“I’m still not comfortable being outside at this hour.”
“You’ll grow out of that soon enough. This sort of thing is common in my line of work.”
Maelys sighed. “I’m pretty sure sneaking into the most heavily guarded city in Tebrein has nothing to do with cartography. At night no less.”
“I thought you didn’t believe me when I said I was a cartographer,” Rozire smirked, looking up as he worked.
“Oh, I don’t believe most of the things you tell me. You don’t even own a sheet of parchment. But you insist on sticking to that story, so I might as well play along.”
“I am a cartographer.” He leaned closer and tapped his head with his free hand. “It’s just all safe in here. My real job won’t start until we return to my home.” He glanced up to Eranos, lit a dull purple by the sunset. Only a few months away, if they made good time. “Besides, there is still some daylight. It isn’t against your religion to be outside right now.”
“That would make me feel better if we had plans of being indoors anytime soon.”
Rozire nodded, looking back down as his attention returned to his work. “True. But that would defeat the whole ‘infiltration’ plan. We already snuck through the easy half of the city. It’ll only get harder from here on out. Plus, you have to admit that breaking rules is much more exciting. And if it makes you feel better, your people’s entire belief system was based on the idea that the stars would come down and eat people if they were outside at night.”
Maelys eyed his mentor, who still sat against the wall tying a rope around his waist. “I think you’re growing more insane by the minute.”
He looked up again. “You say that, but you still followed me halfway around the world.” With one last tightening of the rope belt, he stood and grabbed his staff.
“That argument doesn’t work. You know why I left. Going with you was just the best option.”
“You have a point. Here, hold this.” Rozire held out the simple staff for Maelys. The boy took it without a word, watching him grab the ledge atop the wall they stood beside. Heaving himself up with more strength than grace, he brushed his cloak with a hand before reaching down to take the staff back. As he did. he glanced behind at their destination before returning his gaze to the boy, intending to help him up.
Before he could offer any assistance, however, Maelys grabbed the top of the wall and threw himself up, rolling into a crouch once they were on the same level again.
“I see your agility has improved to match your new height,” Rozire frowned.
“I’ve been taller than you for weeks, you know.”
He raised the staff at the boy menacingly. “Keep talking like that and I can relieve you of that head of yours.”
Maelys rolled his eyes, doing a poor job at hiding a smirk when his gaze fell upon the gleaming city only a few hundred yards away. It’s buildings reached impossible heights. Many of them had to be four stories tall. Around the city was a wall not unlike the one they stood on now, though it was much taller. It was as though the inner city had been built on a pedestal in the center of a ring of foliage, which filled the gap in between the two walls. There were forests, rivers, and slopes around this ring, as if the very landscape itself had been crafted to augment the beauty of the elevated city it guarded.
“Upper Terrace,” Rozire stated. “Have you ever seen a city so pristine?”
Maelys frowned, awe mixing with anxiety as he watched the sun fall out of sight beyond the city ahead.“None so beautiful. Nor so big.”
“Well, that will change as soon as our journey comes to a close. Where I come from, cities are as large as nations, spanning far beyond what the eye can see. You can walk in one direction for days and still be inside the same building.”
“I wish I was inside a building now,” he muttered.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. Besides, nobody will even be out to catch us at this hour.”
“Nobody but the gods, that is.”
“Gods be damned, we’ve got work to do. Come on, this is the most dangerous part.”
“What, are the trees poisonous? Does this have anything to do with your weird rope belt?”
Rozire frowned, gazing out into the perfect wilderness. “No.” He pointed. “That’s why.”
In the dimming twilight, Maelys squinted to see what his mentor was referring to. After a moment his eyes caught movement of something come out of the distant trees.
It was difficult to make out, but there was a creature moving slowly yet deliberately. It glinted from distant light, which meant it was probably wearing armor. And yet nothing about it’s walk resembled anything Maelys could identify as human. As it walked, the very ground itself reshaped itself. Trees fell as the dirt beneath them heaved upwards, creating hills. Water materialized out of nowhere, flowing down into newly crafted valleys it made in the direction it was going.
“What in the world is that?” Maelys asked.
“Constructor,” Rozire replied, face serious for once. “The guardians of Upper Terrace. We better hope we don’t run into one of those on our way there.”