Samuel led us out of the depot and onto the streets of Stratica. Even though it was night out, the place was completely lit up. Neon signage and Edison bulbs littered the sidewalk. Shops and eateries as far as the eye could see. Everything sparkled and glistened. Even the shops with dark wooden exteriors glistened with the delicate items in their windows.
“Our main export is metals, gems and minerals, in case you were wondering.” Samuel spoke as he led us to the giant tower at the center of the sanctuary.
The detail of the designs in the street was incredible. Every stone fit perfectly together. Colors and shades formed seamless transitions between designs.
Lines and angles were everywhere. Shocks of colors popped out of gold or wooden surfaces. It was over the top, but some part of me was actually fond of the aesthetic.
Stratica sounded so incredibly alive. Between the chatter of people and the music pouring into the streets, it was clear this was a place of comfort and indulgence. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but in all my years I’d never seen a sanctuary that was so lively. The few I’d been to before Stratica always felt incredibly minimalistic. They survived. But here in Stratica? It was clear these people were living. Truly living as if the world wasn’t dying right outside their door. I both loved and hated it all at once.
Samuel led us into the tower through a revolving door. He and I passed through without a problem but when I realized I was alone beside him, I looked back to find Sylus nervously watching the carousel spin. I got back into the door and pushed it until I was next to him. I held the door open for him and he timidly stepped in beside me. I spun it around until we were inside.
“Not so bad, right?” I tried to calm his nerves.
“Hm.” Was all he said in reply.
The foyer was gilt in gold with green tapestries breaking it up. A long, seamless emerald rug ran from the entrance to an elevator bank as well as stretching down the halls on either side.
Samuel led us into the bank where we waited patiently for an elevator to arrive. I could feel Sylus nervously rocking back and forth. I took his hand and gripped it firmly in mine.
“Why don’t you go up and I’ll port to you?”
I squeezed his hand harder. “It’ll be okay, Sy.”
He bit his lip as one of the elevator doors slid open. Samuel stepped in and held the door open for us.
“Come on.” I pulled Sylus along with me.
He barely fit into the elevator even with jamming himself into a corner. He closed his eyes and I kept holding his hand.
Samuel pressed a button and we began our express journey to the top of the tower.
Sylus clenched his fingers around my own. I rubbed my thumb across the back of his hand.
“It’s okay.” I whispered.
As soon as the door opened again, Sylus burst out of the elevator and doubled over clutching his chest. I stepped out behind him and gently rubbed his back.
“You did great.”
He groaned a bit in response.
Once he was upright again, we followed Samuel into a massive ball room. The floors were polished wood and the walls were adorned with similar golden designs and tapestries as the first floor. Hanging from the ceiling were two large chandeliers adorned with gems and crystals of various colors. At the far side of the hall from us was a stage. I could almost envision people dancing the night away to the sound of a live band.
“Wait here.” Samuel instructed us as he went through a door on the far side of the room.
I turned to Sylus who was clearly struggling. “You okay?”
He was wringing his hands together while his tentacles hung limply behind him.
“Hey,” I hooked my arm around his. “Once this is over we can get some rest, okay?”
He nodded stiffly.
The door through which Samuel had left us burst open.