They camped at the bottom of the foothills as Sovos had suggested. The hills were bare, nothing but knuckles of slate gray rock sticking out of the earth. A well traveled high road led up and into them.
A thick fog greeted them as they awoke, everything was covered in dew.
“Good morning.” Sovos said cheerily. Kurt nodded in greeting.
“So, when will we be there?” Kurt asked, half-asleep and fighting off a yawn.
“It’s about an hour hike up, and then another hour to get there once we get into the valley. Hopefully this fog will lift before then.”
“I can’t tell you, it would spoil the surprise for you three newcomers.” Sovos said.
“Spoil the surprise? What surprise?” Kurt thought to Sig.
“How should I know? I can’t see through this fog any better than you can.”
After a quick breakfast, they began to hike up the road, taking care not to step off the steep drop on either side. Within the hour they crested over into the valley. Kurt eagerly looked around, but saw nothing in the fog.
“Well?” he demanded “Where are they?”
“Hold your horses there, until the fog lifts, we won’t be able to see it.” Sovos waved him off
“It? I thought there were three of them?”
“It’s a bit of a misnomer, I grant you. But yes, the Three Cities is actually one city divided into three sections.”
“Separated by what? Rivers? Canals?” Elysia asked.
“Separated by nothing actually.” Sovos said. She gave a confused look. “Don’t worry, you’ll see soon enough. The wind seems to be freshening.” Sovos said as he gestured across the valley.
A stiff wind blew the fog cover to tatters, allowing columns of sunlight to break through to the ground. The sight took Kurt’s breath away. The gleam of a virtual spiderweb of brass and copper piping glinted across to where they stood, steam and smoke rose from all the sections of the city in all shades of white, gray and black. What took Kurt most by surprise though, was the fact that all of this was floating over a thousand feet above the valley floor.
The three sections of the city looked like titanic stalactites of solid mud-colored stone. As if a god had broken them off from inside a cave. A pale bluish-green light shone from the bottom point of each section. Large spirals were cut into the sides, making an unbroken road from just above the light at the bottom all the way to the flat top. Countless rope bridges connected each section to the next.
“How?” was all Kurt managed to say.
“First, let me be the first to welcome you three to the Three Cities. Second, as for how, the Three Cities is my people’s greatest achievement. Which is rather ironic, because most of us are scared to death of heights. If you were wondering about the floating aspect of it, it is due to a very special crystal called Volocite, Etherium, or Levitation Stone, depending on whom you ask. The largest one ever found was cut into three equal pieces and used to float the city.”
“Where did the stone come from?” Elysia asked, still transfixed by the scene before them.
“No one knows where the Volocite came from, that secret as been lost to the ages, as for the city though, Geomancers quarried the stone from just beyond the valley. As they left the ground, the resulting void caused the Blood River to divert and make Three Point Lake.”
“How do we get up there?” Kurt asked
“Quarter-hourly balloons take everything and everyone up and down. Once we get up there, watch your step. Figuratively and literally. It may be a nice place, but the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. And if you slip, you’ll have a long time to wave good-bye.”
“What kind of shops are there?”
“Any kind you could want, and some you don’t. The best magic market this side of the Ice is here. It’s full of every kind of magic there is. And most you would do well to avoid.”
“You mean Necromancy, don’t you?” Elysia said accusingly.
“No, by the thinking of the world, the magic I’m referring to is much worse than that.”
“So, I’ll still be okay though?” Elysia suddenly asked.
“There she goes again, only thinking of herself.” Sig thought
“Sig, don’t be rude. She has more reason than most to be concerned about her safety.”
“As long as you stay close and keep your hood up, you’ll be fine.” Sovos said in an assuring way. “It’ll take about another hour to get to the balloons, so let’s get going.”
Kurt looked at the city again, and his smile faded. A twinge of unease went through his mind, as if he had stumbled into a wolf’s den.
The Man looked into the fog. He was growing impatient, it had been days since he had arrived. Still no target. And after what he had done to a beggar who had given him a false positive, his leads had dried up. A stiff wind broke the fog cover and allowed light into the city. He looked into the foothills, toward the road that led into the valley. There seemed to be three people standing at the crest and looking at the city, but at this distance, it was hard to tell. ‘Hmm….maybe that’s them.’ he thought in a bored way. He turned away and began his daily patrol, always on the lookout for the target.