When we reached the second strong hold at the edge of the Grid, I realized that the Besherman forces had withheld some of their military might. We found them waiting with heavily armored mechanical vehicles, heavy artillery, reinforced structures that had small openings for guns and other projectiles, as well as thousands of forces that were in position and ready to fight. This was a base of operations, built for combat, unlike the city of Kennis below.
“The General reports the city has fallen”, another Besherman military figure reported to us as we rushed in on our horses. “I’m Command Sergeant Raadh, second-in-command of the army and Commander of this military installation. I’m happy to have your magical abilities to add to our strength. The General’s forces are in full retreat with the enemy right behind. We’ll need to be ready to engage.”
I heard a sudden pop and fizzle, loud enough to make your ears tingle. I turned to see that a mass of soldiers had just appeared, with Lady Evanor and General Taanach at the center. As the soldiers all collapsed, clearly exhausted, Evanor marched up with the General close behind.
“Reporting in,” she said, taking a few moments to catch her breath. “The enemy is advancing. Once we got away from the nullification mist, I was able to teleport the survivors here. We will have to assume the enemy will shoot that same weapon again when they reach us. Our magic users will have to act fast.”
“Agreed,” the General said. “We should start planning a way to stop them from using it!”
I let the leaders continue their strategizing and I looked through the survivors until I caught sight of the shining metal armor of my friend. “Appoleon!” I shouted.
“Sionis,” he said with a smile, struggling to stand. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“Me?” I asked, looking my friend over. He looked okay. The shining armor was stained with blood, charred from fire, and pock marked from who knows what, but he looked safe beneath it all.
“Their numbers are too great,” one of the other survivors started. “How can we ever hope to hold them back?”
Evanor ignored the comment, turning toward Raadh and Taanach. “Leaders, I have a plan, but I must borrow some of my people. Priestess Kaali thinks it has merit. I would like to share it with you.”
Raadh nodded. “Let’s hear it then.”
Surprisingly, Evanor stepped away from us and the two went to speak privately about the matter. I would have been upset about that if I hadn’t already heard the first of the Yunai forces marching from the base of the road that led here. They were coming for us.
When Evanor returned, she looked more determined than ever.
“Forces. To me!”
We did as ordered. I wondered for a moment if she and Raadh had disagreed about what to do next, but if that were the case, the Besherman showed no sign of it. He ignored her call entirely, instead gesturing to his own military soldiers, pointing them toward the approaching enemy.
“What can we do, my Lady?” Appoleon asked.
“When this place is overrun, we will not retreat to meet up with the next checkpoint. Instead, we will teleport back to Kennis, behind the enemy forces. It is imperative that we are able to halt their retreat once the final trap has been initiated.
Her confidence was overwhelming. She wasn’t just talking like we could win the fight. She was talking like it was a certainty. We drank from that certainty and it empowered us all.
The Yunai came to the Besherman base and they threw themselves on us like a rising tide of death. We all fought, all of us, as we struggled to survive.
I’ll be the first to admit that the Besherman are an impressive people. I watched in fascination as one of their soldiers took two knives to the chest and still managed to cut down a half dozen Yunai with his own crystal blade before he died.
The charged into the Yunai with their brute force so hard that you could hear an audible crunch. Meanwhile, their marksmen fired their weapons to help suppress the enemy. I witnessed power there that shook me to the bones. My father had died fighting against the Yunai, and I suddenly became proud of the idea that I too might die saving our world.
Unfortunately, it just didn’t seem to be enough. The first of the defensive lines fell, and then the second. We all started to back up as we fought, until we finally heard the horn blow from the mountaintop. It was time for us to enact our next plan.
Evanor was a short ways up the mountain, she wanted to avoid any nullification dust. We would retreat so as not to make the enemy suspicious, and then she would teleport us all to a new position. I whistled, signaling for Surfal to come, and we started our retreat.
Then, a Yunai stepped into my path. He was massive, at least ten foot tall, and his mechanical body was humanoid in shape, but with horns and strange feet that had only two toes. He held a polearm that was easily the size of my body. He swiped it with ease, and it caught Surfal across the side, barely missing my leg as I jerked it upward to avoid the strike. Surfal reeled from the attack, and I was thrown from the animal’s back as he bucked and then collapsed.
I hit the demon with a fireball as I fell, then tried to push it back another blast of flame.
The Yunai only laughed.
“You dare test the might of Xer’Thraxis?” it asked with a mechanical voice.
“I challenge any who try to claim my world,” I growled, standing to face my foe.
The painful whining from my horse drew my attention. The gash from the blade was deep. Surfal wouldn’t survive this.
“Come, let’s end your suffering,” Xer’Thraxis said, swinging this polearm toward me.
I roared. Surfal had been my horse for years now. I was going to lose him to this mechanical creature? After I had lost everything else? No. I wouldn’t lose anymore. I had to draw the line. I had to fight.
I felt my body heating up, as though every single piece of my being burned with magical energy. I summoned my greatest power and the Yunai was suddenly battered with a wave of flame, burning cinders, and even a blue electrical energy that sparked and ignited the ground beneath its feet.
He growled, probably not expecting such an overwhelming attack from one small soldier, but with a sudden motion, he snapped out mechanical wings that flapped so hard it blew back my magic.
“Enough!” he shouted.
“No,” I yelled. “It will never be enough!”
I don’t remember if I took a breath, but I resumed my assault. My body felt like it might explode from the energy I was channeling, but I just didn’t care. I watched as the metallic shell seemed to ignite, burning away the coloring and polish to reveal a flat black appearance. I saw his weapon glowing red, heating to the melting point, and I pressed harder, channeling the aether, using my own body as a conduit.
The ground beneath me burned, the dirt black and charred.
Xer’Thraxis lurched forward. His polearm planted in the ground just in front of me. I felt the dirt it kicked up hit my face. I roared in response.
“Insolent little whelp!” he shouted. “I will skin you alive!”
I felt my body failing. I couldn’t keep this up. I relented, and the fire wall faded. The Yunai slowly regained his composure, no longer holding his polearm, likely due to the fact that it was so hot it would bend if he tried to pick it up.
“You almost had me,” Xer’Thraxis said, sounding as smug as his robotic voice allowed. “Now. Die!”
He lifted his massive arm and prepared to crush me, but before he could, a metallic whip wrapped around his wrist and pulled him backward.
“What treachery is this?” he demanded.
“I have no idea,” I said, honestly, as I harnessed the last of my power. “But I won’t waste it.”
The Yunai worked at the cable holding him in place, but he wasn’t fast enough. I hit him with one of my most powerful fire spells and I finally saw it. His dull black plate armor cracked. In that moment, I understood what I had to do. I reached deep into the aether once more, not just to harness fire, but to call upon cold icy magic as well. Then, I bombarded him with one attack after another, focusing on the crack, heating his armor and then rapidly cooling it again, forcing the crack to expand and shrink, widening with each assault.
“This isn’t over,” he growled at me, his voice weakening, quieter in some way. “We will meet again!”
“No,” I replied. “We won’t.”
I conjured another spell, a twisting spire of flame and ice. Lady Sonea had tried to teach me the technique years ago, but I had never mastered it. Now it felt so easy. It was like I had found a target to take out my anger, from all the rage left over after the fall of Udiria.
The ice spear slammed into the widened crack, punching through his armor and easily destroying the more vulnerable components within. The swirling fire burst from the frozen spike, burning the creature from the inside out. As his mechanical husk slumped forward, the cable still clinging to his arm, he looked me dead in the eyes, his own powering down, and gave a final sinister smile. “I… will… return.”
Then he was dead.
The cable released his lifeless arm and a moment later, I saw a young Besherman woman step into the clearing. She was dressed the standard military uniform, though she had several badges on her chest that looked different from any I’d seen so far.
There was blood staining her outfit and despite giving me a quick smile when I saw her, she knelt down as though she might collapse.
“We must go,” she managed to say. “Can you take us?”
“I can’t,” I replied. “My horse…”
I turned to see Surfal. The poor creature was still suffering on the ground.
The woman looked down the mountain path as the Yunai continued to approach us. “Desperation leads to great deeds,” she said. “Though it is forbidden, I might be able to save your creature.”
She move to Surfal’s body and lowered herself to hold the creature’s head for a moment. Then, she pulled a small vial from her pouch and, with the pop of a cork, she poured something on the horse’s wound. She grabbed a device from her pack and then held it close to the wound. “Come,” she said. “I need your connection to the aether.”
I did as she said and she took my hand. I felt it almost instantly. Magical energy was pulled from within my body, the aether once again used me as a conduit as it flowed down my arm, through this woman, and into the device she held over Surfal. It glowed with a green light, a magic I had never seen before, and I was shocked when the wound began to close.
I watched as it sealed up entirely and the woman slowly opened her eyes. When she did, they glowed with the same green hue. She nodded to me and then gestured to Surfal. I looked and saw that my horse’s eyes now also glowed the same color. It was only for a moment, then the light faded from both Surfal’s and her own eyes. She stood up, and gently coaxed Surfal to do the same.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I saved this beast,” she replied. “Now, let’s go.”
She touched Surfal’s hindquarter and the animal stood up.
The Yunai were nearly upon us. I jumped on my horse and she climbed on behind me. I spurred Surfal onward and we charged higher up the mountain to reunite with Lady Evanor and the others.
As the fighting at the military base intensified, we rallied together around our powerful mage ally. Evanor did as she had explained, casting a mass teleportation spell that pulled us through the aether. In an instant, we emerged within city streets of Kennis. Evanor smiled and then went to work barking orders.
“Fortify the city’s edge that faces the Grid. The Yunai will be retreating and we will want to catch as many of them as we can!”
“Lady Evanor?” someone asked. “Do you seriously think we can win this?”
“Yes,” Evanor said firmly. “We’re going to win this fight.”
I didn’t know where she was getting her confidence, but it bolstered my own. I had just slain a massive Yunai. I was ready for this. Without a moment to lose, we rode through the city and started fortifying ourselves for the fight that was yet to come.
An hour later, we finally saw the final plan set into motion.
In the skies above, an enormous mechanical dragon flew through the sky. It passed over Kennis and darted toward the Grid. We had been prepped on this creature only briefly. He was considered the commanding Yunai, the one called Aeshma.
His dragon body was clearly different from the other Yunai we had faced, and his size was intimidating. He flew so fast he had passed over the city in moments, and as his form began to shrink, I once again started to doubt our plan.
How would we defeat this creature?
“Everyone!” Evanor shouted. “The moment is at hand! Prepare!”
We saw a massive light erupt from the Grid. A wave of energy blew out and away from the great structures, blowing out past us in an instant. The sky itself went dark, and we were blanketed in night. In the sky above, I saw it, yellow lightning that arched across the sky in glorious arches. I wasn’t the only one that gasped at the sight.
I wasn’t close enough to witness it firsthand, but it is a story that demands telling.
Appoleon, hero of our world, had climbed board an airship piloted by Besherman airmen. They had climbed into the sky, prepared to face off against Aeshma. The dragon would have bested my friend in an instant, but the Besherman had finally figured out the secret of the Yunai. Aeshma’s power came from a crystal, and that crystal was pulling more and more power from the Grid. That was the dragon’s intent all along. He wanted to drain this World Ship of power, to harness it and connect with the aether for his own nefarious purposes, but the Besherman knew the source of his power, and they knew how to end it.
So, in those final moments, they shut down the Grid.
In short, they turned off our world.
Darkness enveloped the entire world.
Aeshma was robbed of his power, and in that moment, his gliding body went rigid and weak. My friend, the mighty Appoleon, had prepared for his moment. With all his might, and connected to a safety cable and harness, he flung himself from the airship and landed on the back of Aeshma’s body. He brought his charged blade down, piercing the dragon’s thick armor and releasing a wave of magical energy that lit the night sky and fried Aeshma’s mechanical body. He twisted his blade, cursing the creature and the death the Yunai had caused, cutting so deep that Aeshma’s head was severed from his mechanical body. As the mighty enemy plummeted from the sky, Appoleon was reeled back to the airship where he used his crystal blade to light their return.
All of those carrying crystal blades were attuned to the aether thanks to Besherman engineering. That was the source of their power, machine and magic working together to defeat the Yunai. With the darkness blinding their foes, our forces let the crystal blades take the lead, and magic users ignited mighty fires to show our soldiers where to go.
The Yunai, all of them weakened by the loss of Aeshma, finally began to retreat.
We were waiting for them in the city of Kennis.
Thousands of them fell to us. Our efforts to super heat and then rapidly cool their armor provided us with the small cracks that we needed to break their physical protection. The crystal blades closed to gap, ripping through whatever resistance the Yunai offered.
The Yunai, in those final hours, barely fought against their ends. Some attempted to push through the city, evading us in their retreat, but many simply fell to our attack.
When the fighting was finally over, and the victory flag was flown, it felt surreal.
We had spent days fighting, and now we were bathed in darkness. We continued searching, rooting out hiding Yunai and reveling in the power we felt at having made our greatest foe fear us.
Then, we heard powerful sounds from the Grid, like a machine waking from its slumber.
Daylight returned to the land, slowly lighting the city of Kennis to reveal the true destruction that both sides had wrought over the land. That was when we realized, at last, that the death and destruction was truly at its end. Many of us fell asleep on the battlefield as the sunlight brightened in the sky, many of them simply too tired to move another step.
I couldn’t dream of it. Not until I knew Appoleon was alive and well. Of course, I should have known he would be fine. I found him a few hours after the last battle horn had sounded. He seemed far more surprised to see that I had made it through the battle. We embraced, laughing, and he pointed toward the sky with a fired up energy that I couldn’t help but adore. “Did you see me slay the dragon?” he asked. “I just dropped down on him with my blade and ended him! I mean, you know, after it was over I thought about how I should have said something clever, you know, but either way, I did it.”
I just laughed, so happy to know that I still had a friend in this world, and I hugged him again.
When I finally fell asleep a few hours later, I had hoped it would be a peaceful reverie. Instead, I was immediately haunted with nightmares of the Yunai, the terrors and the fear rippled through my sleepless thoughts. They had taken my peace, even if they had lost the war.
I had arrived in Kennis, the city of knowledge, as a magic user with basic combat training.
I left it as a battle-hardened soldier who had learned too much.