“All packed, nothing left behind?” asked Sereg, addressing Vlada alone and ignoring her new apprentice as usual.
“Yep. All good. Kan’s with me too,” she replied, jokingly.
“Let’s go then,” said the grey worldholder spreading his hands in a wide gesture.
The joke hurt even though it wasn’t intended as a stab. Being compared to baggage that could be forgotten in an inn triggered a couple of unpleasant memories that took Kan’s attention long enough to miss the spell that had triggered Transvolo.
It all disappeared: the grey walls of the provincial inn, Handel’s noisy marketplace you could see over from the window, everything. Silent, velvety darkness swallowed the world. It was full of stars, distant and near, yellow and blue, scattered like sparkling diamonds upon the velvet or condensed in nebulae far, far away. There was no motion. There was no sound. Distant, alien worlds looked upon Kangassk with tranquil indifference; there was no way to tell which one of them was the sun of Omnis and no way to get back…
His awe turned to terror at the thought. Kangassk floated in the void, helpless and alone. There was no up and down, no left and right, no air to breathe, no ground to stand on. He couldn’t cry. He couldn’t tell how much time had passed. He could only tell the time didn’t stand still for the distant stars sparkled, living their own lives countless light-years away…
Desperate for anything real and homelike, Kangassk grabbed his soothstone. The glassy pebble was warm to the touch and sparkled, reflecting the stars. It gave him the feeling of safety, became his zero reference point, his pivot in the void, his beacon in the darkness. With a sigh of relief, Kangassk closed his eyes.
He felt the changes then: a cool breeze bringing sounds and smells of a pine forest; he heard the birds sing and grass rustle; he felt the earth under his feet…
People of both Southern and Northern lands like pine trees. In the South, the pines are short, with branchy crowns, soft needles, and huge pine cones filled with delicious oily seeds. In the North, the pines are slender and tall, perfect for ship masts; their needles are sharp, their crowns rest among the clouds. That was what the forest Kangassk found himself in looked like. The desert dweller raised his head to see where the trees ended and saw the golden rays of the sun sifting through the dark forest roof. His perception was so keen and hungry after travelling through the starry void he couldn’t stop marvelling at the things around him.
“Welcome to the North, Kan!” Vlada greeted him. She stood behind him, in one of the sunny spots of the forest floor. Sereg was there too, in the shade behind her. “How’s the journey?”
“Beautiful. But terrifying,” confessed Kan. “All those stars… they’re worlds, right? Just like ours?”
“Yes, almost all of them,” Vlada nodded and, after a brief moment of consideration, explained, “I mean, the stars are all different both from our sun and from each other but, yes, most of them do harbour habitable worlds.”
“Incredible…” Kangassk tried to imagine millions of different worlds, each with its own lands, seas, and people, and it blew his mind. His curiosity recovered first: “A question, Vlada, if you don’t mind! Why didn’t you use Transvolo from the start? Why walk through the No Man’s Land?”
What seemed a simple question to Kangassk was way bigger than he imagined and, in the end, turned into a long magic lesson. It took Vlada all the way up to the Capital to explain Transvolo to her apprentice. Sereg didn’t interfere but he did listen.
The wide road they now walked snaked uphill to meet the greatest city of the North, the city that was as beautiful as a rare jewel and yet had no proper name.
Kangassk could be quite stubborn in his questioning when he felt safe, and with Vlada, he did.
“No, I don’t get it!” he kept going, “Say, I read Transvolo somewhere in the South, within the stable magic territory, and want to jump to the North, which is also magically stable. Why wouldn’t it work?”
“It’s because your travel trajectory will cross either No Man’s Land or No Man’s Water.”
“No Man’s Water”?
“Chermasan and Karmasan seas lay mostly outside the stable areas, so in terms of anomalies and explosive magic, they are as dangerous as the No Man’s Land. Instability will short-circuit your Transvolo. The only difference here is the landing: in No Man’s Land, you have a chance to get away with a bruise or a broken bone but in No Man’s Water, you’ll most likely become a snack for sharks.”
“I still don’t get it…” Kangassk had just realized that he was standing in the middle of the road, scratching his head like a fool, and moved on. “Sereg mentioned some ‘Chasm’... He didn’t have to travel through the Regions as we did, he just jumped to the meeting place. Wasn’t that a Transvolo as well?”
“No, Kangassk,” Vlada’s voice became stern. “Chasm is not a spell, it’s an underworld. Thousands of years ago, it was the fastest and the safest way to travel in Omnis, there was no need for Transvolo back then. And now… now it’s not a place for a mortal to visit.”
Both worldholders looked grim now and Kan got a feeling that it was time to slow down with questions for a while. There was something fishy with that Chasm, something the young apprentice both did and didn’t want to know…
The gates of the nameless capital city were wide open. The guards, clad in shining silvered armour, stepped aside with a respectful nod when they saw the worldholders but barred Kangassk's way. It was that “unlicensed soothstone” issue again.
Sereg stepped in:
“I’m granting him a licence on that cold obsidian, the open licence, guys.”
The guards exchanged puzzled looks; when they turned their faces to Kangassk again, he could read the whole spectre of awe on them. The Grey Inquisitor wasn’t a kind of man that would grant such a licence easily. By doing so, he’d just promoted the humble mortal to a hero in these lands.
“What’s ‘cold obsidian’?” asked Kangassk after he had caught up with the Inquisitor. He had to run, as always, to match his stride.
“Your soothstone, what else,” answered Sereg. “Get used to proper scientific terminology, kid.”
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