It wasn’t a long fight before the enemy retreated.
While their retreat was enjoyable to watch, the devastation they had left behind was noticeable. Several of the sick and elderly had been cut down without a chance to defend themselves, while the stronger soldiers had been distracted by the fighting.
Angus had fended off at least a dozen of the creatures with his impressive Flamecalling, but the magical master, Archduke Zurah, had been caught unaware and killed when the fighting had just started.
All in all, at least two dozen casualties; that was a sizable number when you only had a few thousand healthy survivors left.
Lady Evanor and her advisors soon announced that we must move inland. There was a mountain range that would allow us to better defend ourselves against the threats of this land. It would be a slow trek, as some survivors would have to be carried and the wounded would not make great speed.
Feeling rather uncomfortable about it, Evanor decided she would take a small expedition ahead and return when she had a specific location where we could settle. If necessary, we knew we could teleport some of the worst, but we would need to be able to lock onto a magical source at the destination.
I tried to volunteer for the trip, but Angus requested that I be left behind to watch over the remaining survivors. The mysterious enemy knew where we were and they may well attack us again if given an opportunity.
Due to that, Appoleon was placed in charge of a defense militia and we went to work building small huts for those who needed shelter, as well as spikes to use if needed to funnel down a large army before it attacked us. We didn’t know if the Yunai had come, or if we’d been assaulted by a strange new force, but it was looking pretty hopeless for a lot of folks.
Evanor and her expedition departed the next morning, leaving all of us in a state of uncertainty.
“What if they don’t make it?” one of the younger survivors asked me as we did a patrol around the island where we were fortified. “What if she’s captured or killed by more of the enemy?”
“Then we’ll continue to defend this island,” I replied confidently. “The force that attacked us, they weren’t immortal, or impervious to our attacks. They fell to us just like we fell to them. I don’t know what prompted that attack, but if they want to keep fighting, we’ll keep fighting.”
“They’re animals,” the soldier replied. “Why wouldn’t they want to fight? They stuck down elders without a second thought. They’ll come for again. I’m sure of it.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I had tried, over the years, to better understand the mind of man and warfare. Life was so valued in Azirin, and yet we threw our lives away all the time, over land, over flags… it was enough to make me feel sick. I finished that patrol in silence, contemplating what it really meant if we fled from one death, headfirst into another.
Over the next few days, the fear of an imminent attack faded. There were no enemy forces waiting in the woods for our hunting parties, and there were no more thumping machines in the sky, zipping past our small camp. Each day that passed reminded us that we would need to work if we were going to survive, so we continued to do just that.
Appoleon saw to the hunting parties, showing the young survivors how to set traps for the various creatures in the swamps. In the evenings he went to work at helping to craft stone forges that we could use to kickstart our blacksmithing. We would need nails, saws, and plenty of wood if we were going to build a new town.
Meanwhile, I was charged with teaching some of the surviving magic users how to use fire magic. I didn’t fuss with the finer details like Angus. I went straight to the mechanics of dangerous and unstable explosions. It was powerful magic that we would need in the case of another attack, not the fine tuned ability to light a candle.
After a few weeks, the first structures were coming into shape. Appoleon’s simple huts were replaced with a much larger wooden structure that signaled the first sign of civilization that we’d seen since we sailed away from the shores of Lordaeron.
“We’re going to need to name this place,” Appoleon said as he looked over the building. “It’s officially a settlement now.”
“We’ll need to leave it again once Lady Evanor returns,” I said.
“Needs a name, nonetheless.”
“I’m sure someone will get on that,” I replied.
I felt relaxed that evening. Aside from the normal discomforts of living on the land, it had started to feel like the danger of the past few months had passed.
So of course, that was the moment I saw Appoleon tense up.
“What is it?”
“Fire,” he replied, pointing out into the marsh.
Sure enough, glowing lights were coming toward our island.
“Start positioning the defensive spikes,” Appoleon said, his voice dropping low. “We need to look unprepared. I’ll get the other soldiers armed.”
I nodded and started to move toward some of our pikes, when there was a pop and a fizzle from behind. I twisted around to see Lady Evanor standing in the middle of our camp.
“It’s okay,” she assured everyone, turning toward Appoleon. “We have much to discuss.”
Destiny is a funny thing. Many times, when someone talks about destiny, you’ll eventually discover that they actually had inside information about upcoming events and sought to either prevent or ensure that those events unfolded to their liking.
In this case, it was a woman named Lady Sonea. My humble teacher, who had turned into a crazed woman before the end, had been very busy over the last few years. It was her advice that had led to the original expedition that uncovered this place. It was her warnings in Udiria that had caused so many students to depart. She had been solely responsible for convincing Lady Evanor’s family to allow her to lead expedition that had brought them to this strange land. All of her wild ramblings had been prophetic, and she hadn’t stopped there.
She had told Lady Evanor that there would be a people here in this new world, and they would mistake us for the Yunai. We would have to convince them of our cause, and only then would the plan fall into place. It turned out she had been as nebulous with Evanor as she had been to him. Evanor had taken the advice and when they had fought off the first attack, she knew she had to reach out to these people or risk further bloodshed.
On her latest trip into the mainland she had found them, or more likely, they had found her.
“Everyone lower your weapons!” she shouted. “I have located the people who attacked our camp. They are not going to attack us again. They believed that we were the Yunai, finally come to destroy their world. They are called the Beshermen. Believe it or not, we believe we have a common ancestral history, and we are in agreement that it is the Yunai that we must fight, not each other.”
“Can we really trust these people?” someone in the crowd asked.
“I believe so,” she said. “They’ve sent an envoy with supplies, munitions, and many things that will aid us in our efforts.”
Evanor raised a hand in the air and gestured toward the woods. At the tree line, several soldiers stepped out, then people wearing robes began approaching holding large plates, as well as bags of other supplies. They looked nervous, as they probably feared we might retaliate for the unprovoked attack, but the truth was we were all too tired.
When they showed us their gifts… food… water… weapons unlike anything we’d seen before… people started to warm up to our new allies. Soon enough, we were welcoming them with open arms. Many of them did not speak our language, so we quickly whipped up magical spells that translated to their native tongue using aetherial energy. They seemed adverse to the idea of the spells, but they allowed it, and soon enough seemed unbothered by our work.
“Lady Evanor,” one of the Beshermen said. “We are very happy to come and visit your settlement of…”
“Vers,” Evanor said proudly. “It means, loosely, a fresh start for us.”
The Beshermen, a woman, nodded.
“I am happy that we have found one another,” Evanor said, looking hopeful. “Together, our efforts to stop the Yunai may yet succeed. I am eager to see where this new alliance will lead us. For the sake of the future, and our home, drink and be merry, for our union will see our enemy undone!”
The leather workers were busy tanning the hides of our kills, while the herbalists had gone to work sampling the variety of plant life in this land. Every now and again, I would catch sight of Sellia making her way here or there across the settlement. She tended to a young blond-haired boy, one that didn’t look anything like her at all, and her skill with tending to the wounded was needed among the survivors. I always knew when she was close as the wand she carried emitted a powerful magical hum that practically vibrated the hairs on my body. It felt much like an electric charge.
Despite the reminder of my stolen property, I didn’t confront her. What she had said in the swamp the day we’d been attacked had settled on my heart. I wanted my wand back, but Sellia had a good point. She needed a weapon out here and that wand could keep her safe. Although, the weapons the Besherman had introduced to us was a game changer. They had ranged instruments that fired molten metal, the called them bullets, and these small objects could puncture a heart from a hundred yards away if done right. They had mastered the power of flight in ways we only dreamed, and they could rain death from above if they had the right timing. Their engineering was incredible, and we had much to learn, but we also learned that the Besherman had a large distrust about the twisting aether. The use of magic had been forbidden in this world for ages, and seeing us using it so easily made them uncomfortable. The one advantage we had to share with them and they saw it as an abomination.
Despite all that technology, I still thought of the wand. It was one of my last ties to Lady Sonea. It had made its way here, to the land she’d supposedly been running around talking about in her last days. I wondered for a moment if she knew it would find its way back to me, and that’s why she wasn’t bothered at all when I told her I had lost it. The thought was a bit unnerving. Had she known, all this time, about the death and destruction that was coming? Was that dark horror what eventually drove her mad? The thoughts gave way to anger. I hated her for not telling me the truth. If she knew all that time, she was just leading me on a path that she knew would end here.
I cursed the wand. I cursed her.
I decided I didn’t want it back. Not now.
For a few more precious weeks, life proceeded as though death and destruction did not loom everywhere around us. I’m pretty sure I even heard a few people laughing during the reprieve. Then, as was usually the case when you get used to something, the pattern changed.
It was late in the evening and Appoleon was looking out into the swamp as I approached him. He looked concerned, which never made me feel any better.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Did I ever really tell you much about my commander?” Appoleon asked.
“Uh, no, can’t say you did.”
“Wilhert Angton. This blade belonged to him,” Appoleon said, tilting his blade. “He gave it to me on the night the capital fell to the Yunai. I told him he should keep it. He told me it wouldn’t change things for him, but if I used it, I could protect the innocent fleeing from the destruction.”
“A logical choice,” I said.
“I’m sorry you lost him,” I added.
“We all lost people,” Appoleon grumbled.
“That doesn’t lessen the pain you feel.”
He chuckled. “I suppose not. Anyway, the Besherman want the blade. They don’t have a weapon like this. Something that can cut through even the most dense materials. They want to try and find a way to make more. I explained we forged them in Azirin using magic, but the Yunai destroyed our crystals during their invasions, so we had lost the ability to produce new ones. They say they have the crystals up here, but now no one remains from our world that remembers the magic.”
“So the blade is a lot like us,” I mused. “The last of the old world.”
“I don’t want to give it to them,” he said. “Honestly, they don’t need it, and the Order would happily tell them that they don’t deserve it. They mock the aether, and now they want to try creating a weapon born from it?”
“We’ve known a long time that the blades are effective weapons against the Yunai. If they did find a way to make more, the Order of the Crystal Blade could live on,” I suggested. “If it helps us win a fight that, honestly, it feels like we can’t win… shouldn’t we do it?”
“Maybe,” he grumbled. “Bah, I know you’re right. I just… well if I give up the blade, I suppose I’m going to have to learn to use their weird weapons. The blasters, the zappers, the flashbooms….”
“You’ll have them mastered in no time.”
Appoleon laughed. “A bad sign for us. Even a fool like me can blow up a building with these things.”
I rolled my eyes, but I saw the conversation had run its course. I wished him a good evening and headed back toward the commons area. Tonight was a townhall with the Besherman envoy. I was eager to hear what they had to say, so I cut through the attendees and found a place in the audience that wasn’t overly crowded.
The Besherman had sent folks to help train us, supply us with goods, and even explain the history of their world to us, something that we sorely needed if we were going to form a bond with one another.
The problem was, these people brought knowledge that required a significant paradigm shift, and I think many of the survivors from Azirin had reached their limit.
“So, you’re saying we’re on a space ship?” someone was just asking as I settled into my seat.
“It is designated as a World Ship,” the woman responded from a makeshift podium. “I think it’s easier to envision us as a manufactured planetary body, more so than a space ship.”
“Why didn’t you help us when the Yunai came?” someone else called out. Several others echoed in agreement with her question, and to her credit the woman at the podium seemed unfazed by the wave of aggression.
“The truth is, until you arrived we did not know you existed,” the woman explained. “Our knowledge of the World Ship comes from a place we call the Grid. It’s the super computer of the vessel, and it monitors and tracks all systems. According to our data, the entire Lower Level of the World Ship is considered uninhabitable and offline. We assumed, incorrectly, there was nothing alive down there.”
“So that place, the Grid, that’s where the Yunai want to go?” one of the soldiers followed up.
“That’s right,” the Besherman said, sounding a bit cheery at the question. “If the Yunai take control of the ship’s Grid, they could end us all. We don’t know what motivates the Yunai, but we assume it has something to do with the Fracture.”
I grimaced. The Besherman people had talked about this “Fracture” before. They claimed that our world had become ensnared in a reality fracture, which was one of the reasons we could reach out and communicate with the twisting aether. They described our magical energy as the space between realities. Supposedly, the Yunai existed in one reality, and we existed in our own. At some point, the Fracture had come into existence, and from that, the Yunai had emerged in our reality.
I didn’t pretend to understand it, but it was clear the Besherman had put a great deal of time and research into what they described. It was fascinating, if not a bit terrifying, but it wasn’t the reason we were here. The only reason we were here now was to survive, and to stop the Yunai.
“So, how do we stop the Yunai?” a civilian asked now.
“We intend to lure the leader of the Yunai into a position where we can strike out at him directly. The leader carries a massive power crystal, and we believe that the power it emits is being used to fuel a strong connection between our realities. It is our opinion that if we can destroy the power crystal, the Yunai will lose that strong link to our reality. More importantly, we believe the creature is drawing power from the World Ship to increase it’s own crystal’s strength.”
“Do your people have a way follow through on this trap?” Angus spoke up from the crowd. “The Yunai were almost unstoppable in our world. It took magic and powerful weapons to even halt their advances. How would you defeat this powerful leader?”
The female Besherman contemplated this for a moment, then smiled. “We’re still formulating the specifics, but we believe we do have a plan that will work. The question will be logistics and timing.”
“That’s a very generic answer,” Angus grumbled. “It’s the specifics I’m asking about.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have those at this time,” she countered. “Please, let’s focus on other questions at this time. The plan for defeating the Yunai isn’t on the table tonight.”
The audience started speaking up in objection, and I knew we weren’t going to get anywhere with this, so I quietly excused myself and headed to the small wooden hut that Appoleon and I were using as a barrack for anyone off-duty and looking to rest. The recent revelations had strained my ability to think straight, and it was clear our future was still blurry, but I trusted Lady Evanor for the most part, and even if I didn’t want to admit it, I held out hope that Sonea had sent us here for a reason. She had known so much about the future, perhaps that meant I really was right where I was meant to be.
Most of us had no idea what was coming.