Episode 24: The Beginning of the End

      I spent the rest of the summer wallowing over my lost wand. Sonea had given it to me so long ago and I’d kept it boxed up and hidden away. I never took to wands in the first place, but even when it was required, I had purchased a simple wand in Dalaran to use in class because I didn’t want anything to happen to my gift. Why I had chosen to bring it to the city with me was beyond me. In hindsight, I imagine all stupid decisions look far more stupid than they did in the moment.

      It took me about a month to build up the courage to write to Sonea and tell her of the events that had taken place. When I got her response, I nearly laughed aloud. Like any good guardian, her first words were about how glad she was that I was okay. Like Appoleon, she said she would speak to people she knew in the city and try to find the lost wand, but that she would give up every magical artifact she owned if it meant that I was kept safe.

      Once I had her letter, things eased up a bit. I still held myself accountable for that strange night, but classes were about to start and my studying once again took the highest priority.

      It looked like it was going to be another easy year for me, with Angus still praising me for my efforts and encouraging me to tackle the higher difficulty spells that were only available to the more advanced.

      The winter air came early that year, the twentieth winter since the Yunai first arrived.

      There were set to be celebrations for the fall festivals, but they were cancelled due to the unexpected freezing air that descended on Udiria. By the time we closed out the fall harvest you would have thought we were in the middle of winter’s harsh grip. Until now, the winters in Azirin had been shockingly predictable, which only made all of this sudden cold more unsettling for everyone.

      Then, a month into the onset of our early frost, something awful happened.

      Rumors of some sick farmers being brought to the city spread through the dorms like wildfire. The Academy admitted it was true, that the sick had arrived, and they were being held at the infirmary. It seemed like nothing to fear, as many times sick individuals were brought to Udiria for treatment, but these farmers had been close to the town of Anthum, which meant they had been brought rather far for treatment. Of course, that wasn’t necessarily shocking. If the farmers had been cursed, or something magical in nature, it might explain why Udiria had such an interest.

      In time, more rumors began to pour from the citadel.

      The farmers were violently ill, and they were getting worse by the minute.

      To make matters worse, at that same time, we had one of the worst freezes Udiria has ever experienced. An apprentice was found in a courtyard, dead. They said it was hypothermia that got him, the poor soul, but that didn’t stop rumors that the sickness was contagious.

      The next word from the Academy was that the farmers had died.

      I thought this was good. That meant they’d bury the bodies and we’d move on with life.

      Nothing could have been farther from the truth.


      Soldiers.

      Armed soldiers were soon surrounding the Academy. The whole facility went into lockdown. Students in the dorms were ordered to remain in their rooms. I wasn’t allowed on campus. I have never seen a city in such a panic.

      Suddenly, citizens all over the city decided they needed to travel. They had family in Stonhaven, or they had always wanted to see the Lederan in the winter. The city’s leadership was forced to order a halt on travel while everything was figured out.

      The next thirty six hours were horrifying.

      Then, as abruptly as it started, it ended.

      The soldiers stood down, the students were allowed to leave, and the leadership of the Academy prepared a public speech.

      The farmers had been cursed and died very suddenly. With the death of a Udirian citizen in the cold, they worried the sickness might be contagious, but had now confirmed that was not the case. Despite the unfortunate nature of the curse, and the deaths of the farmers, the city was safe.

      That story would have been good enough for me, but it was just too perfect for some of the others. Soon enough, whispers spread through the halls once again.

      It was a something new, not a normal illness, something tainted with the magical energy that the Yunai twisted and controlled. It was, supposedly, unlike anything we’d seen before.

      When the farmers had been on their deathbed, they had suddenly changed their behavior. They spoke of a dark deity and attacked their own friends, families, and the medics. The farmers were killed by security, but the victims they had attacked soon fell ill as well, and they too changed before the end. Something was controlling them, it seemed, but only when their bodies were too weak to fight it. It sounded like a story straight out of a horror novel.

      Was such a plague even possible? If it was magical in nature… did this mean the Yunai had returned?

      My attention to my studies was completely broken. I wrote a letter to Maron, explaining what I’d heard, but after I sent it I was contacted by the Udirian authorities who said they had temporarily halted communication exiting the northern realm, just until more light could be shed on the subject of the rumors.

      Things only got worse after that, as the rumors turned into facts.

      A terrible plague was spreading across the entire realm, and somehow, the Yunai were involved.

      When I read about the destruction of another major settlement where the Order of the Crystal Blade had a stronghold, I wrote to Appoleon at the capital just to find out if he was well. He had quickly responded that all was well, that the nightmare was real, but it would be dealt with and the Yunai wouldn’t get far with this plan.

      From the news, it sounded like the world might be ending, but every morning I still got up, had breakfast, and went to class. The city of Udiria remained largely unaffected by the terror that spread in the north. Our grain and cattle came from the western regions, so our supplies were not constrained as they were becoming in the capital city.

      Angus, fueled by the news, began to teach with an increased fervor, showing me and the fellow students some of his most challenging spells. We utterly failed at producing the same results, but he encouraged us to practice, reminding us that a Flamecaller would be an expert at combating something like a plague.

      Magical or not. Fire was a cleansing power… a purging power.

      I was still torn about whether I should be panicked or not when the biggest news reached our magical city.

Devastation in Scarhelm: The Order of the Crystal Blade Battles the Plague

      I looked at the headline and saw burning wreckage in the image. The news was devastating. The entire city of Scarhelm had been infected. A small army of ill, and unwilling citizens, had risen against the Order of the Crystal Blade. They had fought back, cutting down hundreds of innocent souls that had been claimed by this mysterious power. The Order also isolated the Yunai responsible for the entire plague. A citizen of Scarhelm had been claimed by the Yunai, a term we called a Shadowsleeper. The Yunai had forced them to create the plague, allowing them to then control more people as the sickness spread. In the end, it was Princess Ayla, heir to the throne of Lederan, that fought and defeated the Yunai using her own crystal blade.

      Many of the Order of the Crystal Blade joined with Princess Ayla as she gathered a military force and marched for the mountains of the forgotten realm beyond the borders of Lederan. She claimed the Yunai were still in motion, building up for a new war that would assault us from unseen locations. Those that remained went to work on cleaning up the lands, finding pockets where the Yunai virus had spread, and quickly went to work in putting it down. Without the control of the Yunai, those who were infected seemingly became mad, then died, but they did not purposely spread the virus.

      We all waited for more news, we waited to hear that the plague had survived, that we hadn’t thought of something, that we were still doomed, but the news ever came. Slowly, the situation calmed.

      The horror stories ended.

      No more major cities fell to the Yunai. There were still losses, still concerns, but they dropped to the levels they had before this had started, when people worried about normal things, like what they would eat for dinner tomorrow.

      I recall, I even went to one more party that school year.


TO BE CONTINUED…

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