Lady Sonea stayed with me during her visit, but I didn’t see her very much at all during the summer. She would rise early in the morning, scribble away at notes, and then vanish into the Academy administration building for hours on end, only to return home for a quick bite before heading back. It continued like this for weeks, and then months. I missed the Summer Festival, but Appoleon wrote that he couldn’t have gone anyway with all the stuff happening in the Order. So things progressed until classes had started again, and one day I found a shocking headline in the paper that made me feel rather relieved.
Princess Ailyn Returns from the Forgotten Realm: Fleet spotted sailing toward Lordaeron
The future Queen was coming home. I had no doubt that folks in the capital would be preparing a grand celebration to welcome home their triumphant hero. It would probably take at least a week for the fleet to actually reach the city. I contemplated the idea of heading to the capital to surprise Appoleon and see the fleet returning, but I dismissed it soon enough. I knew he was an apprentice of the Crystal Blae. This would be a big event for them.
When Lady Sonea returned from her daily routine, I was quick to show her the headline. I was about to explain that summoning Appoleon wouldn’t be worth it anymore, but when she looked over the piece of paper I saw her face practically crumple into a teary mess.
“What just happened?” I asked, stepping over to her as she struggled to find a seat.
She was openly weeping now.
“I knew it was coming,” she said between sobs. “I just didn’t know it would be so soon.”
“Sonea,” I started. “I don’t understand. You knew Ailyn would be coming back?”
“Sionis Sepher,” she said looking up at me with tear-stained eyes. “The end is nearly here.”
“The end? What do you mean?”
She stood and looked back at the headline. “Time is short. I have to make sure the pieces are in place. Sionis, you said a young woman took your wand, right? She stole it?”
I nodded. “That’s right.”
With a flash of light, she was gone.
I went to bed that night, haunted by the words she had spoken before she left.
The end is here? What did that mean?
The next day, I woke and headed to breakfast, only to find Sonea at the table, still furiously writing several letters. When she realized I had entered the room she leaned back and gave me a gentle smile.
“Good morning,” she said. “I hope you’re well?”
“Sonea, let’s not pretend yesterday didn’t happen.”
She frowned. “No? It’ be easier.”
“No,” I confirmed. “What’s going on?”
Sonea appeared to struggle with this question. I could tell that she had an answer, but she just couldn’t seem to find the words.
“It’s about the Princess, the Yunai, and the virus. Frankly, I don’t know what I can and cannot say,” she blurted to me. “It’s hard, you know?”
“You’re going to have to say more than that,” I grumbled. “Because that doesn’t make any sense. No sense at all.”
“I can’t,” she said, pursing her lips. “I’m sworn to secrecy by powers that even I not dare test.”
“So the Yunai were behind the virus? We know that?”
Sonea didn’t respond.
“Sonea, please. You have to help me out here.”
“Yes, the Yunai are behind the virus. A particularly ruthless Yunai with a name I wouldn’t dare speak in this place or any other. A mastermind that has pierced the aether and seeks our total destruction.”
“How can you possibly know all of this?” I asked.
Sonea looked at him, pain etched on her face. “I… I can’t.”
“This is insane. You’re torturing me.”
“What you need to understand is that what I am doing is for the good of our world. Soon, you’re going to have to travel to a far away place, farther than anyone from our realms has gone before. What comes next will be crucial to my success. In a sick and twisted way, I have to make the most horrible things happen so that I can have a shot at survival.”
“Are you in danger? Sonea… have the Yunai taken you? We can get you help.”
Sonea’s eyes darted left and right. “No, I’ve already spoken too much. I must go. I’m sorry, Sionis. I truly am. I must go to the academic board.”
“Please, Sonea, you can talk to me,” I pleaded to her. “I get what you’re saying. The virus isn’t over, the Yunai are still out there. I understand that, but I don’t understand what’s happening with you. I want to help you… survive. Let me help you.”
She stopped at the doorway of my apartment and looked back at me. “Hopefully, you already have.”
With that, she walked out.
Frustrated, I got my things and headed to class. Angus was teaching us one of the finer elements of tapping into aetherial energy to use it like fuel in the flame. I certainly didn’t want to miss that one.
Unfortunately, my frustration was proving to get the best of me. Sonea’s strange prophetic words made no sense, or at least they could make sense, assuming that she had somehow seen the future, which made no sense either. So, visions maybe? Had she peered into the aether and seen something? I contemplated it the entire lesson, and when I went to leave, I heard Angus shuffling my way.
“Sionis,” Angus called to me after our lesson. “Come here boy, I’d like to speak with you.”
“Ah,” I grumbled, stepping up to his desk. “I apologize, Professor, my mind simply—”
“What do you know of Lady Evanor?”
“Have you worked with her? Spoken to her?”
“I have,” I replied honestly. “She’s the school’s perfect role model. I don’t quite fit into that paradigm. Not to mention she is studying well above my level if I recall correctly?”
Angus frowned. “Of course, of course. Apologies.”
“Why do you ask, Professor?”
Angus shrugged ever so slightly. “It’s nothing but rumor as I understand it, but I have heard the young woman is putting together an expedition to cascading mountains.”
“Really?” I asked. “The Evanor I knew wasn’t one to take expeditions, especially to a place like that. Aren’t the cascading mountains just massive water drenched mountains that tower at the end of the world?”
“That’s the prevailing opinion. They’ve launched balloons, for research, and they claim the mountains ascend higher than the astral barrier,” Angus replied. “Only an adventurer will find out.”
I had not done a lot of studying about the far reaches of Azirin. I knew that explorers had set out centuries ago, mapping every inch of the realms. They found that our entire world was inside of massive walls. Their shapes were mostly squared, like compartments walled off with massive openings that we could travel through. These massive walls served as the borders between realms, and our civilization was nestled within them. At the top of the walls, there was a barrier as well, like a ceiling that showed light from a great source during the day, and thousands of speckling lights at night. Philosophers and others debated in the barrier was clear, or solid, made of glass or some other metal, and so on and so forth. I had never paid it any attention before, and I know that Lady Evanor couldn’t have cared less.
“It seems odd that a student of magic would lead such an expedition?” I pressed.
“The Academy has approved her efforts and she has secured funding and ships from her family fortune and many nobles of the northern realms,” Angus stated. “I hear she’s openly recruiting other students and professors to come with her. Honestly, it all seems a little bit doom and gloom. Some say she’s fleeing the virus in case it flares up again.”
“I see,” I said, thinking again of Sonea’s words. “So she’s going to flee to the end of the world. If nothing is out there, where will she go?”
Angus smiled. “Well, that’s just it. She’s got something special up her sleeves that requires the skills of some Flamecallers. I’ve been asked to join her. I’d like to have you come too, as my apprentice.”
“Seriously? You want me to come with you, to sail out to the far end of our known world… because Lady Evanor has some kind of special plan in place once we get there?”
“I’ve actually witnessed a test run a few weeks ago. It’s spectacular.”
“Angus,” I said, feeling incredibly frustrated. “I am not going to be playing a game here. If you want me to come along with you, then you have to tell me everything. I will not be kept in the dark.”
“Fair enough, I don’t suppose Evanor would mind, since you’ll have to know sooner or later anyway. Let me start with a simple question. What do you know about the airships of Derktesh?”
I raised a curious brow. “I’ve only read about them. Flying boats or something. Animal bladders filled with hot air or something, makes it lift up…”
My voice trailed as I suddenly understood.
“We’re going to fly?” I asked.
Angus was grinning now. “It’ll be the adventure of a lifetime. I can’t say I understand the specifics, Sionis, but this expedition has the blessing of Udiria, Lederan, Stonehaven… everyone. Whatever we get up to out there, it’s going to be an adventure.”
I felt sick to my stomach, but I knew where I belonged. “Okay,” I said. “Yeah, count me in.”