The rev of the old bike's engine rattled through the dense breeze in her face. Despite the heavy winds, however, the hot sun still managed to soak through to her bones. In any case, she consoled herself, the sooner she arrived, the sooner she could get out of the damnable heat.

The salt flats spread fiercely in all directions, as if to protest her dream of deliverance, insisting upon their own inescapable infinity. Even so, Lacy still knew; she may not have ever been there before, but just beyond the mountain pass was the next town—the academy, too. And an Aeon, she reminded herself.

Held tightly in one of her saddlebags, lest they flutter off free into the air, were the papers that declared Lacy a new instructor at the academy. It had taken some finagling, calling in favors from old acquaintances she knew wouldn't snitch, to put herself in such a position. When the compass-director had made it apparent that the next closest Aeon was in Soliloquy, she packed her bags and gathered all the resources she could. If for no other reason than that it would be exciting to really be a part of a school for the first time, Lacy knew joining the faculty would give her the best bird's-eye-view of the situation without attracting attention—well, not too much attention.

As she approached the mountains, the beige flats remained the same, and drawing closer to the unimaginably dense wall of rock that separated her from her destination seemed only to make the world hotter; heat seemed to emanate from the mountains themselves, like the coals of an oven or the wood of a fire. With a startling blast, however, she entered the nearly pitch-black tunnel ahead—a leftover from the old world, back before heaven's fall—which took her and the hazy, heated air through the mountains. The tight space seemed only to compress the heat into something far worse, but by the end of the tunnel, the deliverance she had been expecting arrived at last.

With all the force of a punch to the face, the hot air evaporated into a cool atmosphere, and the salt flats were replaced by lush green sprawls of pasture, and densely packed spreads of forestry, with bubbling treetops to greet her like waving hands as Lacy drove in on the old freeway. Dead ahead was the sea, bringing in the cool breeze, which was trapped by the mountain range now over her shoulders; and between her and the sea, her destination—the city of Soliloquy, in which the academy awaited.

Slowing her bike to a more reasonable pace, Lacy entered Soliloquy's city limits. Perhaps calling Soliloquy a city was a bit generous, she realized as she drove farther in. There were towering buildings, and some shorter structures, old garages and what must have been banks and parking garages, but most of it was desolate, decrepit, and dead. The modest population of Soliloquy remained gathered toward the center of the old city, occupying and repurposing some of the bigger buildings into homes and a market. While this rebuilt pseudo-city was leaps and strides more cosmopolitan and developed than most of the other dives Lacy had gone through before, it still lacked anything like what the old city must have used to have, back when it still belonged to the old world. Now, it was like the body of an elephant, occupied by the spirit of a lion—even so, a lion's spirit the people truly were.

Catching understandable looks from many of the residents on her way, Lacy nevertheless didn't stop her bike until she reached her last stop. Rolling to a gradual halt, the bike's motor rumbling the frame between her legs, she looked up at what would be her home for the time being—the high-rising academy of Soliloquy. The tallest towers, in what had been the downtown area of this city with a forgotten name, had been reclaimed by the people and put to thorough use. The settlers of Soliloquy wanted their new settlement to revive the better institutions of their old world, before heaven's fall had demolished most of humanity. That meant industry, yes, but also education. And thus, in that vein, among Soliloquy's first projects was this, the academy. Several of the gray towers had been demarcated for classrooms, labs, and dorms, their insides cleaned out and then refurnished with more appropriate furniture and supplies, their outsides cleaned of the presumptuous vines and other greenery which had crawled their way up the building's faces in the meantime. It was a reclamation if there ever was one, only instead of reclaiming some natural spread from the industrializing wake of humanity—as was the inclination of many of the old world—this was the very opposite, the people's way of telling nature no when she attempted to retake them into her featureless undulations, to give the rest of the universe the impression that their own forms and creations might somehow be under her authority.

To Lacy, it felt like an insult that an Aeon might try to turn this place against the people.