I had expected to travel with a convoy to Darthmonte, but Angus had no time for that, pointing out that there were practically dozens of convoys heading out of Udiria now. Instead, we traveled by horseback. I took Surfal, and Angus had his white steed Snowflake.
Before we left, I sought out Lady Sonea one last time.
She embraced me for what felt like an eternity and then practically pushed me away.
“Goodbye, my little Sionis.”
I tried to respond, but she teleported away before I could get in a single word.
“Come along,” Angus said, his voice heavy with emotion. “Goodbyes only made the wounds hurt a little longer.”
We rode through the night, only taking a short break at sunrise before we rode on against the growing heat. Angus was set in getting us away from the magical city, no doubt because of the warnings that Udiria was the next target for the Yunai.
When we arrived in Darthmonte, we were shocked by what we found. Dozens of small camps had popped up all over the harbor town. Refugees, likely many of which had come right from the capital, were sheltered here.
We used the main road, as crowded as it was, and found the fleet of ships that Evanor had secured for our expedition. There were dozens of them. Many of them bore the flag of Stonehaven, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much the city had contributed to this effort. From a distance, the ships looked absolutely ordinary. There was no sign of any of the upgrades that Angus had referenced.
“Those are supposed to fly?” I asked.
“I suspect they’re using a bit of discretion,” Angus mused. “No need to raise questions.”
I frowned. “Right. We don’t want everyone to know we’re running away.”
Angus shook his head. “It’s too late for that. Why do you think all of these people are here? They’re hoping to go with us. I think people might be more hesitant to jump on an airship, but a good old sailing vessel is a welcome sight.”
“Will we take them all? Can we?”
“We’ll take as many as we can,” Angus said. “We have a fairly large fleet.”
I looked around at the makeshift camps and all the people who were piling up around the edge of town. I didn’t think Angus was right about taking all of these poor souls, but I didn’t know what secret Evanor might have in store, so I silently marched with him to the docks.
At the harbor, Angus found a young sailor, one who was busily trying to maintain a sense of order despite the circumstances.
“Names?” he asked when we approached.
“Angus,” the old man said. “Udirian.”
“Ah,” the man replied. “Got you here.”
“Sionis Sepher,” I said. “Stonehaven.”
The man looked down the list and then nodded. “Right. Here you are. Okay, the two of you will be aboard the ship Silver Sword. It’s one of the larger vessels, down near the end of the harbor. Due to the circumstances, we’ll be setting sail within the next day, so please be ready to board.”
“Circumstances?” I asked.
“A few messengers arrived a few hours ago. Udiria is under assault.”
“What?” Angus asked. “That’s impossible.”
“Lady Evanor confirmed it,” the sailor said. “The city is locked down with magical defensive spells, but the Yunai army is less than a day away from this harbor. The sooner we set sail, the better.”
I couldn’t believe it. Udiria was under attack. I had left just the night before. Had the Yunai been approaching from the north as we rode away?
“Come on, Sepher,” Angus said. “We need to buy some food for the trip.”
The Flamecaller pulled me along until we reached the local tavern. We went inside and found another cramped building, with so many refugees we were barely able to move freely in the structure.
Then I heard someone shout. “Three cheers for Appoleon!”
A crowd of people cheered and glasses clinked, followed by another cheer, and then a third.
“Enough of that,” Appoleon’s familiar voice shouted. “You haven’t stopped cheering since we got here!”
“Appoleon?!” I shouted.
We moved toward one another, slowly, shoving people out of the way until we finally met. Appoleon wrapping me up in a bear hug as soon as he was close enough.
“You’re alive!” I said. “We heard about the capital and I thought the worst.”
“He saved us all,” another man chimed in. “We were done for, but then here comes Appoleon, swinging one of those crystal blades like a true champion of the order. We’d all be dead if not for him.”
“That’s amazing,” I said, astonished. “I’m so happy you’re okay.”
“I can say the same to you,” Appoleon replied. “I assumed you were in Udiria and I just heard they are under siege.”
“They are,” I confirmed. “We left before the attack.”
“Well, Udiria is a strong place. I’m sure they’ll hold off any attacks.”
“Udiria is full of powerful magic, but what kind of magic must the Yunai be using if they destroyed two major kingdoms and their capitals in less than a week?”
“Always the optimist,” Appoleon replied. “So, you’ll be joining the expedition then?”
I looked up at him and nodded. “I will.”
“Good,” Appoleon replied. “I was worried I would have to make a new magical friend.”
I smiled slightly and Appoleon locked onto it. “There he is.”
I felt guilty for the smile. It vanished in a moment. “What now?” I asked.
“If only I knew,” Appleon replied. “We’re running blind, Sepher.”
The next morning, Angus and Appoleon gathered up our supplies while I lead Snowflake and Surfal onto our ship. There were dozens of others that came aboard, as well as tons of supplies that would go with us.
The sunlight was bright and the clear blue sky carried a cold breeze. If I had not known that the world was ending, I would have thought that this was a great day for a walk in the fields of the foothills.
Then, the smell came, burning my nostrils and making my heart stop.
We looked in the distance and saw smoke rising. I knew those were the cattle farms, many of which were nestled nearby to Darthmonte for ease of shipping meat to other cities. The Yunai were marching toward us. Time was running out. We loaded as many as we could. Our ship became so burdened that most of the hull was underwater when we finally untied our ropes and sailed away from the shore. In the distance, we could see it a black line forming. A wall of soldiers approached us from the east. The sight of it was nauseating. These were men, women, children… even animals. All of them had been claimed by a sickness that allowed a Yunai to control their minds, force them to behave in terrible ways, all while the sickness killed their physical body. Seeing it now, truly seeing the horror, I feared we could never beat the Yunai.
I wasn’t alone. The small reserve of soldiers that had volunteered to stay behind and hold off the enemy broke within minutes. Some of them stood their ground, ready to die. Others rushed to the end of the dock, shedding their armor and leaping into the ocean in an attempt to catch up with us. They would never make it, and we couldn’t risk stopping now.
We heard the first of the desperate screams coming from the shore as the Yunai forces assaulted the small town. An hour later, it was water around us in every direction. We had escaped the evil, for now, but what would come next I did not know. My thoughts lingered on what I had seen, and how quickly they would spread. My mind drifted to Stonehaven and my uncle. Such a plague would take time, and I could only hope…
I collapsed against the railing of the ship and tried to hold back the wave of feelings. I should have gone home, I should have put all this behind me and travelled to Stonehaven. I’d be there with Maron to face whatever terror might come against us. Now, I was on my way to an unknown future, and my family would never know what happened to me. Udiria would fall, and Maron would assume I died in the siege. I wondered how long he’d have before the monsters came for him. He was a brave man. He would fight so that others could flee.
I thought of what Sonea had told me in her ramblings. Perhaps what she said was true. If this wasn’t retreating… if I was really marching toward a battle that would save our lands from the darkness, then this wasn’t forever. Once the enemy was defeated we could sail back home and reclaim what we had lost. Then I could go to Stonehaven and surprise Maron. We could go on one of his prized fishing trips without fear of any evil coming to destroy us.
We weren’t giving up.
We were going to fight back.
I just didn’t know how… or when.