The group passed through several countries over the next weeks. Nothing brought as much excitement and danger as the Tornado Plains, but Barrett found not everything worked quite as logically as he had thought- or rather found that there were powers much greater than he had anticipated. Constant tornadoes couldn’t happen, because they needed power… but if there was that sort of power, they could happen. It just wouldn’t happen through any sort of normally expected circumstances.
“There’s the walls of Stredo,” Master Hykel pointed toward the horizon.
“I… only see a mountain range?” Barrett looked with confusion. Stredo was the city nearest to the Immortal Berserker Sect’s main location. So he had been told by Master Hykel, anyway.
“That’s right. But those aren’t mountain peaks. Those are towers. It’ll make more sense as we get closer.”
Barrett kept watch as they approached… and found it did become clear rather quickly. Though the structure took up the entire width what he could see in front of him, it was rather much shorter. If walls over a hundred meters high could be called short, anyway. He supposed that was only the case if one compared them to mountains- and even mountains didn’t rise so suddenly from the surrounding area.
What Barrett had thought were slopes of the mountains were actually just buildings he was seeing behind the walls and the towers. He could see them, which meant the buildings were taller than the hundred meters of the walls. Some of them much taller. “Uhm. You said it was a big city.”
“It is.” Master Hykel nodded.
“Is… it?” Barrett kept blinking to see if what he saw would change. “I would have called Durham a big city, but if I do that… what is this?”
“Another big city,” Master Hykel grinned. “It’s not actually quite as big as it looked. It’s only about… ten miles in each direction. Enough to support a population of five million, plus another million or so people passing through at any one time.”
Barrett looked around, “A million people passing through? How come there’s no one else over here?” They weren’t actually alone on the road, but there were only a few wagons in sight.
“That’s because there isn’t that much in this direction. At least, not much of value. There’s often more traffic, but not that much.” Master Hykel stroked his chin, “By passing through, I include people who stay for a few months to a few years. It’s not that many any single day.”
“Oh. How do the buildings get that big?”
“Mostly magic.” Master Hykel grinned, “Some of them are made with strong materials, and some are made with good engineering, but most of them are held together by magic.”
“Isn’t that… bad?”
“Only if the magic fails,” Master Hykel shrugged, “There are regular inspections for everything, depending on building size. There aren’t any significant failures. Especially since all the fighting takes place in the arena.”
“The arena? How much fighting?”
“A whole lot of fighting. Six million people, many of which are cultivators of various sorts… It results in a lot of fighting. That’s why there are forty stages in the arena.” Master Hykel pointed, “You can’t see it yet, but the arena is in the exact middle of the city. It’s about a square mile, but not so tall as some of the other buildings. You’ll be able to see it once we’re past the walls though.” Master Hykel continued, “For big events, it can actually hold the whole city… packed in like sand in a jar, and most can’t see all the stages… but it can hold them. Not that everyone will come. It can take normal people several hours to reach from the outskirts of the city even without traffic from a large press of people.”
“Hmm. It’s hard to imagine.” Barrett looked at some of the buildings. Now that he was closer, he could see they were several times the height of the walls. It was strange to think about something being a few hundred meters tall. It wasn’t all that much distance when walking or running, but height was a different matter.
“I’m sure you’ll see it soon enough. There are many excellent events there where you can spar with your peers. It’s good for training.”
Barrett found himself somewhat intimidated. He was fairly confident in himself, but when comparing himself to people who grew up near this sort of thing, he wasn’t so sure. “Master Hykel, how do you think I compare to those here?”
Master Hykel shrugged, “Don’t know.” Then he laughed, “Honestly, I haven’t been here for a decade. That means anyone in your peer group wouldn’t have been anything to speak of at the time. Oh, sure, people still liked to say they had this person or that person, but honestly judging someone before they enter puberty is just asking for them to completely change their personality and ruin your expectations. A genius that started practicing magic at that age might be something impressive… or they might have just been very good at grasping the basics. Not that the basics can’t bring you a long way… but that’s not my point.” Master Hykel pointed his finger at Barrett, “The point is I don’t know. You’ll spar with people older than you and younger than you, and then you’ll know. Then we’ll work on all of the weak points exposed from that, and try again.”
“Until I can beat everyone?”
“Forever!” Master Hykel put on a determined face, “Why would you stop just because you can beat everyone here? Besides, you can always expand your limits to fight those much older.”
“Ah, I almost forgot who I was talking to.” Barrett nodded, “Well, I can’t say I’ll beat everyone right away, but I won’t give up.”
“Good.” Master Hykel nodded, “Now, before we can do all that… we need to get you citizenship.” Master Hykel gestured toward the walls, where the road split off to go to several different sized gates, “It doesn’t have to be right away, but it’s easiest to get that started. Fortunately being from the Immortal Berserker Sect will make it quick. Relatively.”