu gasped.
“No, I mean…sometimes.”
Silence followed. Alex gulped, looking at Theresa. She met his gaze, looked at her parents, and then shook her head.
He slowly realized that she probably hadn’t told them about the dangerous things that had happened in Generasi. Or if she had, he doubted it was in much detail.
Not that he could blame her.
Her parents were hiding from the horrors ravaging Thameland, and they’d sent their daughter, him, Selina and Brutus off to what they’d thought would be a much safer place for them to be.
How much would they have worried if they’d gotten letter after letter filled with horrifying stories of mana vampire attacks, monsters in The Barrens, demon summoners that were still at large, and a near-massacre at a masquerade ball they’d gone to for fun and relaxation.
If it were him, he would have waited for the right moment: like telling them in person, when they’d had a chance to see the wonders of the city first.
Of course, then someone had to go and summon demons before Theresa even had a chance to tell them about such things in between big doses of the great things that happened in Generasi.
The timing couldn't have been worse.
“We have another way,” Alex muttered. “Let’s just keep going.”
“You have to tell us what’s going on,” Mrs. Lu looked at Alex and Theresa. “At least for your sister’s sake.”
“Bad monsters are here,” Selina said, her voice as hard as flint. “Ruining things again. They’ll go away. They always do.”
“Let’s just follow Claygon,” Alex said. “It’s a long walk.”
As they made their way through the city, Alex reluctantly explained what had happened with the first demon summoning on campus. He also explained the horrors of their fellow-countrywoman Carey London, and her devilish plan to bring the priests onto campus.
“This…this place is dangerous,” Mr. Lu said, setting his jaw. “Well, the Lu family isn’t from a line of cowards.” He paused for a moment. “Maybe it’s a good thing the priests didn’t start coming onto your campus.” He looked at Alex meaningfully. “I’d say it was a blessing…but…you know.”
Even as he said this, his eyes scanned the surrounding buildings nervously. Shadows lengthened as night drifted closer, while Claygon and Brutus continued to lead them through the crowd.
Alex’s heart was beating faster and faster.
He felt exposed. Vulnerable.
He reached out and touched Claygon.
News began to drift to them as they made their way back to campus. Now and then someone screamed when they heard terrible news from City Hall; details of the attack were being revealed through the murmurings going on around them.
Though they couldn’t be sure what was true and what was rumour.
“It was some kind of demonic dragon!” someone said. “Brought to City Hall in a hoard of flying lizards.”
“The City guard went to-”
“The dragon had three heads!”
“No, it had ten heads!”
“It wasn’t a demonic dragon at all! It was some kind of horned rat at the head of a horde of demon rat-men!”
“The sea gods were attacking, I heard-”
“This is just like when we were leaving Thameland,” Mr. Lu muttered darkly. “When we were waiting for the ship, all kinds of stories started drifting into town: different monsters in the countryside, some sort of spiders in Coille, towns that had been flattened by a hundred-eyed giant…here we are, so far from home and finding the exact same thing.”
Armed folk pushed through the crowds—bearing swords, staves, maces and more—heading toward thecentre of the city.
“It’s not normally like thi-” Theresa started to say.
“Attention citizens! ” A disembodied voice boomed through the air.
Everyone in the area startled.
“At seven thirty five this evening, a cowardly attack was carried out on the City Hall of Generasi, the city at the centre of creation. A fiendwyrm was summoned in the square and set to rampage on citizens and visitors going about their lawful business. City Hall’s wards activated and agents of the Ruling Council engaged with practiced efficiency. Thankfully, casualties were kept low by their actions.”
“Don’t worry, it’s some kind of spell that’s amplifying someone’s voice,” Alex said quickly, noticing the Lus’ raised eyebrows and wide eyes.
‘So they were casualties,’ he added mentally.
The voice continued to boom. “The Central District is hereby under curfew until further notice. All inside of the perimeter are instructed to return to their homes immediately. If you must leave the central district to do so, you will be obligated to stop at the checkpoints set up on each street. Failure to do so will result in immediate arrest.”
‘So they didn’t catch who was responsible yet,’ Alex thought.
“Also, effective immediately, all air traffic above the City of Generasi is hereby grounded. The skies are to be kept clear for both emergency and military personnel. If you are aboard a sky-ship or other large vessel that cannot easily land, please arrest all motion and wait for military personnel to guide you to ground. The City of Generasi is dedicated to your safety. We will endeavour to have all resolved in a timely and efficient manner. May you have a safe and calm night. Further instructions and information will be delivered through this method as the situation changes.”
Alex looked at his companions. “Let’s keep moving, it’s going to get even more crowded when the streets start filling up with people who’ve landed from every sky-gondola in the city.”
“I thought we were supposed to stop…” Mrs. Lu blinked, looking around at the roofs. “That voice…where did it come from? I see no one speaking.”
“It was magic,” Theresa said, taking her mother’s hand and hurrying her along. “I think whoever was talking was probably far away.”
“We’re far from the central district,” Alex said. “We just have to keep heading to campus.”
The walk to the university seemed to take forever.
The city of Generasi was absolutely enormous, something that he didn’t usually give much thought to since he normally took sky-gondolas to get around most of the time. By the time they finally saw the gates of the university looming ahead, Mrs. Lu was obviously wincing from the long walk.
Crowds milled around inside and outside of the gates. Some folk were looking out into the city, and some were trying to get onto campus, so it took Alex’s group a long time to finally gain admission. It was only when they were well past the gates that he started to feel more comfortable and let out a sigh of relief.
“What happened out there?” a hulking student asked as they went by. He was as tall as Thundar and had a single eye in the centre of his forehead: a lesser cyclops. “Have they caught the bastard?”
“We don’t know anymore than you do,” Alex said. “We were on the docks when it happened.”
The cyclops cursed under his breath and stomped away.
“This…this is quite the place,” Mr. Lu finally managed to say as his eyes travelled between the lesser cyclops and the high towers of the university. “I’ve been to Ussex once and seen the king’s castle, but by Uldar, this place is bigger.”
“Yeah…I just wish you got to see it under less scary circumstances,” Alex said.
Selina pointed toward The Cells. “When we first got here, that place blew up.”
“What?” Mrs. Lu gasped.
“They repair things quickly here,” Alex said before anyone could say anything else. Somehow, he was starting to feel a little defensive about Generasi. He absolutely loved it here, and didn’t want this terrible first impression to be what Theresa’s parents kept in their minds and believed about it. “They’re really organized, like there’s so many wonders-” He paused, realizing he was beginning to ramble. “-let’s…let’s just see if the registrar is still open. We want you to get settled as soon as possible. It’s uh…it’s been an evening so far."
As it turned out, Hobb was still at his desk when they arrived at the registrar’s office.
“Why would I not be staffing the desk?” the blue-skinned devil rubbed his monocle on a handkerchief when asked what he was still doing there. “The emergency lies in the city, not on campus, and affairs still need to be kept in order. If I were to run cowering like a mouse anytime something…unexpected occurred, then I daresay the university would never get anything done. Now…Lu Zimo and Lu Yutong?”
He paused, looking at Theresa’s parents while his quill—which had been writing notes in a registration book all by itself—paused.
Theresa’s parents were staring at Hobb, their eyes flicking from the animated pen to the blue horned devil and back.
“Yes, those are their names,” Theresa said quickly, her cheeks turning red.
“Uh,” Mrs. Lu said idly. “We put out surnames last. Surnames first is a Tarim-Lung practice, and my husband and I were born in Thameland.”
“I see, so then Yutong Lu for you-” he nodded to Mrs. Lu. “-and Zimo Lu for your husband.” His quill retraced the words, erasing them as it did, and then re-wrote the corrected names. “Welcome to Generasi. I hope you two dear people do not see today’s events as indicative of the regular state of our beautiful city, because rest assured, they are not!” Hobb said, returning to his paperwork. “Compared to many other places in the world—consumed by war, plague, monster attacks and the whims of nature and gods—we are quite safe and comfortable. I assure you, you will be most safe here.”
He presented them with a key. “Normally, we would either place you in the guest residences or within a hostel or inn in the city, but—during the summer semester—many of the student insulae have plenty of room available for your stay, including the southern insula. This would place you close to your daughter, which is what she and your daughter’s…‘friend’ have arranged. I trust this will be suitable?”
“Yes, it wou-By Uldar, did that bench just move?!” Mr. Lu cried.
“No, no, no!” Hobb half-rose from his chair. “Rebellious seat! Back to your post or it is off to the carpenter for you! I will see to it that you are cobbled into a fine pair of wooden shoes!”
The bench—which had been halfway out of the hall—scuttled back to its place.
“Apologies.” The devil grinned. “The furniture needs discipline sometimes. Is there anything else you might need?”
“Whiskey,” Mr. Lu said, not sounding like he was remotely joking.
Mrs. Lu quickly nodded in agreement.
“Well, we have many bars on campus. I could arrange a guide-”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Alex said quickly.
“Very well.” Hobb nodded, looking at Mr. and Mrs. Lu with his red eyes. “Enjoy your stay, my young friends. Take in the sights. Sample the air. Grab these unique experiences while you can.”
He shrugged, looking at the doors. “After all…one never knows.”
Mrs. Lu looked at Theresa with a mix of undisguised emotions plainly shifting her expression. “Tomorrow…we are going to have a very long conversation.”
The huntress winced. “…yes, mother.”
The room’s atmosphere was so tense, Alex wasn’t sure if even a blade of force could cut through it. A good number of people—students and professors—were seated in the large meeting room, and most shifted uncomfortably at the long table.
Towering at the head of the table was Chancellor Baelin, having returned from his trip to Thameland the night before.
His hands were clasped on the table before him, and his piercing eyes were staring at an empty space in front of his face.
Alex had never seen him so angry.
And even though he wasn’t the target of that wrath, he couldn’t help but feel a terror gripping his spine.