I spent the better part of the week thinking over what Angus had said about the expedition and about what Sonea had told me when she said that the virus wasn’t over. I had initially brought up the expedition to Sonea, but she had been tight lipped on anything since she’d talked to me at the breakfast table that morning. So, instead, I had written to Maron about the whole thing. His letter was due to arrive any day, but then the messenger arrived from the capital of Lederan, and everything changed.
The Princess had returned as expected. The parades had been prepared, the celebrations ready to commence. Instead, from what the messenger had gathered, Princess Ayla had returned to her home under the control of a Yunai, and her entire fleet had been infected with the virus. She had killed her father and burned the capital to the ground.
All the reports coming in from the destruction said that the Princess had seemingly been in control of herself, and in total control of all the infected. Unlike the last time they had dealt with the sick and infected, these soldiers seemed stronger and more aggressive. To make matters worse, each soldier that fell to the enemy seemingly stood up and joined ranks with their enemy. The capital never stood a chance.
The leadership of Udiria had thought about restricting this news, but they soon realized it would do them little good. Instead, they announced it to us all publicly. The Princess, as they saw it, had fallen to the Yunai on her mission to the forgotten realms. The Yunai had taken her mind as it would serve them to have someone of such notoriety in their grasp. Lederan had fallen. The north would descend into total chaos without that support structure in place.
I tried to take in the news. There was just too much for me to comprehend. Princess Ayla had been a heroic figure for almost all of us. She had her own crystal blade, and she had always made a point of connecting with her subjects. She had stopped the virus before. Thinking that she had been taken by the enemy and turned into a weapon… it was tragic.
Additionally, Appoleon had been at the capital when the Princess had arrived.
That night, I wept.
Like the guardian angel I had once known, Sonea seemingly appeared from nowhere and covered me in her arms. Holding me as I cried for the loss of my friend, for so many innocents, and for the end of the world that I knew.
“Is this what you meant?” I asked. “When you said the end was near?”
“No,” Sonea said, a tear running down her own face. “This is only the beginning for you.”
“Please,” I begged again. “Don’t talk to me in riddles. Tell me what you know.”
Sonea shook her head. “Stay strong, young Sionis. That’s the only advice I can give.”
I didn’t sleep that night.
The morning came, and like any other morning, the world continued to spin on. It’s funny to me, because in the novels and stories, the world always just sort of ends suddenly. Here in Udiria, things seemed the same as ever. The cows were brought in for the slaughter, students went to school, and businesses were open and operating. It didn’t make sense to me. The kingdoms were falling, our heroes were dead. Weren’t we all supposed to be running for our lives?
In class, my fellow students had lost their resolve. For me, the pain from the loss of my friend made my fire magic glow stronger than ever. Angus, truly impressed by my skill, once again called out to me when he dismissed the others.
“This has been an interesting few days,” he said as the other students filtered out. “Are you packed for our own departure?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Are we sure we should be leaving?”
“I thought hearing about the capital’s destruction would have lit a fire under you,” he replied. “Surely getting out of here for our expedition is of utmost importance now. I can’t pretend that the two are unrelated. Clearly our adventure is a survival mission.”
“Shouldn’t we be staying here to defend our homes?” I asked. “What of Stonehaven, or the Academy?”
“The capital city of Lederan had the strongest, best trained, and most capable military that Azirin has ever seen. They were completely destroyed… in one day. No, if the virus has returned, and the Yunai are here again, then fleeing may be the only way we survive.”
“So this expedition is a retreat?” I posed.
Angus nodded solemnly. “I believe so.”
I felt pained. I couldn’t just leave the world behind because I was scared of the Yunai. I felt my emotions swirling up so I dismissed myself and quickly rushed back home. I couldn’t think about anything right now. I wanted to cry… I wanted to be sick.
When I did arrive home, Lady Sonea was there, still busily scribbling away as she often did. When she heard me close the door she twisted around and gave me a comforting smile. Despite her seemingly quick decent into madness, she always dressed well and spoke calmly. I only wish I truly understood what she was going through. I wondered if her mind had left her, or if she had been touched by the Yunai and it was wrestling with her for control of her mind and body.
“How was class?” she asked.
“Interesting,” I replied. “No one seems to be enjoying themselves anymore.”
“Many people are thinking of the capital.”
She nodded. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“How are you?”
“Confused,” I said honestly. “Angus wants me to get on a ship and sail away.”
“With Evanor’s expedition?”
“You mean Evanor’s lifeboat?” I countered.
“A ticket to the future,” Sonea said calmly.
“Well I won’t be getting on it,” I growled. “Not without the truth.”
Sonea grimaced and then her face relaxed slightly and she took a deep breath. “Fine.”
“Wait. What?” I asked in disbelief. “You’ll tell me?”
“Not all of it,” she said. “Some.”
I couldn’t believe it. I threw down my things and came to sit next to her.
She looked me over for a second and then took another deep breath. “Lady Evanor sails toward destiny with her fleet of survivors, Sionis. You will find more than you imagined in the skies over the cascading mountains, and in this land you will find allies. Together, and only together, will you be strong enough to stop the Yunai.”
“Land,” I said. “We’re sailing to the end of the world. You’re telling me we’re going to float up to find more land? Allies? You can’t be serious.”
“You’re worried you’re running away from the virus, but you’re not,” Sonea said firmly. “You’re sailing toward a war. You’re sailing toward fighting, death, and in the heat of it all you will save all of Azirin.”
“Okay,” I said bluntly. “Let’s say this is all true. How do you know this?”
Sonea closed her eyes. “I am aware of future events yet to come.”
“How? Have you seen a vision?” I asked, trying to understand. “Like tapping into the twisting aether energies? I thought that was forbidden, and highly unreliable?”
Sonea, eyes still closed, only shook her head. “How I saw this future is of little concern. What matters is that I have seen it. I know what will happen.”
“Fine, we’ll all go,” I said. “We can all sail or fly to this new land and fight together.”
A tear slid down Sonea’s face. “That’s not how it works.”
“You cannot change history, lest you risk losing the future you know. I need things to play out as they did the first time. I can’t let anyone deviate.”
“You can’t just stay quiet,” I said, feeling incredulous. “You have a responsibility!”
“If the Yunai figures out what I know, how I know it, our world will be in grave danger.”
“So we’re just going to let this all play out?” I snapped. “You know about the capital’s destruction before it happened. That’s why you kept me here in Udiria?”
“I did. I know that Udiria will soon fall too. Not forever, but for now.”
“I can’t believe you’re serious,” I said angrily. “We need to do something.”
“I am doing something, and so are you. Sionis, you are a wise young man, and I am so very proud of you. I know that you will stop this evil from spreading. I know this, because I have seen it, but even if I were blind to the future, I would be confident in trusting you. If we stop Evanor from going, the survivors she takes will not be there to stop the Yunai. If you take more than should go, you’ll slow the expedition down and the Yunai will prevail. I’ve considered the options, my dear Sionis. This is it. This is the only way forward.”
My gut was twisted in knots. Nothing made sense anymore. I stayed here in the quiet room with Sonea for a few minutes and then stood and went to my room. Behind me, Sonea continued to scribble feverishly against the parchment on the table.
The next day, the ground shook beneath our feet.
A magical messenger appeared in Udiria a few hours later. The second largest kingdom had fallen. The Princess and her mind-controlled army would now set their sights on Udiria. The city had magical defenses that were far more advanced than the other kingdoms, but there was little optimism that they would survive a siege.
Classes were cancelled.
Many of the older professors were put on high alert and called to the attention of the city defenses. Others, like Angus, began packing their belongings. I went to my teacher’s dwelling at the Academy that afternoon, and he opened the door to let me in before rushing back to his wardrobe.
“I leave for Darthmonte this very evening,” he said firmly. “Will you be coming with me?”
I nodded. “I will.”
“Good,” he replied. “These are dark times, Sionis Sepher. I dare say you will be one of the most experienced Flamecallers left in the Academy, if we manage to survive this.”
It was a retreat then, not an expedition, not a mission to save the future. This was the Academy admitting defeat and preparing to flee to safety.
“Should we sail to Stonehaven first?” I asked.
“No,” Angus replied. “Evanor is going straight to the cascading mountains. Time is of great import, and she wants to deploy our airship equipment as soon as she can. I don’t know the details, but there’s something bigger going on. Evanor seems to be planning something for us, and she seems to know far more than she’s letting on. The rumors are aethereal visions, but no one knows for sure.”
“Visions of the future,” I said slowly. “You’re going along with this?”
Angus shrugged. “In a few days, this city will be under siege. We could make for Stonehaven, joint he gathering army, and push against this foe, but if the visions are true… we’re needed elsewhere.”
“And if the visions are wrong…”
“Then we survive, rebuild, figure out what our next move should be,” Angus replied.
“Listen,” Angus added. “You seem to be doubting the mission. Fine. I can live with that. You’re going to have to flee to Darthmonte anyway, so come with me that far, and then if you decide to head to Stonehaven we’ll part ways there with no hard feelings. Does that sound reasonable?”
Internally, I screamed no. Externally, I nodded.
“Good. Now get home and get packing, Sionis. We leave tonight.”