The next day, Saenni was woken by the early morning rays. Her room was generous and pulsing with magic. There was nothing that wasn't infused with highly potent magic in the room or the area at all, she noted. The room she had been given had a large balcony facing the valley, and she sat on the railing watching the sun climb higher and casting a soft glow on the already vibrant tree.
She stared at the massive tree, taking in the shifts in the energy moving around it. The energy made the air heavy. It moved over her scales comfortably, seeping into her person and replenishing her strength in a way that she hadn't felt previously. By the time someone knocked on the door behind her, her mind had grown fuzzy and her body felt lighter than it had before.
The same woman from the day before stood on the other side of the door, smiling slightly as Saenni opened the door. 'Good morning, my lady. Please follow me and I'll show you to the dining room. Lord Jaque is waiting for you there.'
Saenni nodded and followed her down the hallway. 'What is your role here in Magina?'
'I am one of Lord Jaque's assistants, with focus on the educational area for the young magi.'
'Does your work always entail guiding guests? I would imagine that doesn't usually fall under education.'
Yaniwa laughed lightly. 'I personally asked for the assignment when we felt your presence. It's an honour to be able to meet with the great dragon of legend, after all. Maybe I can keep the students' attention a little bit longer if I boast that I've met with you.'
'I see,' Saenni chuckled. 'Then, by all means, show the way.'
It was easier for Saenni to spot the magical currents now, seeing where they converged and formed openings to other parts of the castle. When they stepped through one of them, she noted the change in pressure on her person. She paused on the other side and looked back the way they had come, causing Yaniwa to pause and turn back to look at her.
'Is there something wrong?'
'That hallway is further away than this makes it out to be, correct?'
Yaniwa smiled and nodded. 'Yes, it's on the other side of the castle. Not many realise it so quickly, even our students have to study for several years before they start to identify it properly. May I ask what you picked up on?'
'The pressure when stepping through. It's different here than in that hallway.'
'Interesting,' she hummed. 'Do you feel the magic around here as a different kind of pressure than outside of Magina?'
'Yes. It's heavier here, like a blanket.'
'Lady Yaniwa,' Jaque said pointedly from the other end of the hallway. 'I hope you're not bothering our honourable guest with too many questions.'
She gave Saenni an apologetic smile. 'I apologise if I have bothered you, my lady.'
'Not at all. I'd want to learn more about how you teach and use magic.'
'That can be arranged,' Jaque said easily as he stepped up to them. 'Do you wish to have something to eat or would you like to go straight to the tour?'
'The tour. Thank you,' she added to Yaniwa as Jaque opened a door that led out into the courtyard. Yaniwa smiled at her and bowed politely as they left the hallway. 'Where are we starting?'
He indicated a large, circular stone slab in the centre of the courtyard. When they stepped onto it, the edge of the slab glowed with various symbols–faded greens, blues, and oranges making the air shimmer. He moved his hand in sweeping fashion and the stone vibrated beneath their feet. It rose into the air effortlessly, carrying them high above the ground within seconds.
'This is the main building of the magi high seat,' Jaque said and indicated where they had come from. 'The leaders of Magina live and work here. Everything that goes on in this country is recorded and decided upon here, and all young magi attend the university located just over there,' he pointed towards another mountain top, where Saenni could see an equally grand and magically complex structure.
The slab moved through the air, towards the majestical tree. She reached out beyond the edge and felt the rush of air over her scales. 'Is this protection part of the stone or is it your doing?'
'Both. I supply the energy for the shield to remain steady, but the function was added to it a long time ago. This was used as transportation back in the day before we learnt to connect two places with each other. Today we use it mostly for visitors, such as yourself.'
'How far can you connect places?'
'Not far. The longer the distance, the more energy and skill is required. We have one doorway between the high seat and the university, sustained by a type of energy crystal that is resupplied with energy every day to keep the connection stable.'
'What happens to you if the connection isn't stable?'
He gave a slight shrug. 'The moment you step through the portal your body would be torn to a million pieces, effectively you would die a quick but agonising death. So we use other means of travel for longer distances. None quite as spectacular as your own, of course. You made quite the entrance.'
'I just flew,' she said with a shrug as they neared the tree, the stone descending gently.
'We have layers upon layers of protection spells, some reinforced my magi themselves in times of need. You flew through them all without breaking a sweat, killing a handful of magi as you did.'
'I apologise. I wasn't aware.'
He shook his head. 'It matters little. They have already been replaced. This way,' he said as the slab came to a rest on a square at the foot of the tree. He led the way to the tallest building, nodding to a few who stopped to stare once they noticed her. 'This is the Life Tree, or Tree of Life, of Origin Tree. It has many names, but it is from which all magical energies in the world originate. Thousands of years ago, the first magi settled here and built the foundation of the nation we are today. Excluding the elves, nearly all humans with magical abilities are citizens of Magina today.'
'How is that possible? I was under the impression magical abilities could appear in anyone, not only in the same bloodline.'
'It is true. We have a section of magi dedicated to identifying and locating people and bring them here.'
'Against their will?'
He sighed and pushed open the door. 'It is dangerous for everyone if untrained magi run loose. Here they have people who know what they are going through, who can help them learn, and stop them if need be.'
Saenni followed him to the top floor of the building, where they stepped through a door that led out onto a narrow wooden bridge attached to the trunk of the tree. 'The children who are brought there, do you allow their parents to join them?'
'Are you asking if we have any humans living here? No.'
'They would not fit in here. Every part of our society is dependant on magic, from transport to agriculture to something as simple as borrowing a book. They would become a burden on the country as a whole, and their lives here would be miserable. Not to mention that prolonged exposure to such thick magical energy can impact the human mind, make them sick.'
'So you take children from their parents and force them here,' Saenni commented as she followed him into the large room that had been carved inside the trunk.
'Their lives are better here. We have everything they might need, and they don't have to struggle through life and deal with human stupidity. People who understand them, and the freedom to pursue whichever topic they wish. They have every choice they could want here.'
'Except for the choice of if they want to be here or not.'
'No society is perfect, Lady Saenni,' Jaque replied and stepped over to the pedestal in the middle of the circular hall. 'We can only strive to get as close as possible. No matter what, magi need other magi. You can judge us all you want, but this is how the world has remained in balance.' He swiped a hand over the clear stone merged with the surface of the pedestal, causing it to glow a bright blue. The light folded around itself until an outline of Magina hovered between them, the Life Tree and the valley highlighted in gold. 'This is Magina. We have remained like this from the very beginning of our existence, while the humans have fought over land like petty beggars, and kingdoms have risen and fallen before we even had the chance to register their existence. We have never expanded beyond this border, nor have we involved ourselves in their wars. Yet they have frequently attempted to breach our border to claim these lands as their own, unprovoked. We had to raise the barrier to keep ourselves safe.'
'Was this before or after you began to forcefully move children?' Saenni asked as she watched the image shift, several spots beginning to glow gold.
'Before. These spots are some of our cities, where many of our citizens live and work. We have smaller towns spread out that aren't indicated here, of course, but these are the main ones. We are not an evil people, Lady Saenni. We wished only to be left alone.'
'Wished?' she echoed.
'There is no use denying that the time for the prophecy has arrived. We can no longer afford to sit idly by while the humans ruin any chance for real peace we have. We will unify this land and end the useless wars once and for all.'
'You will go to war to end wars.'
'Yes. If the humans refuse to acknowledge their foolish ways, we will have to force them to take accountability. Those who go willingly, who want peace, will have nothing to fear from us.'
'And who decides where the lines go?'
'We have already established a council of magi who specialise in philosophical topics to address that issue. In the end, they will be the ones to decide that.'
'No,' he said and moved his hand over the stone once more, and the light disappeared. 'I will be busy enforcing it. I do not want to split my focus. Please, follow me,' he said and motioned to the small door with black markings to her right.