Two thirds of the nation of Atlantis is afloat. ‘Aether’ is the name that the Ancient Atlantians gave them – floating islands. Atlantis Academy is built on several of these Aether. Its grounds encompass seven Aethers with more than two dozen others being used as training grounds for the Apprentices and Heroes.
Ray is heading for one of the seven Aethers that make up the official Academy grounds. The Cross Roads. It is named this because the Cross Roads Aethers are the location of the Academy’s teleporters.
Ray took one of the ‘Hanging Stairs’ to get to the Cross Roads. The Hanging Stairs are actually roots of ancient trees that connect Aethers. All Aether have these roots connecting them with other Aethers in their immediate vicinity. Some connect with Aethers further away.
The Hanging Stairs are usually used for two reasons: for training physical endurance and also for travelling to another Aether. Due to the challenges that they pose for those who use them for travel, they are the least favorite method of travelling between one Aether to another especially if you’re going to an Aether that is located at a higher elevation. This was the reason that Ray chose to use a Hanging Stair.
After reaching the first landing, Ray stopped. It was not because he was tired, but because he wanted to take in the view.
He had gone higher than the highest spire of the Academy’s main building and he was only about one third of the way up. He hadn’t met anyone yet other than a few students who circled close by on their Aura Gliders and had come to say hello.
The landing was made of closely intertwining roots. The roots that made the floor were so tightly intertwined that any climber that came to rest would not face the risk of getting their foot stuck.
Ray looked at a spot of root and smiled.
A pair of eyes suddenly appeared on the roots. Then a thin face and a wide smile. A Tree Gnome walked out of the roots as if it had been there all the while.
“Good day master gnome” Ray said with a slight bow.
“And to you master Hero” the gnome replied with equal courtesy.
Ray recognized from its voice that the tree gnome was a male and was around middle age. The voice is the only way for humans to tell the age and gender of a tree gnome. For Ray though, his ability ‘Panoptes’ the all-seeing eye allows him to access the ‘Data Dimension’ where he can perceive his surrounding down to the most basic components that make up the world. Panoptes is a passive ability that Ray usually blocks because he feels that it is rather intrusive but he was flexing its muscles to take in the scenery so he was able to ‘perceive’ the gnome down to the subatomic level and knew with certainty that it was a male. Of course, he didn’t tell the gnome about this as Panoptes is an Academy secret.
Ray accepted the tea that the gnome offered. This was one of the reasons that he chose to use a Hanging Stairs. The tea provided by the gnomes that tended the landings are the best in all of Atlantis. Probably even in all of Avalon.
The gnomes only serve their special tea for people who actually climb the stairs. That is why it is called ‘Climbers Tea’, one of Atlantis’ special delicacies though few actually get to taste it. The gnomes seem to know if someone is cheating and don’t appear if a person is deemed unworthy.
The view from the landing was breath-taking. Even though he has lived in the Academy all his life, the views always captivated him.
Below, he could see the numerous domes and spires of the Academy’s main building. Green fields, rolling hills and pristine blue lakes surrounded the Academy. Three rivers snaked down from three different hills to supply the lakes. And then from the west, the fourth and main source of water for the Academy’s lakes and rivers.
The river Enlil.
The west side of the Main Aether was dominated by the landmass of a higher Aether. From that Aether, dozens of waterfalls fell from the sky to converge into one giant fall that formed the Enlil.
Ray finished his tea and sighed with satisfaction.
He activated the Panoptes and saw a triplet of young Sky Dragons dancing around the waterfalls. Sky Dragons always came in triplets or quintuplets and they will stay with their siblings and parents until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Then they’d leave their parents to start their own families. However, like sentient creatures, Sky Dragons maintain a family bond all their lives, and they live a relatively long life compared to other species.
The Enlil is home to a pair of very ancient Sky Dragons that are the patron and matron of a lineage that now spans more than a dozen generations. A few of their progeny live around the Enlil, five families the last time Ray counted, and the rest live outside. Once every year, the rest of the family will come to visit their ancestor and the Academy will be host to thousands of dragons.
Ray loved the visiting season which is a two weeks holiday for the Academy. He loved the break of course, especially when he was a student, but the main reason that he loves this time of the year is because the Sky Dragons’ Aura has the effect of colouring the space around them with a beautiful hue. The whole Main Aether is covered in an aurora when the Sky Dragons come. With the Panoptes, Ray can see even more colours than other people.
It was still some months before the visiting season though, but it was a nice sight, seeing the young dragons.
On the far side of the Enlil was the Lithuania Woods. An ancient place steeped in mystery and power and one of the training grounds for Heroes. It is home to numerous creatures that either have valuable lessons to teach young Apprentices or that simply want to kill them. Ray changed his vision to see further still and saw beyond the wall of Mythical Aura that surrounds the woods and pass the trees. There were three groups of young Apprentices inside the woods with their supervisors. Ray watched them for a while.
Due to his special eye power, Ray is often given the duty of overseeing training and tests and ensuring students’ safety. Keeping watch over the Lithuania woods is also one of his duties as a Hero. There are other Heroes with powers that are suited for overseeing and keeping watch, but few can see through the Mythical Aura of the Lithuania. Even the Panoptes’ sight was slightly limited by it.
The three groups were of younger Apprentices so they didn’t go very deep into the woods. They were only dealing with entry level monsters. One with a Banshee, the second with a Bogeyman and the third with an Imp.
Ray deactivated Panoptes, thanked the gnome and continued his hike. It is not that he was purposely procrastinating the mission given to him by the headmaster. He could have used a teleporter to get to Cross Roads or take an air balloon. Even now, he could use a number of Aura Techniques to get there faster.
He was taking his time because there was no point in him rushing there. This is because the place that he needed to get to from the Cross Roads can only be accessed in three hours. Another reason is that, as the headmaster had asked him to keep it a secret, he thought that keeping a lower profile is the best way to go about it. Using one of his Lightning Aura Techniques will certainly gain attention as lightning is associated with ‘The Legendary Hero Ray’.
Ray also wanted to get some training done. ‘Killing multiple Demons with a single Technique’ is one of his favourite saying. Something that he made up to replace ‘hitting two birds with a single stone’. Ray didn’t like hurting innocent creatures and thinks that such a saying can leave a bad mark on someone. On the other hand, killing Demons is a good thing.
Before starting his hike, Ray had decided to suppress his Aura and block his abilities and depend only on his natural physical strength to make the hike and to fight the monsters living on the stairs.
And that is what he did.
There were a few nature monsters, a Blood Ent, a Ladon and even a Manticore which he had some trouble with as he couldn’t use any flying techniques or abilities. Still, it was just warm up for him. Ray made it to the Cross Roads with a few minutes to spare.