So, this one ends a bit abruptly; this is because there was no good cut-off point past here, and I didn't want this part to be three thousand words. On the bright side, this may be a rare case of "three stories up in three to four days", because I'm already three hundred words into the next part. Which will be evilly awesome.
As the troop of soldiers and Exalts approached the gates of Sayis, Fokuf took the time to look around. The travel - he hesistated to call it morning, whatever his sense of time might say - had been punctuated by Kieran quietly teaching Alina various words and sentence structures in Old Realm; Fokuf had simply nodded, and then started his own learning. If they were going to be here for any length of time, he wanted to be able to speak the native tonue, and it's similarity to Old Realm gave him hope that he could do so quickly. He was already able to follow a conversation, and he hoped another day would bring fluency.
The gates of Sayis themselves were large, made of heavy iron that fitted in the shaped tunnel wall perfectly, set in a short distance to allow the tubes that crisscrossed every tunnel to pass around them without threat of being crushed. There was a slot in the middle, large enough for a man to look through - or to point one of the strange Autocthonian crossbows through if the gates needed defending. Looking closely, Fokuf saw several more such slots, and he imagined a flight of bolts flying out from the gate to impale would-be invaders. He nodded to himself.
Aegis approached the gate, and nodded at an unseen person on the other side. â€œGreetings, Sergeant Lamar. Watchful Cerulean Aegis, returning from scout mission.â€
â€œWelcome back, sir.â€ There was a click, and the gates began to rumble open outwards. The sergeant in question bowed to Aegis, then glanced over her company. â€œUm... was the mission a success?â€
â€œThat would depend on the parameters defined.â€ Aegis's expression was unreadable. â€œInform Commander Raiun that I am escorting four visitors to our city, and that we are going to speak with the Patropolis on a matter of utmost importance.â€
â€œUh... yes, sir.â€ The soldier saluted quickly. â€œUm... sir, may I ask who the visitors are?â€ By this time, other soldiers were approaching, drawn by the sound of the opening gate. They clustered a safe distance away, watching the group with curiosity and confusion.
â€œThat's classified information, soldier. Sayis will see fit to reveal what is appropriate.â€
â€œYessir! Sorry, sir!â€ Aegis smiled faintly at the soldier's nervousness, nodding to him.
â€œVery good, soldier. Continue your duties.â€ She turned to her second-in-command. â€œSergeant Olu, have the squad report to the medical bay for diagnosis. After that, report to the debriefing hall. I will join you as soon as I've finished speaking with Sayis.â€
â€œUnderstood, sir.â€ Sergeant Olu saluted cripsly, and then turned to the scouts. â€œAlright, you lot, you heard the commander! Let's move out!â€
As the scouts started off in one direction, the local soldiers stepped into formation with them, pacing them as far as their patrols allowed them to stray. Fokuf could hear them whispering as Aegis turned and started to lead the way down the widening tunnel.
â€œWho are those strangers? They don't have soulgems - are they exiles?â€
â€œNo marks. They'd have to be natural-born. Could a group get that old without being rescued?â€
â€œOne of them is wearing orichalcum. Can non-Exalts do that?â€
â€œWell, they can't be Exalts, they're not metal.â€
Shaking his head and supressing a grin, Fokuf fell into line behind Aegis, crossing his hands behind his back as he strolled along. The tunnel widened before them, and the four Solars got their first view of an Autochthonian city. Beside him, he heard Alina and Tenrek's quiet intakes of breath, and Kieran's low, appreciative whistle.
The cavern containing the city of Sayis rose around them; its walls vanished into the murky distance. Before them, however, were hundreds of metal buildings, towering up and vanishing into the smoky depths below. Bright lights shone on wide, flat walkways between buildings, and sparks of electricity danced along metallic conduits or arced overhead, a constant trail of light that seemed to cast the city into relief every few seconds. The air was filled with the hum of turning gears and machines, and the occasional trail of lightning stretched down to the cavern's base a dozen stories below. There were few people on the streets, all of them wearing the simple black clothes of the local commoners, striding with purpose from one building to another, heedless of the possibility of stumbling or falling. A few armoured soldiers strolled the streets, moving from barracks to barracks on patrol, focused on their destinations.
Aegis let them soak in the sight. â€œSayis is the second of Estasia's cities - he holds well over half a million citizens. Is it not glorious?â€
â€œIt's amazing.â€ Tearing his gaze away from the city, Kieran looked to Aegis. â€œBut... you said we were going to speak with... the city?â€
â€œThat is correct. This way.â€ Glancing left and right, Aegis led the way down a wide thoroughfare. Passing citizens gave her a respectful berth, but not quite a wide one.
â€œHow does that work, exactly? Does this city's god act alongside it?â€
Aegis glanced back, starting to look confused, and then nodded suddenly. â€œOh. We never discussed that, did we?â€ When the four Exalts gave her blank looks, she chuckled softly. â€œI apologize. Sayis was once the Most Satisfactory Observer, an Alchemical Exalt of the Orichalcum Caste. Several thousand years ago, he underwent the transformation into one of the Patropoli.â€ When there was no immediate response, she continued. â€œAll of the cities of Autochthon are built around one of the Exalted as a core. They provide defense and support for the people, who in turn maintain the cities and the fabric of the Maker.â€
â€œOh.â€ Kieran quickly translated for Alina, as the five continued down the pathways. When he spoke again, it was slowly. â€œHow many of these cities are there, then?â€
â€œFrom last information? Forty, divided among the eight nations of Autochthonia.â€ Aegis shrugged. â€œThere are cities of all five Castes, but those of orichalcum and jade are most common.â€ Walking down a stairway, she stopped outside a small building sitting on the edge of a long platform, a thin spire of metal and crystal, with lightning rods unfolding along its length. â€œThis will do for a private communication tower. It is not Sayis's core, but you will understand that we cannot risk that for strangers, even ones who have been as helpful as you.â€
â€œOf course.â€ Fokuf nodded. â€œWe were fortunate to have met you, Aegis.â€
â€œNot as fortunate as I was to have met you, I think.â€ With a small half-smile, Aegis stepped forwards, speaking in a clear voice. â€œWatchful Cerulean Aegis requests audience with Sayis, on a matter of utmost...â€
Before she could finish her statement, the doors before them hissed silently open. A low voice echoed out from them, a rich baritone that resonated across the floor of the platform. â€œStay without and keep watch, Aegis. Let the Creation-born come and present their plea.â€
Aegis's metallic brows rose to her forehead, but she nodded quickly. â€œYes, Patropolis.â€ Turning to the others, she bowed. â€œI will be here when you return.â€
Fokuf nodded after a fraction of a second. â€œShould we leave our weapons?â€
â€œHe didn't say.â€ Aegis shrugged. â€œYou may as well keep them. Forgive me for saying so, but there is little that you could do to a mere relay.â€
â€œVery well.â€ Shrugging lightly, Fokuf stepped forwards. â€œOnce more into the breech.â€ Glancing to the others for support, he stepped through the doors into the chamber beyond. After another moment, his companions followed him into the relay of the Patropolis.