After staying in his room for four weeks, Aviir finally arrived one day to tell Dan has was free to go.
“You’re free to explore the Citadel for today, but at dusk you must return here for the night. In the morning you will leave with a convoy to begin your training. Don’t be late in returning here,” Aviir warned as Dan scrambled for the door. “Vydar has a strict curfew over the Citadel. You must be back here by dark.”
Dan nodded his understanding, but didn’t wait any longer. He had been itching to get out since he decided he wasn’t in SR. He stepped through the open doorway and set off down the hall in the same direction he had gone four weeks ago. He started out walking, but as he turned the corner, his excitement overpowered him, and he ran to the wide doors and threw them open.
The massive hall was exactly as it had been when Dan had first seen it. Humans and one or two soulborgs were walking past, here and there kyrie and humans leaned against one wall, talking quietly, and overhead kyrie flew, speeding over the milling crowd.
Dan plunged in instantly.
A barrage of faces paraded past Dan, each perfectly detailed, one after the other. The floor reverberated with the footsteps of a hundred people. Dan had very little doubt now that this was real. Part of him still didn’t want to admit it, because it meant he was further away from Heleer, but he couldn’t deny what his senses were telling him.
Dan had a plan. He had thought of it weeks ago, and now he was ready to act on it. The first step to getting back to Heleer was to go to Vydar and ask if he would do it. Dan doubted he would, but it would be stupid not to at least try. So after turning on the spot, Dan found two kyrie standing nearby, and made his way over to them.
Four weeks ago, Dan would have interrupted them without a second thought, just as he had done every time he talked to someone in SR. But now that he knew this was all real, he was having to rethink the way he approached everyone and everything. For that reason, he stood by, and waited until one of the kyrie looked up.
“Could you tell me where Vydar’s audience chamber is?” Dan asked. Aviir had mentioned the room.
The kyrie looked at him blankly.
The female kyrie he had been speaking with took a step forwards. “I’m sorry,” she said, “he doesn’t speak any English. You want to go down this hall until it forks, take the right turn, and it’s the first big room on your left. You can’t miss it: there’s always a guard on duty in front of the door.”
Dan nodded his thanks, and rejoined the crowd, allowing himself to be swept down the hall. Soon he came to a fork as the kyrie had said, where the hall split into two, one branch continuing straight forwards, and the other making a sharp right turn. Dan turned to follow the right-hand fork, but then stopped as a ray of light struck him in the face.
It was sunlight, but Dan had never seen real sunlight. He covered his eyes with his hands, and squinting, tried to find the source of the light. He quickly spotted a shaft of brilliant light-orange light pouring from the nearest window. Wondering what was causing it, he stepped right up to the wall, and looked out.
Shock dulled all senses.
Dan had never seen the real sun. The SR Unit had included a brilliant ball of light in the sky, certainly, but apparently they had been unable to duplicate the piercing brilliance of the sun, the way its rays smote you without warning, and the way you can never look directly at it. Perhaps doing so would have simply been too bright for the SR Unit. Dan didn’t know. Neither did he care. Since he couldn’t look directly at the sun, he stared in overwhelmed wonder at everything it touched.
Dan had seen all manner of landscapes in SR, but now that he knew what he saw was real, it was like seeing it for the first time. The sun was nearing the horizon, and its slanting rays cast long shadows over the massive city spread out below Dan like a giant map. One side of the buildings was illuminated with fiery light, and the other side was dipped in the deepest of shadows. Dan could see streets laid out like spider webs, the smallest of black dots moving across those which were lit up by the sun. A wall encircled the whole of the city, and beyond that, there was… nothing. Just green hills, now dark in the hours before dusk, stretching on endlessly forever.
Dan felt like he was being sucked out of the window as he stared at the endless hills, trying to see something – anything – beyond them. And then he did: a lone dot on the horizon, flying slowly through the air. Dan decided it must be a kyrie, though there was no way to tell at this distance. The dot circled once, twice, and then dipped below the horizon, disappearing beyond the hills, leaving only the deep blue of the true sky SR could never imitate, vast and unending, stretching from horizon to horizon.
Dan gripped the edge of the window hard as he stared into the sky, partially because that old sense of being about to fall into it remained, and partially because excitement was overwhelming every part of his body.
If any doubt had remained, it was gone now: this was real. Every single pinprick of light Dan saw was real. Every little particle he touched was real. It was all real. And there were no walls. Dan could see it all. He could touch it all.
He was free.
After a few minutes, Dan realized that if the sun was setting, he didn’t have much time to find Vydar. His mind still reeling with the view he had seen, he set off down the hall, keeping an eye out for a room guarded by a kyrie.
As he walked though, a realization was beginning to form: he didn’t want to go back to Isadora. All that awaited him were gray walls and cameras. Here there was color, here there were no walls. Here he was free. He never wanted to return to Isadora. The only thing which could bring him back was Heleer, and he knew now what he would do:
He wouldn’t ask Vydar to send him back. He would ask Vydar to summon Heleer to Valhalla instead.